One of the frustrations that I hear most about the recommendation of eating organic and GMO-free is the cost. Unfortunately, in our chemical-laden world, it does cost more to eat healthy and be healthy. However, eating organic on a budget doesn’t have to break the bank if one is willing to take time to research, prepare and be disciplined.
I read studies, almost weekly, about serious endocrine issues as well as diseases that are being traced back to the toxins in our food supply. Pesticides and herbicides sprayed on vegetables and fruits are causing a myriad of health concerns. And then there are the GMO foods that Big Chem would have us believe is safe. Of course we all want to provide healthy and non-toxic food for our families but the bottom line is that eating organic on a budget can make the most positive person become depressed.
“Why is [organic food] so expensive? Because right now, at the federal level, we’ve got an uneven playing field,” explains Robyn O’Brien for Prevention.com. “Farmers that choose to grow food, genetically engineered to be saturated in chemicals, receive financial aid called ‘subsidies.’ They also get marketing support and crop insurance, while farmers growing things organically don’t, making their products more costly to produce.”
We are definitely involved in a “health war” with the battlefield being in your local grocery store. This war has been declared on us by multiple entities with very deep pockets, such as Monsanto (now Bayer-Monsanto), Big Pharma, Big Agri and Big Food. What’s ridiculous is these entities are cheered on by their allies at the FDA and our own US Congress — people who are supposed to be the gatekeepers that protect US citizens from harm.
Since the “protection” is not happening, the best solution to this situation, in my opinion, is to realize that it’s up to every individual to take responsibility for their health by refusing to purchase food that is genetically modified and/or grown or sprayed with toxic chemicals. While we may have to spend more time and money on organic food and non-toxic personal care products, the trade-off of developing long-term health concerns and spending money and time in the doctor’s office and/or hospital should be considered. It has been wisely said that “we can either pay the organic/local farmer or the doctor/hospital”.
Good News! Households can use SNAP benefits to buy seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. As of January 20136, almost 43.6 MILLION Americans depend on SNAP EBT benefits (Food Stamps) to put food on the table. In total, SNAP recipients spent $19.4 MILLION at farmers’ markets in 2015.
Over the years, I have come across some excellent tips about how a family can actually eat organic on a budget. And I have gleaned additional suggestions from personal experience while cleaning up my own lifestyle after a diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer in 2000. In the beginning, it can seem costly and time consuming, often to the point of sticker-shock and frustration. Some of this is because we must change our mindset to buy only what is needed, preferably one week at a time, which is not always easy. Of course, for large families buying in bulk is good as long as you have the funds to do so and as long as it is consumed before it goes bad. Make a gradual transition (baby steps) so that you have time to do research and familiarize yourself with prices and product brands. And above all, remember that locally sourced food can be just as healthy, if not more so, than certified organic products. Keep in mind that doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Some of my tips for eating organic on a budget may fit your lifestyle and budget and some may not. Every family/individual situation is different. I encourage you to keep an eye out for solutions that make it more affordable for you to eat organic and GMO-free. Please don’t allow the following tips to overwhelm you or make you feel that you must implement every tip. And for everyone’s sanity try to refrain from turning into an “organic snob.” When asked, enthusiastically share your knowledge, recipes, harvest and personal tips with others, especially those who need to eat healthy but because of difficulties are unable to afford what they need. Always be kind and encouraging in word and example.
42 Tips for Eating Organic on a Budget
- Research ways to grow your own food. Backyard gardens, container gardening, community gardens, etc. all provide ways to grow non-toxic and inexpensive foods while allowing your family to eat organically on a budget. Organic and heirloom seeds are not expensive when compared to the harvest even one garden will yield. Yes, it takes work and time, but it is a great way to alleviate stress and also an excellent way to pass down the importance of gardening to your children and grandchildren.
- Purchase GMO-Free seeds. Keep a seed bank in your home. Make note of the Top 10 Genetically Modified Vegetables & Fruits: corn, golden rice, soy, cottonseed, canola, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar beets, squash and papaya.
- Teach yourself, take a class or ask your Mother/Grandmother how to properly can and freeze vegetables and fruit.
- Start a herb garden in pots and place them on your kitchen window sill. Fresh herbs are usually costly; however, they are needed in our diet for their wonderful medicinal value as well as helping food to taste good. They will be handy for use in cooking, not to mention they will look nice in your kitchen!
- Get your children involved by taking them to the local Farmers’ Markets each week. See
Top 10 Reasons to Bring Your Kids to the Farmers’ Market It is very likely that they will “catch” your enthusiasm.
- If you are allowed to have chickens where you live, consider getting some for free-range eggs. You can share with family and friends or even barter for homegrown vegetables and fruit, etc.
