I am a strong believer in eating to nourish the body as well as to enjoy the food. From what I have seen on the world wide web, there are countless recipes, blogs, and content today that advertises delicious food, but not always targeted to be a healthy meal.
A simple way to bridge the gap between those recipes and eating healthy food is to purchase organic ingredients. Organic food is grown or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicide, or fertilizers. Toxic chemicals that have serious risks to our health.
Although this is the simple way to keep the meals nutritious, it can quickly increase your grocery bill too. Organic food is often seen as more expensive if the buyer is not making planned and educated buying decisions.
In an effort to keep the bill reasonable, here are five tips on how to eat organic on a budget.
5 Tips on How to Eat Organic Food on a Budget
Read and Understand the Food Label
Transition Gradually to Organic Food
Plan Out Your Meals Weekly
Choose Where to Get Your Organic Food From
Store Your Organic Food Properly
1. Read and Understand the Food Label
Before you head out for your weekly grocery shopping it is important to first learn how to recognize organic food. Having a basic understanding of organic labels will make your shopping experience dramatically easier and quicker.
Instead of spending time reading nutrition facts, ingredients, and dietary claims on food packages, organic shoppers can view specific labels or seals to make a quick buying decision between products.
Receiving the USDA Organic Label is a very strict and long process. Most organic produce must be grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances used for three years prior to harvest.
These guidelines mean there are some farms following organic practices for under 3 years who may also be a great organic resource for you, but won’t have the USDA Organic Label.
Consumers Report created a great resource for the other various seals and claims made on food labels. Some of these include:
The U.S Department of Agriculture created a USDA Organic Label to showcase which products have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices. Practices meant to support the recycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
American Humane Certified: The animal was raised on a farm and slaughtered in a slaughterhouse, but still met certain criteria including meeting basic needs, and providing care for sick and injured animals. Basically, animals are offered humane treatment on the farm, and during transport and slaughter.
Non-GMO Project Verified: The food must contain no or minimal genetically modified (or engineered) organisms, also called GMOs.
American Grassfed: Cattle are fed only grass (no grain), and are raised on pastures that are managed to ensure that they can obtain optimal nutrition from grass only.
American Welfare Approved: Animals are raised on a pasture-based family farm where the farmer owns the animals and treats them humanely at all times. They prohibit the use of growth hormones, as well.
All Natural or Natural: This claim has no meaning or set of standards needed to be met for it to be placed on a label. It is a way of advertising for the product.
2. Transition Gradually to Organic Food
“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and so gorgeous at the end.” – Robin Sharma.
Robin Sharma couldn’t be more right. Changing our eating habits is one of the hardest things you can do, especially if you aren’t the only one picking the meals.
This is why I suggest starting small and gradually introducing organic foods into your weekly grocery list. This will give yourself time to become a planned and informed buyer and discover where the best organic products are for each food group!
Prioritize Your Organic Purchases
A simple way to prioritize your organic purchases is to start by focusing on the foods that often have the highest amounts of pesticide residue. These foods are also known as the “Dirty 12” and are re-reviewed by the Environmental Working Group each year.
*Strawberries and spinach have been at the top of the “Dirty 12” list for 4 consecutive years.
*Kale was identified to have 18 different pesticides in multiple sample tests.
The biggest takeaway I can offer is to stay away from non-organic leafy produce vegetables. It is next to impossible to remove the pesticides from leafy vegetables through washing.
If you’re in a situation where you can’t purchase organic food then you can also stick to The Environmental Working Group’s “Clean Fifteen” list. These are the fruits and vegetables found to have the least pesticide residue.
*Less than 2% of avocados and sweet corn samples shower any detectable pesticides.
*Almost 70% of the “Clean Fifteen” sample test showed no pesticide residue.
Purchase the Seasonal Produce
Another option for transitioning to organic foods is to choose produce that is currently in season. It is typically less expensive due the large amounts available and it tastes better!
Buy Organic Foods in Bulk
If you are comfortable purchasing a large quantity of food upfront then buying your organic food in bulk can be a great option to save on money. Bulk purchases are often cheaper when you break it down to the individual product cost. *I do want to emphasize that this is not always true and you should always check the price tags before making the decision to purchase.
I would recommend purchasing organic items that have the longest shelf life when bulk buying. Some good options include potatoes, onions, dried foods, spices, grains or pastas. If you decide to buy other vegetables or fruits you can freeze them to extend their use too.
3. Plan Out Your Meals Weekly
To avoid excessive grocery bills and overbuying for your household needs, plan out your meals weekly. A good rule of thumb is to purchase large amounts of a few items that work well for a diverse set of meals.
Check out the “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” lists while you plan to make sure you’re prioritizing which organic foods you purchase.
I would recommend choosing meals that can be made in large quantities so there are leftovers to eat the next day or freeze for future use. Try to avoid recipes that will require specialty ingredients or consider what alternative ingredients you already own that will keep the meal tasting great too.
Before you head out, make sure you have your list of ingredients written down and only ready to buy what you need for the week.
4. Choose Where to Get Your Organic Food
I have spent years trying to learn the best places to buy my organic foods from and to be honest, it isn’t always consistent.
The ever changing economy and environmental conditions do affect prices from time to time. So I recommend always keeping your eye on the price tags even when you have grown to trust one organic store to be the most affordable.
