Nutrition Articles

Buying Organic Food on a Budget

How to Go Organic without Going Broke

Step into any supermarket these days and you’re sure to find a wide variety of organic foods on the shelves. From produce, milk and meat to breakfast cereals and snack foods, consumers have their pick of certified organic products—a far cry from the time when you could only find organic items in natural foods stores. The demand for organic foods continues to grow. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales have grown about 11 percent from 2013-2014, with organic sales now taking up a 5 percent share of the total food market. More than half of Americans have tried organic products, and this number is expected to increase as more people become aware of the long-term effects of pesticides and chemicals.

People buy certified organic foods because they believe organics are healthier than conventionally farmed foods. (Read "Why Go Organic" to learn more.) But adding organic foods into your diet can be expensive! Does your whole diet have to be organic or are some conventionally grown foods just as healthy?

Prices for organic foods have dropped in the past five years, but organic items are still generally more expensive than conventionally grown foods. If you would like to buy organic anyway, here are some tips to make an organic diet more affordable:
  • Make a gradual transition over the course of a year to familiarize yourself with prices and products.
  • Comparison shop to find the most economical organic items. Within the same city, organic produce prices vary greatly. Sometimes the large supermarket chains will win out, while other times natural food stores (chains or privately-owned) can be more affordable. By shopping around, you'll get a general idea for which foods are cheaper at certain stores, or which location offers the most deals overall.
  • Create your meal plans around the most affordable produce, meat and grain products.
  • Improvise recipes if an organic ingredient isn't available or affordable. You might find something else that works just as well, or even better than the original ingredient.
  • Invest in organic meat, cheese and milk (over produce and grains) if your grocery budget is tight. Conventional meat and dairy products often contain hormones and show the highest concentration of pesticides.
  • Find local organic growers and buy directly to save money. Farmers markets often offer organic items.
  • Select seasonal produce as much as possible. If you want strawberries in winter, for example, buy frozen (or else your pocketbook will suffer). Frozen organic produce is often available at big warehouse stores as well.
  • Prioritize your produce. Certain produce items tend to be highly contaminated with pesticides (try to buy these organic), while others tend to be relatively low in pesticide residue (save money and buy these conventional). Here's the scoop:
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently completed an analysis of conventionally-grown (non-organic) produce to measure pesticide residue levels. Based on the results of almost 34,000 samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration, EWG estimates that consumers could reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent if they avoid the most contaminated foods and ate the least contaminated foods instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, referred to as “The Dirty Dozen,” exposes the average person to about 15 different pesticides each day, while someone eating the least contaminated will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides each day. (Download a pocket guide to the Dirty Dozen here.)

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic
If you have budget constraints, your money is doing more for your health when you put it towards organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels pesticide contamination):
  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet Bell Peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes
The Clean 15: Save Your Money & Buy Conventional
If going totally organic is too difficult or pricey, play it safe and eat the following conventional produce items to minimize your exposure. These are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue (listed in ascending order, starting with of lowest levels of pesticide contamination):
  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen sweet peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papayas 
  10. Kiwis
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantalope
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet
When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) as pesticides are often concentrated there. Remember to wash all produce (conventional and organic) thoroughly with a natural fruit and vegetable cleanser. Peeling and washing can help reduce (not eliminate) pesticide exposure, but also results in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients (like fiber). When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as much as possible. To see EWG's complete study results, and the rankings of different produce items, visit their website,

Last updated in September 2015
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

    I buy what I want and can afford, organic really is not "better" enough to warrant such high prices, you still get good nutrition from eating fresh fruits and veggies, it's the actual eating that counts. Farmers markets have gotten out of hand, not selling just local anymore, they are not as local as you might think. Marketing to people who don't read up on rules works much better for them. Buy what you can afford and make sure to really eat it!! - 10/6/2015 6:07:03 AM
    Costco has started carrying numerous organic products - including fruits and vegetables. The variety varies widely. They also have loads of organic products - pasta sauce, pasta, quinoa, hamburger, chicken, wine, frozen fruits and vegetables, etc. As always, their prices are the best. I also shop at Sprouts Farmers Market where available. Their organic prices are excellent and the quality is the best. As more of us start eating organic products, the prices will no doubt come down as it already has. Costco is making a huge impact in that regard. If we had known we would live so long, we would have taken better care of ourselves long ago. Never too late to start!!. Healthy eating. - 10/3/2015 7:44:06 PM
    Check out
    /CSA to find a Community Supported Agricultural farm near you if you can. Eat local when available. Lots of savings and great food. - 10/2/2015 12:07:25 PM
    There is no scientific evidence that adopting an organic diet is better, healthier, or more environmentally sustainable. I'm surprised that this article is posted on a website for healthy living, where the focus should be on eating more fruits and vegetables. If adopting an organic diet is more expensive, and it means eating less fruits and veggies, then why do it if there's no scientific benefit?
    As for the "dirty dozen" by the EWG, there is again no scientific evidence to support that adopting an organic diet reduces your exposure to pesticides because (wait for it...): organic food production uses pesticides too! (see study here: http://www.ncbi.n
    C3135239/). So why would the EWG provide this guidance? Because they're funded and supported by organic food companies. - 10/2/2015 10:21:15 AM
  • I eat what I can organic, but access is a problem. I don't drive; a friend takes me shopping once a week, and sometimes we can get to a farmer's market. I do grow tomatoes, basil and other herbs, but in the northeast, you don't have a very long season. I don't produce enough to can or freeze much (plus I work full time and have a family) so that isn't an option. I do the best I can. - 10/2/2015 10:04:13 AM
  • The best way to save money on organic produce is to plant a garden. Get some heirloom seeds from your local seed bank or seed swap, watch a few instructional videos online and plant those seeds. Amend your beds with great stuff so you have the best flavour and nutrition. Save your seeds and have that in perpetuity. Not to mention, you get some great exercise along the way. Everyone should be doing this, even if it's growing sunflower sprouts under a light in the winter. :) Happy Gardening! - 10/2/2015 8:44:43 AM
    Look at that site: http ://thrv. me/9r5RQh