- Rethink your shopping avenues. While the local grocery store is often the most convenient and possibly less expensive in the short run; it’s most likely not the best place to find the healthiest and freshest produce and organic foods.
- Shop with and stick to a list. Never.Go.Shopping.Without.A.List. Make your list from the recipes that you will make over the next week and then stick to those recipes. Over the years I have done it both ways and ALWAYS come out much cheaper when I stick to my list.
- Forage! (look it up) – Over the years through my own study of plants and herbs, I have learned that our beautiful world is filled with good-tasting, healthy, free foods to eat — you just have to know how to look for them. If you want to learn more about wild edible and medicinal plants and other wilderness survival ideas go to: http://www.harvestingnaturesbounty.com./ Another great site is http://foragersharvest.com/
- If you are unable to grow your own vegetables and fruits, make it a practice to visit local farmers’ markets every week. LocalHarvest.org is a good place to search for farmers’ markets in your specific area.
- Being the last person to leave the farmers’ markets can provide you with more savings. Often during the last hour, venders will significantly mark down their remaining produce.
- Many local farms offer CSA programs. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. For a fee you will get a weekly box of veggies/fruits and sometimes dairy/meat for a predetermined price. Often there are different sizes of boxes to accommodate different family sizes. I would highly suggest planning a personal visit to the farm in which you choose to purchase from in order to see first-hand their farming practices as well as how they feed and grow their animals.
- Choose inexpensive private label store brand organic products such as Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, 365 brand, Kroger’s Simple Truth Organics, Publix, etc. All private label brands wearing the USDA Organic Seal are required to follow the USDA Organic Certification guidelines. However, be sure to read those labels to make sure that all ingredients are safe. Don’t buy something labeled “natural” when you’re looking for “organic” – there is a difference.
- Join your favorite company/brand facebook pages for special coupons, promotions and offers. Set aside a day each week to check these websites. Check out your local Health Food store, they usually have coupon booklets with coupons for organic foods.
- Set up a free Gmail account for your coupon emails, so the emails do not get lost with your personal email. Sign up for as many newsletters as you can find. Almost all of the online organic food companies offer newsletters which usually include special offers and coupons.
- Simply Organic makes spices, seasoning mixes and baking mixes and usually offers coupons on their website.
- Keep in mind that many stores will take each other’s coupons. Many stores will price match. It never hurts to ask.
- Buy in bulk and DIY (cook from scratch). Go in with other families and friends in order to get the best deals for bulk purchasing. Convenience usually costs more, both in money and health. Save that extra money to put toward organic foods.
- Make your own healthy and organic baby food. Just a half-hour of steaming and blending can result in 20 baby-sized servings for pennies on the dollar that can be frozen and warmed at a later time. When food that the baby can eat is incorporated into the family meal it adds minimal time to cooking that is already in progress.
- The organic frozen produce at the store is usually cheaper than fresh, especially if the fruit or vegetable is out of season.
- Freeze all left overs using inexpensive mason glass jars. Use silicone ice molds for freezing herbs and herb/oil mixtures.
- When juicing a lemon or other citrus fruit, grate the peel for zest and freeze it; do the opposite if you’re using the zest for a recipe.
- Buy local produce when in season and freeze to save for out of season. For example spread in-season berries on a baking sheet pan and freeze overnight. Store the frozen berries in jars for use in the fall and winter.
- Educate yourself about the process of fermenting and drying foods. This will help in prolonging your food and will also make your food healthier.
- Double recipes and immediately freeze leftovers. This works great with soups and stews and stops food waste.
- Save all vegetable scraps in a freezer container. When it’s full, make vegetable broth out of the scraps. Freeze them in ice cube trays and take one out to use when cooking vegetables, use as a soup base or in place of water to cook beans or grains.
- Buy in bulk and freeze items such as butter, cheese, healthy oils and bread scraps for bread crumbs or homemade croutons.
- In my opinion, if you consume meat and dairy and can only buy one-two organic items, dairy and meat are the most crucial. Both are the most important to buy organic/free range because of the combined risk of pesticide, antibiotic and endocrine-disrupting hormone exposure. You want to make sure that there are no Hormone Implants, no Antibiotics in the feed and no grain or unnatural feeds of any kind fed to the animals at any time, especially during the finishing time (right before slaughter). I want to emphasize to everyone that terms such as “natural,” “organic,” “free range,” “heritage,” “wild game,” “certified,” “prime,” “lean,” heart friendly,” “low carb,” and “low fat” do not mean “grass-fed.” Nor do any one of those terms refer to superior nutritional characteristics. Many marketers of “wild game” feed grain. Most Bison/Buffalo producers feed grain. Even health food type grocery stores, all too often do not understand the differences between grain-fed and grass-fed. And when they do happen to market grass-fed meats frequently they do not buy American. If possible, try not to cut corners in the meat and dairy food groups.
