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Our Meal Plan Making The Most Of Organic Produce

Monday, 9 September 2013

I was asked by Organic UK to compile a Meal Plan using a hamper of groceries delivered to me last week.  I had no idea of the contents of the hamper until it arrived so had to play Ready, Steady, Cook (or Meal Plan) with what arrived.  A change from how I normally Meal Plan but I am always up for a challenge!  Due to a tight deadline for the blog post I haven't blogged all the recipes for the Meal Plan, I may blog them at a later stage.

The contents of the hamper were as follows:

Cost of 19 items: £56.45
Packets and Cereals
 1x    Waitrose Organic Fusilli (500g)                                                                      £1.05
1x    Waitrose Organic Aromatic Basmati Rice (500g)                                      £1.99
1x    Waitrose Organic Wholesome Couscous (500g)                                        99p

Tins, Jars and Cooking
 2x    Waitrose Organic Chopped Tomatoes in Natural Juice (400g)               £1.78
Doves Farm Organic Plain White Flour 1kg                                                        £1.19

Dairy and Eggs
 2x    Yeo Valley Organic Double Cream (227ml)                                               £1.90
1x    Stonegate Organic Free Range Medium Eggs (6)                                       £2.29
1x    Yeo Valley Organic Fresh Semi Skimmed Milk (2L)                                 £1.88
1x    Yeo Valley Organic Unsalted Butter (250g)                                                £1.60
1x    ye Cross Farm Organic Cheddar (245g)                                                      £2.69

Fruit and Vegetables
 1x    Waitrose Organic Carrots (1Kg)                                                                    £1.75
1x    Waitrose Organic Potatoes (2.5Kg)                                                              £3.50
10    Waitrose Organic Butternut Squash by Weight (100g)                             £1.99
3x    Waitrose Organic Plums (400g)                                                                     £7.77
1x    Waitrose Organic Garlic (100g)                                                                     £1.05
2x    Waitrose Organic White Cup Mushrooms (250g)                                      £2.70
2x    Waitrose Organic Pink Lady Apples (4)                                                       £5.40
1x    Ocado Organic Brown Onions (750g)                                                          £1.09

Meat, Fish and Poultry
 1x    Duchy Originals Organic British Pork Sausages (6 per pack - 400g)      £3.49
16    Waitrose Organic Whole Chicken by Weight (100g)                                 £11.34

I also purchased Sainsbury's Organic Fairtrade Cane Sugar (500g) £1.09 and Sainsbury's So Organic Unwaxed Lemons (4 pack) £2.  I used vegetables from our allotments to supplement the grocery hamper and had to use non-organic baking powder as there was none on sale at my local Sainsbury's or Asda.  I also used organic fresh herbs from our garden, organic vegetable stock powder and non-organic spices from our store cupboard.

Here's what I came up with:

12 Mini Toad in the Holes with Mash and Steamed Greens *greens from our allotment

Butternut Squash and Herb Pasta Sauce

Roast Chicken with Roast Vegetables and Yorkshire Puddings *carcass used for stock

12 Muffin Tin Chicken Tarts *using leftover chicken and chicken stock

Egg and Vegetable Fried Rice

Vegetable Tagine with Herby Couscous *using last of the veg , tinned tomatoes and allotment veg


Mushroom Soup with Herb Scones

Cheese and Tomato Flatbreads *using tinned tomatoes and fresh herbs for the topping


Lemon Posset with Plum and Apple Compote *using organic lemons and sugar purchased from Sainsbury's

Image: #OrganicSeptember

The Campaign for Organic

The "Organic. Naturally different" campaign which bloggers are being asked to highlight is aiming to inform consumers about what the term organic means and encourage shoppers to make conscious decisions when they go food shopping.  The aim of the campaign is for people to choose and taste organic products and understand the benefits which, according to Organic UK, are:

·         Organic is better for nature
·         Organic animals have high animal welfare standards
·         Organic contains less pesticide residues
·         Organic is natural and great tasting food

Organic UK Food want to challenge peoples’ price perceptions of organic and demonstrate that eating organic can be part of an budget-conscious lifestyle if you shop, cook and plan wisely.

