My awareness of the importance of eating organic, as-natural-as-possible foods has increased the last few years. The dilemma of this awareness is being torn between choosing more expensive groceries or compromising what I put in my body. It can be hard to remember that the benefits outweigh the costs when they come in the form of long-term health I can’t see, versus the immediate, visible hike in my grocery bill. This conflict has increased my drive to find ways to save money so I can still make conscientious choices about my produce. In addition to a few tricks I’ve learned along the way, a recent discovery has alleviated the pressure I’ve felt to buy everything organic: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.
Tip #1: You Don’t Have to Buy Everything Organic
These two lists can act as guideposts to save you tons of money while honoring your conscience. The Dirty Dozen consists of the top 12+ produce items consistently tested with the highest percentages of pesticide residue:
- Apples, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, nectarines, peaches, snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, celery, spinach and other greens, and potatoes
If your budget won’t allow you to buy all-organic, at least purchase these in organic varieties. On the other hand, there are 15 ‘clean’ items that have been tested with the lowest amount of pesticides:
- Onions, sweet onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes
You’ll notice a trend with these items — they are either potent and unappealing to pests, or have tough, hard-to-permeate skins. You can honestly extend the Clean 15 to other items that have thick skins, especially if you will remove the skin before consuming (such as bananas).
Tip #2: Shop at a Farmer’s Market
Most of the produce at the farmer’s market won’t have a certified organic emblem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not organic. Many farmers label their stock “grown with no pesticides” or “only natural fertilizers” even if they can’t claim the organic label. This means you can get technically organic produce without the cost of certification. Of course, you can’t assume all farmers grow organically, so look for signs or ask the farmer directly. As a bonus, you’re supporting the local economy.
Tip #3: Buy Generic Store Brand Organics
Kroger affiliates, Wal-Mart, Costco, Albertson’s and other grocery chains produce their own brand of organic products that are often cheaper and featured more frequently in sales ads than the manufacturers’. I enjoy O Organics from QFC/Fred Meyer, Simple Truth from Albertson’s and Wild Oats from Wal-Mart.
Tip #4: Purchase in Season For the Best Organic Prices
You don’t have to look far to tell what’s in season — whichever bins are heaping full and on sale for several weeks at a time. In-season non-organics are cheapest, but even organic varieties will be more affordable for in-season produce.
Tip #5: Get Organics in Bulk
This goes for the farmer’s market as well as chain stores like Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Sam’s Club. Bulk pricing is always better, and this doesn’t exclude organics. Just be sure to have a plan for what you’re buying, which leads to the last tip.
Tip #6: Have a Plan to Avoid Wasting Organics
It’s easy to waste produce since its shelf life is so unpredictable, so make plans for how you’re going to use the exact quantity you buy. If you need to cut and freeze produce to conserve it, the minimal nutritional losses are worth the entire loss of expensive quality produce.
These are just a few ways I’ve learned to reconcile my organic convictions with a grocery budget. What are ways you save on organics and natural foods?