Saturday, November 5, 2011

saving money while eating healthy: dairy and eggs

it looks like i might actually be getting around to finishing my blog series!  earlier this summer i wrote about saving money while eating healthy on produce and meat.  now i am going to continue the series by talking about dairy and eggs.

'Eggbowl' photo (c) 2006, Amy - license:
like i mentioned about meat, i make it a priority to buy milk and eggs from animals that are raised properly.  this means, for milk, i try to get it from cows who eat 100% grass and are not given any hormones or antibiotics.  for chickens this means that they should be pastured, which gives them access to eat grass and bugs, along with their feed. 

second best to these are products labeled "organic".  store-bought organic milk usually comes from cows that are given mostly organic grain, but also some grass, and no hormones or antibiotics.  store bought organic eggs come from chickens who eat organic grain, but usually dont eat any grass or bugs (even if they are labeled "free range").  (side note: although most organic eggs are brown, brown eggs are not inherently better or healthier than white eggs.  it still depends on how the chickens are treated, and again grass-fed, bug-eating pastured chickens with organic feed supplemented is the best).

the third choice is conventional dairy and eggs.  if you have to settle for this (and often times you will find conventional eggs and milk in our fridge too) at least stick with dairy products that specifically state on the label that they do not use the rbST (a bovine growth hormone).  for eggs, the label "free range" doesn't mean much, so don't pay more for "free range" conventional eggs.  i also see a mark-up on conventional eggs that happen to be brown, but again, the fact that the eggs are brown tells you nothing about the nutrients in the egg.

one more important note about dairy: consider buying raw milk.  after researching this issue, i really believe that raw milk is the healthiest kind of milk you can buy because of the friendly bacteria it contains and also because the vitamins aren't destroyed by being heated and because the fats have not been altered through homogenization (read more about raw milk here).  if you cant get raw, steer clear of ultra-pasteurized milk and stick with pasteurized.  also, if you cant buy raw milk, try to at least find unhomogenized milk (several brands of yogurt these days are also offering unhomogenized versions, usually labeled "cream top").  lastly, as i believe that it is best to consume foods in their most natural state, buy whole milk and full fat dairy products. 

now that you know what kind of dairy products to look for, how do you keep the costs down?

make homemade dairy products

this will certainly save you money, especially on high-yield dairy products like yogurt and kefir.  a gallon of store bought organic yogurt costs about $16, but i can make it at home with about 20 minutes of work for $6.  a gallon of organic kefir is even more, around $20, but it also only costs me about $6 to make it, with only about 5 minutes of work involved!  i have also made yogurt cheese (similar to cream cheese), cottage cheese and sour cream at home.

another increasingly popular venture is making homemade butter and cheeses such as feta, mozzarella and cheddar. i have not tried these yet because they are not cost effective to make for what we pay for milk.  it is worth the time to do the math on what it would cost to make these at home, to see if it is worth your while.  however, i can pretty much guarantee you that at least homemade yogurt and kefir will save you money (and your belly will thank you for the friendly bacteria :) ).

buy from a farmer

if you want to buy raw milk, buying from a farmer may be your only option, depending on where you live.  regardless, buying from a farmer is likely cheaper than from the store, and you can have a better idea of the quality of milk you are getting by asking the farmer questions about how the cows are treated and what they are fed.  if you get some friends together to form a buying group, you may be able to save even more, as well as split up milk pick-up duty.  i look forward to the possibility of one day living close enough to a dairy farm to get our milk fresh from there.  you can find a listing of farmers who sell raw milk here.

buy medium eggs

i haven't been able to figure out how to do the math on this to figure out if it is actually definitely cheaper to buy medium eggs (as opposed to large or jumbo eggs), but i'm pretty sure it is.  i usually buy medium eggs about half the time, depending on availability.

raise a dairy goat, cow or laying chickens

two people on our street have laying chickens (i hear them squawking all the time!) and we hope that we will be able to sometime in the future as well.  if we ever live in a more rural area, we also hope to get a dairy goat.  not only is this great for your health, as you can make sure you are eating fresh from well-fed animals, but it is also kinder on the environment, as your food does not have to be shipped from afar.  it also assures a constant supply of these household staples!

buy in bulk

buying dairy products and eggs often times isn't an option (because of the fact that it is perishable, and also because it is not often sold in bulk), but sometimes it is.  a few examples from our life: sometimes eggs that are about to expire go on clearance, and i will buy 4-5 dozen.  i hard boil most of them, which extends their life by weeks (to be used on top of salads or by themselves as snacks), and i also make lots of egg recipes the next few days (things like quiche).  eggs are usually good for a week or more past their expiration date, so i don't sweat it if they are a bit past the label's date.

