How to Shop at Whole Foods (or any other Organic grocery store) without Breaking The Bank

Making the switch to organic foods doesn’t necessarily double (or triple) a food budget. In some cases, buying the right food at the right time can actually be cheaper. There are many ways to save money at Whole Foods and there are even more ways to save on eating in general when you look at the big food picture. It’s not as easy as comparing apples to apples, but it paves the path to a healthy and happy relationship with food.

whole foods

10 Simple Steps to Save Money on Wholesome Food

1. Drink Water – Right off the bat, swap any sugary beverages for water and you will instantly cut down on your bill. Start with one glass per day for a week, then add another each week after that until you get to 8 full glasses of refreshing water each day. Not only will you feel better, but your wallet and your back will thank you! Plus, you can use the small carts in the store.

2. Dilute your own Juice – Instead of buying children’s juice or juice boxes, dilute it yourself by adding water in a 1:4 or 1:2 ratio depending on the age of the child. Even I like to dilute my juice now that I drink water most of the time.

3. Limit or Skip the Snack Aisles – The best way to save money is to avoid the interior aisles of the store altogether, but I also think that an important part of healthy eating is having an indulgence in moderation. Stock up with these items go on sale.

4. Follow the Stores on Social Media to find out about FLASH Sales – The weekly flash sales feature a product at 1/3 the regular cost, which is huge savings. Stock up and find ways to use every last bite of the feast. Did you see how I used every last mango during Mango Madness?

5. Don’t Throw Anything Away – If the average family throws away 1/2 their food, that’s a ton of money going into the trash. Why not buy only what you will surely eat, learn how to use food efficiently, and make leftovers the best part of the meal to get every dollar’s worth of the money you spend on your food?

6. Grab the Flyer – Online and at the front of the stores, you can find a flyer with money-saving coupons.

7. Listen to the Experts – Money Saving Mom and many other coupon blogs show how to match coupons with store sales for big savings.

8. BYO – Some stores encourage shoppers to bring bags by offering a small discount or prize. Don’t forget to bring a mesh tote for produce and jars for the bulk market, too. If you can weigh your own bulk goodies, put your container on the scale and then hit “TARE” to zero the weight so you don’t pay for anything more than your food. Otherwise, bring an extra so that the clerk can use the empty to determine the weight when you checkout.

9. Shop in Season – This is the tricky part. If you truly want to save money on food, you might have to eat boring food at times. The summer and fall are the best times to go wild with your food choices. Load up and freeze extra portions. Make soups with leftovers or experiment with canning. Learn your seasonal fruits and veggies and eat those at the right times. Chances are, the sales will match up with the seasons. (http://americanfood.about.com/od/resourcesadditionalinfo/a/seasonalprolist.htm)

10. Buy Local Produce – Join a CSA or Shop the Farmer’s Market for Produce. Supporting local farms is worth it in the long term.

If you’re looking to fill your cart with organic versions of everything you normally eat, it will definitely cost a lot more. But, a few healthy diet shifts can lead to an incredible opportunity to get your money’s worth on every bite.

Bonus tip: Grow your own! What better way to save money than to reap what you sow from seeds in your own backyard? You’ll save on transportation costs, packaging, fuel and benefit from a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

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Mango Madness

Whole Foods had a FLASH sale on Mangos that I couldn’t pass up, so I decided to research how to use mangos to make sure these delectable fruits don’t go to waste. I’ve been craving mangos, so I was super-excited to see a tweet that my local shop was offering 10 mangos for $5. I bought a variety of green and yellow mangos to eat through the coming week. The yellow, slightly wrinkled fruits are so tasty right now!

mango madness in a produce bag

Although the instructions on SimplyRecipes.com don’t explain how to entertain your toddler for 5 minutes while slicing a mango, I can assure you that it is possible. Hannah sits on the counter with me while I trim and slice veggies all the time. We are both careful to work around one another since she eagerly reaches her tender fingers for bites as soon as they become available.

