How to Shop Organic on a Budget (+ Organic Shopping List!)

June 14, 2019

Some of my patients have asked me, “How do people afford organic produce? Is the cost of organic worth it?” They are wondering how to shop organic on a budget.

Believe it or not, shopping organic doesn’t have to be expensive. It is possible to buy affordable organic food!

Read on to learn why organic food matters plus some tips on how to shop organic on a budget. I’ve even included an organic shopping list to help you get started. If you’re ready to learn how to shop organic on a budget, keep reading!


2 Key Points to Know about Organic Foods

1. Organic foods are non-GMOs. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are created by using genetic engineering to alter the genetic material of living organisms. This results in artificial combinations of genes in plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses.

The majority of GMOs are created to resist pesticides and herbicides or to produce their own insecticide.

The U.S. and Canada currently do not require labeling of GMOs, but know that most soy, corn, canola, and sugar beet grown in North America are GMOs.

GMOs are also a threat to the environment. Because most GMOs have been designed to tolerate herbicides, the use of toxic herbicides has multiplied 15 times since the introduction of GMOs. [1]

Non-GMO foods are those that are not genetically modified. All organic produce and other organic food products such as organic meat and dairy must be non-GMO. So, for example, an organic farmer may not use GMO seeds and an organic dairy farm may not give GMO feed to their cows. Producers of any packaged organic foods may not use GMO ingredients in their products.

2. The “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen.” Some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue than others. Knowing which produce is best to buy organic can help as you learn how to shop organic on a budget.

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes their list of the “Clean 15” conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that contain minimal pesticide residue and their list of the “Dirty Dozen”—the 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables identified as typically having the most pesticide residue. This information is also included in the organic shopping list provided below. [2]

How to Shop Organic on a Budget: 13 Easy Tips

Yes, it’s possible to find cheap organic vegetables! Use this guide to help you strategize your organic food shopping and learn how to shop organic on a budget.

  1. Follow the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen.” Keeping these in mind will help you figure out where you can cut costs and still eat foods with minimum pesticide exposure. I’ve included these foods in my shopping list below to help you remember them.
  2. Grow your own vegetables. By far, the easiest way to know where your food comes from is to grow it yourself! I advise using organic heirloom seeds or organic hybrid seeds. Then follow other organic gardening practices like planting certain plants and flowers to keep pests away, such as cosmos and buckwheat (again, use organic seeds and plants) to attract “beneficial” insects such as bees. You can also introduce other helpful insects, such as green lacewings, to keep away pests and use organic pesticides. [3, 4]
  3. Shop at discount grocers that carry organic produce. Believe it or not, many grocers now carry organic produce. Aldi and Safeway are just two examples of discount grocers that also carry organic foods. Certain large discount chains, such as Costco, also now have some organic products available. As these larger grocers carry more organic produce, figuring out how to shop organic on a budget is getting much easier.
  4. Buy seasonally. Buying produce that is in season helps cut costs because it doesn’t have to travel as far so the cost is not as high. For example, if you want to buy organic blueberries in the winter, they will cost a lot more than they will when they’re in season in the summer.
  5. Buy in bulk. Many grocers now offer a bulk section, which can be a great way to save on organic foods, particularly grains, rice, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and spices. Bulk items can go a long way to help your costs as you learn more about how to shop organic on a budget.
  6. Cut back on meat. Meat can be expensive whether it’s organic or not. Try adding more plant-based meals to your diet. One great way to start is with “Meatless Mondays”—have a plant-based meal for Monday night dinner (or whichever night works best for you!). Not only will you save money, but you will also benefit your health by eating more vegetables.
  7. Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture, also known as CSA, can be a great way to not only support your local organic farmers but also a way to cut down on your organic grocery costs and get fresh locally-grown produce each week. If you’re single or you are concerned about using all of the items before they spoil, you may want to consider sharing a CSA with a friend.
  8. Buy store brand. Many stores now have their own organic store brand. Look for these “generic” organic brands to help you cut your food costs and still get the benefits of eating organic. For example, Aldi, Kroger, and Whole Foods all offer their own organic store brands.
  9. Eat leftovers and cut down on food waste. Cut down on food costs by eliminating waste. Eat your dinner leftovers for lunch. Or repurpose leftovers into new meals. For example, try creating a stir-fry using leftover organic vegetables.
  10. Plan your meals. Meal planning can help you be more strategic with your grocery shopping and cut down on impulse purchases. Planning is definitely important in helping you figure out how to shop organic on a budget.
  11. Look for sales and use coupons. Plenty of organic produce and other organic foods go on sale. Check store sales, use store coupons, and look for coupons online for your favorite organic brands.
  12. Check out your local farmers market. Shopping local helps to support your local organic farmers. You may have to look for bargains as the prices at farmers markets aren’t always necessarily lower. One tip is to try going closer to the end of the day when vendors are trying to sell the remainder of their inventory rather than have it spoil. Prices may be lower at this time as a result.
  13. Shop online. Several online retailers now sell organic food products online. Some require a subscription, but if you plan to purchase items on a regular basis, the subscription price is easily worth it. One example is Thrive.

Click on the shopping list to download your copy!

Organic shopping list - Dr. Pingel

Organic Shopping List

Buy organic if you can: The 2019 “Dirty Dozen” Foods List

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has identified these fruits and vegetables as having the most pesticide residue when grown conventionally:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

OK to buy nonorganic: The 2019 “Clean 15” Foods List

The EWG has identified these fruits and vegetables as having the least pesticide residue when grown conventionally:

  • Avocados
  • *Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet frozen peas
  • Onions
  • *Papaya
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwis
  • Cabbages
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupes
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew melon

*Some sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the U.S. is produced from GMO seeds. If you want to avoid genetically modified produce, purchase organic varieties.

Key Takeaways

  • Follow my list of tips to help you include more inexpensive organic foods in your grocery shopping. From buying local to meal planning to cutting down on meat and more, there are many ways to buy affordable organic food.
  • Keep my organic shopping list handy as a guide to which foods are best to buy organic when possible and which ones are OK to buy nonorganic. With these tools, you won't have to wonder how to shop organic on a budget anymore!


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