Stocking a kitchen with organic food can feel like a challenge for families with generous grocery budgets.
Trying to do so while relying on food stamps can seem outright impossible. Fortunately, however, it doesn’t have to be. By using smart shopping strategies and taking advantage of opportunities to get free or discounted foods from a variety of sources, anyone can afford to add healthy, nutritious organic produce and products to their diets.
The keys to buying organic groceries on a budget are surprisingly simple:
- Shop around.
- Take advantage of coupons and other deals.
- Spend your food dollars on the organic products that will have the biggest positive impact on your health.
- Participate in community meals and other opportunities to reduce your grocery needs.
How to Take Advantage of Deals
You may not be able to get completely free groceries very often, but you can always find good deals. Nearly all grocery stores and big box stores with grocery departments run a wide range of discounts and deals every week, without fail. Common types of discounts you can expect to see and benefit from include:
- Store loyalty card discounts.
- “Price-matching” guarantees, under which stores agree match a competitor’s lower price on any product.
- Weekly “specials,” in which featured seasonal items are sold for a discounted price.
- “BOGO” style sales, in which customers who purchase a certain number of a product, such as two packages of berries, can receive a third of the same item or another designated item for free.
Perhaps the most common form of store discounts, however, is free food coupons. Coupons are available from numerous sources including:
- Food producers and distributors (e.g. Kraft, General Mills).
- Online deal sites.
Combining coupons and other discounts or store sales can dramatically reduce the cost of groceries, both organic and non-organic. Remember to check for free coupons not only before you shop, but at the store. Consider downloading one of the many apps available to help you locate and organize coupons, as well.
How to Shop Around
Alternative shopping options are quickly becoming a key source of organic foods for shoppers nationwide. While you may not think to look for produce and other organic products outside the supermarket, they are increasingly becoming available at non-traditional venues.
While it may take a little more planning or some changes to your usual habits, you can now often find fresh organic groceries at:
- Farm stands or stores.
- Farmers’ markets.
- Community gardens.
- Bulk retailers, such as Costco or Sam’s Club.
- Online retailers, including bulk and discount sites.
- Eclectic and second-run retailers, such as Christmas Tree Shops, Ocean State Job Lot or Big Lots.
Organic products are also becoming more common in restaurants, corner markets, food banks and everywhere else food is available. While pricing can vary widely, you can often find steeply discounted organic options just before closing at farmer’s markets or during the peak of harvest at farm stands.
Watching non-traditional retailers for good opportunities can also be an excellent way to find unadvertised deals on organic produce.
Focus on Fresh Foods
Not all organic groceries are created equal. Unfortunately, many prepackaged organic foodstuffs have lost most of their nutritional value during processing. This means that while they are more expensive than their non-organic counterparts, they offer very little extra value for that cost.
Spending your limited budget on fresh organic products, such as fruits and vegetables, will give you the biggest “bang for your buck” when shopping. Fresh, whole foods will also go further than processed foods when you are preparing meals, stretching your budget.
How to Spend Your Organic Food Dollars Wisely
You may find that you simply cannot afford to purchase only organic food on a limited budget, even when leveraging sales, coupons and other discounts. When this happens, you can make the most of your food dollars by prioritizing organic produce that offers you the highest level of benefits.
Each year, the non-profit Environmental Working Group ranks produce from cleanest to “dirtiest” by looking at the level of pesticides, GMOs and other contaminants fruits and vegetables are typically exposed to in the modern food production system. It then publishes “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists consumers can use when shopping.
When you are just starting to add organics into your diet, or if you cannot afford to buy all the organic product that you want any given week, you can stretch your food dollars by purchasing non-organic versions of produce on your list that appears on the EWG’s “Clean 15”.
Buying less expensive conventionally grown onions, corn, broccoli and other relatively “clean” produce can give you the room you need in your budget to buy organic versions of traditionally “dirty” produce such as strawberries and spinach.
While this strategy can be less appealing than getting everything you want via free food coupons or sales, it can help you manage your grocery shopping and achieve dietary goals.
Consider Other Free Food Options
Perhaps the most overlooked way to find more money in your budget for organic food is to look for and participate in community meals and other non-grocery free or low-cost food options. In most communities, one or more non-profit agencies or faith-based organizations regularly host free or nearly-free meals open to the public.
While these meals will not put free groceries in your cabinet, they will reduce the number of meals you need your limited food budget to cover, allowing you to spend a little more on organic ingredients when you grocery shop. They can also be an excellent way to build community and get connected to other supportive resources available locally.
Similarly, public schools, federally-subsidized childcare programs, community centers and other businesses or educational hubs frequently offer free breakfast and lunch programs to qualifying families. Look for these programs in your neighborhood and make sure that you have applied for or enrolled in all such programs for which you qualify. This, too, will reduce the total number of meals for which you need to purchase groceries and allow you to spend more per meal.
Do not forget to look for programs which offer other, related benefits, as well, such as free groceries delivery.