I started toting my own shopping bags to the grocery store in an effort to cut down on plastic bag use a few months ago and I am happy to report that it has been going really well. I plan to add a few cotton mesh produce bags to my collection before the Farmer’s Market starts up next month. For now, I’m still trying to avoid buying in plastic, but it is a process. I’m modifying a lot of things about the way I grocery shop in an effort to bring home healthier options for my family. It can be a real challenge to find something to eat that isn’t stored in plastic, so I’m starting simply by doing most of my shopping in the produce section and bringing my own bag. I also love using canvas bags because they are easy to throw in the wash. But, let’s get back to the mango party!

First of all, the raw, sunripened mangos that have been sitting near the window on my counter make the perfect breakfast side, snack, and dessert. The grocery clerk at Whole Foods said that she loves to throw a mango in the food processor with a little vanilla ice cream. That sounds delicious! I also love mangos as a salsa on top of salmon or pureed into a vinaigrette for a salad dressing. Don’t even get me started on all the ways to juice a mango or incorporate it into some of my favorite beverages like margaritas. I decided to make a pinterest board with ideas for using up all the mangos and now I’m regretting not getting more! I doubt that there will be any left at the end of this week with the way Hannah and I tear through fresh fruit, but if there are I can easily cut them up and store the pieces in a glass jar.

How to Freeze a Mango

Similar to freezing other fresh fruits, slice the mango and then start the process in the refrigerator. After they cool overnight, give the jar a quick shake and then transfer to the freezer. This helps keep the pieces from sticking together. These icy mangos can instantly fill a margarita or sorbet puree without defrosting.

Happy eating! Follow my Mango Madness Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/ecoincognito/mango-madness/

5 Kid’s Meals I Don’t Want to Order from KFC

I grew up eating a lot of fast food. Even at stand alone restaurants, I still opted for chicken fingers 9 times out of 10. I realized in my late teens that I wasn’t making healthy choices and that I felt a lot better physically and emotionally when I ate fresh, wholesome meals. Finding a healthy diet hasn’t been easy for me because there is a lot of marketing jargon to sift through. Sadly, I’ve spent years disregarding healthy professional advice because it seemed conflictive and rattled with words like, “toxic”, “rancid”, or “poisonous.” Who, in their right mind, wants to believe that something they have eaten since childhood could be so bad?

Recently, there has been a shift at fast food restaurants to offer side dishes that marketers consider “healthy.” Last weekend, KFC invited a group of bloggers to visit the headquarters with their children to sample these meals. The popular bloggers touted the delicious 210 calorie lil buckets with tweets and photos. It quickly caught the eyes of Moms who do not agree that these are healthy options.

kfc kid's meals

I sympathize with both sides. Two years ago, I could have easily created that marketing campaign. I would have looked at the new menu options and thought, “Fruit water is healthier than soda because it doesn’t have caffeine. Mashed potatoes are better than french fries since they’re not fried. Look at the cute food pouch! Now kids can have applesauce with their meals. I bet Moms will LOVE this.” I remember seeing the first ‘healthy’ kid’s sides available at McDonald’s a few years ago and being excited to take my kids to eat them. I don’t feel that way anymore.

Just because a food isn’t fried, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There are important issues about preparation, cultivation, and transportation that effect the food before it even gets to our plates. KFC has missed the mark on a lot of those things. Some very smart people have realized that the foods contain toxins and dozens of ingredients that are linked to obesity. They created a Real Food Infographic to share the message. Yes, even the smart waters and food pouches are culprits, too. The same thing is happening at places like McDonalds, Chic-fil-A, and Wendy’s. As much as I want to applaud the Colonel for trying to do something different, I’m still not sure it’s better.

It’s really a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it would be great if truly wholesome foods were more readily available for kids. Sadly, I don’t think the fast food places are going to make that happen. I think it would be better if we just call a spade a spade and let the fast food chains do what they do best. Supersize it. Glorify the calories and the gluttony. Can we get a dessert with that kid’s meal? Some people will make the decision to eat less frequently at those places. Others won’t, and that’s their choice. At least there will be truth in marketing, especially marketing targeted at kids. How else will they learn what is truly healthful and nutritious?