another thing that can be bought in bulk is cheese, though you may have to hunt around for a source such as a co-op.  i buy a lot of our cheese this way, in five pound blocks, which will last for weeks in the fridge (or months in the freezer).  another possibility: most farmers markets will give you a discount if you ask when making a large order.  i used to buy our raw milk at a discount by buying five or more gallons at a time (and freezing the extra).  many farmers markets also sell eggs, cheese and yogurt, which could probably also be bought at a discount in bulk if you ask (added bonus: you can talk directly to the farmer and find out the living conditions of the animals, what they are fed, etc.  many foods that are not labeled "organic" may still be raised in an organic way, but the farmer may not be able to afford the organic labeling).

read your labels, write to the companies when you have questions

reading labels will sometimes also give you a clue as to the quality of the product.  for example, trader joe's sells a cheddar cheese that is from 100% grass-fed cows who are not given growth hormones.  this is almost as good as organic in my eyes (and better than some organic dairy products that may come from grain-fed cows), but it does not come with the "organic" label, so it is much less expensive than cheese that is officially organic.

also, dont hesitate to write to a company when you have questions.  sometimes you will be disappointed by the answers you get (like when i wrote to general mills to ask them if they use GMO grain in their cereals.  the answer was yes. :/ ) some other times you will be pleasantly surprised.  for example, one time i wrote to trader joe's to ask what kind of diet the cows eat that produce their organic milk.  they told me that they require that their cows eat a diet of at least 80% grass!  as i mentioned above, 100% grass is ideal, but 80% is still unusually high, and i was pleasantly surprised.  because of this, i try to always buy our organic milk from trader joe's.

when we cant afford organic milk, i have a second best.  after doing research i found a conventional milk company that has cows raised without rbST that eat least a partial diet of hay (ie dried grass).  again, 100% grass-fed and no antibiotics is ideal, but this is still a step up from other conventional milks, and i wouldn't have known this unless i did the research.

it may sound overwhelming to look around for different sources, compare prices and ask farmers or companies about how they raise their animals.  however, let me encourage you in a few things.  it doesn't have to happen all at once; it has taken me more than a year to hone in on the best dairy/eggs for our budget, writing to companies here and there when i have time (the internet makes this pretty quick and easy!) and i continue to research and shop around for the best.  also, once you have done the research, you can know that you are doing the best thing for your family's health and budget.  lastly, eventually you will settle on the best products and can get into a habit of buying those, without having to wonder what is in what you are buying every time you go to the store (or co-op.  or farmers market).

what are some ways that you save money on dairy products?


  1. Hi Sarah!
    Loved your post! Interesting to hear about Trader Joe's milk! We have made a lot of changes in the area of dairy in our home. We are a GMO free home now. Our children LOVE milk and dairy products. We felt like we needed to step up the quality of the milk we buy. We started buying Snowville Creamery Milk from Whole Foods. We found out that if you buy 9 of them (a case) you get a 10% discount (and if you buy 5 cases of any kind of food, the discount ups to 20%-but we haven't did that yet, we don't buy much at WF...). So Snowville Creamery is grass fed and not homogenized. We also started buying our cheeses and other dairy products at Trader Joes. I was worried the growth hormone could be in the cheeses we eat (and we eat a lot of it), so I knew Trader Joe's cheeses would be safe, and they are similarly priced depending on what you get. The flavor is amazing too!
    Finally, we just bought a Yogurt maker! So exciting. We made our first batch this week. It turned out well. Slightly grainy, need to figure out how to change that, but the flavor was spot on. We desire to make Kefir too, but haven't bought the grains yet. Have you seen Cultures for Health? They have starters for soft cheeses that seem pretty neat. That is what inspired us to make yogurt.
    I think the jump in milk price (Aldis to local) will be a hit on our budget. I am trying to figure out how to do things differently to make back the difference...
    Thanks for your post!

  2. thanks for sharing! i will have to see if the WF by us has this kind of a discount.

    i am familiar with cultures for health, and have heard good things although i haven't bought anything from them yet (i am hoping to get water kefir grains from CfH in the near future)

    if you want to start making homemade dairy kefir, i can send you some of our extra grains. they are constantly growing, so i am always looking to share them with people who would benefit. it sounds weird to send them through the mail (i read somewhere that you can do this), but i have done it several times and they do survive. so, email me your address (did you get my previous email?) and i can mail them to you if you want.