Results of my 30-day organic challenge

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By Kari Patterson,
See her blog
Oregon mom

We finish the one-month Food Stamp Challenge (click to read the challenge): seeing if it’s possible for our family to live on the budget of food stamps while eating organic, local, seasonal, whole foods.

So, our official total, for one month (drumroll please!) was $186. Yes. I know, I was astonished. Our goal was $275, so I was very pleased. This included meat, produce, dairy, etc. Now, let’s be very frank about more than just the dollar total. It was eye-opening and challenging.

Hands down the biggest eye-opener for me was that whole, local, organic food is not what is most expensive. Convenience is expensive. Snacks are expensive. And oh, do I love my convenience and my snacks. 🙂 That’s truly where the cost is in making the switch–it costs time and it costs my craving.

We didn’t buy anything pre-made and had only whole grains. So that meant baking all bread from scratch, cooking rice, soaking dried beans, chopping vegetables, roasting whole chickens, making stock. I found that I needed to devote most of one day (which isn’t a whole day because I was still playing and taking care of kids) to cooking for the week. As long as I was good about planning ahead, it wasn’t really that bad. The tricky part is if I didn’t plan ahead it meant really being in a pickle come lunchtime. But then again, that was a great motivator to get diligent about planning ahead!

When I was busy I’d often resort to peanut butter sandwiches and apple slices for the kids. But I figured with organic peanut butter, organic apples, and homemade 100% whole wheat bread even that wasn’t bad, right? The other tricky part is that Dutch really wasn’t into to many of my healthy creations. He has yet to find quinoa and garbanzo beans very appetizing. Pancakes are still #1 on his favorite list. But again, making them from scratch with whole wheat flour, organic whole milk, organic eggs, and sneaking in carrot puree, they are actually a pretty decent meal.

What I missed most, hands-down, was convenience and snacks. We don’t have an air-popper, so popcorn was out. I couldn’t bring myself to pay the price for whole-wheat tortillas, so quesadillas were out (but toasted cheese is good!). We didn’t buy crackers or chips or breakfast cereal, but relied on old-fashioned oatmeal and fruit or toast. For sweets and treats I made homemade whole-wheat banana bread with real butter (yum!), and even made a few batches of cookies using ground oatmeal instead of flour (which tastes better than whole wheat, to me) and mixing in garbanzo bean puree (which is what gluten-free recipes use) and shredded zucchini. I know, sounds gross but they were delicious. There was no way I was going without my cookies!

So I realize this might not be realistic for a lot of families. But my goal was just to see the difference it would make, basically, if we traded convenience and snacks for wholeness and health.

And, just in case you think my children were starving, this was a fun tidbit. Some of you know that in August at Heidi’s checkup she was supposedly in the red-zone for being underweight. So I had to visit a nutritionist at the end of the month. Well, they weighed her at the appointment and she’d gained two whole pounds in one month, getting her up out of the red-zone! So yeah, apparently this worked to pork up my girl. 🙂

But yes, in the interest of full-disclosure, I will admit that this week, when we were out of a lot of things and Dutch kept asking, “Can I have..? Can I have…?” and having me answer that no we didn’t have any of that, he responded, “Mommy, what can I ever eat??” Ooh, poor boy. But then we discovered that he loves omelets with cheese so he was happy. He even discovered that he loves salmon and loves eating chicken straight off the bone.

:: Helpful hints: Ok, so how does any of this help you. I’m certainly not an expert after only a month, but here are a few helpful things from the past month.

* Snacks and convenience are what break the bank. If you really are serious about low-budget and high-health, it seems that this is the key to success. I know this isn’t realistic for everyone. For for my mom, who has some physical limitations, it doesn’t make sense for her to go to all the work of roasting whole chickens and making stock when she can afford to buy organic chicken breasts and stock. But IF budget is the name of your game, this is how to go about it.
* Similarly, just remember the less they do the less you pay. Meaning, if beans are in a can, you’re paying for the work they did to put them there. If they’re in a bag or in bulk, you’ll save lots. This is most clear with veggies. Whole organic carrots are under $1/lb. at every grocery store. But baby peeled organic carrots can be $3-$4/lb. You do the peeling, you save the money. Same goes for oatmeal, homemade bread (which is so easy with a breadmachine), etc. etc. I think you get the picture. Health is not expensive, convenience is.

Personal deals: If you live in the NW, here’s what I found:

* Safeway has whole organic chickens for $2.99/lb, and if you keep your eye out you can get ones that are near their freshness date and they’ll be 30% off. Then, if you can take advantage of that $10 off $50 coupon from Safeway, you’ll be getting that chicken for about $1.67/lb, which is a great deal.

* I was able to buy produce through a friend at Azure Standard. I don’t think that’s open to the public, but definitely worth investigating other online food sources. I got all organic, local produce delivered to a private drop-point in Tigard, for amazing prices (all produce around $1/lb.). Safeway and Fred

* Oops have to cut this short, we don’t have internet at home right now so I’m writing this at the Honda dealership while our car’s getting maintenance. Time to go! More later, perhaps, but that’s the gist of the challenge. I think we will continue!!