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How Real Families on Real Budgets Can Afford Organic

December 27, 2013 •  14 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien , AllergyKids Foundation

In a world in which we are constantly worried about the health of our families, the stability of our jobs, paying the mortgage, and all of life’s responsibilities, the simple act of trying to eat healthy often becomes a challenge.

Not to mention that if your family is anything like mine, then you’ve most likely got some picky eaters, limited time and a limited budget with which to pull all of this off in a world of soaring food prices.

So here are a few tips for those who want to start buying organic food but don’t want to pay the high price:

  • Go Orgo-Generic: Major grocery store chains like Safeway and Kroger, and big box food retailers like Costco and even Wal-Mart, now carry their own organic foods. And all foods labeled “USDA organic” are created equal, no matter where you find them. No need to upscale your grocery store when Wal-Mart gets it done.
  • Buy Frozen: Frozen foods (like strawberries and fish) are cheaper than those that are delivered fresh. So if the prices on fresh produce are eye-popping, cruise on over to the frozen food aisle for a discount.
  • Eat with the Season: Retrain your taste buds to think like your grandmother did. She didn’t eat strawberries in the middle of winter. Locally grown foods are usually cheaper than those flown in from another hemisphere so if you eat with the season, you’ll be eating more affordably.
  • Skip the Box, Embrace the Bulk: Food that comes in boxes costs more because of the packaging costs associated with designing those pretty pictures! When you buy in bulk, you’re not paying for all of the packaging, you’re paying for the food which is what you want anyway. So slide on over to that bulk food aisle in Safeway and look for noodles, cereals, rice and beans in your local grocery store.
  • Support the US economy and Buy Local: You can save money by becoming a member of a local farm (just like you became a member at Safeway or Costco!). How do you find a local farm, you ask? Well, thankfully, the USDA now has a list of online sites to help you find the closest farm near you, so click here to log onto the USDA site.
  • Comparison Shop: You wouldn’t buy a car without comparison shopping, so before you even head out the door, you can compare the prices of organic foods at different retailers from the safety of your own computer at www.eatwellguide.org
  • Coupons, coupons, coupons: Organic bargains are everywhere so click on About.com’s Frugal Living page where you will find All Organic Links.
  • Grow One Thing: If you’re as busy as we are, there’s not a chance in creation that you are going to be able to feed your family off of your home-grown harvest, but you will find that growing a tomato plant can be incredibly inspiring. And it’s not as intimidating as it seems. So pick one thing to grow – you can do it (we all grew lima beans in cups as kids, right?).
  • Find a Friend: It is way more fun when you share this adventure with someone else, so be sure to find a friend, share this link and get back to us with your success stories (and if you have a tip that you want to add, please post it in the comment section below!).

Good luck!

14 Responses to “How Real Families on Real Budgets Can Afford Organic”

  1. Sahnya

    These are great suggestions! A few additional ideas:

    Prioritize buying organic on the dirty dozen, and opt for traditional produce for the clean 15 when the prices differ greatly. http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php

    Subscribe to local grocer’s emails. I especially love getting Whole Foods emails as they often have one day sales that are fantastic. Their coupon book is great too.

    Stock up on things you use. When one of your products is on sale, look at buying a case to get a further discount. Buying through Azure Standard can be a great option, especially if you live in a place with limited store options.

    Rice, beans, and cabbage are inexpensive and nutritionally powerful – make them a part of your regular diet.

    Do it yourself …. maybe making your own yogurt / dairy kefir; dehydrating the surplus of apples, go berry picking, can or freeze items like tomatoes. Make a homemade salsa in the winter by using canned tomatoes.

    Take kids to the farmers market. They often loves seeing the beautiful produce and can be involved in helping to pick out “what we should try this week”.

    Expose your children to information about food so they can feel good about why they are eating what they are eating. There are lots of food movies, some more appropriate than other for kids. Watch Jamie Oliver. These get the conversations started.

    Seek snack type foods at place like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. No synthetic food colorings are allowed, there are ample organic options, and the store brands are non-gmo.

    Thanks for all your great work!

    • AllergyKids

      These are fantastic suggestions! Thanks so much for taking the time to write and to include this valuable insight.

    • Karen M

      Just one note about the clean 15. Two of them are on there for low pesticide residue (corn and mangos) because they are most likely to be GMO. They’re genetically modified to be pest resistant. In my opinion, they should be on the “Dirty Dozen” list (but they’d have to rename it “Fearful 14” or something!) I refuse to eat corn or mangos that are not organic for that very reason. Pesticides on the outside vs. pesticides on the inside? I’d almost rather take the risk with the sprayed-on kind than GMO.

  2. All good advice, except the Walmart thing. Walmart may have cheap prices but they do terrible economic harm to the communities they are supposed to serve.

  3. Remember that old saying, “you are what you eat”. IMHO that is literally true. Eating healthy is much less costly than chronic health issues, medical bills and prescription drugs (which will make you even less healthy and lead to more and more drugs).

    There are sources of inexpensive locally grown produce which are going to have far less pesticides and probably more nutritional value than what you can buy in stores. Organic is not always much more expensive and since it is more nutrient dense you eat less of it so the cost can actually be lower.

