Unprocessed – and Organic – on a Budget (Fusilli with Chard & Bacon)

October 2, 2011 7:00 am

Deliciously OrganicCarrie Vitt is the author of the cookbook Deliciously Organic and the publisher of the popular food blog of the same name. Husband, kid, and party friendly, Deliciously Organic is brimming with the recipes and flavors families love, all created using wholesome, unprocessed, and organic ingredients. You’ll also find Carrie on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

Cooking Swiss chard When I changed my diet to organic, unprocessed food years ago, I discovered it’s more economical to buy ingredients from many different sources. Today I’m sharing with you the most helpful tips I know of to ensure a successful month of unprocessed eating without breaking the bank.

First Things First

Stop buying so many packaged foods and start buying whole unprocessed foods instead. Packaging costs money. Why pay for cardboard and plastic when you could use that money to buy food? Most American pantries and refrigerators overflow with pre-made packaged foods. Even if the packaged food is organic, you’re still paying more than if you made it yourself. Take salad dressing for an example. Honestly, we don’t need to buy bottles and bottles of salad dressing. Most bottled dressing at the store contains preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and oils that don’t nourish. Homemade salad dressing takes minutes to prepare and will keep in the fridge for a week or two. It costs less, and you get the added bonus of knowing all the ingredients.

Grocery Items and Buying in Bulk

One of my favorite resources is Azure Standard. Their site is a virtual “Whole Foods” at incredible prices. You can find anything from grain to meat to sunscreen. I buy a lot of my bulk grain, sweeteners, butter, spices, oils, and other items there. Azure has drop-off locations throughout the US. You place your order online (they also have a catalog) and once a month meet at a specific spot. A large truck pulls up and the driver hands you your goods. If you don’t have a drop-off point near you, try finding a few friends who also want to order and split the shipping.Thirty dollars for shipping isn’t much when you split it among five friends. If you want to save even more, buy some of their food in bulk and divide the order with others. Recently, a friend and I ordered 25 pounds of organic brown rice ($32) and split it. That’s enough brown rice for at least six months in our family. I also enjoy buying their organic spices, pouring what I need in glass jars, and freezing the rest. $11 for a pound of cumin versus $4 for a small jar at the grocery store means more money in my pocket.

Dry Ingredients

I also save a significant amount of money by ordering ingredients through Amazon.com. They have a program called “Subscribe and Save” that enables me to buy products at a discount and get free shipping. I buy my maple syrupwhole grain flours, Celtic sea salt, and other foods this way. Mike, our UPS guy, regularly delivers good ingredients to my door, at a budget-friendly price.

Meats

Organic, pastured meats generally cost more. Having said that, we don’t have to pay the incredible prices at the major grocery stores. I like to buy my meat in bulk straight from the farm because then I know exactly where my meat is coming from and I save a lot of money. You may think you won’t be able to find the right kind of farm near you, but it’s easier than you think. We are a military family so we move every couple of years and each time our family has moved, I’ve wondered where I’ll get my meat and I’ve always found a reputable farm to purchase from. It might be a few hours away, but I find a friend or two who wants to order, we ride together, and make a day of it. I store my large order of meat in an extra freezer. I use the site Eat Wild to find local organic farms. For a few more of my favorite tips you can read one of my recent posts, 15 Tips for Going Organic on a Budget. Today’s recipe uses only six ingredients and provides a quick way to get a meal on the table. Brown rice pasta, swiss chard, red onion, bacon, cream and salt. It utilizes several of my pantry staples so I only needed to buy a few ingredients to make a quick, delicious, and nourishing meal for my family. Fusilli Pasta with Bacon and Swiss Chard

Fusilli with Chard, Bacon and Red Onions
Author: 
Recipe Type: Entrée
Serves: 6
 

You can use other types of pasta in this dish such as spaghetti, macaroni, farfalle, etc. Estimated total is $8.49 — just $1.42 a serving.
Ingredients
  • 16 ounces Fusilli Pasta (brown rice or whole wheat)
  • 8 pieces Bacon, cut into small pieces (nitrate-free, pastured preferred)
  • 1 large Purple Onion, diced
  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, chopped
  • ½ cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 tsp. Sea Salt

Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from skillet and place it in a bowl.
  3. Add the onion to the skillet and cook until caramelized, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add chard and stir until limp.
  5. Add pasta, cream, salt, and cooked bacon. Toss and adjust salt to taste. Serve immediately.

