In our latest issue:

 Quick nutrition for busy mornings, a healthy school lunch guide, gut-healthy tips  See more >
KIWI magazine

Organic on the cheapSales of organic groceries are booming—$25 billion was spent on certified organic foods and beverages in the U.S. in 2009. But those billions don’t all have to come out of your pocket: There are ways to shop organic, no matter what your budget. One trick for being thrifty is to focus your organic purchases on the things your child eats most, says Cindy Burke, author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic. The more he eats of one thing, the more the chemicals in that one thing matter. Got that tip down? Great. Here are dozens more:

Secrets in Plain Sight

Deals are all around—you just have to know where to look:

Private label brands

You can save big bucks by choosing store-brand organics at places like Trader Joe’s, ShopRite, Wegman’s, and many more. Processed organic items like cereal might be supplied by the manufacturer of a brand name version, but because they don’t spend money on ads and fancy packaging, the price is lower (often lower even than conventional!). They’re still required to meet the same organic standards. If an item has the USDA Organic seal, try it out: Chances are your family won’t be able to tell the difference.

Beyond the grocery store

Of course there are CSAs and farmers’ markets for organic-minded families. But don’t discount the big box stores and online retailers—many now carry organic goods at low prices. If you do some research next time you’re at Target or browsing on Amazon, you’ll end up knowing what’s worth buying there, and what’s still a better deal at your main store.

Go Organic-ish

One reason organics can be pricey is that the certification process is quite expensive—not only because of the fees involved, but also because farmers must be chemical-free for three years before certification; many can’t afford a prolonged period of lower yields before they’re able to charge organic prices. As a result, smaller companies may choose other ecologically responsible options. They include:

  • “Ecoganic” farming, a term now being adopted by small farms that use organic methods but skip the paperwork. Buy local so you can ask the farmer exactly how he works.
  • Integrated Pest Management, a farming practice that uses chemical pesticides only when absolutely necessary, and in the smallest possible quantities. You’re most likely to encounter this term at the farmers’ market.
  • Certified Humane animal products. Humane Farm Animal Care, the nonprofit behind this program, requires that animals are not only hormone- and antibiotic-free, but also treated humanely, with as little stress as possible. In return, companies can print a Certified Humane seal on their packaging.
  • “No hormones or antibiotics added” pledges on animal products. If you can’t swing organic or Certified Humane, look for a specific promise. Hormones are legally prohibited when raising hogs or poultry, but they are used with cows, and antibiotics are permitted for any livestock. This doesn’t speak to pesticides, but at least the animals aren’t pumped full of drugs.
  • Canned and frozen conventional produce. “It’s been found through testing that canned peaches and other fruits have a lower level of pesticide residue than fresh,” says Burke, presumably because they don’t have to be pretty enough to attract consumers. “Growers don’t use as much pesticide, because pesticide costs money.” Plus the processing—washing and peeling—takes away some of the remaining residue. With canned goods there is the specter of BPA, so look for brands that avoid the chemical. Though they may not say so on the label, both Native Forest and Eden have many offerings that are BPA-free; check their websites for more information.

One label to question

Products marked “natural.” Except for meat and poultry, that term is unregulated. Stay tuned, though—the Natural Products Association is working with brands including Kashi to establish standards for certification, which they expect to debut within the next six months. Plus, the more you get to know a brand (by researching ingredients and even calling their customer support number to ask about where they get their raw materials), the better you know whether you feel comfortable with its “natural” claims.

Tips by the Aisle


Wondering what those five-digit codes mean? It if starts with a zero (or is only four numbers long), it’s conventional; a nine signifies organic; and an eight means it’s been genetically modified.


All organic milk is not alike. Large-scale organic dairy farms do exist, and some fall just this side of factory farms. Look for smaller organic dairies and farmer-owned cooperatives, like Organic Valley, to be sure the ethics match the label.


If you’ve got the freezer space, watch for specials on organic or Certified Humane meats and stock up when they’re on sale. If you’ve really got freezer space, organize some like-minded friends and buy an entire cow directly from the farmer—the American Grassfed Association ( has a searchable database of members to help you find one. The cost per pound will be much lower, and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.


