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How to Buy Organic On a Budget

As great it would be to make sure that the only food you buy for you and your family is organic, the reality is most of us would be bankrupt if we did so. Depending on where you live, your options while grocery shopping may be limited. Here are my tips to buying clean, organic foods & keeping your wallet in check:

Buy in Bulk: The bulk section is a great place to stock up on spices, grains, cereals and more. This allows you to buy just what you need, not the arbitrary sizes, allowing you keep the price low. This is especially great for items you don’t usually use, have a short shelf life or you just want to try. The prices per ounce are often lower than what they are for the packaged version. You can also see the freshness & quality of the entire product more easily. The shelf stickers will usually note the price per ounce (look in the top left corner usually) so you can compare & verify which is a better deal. More and more mainstream grocers, like Kroger’s, Safeway, Ralph’s and Harris Teeter, now have bulk sections.

Try Generic/Store Brands: The quality and variety of offerings has improved over the years. Today’s store brands are no longer low quality and flavorless. Sometimes the products may even be made in the same facility or are from the same sources. The only thing that is different is the packaging and name. For example, if you buy pita chips at Trader Joe’s, you are essentially buying Stacey’s Pita Chips. You can usually find a store version of just about every product. And more and more stores are beginning to also offer an organic version of the store brand.

Do Your Homework: Learn what are the key issues to the growing, raising or production of different items. For example, apples are difficult to grow without the use of pesticides and fungicides. While fruits like avocados and cantaloupes that you need to peel to eat, require less pesticides because the peel helps guard against problems. Knowing what the issues are, helps you make informed choices and to avoid paying more for useless labeling & misguided claims. My favorite example (and pet peeve) is eggs laid by hens fed only “vegetarian feed”. Chickens are omnivores. They eat plants but they also eat worms, ticks and other bugs…”meat.” At one point, my husband and I had 27 chickens. We gave them feed pellets which they happily consumed. And they also were free-ranging so they had access to all kinds of living creatures to supplement their diets. So when I see a carton of eggs labeled as “vegetarian” and “cage-free”, that signals to me that the chickens didn’t actually get to go outside and eat bugs. They were inside and ate only feed, albeit not in cages, but not entirely with the sun on their backs and the wind in their feathers. EWG evaluates agricultural practices and produces a list called the “EWG’s Clean 15 and EWG’s Dirty Dozen.” This is a great resource for deciding when & what to buy organic.

Set Your Priorities: Being informed, helps you determine what are the priorities for you and your family. Are you a family of vegetarians or does your husband prefer to have some kind of meat for dinner? How much dairy do you consume? If you don’t eat it often and your budget doesn’t support it, don’t feel guilty about not buying it organic. Be kind to yourself. Do the best you can with your resources.

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