I’ve been challenged by the Organic Naturally Different campaign to come up with a meal plan using a collection of organic food that got delivered to my door this week. The idea is to show that while organic food costs more, it’s possible to stretch the ingredients with a bit of clever menu planning so that eating organic should be achievable whatever your budget.
I have mixed feelings about buying organic food. I see it as a luxury that living on a budget doesn’t always allow for. You get what you pay for when it comes to food, so there’s no doubt in my mind that organic versions of most things will quite possibly taste better and be more beneficial to the environment. But we’ve all got to eat!
There are certain things I try and squeeze out of our budget like organic/high welfare/free range eggs, meat and dairy. Anything that involves animals i’m willing to pay more for in the hope that they’ve been treated as nicely as possible in return for giving us food. But i’m going to be completely honest and say that the rest of my shopping basket won’t be.
The benefits of a meal plan
I’m a regular meal planner, I think family cooks need them to survive living on a budget, to take the pain out of deciding what to have for tea and basically just to keep you one step ahead of the hungry mob.
It becomes a fine art coming up with 7 meals that can be quickly rustled up using a mixture of stuff from the store cupboard, freezer as well as fresh produce all on budget.
You might not fancy chicken three nights on the trot after a roast, so popping surplus food in the freezer, clearly labelled, means you can bring it back out in a week or two’s time. It’s especially brilliant having a well stocked freezer if you’re running low on money at the end of the month as you can really cut back your weekly shop and just eat re-invented leftovers.
Leftover roast meat can become a pie filling, risotto, pizza topper, sandwich filling, jacket potato topper etc etc.
Shopping from Ocado
So here’s what was delivered…
I’ve included the price next to each item, along with the non-organic version from the same supermarket so you can see the difference.
2 x 4 Waitrose Organic peaches £4.50 (£3.00)
2 x 250g Waitrose Organic white cup mushrooms £2.70 (£1.65)
2 x 5 Waitrose Organic Pink Lady apples £5.40 (£5)
Waitrose whole Organic chicken 1.4kg £13.09 (£4.82)
Duchy from Waitrose Organic Free Range Pork sausages 400g £3.49 (£3)
Country Life Organic semi skimmed British milk 2litres £1.85 (£1.29)
Lye Cross Farm Organic mature cheddar 245g £2.79 (£2.60)
Ocado Organic Brown onions 750g £1.09 (£1.00)
Waitrose Organic Butternut Squash £1.99 (£1.59)
2 x Yeo Valley Organic double cream 227ml £1.90 (£1.15)
Yeo Valley Organic unsalted butter £1.60 (£1.20)
Waitrose Organic carrots 1kg £1.75 (£1.10)
Doves Farm Organic Plain White Flour 1kg £1.19 (£1.10)
Ocado Organic White Potatoes 2kg £3.38 (£2.25)
Stonegate Organic medium free range eggs 6 £2.29 (£1.20)
Waitrose Organic aromatic basmati rice 500g £1.99 (£1.49)
2 x Waitrose organic chopped Italian tomatoes 400g £1.78 (£1.10)
Waitrose Organic fusilli 500g £1.05 (£0.95)
Waitrose Organic garlic 80g £1.05 (£0.87)
Waitrose wholesome Organic couscous 500g £0.99 (£0.68)
Total £54.92 (after £0.95 offer savings taken away)
Non organic comparison at Ocado total: £37.04
My normal approach with meal planning is to draw up a list of meals we’re going to eat and then shop for the ingredients accordingly. I wasn’t able to choose the food in this delivery, so some of these meals don’t appeal to my children/vegetarian husband so will be consigned to the freezer to re-emerge when we have visitors!
So this menu plan doesn’t reflect what we’ll be eating every day, but what I planned to cook with the ingredients.
1. Roast chicken, with carrots and quick roasted rosemary potatoes
2. Creamy chicken and mushroom pie
3. Chicken and broccoli cheesy pasta bake
4. Chicken, mushroom and potato tomato based curry with fluffy basmati rice
5. Carrot and butternut squash soup
6. Sausages with couscous with sage and roasted butternut squash
7. Frittata – egg, mushroom and potato with pesto
Apple and peach cake – simple fruity traybake
Peach and oat breakfast smoothie
Peach ice cream
Thrifty organic dinner
Here’s the pasta bake I made, which is a fabulous way to make a few ingredients stretch a long way. Just 200g of pasta, a handful of chopped leftover chicken, a small head of broccoli, half a tin of sweetcorn and a simple cheese sauce whizzed up in the Vitamix and boom – you’ve got a very filling kid-friendly meal for four people.
There’s no doubt that the huge organic chicken roasted up a treat and yielded loads of beautiful meat and became the basis for three main meals and also a cheeky salad lunch for me. As well as the meat I simmered the carcass in water and vegetables to make a stock for soups and risottos.
The sausages were meaty and reassuringly high welfare. Bangers are a family favourite that we have every week and these went down well. Any leftovers are rare, but in the event there are a couple they’ll be sliced into sandwiches for packed lunches the next day.
The fruit and vegetables were top quality and had great flavour and texture, as you’d expect from organic. The dried goods i’m not so sure I could see a huge difference in.
If i’d done the same shop at Ocado and opted for non-organic own brand versions of the same items i’d have saved a whopping £17.88. When you’re living on a tight budget that money could help towards paying for another term’s karate lessons or a new winter coat.
If you look in detail at the costings, all the organic items are more expensive, but it’s not always by a huge margin so it is always worth checking. When I was looking up the pricing on Ocado’s website they’re really pushing organic options and they’re often on offer.
Has it changed my perception?
Not hugely, but it has reaffirmed my choice of opting for organic meat and dairy not only gives you peace of mind on the welfare front, but reaps rewards in the quality of ingredients.
I’m a big fan of stretching food as far as it’ll go and re-inventing leftovers. I grew up in the home of a talented but thrifty cook so I guess it’s just in the blood! Organic for me is still synonymous with luxury, and i’m not sure if that’s set to change in the current economic climate.
What do YOU think?
Do you put organic products in your shopping trolley? Are there specific things that you’d always buy organic or does the high cost just automatically discount using it at all? I’d love to hear what you think about shopping organic!