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We recently spent a lovely morning exploring nature at the Skylarks nature reserve in Nottingham, which is part of the Wildlife Trusts.  One of the activities was making something called a journey stick during a nature walk.

I’d never heard of journey sticks before, but apparently they’ve been around for a very long time.  A journey stick is essentially a memento of a nature walk, featuring items collected whilst on the walk; these might be things like leaves, twigs, flowers, feathers or anything else natural that you find along the way.

Younger children can use a piece of cardboard with double sided tape attached to secure the items to the card.  Older children can make a journey stick the traditional way by choosing a stick and attaching items to it using string or wool.

With all nature activities, you need to be mindful of protecting your surroundings.  Spend a couple of minutes explaining this to children before you start, and only collect things that have fallen to the ground.

This activity really appeals to kids; it involves hunting, collecting, comparing with other children, as well as the opportunity to get creative with the stick design.  We found lots of different items with a variety of shapes, colours, textures and sizes.

 

A Wildlife Trusts Ranger was on-hand to help us identify each item; if you were doing this on your own it would be nice to have some sort of nature spotters book with you to help with identification.

By the time we finished our walk we had two lovely records of the nature we’d seen along the way…

A journey stick is such a great activity to do with children during an outdoor trip; it keeps them busy, helps them learn about nature, and provides them with a memento to take home.  You also need very little in the way of preparation; just some string or sticky cardboard, depending on which type you’re making.  I can see us doing this activity again and again; we’ll probably end up with a gallery of journey sticks from different nature walks, which will be a lovely reminder of family days out.

Do you think you’ll have a go at  making journey sticks on your next nature walk?

The post Nature Craft: making a journey stick appeared first on Growing Family.

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Is making the switch to part-time work something you’d love to do?

There are many reasons why people work part-time. Perhaps you’re returning to work after having a baby, and would like to reduce your hours to spend more time at home with your little one. Or you may be starting to think about retirement, but don’t feel ready to give up your job completely. Alternatively, it could be all about freeing up time to pursue your true passion in life, or to take on a new hobby. There are lots of benefits to working part-time. No wonder 8.5 million Brits were registered as part-time workers last year.

If you’re considering reducing your hours for whatever reason, there’s the inevitable drop in income to think about. So, a little financial planning is in order before you make the move.

If you’d like to know how to budget effectively when moving to part-time work, these three tips are a great place to start.

Start saving beforehand

It’s always a good idea to build a savings fund, but it’s particularly crucial if you’re planning to take a cut in income.

Having a savings buffer means you won’t be stranded if an unexpected cost like a home or car repair occurs. It also means you can avoid having to take out an expensive loan or max out your credit card.

If you’re yet to reduce your working hours, it makes financial sense to really focus your efforts on growing your contingency fund. That way, you can begin the next stage of your career feeling more financially secure.

Cut out expenses

While an income reduction may seem scary, it doesn’t have to be – as long as you budget wisely. To make your money stretch further, you need to cut out luxury expenses.

Firstly, it’s worth identifying what a luxury expense actually is. It typically describes a product or service that we don’t really need; something that isn’t essential to everyday life.

Food, warmth and shelter are all necessities, whereas holidays, furniture, second homes, jewellery and gadgets aren’t – although life would be a lot duller if we didn’t have any of those things! So, it’s really about the smaller luxury purchases that we might often overlook. Before you pay for something, ask yourself, is this a worthwhile purchase, or is it frivolous? Do I really need that take-out coffee or new pair of shoes?

Enjoy free activities

We all need to break away from our daily routine at some point, and hobbies are usually a great way to do this. Some activities, however, can be costly, incurring an expense that as a part-time worker you could do without.

But this doesn’t mean that you have to give up fun activities altogether. In fact, you can enjoy a range of pursuits within your local area for little or no cost. Locations across the UK offer various free events, from sports, classes, cinema and more. Check the ‘What’s on’ section of your local council’s website, and keep an eye on social media for offers and events. And don’t forget your local parks and nature reserves, these are a fantastic way to spend a day enjoying nature for free.