 

24 Comments on "Unprocessed – and Organic – on a Budget (Fusilli with Chard & Bacon)"
  1. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 7:45 am
    Christine says:

    Thank you. Very informative post!
    I like that I am slowly becoming more knowledgable about my foods and how to easily make more nutritious choices. My next step is to try to find a way to make bacon easier. I really miss turkey bacon which I could microwave.

  2. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 9:11 am

    This quote has been echoing through my head ever since I read this piece: “Why pay for cardboard and plastic when you could use that money to buy food?”

    It’s a great thought to keep in mind while at the store. It sure is “easier”, for example to buy a six-pack of individual cups of organic kiddie yogurts, but it’s so wasteful. Find a big tub of yogurt that you like and then you’re paying for the *yogurt* and not all that plastic.

    Great post!

  3. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 9:33 am
    Debbie T says:

    I wanted to give a recommendation for iherb.com for buying flours and grains. They have various discounts the larger your order is. I have been using them for awhile and no problems. I have found their prices are cheaper than amazon even!

  4. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 11:17 am
    LeAnn Bellos says:

    Just shared on facebook!

  5. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm
    Briita says:

    how does one find bacon that is completely unprocessed? even the bacon my mom has made out of her pigs has sugar in it. just curious, because i thought i would have to avoid it for the month, and now there might be hope????

    • Comment left on:
      October 5, 2011 at 10:38 am
      Jamie P. says:

      I would sugguest looking for “uncured” bacon, it’s also occasionally labeled “nitrate free bacon” It’s processed using a kosher salt cure method, and has to be kept cold at all times or else bacteria will form rather quickly. I always just ask my farmers which methods they use, and the ingredients, however for a higher price it can be found in wholefoods.

  6. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm
    Andrea Omgard says:

    I`m living in southern Germany and to me it`s an unthinkable idea to travel “few hours”, for buying meat!
    What about the American gas prices? Is it still that cheap?
    Though my car is very small and economical, here in Germany I could buy a lot of organic meat, even in expensive shops, for the money I had to spend for driving several hours.
    On the other hand: Maybe we also do have more organic farms here.
    Within 10 – 30 min. I can reach at least 3 farms, where I can buy meat or eggs.

    I like your idea, not to spend so much money for packaging material.
    My todays slogan was: Why pay for organic food, if I can get it
    for free? So I spent a nice indian-summer day on the country.
    My daughter and I gathered some 5 kg (about 11 pounds)sloes.
    This means: Sloe-apple sirup, sloe-apple-plum jam, sloe-apple jelly, sloe liqueur, sloe-pear jam.
    The apples and pears I get from my neighbours. There are always fruits, hanging too high, to be plucked. So when they fall down, nobody wants to eat them. But cut out, they are ideal for jelly or sirup.
    What am I`doing with such an amount of sloe food?
    Well, have you ever tried to buy sloe jelly in a delicatessen store, if you find it at all? Prices are made for sheikhs!
    So all my friends are looking forward for some sloe birthday or christmas present…

    The cleaned and dried sloe pits are good for sloe pit pillows. Warm it on the oven and you`ll have a perfect “hot-water bag” without water.

    Enough of sloe fairy-tales from Germany.
    I really like your project and it`s nice to learn, that there is a different America next to fast-food and coke.

    Sunny regards from across the ocean,
    Andrea

    • Comment left on:
      October 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Andrea – I buy my meat in bulk, so taking an afternoon out to buy 1/2 a cow and then putting it in the freezer is a very economical way to go. Around here organic, pastured beef is anywhere from $8-25 a pound. When I buy straight from the farm in bulk, I pay around $3.50 a pound (for every cut of meat).

      • Comment left on:
        October 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm
        Andrew says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Carrie! I just updated the post, per your email, to indicate that you buy meat in bulk and store it in the freezer. :)

  7. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm
    Veronica says:

    Thank you for all of the great information! Azure Standard looks very appealing. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

  8. Comment left on:
    October 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm
    Melissa says:

    Okay, just to clarify – these aren’t budget-friendly tips. These are middle-class, comfortable-lifestyle, one-income tips. You don’t get to claim you’re on a budget when you can afford to take a day off of work to get in your SUV and drive hours out of town to spend a ton of cash at once on meat you will bring back to your house and put in your giant freezer. That’s not “budget” – for most of America, that’s “rich.”

