While it’s true that eating healthy is an investment in your long-term health, at the end of the day, not everyone can justify paying a premium for organic groceries. Luckily, there are a number of great ways to save money and feel confident about the food on your plate!
So why exactly should you go organic? According to experts, the verdict is still out on modern farming practices and if the chemicals they use are actually safe long-term (1). Because of this uncertainty, many people are taking their health into their own hands and making the switch to organic foods. According to the USDA, organic foods must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage sludge-based fertilizers, herbicides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones, or irradiation (2).
Understanding Organic Labels & What to Look For
Trustworthy, organic foods are not only more expensive but can also be difficult to spot. The best way to tell if a product is organic is by looking for the USDA organic label. It’s the only claim backed by federal laws and strict regulations.
Other claims like “100% natural,” “cage-free” and “free-range” sound positive, but actually tend to have loose regulations, if any at all. For example, the claim “free-range” does not require farm inspections and does not specify the size of the outdoor space or the time animals are given to roam (3).
For produce, most grocery stores do a good job of identifying their organic section from conventional, but packaged foods can get tricky. Luckily, there are helpful resources for understanding the many (often confusing) label claims. For example, Greener Choices by Consumer Reports provides useful guides to help consumers make the most informed purchases possible.
If you can’t afford to eat exclusively organic, the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” lists can help you prioritize when to splurge on organic fruits and vegetables and when to save.
Organic Meal Prep & Planning
Now that we know how to shop green, it’s time to learn how to save green! The key to eating organic (or any diet for that matter) on a budget is planning ahead. While it can be daunting to anticipate what you’ll want to eat for an entire week, this step is the secret to success. It’s incredibly difficult to make the healthiest, budget-friendly choice on the spot in a crowded grocery store! Here’s how I map out my meals:
Step #1: Check out sale catalogs. Most stores have apps for this! I like to look through all my local stores’ circulars to see which has the best deals. Next, I choose recipes and meals based on what’s on sale. I also make note of non-perishable and frozen items that have deeper discounts and are worth stocking up on.
Step #2: Write out your meals. I have an Evernote file dedicated to my weekly meal plans. First, I look at my schedule and choose which nights are best for me to cook and which nights I need to rely on leftovers (taking into account errands, dinners out, etc). Then, I go back through the recipes I’ve chosen and plug them in accordingly. Fridays and Saturdays are almost always “clean-up” meals where I try to use up the rest of my produce. This usually entails throwing whatever I have left into an easy-peasy, one-pot stir fry.
Step #3: Create your shopping list. After you’ve written out your meal plan, go through and create your shopping list! This is where most of my budget belt-tightening happens. Typically, once I see all the ingredients laid out, I’m able to go through my cabinets and eliminate spices I already have or cut back on recipes that might be a bit more involved than I’m willing to spend.
Though it can be tricky at first, meal planning will save you time and money. Right now, I write up my weekly plan in 20 minutes while having my Saturday morning coffee. If I can’t shop on the weekends, I’ll still write up my plan but hit the grocery store on my way home from work early in the week. It’s all about learning what works best with your schedule!
Other Ways to Save Money on Organic Food
In addition to meal planning, here are some other helpful tips to help you cut back on organic grocery spending:
Eat Less Meat
Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are usually the most expensive foods to buy organic. Consider eating them less often and finding alternatives, such as beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, tofu, and tempeh. There are a number of potential health benefits to cutting back on meat, such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels (4). Plus, the internet is chock full of delicious, meat-free recipes (like this one).
Buy Frozen Produce
Not only does frozen produce last longer, studies show there are not many drawbacks to choosing frozen produce over fresh. While it varies between different types of fruits and veggies, choosing produce that’s flash-frozen at peak ripeness may even help preserve nutrient density compared to fresh fruit (5).
Shop Pantry Staples Online
Online health food discount stores offer a ton of pantry staples at affordable prices. I always find more coupons online for items like spices, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and other pantry staples that are typically expensive in grocery stores.
Shop Locally and in Season
If you have access to a local farmer’s market, shopping directly from the source can save you money. Supporting local b
usiness is always a good thing, and local farmers are often more willing to haggle on leftover produce to clear their inventory.
Prioritize Your Spending
No matter how many coupons you clip, organic shopping will often come with a higher price tag. Choosing to buy organic taught me to be less wasteful with my food and also helped me cut back spending in other areas of my life (mainly excess clothing and dinners out!). However, life happens sometimes, and I can’t always swing an all-organic shopping list. I’m thankful for these helpful resources and strategies that help me make the best choices within my means!