Surprising sources for healthy foods

Finding Frugal Organics

by Heather L. Seggel

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From the ages of 16 to 24, I was a vegetarian. These days I'm an omnivore whose main dilemma is a lack of cash flow, but my favorite foods are still the first ones I learned to make myself. Loving healthy foods doesn't have to be a budget-buster. You just need to know where to look for deals.

Make your first stop the nearest dollar store for healthy foods. Locally, one pound of red beans, two pounds of white rice, and a quart of organic soymilk cost $3. Three doors down at the supermarket in the same complex, those items cost over $7! Shop here for oats, pasta, and canned tomatoes as well. Chain stores like Dollar General are stocking more brand name items to compete with larger markets; as demand for healthier food goes up, so will the appearance of these goodies on their shelves. Independently owned dollar stores can hide treasure in the form of ethnic foods, teas and spices. Put on your Indiana Jones hat and dig up a great deal for dinner tonight.

Now is the time to change gears and go to the nearest natural foods store. Skip the aisles of packaged foods; you're here for produce, dairy, soy, and bulk items. Look in the lobby or ask at the register for in-store coupons. Organic produce, milk, soymilk, and meatless meat like Boca Burgers are often cheaper here than at the supermarket; take off a little more with a coupon and the savings really add up. "Bulk" isn't just food here, either; check out laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, lotion, and other goodies for sale by the ounce. Bring a few empty containers with you; it's a good deal and also a great way to try new products without committing to a whole box or bottle. If your store doesn't have Mambo Sprouts or Co-op Advantage coupons, check to see if they offer free magazines like Delicious Living. These magazines have fine articles and yummy recipes to inspire you, but right now you want to just give a quick flip through them to look for coupons; each issue usually has several inside. Snip and go!

Does your community have a farmer's market? If you answered "no," look harder. There might be one hiding somewhere, you just need to find the time and place. Ask your Chamber of Commerce or the health food store. Don't go early, either. Sleep late and breeze in afternoon, when vendors are ready to leave and looking to unload what's left in their trucks. Chances are that you can negotiate a good deal on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, or cheese. And take the time to enjoy the sights and sounds! I've gone to my local farmer's market on a Saturday morning with a commuter mug and just bought a cup of coffee to justify my roaming about, sniffing all the soaps and fresh flowers, fantasizing future meals (goat cheese tarts! Tomato and kale soup!), and looking at the gorgeous colors of fruits and vegetables. After an hour, I felt like I'd been to a museum. If there's not a farmer's market near you, start one. You'll be a hero in your city, and make it a far better place to live and eat. Plus, you can probably work a kind of Godfather angle and get a lot of free samples in reward for your efforts (kidding).

Take the TDS Pantry Challenge.
Clean out that pantry, fridge and freezer and see how much extra cash you can free up this month!

Make the last stop your regular supermarket for anything you need that you couldn't find above. If you're a meal planner, you've got a list to get through. Otherwise, let the fresh and healthy ingredients you've got so far inspire a simple meal. Winter vegetables shine in a stew with lentils and/or sausage. Summer vegetables need no more than bread and cheese or olives to make a gorgeous salad that's a meal in itself. Seasonal fruit brings the outdoors right to your table deliciously. Bake local apples stuffed with raisins and dotted with butter for a homey, yet decadent treat. Topped with vanilla ice cream, it becomes Atkins Diet apple pie a la mode! The local supermarket charges $1.99 to $2.49 a pound for apples flown in from New Zealand, which are a delight to look at but have very little flavor. Cross the street and look at the co-op; you'll pay $0.75 a pound for locally grown organic apples that taste freshly picked because they are. Branch out from the stores you know, and you'll find new opportunities to eat like royalty on a pauper's wages.

Reviewed April 2017

Take the Next Step:

  • Discover more smart ways to buy organic foods on a budget by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
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