    Sure it’s more cost-effective to buy your meat in bulk straight from the farm if you don’t count the cost of the large freezer, the electricity to power the freezer, or the house to put it in. Not to mention the day off of work to go pick up the meat, the car to get there, and the cash to pay for all your meat at once. Sure it’s cheaper to just buy ingredients if you know how to cook, have time to cook, have all the necessary equipment to cook, have a predictable schedule so you can plan when to cook, and have freezer space to store the leftovers. And personally, my food budget doesn’t contain room for luxuries like maple syrup and celtic sea salt, so I’m not sure how buying from Amazon is going to help.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone on a budget to eat healthfully, but let’s be honest – these tips won’t help. These are tips for the well-to-do bored housewife to save a few dollars. Those of us who truly are strapped for cash could use some real tips on how to eat healthfully on an actual budget.

    • Comment left on:
      October 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      Wow, Melissa, while you make some really great points, I’ve gotta say that the inflammatory tone doesn’t seem necessary…

      I think there are certainly ways to eat healthfully on a budget–it just takes a little more planning. My husband and I are sticking to a $100/week food budget (and I know that may even be generous) but it can be done. (Though I will admit that I had some trouble on my first shopping trip planning for Oct.Unprocessed. Every week, I search for coupons and sales, meal plan, and shop at multiple stores. I’m in a fairly rural area, so shopping is done at chain supermarkets. We decided to live on one income, partly because our lifestyle (simplified, holistic, unprocessed) simply takes more woman-hours at home than a two-person-working family can handle. With that, though, comes a strict budget, but I refuse to allow our economic situation dictate our health status. And, you know, rice and beans is probably the cheapest meal out there :P I hope you can figure something out; there are a lot of resources out there.

      Carrie–thanks for the tip about Azure Standard!

    • Comment left on:
      October 3, 2011 at 6:16 am
      Leigh says:

      Melissa,

      I understand what you are saying, and it is sad that the good for you food can seem more time consuming and more expensive. However I want to assure that it can be done. My family began eating this way a few years ago, and then my husband lost is job, I became pregnant with our 3rd child, and my work contract wasn’t renewed. So as a family of 5 we lived off a very small part-time income. We did take advantage of government assistance with both food stamps and WIC, and yet we were able to buy fruits and veggies, and we negotiated with farmers so that when we did buy in bulk we could pay over time (allowing for a more budget friendly bulk buy) Many farmers markets take food stamps, and even if you don’t have food stamps you can usually negoatiate with farmers especially if you go at the end of the market and are willing to take what they have left. While buying things like real maple syrup and celtic sea salt are a luxery, you can save by not buying packaged foods and decide to put the money into these ingredients. Plus if you use the expensive things less in your food plans you won’t run out of them as quickly.

      I also work for a CSA one afternoon a week. It’s true that I needed to have a flexible schedule to do this (it is one full afternoon of work a week) but in return I get a little money and as much food as my familiy can eat. It’s a wonderful way to get local organic produce every week.

      WIC was harder and I found myself donating a lot of the food. None of the bread you can buy is good for you, you can’t buy organic anything (excpet the tofu) but the fruits and vegetables checks were helpful as were the $20 we recieved to use at a farmers market.

      There are also many ways you can plan and cook so that you aren’t rushing around at 6pm after a full and long day at work to eat in a healthy way. I hope that taking this challenge will help you figure it all out!

  9. Comment left on:
    October 3, 2011 at 6:09 am
    Sharon says:

    Noticed you left out a great, affordable source of organic produce– a garden. Anything from pots on a window sill to a backyard (or front yard!) garden to a plot in a community garden can be used. Of course, you can’t do it just for one month…

    And it jumped out to me too that some of your suggestions are car-dependent. I’m not comforable doing grocery shopping by car when there’s a decent chain supermarket and farmer’s market in easy biking distance. There is a great store for barely-legal milk and organic meat in town, but I’d have to drive there and that’s not going to happen. Guess we all have different priorities– some folks are fine with driving all over the place, and some aren’t.

    • Comment left on:
      October 3, 2011 at 6:18 am
      Leigh says:

      Good point. Maybe you could work with some friends so that you don’t have to drive there every week, and pick up food for everyone so that the gas price per food item is less. I’m sure if you factor in the fact that the food in the chain store has to go through so much travel and processing it might cancel out the gas for a few families to buy at the store that is farther away?

