Organic foods are a smart priority for personal and environmental health. However, buying organic food can be an expensive endeavour. Luckily, there are budget-friendly strategies you can try to help you save money.
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural items are grown and processed. In the United States, certified organic crops must be grown without using any of the following:
- Synthetic pesticides
- Bioengineered genes (GMOs)
- Petroleum-based fertilizers
- Sewage sludge-based fertilisers
Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must adhere to the following rules:
- Have access to the outdoors
- Be given organic feed
- Not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal byproducts
Not only do organic foods prohibit pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, and other potential harmful additives, it’s also fresher because it often does not contain preservatives that make it last longer. Organic food is also better for the environment; organic farming (without pesticides) is better for nearby animals and people who live close to farms.
For consumers, food items deemed “organic” should be labelled clearly with a USDA organic seal. Be aware of items labelled “organic,” “green,” or “Earth-friendly” that do not have the USDA seal; this usually means that they do not meet the standards/regulations set by the USDA to be considered certified organic.
Even with the clear benefits to your health and the environment, organic food has a reputation of being more expensive than conventional food, but this is starting to change as more and more people are becoming aware of where their food is coming from and trying to support the local farmers. More options are becoming available to consumers to shop organic without emptying your wallet.
With a little planning and ingenuity, you can eat organic on a budget. Here are some cost-saving strategies for incorporating more organic foods into your diet without breaking the bank.
1. Know the “Dirty Dozen”
It isn’t necessary to purchase every single item as organic. A more budget-friendly option would be to prioritise your spending on the foods you care most about and the foods that come highly recommended for buying organic.
In fact, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organisation that analyses the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S., has compiled a list called the “dirty dozen,” that identifies food with the highest level of pesticide residue. This list is a great starting place for spending money on organic items due to the large amount of pesticides associated with them:
- Sweet bell peppers
The Environmental Working Group also has an expanded “dirty dozen” list--the dirty dozen plus—that includes additional items to consider buying organic.
2. Know the “Clean Fifteen”
In addition, the Environmental Work Group also has a list of the least pesticide-covered vegetables and fruits, the “clean fifteen.” If you are looking to cut costs, then these fruits and vegetables are the best non-organic produce items to buy if you can’t go all-the-way organic:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen peas
- Honeydew melon
As a general rule, anything that has a thick or tough rind such as melons, oranges, and bananas are OK to purchase conventional, but if you will be eating the skin, lean toward organic.
3. Buy In Season
Produce is cheaper when it is in season for two reasons. First, it doesn't need to be shipped from across the world and stored. Second, it will be a lot more abundant. When you shop in season, the food will also taste better and be more nutritious—an added bonus!
If you are unsure what is in season where you live, check out this excellent resource as a guide when shopping.
4. Find a Low-Cost CSA Box
If you don’t have time to visit a farmers’ market during the week, consider signing up for a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) box, which allows you to buy a box full of produce items from a farmer. The box is usually delivered to you via mail, but you can also pick it up at a central meeting location. You can even share a CSA box with a friend or family member to cut down on costs.
5. Try Online Grocery Shopping
For even more convenience, try grocery shopping online. Nowadays you don’t need to step foot into a brick-and-mortar grocery store—you can order what you want online and have groceries delivered to your doorstep. There are several online grocery delivery services available now, where you order what you would like and someone will shop for you and deliver it your doorstep.
Thrive Market is one of these services for shopping organic on a budget. Thrive offers healthy food at up to 25 to 50 percent off normal prices for organic foods. Similar to Costco, Thrive Market is a membership model where customers pay an annual fee to access healthy food, including organic, non-GMO, Paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan items. All you do is order online and your products will be delivered directly to your door.
Co-founder Gunnar Lovelace says that Thrive’s mission is to democratise access to healthy food for everyone. As one component of this mission, they donate one membership to someone in need for every membership purchased. “Thrive Market is a socially conscious platform offering a highly curated catalogue of formerly premium products for less, backed by an authentic social mission having real impact on issues related to how we produce and consume food,” said Lovelace.
I shop Thrive because I enjoy supporting an environmentally and socially conscious company, and it’s huge for me that you can shop by dietary restrictions. If you’re gluten-free like I am, you probably understand how hard it is to find the products you can eat in the grocery store. (Unless you enjoy running down each aisle and scrutinising labels looking for wheat.) As a bonus, if you’ve never shopped at Thrive Market before, they’ll give you $20 off your first three orders.
6. Buy In Bulk
Buying in season is a great opportunity for you to also buy in bulk since the items will be in abundance and cheaper. Whatever you don’t use, can be frozen in portions and defrosted as needed. For example, organic berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries—are great to buy in bulk and freeze for future smoothie use.
7. Plan Out Your Meals
Planning out your meals ahead of time is a great way to save money and time. If you are planning to bulk buy items, you can arrange your meals around what’s in season. You’ll also have the forethought of knowing what meals can reuse the same leftover ingredients. When you plan out your meals each week, it will help you maintain a consistent budget, that way you know ahead of time what you want/need to buy.
8. Find and Use Organic Coupons
There may be organic sales and discounts available to you if you make time for a little research. For example:
- Check the websites of your favourite companies for coupons and special promotions.
- Join your favorite company’s social media pages for special coupons and deals.
- Check your Sunday paper for grocery store coupons.
- Check out various coupon sites, such as Retail Me Not, for organic food coupons.
9. Shop Local
Supermarkets may be a great option out of convenience, but more often than not the organic food can be unreasonably expensive. Another option is shop at your local farmers’ markets to get the best deals directly from the farmers; you’ll also know that you’re getting only locally grown, in-season produce.
10. Grow Your Own Food
If you have the time and space to do it, growing food in your own backyard is a great way to save money and ensure quality because you will know what exactly has gone into your food. Even if you have little-to-no backyard, there are some plants you can grow, such as herbs (usually expensive at the store) and tomatoes.
If you have friends or family members who also grow their own food, consider a “food swap,” by sharing items with each other to round out your food options.
Don’t try to implement all these tips at the same time. Start small so you can gradually increase the amount of organic food in your household. You have to start somewhere and these 10 ideas offer a good starting place to help you save money—and stay aware of what’s available in terms of budget-friendly organic food.