I’ve been confused on where to start on the road to healthy eating, so I decided to grow food in my own backyard. Through that simple act, I’m learning so much about cultivating and preparing foods. The definition of a meal has changed for me. So has the definition of fast food. I can’t think of a faster way to grab a bite than to walk into my yard and pluck a plump, sun-ripe tomato into my mouth.

Benefits of Composting – Grocery Stores, Take Note

We just started enjoying the benefits of composting in our home. In a few short months, we have completely overhauled our waste output. Adding the simple task of composting to the mix helps us tackle food waste from the ground up.

As soon as we started our compost collection bucket, I immediately felt happier. A lot of the foods that I prepare are from fresh, wholesome ingredients like carrots, apples and celery, and it always irked me to have so much waste from their prep. Now that we compost, I get my little one involved in the process and she eagerly helps me toss the scraps. We’ll work on our compost this year so that next year’s garden can benefit from the rich addition to our soil. I can’t wait to show my little one how this all works!

The other day we were at the grocery store and I noticed that Wegmans has ready-made packs of prepared veggies all throughout the store. At first I thought it was a great idea to prevent food waste because they are obviously using up the veggies that would otherwise go bad by displaying them for quick sale. Although there’s a bit of packaging that’s going to waste and I would love to see a creative solution for that, there is another issue at hand. The big question I had was, you guessed it, “do they compost?” So I asked via Twitter:

benefits of composting wegmans

@Wegmans Do you compost all the fruit and veggie scraps from your ready-to-eat packs?

Sadly they do not, but they are passing my suggestion along. I’m enthusiastic about this because I think we can help them make a positive change. The reason I never composted before was that no one said, “Here’s how you compost” or “Why don’t you compost” until all of a sudden a bunch of people I knew started to talk about composting. I quickly discovered how easy it was to get started and haven’t thrown a scrap in the trash ever since. 

What do you think would happen if we all (nicely) let Wegmans know that we think it would be cool if they implemented this sustainable business practice? They’re sure to save money by eliminating the trash bags and collection service fees. Plus, I would love to see a partnership with local farms who might use the scraps to enrich their soil. Wegmans is always asking for feedback, so let them know on the next e-form they send or leave a comment here and share this post with a friend who might have a connection. Changes like these can take time, so let’s get the ball rolling and start asking friendly questions today.

Tweet: Hey @Wegmans, do you compost all your fruit and veggie scraps? #happyscraps

Allergy Ally

A few years before becoming a parent I found out that schools were making changes. First, they weren’t allowing latex balloons. Soon after, they began regulating cupcakes and sweets for parties. When I heard that they outlawed peanut butter, I was horrified. After all, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in more than half of my lunches for 12 years. I had no idea what I would do for my future kids. Obviously they would starve if they had my taste buds. I didn’t know anything about food allergies other than that they would be an inconvenience for me instead of just the kids they affected.

Last year I met one of my first Mom friends and I found out that her son had severe food allergies. We were in the same group of nursing Moms, so I heard about her struggle changing her own diet to accomodate for her little boy. At first it sounded awful. Even the littlest amounts of indigestible foods could send his sensitive system through the ringer. On top of the difficulties of caring for a newborn, she had to change her diet and the way she cooked and the way she ordered foods. But, we all have our challenges as new Moms.

It took me a while to realize how lucky her little boy is. His body is actually built to only allow him to eat foods that are good for him. These first years will, undoubtedly, be a challenge. But he will sail through the teenage years without the torment of sugar-induced mood swings. He won’t wake up without energy or go to bed feeling like he has a brick in his gut. His Mom knows what foods he needs and he can trust her to provide a healthy diet, which is amazing if you stop to think about it. I realized that it wouldn’t be so bad to take a lesson from the food allergy Moms.