Here's what I think . . . . .

I used My Supermarket to compare the cost of the items I was sent with those from Asda where I usually shop.  Unsurprisingly many of the organic items available from Waitrose were unavailable at Asda, Tesco or Sainsbury's.  However, the carrots, mushrooms, eggs, milk, and pasta were all still organic and the total cost of the items would've been £36.87.  Had I swapped the organic products for a trolley containing no organic products the cost would've been £33.22.  There is no way our family, and I am sure many other families, could afford to spend £23 more to buy organic produce from a high end supermarket.  Yes I was able to stretch the organic produce to go far but some families are lacking the skills to do so and it did take me a couple of hours to think up the dishes to best use the groceries that arrived.  

In an ideal world I would buy organic produce regularly and only buy organic produce as I believe it is better for consumers, farmers and the environment.  At one time we used to receive an Abel and Cole Fruit and Vegetable Box but the cost was too much and we stopped.  The only organic produce we can afford to eat is that which we grow ourselves in our back garden and on the two allotments we take care of.  My friends occasionally give us free range organic eggs and produce from their gardens and allotments as well.

I completely understand why organic produce costs more.  It is a much more labour intensive process and involves more inventive methods of pest control and working with the seasons and environment.  To be honest the organic produce did taste a little different to our usual supermarket produce, however that may be because it was from a higher end supermarket than what we are used to ;o)  Our homegrown organic produce will of course always taste better than anything we buy as it is freshly picked and we have an emotional and physical investment in the harvest.  

Of course it is very important that we know where our food comes from, the processes involved in producing it and the consequences on both the environment and us of different methods of production.  However much we may want to buy better we cannot always afford to do so.  With many experiencing financial difficulties, food poverty and struggling to feed families decent healthy food at a decent price, I think the Organic UK campaign will not change buying habits in some families.  

Food tends to be the one expense that isn't fixed in households.  Rent/mortgage, phone, electric, water, council tax, etc are all usually expenses that are fairly fixed however the food bill is the one area that savings can be made if they have to be made.  I always buy free range eggs, free range chicken and usually higher welfare sausages and meat.  It takes savvy meal planning for us to afford to do that and I make the most of those ingredients, usually over several meals.  I do not usually buy organic, unless the items are on offer at a price as good as or better than what I would pay normally.  

I also find the idea of "Thrifty Meal Plans" varies widely.  Jamie Oliver crowing that his new meals cost on average £1.38 per portion is his idea of thrifty, working out at almost £7 for a meal for my family it is more than I would normally spend.  I enjoy reading the delicious and well thought out Thrifty Organic Meal Plans from another blogger, who is paid well by Organic UK to produce them, however the fact that some of the meals cost £12 - £15 for a family of 4 mean that the cost per meal is too much for our usual family of 5 budget.  I would hasten to point out that some of her meal plan recipes do cost around £5 for a family of 4 which is much more in line with our budget and that would sway me to give them a go.

I will read the posts from the other 9 blogs involved in the campaign with great interest.  I wonder if I am missing something and they will show me that organic can indeed be a thrifty option and work for families on a very limited budget.  I do hope so.  I tried to make the most of the groceries I was sent and managed to get 6 dinners, 2 lunches and 2 puddings out of them.  It does concern me that I could do the same for 30% cheaper using non-organic produce as I was hoping the cost difference would be much less.  The reality is that the food budget for my family of 5 each week is a maximum of £70 and buying what we need to using organic produce just isn't achievable.  

The bottom line is buy organic if you can afford to, if you can't then try and grow as much of your own as you can.  Have plants in your garden that are good for bees and other wildlife as well as gorwing vegetables, fruit and herbs if you can.  Feed your families as best you can, buying good quality healthy options, buy organic if and when you can afford it.

