7 Budget-Friendly Tips for Shopping Organic

A woman offering vegetables at a farmer's market

Do you often find yourself on the fence regarding whether or not to buy organic food? We hear so much about the benefits of organic versus conventional food, and yet the price tag is enough to make even the most fervent foodie cringe. The belief that organic food can only be afforded by the wealthy needs to be changed.

Fortunately, there is a movement evolving quickly touting the support of local and sustainable agriculture. More and more people, especially the younger generations, are beginning to question where their food is coming from and how it is produced. Whether you want to support this movement or simply want to be able to provide a healthy meal for your family, there are ways to shop organic without breaking the bank.

It’s helpful to understand how organic food is priced, which is easier said than done. The politics of agriculture involve a complicated and winding road. What started off as a way to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population has now been replaced by a system that has become automated and forced us to lose touch with our food sources. Taste and nutritional yield have been pushed to the wayside in favor of quick production and financial gains. In addition, it’s hard for smaller farms to compete with subsidies given by the government to conventional growers and meat producers, which allows markets to charge the consumer significantly less than food grown by local and organic farmers.

If you have every grown a garden, you know it takes a lot of attention and effort. An intimate relationship is created between ourselves and nature in order to produce food high in flavor and nutrients. According to Ayurveda, food is medicine and when harvested and consumed with this frame of mind, food takes on new meaning. Essentially, when you are buying organic you are buying well-grown food that is priced as a reflection of what it truly takes to grow food authentic in taste and free of pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Once you experience truly good food as it was meant to and as close to the source as possible, there is no going back.

Here are some budget-friendly suggestions for incorporating more organic foods into your diet without emptying your wallet.

1. Prioritize Your Choices

If you bought every single product as organic, your food budget would jump nearly 50 percent. That being said, it is not necessary to purchase everything as organic. Educate yourself on foods that are an absolute must for buying organic so you can pick and choose with confidence.

An excellent website for providing updated and accurate information is called the Environmental Working Group. They have compiled a list called the “dirty dozen” which consists of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that have been identified as having the highest levels of pesticide residue. They also provide a list called the “clean fifteen” which consists of conventional fruits and vegetables that have lower pesticide levels and thus less important to buy organic. As a general rule, anything that has a thick or tough rind such as melons, oranges, and bananas are OK to purchase conventional, but if you will be eating the skin, lean toward organic.

2. Support Local Farms

In response to the demand for local and sustainable food (good for the environment and people and is humane), farmer’s markets are a fast-growing niche within the food market along with Community Supported Agriculture or CSA programs. In both cases, you are buying food directly from the farmer.

As part of a CSA program, you receive a share of the farmer’s harvest by subscribing or paying for a membership. Depending on the size of your family, a CSA box of fruits and vegetables can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 and is usually delivered weekly or bi-weekly. This is very reasonable considering the quantity and quality of the food you are receiving. In addition, by buying locally, you are limited to what is in season and can be a fun way to experiment cooking with vegetables you would not have normally purchased on your own. Check out the Local Harvest website to find your closest farmer’s market or CSA program.

3. Look for Bargains

Have you noticed when someone says they just purchased a vehicle, you begin to see said vehicle everywhere? This same phenomenon happens when you decide to pursue a more organic lifestyle because now your attention has been shifted. You will happily notice when there is a sale in the organic section of your local grocery store or when coupons appear for your favorite organic foods. When looking for a good deal, don’t forget to include stores such as the Dollar Store, Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and Ross which frequently carry various organic products at greatly reduced prices.

4. Buy in Bulk

Shopping in the bulk bin section of the grocery store can be quite cost effective. Lentils, herbs, nuts, oats, and flour are just a few of the items that make more sense to buy in bulk, and you have more control over how much you actually need.

When a vegetable or fruit is in season, there will be a mass effort to sell as much as possible and sales will pop up frequently, making this the perfect time to stock up. Organic blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are great to buy during a sale and you can freeze them for future use.

5. Look for Store Brands

Large grocery store chains will often market their own brand of organic foods that sometimes can be cheaper than conventional foods. As an example, here is a list of a few stores along with their store labels of organic products.

  • Walmart - Great Value Organic
  • Target - Simply Balanced
  • Whole Foods - 365 Everyday Value
  • Albertson’s – O Organics

If you are unsure whether or not a brand is organic, make sure to look for the USDA Organic seal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

6. Don’t Forget the Freezer Section

Ideally, we would all eat freshly picked fruits and vegetables at the peak of their ripeness. The reality, however, is that not all of us have access to this type of food. Depending on where you live, the better choice can sometimes be found in the frozen section.

The advantage of frozen produce is that they are usually picked when ripe, blanched in hot water to kill bacteria and stop food-degrading enzymes, and then flash frozen to preserve nutrients. Stick to whole fruits and vegetables rather than chopped or peeled for the best nutrient retention. It’s definitely worth the effort to keep an eye out for bargains on organic and conventional frozen fruits and vegetables (keeping mind the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen”).

7. Grow Your Own Food

This goes without saying, but growing your own garden is one of the key ways to save money while maintaining a healthy, organic lifestyle. In this way, you know exactly what has gone into your food. Even if you have little or no yard, there are money-saving plants you can grow, such as tomatoes and herbs (organic herbs are expensive in the store).

Do some research on the internet for innovative gardening techniques; Seeds of Change is a helpful website that focuses on organic gardening. Home and garden shows are also a great way to meet local businesses that can provide some insight into creating your perfect garden, especially if you are just beginning. If you’re just starting out, follow these tips for getting your garden started

Remember, small changes over time lead to long-term results. By simply choosing to do one thing different will have a positive ripple effect no matter how subtle. Not everyone will be able to implement all these different suggestions, but the idea is to hopefully expand your point of view when it comes to the world of organic or well-grown foods. It’s important to keep an open mind and also to not become rigidly attached to the idea of only buying organic or conventional. Find a combination that works for you and your budget.


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About the Author

Rachelle Williams

Vedic Educator
As a Chopra Center Vedic Educator, Rachelle is certified in Primordial Sound Meditation , Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga , and Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle . She started working at the Chopra Center in 2007 and has loved it ever since. Rachelle teaches at Chopra Center events in addition to leading private classes. She is grateful to share her knowledge and passion for these teachings by inspiring others to become empowered and...Read more