The #1 Key to Saving Money: Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge!

spices
  
Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge is one of the biggest tips I give to people who are looking to save money. When you have what you need on hand, you buy fewer items at the store each time. Knowing what to keep in the pantry means you can plan ahead and buy in bulk/search for the best price!
  
It’s also a good idea to clean out the pantry and fridge every so often- give a good look in there, see what you want to use up (or what NEEDS to be used up) and base your meals off of that. I can make complete meals from what I already have- a great thing to be able to do when you just don’t want to go to the store. Instead of calling for take-out, you can make your own meals that are healthier AND less expensive by far! If you’re ever stumped, you can leave a reply on Leftover Makeovers and I can help you figure out what to make with what you already have.
  
Here’s what I keep in my pantry, fridge, and freezer at any given time- I supplement with fresh produce, milk, eggs, orange juice, and poultry/fish.
  
Every single thing I have is organic. Instead of writing organic 2348238 times, I’m just going to state that right here!
  
  
Pantry:
  
  • stock- I have chicken and vegetable- whatever you use most!
  • bouillon – I use Better than Boullion Organic Chicken Base- for when you need just a little stock and don’t want to open a whole box

Better than Boullion

  • pasta- I use 100% whole wheat organic. I sometimes get sprouted pasta from the bulk section at Whole Foods because it’s cheaper than buying boxes of sprouted whole wheat pasta. You can get Gluten Free if you prefer!
  • rice- arborio (for risotto), brown, long grain- whatever you like to eat!
  • cous cous- a great fast cooking grain, available in many variations
  • quinoa- a staple in my kitchen. High in protein, low in fat, and fairly priced when bought in bulk
  • tomatoes- check your company to see if they make BPA free cans for tomatoes. If not, go with jarred versions. I have crushed, diced, and tomato sauce. Some brands that make jarred tomatoes are:

jarred tomatoes

  • oils- coconut, olive, and a high burning, such as avocado or canola. PLEASE purchase organic oils if you can- vegetable, canola, etc. are usually genetically modified if they’re not certified organic
  • vinegars- I have balsamic, red wine, and apple cider vinegar at all times
  • canned beans- canellini, kidney, black, garbonzo (aka chick peas)
  • dried lentils- I have green and black
  • dried beans- cheaper than canned beans, but you need to plan ahead with them. If you make recipes in advance, these are for you!
  • oats
  • sugar (if you bake a lot of recipes that use it)- you can also use date, coconut, or other less refined sugars
  • powdered/confectioners sugar (if you make a lot of frostings/icings)
  • cacao powder- make sure it’s not COCOA powder! Big difference, but barely noticeable in terms of spelling if you’re not paying attention.

cacao powder

  • agave- I use this as a sweetener in healthy versions of recipes. I also use it in my coffee in the mornings!
  • honey- local and raw is best
  • baking soda- I opt for Bob’s Red Mill over A&H because fewer chemicals are used to make it

baking soda

  • baking powder
  • flours- I have organic white, sprouted whole grain, coconut, and quinoa. Sometimes I rotate other Gluten Free flours into the mix if they’re on sale
  • vanilla extract- be sure to get pure, NOT imitation- it makes all the difference in the world. I use Simply Organic

vanilla extract

  • other extracts if you bake a lot (chocolate, almond, etc)
  • almond butter/cashew butter (or peanut if you prefer)- I prefer almond over peanut butter in recipes (it’s a little better for you!), and I prefer desserts made with cashew butter over the others
  • tahini- sesame paste/butter. I use this in my hummus burgers and many other recipes!

tahini

  • carton of almond/oat/soy/rice milk (your preference)- you never know when you’re going to forget to pick up milk, run out for coffee/tea or a recipe- I always keep a carton around if one of the above happens. Often the case: someone finishes the milk without telling me and I have a back up!
  • bottle of juice (I have organic orange mango)- same as with the milk, you never know when you’re going to run out or not have enough for a spontaneous recipe. I drink plain organic orange juice, but if I run out, my organic orange mango is a great substitute

orange mango juice

  • nuts- I have walnuts, cashews, almonds, and pine nuts
  • herbs and spices- whatever you find yourself using a lot of. I use a lot of different spices and cook with them quite often so my cabinet is FULL
  • cornmeal- PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR CORNMEAL IS ORGANIC! Corn is one of the most genetically modified crops in the United States
  • dried cranberries- always a good idea to make sure they’re organic too- sugar and corn syrup are used as sweeteners and are genetically modified most of the time
  • sustainably caught tuna- if you are vegetarian or vegan, no need for this obviously!
  • sustainably caught salmon- same as with the tuna
  • coconut milk- I always use the lowest fat, some people use full fat for certain recipes- it’s up to you!
  • cups of apple sauce- yes the individual cups cost more than a jar in terms of unit price, but organic apple sauce goes bad before I get the chance to finish a jar- the cups are the perfect amount for recipes.

applesauce cups

  • canned pineapple- make sure it’s canned in juice. Also a good idea to look for organic.
  
