The trials, the tears, and the chocolate…and some hope left over.

So, as promised, here is my BIG post on Real Food shopping! (I know I promised to post this earlier but ‘tomorrow’ turned into three days later and well, here we are.)

(P.S. If you are not sure what I mean when I say Real Food, look out for my mini post tomorrow, I’m making to explain what Real Food means to me (it’s different for everyone)!)

So…truth time. Real Food shopping is hard. On Monday, when I did my first real big Real Food shop, I thought it might kill me. Seriously. After going to the third store, I called Husband and the conversation went like this:

Me (dead serious): I am going to die here.
Husband (because he’s used to this): Stop being crazy.
Me: No. Really. I have already been out for 3 hours and I still have two more stores to go to. If I die here, and I probably will, I just want you know that I have decided I don’t want you to remarry; I want you to mourn me forever.
Husband: Okay, honey, whatever you want.

Then I bought dark chocolate truffles and stress-ate two of them in the parking lot.

The reason why I’m telling you this is to prepare you to know that if you try to eliminate processed foods and decide to pursue a Real Food lifestyle, shopping will be really hard at first. And it’s totally normal to feel like you are the guy in 127 hours and be willing to gnaw your arm off if it means you can get out of the freaking grocery store.

Why is it so hard? I think I’ve figured this out after my ordeal on Monday. It’s hard because the world’s way of what is convenient, easy, fast, and cheap is 100% dominant in our culture, especially in the world of food. It has become the norm. So when you are trying to shop for Real Foods, you are searching on the outskirts of the mainstream. You are looking for a needle in a haystack of processed, convenient, man made foods. I totally understand why people give up on Real Foods or don’t even try. They are not lazy; the world, and especially the world of food in America, has made it extremely hard and extremely expensive to find and eat Real Foods. But not impossible. Let me say that again: It is NOT impossible. You have to be willing to do some work, especially in the beginning, and get creative. But you know what? God has never, ever pretended that His way was the easy way. In fact, He called it the narrow way. After I realized this on Monday, I was comforted to realize that the resistance and difficulty I encountered trying to shop for Real Foods was a sign that it was the ‘narrow way.’ God’s way. And God’s way richly rewards the effort we put forth to get there. So I plunge onward!

The main reason why I took so long on Monday was because I was doing a sort of ‘survey’ of our local grocery stores to a) determine what Real Food they sell b) where the heck it is in the store c) how much it costs and d) how does their price compare to other stores. The last one was the most important because Real Food eating can get very pricey if you shop indescriminantly and don’t compare prices. Which we cannot afford. Yes, it will take more work but financial freedom with budgeting is, like, the best thing EVER and I am determined to make this work within the confines of our budget. I will not be denied.

I prepared myself for the long haul: I hydrated, wore comfortable shoes, brought my list and meal plans, and ate a good lunch. I cleared my whole afternoon. I was ready. I went to the following stores in our local area:

BJ’s
Wegmans
Feel Rite
Trader Joe’s
Aldi

Insane, right?

Yes. It totally was.

But I learned a lot. Here is what I learned and I hope by sharing this, you can avoid eating truffles in a grocery store parking lot while planning your funeral.

#1 Not all health food is created equal. I’m learning a lot about the differences between all these health food buzz words, like organic, cage free, pastured, pasture raised, natural, fair trade, etc etc. What I learned is this: Organic does not always mean healthy or clean or real. Organic can be just as processed and unhealthy as regular old man made foods. I am especially learning this about dairy products, including eggs. Organic, cage-free eggs may not be what they seem. In fact, a farm can say their eggs are cage-free even if that only means the chicken has a tiny little ‘crate’ to peck around in rather than a giant chicken mega cage contraption like in Napoleon Dynamite. Not what you were picturing, most likely. Also, organic milk is often ultra-pasteurized. I never realized this. If you look at the expiration date of organic, ultra pasteurized milk, it can be even up to two months after you buy it! GROSS. Read about more of the creepiness involved in ultra-pasteurization here. Additionally, organic packaged foods can contain unclean oils and processed ingredients, just in organic forms. So all in all, you can’t just grab something that says organic off the shelf and trust it’s the best for you. The key is LEARNING AS MUCH AS YOU CAN about what you are eating and the processes it took to get from the farm to your cart and learning to read labels. Not for calories and nutrition facts, but for ingredients. I am learning that looking for low-temperature pasteurized milk is much better (raw is best but it’s currently illegal for grocery stores to sell raw milk), local, pastured/pasture-raised eggs, are a better choice than organic, cage-free, non-local eggs, grass-fed butter is preferable to grain-fed organic butter, and grass-fed or pastured meat is preferable to organic meat that is fed an organic, grain diet. If you can get organic, pastured or grass-fed meat, or raw butter, or dairy, well then you’ve hit the jackpot! The best way to understand all this is to subscribe to Weed ’em and Reap’s mailing list and get her FREE, easy to understand printable on all this information. It is her ‘Good, Better, Best’ Printable and it really helps break all of this down for you. It also talks about produce, sweetners, pantry and fridge items, fats, grains, nuts, and beans. Her philosophy is “Doing the best you can with what you have.” I completely agree. While you may not be able to hit every box in the ‘Best’ column, you can try to hit as many as you can within your access, abilities, and budget. That is what I’m trying to do.

