As much as it was my goal to eat healthy and stay active prior to delivering my daughter, it became an even greater priority once she was in my life (like, outside me, ya know). And I’d say that sense of importance deepened even more so once Olivia reached the age at which she could begin eating solid foods.

Maybe it’s a first time mom thing (okay, it PROBABLY is), but I want the absolute best for my baby girl. And that includes the food that she eats. Because I truly believe that some of the habits that I developed at a young age contributed to the struggles I faced later on in my adolescence and young-adulthood.

From the get-go, I wanted my daughter to have an example from her mother of what it meant to take care of one’s body. I want caring for herself and paying attention to the ingredients that she puts into her body to become second nature - a going through the motions.

So I switched my family to a predominantly organic diet.

No, it was not really as simple as that.

Organic foods are generally more expensive that your run-of-the-mill grocery options, no doubt. But, that’s not to say that there is not a way to feed your family a primarily organic diet without running your checking account dry. My family does it every month, and we still manage to make ends meet.

But that’s because we take extra care in establishing a plan for what we are going to eat and what we need to buy to make that menu a reality.

I’m now going to hash that process out for you, to give you a clearer idea of what it takes to buy organic without breaking the bank. Because I truly believe that the benefit of avoiding foods laden with pesticides and GMOs is worth it.

Step 1. You have to have a plan.

No if’s, ands, or buts. Saving money at the grocery store requires a plan. If you try to wing it in your shopping sprees, you end up coming home with items that a) either you don’t actually need, or b) you already have but didn’t realize you had. Planning out your meals and using recipes to develop shopping lists does take a little extra time, but it ensure that you don’t spend a penny more than you actually need to on food that is going to nourish your own body as well as those of you loved ones.

I recommend planning out a month of meals if you can, but separating your shopping lists into two week’s worth of food. You’ll see why this is useful in a minute.

Step 2. You need to establish a food budget.

Obviously, it behooves all of us to at least have a general idea of where our money is being allocated each month, because it tells us whether we are operating at a surplus or a deficit. Even if you have a little extra money set aside, if you are constantly spending more money than you make, that is definitely not going to lead you anywhere good. Think no sunshine, no rainbows, no puppies.

Part of keeping track of your expenses is having a food budget, and adjusting your allocated funds to an amount that allows you to stay within your revenue stream, while still providing you enough money to buy the proper amount of food to feed your family members.

Step 3. Plan for the whole month, but only buy for two weeks.

Once you have established a budgeted amount for groceries each month, you’re going to want to split that in half and keep that number in mind. Because while planning for an entire month saves you time and effort in the realm of meal planning later in the month, buying for a whole month is a sure-fire way to throw a ton of food away. Most food items, especially fresh fruits and veggies, just don’t last that long. Two weeks is even a stretch for some items, but freezing things is a pretty sufficient remedy.

So, when you go to the grocery store for the first half of the month, you only want to spend half of your grocery budget. The second half you will need in order to buy groceries for the last half of the month.

Step 4. Loosely track your expenses as you shop.

My shopping list doubles as scratch paper. As I pick up items and put them in the cart, I keep a running tab of approximately how much money I have spent. I also round up on the price of items, so that even when I am getting close to my budgeted amount, I will end up under budget regardless.

Step 5. Look for cheaper substitutes.

The last three steps here are the nitty-gritty of saving money at the grocery store. If you can substitute an item on your grocery list for something cheaper, then do. For instance, let’s say a recipe calls for beef, but chicken is cheaper. There is no reason that you can’t use chicken instead. Sure, it’ll change the flavor of the dish, but I can pretty much guarantee that you aren’t going to hate it, or even dislike it for that matter. If a recipe calls for a certain kind of greens, see what in the store might be comparable and carry a lighter price tag.

Step 6. Eliminate items if you can.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it is not the end of the world if you do not follow a recipe exactly. This is especially true when you’re cooking for your family, because these are the people that are going to be the most forgiving if for some reason something doesn’t come out tasting absolutely fabulous. If you are tracking your expenses in the store and you find yourself getting dangerously close to your budget, then look for items such as toppings that could easily be forgone.

Step 7. Buy ahead if you can.

Bring your grocery list for the second half of the month with you. If on the off chance you find yourself coming in under budget, go ahead and pick up some non-perishable items from your second list. This will save you later in the month because you’ll have less to buy the second time around.

I know this seems like a lot of work, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t initially. It was for me. And it has been a long learning process over the last year to come to a point where this is just what I do. But it has become a routine for me, and I can’t tell you how happy I get when I checkout at the grocery store and I come in $40 under budget (and that includes items bought for the second half of the month).

That’s not to say that there aren’t months where I end up over budget. Sometimes it just happens. For the most part, however, this system has worked wonders in enabling my family to eat delicious meals chalk full of organic ingredients!

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