Keep your budget in check by building your organic pantry slowly and with an eye on comparison shopping: Organic sugar one week, beans the next.


Save your organics dollars for snack foods that are made from fewer ingredients, like cheese sticks or freeze-dried fruit—the higher the proportion of each ingredient, the more it matters that it’s organic.

Bulk Bargains

Packaging—the design, the copy, the box itself—costs money, so buying organic in large quantities at a store like Costco, or choosing items from the self-serve bulk bins can save a pretty penny. Here’s how to get the most bang for your bulk buck:

  • Don’t have room to store tons of bulk goods? Shop with a friend, and share the savings.
  • A bulk deal is only a deal if you eat all of it, so don’t buy more than you can use.
  • Not so good at math? Bring a calculator—it’s always helpful to comparison shop, and when packaged items are on sale, bulk prices are beatable.
  • For bulk bins, buy from a store with heavily shopped bins, since they don’t have “best by” dates. Faster turnover equals fresher goods. For sanitary reasons, make sure the bins have lids and individual scoops.
  • Another way to buy in bulk: Join a buying club, which combines individuals’ buying power to purchase large quantities at a discount. For example, United Buying Clubs ( serves more than 3,000 clubs in 34 states through its website.

4 Sources of Clipworthy Coupons

  1. Frequent-shopper programs: Supermarket chains track purchases made with your membership card—yes, it’s Big Brotherish, but many provide coupons based on that information. Buy organic, and you’ll get offers for organic brands.
  2. Manufacturer websites: Many of the larger organic brands, including Organic Valley, Arrowhead Mills, and Seeds of Change, feature printable coupons on their sites.
  3. Online coupon databases:,, and are just three of the sites that scour the web for offers. There’s no charge, and no need to register.
  4. eBay: Did you know there’s a “Food & Wine” subcategory in Home & Garden that houses coupons? Search for “organic,” and dozens come up. It may seem strange to buy coupons, but recent auctions include a pack of 20, each worth 50 cents off Eggland’s Best Organic Eggs, for $1.88—the net savings is more than $8!

How She Does It

Sarah Brassard, mom of three: 4, 3, and 16 months, Canterbury, Connecticut

How much do you spend on food each week?
About $100, for all meals and snacks—about 75 percent of that goes to organics. We’re vegetarians and we almost never eat out. We eat a lot of rice and beans the week before Christmas so that I can afford all the butter and sugar I need for cookies. And I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

What do you buy organic?
I buy all of our dairy products organic because that’s our biggest single source of protein. In the summer we have a CSA membership and get all of our produce from that—it’s local and certified! In the off months, I buy as much organic produce as I can find at the grocery store, but often there just aren’t the options I want available—I go conventional, or if it’s in the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen, I buy organic frozen or do without.

What’s your best tip for buying organic on a budget?
I cook a lot from scratch—organic frozen waffles are pricey, but the ingredients cost a fraction of that.

How She Does It

Reidy Brown, mom of two: 5 and 3, Arlington, Virginia

How much do you spend on food each week?
I average $130 to $150 a week; 60 to 80 percent of that goes for organic.

Where do you find good prices?
I buy from small vendors first—when I can afford it—because the farmers’ markets here are not cheaper than the grocery store, the way you often read. I try to buy ecoganic, too.

What’s your best tip for buying organic on a budget?
Buy in bulk when you can, and grow your own if possible. When I plan my garden, I review my farmers’ market spending for the year and plant what I spent the most on.

How She Does It

Heather Connor, mom of two: 2 and 7 months, Lexington, South Carolina

How much do you spend on food each week?
I spend about $90 a week on groceries. We are on one income right now, and I’m constantly asked how we do it. Saving money is my mission!

How do you find deals?
I do my shopping in many places: Publix Super Market has a good selection of organic products, and they frequently double coupons. I also like two local stores (14 Carrots and Earthfare) for their selection, but I go when I know they’re having good prices. We also belong to a CSA, and go to farmers’ markets.

What’s your best tip for buying organic on a budget?
Use coupons! A lot of times, if you like a product and e-mail the company, they will send you coupons.

© 2017 May Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy