About a year ago I decided to go organic. For a while I tried to buy almost everything organic; everything that had an organic label on it was a must-have for me. After a few trips to the grocery store I realized that 100% organic eating was draining my budget like crazy. If it had continued that way then I wouldn’t have had any money to spend on anything else! That was not a fair choice to make so that is why I decided to conduct my own research and find out really how important organic eating really is.
First of all it’s important to understand why you want to eat organic food. I have heard a lot of different opinions and here are some of them:
- It’s fashionable, everybody is doing it
- It’s environmentally-friendly
- Organic food is diet-friendly
- If it’s organic then I can eat it as much as I want
- Organic food is healthier for me
- Organic food is natural, no additives, no chemicals, no artificial ingredients
- Name your reason here
I have picked organic eating for my family because it is healthier and organic food does not contain chemicals, pesticides and other artificial ingredients that might be dangerous for our health in the long run. I believe in balanced eating, not necessarily in organic eating. In fact organic is often just a label that manufacturers put on their products to lure customers into spending more money (Have you ever seen organic onions? The truth is that there is absolutely no difference between organic and non-organic onions, they are grown absolutely the same and have the same nutritional value. Its’ the same as paying for air. Ridiculous, right?)
When it comes to healthy eating it is important to look at a number of different facts: nutritional value, fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats, fiber, sugar (organic foods are sometimes loaded with sugar too and it is not good for your health), sodium, vitamins and minerals etc. I want to get the best for my family but I do not want to be fooled into paying for a fad. This is the reason why my half-organic or frugal organic approach to eating was born. I have been using this approach ever since and it saves me money without compromising my family’s health and well-being. Here are my 15 tips that will help you control your budget and still be organic:
- The golden 12 organic rule. These 12 fruits and vegetables are highly contaminated with pesticides so that is why I always go organic with them: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots, pears. You can find the full list of fruits and vegetables and their pesticide score at Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides
- Read labels. When you buy processed goods (cookies, bread, lunch meats, cereal etc.) read the label. It’s much more important to know the nutritional value than simply buying something organic. Look for low sodium, low saturated fat, low sugars, and high fiber (if possible of course). For my babies I prefer juices that are enriched with vitamins and calcium and unfortunately I haven’t seen any organic juices that meet these criteria.
- The 5 line rule. I usually do not buy groceries that have more than 5 lines of ingredients. There are exceptions of course but most of the time these products are loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors and ingredients. I buy only the types of groceries where I can read and understand every word on the ingredients list. A lot of organic foods fall in this category and not many non-organic do.
- Farmer’s market. The quality of food at a farmer’s market is great and of course everything is organic. Most farmers do not label their food as organic because it is too expensive for them to get certified by the USDA but of course it does not affect the quality of food. This is the reason why it’s much cheaper to buy fresh groceries there than it is at a grocery store. The only drawback of a farmer’s market is that it is open only a few months a year (at least in my area it is).
- Locally grown produce. If there is no farmer’s market around then I go for the locally grown fruits and veggies at my grocery store.
- Buy seasonal produce. It might sound tempting to indulge into some fresh strawberries in the middle of winter but I prefer not to do it. First of all produce that is not in season is extremely expensive and secondly its quality is really bad (strawberries taste like grass and peaches are nothing but cotton). You do not get any benefits from these foods; you might be even harming yourself. You can still eat apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes and other produce that grows year round in some parts of the world or that can be stored for a long time.
- Go organic with meat. I believe that grass-fed beef and free range chickens are the way to go. They taste better, they are leaner, various studies have proved that this meat has higher nutritional value and overall is better for you. I also want animals to be treated humanely even if they are going to end up on my table.
- Go half-vegetarian. Organic meat is sometimes two times more expensive than non-organic and I know that it keeps some people from buying it. My approach is to eat less meat. I do not want to be a vegetarian (I do not believe that it is part of a balanced diet) but I usually eat meat only 2 times a week or less. This is all the animal protein we need after all.
- Do not go organic with the basics. Bread, canned beans, canned tomatoes, pasta, and rice – all of these groceries do not have to be organic to be good for you. (Milk is probably the only exception in my opinion.)
- Go with store brands. A lot of people are afraid of store brands and they are willing to pay extra to get the brand name on their can. I think that a lot of times store brands are even better than popular brands and at the same time they are cheaper. Some grocery stores have organic store brands that are quite affordable in my opinion. Do not be afraid to try something new.
- Do not buy organic foods from the third world countries. I do not have anything against third world countries (I grew up in one of them after all) but I do not completely trust their farming practices. Non-organic groceries have higher concentration of pesticides if they come from the third world countries than if they come from the US. It makes me wonder how organic their organic food is. Another issue is that a lot of times foods from other countries (and this is especially true about produce) have to spend days just to get to your grocery store. Can you call this produce “fresh”?
- Use coupons. Most companies that produce organic food offer coupons on their websites. Here are just a few of my favorites and you can google the rest: Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, Nature’s path, many more.
- Become a member of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). For a very reasonable price (in my area it is about $20 a week) local farmers will deliver fresh produce and in some cases dairy and meet to you weekly. I haven’t joined this program yet just because my husband and I are planning to move to another state in the next couple of months. Find your local farmers at Local Harvest.
- Grow your own produce. I know that it’s not easy but it’s totally worth it. This year my in-laws grew some tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and a few other things in their yard. They also have a big apple tree near the house. These fruits and veggies taste so delicious! Even if you do not have a big yard you can still grow at least a few herbs or onions on your porch.
- Eat less. This might not be true for everybody but a lot of people nowadays eat much more than they need to (obesity rates have gone out the roof). It is expensive to buy organic groceries but if you try to eat less, then your organic bill won’t be that scary any more.
Organic eating can be frugal and sustainable. You do not have to make a choice between value for your health and value for your wallet. I hope that these 15 tips of frugal organic eating will help you eat healthy without going overboard.
Keep it balanced!