8 Tips For Buying Organic Food on a Budget
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could buy exclusively organic foods without breaking the bank? Choosing to buy fresher foods with fewer pesticides is a step toward living a more natural lifestyle, however, the immediate turnoff is the cost. What if I told you that there are affordable ways to enjoy the benefits of eating organic without going broke? Below are some tips that I feel will be helpful with shopping organic on a budget J
1. Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
Working for an environmental non-profit organization taught me a lot about the many chemicals put into our everyday products, especially food. Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases the updated version of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which refer to the fruits and vegetables that are the most and least contaminated by pesticide use. Dirty Dozen are produce items with the highest amounts of pesticides and harmful chemicals. The Clean Fifteen are the produce items with the least amount of pesticides and chemical exposure.
Pesticides should not be taken lightly as our bodies are not built to naturally detoxify these man-made chemicals on a daily basis. Pesticides have been linked to cancers, brain problems and many other health issues. I hope this information will not scare you from still eating your fruits and vegetables even if they happen to not be organic. It’s important to work with what you have, and start to see where your budget allows it especially for the dirty dozen items. These list are a great start toward making smarter choices navigating which foods you should aim to buy organic and some that you can skip to save money. For example, if you had to choose between the more expensive organic strawberries over the non-organic asparagus – I would choose the strawberries since they are known to carry higher concentrations of pesticides than asparagus. Put the handout on your fridge or carry it with you when you shop to familiarize yourself with each group.
2. Support Your Local Farmers Market
Farmer markets give you the opportunity to build lasting relationships with local farmers in your area while learning about their individual practices. When finding out about the farmers market in my neighborhood, I was under the impression that it would be nearly impossible to shop there. It wasn’t until I walked around, seen prices and spoke with farmers that I learned shopping for organic foods can be significantly cheaper than the store brands. Many times, farmers are willing to negotiate prices and will have deals. Last weekend, I bought two bags of fresh spinach for only $4. There are farmers markets that accept WIC and SNAP, which is another plus in serving the community. There are countless reasons to support your local farmers market, like learning to eat produce in season, connecting with where your food comes from and supporting your local farmers. Nothing taste better than eating a fresh picked peach from the farm than a peach that traveled miles before it reached your local grocery store. To find local farmer markets near you go to LocalHarvest.org or the USDA.
3. Prioritize Your Purchases
If every product you bought was organic, then you can expect a dent in your food budget. You can get a smaller increase by buying mostly conventional products for those produce items with low pesticide residue (save your money) and the produce with high pesticide use try to buy organic (Dirty Dozen). Whether I am shopping at the grocery store or the farmers market, I always prioritize the items on my list. For example, I mainly buy my produce from the farmers market so I will usually prioritize the items that I want from there first. Another important tip to keep in mind are meat & dairy (animals products like chicken, eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, etc.) are also the most important to buy organic because of the combined risk of pesticide, anti-biotic and cancer causing growth hormone exposure. Whatever you do, try your best to not skimp here. By having an idea of what you plan to cook for the week, you are less likely to drop random items in your cart all willy-nilly.
4. Buy Online
After finding out about Vitacost, I have been obsessed. It is a low cost website that offers a wide variety of healthy snacks, food, vitamins, and more. Vitacost in particular offers special deals on certain brands and will even give you free shipping if your total purchases is over a certain amount.Sprouts Farmers Markets is another chain with 200-plus stores, mostly in the Southwest. Its focus, according to its website, is “offering fresh, natural, and organic foods at great prices.” Consumer reviews on the Web praise the store’s deals on produce, meats, and bulk-bin items such as nuts and spices.
5. Look for Coupons
Looking for coupons and stacking up on deals is another benefit in saving money. I am not on the status of extreme couponing, but looking out for deals on healthy brands that you like is always helpful. One great site is Organic Deals, which combs through stores’ sale fliers to find organic products that are selling at a good price, and it offers links to online coupons you can stack with those sales. All Natural Savings is another website that is similar to Organic Deals that provides a searchable database of coupons for organic products.
6. Understand Your Labels
Navigating the web of organic labeling can be confusing starting off especially with so many products being called as “all natural” or “certified organic.” What does organic even mean? By understanding the labeling terminologies, you can start figuring out ways to incorporate these items into your budget and diet. The first step is to identify which products are organic is by the USDA Organic seal. The seal represents products meeting specific standard guidelines that qualify it as “organic” and that the product is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics, hormones, synthetic chemical pesticides and other fertilizers. The same goes for labels on meat and dairy products. This Help Guide breaks down identifying and understanding various labels in the food market in order to make informed shopping decisions (Click here to read more).
7. Shop The Perimeter of the Grocery Store
I don’t know about you, but when I walk into a grocery it feels like one big maze. When it comes to choosing to eat healthier on a budget, how you shop at the grocery store plays an important role. Produce and healthier foods are usually located along the outside of the store. Most processed and packaged foods are located in the middle aisles. I try to only venture inward if I need a specific item and I know where it is. Knowing your aisles at your particular supermarket eliminates the temptation of going down an aisle of 16 different potato chip brands and spending unnecessary funds. I encourage you to still live your life and eat the things you like in moderation of course. We all know it can be hard to pass up a deal on Talenti! J This method of shopping has helped me to stay on tasks and within my shopping budget.
8. Shop For Cheap Organic Store Brands
Many of you might be surprised that there are many cheap organic products at your local grocery store. Below are private label brands that represent the grocery store chains in-house organic/natural product line. Many of these brands are much cheaper than their competitors. I personally buy many products from Nature’s Promise. Regardless of the brand, they are all required to follow the same guidelines set forth by the USDA organic certification program if they contain the USDA organic seal and chances are that you won’t be able to tell the difference between a brand name and store brand.
- O Organics (Safeway)
- Simply Balanced (Target)
- Nature’s Promise (Stop & Shop/Giant)
- 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods)
- Simple Truth (Kroger)
- HEB Organics (H-E-B)
- Trader Joe’s organic line
The transition of incorporating more organic, fresh foods into your lifestyle is a gradual process. It takes time and patience to study prices of the markets in your area and just educating yourself about food. In the end. The benefits have proven to be worthwhile for both your mental and physical health. These tips will vary depending on the shopper. No matter where you live, you can find some combination of tips that can help you get more out of your money.
Got more tips and strategies on buying organic food on a budget? Share them in the comment section below.