Grocery Shopping in Orlando – A guide to buying healthy, mostly organic foods (on a student budget!)

I’ve lived in Orlando for 4 years as a college student. I try to keep my grocery bill under $200 per month, and I try to eat mostly organics; this guide will show you how I do this.

First, I eat a lot. My bicycle is my primary transportation around Orlando, so food is not only my sustenance, it’s my fuel. I probably eat 3,000-5,000 calories per day, and I try to ensure that these calories are full of nutritious, organic produce. I’m also vegan, so I eat a lot of home-made seitan, peanut butter, rice, and beans–all of which are packed with protein and fairly cheap (if you know where to get it).

In the past 4 years, I’ve been developing a system to my grocery shopping. Call me a nerd, but I record the cost of food items when I go somewhere new, and I’ve cataloged all of these items in a spreadsheet. After 4 years of this, I’ve developed a pretty good system. So, for the benefit of all Orlando health-conscious individuals with a small budget, here’s where I buy my food–broken down by store and prioritized by where the bulk of my calories come from.

Produce

The best advise I can give to someone who wants to buy produce in Orlando is: stop buying produce in grocery stores.

Whether it’s Publix, Bravo, or Whole Foods, the produce is overpriced, bad quality, or both. If you insist on buying from a brick-and-mortar company, go with Fancy Fruit. They’re definitely the cheapest–not at all organic or fair trade, but their quality is as good as Publix for a much better price.

For the past few years, I’ve been buying my food from Annie’s Organic Buying Club. 100% of their items are Organic. They are not local, but they are cheap–super cheap (for what you get). I pay $90 per month (for their “full share”), and I get a pretty insane amount of fruits & vegetables every 2 weeks. Honestly, a “full share” every 2 weeks is enough to feed more than one person, but because I eat *so* much food and I’m vegan, I’m usually just able to finish it all off every 2 weeks. If you’re just starting out, I recommend splitting a “full share” with your roommate.

And, if you think $90 per month sounds like a lot, realize that I was actually paying *more* than $90 per month when buying *inorganic* produce from Publix. This really is a steal if you eat a lot of produce (and even if you don’t, $45 per month split between 2 people is an equally awesome deal).

How can Annie’s Buying Club provide organic produce for so cheap? It’s simple: cut out the middle man. Annie’s gets their produce from Albertson’s food trucks. It’s the same truck service that stocks your local grocery stores, but it gets delivered to your “coordinator’s” house. The coordinator sorts the food into boxes for all particpants, collects the money, and–in return–they get their bi-weekly share for free. In the end, it’s way cheaper to do this than the sum total of the costs for Publix to run an air-conditioned grocery store full of freezers, staff, managers, and corporate headquarters–not to mention marketing and the whole shebang.

So, cut out the middle-man (the grocery store), and the savings roll down to you. In return, you can get a huge share of organic produce for (dirt) cheap.

Personally, I love Annie’s Buying Club. It’s the first alternative grocery service I heard of that cut out the store, but it’s not alone. I haven’t tried these, but there are also a few other little-known grocery store alternatives that thrive on the “cut out the store” philosophy. If Annie’s doesn’t suit your needs, I recommend checking these out:

Grocery Store Alternatives

* Annie’s Buying Club
* Orlando Organics
* Homegrown Co-op (has a storefront, so it’s expensive, but the best option if you don’t mind paying extra $)

Everything Else

Here’s a spreadsheet that lists where I buy all my other (non-produce) foods. Each tab of this spreadsheet is a different store. Below this spreadsheet, I describe each of these stores and why I shop there (and why they can offer such good deals!).

(if you can’t view the spreadsheet below or you would like to download and view it in Excel, click here)

Gordon Food Service

Here’s a well-known way to cut down your grocery bill: make it yourself and buy in bulk. When people think bulk grocery shopping, they think Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and the like. But of these places charge membership fees!

Here’s a little-known fact: you can get all of the discounted bulk benefits without a membership fee from Gordon Food Service (GFS).

GFS caters to restaurants and small business owners (and they offer discounts to bonefide businesses), but their doors are open to the public. Oh, and their customer service is surprisingly phenomenal. They have a shop on OBT and in Altemonte Springs.

It’s a bit far from UCF, but I usually drive out there once a month. After all, they’re bulk items. How often do you really need to pickup a 50lb bag of whole wheat flour or a gallon of hot sauce?

Something to note: GFS isn’t really the place to go for organics or fair trade. They’re not at all a health or environmentally conscious business. But most of my diet consists of produce (see above). And I really can’t afford to buy the tiny, extremely expensive bags of organic flour from Publix. GFS is, IMHO, the best trade-off.

October 20, 2014 · Michael · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: cooporatives, diet, for profits, health, nonprofits, organic, organizations, vegan, vegetarian

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