Fridge:
  
  • ketchup- PLEASE get organic. The price is only a little bit more and the quality of what you’re putting in your body is drastically higher
  • mustard- I have stone ground and Dijon
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce- I must insist again that you get organic soy sauce for the same reason as the ketchup. Soy is one of the most genetically modified foods in the U.S.
  • brown sugar- I keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t harden as much- my father-in-law showed me this and it really helps!
  • real maple syrup- the kind in a glass jar, or big plastic jug from Vermont- not the fake kind that many use for pancakes
  • hot sauce- if you like to spice things up sometimes!
  • jelly/jam/preserves- I use organic superfruit spreads- each is from a different continent, North America (Blue), Europe (Green), South America (Orange), Asia (Yellow)

crofters superfruit spreads

  • garlic (either jarred or fresh)
  • onions
  • vegan buttery spread/butter

vegan buttery spread

  • chia seeds
  • capers
 
Freezer:
  
  • frozen veggies (peas, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, corn)
  • frozen berries/fruits that you like to make smoothies or bake with
  • loaf of bread

ezekiel bread

  • bread crumbs (plain and seasoned)- keeping them in the freezer keeps them fresher longer!
  
Having all of the above at any given time has really helped me out in the past and can most certainly help you too. You should include any items you use frequently and avoid purchasing products for just one recipe that you’d have difficulty incorporating into other dishes.
  
Remember to always check online to see if you can get a better price (remember to include shipping in your calculations!). Also, check around from store to store- two natural markets I go to had the exact same honey last week that was $3.20 different from store to store!
  
Do you keep anything in your pantry that I didn’t list above? I’d love to hear!

 

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Produce: The 14 items you MUST by organic and why

organic produce
Photo courtesy of sell-buy-machines.com
 
If you can’t purchase all organic produce, you should absolutely try to avoid certain conventional fruits and vegetables.
 
It’s true, organic produce is more expensive than conventional. However, you really get what you pay for when you buy it. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that are toxic to both our bodies and our environment.

“Yeah, but I wash and/or peel my conventional produce, so it’s fine.”

This could not be more false. The chemicals penetrate the skins of fruits and veggies and get into the flesh itself. If it’s in the food, it ends up in YOU.

Some produce carries little risk of carrying pesticides/herbicides, as few are needed when crowing these crops. These include thicker skinned fruits like mangoes, avocados, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya, as well as heartier vegetables like cabbage, asparagus, and onions. Other conventional produce that use fewer pesticides include peas, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kiwi, grapefruit, and eggplant (please note that even though they contain fewer pesticides, this does not mean they are not genetically modified.)

Unfortunately, the above are the rare exception. Also unfortunate is the price you have to pay to avoid chemicals being sprayed (and then absorbed) on your food. Organic produce is on average 40-50% more than their equivalent conventional alternatives.

The biggest problem is the fact that it is nearly impossible to avoid non-organic produce unless you only only eat the organic versions you buy for yourself every single time you eat fruits or vegetables- conventional crops are literally everywhere we go. In an ideal world, this would never be an issue, but the reality in the United States is that eating organically for every meal every single day is not an option, unless you NEVER go out to eat, never go to a party, a friend’s house, or on vacation. Like I said- conventional produce is EVERYWHERE!

There are many reasons that people are not eating organic produce 100% of the time, the two main being: 1. Limited access to organic produce due to a number of factors (mainly, what your local grocery stores carry) and 2. It costs too much!!
 
(I will be writing a post about what to do if you have no access to organic produce because it is not in any stores around you- keep a look out!)
 
So what can we do to help protect ourselves if we can’t do organic all the time?
 
Pick and choose your battles wisely. If it is not possible to buy everything organic, these are the fruits and veggies you absolutely SHOULD buy organic versions of:
 
Dirty dozen plus
Photo courtesy of joyushealth.ca
 
The above are the fruits and vegetables  are known as the “Dirty Dozen Plus,” named the Environmental Working Group, the organization that did the data analysis. These were most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals (in the United States).
 
 
“For the past nine years, EWG has scrutinized pesticide-testing data generated by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. These sources are the basis for EWG’s signature Dirty Dozen™ list of foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides…This year [2013], as in 2012, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two crops – summer squashes and leafy greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic pesticides.”
 
