10 May 2013

How to Eat Organic, Even if You’re on a Budget

A lot of people tell me they love the idea of organic food and would start eating it in a heartbeat but their grocery budgets simply don’t allow it. It’s true that organic food can cost considerably more than conventionally grown food…absolutely. The one glimmer of hope is that there has been a downward pricing trend as organic foods became more popular. Still, the prices aren’t low enough for many people, so how can you eat organic when you’re on a budget?

Here are a few ideas you can start with.

Start with one thing at a time.
Going organic doesn’t mean you have to go all or none. Take small steps to where you want to go. I also recommend downloading the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Dirty Dozen list that shows you the produce that is most likely to be grown with the most pesticides, so either avoid those or purchase them organically. The list includes items like apples, capsicums, peaches, potatoes, blueberries, spinach, celery, strawberries and more. These are all easily grown in a backyard veggie garden, you can even get dwarf varieties of fruit trees that will grow in pots.  They also keep a list of produce that is least likely be grown with as much pesticide, so you may not have to rush into organic versions of those.

You can get the list or download a mobile app here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/  This is a list based on US fruit and vegetables. It's slightly different here in Australia. For example the list has potatoes on it, but Australian grown potatoes test with almost no chemical residue, so if you really want organic spuds grow your own, it's not worth paying the extra for organic.

Buy from farmers markets.
There are many organic options at farmer’s markets and they are often more affordable than organic fare found at regular supermarkets. You can search Google for “[your town] farmer’s market” to find markets in your area.

Cut out expensive, processed foods.

While processed foods may seem like a great deal because they save time and they appear to be inexpensive, they often don’t provide a lot in the way of portion size or nutritional value and can really eat up a food budget if you rely on them. Look for your organic foods in other areas of the supermarket, don't just stick to the health food aisle. Try reducing the amount of processed foods you buy and eat more nutrient dense whole foods. It’s good for the budget and good for your health.

Stock up when things go on sale and then bottle, dry or freeze it.
It’s the same money-saving concept that people have been using for years and you can apply it to organic foods as well. Invest in a food dehydrator, bottling outfit and freezer-ready containers, so you can store organic foods for later eating.

Make it a goal to eat a fully local and/or organic meal each week. 
If you just try for one meal, you’ll be making a difference without a lot of cost. Plus, leftovers and extra ingredients can be stretched out to additional meals.

Eat more vegetarian meals.
I know it’s scary for some meat lovers, my family included, but eating more meatless meals gives you so much more money in the food budget. Or if you’re not ready to do vegetarian, consider using smaller portions of meat in your meals. Try things like stir fries and similar meals where meat is simply an accompaniment, rather than the main focus of the meal. There are lots of lovely vegetarian and vegan meals in the Recipe File. Why not try one new meatless meal a week?

Pick your own.
Don’t be afraid of a little manual labour. Using “you pick” opportunities allows you save a lot of money and stock up for bottling, drying and freezing. You can pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. Cherries, strawberries, tomatoes and corn are just some of the vegetables we've picked over the years. It's a great family activity too, kids just love to eat the food they've picked themselves. Just be sure to make sure they are certified organic first.

Every little bit helps and the better you get at picking the right foods, the more affordable it can be. And remember, the long term health benefits of eating more naturally will save you plenty in health costs in the long run.

Just one thing before you race out and stock up on organic everything…we should talk about what organic really means and we’ll do that next week.

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