Eating Organic on a Budget: Meal Planning, Prepping + Grocery List
I will never forget our first trip to the grocery store as newlyweds freshly home from our honeymoon. We walked into Whole Foods, excited to pick out what we would cook and consume the next 7 days as husband and wife. We were standing in front of the spices and as I began picking out jars of organic spices for the meals I thoughtfully planned for us for the week, my husband put his foot down in the name of our budget. You see, as newlyweds, we were coming into the kitchen with essentially nothing. In order for us to cook from scratch, we had to start from scratch too. The tears streamed down my face because how could I possibly cook curried beef stuffed peppers without organic curry!? As dramatic as I am, I ended up walking outside and waiting by the car, crying, while my husband finished the grocery shopping.
Over our past 3 years of marriage, grocery shopping has evolved and so has our budget. My husband didn't value all organic everything and I didn't value our budget.
My husband is now fully on board with our organic lifestyle (the men in our lives have to have their own wellness journeys too) and in the fall, we went to Moneywise at Watermark where I finally learned how to take responsibility over our budget. In the spirit of vulnerability, I have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt thanks to my doctorate. I want to be transparent about our budget and clear that our finances have not changed even though I am currently earning an income. While my husband has seen success in his career and I am practicing at Free to Be Chiropractic, we are acting as though my income doesn't exist by placing it all towards my student loan debt. Our goal is to live a simple life and only buy what we need, even if we are blessed with abundance.
Emphasis on Real Food
The most important factor in our organic lifestyle and budget is our emphasis on real food. Let me be clear: Simple Mills crackers are delicious, but one box is over $7. I could get 7 bunches of organic celery for that price! We choose to buy fresh and organic fruits, vegetables, and ethically-raised meats and stay away from most processed foods in the middle aisles — even if they're gluten free and organic! This saves us money, but also nourishes our bodies in the way we were created.
We don't like to place labels on our eating habits, but to help y'all understand more of our philosophy around food, we eat Whole30 and Paleo 80% of the time. I say 80% because we firmly believe in intuitive eating, bio-individuality, and balance. Grains (especially spelt) are very synergistic with my body, so I eat organic grains even though grain-free diets are popular.
Every Saturday, I spend 30 minutes to one hour planning our meals for the week. I have used all the apps and notebooks available but good ol' pen and paper is what works best for me.
I like to write out the days in a column on the left and lunch and dinner in a row on the top. My husband and I both intermittent fast and do not consume breakfast most days of the week, but if you're a breakfast-eater, add that column. I like to add a section at the bottom for snacks because I swear I'm hungry every 2 hours.
I always check my refrigerator and pantry before I start thinking about meals because I like to use what we already have. If we bought a little extra ground beef last time we were at the grocery store, I'm going to incorporate ground beef into a recipe for this week's meals. Sometimes, we buy broccoli in bulk from Costco and don't eat it all, so I want to make sure we incorporate it this week before it goes bad. This simple step saves us time, money, energy, and keeps us active in reducing food waste.
Start plugging your main dishes and sides into the sheet! We usually choose 2-3 main dishes for the week and change up the sides or how it's served so we don't get bored with it. For example, we love The Defined Dish's Buffalo Chicken Dip and will eat it as a dip with vegetables, wrapped in lettuce for tacos, or topped on a salad throughout the week.
Feel free to create your own template, but if you like mine, you can download it below!
I believe the way I write our grocery list is the key to how we've been able to consume a completely organic diet on a budget. I look at all the meals and sides we're wanting to make and rather than just listing every single ingredient we need to buy, I organize it by meal. Then as we are going through the grocery store, I check off which ingredients we pick up and write its price out to the side. I keep the calculator on my phone handy so I'm basically adding everything up as we go instead of being shocked when I'm over budget at check out. There are many times where I'm adding up as we go and I realize that we're over budget and have to start making some cuts.
Having the grocery list arranged by meal allows me to see our priorities. For example, we needed to get more truffle oil for some of Lexi's Clean Kitchen's sweet potato truffle fries (one of our favorite sides), but my husband was a little shell-shocked when he saw that 3 ounces of organic truffle oil is $20. When my grocery list was a list of all the ingredients without any organization, I had a difficult time remembering what truffle oil is for and if it can be used throughout multiple recipes. When I have my grocery list organized by meal, I'm clearly able to see how we will be using truffle oil throughout the week and if it is a necessity. Since we were only going to use it for those fries, we decided to nix the truffle oil, make plain sweet potato fries, and saved $20 for our budget that week.
I also add a category on this list for miscellaneous items. For example, we couldn't get truffle oil this week because we were over budget, but I'll add it to miscellaneous for next week and if we're $20 under budget, we can grab it then! This category works well for restocking spices and various things that don't typically factor into a weekly budget.
Preparing the majority of our meals on Sundays before we start the week has been essential to keeping us committed to eating healthy. When food isn't ready and you get home later than you anticipated, it's easy to go through a drive-thru. We used to meal plan, grocery shop, and meal prep all on Sundays but by the time it came to start preparing the food, I was exhausted. Breaking it up to where I meal plan and grocery shop on Saturdays and then meal prep on Sundays keeps me energized!
I cook almost everything on Sundays and then we reheat as needed with our convection oven or on the stove. We don't usually cook vegetables ahead of time because we like them freshly roasted. For example, broccoli: If we buy it in bulk at Costco, it's already washed, cut, and ready to go. If we buy at Whole Foods, I will wash and cut it on Sunday, and then store it until we want to roast it. It makes that one meal super simple to reheat because all we have to do is toss the broccoli with some avocado oil, salt, and pepper and throw in the oven for 30 min while the main dish is reheating (usually takes 15 minutes) in the convection oven.
My husband and I have decided to be completely transparent about our grocery budget, hoping that it will help y'all. We used to spend $100 per week on groceries and did not allow any meals out. We decided that eating organic was more important to us and made sacrifices. As of two months ago, we felt comfortable enough to increase our grocery budget to $150 per week with $100 per month for a restaurant/date night budget. We use the app Every Dollar to keep up with our expenses.
Money Saving Tips:
Buy Primal Kitchen's Avocado Mayo (used in The Defined Dish's 3-ingredient buffalo chicken dip) from Costco. You get 24 oz. for $7.99 compared to 16 oz. for $9.99 at Whole Foods!
Buy Simply Organic spices in their beautiful glass jars but then refill them from the bulk section at Whole Foods.
Download the Whole Foods app to scan at checkout and apply any discounts and sales automatically. If you're an Amazon Prime member, you get an extra 10% off sale prices!
Our Favorite Recipes:
Against All Grain Meals Made Simple: lemon oregano chicken kabobs, beef tacos, shortcut spaghetti with meat sauce, green beans almondine, cumin-garlic summer squash
Fed & Fit: crispy brussels sprouts, curried beef & butternut squash stuffed peppers, a very good vegetable beef soup, crispy garlic green beans, crispy garlic steak fries, old-fashioned mashed potatoes
Hippie Lane: creamy quinoa porridge with stewed plums
Lexi's Clean Kitchen: Lexi's best guacamole, buffalo chicken bites, all-American burgers, sweet potato truffle fries, burnt broccoli
The Defined Dish: 3-ingredient buffalo chicken dip, 5 minute black bean dip, whole30 skillet chicken piccata, crispy salt + vinegar roasted potatoes with smoked paprika aioli
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