- Be aware that about half of the world’s seafood comes from aquaculture, which is the term used to describe industrial fish farming. Industrial fish farming has shown concerns from the get-go, including overcrowded conditions, pollution, and unnatural diets. Feed has become a huge area of controversy, since wild fish are sometimes used to prepare the fishmeal fed to farmed fish, depleting the natural fish supply in some areas. Also the soy industry, Monsanto, Cargill and other agribusiness giants are trying to position genetically modified soy as a “sustainable” choice for aquaculture feed. But since soy is not a natural food found in the oceans, it certainly poses serious risks of pollution, lack of nutrient content in seafood, and contamination of the oceans with herbicide-saturated GM soy.
- Reduce weekly meat and dairy consumption to make them more affordable. For example: make a healthy smoothie for breakfast with added organic protein powder, a large healthy, green salad with lentils for lunch and for dinner choose organic/free range meat/dairy in small portions with organic vegetables/salad.
- Reduce amount of organic/free range meat used by substituting half the portion with organic beans or organic beans with organic rice.
- Buy a whole grass-fed chicken for less per pound verses buying packages of all breast, legs or wings which are more expensive per pound. You can use the carcass to make your own chicken broth.
- Declare 2-3 days each week as “meatless” days. Some meal suggestions for meatless days are a potato bar, salad bar with veggie soup, Mexican bean Chalupas, veggie and bean wraps, grilled vegetables and rice.
- Drink purified water only. Purified water is cheaper and healthier. Beverages that you make yourself like organic coffee and herbal teas are far less expensive than soda pop and energy drinks that are found in most modern refrigerators. Invest in water purification such as a Water Carafe with filters and the Naturally Filtered Shower Filter. The Water Carafes will save you from buying expensive bottled water that is packaged in plastic. You can also prefill reusable water bottles to take with you on outings.
- Use the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” list to help you navigate which products to buy organic (or take with you when you travel).
- Don’t buy pre-washed and ready to eat fruits and veggies. They usually cost twice as much. Pre-bagged produce also have a history of being tainted.
- Most buying clubs offer organic foods. Also consider going in with a larger family to buy foods in bulk thus costing less.
- When going on road trips use EatWellGuide.org to find out where to buy local, organic and sustainable foods from point to the other.
- An expensive restaurant doesn’t equal organic or healthy food – going to a grocery store and picking up some organic food will save your money and your health.
- Make your own healthy comfort foods. Even healthy pre-packaged snacks can take your grocery budget over the limit. We provide many healthy recipes at http://www.facebook.com/OasisAdvancedWellness and www.pinterest.com/OAWHealth
- Make your own non-toxic household cleaning products and use the savings for purchasing organic and non-toxic foods. The ingredients that go into natural cleaning products — baking soda, vinegar, borax, washing soda — are cheap. The cost of making products from them is about one-tenth that of their commercial equivalents.
- Last but not least. I have had clients that decided to begin a cottage industry in order to pay for healthy and organic foods. Certainly not everyone is able or willing to do this, but something as simple as tutoring children after school or teaching a weekly class about a hobby you are good at can bring in additional money for your organic food budget.
One last note: Cooking at home should never be thought of as drudgery; however, that is exactly what the media and advertisers of convenience, pre-packaged foods and fast food restaurants would like you to believe. This type of emotional marketing tends to produce feelings of deprivation and of “missing out on something wonderful”. When in truth what you’re missing out on by not cooking meals at home is healthy and nutrient dense nutrition, wonderful natural flavors, the therapeutic and artistic benefits of cooking, wonderful family time and the knowledge of what is and what is not in your food. So if your mind tells you to place preparing meals at home in the “dreaded chores” category, think “for the health and emotional wellness of myself and my family.” Remember that you are not only fueling the body, but also the soul.
Helpful Websites for Eating Organic on a Budget
http://www.CurrentCodes.com (Buying organic on Amazon)
Organic produce guide: Choosing your produce at the market just got easier (includes app for smart phone)
Organic Consumers Association
“Fresh Choices: More than 100 Easy Recipes for Pure Food When You Can’t Buy 100% Organic”
The Edible Balcony, Alex Mitchell
Wildly Affordable Organic, Linda Watson
List of GMO Companies and Products
Grocery IQ – Grocery iQ® is an intuitive shopping list app that allows you to build new lists quickly with features like predictive search and barcode scanning.