Tag Archives: organic food

Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget

We’re a family of 3 living on a single income and that’s not always easy when you don’t eat processed or GMO foods and try to buy mostly organic.  But, you know, it can be done.

I do a video each month on my YouTube channel showing what I’ve received in my real food organic grocery order (and yes…the odd pizza might sneak its way in there!).  My grocery order has to accommodate myself (pescatarian and mostly gluten-free), my husband (full on meat eater) and our baby (can’t decide what she likes/doesn’t like from one week to the next!) as well as our dog.

We budget around £45-£75 per week (depending on whether its a ‘big shop’ or not) and I’ll let you know how we do it in 3 easy ways.

1. Meal Planning

This is the most important thing I do to save money and still buy the food I want to buy for my family.  There are many ways to meal plan.  There are meal planning services you can use for only a few dollars/pounds a month and this is great when you’re short on time.  If you can find 15 spare minutes per week though, you don’t need to use a service.  I’ll tell you how I do it.  I have a Pinterest account and keep a folder of favourite family meals that are tried and true.  If I’m short on time, I’ll choose 5 or 6 at random, check the ingredients list and add the required items to my grocery list.

2. Online Shopping

This isn’t an option for everyone, as not all areas offer online shopping, but if you are able to do this, I highly recommend it as it helps in avoiding making any ‘impulse buys’.  I just go online, stick to my list and check out.  A lot of grocery stores have delivery plans which are just a few £££’s a month you can do unlimited grocery orders without additional delivery charges.  I find I’m able to get the best variety of real food products and organic groceries at Ocado and if you’re a new customer, they’ll offer you £20 off your first online grocery shop (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com for your voucher).

3. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Box or Organic Delivery Box

Many rural areas run CSA schemes which support local farmers and are great value.  You will have to meal plan according to what’s in your box – so sort of reverse meal planning.  There are also non CSA style organic delivery boxes here in the UK such as Abel & Cole and Riverford Organics.  I get my organic fruit, veg & salad box with my Ocado order from a company called Wholegood.  Their fruit and veg are really good quality and they’re very generous with the volume of produce in their boxes.  They also let you know what you’ll be receiving in your box a couple of weeks in advance, which is helpful for meal planning.

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) for Dummies

A lot of my friends seem to be not that bothered about GMOs.  I mean, they’ll agree they’re not good and will tsk vaguely about bees dying or something, but for the most part, they seem to confuse genetic modification with cross-breeding (i.e. modern cross-bred grains) and they don’t go to any particular lengths to make sure the food they’re buying doesn’t contain GMOs.  Mostly they’ll just look at me like I’m a lovable hippy, a luddite or I’m about to author a book on how GMOs are linked to the FBI, JFK and the moon landings or something.  But gradually people are starting to realise that concern about GMOs is not about rejecting science and the modern world and its not about conspiracy theories.  Many modern scientific discoveries have turned out to be wonderful (IVF, insulin and the mapping of the human genome and epigenome)…so it was bound that some discoveries would go equally wrong. I am not a scientist, but I thought it might be helpful to share a quick rundown on the basics of what I know about genetically modified foods and why I choose to exclude them from my family’s diet.

What are GMOs?  

Well, to start with, GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms.  They are created in a laboratory by the artificial manipulation (gene splicing) of the genetic material of living organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. Sometimes they’re marketed to the public as being a ‘good thing’ for the world and the beginning of the end of world hunger because they promise drought resistant crops and increased nutritional values.  However, in reality, GMOs are both anecdotally and evidentially responsible for health problems, environmental damage and violations of the rights of both farmers and consumers.

But they’re safe, right?  I heard there were studies that proved they were safe.

