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Budgeting for organics without breaking the bank

A big thanks to YoBaby for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

When I grocery shop, I often find that my ideals and my reality collide.

Ideal: I want to buy all organic, all natural foods.

Reality: I’m feeding a lot of people (8 – my husband, myself, our five kids and my niece), we live in a small town without a huge organic selection, and our budget is limited.

It’s taken some trial and error, but I’ve learned how to incorporate organics into our weekly meals and snacks without having to drive an hour to get to a Whole Foods or ravage our savings. Here’s how I do it:

1. Buy straight from the source

Farmer’s markets can be a great place to get super-fresh organics, but sometimes you can save even more by going straight to the source. If you live in a semi-rural area near family farms, scour back roads for farm stands. You can also sign up for CSA, or community-supported agriculture, in which shareholders help support local farms and in exchange get a constant supply of super-fresh, super-local fruits and veggies during harvest season. Last year I paid $35/week for an amazing bounty of seasonal fruits and veggies – plenty to feed us, to give to friends, and to preserve for winter! Most of it was organic, and since I didn’t need to buy much (or any) produce at the grocery store, our overall bill went down.

2. Go organic where it counts most.

Since my overall food philosophy is to do really well 90% of the time so I can slack off the other 10%, when it comes to buying organic I try to get the most bang for my buck. The Environmental Working Group published a list of “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies – those that contain the most pesticides when raised conventionally, like apples and spinach – along with a list of least-contaminated, including onions and broccoli. Based on that list I won’t sweat it if my onions are non-organic, but I’ll try harder to track down organic spinach.  I also try to make choices based on how much of each food my children are eating, and how big the kids are. For example, my toddler eats tons of apples, and since she’s still small and rapidly growing, every bite counts.

Dairy products are another great place to invest your organic dollar, since toxins from pesticides, hormones and fertilizers can be stored in milk fat. Also, I try to go organic on foods that my kids eat a lot of, since the overall exposure to those toxins is higher. In our house, that’s definitely milk, cheese and yogurt!

3. Stock up and freeze.

Whether you’ve just gotten a huge harvest from a CSA or farm stand, or just hit a great sale at your local supermarket, one of the best ways to save money on organics year-round is to buy ‘em when they’re cheap and preserve them for later. And usually, the easiest way to preserve is by simply using your freezer. Fruits, veggies, cheese, and yogurt can all be frozen for later. If you’re freezing fruits and veggies for baby, try making purees and storing in ice cube trays or small containers. Yogurt can be frozen right in the container.

Keep in mind that freezing yogurt and other dairy products will change the texture a bit, so you may not want to thaw it all the way afterward and instead serve it as a frosty treat. My toddler loves when I freeze yogurt cups and then serve them slightly thawed as “ice cream.” And the good-for-you live cultures that go dormant in the freezer “wake up” once eaten, so she still gets the health benefits.

How do you save money on organic food?

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