A summary of what they found, taken directly from maximizedliving.com:
 
  • Apples. The dirtiest of the bunch. Ninety-nine percent of apples contained at least one pesticide.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers. One of these was as contaminated as a single grape.
  • Celery. At worst, a single sample revealed 13 pesticides.
  • Cherry Tomatoes. Similar to celery, one sample also contained the residue of 13 different pesticides.
  • Cucumbers. The third most contaminated vegetable, these should always be peeled and rinsed before eating.
  • Grapes. “A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides.”
  • Hot Peppers. Previously not on the list, recent tests showed these contain the seventh greatest amount of pesticide residues.
  • Nectarines (Imported). Every imported nectarine tested was shown to contain pesticide residue.
  • Peaches. Contained the fourth highest amount of pesticides among all fruits tested.
  • Potatoes. “The average potato had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop.”
  • Spinach. After celery, the second most contaminated conventional vegetable.
  • Strawberries. Ranked as the second dirtiest conventionally grown fruit on the market.
Therefore, you should definitely try to buy the entire list from the “Dirty Dozen Plus” in their organic forms as opposed to conventional.
 
If you don’t know where to look, here is a great resource for finding stores that sell organic produce in the United States: Organic.org Store Finder. Of course, check your local farmers markets or Co-ops too!

Now, how much will it cost to eat these if you purchase organic versions?
 
Here is a chart I made of the “Dirty Dozen Plus” with both their average conventional and organic prices (in the U.S.):
 organic produce chart
 
The prices were taken from a variety of sources through the internet, and were from a variety of years- there is no database that compiles all such yearly data (that I could find after hours of research!) Also, many of the prices reflect when the produce is IN SEASON. To get the best price, purchase organic produce when it’s in season.
 

GMO Note: The most genetically modified (GMO) crops used for produce in the U.S. are corn, soy, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and papaya (specifically Hawaiian grown). To avoid GMOs, purchase these items strictly in their organic forms.

Tip to being able to afford more organic produce: Give up something small in your everyday life that you don’t NEED. If you go get a daily cup of coffee on the go, maybe cut it down to every other day and use the dollars you save to put towards purchasing organic produce. Or if you like to go out to eat twice a week, make it once, and put what you saved towards your grocery bill. There are many little swaps we can all do to help us afford these (if not all) organic fruits and veggies.

To sum it up, I’ve taken the following paragraph from the same maximizedliving.com article as was used before:

“A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that eating organic produce can significantly reduce bodily toxicity. The study provided five consecutive days’ worth of organic food to children who typically ate a non-organic, conventional diet. After just five days, almost all pesticides had disappeared from the subjects’ urine samples. ‘This shows there definitely is a beneficial effect of eating organic produce,’ said study leader Dr. Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology.”

 

Now you have all the facts- it’s time to decide for yourself!

 

Money-Saving Meal Method: How you can afford to eat organically all week

Let’s face it- food is expensive. Food is even more expensive if you buy organic and/or non-GMO products. I’ve made the decision to go all organic, and thus I have to make up for the extra cost in order to stay within my budget.

I am not a vegetarian, though I find myself eating less and less meat. I don’t eat any red meat at home because my husband doesn’t. He eats poultry and fish so I make and eat those. I don’t miss the red meat at home- it’s expensive and not as healthy for you. So I’m definitely not complaining!

 
I have a system I use for stretching my dollars and it’s been working extremely well. The method is: eat a “whole piece” of chicken or fish only once a week, use one pound of ground turkey/chicken (or beef) stretched over two meals, organic sausage for one or two meals, and vegetarian options for the remaining meals.

Vegetarian for two or three nights?! Yes. It’s so easy and satisfying. Vegetarian doesn’t mean no protein. It means proteins that didn’t come from animals. It means INEXPENSIVE proteins. Beans and lentils are my go-to. A 15.5 ounce can of organic beans at my local grocery store costs $0.99. A can of organic lentils is $2.19, but I avoid those if possible because I can get a much better deal if the lentils are dry and I re-hydrate them myself (but that takes planning ahead- canned lentils work well in a pinch and are still a fraction of the cost of meat). Dry  beans are also cheaper than canned and are a great if you plan ahead (which also saves you money!).