#2 You most likely cannot get everything you need, at the best price, at one store. This is where the work comes in. I have yet to find one store that has everything I need without killing my budget. The frugal in me just cannot allow myself to buy something at one store if I KNOW it’s cheaper at another. However, since we primarily shopped at Aldi prior to switching to Real Foods, I am used to shopping at two stores because Aldi doesn’t carrry everything we may need on a given week.
If I can get my Real Food Shopping down to two stores, I would be a very happy girl. I will say that shopping at one store is a big enough ordeal for some people, especially if little ones are factored into the picture, and if that is the case, I recommend Wegmans. I have yet to come across a product I could not find at Wegmans, but you may pay more for it than somewhere else. If your time is more valuable than a few dollars, then Wegmans is the way to go.

#3 The real way to save money is by exploring non-traditional grocery options, especially for meat and dairy. We are looking into several of these for ourselves, including Wholesharing, buying bulk meat directly from local farms, and co-ops.

Wholeshare is a great website where groups of friends and family can buy directly from sellers in large quantities to save money. One person ‘runs’ the group and receives the delivery. Then it is split up between the group based on orders placed. They offer a large selection of produce, meat, dairy and pantry items. You can get pastured eggs, grass-fed butter, organic, pastured meat, dry beans, clean oils, and baking supplies. You split large quantities of these items with your group and reap in the savings. You often do have to split the items yourself, for example if you order a 25lb bag of beans, you will have to separate it yourself between your group members, but other items already are packaged in ‘split friendly’ ways.
Husband and I are most excited about buying our meat in bulk directly from local farms. We have explored options for both grass-fed beef and pasture raised pork and chicken. We are most likely splitting a 1/4 cow and a 1/2 hog with some friends in the next few weeks. (PRAISE JESUS we bought a standing freezer a couple years ago! I can’t wait to fill it with MEEEEAT. Pounds and pounds of meat. And homemade ice cream.) If you don’t have a supplemental freezer, you can still do this but you would really need to split your quantities with someone or you would run out of room. A 1/4 cow is about 90lbs of meat and a 1/2 hog is about 80lbs. So we are looking at taking home 45lbs of beef and 25-40lbs of pork (if we split 2 or 3 ways). The best part about this is you get delicious cuts of meat that I was always too cheap to buy before. We mostly eat ground turkey, boneless pork chops, and the occasional steak or roast (from the Omaha Steak Box my parents gave us for Christmas!). With this purchase we will be getting ground beef; sirloin, ribeye, t-bone, porter house, rib, round and beef steaks; short ribs, chuck, sirloin, and rump roasts, stew beef, brisket, and the bones to make amazing broth. From our hog we will get spare ribs, loins, shoulder and picnic roasts, boneless or bone in chops, pork sausage, fresh hams, bacon, hocks, and stew bones. I can’t tell you the last time I bought anything but basic pork chops. BORING. Well, not anymore! Also, did I mention BACON???? If you are unsure of how to go about doing this or are skeptical about how this actually SAVES you money, not only over the store’s organic meat but even over regular, basic meat, check out this awesome post by Weed ’em and Reap where she breaks down the buying process completely and gives you full cost calculations! It’s awesome. And true.
The farm we found for our pork also sells whole, pasture raised chickens, and eggs which we will also be looking into purchasing from them.

Sidebar.
Eggs. Can I just say that good, pastured eggs are so freaking hard to find and expensive that I seriously thought about just buying a freaking chicken?? I had to go to my fifth store just for eggs. If anyone owns a chicken and has extra eggs, I will buy them from you. PLEASE. End Sidebar.

You can also check out co-ops and community gardens in your area for milk, eggs, and produce. We haven’t looked into this as much but I know they can save a lot of money.

