Five Ways to Make Organic Food More Affordable

Red Peppers

The following is a guest post by Mara Strom from Kosher on a Budget.

When it comes to saving on your grocery bill, even the most frugal minded families have to draw the line somewhere.

Feeding our families can’t only be about doing what’s cheapest. Maybe you have a family member with a serious food allergy. Maybe you keep kosher – like my family. Or maybe you have made the decision to incorporate more organics into your diet because eating clean, sustainable food is a top priority for you.

But what happens when our budgets just aren’t big enough to afford all the gluten-free, kosher, organic, free-range, whole foods our families want and need? How can we eat within our means when our food-related principles, convictions and standards are expensive?

The answer for my family has been to create margin. Margin lets us afford the things that matter the most to us – like eating an organic diet.

So, how do we create this margin? While there is no right or wrong answer, I have found that these five strategies work well for my family – and I hope they will work for yours.

1. Make and stick to a budget

I know this seems so basic. But for many families, it’s not. A budget isn’t always fun, and it definitely isn’t easy, at least not at the beginning.

But as I discovered with my family, once we started following a budget, we felt – as Dave Ramsey often says – that we had gotten a raise. Instant margin!

If eating organic is non-negotiable for your family, then you may find that you need to bump up your food category a bit. Just make sure that the number fits in relation to the rest of your budget.

2. Prioritize produce & dairy.

While all-organic-all-the-time might be nice – and it would certainly help to support the sustainability industry – it may not be realistic for your budget. I have found that we can still enjoy most of the benefits of eating an organic diet by prioritizing our shopping list.

The Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen – the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide count – has been very helpful in this process. Rather than pay twice as much for produce with virtually no pesticide traces, we instead avoid the twelve “dirtiest” items.

The EWG also stresses the importance of buying organic dairy. My family’s budget doesn’t allow us to buy exclusively organic in this category, but we have prioritized buying organic whole milk and yogurt for my toddler. For the rest of us, I pick up a gallon of 1% at Costco – which, although not organic, is RBST-free.

3. Think outside the (big) box.

More and more grocery store chains are offering organic options these days – which is great. Unfortunately, though, it may not be the best value for your money, especially when it comes to produce.

Loss leaders at the grocery stores are always a good deal, but with summer coming, farmer’s markets will become an increasingly viable option for affordable organic produce.

If you don’t see a sign that says the produce is organic, inquire with the farmer. Many are working on organic certification or practice organic farming, but can’t afford the certification – which should be reflected in their lower produce prices.

You can also buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where you pay a set fee — usually upfront — in exchange for a weekly portion of your local farmer’s harvest.

I have organized a CSA for our synagogue community for the past three years and I love knowing where – and by whom – our food is grown. To find a farmer’s market or CSA in your area, just plug your zipcode into the free Local Food Finder at LocalHarvest.org.

4. Buy in bulk.

Buying organics in bulk can really help you to create margin within your budget – as long as you have proper storage. Just make sure to bring your calculator and your price book with you – as not every bulk item is actually a good deal.

In addition to buying things like dried beans, legumes, flour and oats in bulk, you can also buy produce “in bulk” – assuming you have the room (and inclination) to freeze it or can it.

The beautiful thing about produce is that its flavor peak is conversely related to its price peak. So, go ahead and stock up on strawberries in June and July, when they are sugary sweet – and less than $1/pound. By freezing them whole or making preserves, you can enjoy that summer goodness all year round.

5. Compartmentalize.

Our food budget is really a food-and-household-items budget. In order to create margin within this budget to be able to afford organics (and, in our case, more costly kosher meat and dairy products), I like to compartmentalize our needs into two categories: Organic/Kosher… and Everything Else.

To create real margin in our food budget, I have chosen to focus most of my saving efforts on the Everything Else category.

Thanks to the marvels of Extra Care Bucks at CVS and $5 gift cards at Target, for example, we manage to pay almost nothing for household items. And when our toothbrushes, shampoo and body wash are free, that frees up $20, $30 or even $50 a month worth of margin.

Has your family used any of these strategies to cope with the higher cost of organic food? How else have you found margin in your budget?

Mara Strom can be found at Kosher on a Budget, blogging about tips, strategies and deals for creating margin in your budget to afford the things that matter most. To her, those things include eating a healthy and kosher diet, spending quality time with her family, and saving for the future.

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9 Comments:
  1. Another tip for making food more affordable – “Stonyfield Organic” is offering a year’s worth of free groceries when you enter their contest stating why you choose to eat organically. Here is my story (please hit “like” on my link to support me): http://yourorganicmoment.com/story.php?id=378

  2. We buy organic from discount retailers. We’ve bought 25-50 lb bags of organic flour and flax seed for less than half the retail cost simply because some store decided that they couldn’t sell them. Out came my vacuum sealer and I have them stored in a cool, dark, airless environment for whenever I need it. Discount retailers may also have organic, and nut free, or gluten free snacks that your budget would appreciate you purchasing there.
    Start your own garden, growing fruit and veg that your family eats. If you start from seed, you pay almost nothing for fresh produce that tastes WAY better than in the grocery store as it is picked ripe. Preserve what you don’t eat from the garden.
    Invest in a grain mill, and grind your own grains and nuts. Depending on the type of mill, you can do anything from wheat berries to almonds. Make your own yogurt, butter, bread, whatever. All those things take minimal face time ( the time you spend actually preparing them) and you pay pennies for the product.

    • We are just getting organized to plan our cooler weather seeds – this year I’m adding snap peas and am so excited. Love them! I keep reading about grinding your own grain, but am strangely intimidated by the possibility. I’ll have to look into making my own butter – sounds adventuresome!

  3. I love shopping at Trader Joe’s. They have a good selection of organics that are reasonably priced. Their Fearless Flyer is a good resource for scoring new and interesting deals.

  4. That is a good idea about freezing strawberries year round. We just purchased some tonight for $1.50 but they were not organic. I do prefer organic and if I could get them for that price and freeze them I will. I have never frozen fruit before, so I better research the proper way to do it!

    • Berries are *so* easy to freeze – wash, hull (strawberries), pat dry and flash freeze on a cookie sheet. Then dump into a big ziploc bag and enjoy whenever you want a smoothie, muffin, etc.

  5. I have made simple little switches in eating organic, I don’t always do it, but do buy some foods strictly organic. When I first started to switch my family over my grocery bill was tremendous. I started buying what was one sale and what I had q’s for, we also made the switch to coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. I also realized we were not eating real serving sizes, we were eating more. So to cut down the bill I measure out servings and food lasts us much longer. I also only buy organic snacks for my son. I tried to start eating what is called paleo, that was turning really expensive. So I eat partial paleo, partial organic with a mix of non-organic, except for snacks which are always organic. I have actually lost some weight, even though I still have been eating breads and pasta. I am working on learning how to grow my own mini garden, being we rent our house and our soil in the yard is pretty rough. I would love to be able to grocery shopping in my own backyard,lol.

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