Going from full time to part-time work can be exciting, and a real chance to focus on what matters most to you. Prepare your finances well for it, and you’ll be able to enjoy the opportunity to the full.

Have you ever gone from full-time work to part-time? What’s your top tip on how to budget for the change in salary?

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There’s no other room in the home quite like the bedroom. It’s the place where we go to relax every day, and is often the room where we let our personality influence décor the most. However, striking the balance between personality and clutter can be a fine line.

Since we spend nearly 34 years of our life in bed (yes, really!), creating the right bedroom environment is crucial. Here are some of the best ways to create a bedroom ambience that’s perfect for you.

Colour psychology

You might already be aware of this, but colour psychology is a big deal in the world of home décor.

It goes without saying that certain colours invoke particular emotions. For example, red is often associated with energy and passion, whereas blue can create a feeling of calm and serenity.

When choosing colours for your bedroom, think about the kind of atmosphere you want to work towards.

It all depends on your personal style and taste, but picking the right colours for you will be the first step towards creating your ideal bedroom ambience.

Let there be light

Nothing sets a mood quite like lighting. If you want your bedroom to be a bright open space, think about how best to use natural light. For example, using mirrors on walls facing the windows will help to bounce light around and give the illusion of a larger space.

On the other end of the spectrum, you might want to create low-level light that makes for a cosier environment. Things like fairy lights or LED strips are great for giving you that dreamy atmosphere.

Similarly, investing in some quality blinds or curtains that block out external things like harsh lights or street lamps will stop you being disrupted during your downtime.

Décor and soft furnishings

Once you’ve got the main DIY bits done, its time to start thinking about the accessories.

Soft textures like throws and cushions give a lovely plush feel to a room, and will have you diving for your bedroom as soon as you get through the front door.

For the ultimate relaxation experience, introduce a few candles in your favourite fragrances to give a welcoming aroma as well as an atmospheric, soft light.

Declutter

There’s nothing quite like a good clear out. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite beneficial for your mental health.

By making sure your bedroom is clutter-free, you will be encouraging a clean and tidy way of thinking. This can really help you to feel less stressed and anxious, since everything is neatly tucked away out of sight.

It’s generally a good idea to give all of your living areas a clear out every now and then, doing so will help your home feel like a place to relax and unwind, instead of a to-do list waiting to be tackled!

Creating the right ambience in your home is a step-by-step process. Hopefully, these few tips and tricks will help you to create the bedroom ambience that’s perfect for you.

What’s your top tip for creating a relaxing bedroom?

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The school holidays are almost upon us – are you ready?!

I really look forward to having some much-needed downtime as a family at this time of year; everyone is usually pretty frazzled by the time we get to the end of term!  But that doesn’t mean we’re going to sit around getting bored this summer; we’ve got a camping trip planned, and we’ll definitely be heading off on a few family days out.

You probably know from experience that keeping the family entertained in the school holidays can get very expensive, very quickly.  If you’re looking for some inspiration on low-cost days out with the kids, here are some ideas to get you started.

Explore nature

An outdoor adventure exploring nature – and probably getting a bit grubby! – is one of our favourite family days out.  It requires very little planning, and you can go with the flow on the day, letting nature take the lead.  It also has the added bonus of being very low-cost. 

Family days out exploring nature can be as simple as a trip to your local park, but do consider finding your nearest nature reserve, as these often run free or low-cost family events in the holidays.  We’ve done things like pond dipping, minibeast hunts, den building and journey sticks in the past, all of which have been fantastic for helping the kids to learn about the natural world in a fun way.  You can search for nature reserves near you on the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts websites.

We’ve found it’s well worth taking a picnic and lots of snacks, to keep costs down and energy levels up throughout the day.  We also pack waterproofs, sun cream and sunhats – don’t forget hats for the grown-ups too, these golf caps from Function 18 are great for dads.

Try a sport together

How about getting the whole family involved in one of your favourite sports?  If you enjoy golf, you could all have a go at pitch and putt, or if Wimbledon has given you the tennis bug you could head down to your local courts for a family game.  We find badminton is a great option for a mixed-age group, as kids don’t need to be super-strong or very skilled to play an active part in a match.