If you are serious about keeping your prices low for organic foods, I recommend starting a budget and tracking how much you spend typically from each store you purchase from.
Also, it is a best practice to chop up your grocery purchases. You may find the most affordable organic meat comes directly from the farm owner, the organic fruits and vegetables come from the farmers market vendors, the organic herbs come from your patio garden, and the organic packaged goods come from Trader Joes.
Buy Organic Directly from the Farmers
Have you tried to purchase directly from the farmers for your organic goods?
If you have, then you know the real value that is there. If you haven’t, it’s time to try something new!
There are a few options for purchasing your organic food directly from the farms. You can buy from your local farmers market, join a Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA), or pick your own produce at the farm.
Buy Organic from the Local Farmers Market
Local Farmers Markets typically have organic fruits, vegetables, chicken, beef and eggs available in large quantities and for reasonable prices.
You can even haggle the price down if you’re up for it! Next time you are walking through your farmers market, try asking them about bulk purchase prices and what they could offer. Not only will you find yourself getting a great deal, but it will most likely be freshly picked from the local farm unlike supermarket produce that needs to travel far and wide to get to you.
If you’re not sure how to pick the best organic item from the bunch, you also have an expert right in front of you willing to help!
Keep in mind, these smaller farms may not have the resources to get USDA Organic Certified, but they often follow more natural farming techniques.
Join a Community-Supported Agriculture Program (CSA)
A Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a phenomenal resource for families looking to save on their organic grocery bill. CSA’s allow you to pay a fixed price each week/month for a share of a farmer’s crop.
This means no more weighing each vegetable pound by pound in the grocery store. A CSA often comes out cheaper per pound and you are always getting in-season produce.
Each week you will open your front door to a new box of freshly picked produce.
Before deciding which CSA to sign up for, I recommend researching the actual foods they offer year round to ensure it is something your family will eat. If a CSA offers more quantity than you can handle, try splitting the cost and food with someone else.
Pick Your Own Organic Produce at the Farm
There are farms across the nation that allow their buyers to walk through the farm themselves to pick their own fruit, vegetables, and flowers.
Given the lack of shipping and packaging costs, this can be a very affordable option to buying organic foods.
Prices are typically offered for a fixed price per pound.
Not all farms will be organic, so I suggest heading to PickYouOwn.org to determine which farms near you follow organic practices!
Grow Your Own Organic Foods
On your windowsill, porch, or driveway, even if space is limited you can find a way to grow your own organic herbs and vegetables! And by planting your own produce, you’ll know exactly what went into growing them too.
Grab an old milk carton or can to recycle your “trash” and turn it into the pot for your first round of herbs. Seeds will be available at a local health food store and there are plenty of youtube videos explaining how to get started.
If you are new to gardening, I suggest you start small. These plants won’t cover your entire grocery list, but it will help keep some costs covered!
Best Grocery Stores to Buy Organic Food
When heading out to the grocery store, make it a habit of heading to the one with their own organic produce brand. Store brands are cheaper than the brand name counterparts and sometimes have coupons to knock the price down even more. Consider these grocery chains and their organic produce brands:
Some of these health conscious stores also allow you to purchase in bulk. You can use their bags or bring your own containers to fill up with many different products that are provided in their “bulk bins”. They can offer these products at a lower price point because they aren’t paying for the individual packaging. This is available at stores like:
*Trader Joe’s: They claim all of their products are made without GMOs (not all are Organic). Make sure you read each label here.
*Costco: Kirkland Organic has a fantastic selection of organic foods available year round, but keep in mind there will be an annual membership cost of $60 dollars to shop there.
Consider also checking out online grocery retailers. They may offer a lower price point because they don’t have the hard costs of renting a storefront and paying hourly cashiers.
5. Store Your Organic Food Properly
Once the shopping is complete for the day, let’s make sure we get the most out of each item by storing them properly. If we keep the corn in the husk in the fridge and the onion in a paper bag in the pantry, then we can extend their shelf life.
If you’re not accustomed to buying organic foods, you may quickly realize they will not last as long as the conventional produce you purchase at grocery stores. This is because they don’t have any preservatives.
Our storing methods for each food item, will be our “preservatives” from now on. Consider purchasing the Reusable BPA Free GreenBags. These are great for keeping our vegetables and fruits fresh (especially great for Bananas)
Remember to utilize your freezer when housing organic foods too. Depending on how quickly you can get to each food item, you may want to purchase some frozen organic vegetables.
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Happy Eating 😀
EWG. “Organic Within Reach.” EWG, 2020, www.ewg.org/research/organic-within-reach.
Consumer Reports. “Consumer Reports Guide to Food Labels & Claims.” Consumer Reports, 2020, www.consumerreports.org/food-labels/seals-and-claims.
Tod Marks, The Cost of Organic Food. Consumer Reports, 2015. Available at consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/03/cost-of-organic-food/index.htm
Ángel Gonzáles, Largest Organic Grocer Now Costco, Analysts Say. The Seattle Times, 2015. Available at www.seattletimes.com/business/retail/costco-becomes-largest-organic-grocer-analysts-say/
Beth Kowitt, Is the Largest Natural-Foods Brand Even Sold at Whole Foods? Fortune, 2015. Available at fortune.com/2015/10/28/kroger-natural-organic-food/
Organic Trade Association, Organic Looks Like America, Shows New Survey. 2015. Available at ota.com/news/press-releases/17972
Organic Trade Association, 2020.