Most of us would love to have a fridge full of fresh organic produce and meats. But because pesticide and hormone-free products often have a premium price tag, going organic can seem like a luxury for anyone on a tight budget. So how do you make sure the green on your table doesn't drain the green from your wallet?
Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, has these tips: First, learn to buy big. Many health-food stores have bulk sections, and if you fill a bag with, say, organic cereal, you may end up paying less for it than you would for the nonorganic variety, since you're not paying for packaging costs. Second, form a buying club. If a bunch of people pool their grocery lists, they can often special-order directly with the store, he said, and that, in turn, can lead to much lower costs.
Another path to frugal but healthy shopping is to choose your battles carefully. If you can't afford to fill your entire shopping cart with organic food, you can still feel good about what you buy. Sarah Bratnober, communications director at the Organic Valley Family of Farms, advises following the 80/20 rule—80 percent of the benefits come from 20 percent of the purchases. Think about what your family eats the most of, then go from there. For example, if you have a choice between organic milk and organic mayonnaise, and your kids go through a gallon of milk in a week but only two tablespoons of mayo, go for the milk. Fruits and vegetables are also good choices, especially the ones your family eats lots of. And if you have the option, get into community-supported agriculture, where you own shares in a farm and get a share of whatever it produces.
Finally, buy fruits and vegetables in season and focus on what's easily available, says Barbara Houmann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. That way, she said, you may find that the prices are just about comparable with nonorganic fruits and veggies.
If you do manage to get more organic into your diet, you won't regret the extra effort. Organic produce isn't just healthy and better for the environment, it tastes better, too, according to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center. And that flavor boost might just make it easier to convince your children to eat their veggies, or to introduce them to new foods.
As for cooking, Bratnober says some people are afraid to go organic because they think those products need special preparation. But no worries—she said that the cooking process is exactly the same as it is for regular groceries. There is one caveat: While most organic items, like produce and milk, have a similar shelf-life to their nonorganic counterparts, bear in mind that organic breads and pastries tend to go bad faster than nonorganic baked goods because of the lack of preservatives.
So there you have it. Organic and affordable in the same sentence. Who would have thought?