Go fruit picking

This is a brilliant one for summer, when there are lots of different soft fruits ready to pick.  It’s a great way to tempt fussy eaters to try some lovely fresh produce, and you can have a bit of a family competition to see who can pick the most or the fastest.  Make sure the kids wear old clothes that can cope with the inevitable fruit stains!

Once you’ve picked your fruit, you can have lots of fun baking or making jam back at home.  You can search for pick your own farms near where you live here.

Geocaching

This is a great way to explore your local area and keep the kids busy at the same time.  Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt; there are over three million geocaches hidden around the world, and your job is to find them!  You need to create a free basic account at geocaching.com or via the free geocaching app, once you’ve done this, you use your phone’s GPS to navigate to nearby geocaches.  As you can probably imagine, geocaching is ideal for practising map-reading and observation skills.

Once you’ve found your geocache, you can make a note in the logbook and move onto the next one.  Geocaching is completely free, so this is a brilliant way to get the family active and engaged without spending a penny.

Visit a museum

Museums are a fantastic option for bad weather days.  Lots of museums offer free entry, and it’s well worth a quick online search to find smaller, more quirky museums close to where you live.  This article has a good geographical spread of family-friendly, free museums in the UK.

Will you be doing any of these family days out this summer?  What’s your favourite low-cost day out with the kids?

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Boilers: we tend to take them for granted, don’t we?  I know I only really think about ours when it stops working, or when the energy bills arrive!  But if you’ve ever suffered through a boiler replacement in the colder months of the year – which is when they tend to break – you’ll know just how vital a boiler is to the comfort and function of your home.

The reason boilers tend to break down in winter is because that’s when the most strain is put on them to keep the house warm and supplied with hot water.  So, if your boiler is coming to the end of it’s life, it makes a lot of sense to think about replacing it in the warmer months, when you can cope without it for a few days much more easily.

If you’re looking to replace your boiler soon, here’s what you need to think about before you buy a new one.

Types of boiler

If you’ve never dealt with boiler replacement before, you may not be aware of the different types of boiler on the market.  Here’s a quick guide.

  • Conventional, or heat-only boilers have a water cylinder and a water tank.  This means you need to find room for the cylinder (typically in an airing cupboard) and the tank, and once the hot water has ran out you have to wait for it to reheat.
  • System boilers are like conventional boilers, but without the water tank, so they take up less space.  You’ll still need to find room for the cylinder, and wait for the water to reheat once it has ran out.
  • Combination (or combi) boilers heat up the water as and when it’s needed, so you don’t need a cylinder or a tank.  They’re ideal if space is tight, and will give you a constant supply of hot water.

You can find lots of information about different boiler brands and models online from sites like Heating & Plumbing World.

Boiler replacement budget

Boiler replacement is an expensive investment, so naturally you want to choose the right one for your home but also for your budget.  Working out how much you want to spend before you start getting quotes will help you narrow down your options more quickly.

When it comes to setting a budget, remember this is an outlay that ideally you don’t want to make very often, so if you can stretch to a better brand or more energy efficient option it’s worth doing so.

The good news is it’s highly likely that your new boiler will be more energy efficient than your old one, so you can expect to see some savings on your energy bill.

Finding a boiler engineer

A good boiler engineer will be well-qualified to assess your specific needs, and able to give you lots of advice about your options when it comes to boiler replacement.  

They will most likely have a couple of makes of boiler that they like working with, as well as lots of experience of the makes and models that they have to repair frequently, so they’re a great source of information.  Just be careful that they are not being incentivised to install a particular brand.

Gas boiler engineers must be Gas Safe registered, so make sure you check this.  The Gas Safe Register is a quick way to check a particular tradesman, and you can also use the search function to find registered engineers in your area.

What size boiler?

The size of boiler you need will be based largely on the number of radiators in your house, and the number of bathrooms that will be demanding hot water.  Again, your heating engineer is a great source of advice here.  Before having a discussion, it will help to think about things like how you use your hot water and whether that changes at different times of year, any problems you have with your current system, and any home improvements you’ve got planned.

