You can afford some organic food on a budget, even if you are on food stamps or SNAP. The secret is to cook at home, eat with the seasons, eat low on the food chain, and don’t waste anything. More people are demanding organic food than ever for many reasons, so more stores carry it. You can order organic food online if you can’t find it locally. Get my top strategies for how to eat organic below.
Review your total food budget
Think about what you spend on food and drinks everywhere, including at restaurants and at vending machines. If you have no idea, try keeping a diary of your food purchases for a week or look at a recent credit card bill. Organic ingredients often cost about 30% more than conventional or industrial ingredients. But home cooking, even with organic ingredients, usually costs several times less than eating out. See if you make any food purchases that are just habits or that don’t bring value to your life. Now you know what trade-offs you can make.
Set your priorities
If you can afford to buy all organic food, please do it! There are plenty of reasons for why you should cook organic as much as possible. It’s good to know your priorities in any case because organic options aren’t always available when you want them.
Here are my top priorities for buying organic food on a budget, in order of importance:
- Food for growing children and women who are or may become pregnant.
- Food for anyone with cancer, neurological problems, or otherwise in a weakened state
- Strawberries, apples, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, greens like kale and collards, and other fruits and vegetables high on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, particularly those that can’t be peeled or might be genetically modified (GMO). Note that the EWG has a special caution for greens and hot peppers, even though they aren’t in the Dirty Dozen, because they “were frequently found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.”
- Ingredients that may contain GMOs, including soybeans and soybean products like tofu, most corn and corn products, canola oil, sugar from beets, yellow squash, and papayas. Good news: most corn on the cob is not GMO. If you eat meat, eggs, or dairy, go organic there too.
- Ingredients that can’t or won’t be peeled. (Grapes, I’m talking about you.)
In a pinch, I’ll buy conventional versions of these foods:
- Fruit and vegetables on the EWG’s Clean Fifteen list, including avocados, sweet corn, onions, cabbage, and melons.
- Fruit and vegetables I can peel and that are rarely available organic, such as peaches.
- Conventional food that costs significantly less than the organic versions, especially ingredients I use rarely. I’ll buy conventional cocoa powder if it means I can upgrade more fruit and vegetables to organic.