How to Incorporate Organic Produce into Your Monthly Food Budget


As a health coach and someone who loves to cook, a lot of people ask if I buy only organic.

The answer?  Not at all!

While I do try to consume organic as often as possible, eating only organic isn't realistic and at times not even necessary. Plus, it can get expensive fast. 

Here's how I navigate the world of organic produce and make smart choices for my family. 

1. Go Local. 

In an ideal world, we would buy all of our produce from the farmers in our local community. And while this isn't possible for every shopping trip, you'd be surprised how many towns and cities have weekend farmers' markets. You'll find peak season produce, fair pricing, and best of all - be able to meet your farmer!

Use this opportunity to ask vendors about their farming methods. A lot of smaller farms implement organic practices, but aren't fully certified as organic due to the expense. Personally, I would much rather buy a pint of in-season strawberries from a trusted farm just up the road than certified organic ones from California. 

Farmers' markets have so much more than produce too. You can find local honey, dairy, eggs, fresh baked breads, and even flowers. 

For a list of farmers' markets in your area search here

2. Shop Smart.

When it comes to shopping for produce in big-box grocery stores, I follow the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.

The EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan environmental research organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They research everything from pesticides in our food to what's in our tap water to the safety of our cosmetics. In other words, they've got our backs. 

The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ (aka The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen) is updated every year and the most current findings are below. I copy and paste these lists into the Notes app on my iPhone. This way, I have easy access to the information whenever I'm at the grocery store. Spinach for example, I'll always buy organic. Avocados on the other hand - no need! 

The Dirty Dozen (as of March 2019)

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Peaches

  8. Cherries

  9. Pears

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Celery

  12. Potatoes

Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Key findings:

  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.

  • Multiple samples of kale showed 18 different pesticides.

  • Kale and spinach samples had, on average, 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

The Clean Fifteen (as of March 2019)

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Frozen sweet peas

  5. Onions

  6. Papayas

  7. Eggplants

  8. Asparagus

  9. Kiwis

  10. Cabbages

  11. Cauliflower

  12. Cantaloupes

  13. Broccoli

  14. Mushrooms

  15. Honeydew melons

Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues. Key findings:

  • Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.

  • More than 70 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.

  • With the exception of cabbage, all other produce on the Clean Fifteen tested positive for less than four pesticides.

  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 6 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.

*From EWG: A small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the US is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce. (This is something I personally practice.)

For the complete list of all 48 fruits and vegetables tested as well as a summary of the 2019 findings, you can visit the EWG website here

If you look at the full list, you'll see that certain foods such as raspberries, carrots, summer squash, and mushrooms fall somewhere in the middle. I try to buy these organic when possible, but if the conventional produce is better quality or the organic prices are astronomically high, I'm likely to go the conventional route. 

Also - don't forget to utilize the frozen foods aisle. 

Frozen fruits and veggies are a great way to buy organic produce that might otherwise be too expensive. They're typically packaged at their peak, which means they taste super fresh and will last for months. Plus the cost is usually much lower than out-of-season fresh produce. In the wintertime especially, I always stock up on frozen berries for smoothies at my local Trader Joe's. 

3. Eat Your Veggies. 

Getting our fill of fruits and vegetables is still #1 priority, and consuming organic shouldn't be viewed as all or nothing. I would much rather you eat a head of non-organic kale than consume none at all.

When you do buy conventional produce (and even organic), be sure to wash it very well. Washing won't remove of all the pesticides or chemicals that a plant absorbs as it grows, but it can reduce your risk to exposure. 

So, on your next grocery trip, be sure to stock-up using my budget friendly tips and try one of these veggie-focused recipes while you're at it.