I decided to be an Allergy Ally.

At first, it was hard for me to find the information I wanted. What does a child actually NEED to eat? There are a million ways to find out what a child can eat, but I’ve been in search of the healthiest diet for kids and I feel like I’m only at the tip of the iceberg. What I do know is that kids with allergies or those who are vegans or vegetarians are not necessarily missing out on nutrients. I also know that many of their Moms are super-investigators. Early on, I was so amazed that they could translate the complex ingredient lists on the back of every food. Now I know that if they can’t read it, they can’t eat it. Their diets consist of low or un-processed foods and lots of produce. Who can argue with an apple a day?

I was already on the path to being a self-proclaimed allergy ally after I noticed how difficult it was to keep Hannah and her friends from sharing snacks at playdates. No sooner will I walk into a room than her hands will be in someone else’s food bowl, so it’s no surprise to me that other nimble toddlers act the same way. I could see that our playdates might be problematic for some. Then I read about Carrie’s Playgroup Conundrum (http://www.chockababy.com/2013/02/life-with-food-allergies-playgroup-conundrum/)  and I understood as well as I could for someone on ‘the other side.’

One of my Motherhood Mantras is to say yes as often as possible. Our house is arranged so that I don’t have to tell Hannah to get out of trouble. Her toys are accessible and educational so that she can find as much entertainment as she wants. Most importantly, I try to provide her healthy foods so that when she asks for a snack or for more of a meal the answer is always ‘yes.’ I want her friends to have the same positive experience when they are here. If we’re serving a food, it’s important to me that it’s a shareable snack.

I asked Carrie for some advice about how to host an allergy-friendly playgroup and she offered these suggestions:

Eco Incognito and Chockababy pair up to explain how to be an Allergy Ally1. Never be afraid to ask a mom about her child’s allergies. It can be hard to bring it up all the time but we want others to know and learn about them.
2. If you’re hosting a playdate, try to provide “safe” snacks for all kids. Even if you are sure they are all safe, keep any packaging so the Allergy Mom can double check before serving her child any snacks. If you put them in cute little bowls, put everything in their own bowl to avoid cross-contamination.
3. It might seem small, but when you’re with friends with allergies, try to keep snacks and drinks in one location – such as at a table. Wandering snacks and drinks cause a ton of stress for moms during playdates. Think crumbs, greasy fingers, and stray snacks that can be munched up off the floor by any child.
4. If food is the main focus of an event with your child and their friends, ask about allergies, and then ask for suggestions from the Mom to keep it a safe event.
5. Always have your child wash hands and face after eating when playing with an allergy child. If you forget and the Mom asks your child to, don’t be offended. Know she is just protecting her child.

We all want our kids to be healthy and nutrition is a key component of that. I’m happy to take advice from a person who knows which foods are best for kids. I hope that this post helps open up conversations about giving kids the foods they need.

Carrie’s blog, Chockababy is a great resource for families with food allergies.

The Perfect No- Cook Recipe for a Toddler Meal

simple toddler meal recipeAt home, I do a lot of Eco Friendly cooking with Cast Iron on an induction stove, but I also like to serve raw or prepared foods that make simple meals. The best way to avoid Fast Food Restaurants is to have your own versions of Fast Food easily available at home. I can get a meal on the table faster than you can say ‘drive through’ because I keep things simple. One of my favorite meals to serve Hannah consists of bite-sized portions of bread, cheese, and fruit. I make it a weekly goal to fill Hannah with healthy portions from the food pyramid. We eat the same meals for a few days in a row to help cut back on food waste and a meal like this is easy to save if there were any leftovers. But, when it comes to cheese, fruit, and bread… there are never leftovers.