Well, there have been studies conducted in the US testing the safety of GMOs…oddly enough, conducted by the same biotech corporations that originally developed the research and continue to profit from the sales of the same products. It speaks strongly that more than 60 countries around the world, including all the countries in the EU, have significantly restricted or banned the production and/or sales of GMOs.  In contrast to that, in the US, GMOs are in around 80% of conventional processed foods…but considering American foods are shipped all around the globe, that means you really have to think about the foods you’re buying. If you’re just starting out, the foods which are most likely to be genetically modified are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soya, sugar beets and zucchini.  These are the foods which are between 88-99% GMO in the US and are therefore are easy ones to try to avoid when you’re out shopping.  Not easy when you have to remember to check for soy lecithin, a common emulsifier (think nearly every chocolate on the market), cornstarch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup (again, its in so many processed foods) and canola and cottonseed oils (sometimes labelled very vaguely and they can be sneakily added in very small quantities into healthy foods like dried fruits which are packed with a little bit of oil).

Are you crazy?  Are you saying I can never eat corn or soya again?

You can, of course, eat what you want.  But if you choose not to consume or support genetically modified foods, just make sure that when you’re buying foods that contain the main offenders listed above, that you buy the organic versions.  Certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified.  Some US and Canadian certification labels allow for a very small margin of cross contamination these days.  For that reason, some organic food companies have chosen to boycott the organic certification labels and can no longer label their foods organic.  So if there’s a food you like and its not labelled organic – go to the producer’s website and check out their ethos or call up the company.  Very often you will find out about the company’s stance on GMOs in their FAQs and I have been surprised at some of the brands I like (Genius – in the UK – and Linda McCartney to name a couple) which are GMO free.

OK, but if these foods have been designed to be more resilient, then at least there will be less need for pesticides, right?

Again…no.  The toxicity of herbicides such as Roundup has been increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.  The companies developing the GMOs are also the ones who are developing and selling agricultural chemicals.  I’ll leave it to you to do the math. In fact, one of the reasons that organic plants are better for you is because they are forced to be ‘tougher’ and not mollycoddled with pesticides.  Studies have consistently shown that while organic plants are not necessarily better than non-organic plants in terms of their micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there is a significant increase in the amount of phytochemicals in organic plants.  Phytochemicals are the compounds that give vegetables and fruits their natural properties which we benefit from when we eat the plants – such as being anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer.

Why do you eat GMO-free?

Well, I hope I eat GMO free anyway.  There is always the risk of some cross-contamination in some crop which becomes an ingredient in a food I eat and glyphosates (the key ingredient of Roundup) have made their way into the water supplies of many areas.  And when you eat in restaurants, there’s no way of knowing unless they promote that they are GMO-free (like Chipotle).  But I’m pretty darn vigilant for the sake of me and my family because: 1 – I don’t want my baby girl consuming the ever-toxic pesticides which cover both these and non-GMO conventional crops. 2 – I don’t like the dirty behaviour of those who hold the patents on GMO crops.  Through the use of their vast budgets and political influence, they are allowed to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with GMO crops when drifting from neighbouring fields. 3 – And ultimately the long term health and environmental impact of GMOs are an unknown factor.  But if the short term impacts are anything to go by (a sharp increase of inflammatory gut conditions and autoimmune disorders of near pandemic proportions), I’ll pass on finding out the long term impacts, thank you. Maybe this will be helpful to some of you who have seen the anti-GMO bandwagon passing by and have had no clue why to jump on it.  Maybe you’re already on the bandwagon but have no clue why.  Or maybe this is all new to you.  I’ve now shared what I know…let’s just hope ‘the man’ doesn’t come and get me now! 🙂

The Aldi Baby Event

Sometimes a girl just has to accept she’s living on statutory maternity pay…and even that won’t last forever.  So today when the Aldi supermarket one day baby event was launched, the baby and I were out of the house by 7.30 and battling the South London traffic to Old Kent Road.  You can tell I’m not an experienced Mum, because in my head, I envisioned queues of Mums, waiting for the doors to open, all rushing in to get the £19 Hauck travel cot I wanted.  (That’s how things used to be in the pre-baby days when I would go to fashion sales, etc, so surely that’s how things would be at the baby sale.)

