As a book lover who homeschools, I’ve been shoving favorite authors at my kids since the cradle. They had a steady diet of Wilder, Burnett, Dahl, Nesbit… I have to stop, or this will begin to look like a required reading list. I wasn’t trying to control my kids or push them. I just wanted to share my amazing childhood adventures! I wanted them to experience the magic of those stories. The magic that still lives in my imagination half a lifetime later.
Somewhere around age eight, my oldest son staged a literary rebellion. He decided I was depriving him of ‘the cool stuff’. He’d earned a free book from summer reading club and wanted the joy of an unvetted story. I took him to the shop and turned him loose in the kids’ section.
He made his choice based on the coolest cover and most ‘un-Mama’ sounding blurb. The moment we made it home, he raced to his room for the thrill of parent-free prose. When he emerged a couple of hours later, I asked how the book was. He turned a shell-shocked face to me and almost whispered, “It was awful”. He was so disappointed he didn’t even try to pretend.
That was the first time he realized that quality matters. I’d guided him to great books so consistently, he’d never realized there’s a lot of drivel out there. After that, we made a point of researching books that were both high quality and his choice. (Though to his great chagrin, I did still make him read The Scarlet Letter in the eighth grade. He is 24 now, and I’m still not really forgiven for that one!)
A quality story has imagery, characters, and a plot that transports the reader to a land of imagination. Quality food has good taste, nutrition, and attributes that transport the eater to health and contentment. However, the definition of ‘good’ varies from reader to reader and eater to eater. Let’s discuss food quality in more depth. What’s your family’s idea of quality?
- Certified Organic
- Cage free
- Fair trade
- Never frozen
- Imported delicacies from around the world
- Locally grown low-carbon footprint
- Certified vegetarian or vegan
- Unblemished produce and perfectly marbled meat
The options are dizzying, and most families don’t choose just one option. We tick several boxes on the quality food checklist. Unfortunately, few people can afford to purchase these ‘specialty’ items all the time. So, we have to prioritize.
Our choices at Simply Living the Dream are a little unusual. We’re on the organic, cage free, non-soy, non-GMO, Fair Trade, cruelty-free bandwagons. (Phew!) Four of us also have a medical issue which requires a special diet. However, since we have a limited budget and five mouths to feed, we prioritize our food choices.
Organic: Feeding our family dangerous chemicals isn’t acceptable. However, if we were to purchase an entirely organic diet on our budget, we would eat about one week out of the month. So, we raise our own organic when possible. If we can’t raise or grow it, we buy organic if we can. For the remainder, we buy conventional foods. This remainder is a larger percentage than we’d like. However, we try to limit our conventional foods to lower risk items. (To learn more, good starting points are searches on the net for “food dirty dozen” and “food clean dozen”. )
Cage free: There are tons of horror stories about battery cages. So, I’m going to skip the fulsome condemnation and get to our solution. We have chickens. Our chickens live in large open runs. They’re not free-range, because, I don’t enjoy feeding the local coyotes and hawks. They have sunshine, quality feed, room to scratch, and bugs to peck. I know not everyone can have or wants to have chickens, and cage free store-bought eggs are certainly an alternative. However, many towns are now allowing up to three hens in fenced backyards. (Check your local bylaws before buying!) I would’ve loved that when we lived in town. If you can’t have chickens (or don’t want to), consider finding someone that does. We sell our extra eggs for less than the stores. In my department at work, there are three people who sell eggs. These eggs don’t have any special certifications, but we’re all happy to share photos of the chickens, their living conditions, and discuss their diet.
Non-soy, non-GMO, Cruelty-free: We raise most of our Meat. I know there are vegetarians out there shaking their fists and shouting “Cruelty-free meat? Oxymoron, Moron!” I understand and respect their views. I also respectfully disagree. Yes, we eat some of the animals we raise. However, we work very hard to ensure they have a high quality of life and humane death. We feed a non-soy non-GMO diet. I realize this isn’t a choice many people would make, but it gives us precise control over how our animals are raised and processed. We couldn’t afford to purchase meat the quality of that we raise. I also believe it gives us a huge appreciation for the meat. When I’ve watched an animal grow, tended it daily, and been a part of preparing it for our table it’s important to me that no part of that animal is wasted.
That leaves Fair Trade: We do our best and work to do better. (Actually, that’s true of all these quality options.) We try to be mindful of the issues and pay attention to our choices. We would love to be able to change the world by consistently voting with our dollars. In reality, we have kids to feed and consciences to bear. We struggle for balance, all the while repeating the mantra: Do your best, and work to do better.
In order to afford quality food, we increase the time and effort put into making our meals. For example, if I bought organic, gluten free, non-GMO granola bars I’d pay $6-$8 a box or $1-$1.30 a bar. However, if I buy organic, gluten free oats, use farm eggs, etc, I can make a high-quality breakfast bar for under $0.40. (If I choose to make them from conventional ingredients, the cost is less than $0.20)
These bars take ten minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to bake each week. If I buy ingredients in bulk, I can get high quality at an even better price. Taking time to prepare this dish saves me at least $80 per month! I can afford to purchase more quality ingredients, than ready meals. So, I’ll happily invest time and effort to help my family afford better food.
This is simply a summary of how our family prioritizes goals for quality food. It isn’t meant to guide anyone’s choices, but to encourage you to analyze and actively choose for yourself. After your goals are clear, consider the possibility of out-of-the-box ways to meet them.
In the next couple of posts, we’ll discuss how time and effort affect food budgets. What are your family’s top quality criteria for food? How do you work them into your budget?
If you have time, please leave a comment below. It makes my day to hear from y’all!
Many of our posts are shared with our favorite blog hops and linky parties!