The Truth: Yes, organic food can be more expensive, but it doesn’t have to empty your wallet! There are many ways you can choose to go organic while on a budget.
I could go on and on about the benefits of eating organic — but I’ll try to keep it brief. A lot of people seem to think the few extra dollars it costs to buy organic food isn’t worth it. That makes me crazy. Every single dollar that you spend on organic foods is an investment in your health that will pay off tenfold in the long run. Eating organic helps you avoid pesticides and chemicals, provides you with more nutritious foods, and helps the environment since organic farms use 30 percent less fossil fuel. Plus, eating organic does not have to break the bank! It might take a bit more energy and time, but there are ways to save — and it is definitely worth it.
You don’t have to eat organic 24/7. You don’t have to buy organic versions of every food item to make a difference in your health. These “clean 15” foods are okay to buy non-organic: Asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, mango, onions, pineapple, sweet onions, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, watermelons. I strongly urge you to save the money you might spend buying organic on those fruits and veggies and put it instead toward buying organic beef, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Also, you could replace expensive organic dairy items with almond-, rice-, or coconut-milk alternatives. The most important thing to keep in mind is to skip “dirty dozen” foods: Apples, celery, bell peppers, cherries, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries. These have the highest levels of pesticides. A hint: If you can't remember the lists above, make it easy on yourself by keeping in mind that thick-skinned fruits — like melons, bananas, and kiwis — are okay to eat non-organic. Save your money for berries, peaches, and apples, which really are best for your health when organic.
You can find cheaper prices at co-ops and local farmers markets. Local farmers markets are a great option if you’re trying to eat organic on a budget — my family and I visit our local farmers market frequently. Since there are minimal costs for transport, packaging, and advertising, you’ll pay less for items like fruit and veggies. Another option is to join a food cooperative, which is a member-owned business that provides groceries to its members at a discount. Most of the products sold are organic and come from local family farms. To join, you usually have to pay a low yearly fee, which entitles you to additional discounts on food.
Buy organic foods frozen or in bulk. Organic produce retains the majority of its flavor and nutrients when frozen, so don’t be afraid to save a few dollars by shopping in the freezer section. Also consider buying items you eat a lot in bulk — it is significantly cheaper. Use the bins at health food stores and farmers markets for grains, nuts, legumes, and cereals.
If you have the time, energy, and space, I’m a huge advocate of growing an organic garden. I’ve written a whole article addressing just that topic, and it’s not too difficult to get started!
The Bottom Line: Eating organic can definitely be expensive, but if you take a few extra measures like going to your local farmers market, knowing which foods are the most important to buy organic and which you can skip, or just shopping in the frozen-food organic section, you can save money and be healthy.