Today and tomorrow, I simply want to share where I buy what, the best prices I've found, and some of the excellent deals that help our family to be able to eat plenty of wholesome, real foods on a tight budget. This isn't a "how-to" post necessarily, because most of you don't live where I live or even eat all of the same things that we eat. Rather, I thought that by sharing some of the details of where and how I shop, it may give you some ideas or inspiration for sourcing out the things that you want to buy.
In the comments section below, I would LOVE to get a discussion going on the best food sources and prices that you've found, making this a valuable resource for us all. We can always learn from what someone else is doing (myself definitely included!).
I am currently buying my grass-fed beef in bulk from a local farm (Ennis Farm Meats, if you're local to me). I buy about 100-150 lbs at a time, and pay a little less than $3 per lb. It's mostly utilitarian cuts (ground, stew, roast) but some steaks and ribs as well. My farmer also gives me the option of buying a front, side or back (front is even more utilitarian, back is prime cuts, side is a mix). I opt for the front because it is a lower cost per lb. I also use the bones from the beef to make bone broth and to render beef tallow.
We have also purchased some sausages this year from Nature's Prime Organic Foods, using a Groupon that I purchased. They have a great beef summer sausage (although it's not on their site right now, I'm not sure why) and beef hot dogs. They don't use any nitrates or preservatives. With the Groupon and by spending $100 so that I got free shipping, the cost was decent. We also have two local places that make nitrate-free sausage with free-range meat, so we buy those sometimes and try to really stretch them out in dishes to make it cost-effective.
This has been a more challenging area for us to find something we're happy with. I tend to buy whole chickens because I find them to be a better value, and then I have all the bones that I need for ensuring that we have plenty of chicken bone broth as well. Very occasionally I will buy ground chicken from my local farmer, because it's quite economical and a nice change from ground beef.
The best poultry that I have been able to find comes from 3 sources:
- The farm where I buy my beef carries free-range whole chickens for $4 per lb, raised by someone else in the city next to us. I don't know exactly how they're raised, because I've never been able to speak to that farmer, so it's not my ideal but it's local and the cost is reasonable.
- When I make orders from Azure Standard co-op, I sometimes buy the cases of whole frying chickens from Shelton. They are free-range, and a 10 lb box is only about $28 (less when they go on sale once or twice a year), making them only $2.80 per lb, a great price. But again, I'm not sure exactly how much these chickens get out on pasture.
- Last year my MIL's friend began raising her own chickens, to sell to her friends. I believe we paid about $3 per lb, and they were fully pastured. Only thing is that we had to place orders months in advance, and I didn't have the money set aside to order as many as I needed. Next year, I'll plan better and try to order a whole lot of them.
For two years, I was part of a local cow share, which I loved being able to support. Problem was, it was costing us $18 per gallon and with a growing family, we simply couldn't do it. The alternative that I have found that works for me is to cross the border (we have family in Washington) and buy raw milk there at $8-$10 per gallon instead, which feels cheap to me now in comparison. I stock up on 3-8 gallons at a time, use what I can fresh and freeze the rest, as well as make yogurt, kefir, etc.
We also buy raw cheese, in 5 lb blocks, from Azure Standard co-op. This is the cheapest that I can find a natural raw cheese. Some months I can't get it (because it's a popular co-op items and is sometimes out of stock) and my cheese-loving family insists that we eat cheese anyways, so I buy regular white cheese (to avoid food dyes) and try to find brands that are organic and/or raw when they are on sale or discounted.
I am fortunate to have become friends with the daughter of an organic egg farmer. I am able to purchase the "seconds" (imperfect eggs that they can't sell to stores), $5 for 2 1/2 dozen. I've been to the farm, seen the chickens running around outside, and I'm really happy about this deal. 2-3 months every year the eggs are unavailable, so then I try to buy from other small, local farms that sell their eggs on the side of the road, because the cost is usually less than the good eggs in the grocery store.
Buy it in bulk! There's no other way to make coconut oil truly cost effective. The best value is a 5 gallon bucket. If you can't afford to do it on your own, go in together with friends or family and split a bucket up. My MIL's church has been placing wholesale orders together and they've been getting blow-me-away deals by doing it this way. But before that, we (my MIL, SIL and myself) would go in together on an order from Mountain Rose Herbs or Tropical Traditions (when they had a sale) and split the oil up.
I decided a little over a year ago that it was a high priority for our family to eat not just organic butter, but pastured butter (from cows grazing on green grass, preferably in the springtime) for the high nutrient content. I was worried it would kill my budget, but here's how I did it:
- Because my coconut oil got cheaper by buying in bulk, I began to substitute some of my butter use with coconut oil instead. Less butter in my baking, more coconut oil. I use coconut oil more often for cooking things like eggs or potatoes. I try to save our butter for putting on bread or other baking, and for adding to things like steamed veggies or hot rice.
- I figured out that by buying it by the case from Azure, and particularly trying to only buy the months that it was on sale, the cost became a lot closer to the organic butter that I had been buying from Costco (the Kirkland organic brand). It was hard at first to spend almost $40 on a case of only 6 lbs of butter, but it just slowly became an expected part of my budget and since I rationed it out more carefully, it began to last longer. I buy the Organic Valley Pastured Butter in a case of 12 1/2 lb sticks.
- When I absolutely can't afford it, I buy the Costco organic butter.
These are the 4 ways that we currently buy fish. They're not 100% ideal, but they allow us to consume some of the safer fish at least several times a month, sometimes more.
- Fresh, wild sockeye salmon filets (skin on) from Costco or our local grocery store. This is a once-in-a-while splurge. I cut it into 2-3 large pieces, so that we don't go through the whole $15-$18 fish at once.
- Fresh whole salmon during the salmon runs in the summer, because we live on the West Coast, making them slightly more affordable (but this is still a splurge and a rarity for us).
- Canned wild sockeye salmon (with bones and skin). I've found a brand that is certified sustainable. I buy it whenever it goes on sale, or if I see it for sale at a store I don't shop at, I bring in the flyer to get it price-matched. My goal is to pay less than $2 per can. This is what we use most often, for salmon melts, fish cakes, salmon chowder, etc.
- Frozen white fish filets, like tilapia, pollock, halibut and cod. I buy these when the bags at my local store go on sale, and then try to stretch them out as far as I can.
Tomorrow I'll continue with grains, fruits and vegetables, spices, nuts and grocery basics...