    I believe that getting the nutrients we need is the highest priority so if you can’t find organic buy the best source of REAL food (as God made it – not as some chemist altered it or some company processed it into nothingness).

    If what you are eating will not mold or spoil it has little food value. What sense does it make to drink vegetables and fruits if they’ve been pasteurized? It is not that hard to find fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts or find a local producer of free-range eggs or grass-finished meats.

    Search for CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) or Grass Fed or Local Harvest. Ask around or check the local paper for a Farmer’s Market. Find neighbors who have excess eggs and produce.

    Grocery stores are filled with food that isn’t healthy, is full of artificial who-knows-what, preservatives and pesticides. Do you really want to eat that stuff? Yes this is a HUGE change for some but it IS worth it.

  4. I am looking forward to Jordan Rubin’s companybeyond organic to start shipping their food in October. My family has many allergies including overloads of toxins (Autism). It has been a huge learning experience for our family and it is my passion to help other families learn about better health through detoxification and nutrition. Robyn’s message needs to be spread far and wide and I will be getting her message out to many.. Thank You Robyn so much. Keep up the info.. America needs it!!!!

  5. Good suggestions, however “all organic is the same” is not true. This may be true of the big “organic” grocery store items, but organic food from a small local farm is going to be much healthier for you and your community.

    I’d add Eat Seasonally to this list as one of the the top ways to lower food bills. Head to your local farmer’s market and you can get organic zucchini for pennies in summer, pumpkins are cheap in fall/winter as is cabbage. Learn to be creative with these items, make sauerkraut, braised cabbage – make it a game – get kids involved. Learn how to dehydrate, freeze and preserve a few of them for cheap winter eats.

    Making the switch from fake processed food to real food will in and of itself cut your food budget because it’s nutrient dense food. Your body craves nutrition and packaged food is lacking – thus our bodies are always telling us to eat more. Real food without packaging & preprocessing contains more nutrients and our bodies know this. When you make this switch you will no longer need to buy snack foods because you won’t get hungry between meals and you’ll be eating less at eat meal.

    Grow your own is also a great way to save some cash, make sure you focus on those things that are more expensive to buy and that your family will eat. There’s no use wasting garden space on zucchini when it’s cheap and plentiful locally. Organic salad is more expensive and super easy to grow. Growing your own is also a great way to get your kids involved in making healthier choices. My favorite time spent with my parents was thumbing through seed catalogs and them letting me choose a few veggies for my own special garden, then tending those plants and harvesting them to eat them. I especially remember growing an all blue garden one year with blue potatoes and blue corn.

    As Gail states, you will spend less on medical/dental bills and have fewer sick days. Since we switched to a 100% local organic homegrown unprocessed diet we haven’t had a cold/flu in 3 years, and no more cavities, ear infections, dr’s visits, etc.

    Consider canceling things such as cable and cell phone bills and use that money to buy higher quality food. Not only will you save on those bills but you’ll save electric and finally have time to plant/tend that garden!

  6. Robyn,
    Thanks for helping show how this can be done even for families on a budget. Much appreciated!
    Elexis Mariash

  7. I agree with looking for your local CSA. We have allergies with our twins and I am now a rep for a company, Wildtree, that is all natural food products because of those allergies AND our determination to eat healthy. Now, I just shop the outer aisles of the market, and we have fresh produce delivered to us! All allergen free for us!

  8. I especially like your idea of finding a friend. I have discovered the power behind a group of families all working towards a similar goal. Sharing bargains, shopping trips, and menu planning can make eating healthy easier.

    – Rosalyn

  9. What do you think of the HHF approach – let’s grow our own organic – no excuses because we make it so easy and so affordable (check out our HHF challenge) and we can grow organic indoors using affordable lighting:

    Home Harvest Farms is a Vancouver based Social Enterprise committed to supporting health, empowerment and food security by designing and manufacturing durable stainless-steel and aluminum growing structures for individual, institutional and commercial applications.

    Home Harvest Farms make it easy for people to take responsibility for providing their own healthy, local, organic food.

  10. I have talked with so many clients about this very topic. I know in my family, I choose to forgo certain things in my life SO that I can buy organic. It’s just that important to me. I find that the more people understand WHY it’s important, the easier it is for them to choose what is best for them. I just find that so many people just don’t realize the implications of non-organic in the long run. Thanks for sharing this info!

  11. WifeDuringWartime

    One thing I’m surprised no one mentioned is canning. Canning and making your own preserves and other items are great ways to get the most out of in season foods. http://www.punkdomestics.com is a great site for beginners and they have lots of advice on everything from getting equipment at bargain prices to recipes and projects to try.

  12. This is a great post. Thank you. As a mother of children with allergies, trying to go natural and leave behind processed foods is sometimes challenging. Add the cost of organics to the challenge, and it can be daunting.

    Just when I wonder if I am ever going to be any good at switching us to healthy living, I find your post and realize I am already doing most of these things. It is really nice to have a checklist at hand.

    I will share your post to encourage others!

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