It’s also worth thinking about how much space you have, or would like to save; for example, replacing a conventional boiler with a combi will free up quite a bit of room.  And it might sound silly, but make sure you check the dimensions of your chosen model carefully; you don’t want to get to installation stage before you realise it won’t fit!

After installation

Regular maintenance is crucial to keeping your new boiler running efficiently and safely. An annual service is the usual recommendation, so make sure you speak to your boiler engineer about a service plan.  It’s also worth considering the warranty offered on your new boiler, and whether there is an option to extend any standard time period.  This can vary between brands, and could be a big factor in which option you ultimately go for.

Have you replaced your boiler recently?  What tips do you have for getting it right?

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Does your bedroom feel spacious, calm and comfortable?  I’ll be honest, right now mine is full of clothes waiting to be put away, so it’s a bit of a mess!

We spend around a third of our lives sleeping in our bedrooms, and it’s the main room where we try to relax and recharge, so it’s absolutely one of the most important rooms in the home.  As such, it makes sense to try and maximise the space you’ve got, as well as the comfort level.

If your bedroom is currently feeling a little frantic or disorganised, here are some easy ways you can make it feel calmer and more welcoming at the end of a busy day.

Declutter

An obvious one, but definitely worth doing!  Regardless of the size of your bedroom, decluttering will make it feel bigger, and also make it a more relaxing, comfortable room to spend time in.  Clothes are the obvious place to start, but you’ve probably also got things like makeup, jewellery and shoes which could all benefit from a clearout.

When decluttering, it’s a good idea to have a system to make things easier.  Go through items one at a time, categorising them into ‘staying’ and ‘going’ piles – and make sure you get rid of the ‘going’ pile as quickly as possible.  Donating unwanted items to charity is a great way to reduce waste and give a new lease of life to your possessions.

Use under-bed space efficiently

You probably already store things under your bed, but chances are you’re not getting the most benefit from the space available.  Going for a double divan bed with integrated drawers, like those available from thesleepstation.co.uk, is a great way to use the full depth and height under your bed.  The drawers do a great job of keeping things dust-free, and you won’t have to crawl on the floor to find what you’re looking for.

If you want to go for freestanding under-bed storage, try to find clear boxes with lids, so you can easily see the contents and keep things nice and clean.  Make sure you measure your under-bed space before you buy, and try to go for a few of the same size box, to minimise space-wasting gaps.

Limit the technology

TV’s, laptops, tablets and smartphones can have a big negative impact on your sleep patterns and quality, so aim to keep these items out of your bedroom as much as possible.  Getting rid of a big TV can free up valuable bedroom storage space too.

Image: OWO LivingGo for a multi-purpose ottoman

Make the most of the space at the end of your bed with a storage ottoman.  These are great for swallowing up linens and bulky spare bedding which you’d struggle to squeeze into a typical drawer or shelf.

You can maximise the comfort factor by choosing an upholstered ottoman, these usually have a padded top which will double up as a place to sit.  Just don’t get into the habit of using it as a place to abandon clothes!

Build bedroom storage into unused space

If your room has sloping ceilings, you can carve out some extra bedroom storage without sacrificing lots of space.  Fitting shelves or a shallow cupboard at floor level is a great way to find a home for the clutter.

On a similar theme, if you’ve got a chimney breast with alcoves, you can fit deep cupboards or shelves into the alcoves and get much better use from the space.  To really max out on storage, go for floor-to-ceiling units; matching the finished colour to your walls and is also a clever way to make furniture ‘disappear’, which in turn will make the room feel bigger.

Layer up the soft furnishings

Once you’ve decluttered and made your bedroom storage work harder, it’s time to get comfy!  Soft furnishings are a brilliant way to add a touch of luxury to a room, and you can easily change them to give the space a quick, low-cost update.  Cushions, throws and rugs all work well, try to co-ordinate these in an accent colour that complements your bedroom’s colour scheme.  To really up the comfort factor, go for rich fabrics such as velvet, faux fur and silk.

What’s your top tip for maximising comfort and space in a bedroom?

