Affording Organic Food

In a comment on another post, a reader stated: “As much as I try to buy organic, it is so expensive and not widely available.”

This is so true, but we can be glad to see organic food becoming more available, and there are ways to save with organic food. My top five recommendations:

  1. Bulk up your diet with veggies; organic or conventional veggies which are low on the pesticide list (see my Consumer Wallet Guides). Veggies, whether cooked or raw/salads, are naturally cheap fillers, and good for you! Buy in season when available (super cheap from local farmers/big gardeners), and frozen when not in season.
  2. Stop buying expensive, unhealthy snacks, deserts, and sodas, and instead choose smaller portion snacks of organic or natural yogurt, nuts, fruit, homemade muffins. When your grocery cart is a quarter full of crackers, chips, cookies, ice cream, and sweet drinks, you can bet about 1/3-1/2 of your grocery budget is going to these items, which aren’t even part of your meals! Choose filtered water with lemon or lime over sweet drinks, and then “treat” yourself occasionally to an Italian Soda made from Mineral Water and a 100% juice from a trusted brand (like Knudsons). Keep deserts for special times, like birthdays, and then make or get something REALLY good from the best ingredients.
  3. With the grocery money freed up by eating more veggies and buying less snacks, deserts, and drinks, invest in better meat and dairy products. Grassfed meats are best, and it is possible to buy a half or quarter beef, lamb, or hog for your freezer directly from a farmer for a great price per pound. If you can’t buy grassfed, look for free range chickens, and organic or natural beef at Trader Joes which has good prices. Always buy seafood wild caught; watch for sales.As far as dairy: always buy rBST free, and try to find grassfed or organic. Many artisan cheeses, some from Europe, are superior even to organic US dairy in that they are grassfed. Again, the Trader Joes prices are amazing for both cheeses and milk/cream/butter/sour cream, etc. One good option, if you have the ability, is to buy good milk/cream and culture your own yogurt/kefir/sour cream. Since we are a big smoothie family, we save about $15 each week because I culture 2 gallons of milk into kefir and yogurt, rather than buying those products ready made.
  4. The best diet for most people is heavy in veggies, meats, fruits, with some dairy and nuts (if you have no allergies to those foods). Grains and legumes can be good additions/fillers if they are properly prepared, however, most Westerners have far too much of these bulking complex carbs in our diets, and our waistlines are proof. However, they can be good fillers if you find you are too hungry without them. If you buy them in bulk (dry) and prepare them from scratch at home they should be super cheap even when organic.
  5. Shop Smart:
  • Buy directly from a farm or grow your own. This is often cheaper, and you’ll know where (and who) your food comes from.
  • Shop at Trader Joes: they often have the best prices around.
  • Compare prices on the internet (research sources), and with Co-Op buying.
  • Check out Grocery Outlet for clearance prices on natural dairy, organic olive oil and some other shelf items, as well as personal care products (always read lables!!). Conventional stores (Safeway and Fred Meyer in my area) often have organic items on clearance in the bins near the back of the store/warehouse door, and clearance stickers on refrigerated items in the cold cases (near to expiration date items should be used immediately or frozen). Pair with a coupon for a great deal (see below).
  • Become acquainted with Couponing Strategy, as shared/taught/blogged in many blogs. My favorite is frugallivingnw.com. The basic idea is to use a coupon on a product which is on sale to get a great deal. Although most of the deals are for conventional products, there are coupons and deals to be had for organic products. Many organic coupons are for items in the snacks/crakers/prepared foods category, so these coupons aren’t the best way to save (just stop buying those expensive foods, as discussed in point 2). But even still, there are valuable coupons to be had, and steal-of-a-deals to be scored. Hint: go to organicvalley.coop to register for dairy coupons, and to seventhgeneration.com to register for household product coupons. Then hang on to your coupons until a great sale comes up, and stock up for a few months. (No, I am not advocating extreme couponing, and neither do the blog sites.)

3 thoughts on “Affording Organic Food

  1. I know that these strategies work really well for those of us who are around good farms, but often vegetables (non organic, even) are super expensive around places like Houston. Is there a way to find cheap, organic farms if you happen to live in an area where Farmer’s Market produce is expensive or unattainable?

    1. I will discuss this in more depth in the next post, however, many farms are now registering on localharvest.com. Also, some varieties of organic produce can be found in large frozen bags at places like Costco and Grocery Outlet.

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