By Dr. Mercola
Many believe that eating healthy, organic foods and following a tight budget are like oil and water; they simply don't mix.
But in this case you can actually have your (organic) cake and eat it too, as a new study conducted by Portland State University Food Industry Leadership Center, for the Bulk is Green Council (BIG), has revealed a simple way to slash your organic food bill by nearly 90 percent!
Save Big Bucks on Organic by Buying in Bulk
In the first study of its kind to look into the benefits of buying in bulk, researchers revealed that Americans could save an average of 89 percent on costs by buying their organic foods in bulk, compared to organic packaged counterparts.
This includes foods in the following bulk categories:
|Organic Coffees & Teas
|Organic Nut Butters
||Organic Dried Fruit
||Organic Flour & Grain
Consumers who buy in bulk noted three top reasons for doing so:
- The ability to buy the exact quantity needed (leading to less food waste)
- Cost savings
- Less packaging, so more environmentally friendly
You may be able to bump up your savings even more if you're able to join a nearby buyer's club or food coop. The coop can purchase larger quantities of food in bulk, which is then split up and distributed among its members.
Significant Environmental Benefits, Too
Bulk foods obviously use far less packaging, but you may not realize how quickly this adds up. According to the report, if Americans purchased the following products in bulk for one year, it would save hundreds of millions of pounds of waste from going into landfills:
- Coffee: 240 million pounds of foil packaging saved from landfills
- Almonds: 72 million pounds of waste saved from landfills
- Peanut butter: 7 pounds of waste saved from landfills per family
- Oatmeal: Saves five times the waste of its packaged equivalent
There are benefits to manufacturers too, who can save an average of 54 percent on material and delivery costs by packing foods like nuts, dried fruit and trail mix in bulk.
Smart Tips for Bulk Food Shopping
Bulk food used to be relegated to bins at your grocery store, but nowadays you can buy large quantities of bulk items online, as well as find specialty bulk foods at your local health food store. You can also find bulk quantities of meat from local farmers.
Whether or not this is truly a good deal depends on a few factors:
- Will you use it up? Any food you purchase and throw away is, quite literally, akin to throwing your money in the trash. This is actually a major problem, as one-third of the food produced in the world is lost or wasted, according to a report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.i This massive number equates to 1.3 billion tons of food annually.
So while a 50-pound bag of organic brown rice or a 15-pound bag of nuts may seem like a good deal, keep in mind that grains and nuts easily go stale and rancid when stored for too long, as well as may attract bugs. When storing any bulk dry goods, use airtight containers and keep them in a cool, dry and dark place. Raw nuts should be kept in the refrigerator.
The same goes for buying large quantities of perishable goods like meat or produce. If you have a lot of freezer space, purchasing organic grass-fed beef, for instance, in bulk quantities makes sense only if it will save you money and you will use it up before it goes bad (to keep costs even lower, look for inexpensive roasts or ground meat).
- Is it really less expensive? Don't just assume it is … check the unit price of different sizes and packaging options to find out which is really the best deal (of course you can also factor in "savings" in the form of less environmental waste for bulk items).
- Is it healthy? Just because it's organic and in bulk, doesn't mean it's good for you. Pasta, candy, most grains and even dried fruit are examples of common bulk items that are far from healthy. These foods should be eaten only in limited quantities, if at all, so buying in bulk is not necessarily the best idea for your health.
How Else Can You Slash Your Food Bill and Still Eat Healthy?
There are many strategies available to stretch your food dollars while feeding your family healthy foods. Rather than wasting money on expensive cereal boxes and bags of chips, put your money toward foods that will serve your health well, such as raw organic dairy, cage-free organic eggs, fresh vegetables and fermented foods you make at home (fermented foods are incredibly economical because you can use a portion of one batch to start the next).
The following strategies will also make it easier to eat well on a tight budget:
- Identify someone to prepare meals. Someone has to invest time in the kitchen to prepare your meals, or else you will succumb to costly and unhealthy fast food and convenience foods. So it will be necessary for either you, your spouse, another family member or someone you pay to prepare your family's meals from locally grown healthful foods.
- Become resourceful: This is an area where your grandmother can be a wealth of information, as how to use up every morsel of food and stretch out a good meal was common knowledge to generations past. Seek to get back to the basics of cooking -- using the bones from a roast chicken to make stock for a pot of soup, extending a Sunday roast to use for weekday dinners, learning how to make hearty stews from inexpensive cuts of meat, using up leftovers and so on.
- Plan your meals: If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. This is essential, as you will need to be prepared for mealtimes in advance to be successful. Ideally this will involve scouting out your local farmer's markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly. But, you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales or, even better, produce from your own vegetable garden.
You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, make sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you're short on time in the evening.
It is no mystery that you will be eating lunch around noon every day so rather than rely on fast food at work, before you go to bed make a plan as to what you are going to take to work for lunch the next day. This is a simple strategy that will let you eat healthier and save money, especially it you take healthy food from home in with you to work.
- Avoid food waste: According to a study published in the journal PloS One, Americans waste an estimated 1,400 calories of food per person, each and every day.ii The two steps above will help you to mitigate food waste in your home, and you may also have seen my article titled 14 Ways to Save Money on Groceries. Among those tips are suggestions for keeping your groceries fresher, longer, and I suggest reviewing those tips now.
- Buy organic animal foods. The most important foods to buy organic are animal, not vegetable, products (meat, eggs, butter, etc.), because animal foods tend to concentrate pesticides in higher amounts. If you cannot afford to buy all of your food organic, opt for organic animal foods first.
What May be Even Better Than Buying Bulk?
Getting your food "direct" from the grower! You may be surprised to find out that by going directly to the source you can get amazingly healthy, locally grown, organic food for less than you can find at your supermarket. This gives you the best of both worlds: food that is grown near to you and sold with minimal packaging, cutting down on its carbon footprint and giving you optimal freshness, as well as grown without chemicals, genetically modified (GM) seeds, and other potential toxins.
Restaurants are able to keep their costs down by getting food directly from a supplier. You, too, can take advantage of a direct farm-to-consumer relationship, either on an individual basis or by joining a food coop in your area. To find these types of real foods, grown by real farmers who are eager to serve their communities, visit LocalHarvest.org.