By Vicki Little
These days, it seems like everyone is “going organic” when they buy produce. While most people believe that organic foods (produce in particular) offers greater health benefits and better quality/flavor than conventional foods, the price tag of organic food can be a major deterrent. Many people simply glance at higher prices and walk on by. But the truth is, the gaps between conventional and organic are not always huge and sometimes minimal.
A good place to start is setting priorities. You don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach, and by following a few simple guidelines you will find that buying organic food doesn’t have to break your bank.
Eating organically doesn’t mean you have to ONLY eat organic. Changing just a few items in your diet can have a big impact. Instead of the all-or-nothing approach, buy a mix of conventional and organic foods. Most dietitians agree that eating good, quality produce is a top priority and that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. Some produce is more contaminated by pesticides than others. There is a dirty dozen list, which might mean those fall under your “should always buy organic” heading while others don’t necessarily have to be.
Prioritize the items that your family eats the most of, then look at which ones contain the most pesticides and try to buy those foods organically. The best place to start is by looking at the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15, lists of produce generated by the Environmental Working Group. They help consumers determine which foods have the most and least pesticide residue when grown conventionally. As the names suggest, the Dirty Dozen includes produce you want to try to buy organically to avoid overexposure to pesticides. These include: strawberries, apples, nectarines, celery, peaches, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and cucumbers. Leafy greens follow closely behind. The Clean 15 that can be purchased non-organically include: avocado, corn, cabbage, pineapple, mango, papaya, sweet peas, kiwi, honeydew, cantaloupe, cauliflower, onion, eggplant, and grapefruit. You can read a list that assesses pesticide data for 48 fruits and vegetables here.
Think seasonally when you are planning your grocery trips, and set your mind against anything that might be out of season. Maybe you can give up your love of berries in the winter and grilled squash in the summer. A stroll around the produce aisle will tell you quickly which fruits and veggies are in season — they will cost less. If you want to plan your menu ahead of time, you can visit sustainabletable.org. They have a great resource to help you determine what is in season in your area.
You also can save a bit of money by shopping the sales at your local grocery stores, and checking out larger stores to see which items they sell as organic. The freezer section is a great place to find some of your favorite organic produce, and it is significantly less expensive — and lasts a lot longer! Try freezing your own fruit and veggies to enjoy them during the off-season.
Finally, try to avoid the biggest price difference offenders when buying organic, such as romaine lettuce, salad mix, bananas, red peppers, yellow onions, and tomatoes.
How do you save money when shopping for organic produce?
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers watching her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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