Buying Organic on a Budget

By Allison Long on Jan 13th 2015

For most people, it’s just not practical (or even possible) to purchase all organic everything. The truth is, you have to figure out what is best for your family’s budget and health. This means deciding which items are a necessity to buy organic, and which may be ok to stick with conventional. I think its important to arm yourself with the best information possible to help make the best decisions, so here ae some guidelines to consider when making those decisions when it comes to what you choose to buy at the grocery store.

In order of importance, these are the items that you should consider buying organic:

  1. Animal products
  2. Produce
  3. Coffee & tea (Many people don’t realize these are some of the most pesticide sprayed items!)

And heres why…

#1. Animal products: Meat, eggs, & dairy are the most important to buy organic because of the combined risk of pesticide, anti-biotic, and growth hormone exposure. In addition to being free of these harmful substances, studies have shown organic meat, eggs, & dairy contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than their conventional counterparts and are less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In order to fit organic animal products into your budget, keep portion sizes in check and think about reducing your consumption by going meatless for more meals (Meatless Monday anyone?). There are plenty of healthy plant based protein and fat options to choose from including beans & legumes, edamame, avocados, nuts & seeds, and healthy plant oils like coconut, grape seed, and olive oils.

#2. Produce: Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducts agricultural research to develop a list of which common produce items have the highest amounts of pesticide & other harmful chemical residues. The intent is to help consumers make informed choices with the produce they buy. They discovered that switching to organic produce for the foods listed on “The Dirty Dozen“ list can “reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis by as much as 80 percent.” If you can’t afford to buy all of your produce organic, it’s a good idea to start with this list. There are a few additions I’d include which are explained below

The “Dirty Dozen” 2014

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries (*recommendation: all berries)
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach (*recommendation: all greens)
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas
  12. Potatoes (*recommendation: all potatoes)

It is important to note that this list strictly looks at pesticide & chemical residues and does not factor in GMOs. You may want to also consider buying organic with produce that is most commonly genetically modified in the US.

Most Commonly Genetically Modified Produce

  1. Corn
  2. Soy
  3. Potatoes
  4. Yellow Crookneck/Summer Squash & Zucchini
  5. Sugar Beets (50% US sugar production- i.e.: granulated sugar & sweeteners)

In addition to the Dirty Dozen, the EWG also puts out a list called the “Clean Fifteen”, which lists the produce that tested for the lowest levels of pesticides and harmful chemicals. So, if budget is an issue, these are the items that you can feel better about buying a conventional option.

The “Clean Fifteen” 2014

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocado
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet corn
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mango
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Onions
  12. Papaya
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet peas
  15. Sweet potatoes

Here are my top 5 tips for making buying organic easier on your pocketbook:

  1. BUY LOCAL: Though not always certified organic by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), many of the foods sold at your local farmers market are likely grown using organic methods. Many local farmers actually use growing methods that exceed certified organic standards, and are able to sell their goods for less as a result of not having to pay for official USDA organic certification. Not only can you help yourself save money by buying local, but you can support your local economy while you’re at it!
  2. BUY GENERIC: Many popular grocery chains have their own store brand/generic organic product lines that are more affordable. The Kroger/Ralphs Simple Truth brand is one example.
  3. BUY IN SEASON: When produce is in season, the relative abundance of the crop makes it less expensive (think supply & demand). Bonus: fresh, in-season, locally sourced produce almost always tastes better!
  4. BUY IN BULK: Purchasing in higher volumes will almost always translate into lower costs. Good items to buy in bulk include shelf-stable items (whole grain pastas, grains, oils, nuts & seeds, dried fruit) and items that freeze well (fruits & veggies, meats, cooked beans & legumes, and cooked grains). Stocking up on these items, especially when they are on sale, is a great way to maximize your spending power. Wholesale warehouse stores like Costco & Sam’s Club have lots of organic items including produce and are a great help in saving this way!
  5. BUY FROZEN: Not only is frozen produce often less expensive, for items that are out of season, it may even be nutritionally superior. Frozen produce is harvested at the peak of freshness and then flash frozen, preserving the integrity and nutrient density of the food. The longer period of time there is from when the fruit or vegetable was harvested to when you consume it, the more nutrient loss occurs. With out of season produce often coming from other countries, frozen alternatives are often a more budget friendly and nutrient dense option.