To assemble, simply slice all the ingredients into pieces that suit your child. Pea size is best for children close to age one, but they can quickly move up to larger portions as they get more teeth. I also recommend limiting grape servings to 6-8 grapes. Another great serving option is a handy, refillable Squooshi. To watch how I fill that with applesauce, click the Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/user/JBZ118?feature=g-crec-u

For about $8 each week, you can feed your toddler this as a snack or meal 1-3 times per day depending on what else you like to serve. On a given day, I serve Hannah a breakfast of oatmeal, a ready-made snack of Goldfish or Animal Crackers, two plates like the one in the photo, and one serving of soup. She doesn’t eat everything at every meal, but that’s OK. I know that by offering her healthy food all the time, she’ll eat what she needs. If you’d like to try Hannah’s Favorite Recipe for Chicken Noodle, it’s here: https://ecoincognito.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/hannahs-first-homemade-chicken-noodle-soup/

baby sign for moreThere’s nothing I like better than watching Hannah sign for ‘more’ during a meal. I can’t help but oblige when I’ve got plenty of healthy food to serve her. This meal also works great on a picnic. Pack everything in a reusable container with an ice pack and you’re all set.

The trick in the winter months to getting fresh fruit on a budget is buying what’s on sale each week. I also feed Hannah frozen fruit, but I usually mix that in oatmeal, a smoothie, or yogurt since it rarely defrosts well. She loves applesauce, so we are planning to plant apple trees for her this summer. Paired with the raspberries on the bushes in our yard, we’ll have everything we need for “Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy.”

Hannah’s First Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

They say that Chicken Noodle Soup is good for the soul. This is my first winter testing out the homemade version and I already whole-heartedly agree. First of all, it couldn’t be easier to make such a healthy and satisfying meal for my family. More importantly, Hannah LOVES to eat the chicken and fresh veggies. Finding the time to cook with two little ones is not alway easy, so I decided to bring my little assistant into the kitchen with me. Overall, she was an enthusiastic sieu chef. She also performed the royal tasting duties to ensure that the ingredients were safe to eat! I demonstrated how to peel carrots and gave her a peeler. Over time, we’ll work on making that her job.

Chicken Noodle SoupThis recipe is far from perfect, but I like to serve it to Hannah as a finger food with just a little bit of broth. It’s perfect for her because it is light on the salt and heavy on the veggies. I love to watch her eagerly pick up the pieces and announce “NOM!” with every bite.

Ingredients:

1 Whole Chicken

8 Cups Water

6 Carrots

6 Stalks of celery (or, use lots of the smaller stalks and reserve the large pieces for snacks)

1 Onion

4 teaspoons salt

1 clove garlic, diced

1/2 Pound Rotini Pasta Noodles

Directions:

Chop carrots, celery, and onion into 1/4 inch pieces. Dice the garlic. Combine all ingredients, except noodles, in a large pan or slow cooker. For a slow cooker, simmer on low heat for 6-8 hours. If using a dutch oven, bring to a rolling boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for an additional 2 hours. Remove the chicken, then skin and discard the bones and fat from the chicken. In the meantime add noodles to the broth to cook for 20 to 60 minutes depending on the cooking method. Dice the chicken and add it back to the soup. Store in quart sized reusable containers and freeze any portions that won’t be eaten within 3 days.

Recipe adapted from: http://www.food.com/recipe/slow-cooker-chicken-noodle-soup-198707

chicken noodle soup recipeThe thing I’m learning about soup is that it’s a great way to use up anything in the fridge. Don’t let veggies go bad, instead make a broth or chili. Freeze extra chicken to include in your next batch of soup. On the other hand, when you cook a chicken like this, you can reserve some for other dishes like quesadillas. Let your creativity guide conscientious food use in the kitchen!

For those who have been following this blog, I’m happy to report that we are now composting. We started reserving scraps over the Holiday and received a new compost bin on Christmas day from my in-laws. Making this soup, reserving the peels for a veggie stock, and then sending everything out to the compost bin where it will ultimately help enrich the soil in our garden this summer was a huge boost for the soul. The meals I make may not always be pretty, but from now on they will be hearty and thoughtfully prepared.

This is a recipe I will be proud to pass down through generations in my family (even if they do add extra salt.)