With the cost of groceries rising, it’s not a surprise that many of us can’t buy the things we used to at the grocery store. Those of us that prioritize health and consider ourselves more naturally minded tend to gravitate towards organic food, but with the way food prices are shooting up it may leave you wondering what to do when you can’t afford organic food anymore.
Our family’s budget has more than doubled in the last few years. I use the term “budget” loosely because I don’t usually strictly budget. I just tried to do my best to keep us eating relatively well (a balance of healthy food AND food we enjoy) while not spending an outrageous amount.
Once I found myself easily spending over $1,000 per month on our family of 5 (one being a baby!) I knew something had to give. And one of those things was not buying as much organic food.
But isn’t organic food “better” or “healthier”? There are debates on this. I personally prioritize organic produce, hoping it’s a healthier option for my family based on my knowledge and experience.
I also lean towards organic packaged food because I know from experience that those types of food are less likely to have ingredients I avoid for my family, like high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, etc. With dozens of options out there, it’s a flag to me saying, “hey this one’s probably ok, check the labels to make sure”.
The thing is, I want to continue to feed my family food that I feel good about. I bet you do too! In fact, I get a little anxious thinking about the food I’ll “have to” feed them if I budget and can’t afford the healthy options we’re used to. But I also need to realize that we can’t be spending what we have been on food for the last year or so.
So I’m challenging myself to lower our grocery costs, and one way I’m doing that is to not buy as much organic. But also to just be more strategic about everything I buy so I CAN afford what I want to buy organic.
It’s time to figure out how to feed my family healthily when I can’t afford organic groceries. So in this post I’m sharing what I’ve been doing and planning to do to feed my family healthy food when we can’t afford organic groceries.
Prioritize which organic foods to buy and which to skip
When buying organic produce, the best place to start is to prioritize the “dirty dozen”. These are fruits and vegetables that tend to have higher levels of pesticides, so if you can’t afford all organic groceries, these are the ones you want to try to get organic when possible.
The list changes a little each year, but generally the dirty dozen includes:
- Kale, collard & mustard greens
- Bell & hot Peppers
- Green Beans
I try to always buy these organic if I can. If I can’t find them organic within my budget, I usually try for other food and if I can’t I just opt for conventional and try to soak them in a vinegar and water solution to remove some of the pesticides.
Don’t let not being able to buy something organic lead you to buy something LESS healthy. Fresh produce is good for you, organic or not.
Plan around sales and discounts
One thing that I’ve found helpful is to plan meals around sales and discounts. Most grocery stores offer weekly deals or discounts on certain items, so I try to plan my meals around those items.
That means if something organic is on sale and a good deal, I grab that! But it’s not just the organic groceries I’m looking for sales on. If I can get an item on sale that I need, it gives me a little padding for anything I have to buy at full price.
Shop in season and locally
When you shop for produce that’s in season, it’s always way cheaper. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s usually fresher, tastes better, and is more nutritious. Plus, when you buy locally, you get to help local farmers! A lot of times, small farmers can’t afford the official “organic” label, but if you can talk to them directly, you may find that they have growing practices that align better with your values.
Here are some ways you can find local produce:
- Farmer’s markets: We love a good farmer’s market! We’ve stopped at them all across he country when traveling and visit our local farmers market weekly! These markets bring together local farmers and vendors, offering a wide selection of fresh produce. Visit the markets regularly to explore seasonal offerings and build relationships with the farmers. You can often find affordable produce and sometimes even negotiate prices with vendors.
- Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs: Joining a CSA program allows you to receive a regular share of the farm’s harvest. Members typically pay upfront or on a subscription basis, directly supporting local farmers. CSA shares often include a variety of seasonal produce at a reasonable cost. Research CSA programs in your area and choose one that aligns with your budget and preferences.
- Local farms and roadside stands: Try searching for nearby farms that offer direct sales or roadside stands. These local farms can often provide affordable, freshly harvested produce! Some farms may even allow you to pick your own produce, offering a fun, efficient, and cost-effective activity for the family!
- Online directories and apps: One more recent find is the app Farmish. I actually used this when we full time RVed to find fresh eggs. It’s a great way to find locals who either have extra or who sell things like eggs, produce, or baked goods as part of their income.
Find a CSA program
Another way to shop locally is to join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. When you join a CSA, you’ll typically receive a box of fresh, local produce each week or every other week, depending on the program. This can be a great way to get fresh, affordable produce.
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money on groceries, whether you’re buying organic or conventional. Look for bulk sections at your grocery store or buy in bulk online. This can be a great way to stock up on pantry staples like rice, beans, and quinoa, all things that can bulk up your meals when you’re on a budget
Cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch is a great way to save money and ensure that you’re feeding your family healthy food. While I totally get that it can be time-consuming, it’s worth it to know what you’re feeding your family because you get to control the ingredients that go into your meals. Plus, for me at least, there’s a sense of pride in making stuff from scratch!
For example, you can make bread (which can be super expensive organic, but cheap to make), pasta sauces, soups, desserts etc. yourself. This way you can omit any ingredients that you’re trying to avoid and save money at the same time. And still enjoy the food you love! Don’t be intimidated by cooking from scratch—there are plenty of easy recipes out there that don’t require a lot of time or effort.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables
While buying fresh produce is ideal, it’s not always budget-friendly. Fresh fruits and veggies can go bad quickly which can lead to waste. I know I’m totally guilty of this and I hate seeing that food go to waste if I can’t use it in time. Buying frozen produce is a great way to save money and have fruits and veggies on hand when you need them, and it can be much more affordable.
