The Ultimate Budget-Savvy Guide to Grocery Shopping for the Health-Conscious Family
If you are concerned about hormones, chemicals, toxins, and genetically modified ingredients and are considering switching to healthier food options, most likely your biggest concern is the cost. While filling your grocery cart with completely local, fresh, organic foods will cause up to a 50% increase in your monthly grocery budget, there are a few ways to make this transition a little friendlier on your wallet. If converting to a 100% local, organic diet isn’t an option for your budget, the following tips are for you.
Prioritize. Know what’s most important for your family. If your main concern is the potential health risks non-organic food options pose, you should focus on animal products first. Non-organic meat and dairy are considered triple threats to your health in that they expose you to pesticides, cancer-causing growth hormones, and antibiotics. If you are more concerned about the impact commercial foods have on the environment, you might consider switching your produce selections to organic and your beef to grass-fed. Both of these food sources have a tremendous impact on our environment.
Substitute. Grass-fed, free-range, organic meat and poultry options are particularly expensive, whereas other high-protein sources, such as beans and legumes, can be more affordable, especially when purchased in bulk. If possible, replace some of your meat consumption with these other high-protein sources. For instance, halve your portion of meat for dinner and replace it with organic beans, which can be purchased inexpensively in bulk. If you find that the produce section is making the biggest hit on your bank account, consider substituting organic items for non-organic items if they have minimal health threats (see the “Clean 15” list below). For instance, most produce that peels, like oranges, lemons, limes, onions, and cabbage, have minimal pesticide and chemical residue. These are great options for substituting to non-organic alternatives to save some serious cash.
Informed. One of the best tools you have for creating an affordable organic diet is information. When it comes to the produce aisle, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists are essential. The EWG investigates which produce items contain the most pesticides each year, compiles their findings, and creates a list of the most hazardous (Dirty Dozen) produce to avoid and purchase in organic, as well as the lowest pesticide containing produce (Clean 15).
This year’s lists include:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Imported snap peas
PLUS—trace levels of high hazardous pesticides include leafy greens, such as kale and collard greens, and hot peppers
- Sweet corn (Beware, however. Just because Sweet Corn may not contain pesticides, it’s one of the most likely to have GMOs)
- Frozen sweet peas
- Sweet Potatoes
When grocery shopping, you should also educate yourself on the risk of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These types of foods have been genetically manipulated and can contain unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not normally occur in nature. While many brands are beginning to label their items with the non-GMO certification, these foods are often quite expensive. With this in mind, the NON-GMO Project has a list of the foods with the highest-risk of being genetically modified:
High-Risk GMO Foods
- Sugar beets
- Yellow Summer Squash
When deciding which items to purchase (typically at a higher price) with the non-GMO label, always refer to this list first. Items on this list should be purchased GMO-free. Always remember to check ingredient lists. You might be surprised all the foods that contain some of these ingredients.
Options. Researching all of your options is a great way to save money. Buying meat from a local farmer and stocking your freezer can be a cost-effective approach to accessing local, hormone and chemical-free meat selections. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are ideal for locally grown produce with weekly drop-offs of fruits, vegetables, and sometimes even animal products (find local CSAs here). Contributing to a community garden in your neighborhood may require work, but you get to control your produce, determining whether it’s organic or not, and it is generally very inexpensive. Joining a co-op is another cost-effective measure to purchase organic options, particularly grains, nuts, beans, and seeds in bulk.
Equipped. Being equipped with the right tools for your next grocery-shopping trip is key. The Environmental Working Group has a website and mobile device application called “Food Scores” that rates foods based on nutrition concerns (high in sugar/salt), ingredient concerns (pesticides, additives, contaminants, antibiotics) and processing concerns (whole, unprocessed foods are healthiest). Taking all of these factors into consideration, it calculates a final score, which you can access by searching for a particular food or scanning its barcode. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for a score of 3.0 or better.
There has been a lot of information in this post so here’s a quick recap:
- Know what’s most important to your family, for example: pesticides vs. hormones vs. GMOs vs. antibiotics.
- Look for cheaper options that are still safe like replacing some meat with high-protein beans.
- Stay informed. Never go shopping without the “Dirty Dozen” list, “Clean 15” list, and the high-risk GMO foods list.
- Know your options: CSAs, community gardens, local farmers, food co-ops.
- Be equipped. Use the EWG’s “Food Scores” application to rate your food choices before purchasing.