How to Afford Healthy, Whole, Organic Foods

If only it were that simple.

When I polled my Facebook friends about their number 1 grocery complaint, the clear winner was affording healthy organic food.  Quality food is more expensive than junk food- it just is.  There’s no way around it.  It costs more to grow and produce whole foods- especially if they’re organic- than it does to mass produce food in a factory.  So how the heck are we supposed to afford them?  I can’t tell you anything that is going to make them cheaper- but here are some things I think about:

Budget-  Are you on a budget?  Budgets aren’t just for those on a limited income- in fact, I would argue that the more money you make, the more important a budget is.  I would be on a budget if we won the $300M jackpot.  Budgets get a bad rap, but they’re just a plan for your money.  It’s you telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.  Far from being constricting, a good budget will give you a sense of control over your money and likely free up some funds to use where you want to use them- like on healthy food!  We like Dave Ramsey’s basic ideas about budgeting.  If you’re struggling to afford healthy food- or anything- this is where I would start.

Priorities- This goes hand-in-hand with the budget.  Not even a bazillionaire can have it all.  Think about what is important to you.  Travel?  Nice cars?  Being home with your family?  Enjoying dinners out? Saving for college?  Healthy food?  Big house?  Make sure the way you’re spending your money is aligned with your priorities, and realize that you may have to make some sacrifices.  How important is eating healthy?  Once you decide where it ranks on the importance list- and it’s probably not number 1- find peace with that decision.  Maybe you can eat out less to afford healthier foods at home.   Or maybe you will come to peace with the fact that by staying home with the kids, you may not be able to afford to feed them organic flax seed veggie pancakes each morning.  And that’s okay.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten those things out of the way….how do we really find the funds to eat healthy?

  • Bulk bins- I like these because they allow me to buy just what I need.  They are intimidating at first, but spend some time familiarizing yourself with them.  Don’t worry that everyone will know that you have no clue what you’re doing- they probably don’t either.  Sometimes you can find things here that are cheaper by the ounce than buying them by the box, but what they are really good for is buying limited quantities- you’re not paying for more than what you need.  A good health food store should have a LOT of bulk bins.
  • Warehouse stores- I don’t like these in general, but I do buy a few items here.  We recently switched from Sam’s to Costco because Costco seemed to have more healthy items.  A good example of savings I find here- a 3 pound bag of almonds is $12.99…at one of my other stores they’re $7.99/pound!
  • Make it yourself- We pay a lot for convenience.  Cleaners, detergents, bug spray- these can all be made at home to save money.  But you know what else you can make?  Buttermilk, granola, yogurt, salad dressing, bread, smoothies, hummus, salsa, pasta sauce, animal crackers, bbq sauce, and the list goes on.  Making it yourself takes more time, but is almost always healthier and usually saves money.
  • Plan, plan, plan- When you don’t have a plan, you pay for convenience- and that’s less money you could spend on healthy food.  Have a meal plan based around what’s in season.  Keep your pantry stocked.  Bring snacks when you go out.  Don’t waste your hard-earned money buying snacks from convenience stores or vending machines.
  • Consider frozen- Fresh organic produce from the store is about the most expensive kind there is.  Organic frozen produce is usually cheaper.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen– Not all produce is created equal.  Some foods, like apples and strawberries and potatoes, hold more pesticide residue than other foods, like corn or onions or avocados.  Unless you enjoy spending gobs of moolah on groceries, you don’t need to buy everything organic.  Don’t waste your money buying organic food that doesn’t contain that much pesticide residue anyway. The link above includes an app for your phone so that you can keep those lists straight.
  • Friend a farmer- Visit your farmer’s markets.  Get to know your local food scene- here’s a link to a great KC site.  Don’t be afraid to ask the stupid questions.  Ask your farmers about a CSA, where you buy a share of the farm, pay up front, and receive whatever produce is in season throughout the growing season.  There are some great deals to be had here.  Grass-fed beef at my local health food store is $9ish per pound.  A guy at the farmer’s market sells it for $5!  $4 a pound savings adds up fast!
  • Eat less meat- Meat is expensive and not all that great for you.  Plan a meatless night or two or three and watch the savings add up.  Google yummy meals that use beans or lentils for a protein.
  • Don’t be an organic snob- Once you friend your farmers, ask about their growing practices.  Many farmers use limited pesticides, or don’t use pesticides at all, but have not taken the time or spent the money to be certified organic.  Don’t get stuck on that word.  Visit their farm.  Take your kids to work on their farm- and see if you can get some produce in exchange!
  • Grow your own- Strawberries are on the dirty dozen list, which is a problem because I LOVE strawberries and organic strawberries are expensive.  So this year I’m growing my own.  Well, attempting to grow my own.  They are a little brown and withered right now, but we won’t talk about that.  Overwhelming?  Pick just one item, find a few like- minded friends, and form your own little co-op.  Maybe you can grow peppers, Sally can grow tomatoes, and Jane can grow spinach, and then you can all trade.  You could even do that in containers.  Just don’t ask me to grow the strawberries.
  • Eat what’s in season- These are the most fresh, best tasting, and cheapest items.  Fresh strawberries in Missouri in December?  Not fabulous.  Here’s a good link that shows what’s in season when for Missouri- you can easily Google and find your own state.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed- I realize the irony of placing this at the end of a giant list.  But seriously.  Healthy eating is overwhelming! I’ve been on this kick for over two years now and am still learning.  You don’t have to change your habits in a day.  Maybe you’re an expert bulk bin shopper but don’t know a single farmer.  No worries!  Don’t think you have to know everything to start making healthy changes.

So- it’s true, eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk food.  But by planning and giving up a little convenience you can do it!


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