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Do you have a garden gazebo gathering dust in your shed or garage?  We tend to think of these portable structures as a temporary solution on a specific occasion, such as a garden party or camping trip.  But there are actually lots of ways you can use a gazebo outdoors.  Whether you’ve got a gazebo that’s being neglected, or are wondering whether it’s worth investing in one, here are six ways you can put it to good use.

Protection from the elements

This is probably the most obvious reason to use a gazebo; they’re ideal for providing temporary shelter from sun, rain and wind.  If you’re planning an outdoor gathering and are worried about the weather spoiling it, a gazebo is a great backup option to have in place.

You can position them exactly where you need them, and with most sizes packing into a relatively small space they’re also great for a day at the beach or a campsite that’s exposed to the elements.  You could even use it to make sure your car is parked in the shade!

Pop-up designs are brilliant when you’re in a hurry for shelter, as they go from packed to erected super-fast.  pop up gazebos are available at Garden and Camping.

Outdoor play area

It’s great to get the kids playing outdoors all year round, but the weather doesn’t always co-operate!  Using a gazebo to create a designated play area is a great way to make sure there’s always somewhere sheltered that the kids can play.  You can also leave their outdoor toys in there, rather than having to tidy them away every time the weather forecast is looking less than glorious.  Another great way to put a gazebo to use for the kids is to turn it into a den, with comfy beanbags and throws.  And if your kids enjoy putting on shows it will make a great stage too.

Al fresco movie theatre

There’s something really fun about taking what is usually an indoor activity outside, and a family movie night outdoors is sure to be a hit – especially if you can all cosy up under some shelter.  Take the DVD player and TV outside, get the deckchairs out, and have some blankets ready to take the chill off.  Don’t forget the popcorn!

Temporary storage

If you’re doing major work indoors and need somewhere dry to temporarily store household items, a gazebo is a good option.  This works well in warmer months, but bear in mind that during cold or very wet weather you will need to make sure your gazebo has solid walls to provide adequate protection.

Low-cost greenhouse

We don’t all have room in our gardens for a permanent greenhouse, but you can use a gazebo as a temporary greenhouse during the winter months when you don’t use the garden as much.  Providing shelter for plants throughout the colder seasons allows you to grow tender varieties, and you can also get busy growing your own fruit and vegetables earlier in the year when it’s still chilly outside.  You need a gazebo with solid, transparent walls to allow light in and keep the interior nice and warm.

Central point for the party

If you’re having an outdoor gathering, consider having a gazebo as your central point.  It’s a great place to position drinks and food, and for kids’ parties you can setup the gift table and party bags in there too.  And if your celebration involves a disco, a gazebo is the perfect location for guests to let their hair down!

Have you got any gazebo uses to add to this list?

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Like kitchens, bathrooms are an expensive room to revamp – and you certainly don’t want to be replacing the whole suite on a regular basis.  I think this is one of the main reasons why a traditional style of bathroom is always a popular choice.  Get it right, and a traditional bathroom style is a timeless look that will serve you well for years without looking dated.

Whether you live in a period property and are keen to preserve the original style of your home, or just love the old-fashioned look, there are some key design elements that will help you create a beautiful traditional bathroom.  Here’s how to do it.

Highlight original features

If your bathroom has any period features, such as a fireplace, coving or deep skirting, make the most of them to enhance the traditional feel.  You could paint the walls in a colour that allows a fireplace to really stand out, or paint the ceiling a darker shade to really accentuate white coving and skirting.

Choose a traditional suite

This sounds obvious, but you need your bathroom fittings to contribute towards the traditional feel, rather than fight with it.  Go for gentle curves on vanity units, panel effects on cupboards, sinks with pedestals, crosshead taps, and old-fashioned radiators.

Think outside the box with furniture

Traditional bathrooms don’t have to be all matching when it comes to the furniture – and if it’s a shabby-chic look you’re after, the more mis-matched the better.  Adding things like old pine cupboards, reclaimed chairs and quirky accessories will add real character to the room, while also doing a great job on storage.

Add a freestanding bath

Picture a traditional bathroom, and chances are there’s a freestanding bath in there.  A freestanding bath from Bathroom Luxuries is a fantastic focal point for a traditional bathroom style, and can really help you to create a sense of luxury and retreat.  You can even go for a bold colour on the outside for extra impact, or add a curved metal shower curtain rail for an extra nod to the traditional look.