Here is a sample weekly menu:

Sunday: Organic pizza night. I love Amy’s organic pizza. Frozen pizza that uses only organic ingredients and is in the process of getting non-GMO certified. They also make vegan and gluten free pizza options! I take organic chicken sausage and dice it to add on top of the pizza, along with some fresh (or frozen) organic veggies. The package of organic sausage has 6 links- I’ll use three here and save the other three for later in the week or freeze them for another time. The pizza makes four slices, 2 for each of us and is very filling. If I go light on the veggies or if I don’t use sausage, I’ll also make a salad.

pizza

Monday and Tuesday: (I make enough for both days on Monday) Meatloaf or meatballs made from organic ground turkey or chicken and organic veggies. There are a ton of great recipes I use-many to be posted soon! Organic veggies or a salad on the side.

meatballs

Wednesday and Thursday: (I make enough for both days on Wednesday) Veggie burgers- I have a dozen different ones I make so we never get tired of them. They are so good- I eat them without a roll, my husband often puts his on a roll with cheese and condiments like a real burger. I just eat mine with a knife and fork. Sometimes I put a little organic goat cheese and vinegar on top. Organic veggies on the side. If I don’t use sweet potatoes in the burger I sometimes make baked sweet potato fries- again, recipes to come!

veggie burgerFriday: Pasta. I buy sprouted organic pasta, but it can be expensive, so I sometimes go with 100% whole wheat organic.  I’ll use some of the fresh veggies left over from the other meals, or if I have any left over ground turkey/chicken or sausage links I’ll add them to the sauce to make it nice and hearty. I often do my sauce with just veggies. Makes more than 2 servings, so the rest go to our lunch the next day.

Pasta

Saturday: Whole protein night! Organic chicken breasts or fish/seafood, depending on what organic seafood my grocery store has. Sometimes they have none- when that happens, we go with chicken. Organic veggie, and an organic starch, like rice or potatoes. Sometimes I’ll cut up two whole chicken breasts to make a stir-fry.

stirfry

This is just a sample menu- the possibilities are endless. The more organic ground meat you use in place of “whole” proteins, the more you save. If you make more vegetarian meals that week, you save even MORE. It’s really up to you.
 
Can it be an adjustment to go from meat, vegetable, starch every night? Sure. But with good recipes it is easy, delicious, satisfying, and very budget friendly. A win four times over!

Restaurant Wars: What to order when you go out to eat

vegetarian or meats

I LOVE going out to eat. I worked in restaurants for nearly half of my life and love being on the other side (that is, being part of the people who actually get to sit and eat as opposed to serving the food). However, going out is expensive. You also don’t know what you’re eating unless you’re at a restaurant that specializes in “farm to table” or “local,” but even then, you really don’t know what’s going in your food. The word “local,” in terms of food, by definition means that the item came from 400 or fewer miles away. 400 miles is not local at all! There’s not much we can do about that, other than eating in certified restaurants. According to the Non-GMO Project there are currently only two Non-GMO certified restaurants in the country, one in Berkeley, California called “Nature’s Express” and one in Seattle called “Mighty-O Donuts.” Other than going to those two, it’s up to us to make the best choices possible when eating at a restaurant.
  
There are many others that say they try to avoid GMOs in their food- use Google or the Organic Food Database or Non-GMO Organic Restaurants to look up restaurants in your state or country.
  
The choices: Meat, poultry, and fish that may be genetically modified, injected with hormones, steroids, or antibiotics (or all of the above) or vegetarian meals that may contain genetically modified ingredients.
  
I personally go with the “lesser of two evils”- vegetarian options. By choosing vegetarian dishes I can eliminate some of the chemicals and/or substances I’m trying to avoid. If I can, I avoid corn, soy, papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and sugar beets since they are almost certainly genetically modified (GMO).
  
I personally just don’t know where the meat, poultry, and fish are coming from. A lot of seafood comes from overseas and is not thoroughly inspected. Cows, pigs, and birds (chicken, turkey, duck) are given genetically modified feed because it is cheaper to feed the masses this way. Don’t be fooled by “grass fed” beef- yes, grass fed is better than grain fed, but there is no guarantee that antibiotics and/or steroids weren’t given to those animals.
  
Other than most likely being the healthiest option, ordering vegetarian dishes are much cheaper than meat, poultry, or fish based dishes.