#4 FARMERS MARKETS ARE THE BOMB!! Aside from meat and dairy, creativity is needed to make the most of your produce purchasing. Organic produce can be very costly but just as I said before, just because it says organic doesn’t mean it’s best. I took the time to look at a lot of organic produce while shopping and most came from Mexico. Part of this is because we refuse to shop seasonally and demand our strawberries whenever we darn well want strawberries, so stores are forced to get their produce from non-local (and even out of country) sources to meet our demands. Mexico is an awful long way to where I live in New York (no, not New York City. There are other places in the state, you know), so I don’t know how I feel about the freshness of produce that has come from south of the border. Additionally, I love the idea of supporting local farmers. The best place to do that is at the Farmer’s Market. (Not to mention, shopping seasonally saves money! Because my produce didn’t have to take a plane to get to me, it costs less!). By going to Farmer’s Markets, you can talk directly to the farmers about their products and farming practices. Many small farms can’t afford the cost of becoming USDA certified organic, but if you talk with them directly, many practice safe, healthy, and traditional farming practices, even if they can’t label themselves organic. (Another money saver, because produce that is organic tends to be much higher priced – probably to make up for the cost it took to be certified!). Some farmers even have greenhouses which allow for growing during all seasons, so you can even get some of your favorite single season items all year long! You can also usually get local eggs, milk, meat, and other products, like honey, at the market. Our area is very fortunate to have a bunch of great, local markets and I even found a market that is open all year long! Which is amazing because our winters tend to last about 900 8 months, here. That’s a long time to go without access to fresh, local produce. I am going to check it out this Tuesday with a friend and I will let you know what I discover!
The next step up in bravery when it comes to produce is to grow your own. I am planning on attempting this come springtime. I say attempting because I have the most notorious green black thumb in all the land and have literally killed every plant that has ever come into our home. Every. Last. One. With some help from my naughty cats, but they really didn’t have to do much. I am hoping that growing vegetables will be different…??? I am starting with some easy plants and lots of help from my sister and my mom, who is an INCREDIBLE gardner, so maybe there is hope. Either way, pray for me and my poor little victims, I mean veggies.

#5 If you can make it yourself-do it! Many of my favorite foods were full of processed ingredients so they became no-no’s when I switched to Real Foods. But the good news is, you can usually make them yourself – better tasting and cheaper! (Cha-Ching!) The main cost is stocking up on staples and baking supplies. But once you do that, you can make homemade granola, crackers, bread, granola bars, pizza, tacos, ice cream, tortilla chips and cookies for a fraction of the cost to buy them. (Enter Kitchen Aid Mixer, aka BFF FOR LIFE.) There are so many great recipes (some of which I’ll be sharing this weekend!!) to recreate our favorite treats. Real Food does not mean boring food. All hope is not lost. (Sorry, but I can’t guarantee a recipe to make your own cheese puffs. I think you’re on your own for that one.) Check out my Pinterest account for recipes I have found, under my ‘Ditching the Processed’ board.

#6 Successful Real Food Shopping is possible. Seriously. Just don’t be like me and bite off more than you can chew by spending 4 hours at 5 different stores in one day. Plus use what I learned to help you when you get started. It is expensive in the beginning, but that is mostly the cost of replacing processed items you no longer want to use and stocking up on staples that will last a long time. Once those initial costs are taken care of, it will get better. I am finally done replacing and stocking up on staples so I am hoping to see a difference in my next shopping bill. Also, once you get the hang of what to buy, what you like, where it is and who has it for cheaper, it will be a snap to shop. Part of the adjustment period that makes it so difficult is just learning what to buy and where it is. I don’t know about you, but I used to have a grocery routine. I knew exactly what to get, what I liked, and exactly where it was in the store. I would pop in and out in no time. Now I’m re-learning. Once I figure it out, I’ll be back to ‘popping’ in no time! To help get you started, I made up some shopping list cheat sheets that help you know what real foods are available at the stores I checked out. I will be doing a ‘tandem’ post with those lists after this post so that your eyeballs don’t fall out trying to read all this in one post.

Okay. So there you have it. It is totally possible to eat and cook Real Foods on a budget. It just takes hard work and determination to walk the ‘narrow way.’ If you decide to try it for yourself, I hope that any of this rambling helps you make it through better than I did!

Look out for my post later tonight with my shopping list cheat sheets! For now, I’m off on a date ‘afternoon’ with Husband to buy pants and eat tacos. Super romantic. Actually, to me, tacos are always romantic.

Happy Shopping!

Molly

P.S. Here is actual photographic evidence that successful Real Food Shopping is possible. My haul from my mega shopping extravaganza:

20140322-000621.jpg

Plus the world’s most adorable butter dish:

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Questions? Comments? Please share!

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