  10. Comment left on:
    October 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I guess I need to clarify. I live on an Air Force Base in the middle of nowhere. It’s 70 miles (round trip) to the nearest store to get any type of unprocessed foods (the grocery store on base has a terrible produce selection and the rest is mostly processed foods). I don’t live in a place where I can ride my bike and get to the market or store, this is why I’m very thankful for Azure Standard and Amazon. I had lots of tips to share, but wanted to give tips for those who don’t have easy access to the markets, stores, organic produce, etc.

    I also live in the Mojave Desert. With the extreme temperatures and winds it’s nearly impossible to grow a thriving garden unless you’re very good at gardening. I’m not a good gardener, so I have a few pots where I can grow some herbs, but that’s about it. One day, when we don’t have to move around every couple of years I plan to learn how to garden and grow a majority of my produce.

    As for the meat – The closest farm that sells organic, grass-fed meat (a meat that I feel comfortable feeding my family) is 60 miles away and they wanted to charge me $9 a pound. I found a farm 200 miles away that could sell a half a cow to me at $3.25 a pound – that’s a $5.75 difference a pound. I called a few friends and we all ordered beef together. We all split the cost of gas and two of us spent half of a day to pick up the meat for everyone. (the other families watched the kids so we didn’t have to pay for a babysitter). We do have a freezer, but it’s over 10 years old. It initially cost about $150 and it costs around $80-$100 to keep it cold all year long. All in all, it you are a family that wants to try and eat organic meat that’s been raised humanly, it’s an economical way to go. I understand it’s not for everyone.

    • Comment left on:
      October 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm
      Andrea Omgard says:

      Peace! Please calm down everybody.
      If I lived in a desert, I`d handle the meat thing, just the way you do.
      Luckily I don`t have to, living in a city near the Alps, surrounded by farms of all kind, forest,gardens, having 3 local supermarkets, selling only organic food and all “normal” supermarkets with an organic segment. Here that`s standard.
      Every bakery offers wholemeal products…
      So our living condicions can`t be compared.
      For me it would be completely nuts traveling 200 miles for meat, for you it`s a necessity.
      By the way:
      We had a big US-Army Base here. You don`t wanna come back? :)

  11. Comment left on:
    October 4, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Made this recipe last night with two friends who are also trying their hands at Unprocessed October. It was a huge hit! Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. Comment left on:
    October 4, 2011 at 9:50 am
    Patricia says:

    I prepared this recipe last evening and we loved it. since there were just two of us I used half the pasta but all the vegetables. I added some garlic and red pepper flakes.

  13. Comment left on:
    October 7, 2011 at 12:48 pm
    R Hurd says:

    I thought for sure this would be a vegan or at least vegetarian website. Bummer! Meat and dairy cause cancer and aren’t healthy for us. Kindof the whole reason to eat unprocessed foods-for health reasons right?

    • Comment left on:
      October 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm
      Andrew says:

      Hi R,

      This was a guest post, but I’ll still chime in. I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 15 years, and about 5 years ago I added fish and seafood back into my diet.

      I don’t push a specific meat (or meat-free) agenda on my site, but the vast majority of recipes on my site are indeed vegetarian.

      You can just omit the bacon on this one… some white beans would be a good substitution. :)

      - Andrew

    • Comment left on:
      October 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      R Hurd–as a former vegan, I’d have to argue that veganism ISN’T always healthy (ever tried to keep up on unprocessed calories while nursing a 25 pound mini-human? The body starts to wither…). There are meat and dairy choices that are healthy and NOT cancer-causing, though not always readily accessible. That said, I’m having trouble going totally unprocessed since I generally don’t eat dairy.

    • Comment left on:
      October 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      Organic, pastured meats and dairy are very high in omega 3-fatty acids, linoleic acid, antioxidants, as well as many other nutrients. Conventional meat and dairy are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, are raised using hormones/antibiotics, and most conventional meat has also been irradiated which alters the nutrients in the meat. This conventional meat can cause an array of health problems. When it comes to nutrients, pastured meats and dairy are completely different than their conventional counterparts.

      Yes, one of the major reasons to eat unprocessed is to improve your health and I believe this can be achieved by eating foods that have been grown/raised in the right ways.

  14. Comment left on:
    March 8, 2013 at 1:27 am
    Travis says:

    Really? Meat is bad and causes cancer?

    Meat is what made us human.

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