Start a garden
While it may seem a bit intimidating, starting a garden can give you organic produce straight from your back yard! Start with easy vegetable plans like tomatoes or zucchini, which are delicious, versatile, and easy to grow. If there’s specific veggies your family uses a lot that can be expensive, try your hand at those too!
If you have the budget for it and a little space, you can also start to plan trees like apple, cherry, peach, etc. depending on your location and if they’ll thrive where you are. These take a while to bear fruit, but once they do, they’ll do so year after year and provide your family with tons of food!
Having your own garden has the ability to save you hundreds of dollars a year, give you a fun new hobby, and ensure you know exactly what your produce was treated with. Remember, you don’t have to fully feed your family from this! But if it can save you $10 or $20 every time you go to the store, why not?!
Here are some easy to grow plants and herbs to consider if you’re a newbie:
- Herbs: Basil, mint, parsley, and rosemary are relatively easy to grow and can enhance the flavor of various dishes. You can even grow these in pots!
- Salad greens: Lettuce, spinach, and arugula are fast-growing and can be harvested in a cut-and-come-again manner, allowing for a summer full of fresh salads!
- Tomatoes: Most tomatoes are pretty easy to grow and can be used in so many things from salads to sandwiches to pasta sauce. Cherry tomatoes can even be grown in containers or hanging baskets, providing an abundant harvest throughout the season.
- Radishes: Radishes are quick-growing root vegetables that can be ready to harvest in as little as a month.! They are ideal for beginners and can be grown in small spaces if you enjoy radishes.
- Zuchinni: Zucchini can be used in so many different recipes, from zucchini bread to stir-fries! It grows quickly and is pretty low-maintenance, which means it’s great for beginners. Bonus: it produces a lot, so you can enjoy it throughout the season and even freeze some for later or share with friends.
Healthy Eating Beyond Organic
Eating organic isn’t the only way to be healthy, so don’t feel like you’re failing your family if it’s too expensive to load your cart up full of organic food.
Choose whole foods
Choosing whole foods, whether they’re organic or not, is a great way to ensure that you’re feeding your family healthy, nutrient-dense food. Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, without added chemicals, preservatives, or processing.
Think fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, and quality meat and dairy products, etc. If you’re not sure if a food is a whole food or not try asking “was this food grown or raised, or was it manufactured?” By choosing whole foods as often as you can, you can ensure that you’re getting the most out of your food.
Here are examples of affordable whole foods:
- Fruits and vegetables: Choose fresh or frozen options based on availability and affordability. Opt for budget-friendly choices such as bananas, apples, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and spinach. These will fill your plates and bellies with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Whole grains: Incorporate affordable whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat. These options are great sources of fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals. Remember, buying in bulk can often be more cost-effective and is easy to do with whole grains.
- Legumes: As vegetarians, legumes are a big part of our diet! You can also include legumes such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas in your meals. They are not only inexpensive but also rich in protein, fiber, and various nutrients. I highly recommend buying them dried and cooking yourself! But canned options are great to have when you need it quick.
Avoid empty calories
I am not by any means saying don’t indulge and enjoy yourself! It’s important to treat yourself. But most of the time, you want to make sure that your food has some nutritional value. Especially if you’re on a budget and want to make sure your family is eating well. Empty calories are foods and drinks that are high in calories but have little to no nutritional value. And if you’re on a budget, they’re a waste of money that you could be spending on healthier, more nutritious options.
These foods include candy, soda, fried foods, processed snacks, etc. They may taste good, but they can leave you feeling hungry again soon after eating them. Instead, try for for nutrient-dense foods instead to fill you up and provide your body with the energy it needs.
Hydrate with clean water
Drinking water is essential for your health, but there is alot of confusion around what type of water is the best. While there are varying opinions on the subject, I try to focus on drinking clean water, whether that’s filtered or from a good source. Drinking enough water helps keep the body hydrated and functioning properly, and it also helps keep hunger at bay.
Plan your meals
One easy way to make sure you’re feeding your family well is to meal plan. I know it sounds boring and like a lot of work, but you really do get used to it. My trick? Write down the meals you make all the time anyway. Plan to cook 3-4 meals a week max and plan for leftovers. This way you have a plan in place and you’re not calling for pizza at 5:30 because you were caught off guard and didn’t have anything to cook.
Reduce harmful ingredients
Things like excess sugar, seed oils, etc. can be harmful to your health. While you don’t have to cut these things out completely (it feels nearly impossible), it’s a good idea to reduce your consumption of them. For example, you can swap out sugary drinks for water or unsweetened tea. Or even slightly sweetened tea you make at home so you know it’s literally just tea and a little sugar. These small changes can add up and make a big impact on your health over time.
Eat more mindfully
Simply paying attention to what you’re eating, how it tastes, and how it makes you feel is the key to eating mindfully. Why do this and how does it help? This can help you not only slow down and enjoy your food, but also prevent overeating (making you feel uncomfortable and “wasting” food that could be leftovers).
When you eat too quickly or while you’re distracted (like when you’re watching TV or working), it’s easy to eat more than you really need, which can lead to overconsumption. Mindful eating allows you to savor your food and tune into your body’s hunger and fullness signals so you can eat just enough to feel satisfied.
While it’s tough to feel like you need to buy organic food to keep your family healthy, it’s not the only way to be healthy. Hopefully these tips have helped you figure out what to do when you can’t buy organic anymore so that you can still feed your family healthy, nutritious food without breaking the bank. Enjoying nutrient-dense foods most of the time can make a big difference in your health and your budget.