How to Shop Organic (and Save!) on a Budget

Sept. 1, 2016

As a mother, I understand how fitting certified organic foods into budgets already stretched thin by the countless expenses of parenthood (from cribs to college funds) is a tall order for many families. It may feel hard to justify the added cost, especially as your infant moves into toddlerhood and joins the family dinner table.  But as science continues to illuminate how organic foods help to protect our little ones from potentially harmful pesticides during important windows of growth and development,1 finding affordable organic options remains a priority for many parents: recent surveys by the Organic Trade Association report than nearly 80% of households now buy organic foods at least some of the time. 2

The good news is there’s never been a better time to be a parent who’s looking for affordable organic food options. It is no longer the offerings only in food co-ops and out-of-the-way natural food stores since organic foods have gone mainstream in a big way: all sorts of good-for-baby organic food options can now be picked up at your favorite big box and online retailers, making them affordable and accessible. Here’s our guide of where to prioritize - as well as how to find the savings - so your organic buys give you the biggest bang for the buck.

1. Choose Organic Meat, Dairy.

Organically-raised animals not only enjoy strict, clearly defined welfare standards, they must be fed an organic diet. Choosing certified organic meat, poultry and dairy products helps ensure your little one isn’t getting added growth hormones or antibiotics, and, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, may help reduce the risk of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Here’s how to save:

With poultry, buy the whole bird instead of individual parts to drop the cost per pound - and ask the butcher to cut it up into dinner-ready components like breast or thighs. Chicken thighs cost considerably less than chicken breast, and pack flavorful dark meat that’s equally delicious but less expensive. When organic meat or poultry goes on sale at the market, freeze in individual portions and stock up your freezer. If you like CSAs (community supported agriculture), find a local or regional farm that let you purchase a CSA-style share of an organic animal, which brings down the price significantly. And while a butcher typically recommends you to plan on 6-8 oz. per portion when determining how much meat, poultry or fish to buy, choose 3-4 oz portions instead to trim the price - and round out the plate with extra servings of vegetables, whole grains and legumes so even carnivores feel satisfied.

2. Daily Staples + “The “Dirty Dozen”.

Putting organic dollars towards daily staples can help minimize consistent exposure from everyday conventional foods that your kids enjoy. Potatoes, for example, are one of the top consumed vegetables for kids, so you may want to choose organic potatoes while selecting conventional vegetables that are less often consumed by the family. , When it comes to fruits and veggies, the Environmental Working Group's Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce makes prioritizing where to buy organic easy: available as an app or a downloadable pocket guide online, it uses the USDA's own data to rank fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residues.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests this as a reliable resource when trying to assess the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables. 3

Here’s how to save:

Buying fresh produce in season from local farms is one of the most affordable ways to enjoy organic produce. Simply freeze (or blanche and freeze) organic produce when it’s in peak season for optimal nutrition as well as considerable cost savings. The freezer aisle can also be significantly more affordable than fresh, with all the health benefits: picked, cut and frozen within hours, in many cases, organic frozen fruits and veggies lock in nutrition and flavor and extend shelf-life compared to fresh produce.

3. Get social!

Many organic companies offer flash promotions, coupons, and special offers that can help you save big. Retailers that carry organics - from supermarkets to big box chains to online grocers - are also getting in on the act with deals and special offers.

Here’s how to save: 

Sign up with social media to follow your favorite organic companies so you can maximize special deals and be on the lookout for pop up bargains. Check out some of the organic coupon sites that offer a variety of organic coupons and money saving tips. And a new generation of retailer apps lets you track your shopping and gives you real, cash back rewards on your next trip (often through a barcode on your receipt), which can help offset the added cost of organics.

1 Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. Pediatrics 2012: 130: e1406-e1415. Published online October 22, 2012.
2 Organic Trade Association: U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2015 Tracking Study
3Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. Pediatrics 2012: 130: e1406-e1415. Published online October 22, 2012.