As it happened, I was the first one in the parking lot (managed to get the parent/child parking spot right outside the front door) and there was just me and one other woman, at 7.45 in the morning, waiting for the doors of Aldi to open.  Like bums, waiting to get in to buy the cheap off-brand booze, but instead we were after baby-grows and nappies.

What a geek.

And why was I the first one there?  Because I’m still a newbie at this Mum thing.  Because most normal, sensible Mums with little babies barely think about getting out of the house (or pyjamas) before noontime, and those that do – its only because they’re taking their older children to school.  But I still hold the belief that I will not be defeated by Mum-dom.  I will live life on a normal(ish) schedule…even if it means standing on the Old Kent Road at 7.45am with my baby still in her pyjamas, tucked into her BabyBjorn, and me, looking pretty ok-ish in a white shirt and skinny jeans, but secretly I hadn’t even taken a shower yet.

So, moving on, as I pushed my trolley through the non-existant crowds of fellow shoppers, I got the first of the Hauck travel cots, three packs of giant muslins, a hooded towel and a Tommy Tippee sippy cup.  I mean, there was actually plenty of great stuff there – and all quite cheap…but then, that’s the problem with Aldi.  You go in to buy your polish jam and battery hen eggs and come out with a discount chainsaw instead.

However, for the budget minded organic shopper, there are a few good buys at Aldi.  You can get a few organic veg basics: potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and onions, a few seasonal organic fruits, organic milk, as well as a few random dry goods throughout the store.  Today, for instance, there were Kallo puffed buckwheat and quinoa cakes (like rice cakes).  You kind of have to go in with an open mind about what you want to buy, but you can come out with your shopping bag full of 100% British organic foods at around 25% less than you would pay at Sainsburys or Tesco.

All good news for a Mum who is about to start baby led weaning and isn’t too keen on the Annabel Karmel ‘all sugar, all the time’ approach to feeding baby.  (I may feel differently after steamed broccoli has been rejected for the 50th time, and I promise, I’ll admit it if that’s the case.)

I should also say that I was really pleased to see packs of Bambino Mio cloth nappies for sale there today.  At our house we use cloth nappies (resorting to biodegradable disposables for outings, travel and nighttime only) and although we don’t use Bambino Mio, I’m pleased that they’re becoming more mainstream and accessible to people on a budget.  (Lets face it, the Old Kent Road isn’t the cheapest property on the Monopoly board for no reason).

So, overall, it was a good shopping trip.  We have a travel cot, so we won’t have to make our baby sleep in a milk crate or dog pen when we go on holiday to Cornwall, later this summer.  We’ve got some adorable elephant themed giant muslins, at 1/5th of the price of the ones at Jojo Maman Bebe.  And best of all, the baby fell asleep in the car on the way home, so after transferring her to the nursery when we got home, I’ve had the whole morning to myself!

Bread, Glorious Bread

There are moments when you forget all the wonderful foods there are to eat and all you want is bread.  And butter.  And maybe a cup of tea too.

At the moment bread is off the menu for me.  Its just over a month away from my sister’s wedding where I am maid of honour, and I have a dress to fit into.*  Its always what you can’t have that lingers in your mind and tempts you from the righteous path of just having plain yogurt and apples for lunch.

Below is the particular bread I am lusting after at the moment – the hazelnut bread I ate at CAU, Gaucho’s new concept restaurant in Amsterdam last April

“What’s wrong with a little bread?” you might say?  What’s right about it?  This baby is bread…crammed with nuts…slathered in butter…and it is truly beautiful…

Hazelnut Bread

Hazelnut Bread

*and not look like a badly stufffed sausage

Guacamole

Guacamole

Guacamole

There are as many ways to make guacamole as there are Mexicans to make it.  Everyone (and their mother and their dog, etc) has their own way of making it, which of course, is the best way.

Some guacamoles are runny, green and whizzed through the blender, so they’re smooth and pourable.  Others are chunky, with roughly mashed hass avocados and juicy, ripe chopped tomatoes studding it like jewels.

Some have white onions, cilantro (fresh coriander for those in the UK), parsley, jalapenos, garlic or lime juice.

