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4 Ways to Eat Organic on a Budget

Sharon Palmer

If you’re trying to eat organic, it can sometimes feel like a hit to your wallet. Organic foods, despite their appeal, often come with an increased price tag due to differences in the way organic and conventional foods are produced. USDA-certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines that address soil quality and environmental impact, and prohibit the use of additives. As a result, the more particular growing method makes organic foods pricier than conventional alternatives. Consumer Reports estimates that, on average, organic foods cost 47 percent more than conventional foods. Luckily, there are many things you can do to cut down on costs when buying organic, so you can get the most for your money. Check out these 4 Ways to Eat Organic on a Budget for inspiration.

4 Ways to Eat Organic on a Budget

1. Reduce Food Waste. One of the easiest ways to save money in the kitchen, so you can spend more money on quality foods, is to make sure the food you already have doesn’t go to waste. Just think: The money that you spend on spoiled produce or uneaten leftovers can be used towards the purchase of healthy, delicious organic foods. You can reduce food spoilage by using the oldest produce first, before eating or buying new foods. It may be helpful to place the oldest food near the front of your fridge or pantry to help you reach for it first (known as the FIFO method—First In, First Out). Prolong the shelf life of your food by storing each item properly, too. For example, leafy greens and berries will last longer if you wait to wash them until they are ready to eat, and avoid resting fruits on top of each other to keep them from bruising. If you know you will not have a chance to finish food before it goes bad, freeze it long before it has a chance to spoil. If you’re cooking a large meal, portion and freeze servings right away if you know you won’t be able to finish the leftovers within 3 to 5 days.

2. Buy Seasonally. Organic produce is typically cheaper when it’s in season, because there is more of it available when the fruit or vegetable is in its harvest season. Plus it doesn’t have to be shipped halfway across the world, adding transportation costs to the price tag. In addition to boasting a lower price, seasonal produce is also fresher, more nutritious, and tastier. Plan meals and recipes around seasonal produce. Check out my seasonal produce guide which highlights when produce is in season during the year.

Burrito with Refried Beans and Corn

3. Choose Frozen or Canned More Often. Frozen and canned organic produce provides the same overall good nutrition, but at a generally lower price than fresh produce. In addition, you don’t have to worry about these foods spoiling as quickly. Often frozen produce can provide even more nutrients than fresh because it is picked and frozen at the peak of harvest, preserving the nutrients immediately, while fresh produce loses some nutrients over time during lengthy transportation to stores.

4. Grow your Own. Really trim your organic price point by growing your own organic produce, without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. And you don’t need a big garden to grow your own food. Berries, tomatoes, and salad greens can be grown anywhere you can put a pot, such as a windowsill, balcony, or porch. Herbs can be a good start because they take up very little room and offer a good alternative to buying expensive herbs that often go to waste. Instead, you can harvest however much you need at a time.

If you are unable to buy all of your produce in its organic form, but want to limit pesticide exposure, there are still things you can do to feel good about your produce selections. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides an annual list of conventional produce with the most and least amount of pesticide residue, termed the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”, respectively.

The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” for 2019 include strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes.

The EWG’s “Clean 15” for 2019 include avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, and honeydew melons.

These lists can help inform your decision on which produce to purchase organic, and which items you may want to save money on by buying conventional. The EWG notes that although conventional produce contains pesticide residue, the health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk from pesticide exposure. And keep this in mind: Save your organic dollars for real whole foods—fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds—not organic junk foods, like chips, cookies, and sodas.

For more information on eating seasonally, locally, and organic, check out the following: 

How to Eat Seasonally This Summer
5 Benefits for Eating Local
Organic Benefits for Children

Written by Samantha Matt, Dietetic Intern with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on July 13, 2019.


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