    This is a really nice web-shop where you can also browse by restrictions, plus they do have good prices compared to regular grocery stores. I was so happy to find it.
    - 7/16/2015 12:38:18 AM
  • I shop regularly at a known busy Organic market that is the only market walking distance from my home. I spend way too much for their fruits and veggies and basically everything else (milk, cheese, cereal, etc!). The look on my face is always a shocked one when I see the total. But I feel I HAVE to buy their organic food for better health. I'd love to grow my own but I seem to never be able to grow anything well. For me, I will probably just keep going there. Everything they sell is very good but expensive. - 7/19/2014 11:08:15 PM
    Passion fruit is a power source of nutrients, according to studies, and most of it pointing to some medicinal benefits. If you are suffering from high cholesterol levels, cancer, constipation, or coronary heart disease, then this fruit could play a key factor in your recovery. While the fruit may not always be easily available, has an all natural passion fruit juice in Markizza Passion Fruit Juice available on Amazon. Itís all natural and refreshing, not from concentrate. Read about passion fruits to see for yourself. - 6/26/2014 4:09:02 AM
  • SIOL55
    Spring is here. Consider growing some of your own food. Then you know what's in it. If you have little or no space consider planting in pots. There are a lot of sights on line to give you ideas based on the amount of space you have. - 4/7/2014 2:08:04 PM
  • I am very careful with "organic" ... i did work a while at nights t for a stores delivery shopping service, they did - just as i always thought - just take a normal produce article and stick the organic-sticker on it when someone was asking for a organic item. Going organic is a good thing, but look behind the walls of the store 1st and make sure organic really does mean organic, this stuff is expensive and i was shocked that they handled it this way (not being truthful to their customers is a very big deal for me an never ever put a food in this store, for nothing, even if its the only one here around for us).
    I am happy that i stay for the most of my vegetables with products of my own little garden in the yard (fresh at the summer and frozen for the winter time), this way i do really know what is in it and where it's coming from. - 12/11/2013 9:32:54 AM
  • I have found organic and gluten free food on Amazon in their subscribe and save section. If you subscribe to five items on a regular delivery basis anywhere from monthly to six months out, you get a 15 percent discount off the price of each item in your order. If you are in the Chicago area, they just opened a new store called Mrs Green's in the Lincoln Park area of the city. I just went there yesterday...all of their produce is 100 percent organic. They have a coupon in their flier for four weeks in a row, if you spend 50.00, you get 15.00 off of your order and a free sturdy reusable shopping that takes the bite off the higher prices. My grocery store nearest me Strack and Van Til has started carrying more organic their entire top shelf of fruits and vegetables are organic. They have organic milk,cheese,eggs,
    canned corn,etc...they seem to be getting more and more organic and they often have sales and their regular prices are pretty good for organic. Even Aldis is getting some organic and have the cheapest prices I have found...grape tomatoes,baby carrots, gala apples, bananas, boxed salads of baby arugula,baby kale, spinach, spring mix....if you shop around you can find what you need pretty reasonable. There is a fruit market called Stanleys that has a nice selection of organic produce and dairy too...Shop around. You may be surprised just how affordable it can be and better for your health. - 11/26/2013 11:05:52 AM
  • This is a good list to refer to, but what about GMOs? Those food products are genetically altered and causing lots of auto immune diseases and many health problems. Corn is mostly GMOs so I would add that to the list to definitely buy organic to be safe...See what other foods on your safe list may contain GMOs and warn people of them.I am on my third auto immune idiopathic disorder from eating regular food. I have switched to mostly organic and trying to detoxify my system but I am 52 and that is a lot of accumulation of bad stuff in my system to try to get rid of and start replacing with truly healthy food. There are many videos on youtube that you can do your own research on GMOs. They are basically poisoning the world food supply and can contaminate organic farms. Very serious situation. Monsanto is behind the GMOs because of their roundup pesticides so not only is the GMO contaminated with pesticides but it is contaminated inside too and that cannot be washed away...Why do you think cancer is rising and auto immune disease and other serious health issues? Too many people eat GMOs and there are no labels for it so not even warned about it. Look at all the prescription drugs with all their side effects. You take a pill to get rid of one problem and you gain another problem or more than what you started out with. The FDA is infiltrated by former Monsanto people who lobby and basically bribe politicians to look the other way. The FDA that is supposed to be looking out for our interests are really looking out to poison us with their GMOs...they have their own agenda...Sign all the petitions you can. I find a lot on facebook and sign everyone about GMO labeling and warning. Personally I think GMOs should be banned all together. They are poisoning all of us. It is a horrible greedy world we live in. They are more concerned about profits than health. They don't want you to get well cuz then you won't buy their drugs that don't help you...they mask syndromes and add the dangers of possible side effects. Go healthy fruits and veget... - 11/26/2013 10:53:32 AM
  • Is there any actual REAL science behind all the scare stuff I am reading.
    Until and unless there is, I am going to keep those precious pennies in 6ball's pocket. - 5/21/2013 9:07:47 AM
    There is also a great app called Makeena that is going to finally make it easier to afford natural, organic foods in stores like Whole Foods. they're not launched yet, but when they are, the app will be free. It's going to be such a relief to not have to break my bank every time I want good food. They have a video here: www.crowdfunder.c
    om/campaign/393. - 5/16/2013 12:42:18 PM

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