I’m a fickle guacamole maker.  I’ll use whatever I happen to have that’s delicious and fresh…and happens to be in the house.  The only essentials as far as I’m concerned, are a really nice ripe buttery hass avocado and a fresh plump jalapeno.  If I happen to have cilantro and juicy baby plum tomatoes hanging about in the fridge, then that’s all the better.

Avocados are brilliantly good for you. They’re packed with all kinds of healthy stuff:

Beta-sitosterol:  This inhibits the absorption of cholesterol and promotes lower blood cholesterol levels.
Folate:  Promotes healthy cell and tissue development, so it reduces the risk of birth defects if you’re pregnant.
Potassium:  Helps balance the body’s electrolytes. Ounce per ounce, avocados contain 60% more potassium than bananas.
Vitamin E:  An antioxidant which slows down aging and protects against heart disease and various forms of cancer.
Glutathione:  Acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage and lead to disease.
Lutein:  This protects against prostate cancer and eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Magnesium:  Helps produce energy and is important for muscle contraction and relaxation.

Here’s how I made the guacamole I ate for my supper tonight:

Ingredients:
1 ripe medium hass avocado
1 small handful of cilantro*, finely chopped
pinch sea salt
pinch coarsely ground pepper
4 or 5 baby plum, cherry or grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1/4 key lime

Method:  Cut the avocado in half and scoop out the buttery flesh. Roughly mash it with a fork, or if you’re lucky enough to have a molcajete**, give it a gentle mash with with the chopped cilatro, sea salt, pepper, and jalapenos.  At the very end, gently fold in the tomatoes and squeeze the lime over the top.  I’m not too keen on a lot of lime in guacamole, but a little bit cuts through the fattiness quite nicely.

Guacamole

Guacamole

You can eat this with tortilla chips, but its even better scooped up into little tacos with soft corn tortillas. Londoners can buy these fresh from the Cool Chile Company at Borough Market by London Bridge or you can get them frozen from the little Latin American food shop on Old Kent Road, near East Street. (Don’t ask me the name of it, because I have no idea if it even has one!)

*In Canada and the US, we call this fresh herb cilantro, for the Spanish name, but in UK its called fresh coriander.
**A molcajete is a Mexican mortar & pestle made from lava stone.

Organic? Who has the time?

Ok, so not everyone has time to peruse the farmer’s market every weekend, slowly mulling over the decision about whether to buy strawberries or raspberries. In fact, as much as I love doing it, even I don’t always have the time. In an ideal world I would have a job where I could spend my days thinking, talking, writing, and musing about food. Oh yeah, and eating it too. But right now, like most of you, I have a busy job, where often a bowl of takeaway miso soup is all I get to quickly scoff at lunch. Its not until I get home in the evening that I can release my stress by aggressively crushing garlic with the flat of my 9″ chefs knife, passionately beating batter or losing myself in the pedantic process of creating a complex sauce. Even on the weekends sometimes I just don’t have the time, and this is why I have some quick tips on healthy, organic shopping for busy people.

Quick Tip One: Subscribe to an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Scheme.
These are sometimes called Farm Box Schemes or Vegetable Box Delivery Services. Whatever you call it, they’re really great. They’re all your seasonal, local vegetables (and sometimes fruits, if your scheme is big enough) packed in a box which is delivered weekly and safely stowed in an agreed spot, so when you get back from work on delivery day, your order is waiting for you. Some schemes are run by individual farms, some by larger farm cooperatives and some people have made small businesses out of it. Able & Cole in London have been able to partner up with meat, dairy and other producers so you can get almost an entire grocery order with your weekly delivery box. Of course, if you’re ordering meat and dairy, you’ll need to be home for the delivery so these can be safely tucked into the fridge right away.

