Which Food to Buy Organic (and How to Spend Less When You Do)
Expert advice from Consumer Reports can help you decide what’s most important to buy organic and how to save money when you do.
Let’s start with the foods you should consider to buy organic first!
And here’s foods that you don’t really need to buy organic.
Bag It Yourself
Consider picking up items like organic grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in stores with bulk bins. “Buying bulk can help you save money because you buy just what you need,” Keating says, “and you’ll also reduce packaging waste.”
Check That Freezer Section
Whether organic or conventional, frozen produce is less expensive but just as nutritious as fresh. “Frozen foods are picked fresh, at the peak of their quality, and frozen immediately,” says Camire at the University of Maine. To freeze fresh organic produce yourself, wash it, let it dry, then pack it in a freezer-safe container.
Try Store-Brand Organics
Aldi, Costco, Kroger, Target, and Walmart are just a few of the chains with their own organic lines, which are often cheaper than brand-name products. A recent online search at Target.com found its Good & Gather organic 2 percent milk for $3.99 for a half-gallon; Horizon Organic, a national brand, was $5.49. CR has found that store and national brands can be comparable in taste and nutrition. “Check the nutrition facts label to see any differences in the amount of sodium, added sugars, and other ingredients,” Keating says.
Some online stores offer deals on organic foods. Thrive Market ($60 for an annual membership or $12 monthly) has an extensive selection of organic pantry staples that the company says may save you up to 30 percent off grocery store prices. Online subscription services like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods sell conventional and organic foods that might otherwise be thrown away because of, say, outdated packaging or approaching expiration dates. (Read more about these two services.)
Take a Look at Local
Some smaller growers who sell at farmers markets and farm stands, and via community supported agriculture (CSAs, where you pay an up-front fee to get a portion of a farmer’s harvest each week), may opt not to apply for or maintain organic certification because of the cost and paperwork.
If you find vendors like these, you can ask if they follow organic practices. Prices at farmers markets, CSAs, farm stands, and markets (find them at usdalocalfoodportal.com) are often similar to or cheaper than at grocery stores, depending on where you live and the season. And some accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Or join a member-run food co-op that focuses on local food. (Find one at grocery.coop/all-coops.)