** I was sent a hamper of groceries my Organic UK. All opinions are my own. **


  1. Interesting. I don't have much money, but I do buy organic. My food comes from my small community garden plot, a Riverford box and the non-perishables from Waitrose or Sainsburys. There is no ASDA in North London and I've tried Morrison's but they don't sell stuff like creme fraiche and I don't have time to shop around.

    I always get lemons in my Riverford box as they are utterly amazing, and no supermarket lemons come close.

    I try not to check my box contents in advance as I like the challenge of working out what I'm going to do with it all.

    I haven't tried comparing prices as I'm happy with the quality and flavour of the produce I receive and how it's produced its very important to me. I never buy meat though and only occasionally buy fish so that keeps the costs down I suppose.

    You are so lucky to have two allotments!


    1. Thanks Sarah, interesting points. I used to enjoy the surprise element of the veg box but with 3 kids, after school activities and meetings as well as working nights it is easier for me to plan ahead and cheaper too as I take advantage of special offers when planning. We started sharing an allotment and took on the school allotment too as nobody else wanted to. It is such an important learning resource I didn't want the school to lose so took it on. Two allotments is hard work but we all love it because it is good exercise in the fresh air and the produce tastes fab, not to mention the satisfaction of growing our own.

      Our nearest supermarket is Sainsbury's however Asda is cheaper and we get ours delivered as we don't have a car. I would buy organic if we could afford it but we grow as much of our organic produce as we can do I'll have to make do with that.

  2. Nice post..thanks for sharing information!

    1. Thanks :o) I wanted to share both sides of the debate. It is understandable that organic is more expensive as it is more labour intensive but unfortunately it is too expensive for us to buy regularly.

  3. Such an interesting post - I really enjoyed it. I am unsurprised that there is a 30% price differential. We tried to go partially organic at the beginning of this year, but the the amount of money I was spending on a weekly basis shocked me, and we've gradually gone back to non-organic. I did like my weekly veg box from Abel & Cole, but I just couldn't justify the cost, and I thought the amounts of each veg were not very generous, either.

    I have only recently found your blog, and will be back to visit again!

    1. Thanks Caroline for your lovely comment :o) We also tried organic and it was too expensive, we also found the amounts of veg in the Abel & Cole box weren't enough for the money they cost. It is such a shame as we would ideally like to have organic produce it is cost that makes it impossible.

  4. Interesting post. I think you did really well with the meals you produced. I agree with you that many families have neither the time nor the money to buy organic food. The cost of items such as the chicken, for example, is very different. Like you, we grow lots of our own veggies.

  5. Great post. I wish I had your creativity in the kitchen. We have started growing our own vegetables but to be honest we don't really know how to make the most of them

    1. I'd search for a few new and interesting veg recipes on the internet, homegrown veg are delicious, good on you for growing your own. Fritters are a lifesaver in our house, as are frittatas and vege bakes :)

  6. Great post and your honesty on the debate is refreshing. I've recently started having a box from Riverford and so far I'm very happy with it as the quality is better and the portions are a good size for 2 of us. I'll be honest, I haven't worked out a full price comparison with Tesco (nearest supermarket) but I don't feel like we're overspending at the moment compared to what we were before. It is only the veg that I buy organic unless there are reductions or special offers as everything else, especially the meat is too expensive for us.

  7. In my post I also point out that there's no honest way to claim that organic is not an expensive choice. It's always going to be significantly more expensive than the budget ranges, and a fair bit more than the non-organic mid-range choices too.

    So I've tried to focus on reasons to choose it (and also refer to arguments that don't hold water with me) and then how one might stretch what one can afford to buy.

    I don't think many can afford to buy wholly organic, but if they start buying just a few more things than they did before, that would make an environmental difference.


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