In recent years, the popularity of organic food has increased dramatically. In fact, nearly half of all Americans care about organic food in their diets.
It’s for good reason, too: organic foods, which are free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, don’t put toxic chemicals into our bloodstreams. And, they are often higher in nutritional value since the plant must defend and support itself without the assistance of harmful chemicals.
Okay, okay, you get it: organic is best. But it’s just so expensive, right?
Wrong. Read on to learn our top tips on how to eat organically for a price that won’t bust open your wallet.
This one’s a no-brainer: if you’re interested in how to eat fresh, pesticide-free produce at a reasonable price, you must eat seasonally. Seasonal foods tend to be riper, sweeter, and higher in nutritional content.
Eating seasonally means buying strawberries and tomatoes in the summer when these fruits are in high production for local farmers. And it means winter squashes and Brussel sprouts in autumn when it’s high-time to harvest these delicious goods.
Buying strawberries in the dead of winter means the fruit won’t be as sweet and ripe, and it will likely have traveled farther from its origin. This means higher prices. Why? Because the store needs to pass on these added transportation and storage costs to someone…and that someone is you.
Store Selection is Key
If you want to eat cheap organic food, it’s crucial that you shop at the right places. Not all produce aisles are the same!
Some “big box” stores offer only a handful of organic options; this means the quality is limited and the prices are likely high. Scope out your local stores, and consider those that sell predominantly organic foods, or have large sections devoted to clean eats.
You’ll learn which stores have your favorite products, too. This might mean a bit more time on grocery shopping each week, but if you can save $10 on a package of organic, free-range chicken breasts, that’s well worth the time and gas to make the extra stop!
Also, consider your local Farmer’s market. This is a fun and healthy way to spend a weekend morning and allows you to interact directly with the farmer (no need for the middleman, i.e. grocery store.) It’s also a great way to chat with the grower about the health and quality of his or her organic crops.
Prioritize Like a Pro
If you’re experiencing organic food sticker shock, fret not: spend your money on the highest-priority food items. This includes meats and dairy, which nearly always have added antibiotics and hormones. Yuck.
Next in line is produce, fruits and veggies. Focus on buying those without protective skins or rinds. For example, a grape would be a better product to buy organically than an orange, since any pesticide residue will be removed when you peel the orange.
Finally, your hard-earned money should go to packaged foods last. Since packaged foods, like crackers and cookies, are so highly-processed, you’re already exposing yourself to added, undesirable ingredients. Which brings us to our next point…
Go Part-Time Vegan & Eat Whole Foods
It’s no surprise that some of the most expensive products you can buy at the store are meats, eggs, and dairy products. An organic, grass-fed steak can cost upwards of ten dollars. Simply put, putting meat on the table for most meals isn’t cheap.
Many nutritionists recommend going “part-time” vegan or vegetarian. This is the best of all worlds: you aren’t completely giving up meat or dairy, but you’re certainly cutting back. Some people choose to eat meat only for dinner, and others allow themselves meat or dairy every other day.
There are countless health benefits to this, too: by skipping out on meat, eggs, and dairy, you’re allowing yourself that much more in vegetables, grains and legumes, and fruits. Since these organic food options are cheaper than meat, you’re saving money, too.
And while we’re talking about it, remember that whole foods – unprocessed and often unpackaged – are always best. This is what our body evolved to eat, and whole foods are always preferable to packaged food items.
Plan Meals for the Week
In order to buy cheap organic food, we don’t recommend making a week’s worth of meal decisions while standing at the produce counter. To help with chemical free shopping, spend thirty minutes each week at home with a small notebook and do some meal-planning.
Consider the following when thinking about how to eat organically, in order to save the most cash:
- What’s about to expire? Do you have fresh, organic produce sitting on your counter, or in your fridge, that needs to be used up?
- What’s in your pantry? Are there canned or dry goods that you can toss into a pasta, soup, or use as a side dish?
- Do a bit of coupon-clipping. Check the local papers, social media, or phone apps to see what’s available. Yes, grocers do offer coupons for organic foods!
- Cook in bulk! Make a large meal and freeze smaller portions for next week’s lunches.
Believe us when we say this, spending a few minutes each week to plan meals will save you time and money in the weeks and months to follow. It means less meals out at restaurants, and fewer purchases of those high-dollar products that you might buy when dinner needs to be on the table in thirty minutes.
Make vs. Buy
Think carefully about the organic “snack” foods that you enjoy. Do you find yourself buying organic seasoned kale chips, organic whole wheat bread, or an organic salad dressing?
These are, unfortunately, still considered processed foods. By making these simple items instead of buying them, you’re cutting out processed ingredients, reducing packaging waste, and, yes, even saving money. A sweet potato is less than a dollar, whereas a bag of organic sweet potato chips might cost five times that.
Making your own “chips” (kale, apple, sweet potato, etc.) is as easy as slicing and baking until crisp. Salad dressings can be whipped up using your own vinegar and oil, and even a fresh bread can be easily made with a few ingredients and a dutch oven.
Many organic eaters care greatly about the environment and attempt to reduce their impact on their local and global surroundings. A great way to do this? Composting.
Think of all those food scraps that you toss away on a regular basis: apple cores, banana peels, corn husks, and tomato stems. Did you know that all of that can be “recycled” and broken down into new soil?
Some cities and communities offer cash rewards and incentives to households who either recycle and/or compost their food waste. Check out your local extension office or city government websites to see if you can get cash or rewards for your smart habits. The environment will thank you, too!
One form of “reward” for composting? If you’re part of a compost pickup program, you may get finished compost in return! Perfect to fertilize your own organic garden, which brings us to our next tip…
How to Eat Organically? Grow Your Own!
Don’t be daunted by the prospect of starting your own mini-garden. For those looking at how to eat organically, sometimes this is the cheapest (and most fun!) option available.
Organic seed packets, available online or at any hardware store, are no more than a few dollars and often contain 25+ seeds. Depending on the productivity of your plants, this can save hundreds or thousands of dollars over the course of a few years.
Learn your local agricultural zone and, as mentioned above, plant seasonally (e.g. berries and zucchini in the summer months.) If you have a “bumper crop” (lucky you!) then freeze or can the extra produce. This is a great way to enjoy cheap organic food any time of the year.
And remember, the key to organic gardening is to use no fertilizer/pesticide, or only organic fertilizer/pesticide. This means getting creative with products like neem oil (a naturally-derived pesticide) and natural fertilizers, like fish emulsion.
It’s No Mystery!
Many health-wise consumers are scared to “go organic” because they assume it’s more hassle and more money. Not true: by following some (or all!) of the tips we’ve included above, anyone can learn how to eat organically without breaking the bank.
For more fun and useful advice about living on a budget and making smart money decisions, check out the rest of our blog!