Quick Tip Two: Online Grocery Shopping
Its the lazy way out, but if I know I have a crazy weekend coming up (hey its summer – there’s weddings, BBQ’s, parties, travelling around and social events with friends galore) I’ll spend a lunch hour at work doing an online shopping order, and I can still make sure that the bulk of my order is organic, without spending hours trawling through the non-organic produce. I tend to use the Ocado website, where I can create a shortlist of my preferences, such as ‘organic’ or ‘organic and wheat free’ or similar. Otherwise, just do a search for ‘organic’ and all the organic items will come up as a shortlist, and you can select the items on your grocery order from that. Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and I think even ASDA offer similar options.

 Quick Tip Three: Prioritise
So it’s 7pm and you’re just getting out of the office. You worked through lunch, so no time for an online order and you live alone, so how the heck are you supposed to eat a whole box of organic veg each week? If you’re eating any fruit or veg at all, chances are they’re gonna come from the shop on the corner. Use this handy list from the American Environmental Working Group’s website – The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. Kind of obvious, but avoid The Dirty Dozen because they’ll up your pesticide intake, being the worst contaminated fruits and vegetables out there. Instead, if you aren’t able to buy organic, then try to go for the Clean 15, which are the least contaminated produce you can get.

The Dirty Dozen
Apples
Celery
Strawberries
Peaches
Nectarines
Grapes
Bell Peppers
Blueberries
Lettuce
Potatoes
Kale
Spinach

The Clean 15
Sweetcorn
Pineapple
Avocado
Asparagus
Sweet Peas
Mangoes
Eggplant
Cantaloupe
Kiwi
Cabbage
Watermelon
Sweet Potatoes
Grapefruit
Mushrooms

Mint Tea & Oranges

Moroccan Oranges
Moroccan Oranges

It was well over 35 degrees Celsius and our pink English skin was only now, after 3 days in Agadir, beginning to take on a golden tan. We had planned to walk to the top of the hill to visit Souk El Had, but instead, after a mere 5 minutes of slowly sweating & shuffling at a snail’s pace, Luke decided we were taking a taxi. We were dropped off by gate 9, as the concierge at the hotel had recommended to us. I think he was afraid we’d be dropped off by the butchery halls otherwise, and run away in terror.

By this point I had already grown accustomed to being served silver pots of mint tea by the pool all day long, and large glasses of freshly pressed-to-order orange juice with my breakfast. In the evenings, before dinner, Luke and I would meet on the terrace and have a gin & tonic with a small silver platter of pistachios or the black dried Moroccan olives that smell of petrol and perfume.  I was deeply falling in love with the food of this country.  The fish was fresh and plentiful and cooked beautifully.  The tables and tables of mezze at lunch and dinner had much to do with the demise of my diet.  And what’s not to love about somewhere that serves madeleines at breakfast? I was eating the best of North Africa and the best of France in one heavenly beachside location.

We had finished looking at the touristy part of the souk and by now I was getting a bit bored of alleyway after alleyway of  shops selling argan oil, kaftans and gaudy leatherwork.  I looked up from playing with the new silver bangle Luke had bought me a few moments earlier, and the small crowded alleyway suddenly opened up into a bright and sunlit food hall. I almost stopped breathing for a moment. I think it was the closest I will ever come to seeing what Les Halles in Paris would have been like before it was demolished and turned into a trendy shopping centre.

My Poolside Spot for Enjoying Mint Tea
Mint Tea on the Terrace

For those of you who, like me, make a beeline for the food markets when you travel, you will be accustomed to the sickening pong of rotting food that generally hits you from at least one corner of the market. It’s normally where cabbage leaves and bits of turnip go to die and are scavenged upon by scabby feral cats and stray dogs. But the smell was absent. The first smell that hits you is of the glorious mountains of fresh mint. Along the edges of the market hall, towering arrangements of gleaming olive mosaics in polished agate shades sparkled in the sunlight and piles of mysterious red, orange, yellow and brown spices delicately scented the air.

We walked back down the hill to the hotel that afternoon, drawn in by the smell of salt and the slight ocean breeze off the Atlantic.  We knew a plate of pistachios and chilled bottle of rose awaited us on the terrace, but we were in no rush; calm from the soporific effects of too much afternoon sun and pacified by the smell of mint for tea and a mountain of oranges.