Organic on a Budget

April 5, 2016

Food shopping on a fixed income tends to make people stick to the essentials. With organic food costing on average 47% higher than conventional counterparts, it can seem hard to justify.  And yet because organic items have fewer pesticides, are often fresher, and may contain more nutrients, a majority of Americans are understandably trying to rightly trying to make it a priority. Luckily, the high price of organic food doesn’t extend across the board; a recent study from Consumer Reports shows that, while some organic items can cost many times more than conventional equivalents, others can actually be less expensive. If you’re a senior on a tight budget – or buying for one – it’s possible to shop healthy if you make some careful choices about where to stock up and what to buy.

First, get familiar with food labels. Only products marked with a USDA Organic Seal from the US Department of Agriculture are certified organic (i.e. grown without prohibited pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones); this is NOT the same as designations like free range, fair trade, or natural – those terms all refer to different production standards that don’t fall under the organic designation.

Next, learn which foods are more important to prioritize in terms of protecting your health. Sometimes called the “dirty dozen”, strawberries, grapes, apples, nectarines, peaches, snap peas, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, celery, and spinach are foods agriculture experts identify as higher in pesticides and therefore more important to purchase in organic form. By contrast, asparagus, corn, cantaloupe, grapefruit, avocado, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions, mangos, pineapple, cabbage, frozen peas, kiwi, eggplant, and papaya – the “clean fifteen” – have lower pesticide levels and can be more safely eaten conventionally.

Thanks to the growing popular demand for organic foods, many large grocery store chains have started their own in-store organic labels that can cost significantly less than more high-end specialty grocers. Stop & Shop’s Nature’s Promise line includes many reasonably-priced organic foods, as well as some dairy items made without growth hormones. Through a partnership with the natural foods chain Wild Oats, Walmart offers an extensive line of products including canned vegetables and snack foods, nearly all organic, and all free of undesirable ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and MSG. And Target has joined the movement, with their Simply Balanced selection of nearly all organic products including seafood, snack food, and dairy products.

Store brands aside, Consumer Reports singles out Trader Joes, Costco, and Wegmans as the stores offering the most competitive pricing on organic foods.

One more tip for successful bargain hunting: there are some great online savings sites that specialize in organic and natural products. Organic Deals searches markets’ sales fliers to find competitively priced organic items, then offers online links to coupons that drive the prices even lower. And All Natural Savings has an online searchable database for coupons for organic products.