Go for bold pattern on the walls

Wallpaper may not be your first thought for a room that experiences a lot of humidity, but as long as you choose a paper that is suited to bathrooms, you can make it work.  Traditional patterns and designs will make a dramatic statement and really help you nail the overall theme – and botanical patterns work particularly well in a bathroom.  You can combine wallpaper with panelling to tone down the impact in smaller spaces.

Use wall panels

If your bathroom isn’t very small, wooden wall panels (the tongue-and-groove type) are ideal for creating a traditional, country-cottage feel.  They will also help to create a sense of height.

Choose patterned floor tiles

If heavily patterned wallpaper feels like a step too far, how about patterned floor tiles?  These are another great way to echo the period look you’re going for, without overwhelming the room.  You can also use patterned floor tiles to add a pop of colour to a neutral colour scheme.  Don’t forget to match your towels to your colour choice for a lovely finishing touch!

What are your tips for creating a traditional bathroom?

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Do you try to eat organic food where possible?  The last fifteen years have seen a huge increase in the availability of organic meat, fruit and veg and dairy products, reflecting the growing consumer interest in the benefits of choosing organic food over conventionally grown alternatives.

Those benefits include a healthier diet with less artificial additives, reduced impact on the environment from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and better animal welfare.   All great reasons to make the switch.

The Soil Association’s Organic Market Report reveals that the UK organic market is now worth £2.33 billion, and is growing at a much faster rate than the non-organic market.  As consumers we’re obviously keen to embrace the organic trend – but is it really affordable?

It’s no secret that the organic food option usually comes with a higher price tag; estimates range from a 10-30% markup, which can have a significant impact on your weekly food bill.  If you’d like to make the switch to organic food without breaking the bank, there are ways to eat organic on a budget.  Here’s how.

Organic isn’t always more expensive

It may sound far-fetched, but sometimes the price difference between organic and non-organic is very small or non-existent, and organic can also be cheaper.  Check prices carefully, paying particular attention to dry goods such as flour, rice and oats.  It’s also well worth checking if you have a wholefood shop locally; these usually offer minimally packaged dry goods at very competitive prices.

Plan your food shopping

The prices of organic food can vary greatly between supermarkets, so it makes sense to do your research and shop around.  You will probably need to embrace the idea of adding trips to smaller food retailers onto the big weekly shop.

Don’t assume that the discount supermarkets aren’t in on the organic trend either; they’re actually right up there with the traditional food retailers, but with the same attitude to pricing that we love them for.

Focus on the products you care about most

You don’t have to buy organic for every single item on your food list.  Instead, think about which products you care most about being organic, and focus on those.  For example, if your family eats a lot of meat, you may choose to focus on organic options such as grass fed beef from Graig Farm.

Grow your own

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a fantastic way to embrace organic food at minimal cost.  For the price of a few packets of seeds or some small plants, you can have your own organic harvest all year round.  If you think you need lots of space to grow your own, think again; a small veggie patch in the garden can provide you with crops all year round.  For maximum savings, focus on growing crops that you enjoy regularly, or that are expensive to buy.

Growing your own will reduce your carbon footprint as well as your food bill – not to mention all the physical and mental benefits that gardening and connecting with nature has to offer.  Growing your own produce is also a brilliant way to teach kids about where food comes from and the importance of healthy eating – not to mention keeping them active and busy outdoors!

Shop locally

You can make big savings on organic food by buying from local growers.  Farmer’s markets, independent greengrocers and butchers, and pick-your-own schemes are all great ways to cut out the added distribution costs, while also supporting your local economy.

Struggling locally?  Consider an online box subscription

Online food box delivery schemes have gone from strength to strength in recent years, and there are plenty of organic options available.  It’s always a good idea to try and shop locally if you can, but if you’re struggling to find local shops an online box subscription could be a good alternative.  Do check prices against local supermarkets though, and be prepared to get creative with seasonal produce to minimise waste.

Do you have any tips for eating organic on a budget?

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