We are a bit late to the organic party, but I guess late is better than never. This year we plan to eat more organic food and it will be challenging on a frugal budget. We usually shop at Winco. They are a privately held, majority employee owned discount grocery chain on the west coast. According to a study by Consumers’ Checkbook, Winco’s prices are about 20% lower than Safeway and other big chains. We have been shopping at Winco for years and it’s a great place for groceries, but they have very few organic selections. On the other hand, Whole Foods’ prices are about 55% higher than average. If we stop going to Winco and shop at Whole Foods, then our grocery budget will basically double. That’s a bit too much for my frugal minded budget to accept.
Actually, we are more comfortable financially this year so I raised our grocery budget a bit to accommodate more organic food. Eating healthier is more important now because our kid is eating a wide range of food and we’d like to minimize antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, fertilizers, and all the other bad stuff. I have been doing a bit of research to see what we should spend our money on and here is our strategy.
Dirty Dozen produce
Fruits and vegetables can have a lot of pesticides and we need avoid the worst ones. I know apples are high on EWG’s list and that’s one of our kid’s favorite fruits. Here is the Dirty Dozen Plus list.
- Apples and pears – Organic apples and pears are not too expensive at Trader Joe’s and that’s where we get them.
- Potatoes – I didn’t know potatoes absorb a lot of chemicals. A 4 lbs bag of potato cost $4 at Trader Joe’s so it’s not too bad.
- Grapes – Jr. loves grapes, but I haven’t seen any organic grapes at the grocery store. I guess we’ll just skip grapes for now.
- Kale and collard greens – I like to cook greens whenever I make BBQ ribs. That’s only 6-7 times per year so I’ll pony up the cash on those occasions. I guess there will be no more Kale chip experiments from Mrs. RB40.
- Strawberries and Cherries – We can get these at our farmer’s market. We had an awesome cherry tree at our old house and I would definitely plant another one if we ever have a yard again. We also have a big strawberry patch in our community garden, but it’s tough to beat the birds, slugs, and other kids to the berries.
- Celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, nectarines, peaches, and bell peppers – We don’t eat these often so it won’t break our budget to buy organic.
- Summer squashes and hot peppers – We can grow these in our community garden.
Okay, so it looks like we have a good plan for produce except for grapes. We’ll eat more from the Clean Fifteen list and grow more produce in our community garden. Organic produce costs a little more, but I think it is still affordable for most families.
Dairy is another category of food that kids consume a lot of. These days, farm animals are pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and GMO feed. These chemicals make their way into dairy products and we’ll try to avoid it as much as we can.
- Milk – Organic milk costs about twice as much as regular milk. We’ll shell out for this one because the kid drinks a gallon of milk every week. A gallon of organic milk costs $6 at Trader Joe’s.
- Cheese – I haven’t seen much organic cheese so we’ll just stick with regular cheese for now. We don’t eat a lot of cheese so I don’t think it’s a big deal.
- Yogurt – We buy a quart every other week and organic won’t impact our budget much. $3 at Trader Joe’s.
- Eggs – Organic eggs are very expensive. A dozen regular eggs from Winco costs about $2. I think a dozen organic eggs at Trader Joe’s costs about $5. That’s a big difference. Jr. doesn’t really like eggs so I think we’ll stay with regular eggs for now. Once we have a yard, I’ll see if we can get a couple of egg laying hens.
- Butter – I haven’t seen organic butter at the store.
This one is harder because organic dairy is much more expensive than regular. Our kid eats a lot of dairy, though, so we’ll just grit our teeth and bear the increased cost. I’ll also try to find organic butter and cheese.
Most cows, pigs, and chickens are full of hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified food, and other chemicals. Organically raised animals are treated more humanely and have less exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. We aren’t willing to give up meat at this point, but we’ll try to eat more vegetarian meals this year.
- Beef – “Ranged-raised without any antibiotics or growth stimulants, and finished on a diet without corn or other GMO grains” NY steak normally costs $16/pound at New Seasons Market, a local grocery chain. That’s more than twice as much as Winco. We also can usually pick up 30% off beef at our local Safeway and that is much cheaper than $16/pound. We don’t eat a lot of beef and probably will stay with non-organic cows for now.
- Chicken – Organic chicken is much more affordable. Winco sells small whole organic chickens for about $7. That’s almost cheaper per pound than chicken breast portions. Trader Joe also has affordable organic chickens.
- Pork – There are no organic pig farms in Oregon. The certification process is just too difficult and the cost to run an organic pig farm is too high. You just have to visit the local farm and see how they raise their animals or do some research online. We’ll stay with regular pigs for now and I will need to do more research here.
- Fish and Seafood – We avoid farmed raised fish. Not sure what else we can do here.
I cook a lot of Asian food and meat is consumed in moderation, but it is still a significant portion of our expense. We do indulge in a rack of baby back ribs once in a while and I just enjoy it without thinking too much about organic on those occasions.
Asians have been eating tofu as an alternative source of protein for centuries, but tofu seems to have picked up a bad rap recently.
- Isoflavones in tofu mimic estrogen and may not be good for a kid and women. Moderate consumption of 1 to 2 servings per day should not increase breast cancer risk.
- Most soybeans in the US are genetically modified. Go with organic if you’re worried about GMO.
- Tofu can keep nutrients from other food from being absorbed. Phytates are one compound in tofu that can reduce calcium absorption.
I don’t think you need to worry about the negative effects unless you’re eating tofu 3 times a day. We eat a few servings of tofu per week and that’s very reasonable. Organic tofu costs just a little more than regular tofu so it’s not a big deal. RB40 Jr. enjoys tofu so it’s a good meat alternative for us. I read that tempeh is better than tofu so I’ll try that and see if we like it. We also probably should add more beans and lentils to our diet.
Tips to reduce cost
Eating organic is clearly better, but not every family can buy all organic food all the time. If your budget is limited, then here are some tips to help you eat healthier.
- Check sales – New Seasons has different items on sale every week. This week, the NY steak is $11/lb instead of $16. That’s not too bad.
- Grow your own food – This is a great way to eat more organic. It’s tough in the winter, though.
- Eat foods that are in season – Fruits and vegetables are more affordable when they are in season.
- Cook your own food – We don’t buy much processed and frozen food. Cooking from scratch is healthier and it is generally cheaper even if you use organic ingredients.
- Reduce consumption of high toxin product – like grapes. If you can’t afford organic, then an alternative is to cut out some of the Dirty Dozen and eat more from the clean fifteen list.
- Coupon – This doesn’t really work for us because we don’t buy much processed food. It seems the coupons are only for snacks and prepared food.
While researching this article, I found some easy tips to reduce toxins. If you can’t eat mostly organic, then start with these steps.
- Peel skin whenever possible
- Wash and scrub produce
- Discard the outer layer of leafy veggies
- Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry – toxins collect in fat
- Canned fruits and vegetables typically have less pesticide residuals because the canning process removes most of them.
Eating organic isn’t cheap
Eating more organic food isn’t cheap especially in the winter. It will be better in the summer once we can grow some vegetables in our community garden. We used to get everything from Winco, but now we mix in more expensive products from Trader Joe’s and New Seasons. Our grocery bill has gone up about 25%, but I think it’s worth it especially now that our kid eats regular food.
Do you eat organic? What’s your tip for eating organic on a budget?