Yes, organic foods do often come with a higher price tag. The more you’re willing to work and be creative, the lower that price can get. Use these strategies and you can eat delicious organic meals at less than your neighbors spend on drive-through.
- Grow your own. This one is a no-brainer. Seeds cost literally pennies. Even if you don’t have a yard, many crops can be grown in containers (tomatoes, herbs, greens and strawberries are some favorite container plants). Easy foods to grow from seeds include lettuce, turnips, swiss chard, squash, radishes, carrots and beets, just to name a few. You can also purchase seedlings and transplant them into your garden. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better tasting tomato than one you’ve grown organically in your own back yard!
- Scout your local stores online once a week for organic sales. Every Tuesday, I look through the online circulars for local stores like Hy-Vee and make a list of organic foods that are on sale for good prices. Then I make stops at each store for just the items on my list, plus items that I buy every week at that store.
- Make a price list for organic items at local stores and shop around. It also pays to know which stores offer the best prices on organic items you buy regularly. For instance, the Worthington Hy-Vee sells organic bananas for .69 to .89 a pound, which is cheaper than any other store in the area. The Worthington Walmart has the best prices on tubs of organic spinach and salad mixes. Since I buy a lot of these items every week for green smoothies, it saves me quite a bit to schedule stops at both stores each week. Likewise, Cub Foods in Mankato has great prices on organic dry goods like black beans and I stock up on those there.
- Follow Organic Deals. This blog alerts you to sales, coupons, special deals and more on organic products (some of which are shipped right to you). You can also follow them on Facebook.
- Make your own. Yes, organic granola bars are a lot more expensive than chemical-laden ones, but homemade organic ones are cheaper than both. Make your own breads, granola, snack items, sauces and such with organic ingredients and you’re still going to pay less than you would at the grocery store. Once you get the hang of simpler items, branch out to items like pasta and jam. You’ll be surprised at how affordable organic foods are once you’re making them from scratch — and how delicious they are. (Here’s our family’s mix-and-match granola bar recipe.)
- Join a CSA. In a Community Supported Agriculture program, you buy a share of the produce supplied by a local farm (often organic). Each week, you get a variety of fresh, local, organic produce. The Dela Blu organic farm in Mankato, for instance, offers full shares for between $515 and $525 for the season (20 weeks). Each weekly box includes between 7 and 14 different kinds of vegetables (and sometimes fruits) that are intended to feed an average family of four omnivores or two adult vegetarians. This averages out to just over $25 a week for a large quantity of fresh-picked, organic produce. Some CSA’s also let families work at the farm to pay off part of their shares. Many CSA’s offer half shares or charge less per share, too.
- Eat less meat and dairy. Organic meat and dairy are some of the most expensive organic items you can buy. If you’re not vegan or vegetarian, start seeing these items more as treats and less as staples. Seek out local organic farm families like Painted Hill Farm for naturally raised meats and eggs (and CSA shares of these) and go for quality over quantity. Then supplement your diet with meals made with more affordable organic proteins like beans, brown rice and quinoa. Look to international menus for ideas on vegetarian meals, since other cultures tend to rely less on meat and dairy than ours. Mexican, Chinese and Indian dishes offer lots of meat- and dairy-free ideas.
- Shop Amazon. You can get some organic items at Amazon for exceptionally low prices, especially if you use Subscribe and Save (which saves you an additional 15% off if you ask for it to be sent to you on a certain time frame and gives you free shipping no matter how small the order is). I get my favorite organic olive oil and coconut oil regularly through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. Since I use both of these often for cooking, it saves me a significant amount of money. Note that you can cancel Subscribe and Save or skip shipments at any time, and that prices fluctuate so you may want to watch them for a bit before ordering.
- Shop the Farmers’ Market. Other than growing your own, there’s no way to get fresher, better tasting organic produce than to buy it at the Farmers’ Market. Don’t be shy about asking for deals, either. For instance, ask if you can get a price break for buying a lot or buying blemished produce. At the end of the day, many vendors will also offer bigger bargains.
- Think outside of the box. For instance, your neighbor’s neglected pear tree offers organic fruit if she doesn’t spray it, and she may be willing to let you pick all you like in exchange for bringing over a pie afterwards. The new dandelion shoots are your untreated lawn are organic even if most people consider them weeds, and they can be scattered in your salad. Untreated nut trees, blackberry bushes, rhubarb patches, wild asparagus growing by a back road… All of these plants offer organic foods to harvest. Just be sure you have permission or that you’re on public land where it’s allowed (and that you don’t harvest anything endangered or unknown). See my Wild Edibles board on Pinterest for lots of information on how to find wild nuts, fruits and other foraged foods.
- Shop your local natural food coops. You can often get bulk organic items such as flour, oats, beans and pasta for very good prices. Membership and volunteer discounts can bring the price even lower. Be sure to also stock up on sale items you use a lot.
- Shop national natural food coops. Check out coops like Frontier, United Buying Clubs and Azure Standard. These coops offer substantial discounts on bulk orders but may require minimum orders or you may need to pool orders with others in the community. In many cases, there are already drop points of participating families in your area and you can join in.
- Make friends with local organic growers. They’re often more than willing to barter, trade goods or services or make deals.
- Learn to cook frugally. Some meals are very affordable even when you use organic ingredients (such as pastas, stir-fries and soups). Use meal planning to reduce food waste, so those organic goodies don’t rot in the produce drawer before you use them up. Repurpose leftovers in soups or for lunch the next day. Stretch foods to get the most from every item. For instance, keep a container in the freezer for vegetable trimmings (such as woody asparagus or broccoli spears, mushroom stems and carrot tops) and boil it all for vegetable stock when it gets full. Likewise, boil chicken and turkey carcasses or ham bones for broth and store the broth in jars in the freezer (leave space on top for expansion).
- Eat in season. Learn to eat with the seasons and plan your menus accordingly. Not only are seasonal organic foods much cheaper, but there’s a certain simplicity and harmony that comes in eating the foods that are naturally at their peak at the time where you live. Summer is the perfect time for fresh berries, salads, tomatoes and melons, while winter is perfect for hot soups made with root vegetables and wild rice.
- Factor in other costs. Organic foods offer lots of hidden extras that you get with your money. They are often much higher in vitamins and other nutrients. They help keep you and your family healthy. They support sustainable farming practices that keep other families and communities healthy. They also just plain taste better!
In the end, it’s quite possible to eat delicious organic meals for less than most people imagine. It takes a little work, a little creativity and a little know-how, but the end is well worth it.
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You can also find me on Pinterest and on hornface.com on the topics of homeschooling, attachment parenting and my national attachment parenting column, and on Facebook at All Natural Families and A Magical Homeschool.