Organic on a Tight Budget…Really?

USDA Organic

When Annie from PhD in Parenting shared this with me, I just had to share it.  I buy AS MUCH organic as the budget will allow and am looking forward to putting her strategies to work!!!

I hear a lot of people say that they couldn’t possibly buy organic food for their family because it is too expensive. I agree that if you want fresh strawberries and mangoes in January in Canada or want to pick up individually wrapped fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts, then it is unaffordable. However, using some of these strategies, I think a lot of families could afford to put more organic food into their diet.

1. Buy locally grown in-season organic fruits and vegetables: Organic foods are least expensive when they are local and in season. If you are used to buying any type of vegetable at any time of year, then buying in-season organic fruits and vegetables will not put you out of pocket. It just requires you to adapt your menu to the season.

2. Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation: Joining a CSA is a great way to get great quality local organic fruits and vegetables much cheaper than you would pay if you bought them in the store. And as a bonus, they often deliver directly to your home. We love the fact that the basket of food is different each week, which forces us to try new foods and adapt our menus to whatever is fresh that week. It is also a great way to support local farmers instead of buying everything from large corporations.

3. Employ a selective shopping strategy: Some non-organic fruits and vegetables have higher pesticide residues than others. The most recent list of the common fruits and vegetables with the lowest and highest pesticide residue was published in the feature, Organic: A brand you can trust? , in Today’s Parent in July 2008 (see below). If you can’t afford to get everything in organic, at least buy the products with the highest pesticide residue in organic or forgo buying them when the organic version is not available or too expensive.

A little personal caveat here…I try to buy everything in organic. Even the foods with lower pesticide residue. Not using pesticides is just one part of being an organic farmer and I support all of the other reasons for going organic too. But if you’re really pinched for cash, then this list might help.

Highest pesticide residue (Buy organic!)

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes grown outside US
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes

Lowest pesticide residue (save your money):

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn (frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya

4. Freeze! Buy in bulk when food is in season and then freeze it. Some foods can be frozen as is and others require a bit of prep (if you use Google you can find a lot of guides like this one: Freezing Vegetables-Fruits). I love freezing roasted peppers to use in sauces and soups in the winter. We always freeze lots of fresh strawberries. I often make soups and triple the recipe and then freeze the leftover soup. I also bake and freeze that too, e.g. muffins, zucchini bread.

5. Buy Meat in Bulk from Farmer: If you use tactic number four and this one too, you’re going to need a separate freezer…I know we did! We buy beef in bulk from a local organic beef farmer. We are considering getting lamb this year too. It is much less expensive to get it in bulk from the farmer than it is to buy just enough for one meal at the store or at the market. And the more you buy, the cheaper it is. Find a friend and split a whole cow.

6. Eat Less Meat: A vegetarian diet is a great option and a good way to save money. But if you are a meat lover like me, then just find ways to eat less meat if you want to buy organic. Choose several days per week to go meat free. When you do serve meat, decrease the portion size and increase the servings of vegetables in turn. It will slim your waistline and your credit card bill too.

7. Buy non-certified organic: The organic certification process can be very onerous. And for a business, onerous means expensive. Often times there are farmers that have put a lot of organic practices in place but have not been able to put the required resources towards certification. If you want to be 100% sure that your food is organic, go with a certified organic product. But if you are looking to save money, you can often find trusted local farmers that are running an organic operation but are not certified.

8. Buy store brand organics: We love Loblaws and the PC Organics line. The PC Organics foods are often much less expensive than the equivalent brand name foods. We find that things like baby food, pasta sauces, pasta, rice, juice, crackers, cereal, and so on are much cheaper in the PC Organics line than they are from other brands.

9. Make your own: Prepared and packaged organic foods can often be very expensive and you can save a lot of money by making your own. Buy organic ingredients and make your own bread for example. Or buy organic potatoes (or sweet potatoes) and make your own oven fries instead of buying packaged frozen fries. Make your own pizza, muffins, cookies, lasagna, salad dressings, and so on. The one thing that I actually found cheaper to buy in the store than to make myself was applesauce.

10. Grow your own: If you have a bit of space, plant a garden and grow your own organic vegetables. Even if you are in an apartment with a small balcony, you can use planters to grow a few things. If you only have a bit of room for your garden or just don’t have a lot of time to tend to it, then just plant the things that grow easily in your area and that your family eats a lot of. We just planted lettuce last year. Several different kinds in a big pot. It cost pennies to produce and meant that we had fresh lettuce on hand all the time (until the bulldozer ran over it when they came to put in our new septic system…grrr). Next summer, I want to plant zucchinis and tomatoes too, since we eat a lot of those and don’t get as many as I would like from our CSA.

Bon appetit! :)

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at PhD in Parenting. She’s talking breastfeeding, discipline, sleep and more while munching on some organic carrots.

Photo Credit: RichRich2011


  1. says

    Great tips. We just recently bought 1/2 a pig from an organic farmer. We are thrilled to have healthier meat to eat. With our weekly meat savings we are hoping to set aside money for part of a cow too. We even found a somewhat local farmer that will raise a batch of meat chickens for you. We are hopeful that within a year all of our meat will be locally raised organic. Starting small and using part of our tax refund for the pig has really helped us afford what used to seem unaffordable.

  2. says

    Great suggestions! I would just note to read the labels when buying store-brand organics. Some frozen organic foods in particular are often from China and other countries where organic certification isn’t exactly as up to par as we would like. When you can, look for organics made/grown in the US. And I agree with your point on local, non-certified products — often they are healthier for you & the environment than mass-produced organics.

  3. jane says

    Just remember not all CSA’s are organic. Some are non-certified while others use minimal pesticides. CSA alone does not guarantee pesticide or hormone-free so if that’s important to you, you still have to do your research.

  4. says

    Great article! Don’t be afraid to grow your own- I just started my garden a few months ago and I’ve really enjoyed it!

  5. RMSorg says

    I enjoyed reading your blog but I have a question about the strawberries. I’ve tried freezing them & when I took them out it was a watery mess. Any special tricks to keeping them fresh-er?
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Patti says

    When freezing strawberries dont wash them. If u r picking them let them cool dwn first then take the stems off. Do not cut them. Place them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. When frozen then put them in freezer bags. When u r ready to use them take them out of the freezer and put them in a collander and rinse them off. They will be fine. When u rinse them before u put them in the freezer u break the berries dwn. Those goes for all beeries.

  7. says

    @RMSorg I did the same thing as @Patti. However, even with that they are not quite the same as “fresh” strawberries. Just about all fruits and vegetables will be different after freezing than they are before. We use the strawberries that have been frozen primarily for smoothies, cakes, and that type of thing.

  8. says

    I think it’s so interesting that local, organic food used to be something that poor people ate because they had to, and it’s now become cost prohibitive for many of those same people. Where did we go wrong?

    Annie gives us terrific suggestions. If we all followed her suggestions, we’d be eating very well. :)

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