Eating Organic on a Budget

We all want to protect ourselves and our families from exposure to pesticides, growth hormones and other potentially harmful chemicals. However, organic food is often expensive because it is grown on smaller farms and its production is more labor-intensive. The "organic" label is also used to promote the sale of expensive, high-end brands. High prices do not need to put healthy food out of anyone's reach. Here are some tips for eating organic, or mostly organic, on a budget:

Understand food labels

Farmers and food processors producing food  sold as "organic" are inspected and certified by the USDA each year. Any food labeled "organic" in the U.S. is not genetically engineered and must meet the following standards.

  • 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients 
  • Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients 
  • Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) 
  • Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Prioritize

Some organic foods have more impact than others. Spend your money on the important items, and complete your shopping list with regular, lower-priced produce. 

If possible, budget to buy organic meats and dairy products because they do not contain growth hormones or antibiotics. To save money, use smaller portions of meat, or add vegetables or beans to make stir fries, chili, or meatloaf. If organic meat is not an option, limit yourself to small portions of high-quality meat. Labels for some "natural" poultry products say "no antibiotics or growth hormones" though they are not labeled organic.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) makes an annual list, The Dirty Dozen, of fruits and vegetables that are most likely to have pesticides on them, including apples, grapes, tomatoes, spinach, and strawberries. They also make a list, The Clean Fifteen, of items grown with little or no pesticide, including avocados, sweet corn, eggplant, cabbage, and cantaloupe. You can download a shoppers guide app from www.ewg.org. Instead of expensive organic spinach, buy a regular vegetable from the clean list, such as asparagus. 

Buy organic store brands

Manystores, including discount grocers, now sell generic organic food products that meet the same USDA standards as higher-priced brands.

Shop around

Don't do all your shopping in one store. Look for the best prices, or for special deals on organic products. Since organic produce often comes from local distributors, one store might offer a lower price for  seasonal or local items. Check out mom-and-pop produce stores, farmers' markets, and local grocery stores in addition to health food stores and specialty stores.

Buy seasonal and local produce 

Plan your menu around affordable, seasonal vegetables and fruits. Locally grown produce might offer more nutritional value than organic produce brought from far away, because it is picked just before it is sold, and is not ripened in cold storage. Vegetables and fruits can be frozen to be used later on when they are no longer in season.

Shop online

Look for your favorite organic cereals, snacks, and staples online. Many sites not only offer lower prices, but free shipping for orders over a certain amount.

Use coupons and reward programs

Look for coupons and sales on sites like Organicdeals.com , and sign up for  rewards programs at local stores. If you can't get a discount on organic items, you can use the rewards to save money the next time you shop.

Check the frozen food section

Frozen organic vegetables and fruits are often cheaper than fresh ones, and you can keep them longer.

Control waste

Buy only what you need for the week. If you don't use bread, nuts, peanut butter, and oils right away, keep them in the refrigerator. Freeze ripe fruits to use in smoothies or baking.

Make your own

Organic snack foods are especially expensive. Make your own organic kale chips, snack bars, smoothies, coffees and teas. Buy plain organic yoghurt and stir in fresh fruits and nuts.

Remember that "organic" does not mean "low fat" or "low sugar." Processed foods and juices made with organic ingredients can be loaded with calories and contain excess fats and sugars. When shopping for organic food, stick to principles of healthy eating and try to buy fresh meats, fruits and vegetables rather than canned or packaged items.

For more tips on organic shopping, see:

How To Eat Organic On a Budget (75 Tips!)  (http://foodbabe.com/2013/05/20/how-to-eat-organic-on-a-budget)

USDA:Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means(http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-the-usda-organic-label-means/)

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows: Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

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