  • Pasta/Rice Dishes: Sure, the markup on pasta is ridiculous (think about it: it costs only a dollar or two for a box of pasta and one serving is sold for $10+ at the average restaurant) but for me it’s the safer choice. Just remember that regular pasta has bleached flour in it and the chemicals used to do so have been linked to organ failure- try to order 100% whole wheat pasta if you can. Same goes for bread and all other grain based dishes- order 100% whole wheat when you can (less than 100% whole wheat means the product uses a combination of whole wheat and regular white bleached flours)
  • Veggie burgers: They’re cheap and if made in house are great because they often contain beans or lentils which are big on protein but don’t contain the aforementioned additives that a beef or turkey burger would. Just remember that the bun is probably made with bleached flour. Ask if they have whole wheat buns! Also, think about the fries. The oil they’re cooked in is most likely GMO.
  • Veggie Stir-Fry: Great option, but ask what oil they use. If it’s vegetable, soybean, or canola, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be GMO. Peanut oil is less likely to be so, but peanut oil is a risk for restaurants based on allergies. (olive oil is not used in stir-fries, besides flavor, it has a lower maximum cooking temperature that stir-fries exceed)
  • Salads are great options, but consider the add-ons: cheese (from GMO cows/milk), dressing (GMO oil if the dressing is a vinaigrette), tortilla strips (GMO corn AND GMO oil), etc. Just be aware that even though vegetarian dishes are most likely better for you than meat/poultry/fish dishes, they are not necessarily “safe.” The safest way to eat is to buy your own ingredients and cook at home (even more so if they are USDA Certified Organic and verified by the Non-GMO project!)

  
If I’m going to a really nice restaurant I will more likely order a meat, poultry, or seafood dish because at smaller, higher end places (ie non-chains) the quality is usually much higher. I’ve worked in very high-end kitchens and can say that this is true, at least in the places I spent time in.
  
In general though, vegetarian at restaurants = better for you AND cheaper; a win-win!
 
If you want to avoid GMOs and are looking for a quick bite you may be in luck- Chipotle announced that they will be removing all GMOs this year (2014). Check out the article here.

Leftover Makeovers: What to do when you’re in a leftover rut

We’ve all been there- staring at the inside of the fridge at plastic containers and feeling…underwhelmed. No longer! Click on my “Leftover Makeovers!” page, which will be a permanent fixture on my blog. You can even leave a reply with any leftovers or lefteover ingredients you want to use up and I will give you a recipe or method for using them up. No more throwing money down the drain! You can save THOUSANDS a year (seriously- check out the page!) 

  

  Leftover Makeovers!

“So how do you eat organically all the time? It’s so expensive…”

I’ve always loved saving money. In fact, I’m obsessed with it. I am not cheap, I am thrifty and smart with my money. This doesn’t prevent me from being generous or from splurging; in fact, being savvy with my money ALLOWS me to do those things.

Saving is like a game to me- an every day contest as to how little I can spend. Not many 20 somethings with steady incomes live the same way. So how did I get like this? I grew up in a household where my mom clipped coupons every Sunday and my dad bought everything at Costco. They believed “Why spend when you don’t have to?!” And I agree. I started caring about how much I was spending ever since I began purchasing food and cosmetics/toiletries for myself (aka when I moved out of my parents’ house at 24). I would routinely only purchase store-brand generic beauty/health products and only when they were on sale. My shampoo was $1.79 a bottle, my conditioner was a bottle of Herbal Essences that I got for FREE because my mom gave me a coupon for $2.00 off any of their products and I waited until the store had them on sale for $1.99. With food I knew how to stretch a dollar and make meals that cost just a few dollars, if not pennies. My husband and I lived quite comfortably like this.

But then, one of the worst things that has ever happened to me turned out to be one of the best things. Cliche, I know. But true. I developed a physical ailment that, while researching it, led me to open my eyes regarding those inexpensive meals I was putting in my body.  I learned that I could make better choices. However, upon going to the grocery store I also learned that these choices were much more expensive. Digging deeper into my pockets meant I had to dig even deeper into my own resources and knowledge to come up with ways to not only justify the cost of these new expenses, but to actually save money as well.

Now, let me clarify. I could easily save a lot more money if I chose to not eat organically. However, I determined that I did not want to go on eating conventional foods and that I would need to make up for the extra cost of doing so. Many products are double the cost, some are triple, quadruple, quintuple! So how can the average person afford to eat only organic food and use only organic products? I’ve figured it out and have verbally shared my ideas with many people who have asked me to create a blog where I can relay information to whomever, whenever. Well, here I am! I’d love to share with you how you CAN live an affordable organic lifestyle. You have to be willing to make a few changes and swaps, some of which can take a little getting used to. But trust me, it’s worth it in the end, for both you, your family, AND your wallet!

If you read this blog, other blogs, articles, etc. you may decide to make the same changes I’ve made for me and my family, but if not, it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the same tips I will be sharing! So whether you’ve made the decision to go organic or not, you can always make the decision to SAVE MONEY. And I can help you do that- welcome to Two Peas & A Wad (of cash in your pocket!)