When you want to eat organic on a budget, the higher prices of certified organic items can be disheartening.
It’s helpful to begin by getting clear about what “organic” really means.
What’s wonderful about certified organic foods: they’re about conserving natural resources, preserving biodiversity, and promoting ecological balance.
(Look for the green ‘USDA Organic’ seal to know a food is certified organic.)
Organic standards cover the whole spectrum of production – from soil and water quality to pest control.
And for organic meat and dairy, companies must support animal health and welfare by providing animals with access to the outdoors so they can exercise their natural behavior and allowing animals their natural diet of grazing on open pasture.
Also great is what’s not in organics. The organic seal guarantees that certain products and practices are prohibited, such as:
- Sewage sludge
- Synthetic fertilizers
- Prohibited pesticides
- Genetically modified organisms
- Antibiotics or growth hormones
If you think eating organic sounds right for you, here are some helpful tips to make it possible to buy organics on a budget:
1.) Always Plan Ahead Before Shopping
Here is the best way to eliminate over spending and impulse buys: never step foot into the grocery without first setting aside 30 minutes to plan.
Consider everything – from breakfast to snacks – as you plan your meals for the week and write out your shopping list.
Remember to take stock of your fridge and pantry to see if there are items you need to use soon before they expire.
And as you write your list, consider quantities of each item on your list as well. For example, if you’ll only use half a bag of kale in one night’s meal, be sure to plan a second meal for the week that could use the other half.
2.) Meatless Meals Save Money
Some of the most expensive organic foods are certified organic meats like chicken, bacon, and steak.
Wild-caught seafood is often pricy as well.
So one key to savings is to work more meatless meals into your menu each week.
Bonus: plant-based meals are really healthy and packed with nutrition.
And it’s definitely possible for plant-based meals to be as flavorful and delicious (and as filling) as meat-based dinners.
Here are some of my favorites:
3.) Cook In Bulk
One of my favorite tricks for organic on a budget: cooking up one-pot meals that make lots of servings, like soups, stews, chili, and casseroles.
These one-pot wonders are budget-friendly because they make the most of lower cost organic ingredients like beans, broth, jarred tomatoes, and grains (like pasta or rice).
They also create plenty of leftovers, perfect for zero-cost lunches the following day.
Cook a large veggie lasagna, for example, for Sunday dinner, and then either freeze the leftovers or package them up in airtight containers in the fridge for lunches later in the week.
4.) Buy Organics Wholesale
This is a great new concept for anyone interested in eating organic on a budget.
Thrive Market is an online wholesale club that works similarly to any of the popular wholesale clubs (like Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club), where you pay a small monthly membership fee to join.
The difference with Thrive is that all of the groceries, packaged foods, vitamins, and cleaning products, etc. sold on the site are completely natural, many certified organic (like Whole Foods).
Even better, everything is sold for wholesale prices, meaning at least 25% off and sometimes as much as 40-50% off everything on the site.
You can go to the site to enter your grocery orders, and everything is shipped to your door.
I love Thrive so much, I’ve become an affiliate, so the link below offers your first month of membership for free, plus 15% off your first purchase:
5.) Don’t Forget the Frozen Section
If you find yourself sometimes throwing away fresh produce that you didn’t eat before it expired, consider switching to frozen.
I buy frozen chopped spinach, for example, since my husband and I never manage to eat the full bag of fresh spinach before it’s expired.
Although frozen foods don’t always taste as great as fresh on their own, they work wonders in dishes where they’re blended with lots of other ingredients.
For example, frozen fruits and berries are perfect for smoothies or yogurt/granola parfaits.
And frozen mixed veggies are ideal for a quick stir-fry on a hectic work night.
6.) Remember the Big Picture
When my husband and I decided to commit to eating mostly organic about one year ago, I was concerned about the higher cost of our weekly grocery bill.
But here’s something I quickly noticed: because I was carefully planning meals, we were grabbing take-out (or ordering pizza) for dinner far less.
I ate leftovers for lunch, stopped hitting the vending machine, and I can’t remember the last time my husband and I made a late-night stop to grab a fast food snack.
In addition to all those savings, we’re both feeling healthier, more fit, and we’ve both lost weight. Who can put a price on that?
Remember to keep the big picture in mind when you’re looking at a higher grocery bill.
7.) Find a Farmer’s Market or CSA
Farmer’s markets and CSA’s (where you purchase weekly boxed deliveries of fresh produce from a local farm) are popping up all over the country, and most offer organic on a budget.
Since farmer’s markets and CSA’s offer items that were grown locally – without high processing and transportation fees – the prices are normally far more affordable.
You may have a farmer’s market or CSA available in your town, and not even know it.
Local Harvest will find your nearest farmer’s markets and CSA’s when you enter your zip code.
8.) Grow Your Own
I started gardening a year ago, and here’s the big secret I learned: growing your own food can be very simple and require very little time.
To keep things really easy, try container gardening during the summer months.
Be sure to put the container in a spot on your patio or yard that receives plenty of sunlight.
And remember to buy certified organic compost and soil (look for a certification such as OMRI) and certified organic vegetable plants.
Some of the easiest things to grow in your container garden: tomatoes, bell peppers, greens (like spinach, arugula, and kale), and herbs (like basil, parsley, rosemary, and thyme).
Just remember to lightly water the plant on days when it doesn’t rain.
Even more basic: buy a certified organic herb kit, and grow your own herbs in your home.
Just place them on a widow sill that receives plenty of sunlight.
For anyone interested in buying and eating organic on a budget, with just a little planning, effort, and creativity, it’s totally possible!