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First off, I want to acknowledge that I buy organic foods and produce as much as possible for my family, and Project Non-GMO verified when we can’t (there is a difference). Still, we only purchase about 90-95% Non-GMO groceries because living GMO free is so difficult in this country. Even doing that and with plenty of organic and gluten free coupons, we spend roughly $200 a week on food. That means we sacrifice in other areas, because we believe food has a MAJOR impact on the health of our girls.
This is why I use so many coupons and rebate apps, even if I don’t make a ton of money there. I’m also that pain-in-the-ass on line who will argue over a $1.00 overcharge when the price doesn’t match what it says on the shelf or go to customer service to fix a coupon problem or return $3 items if they are wrong for some reason.
Feeding children with food sensitivities or allergies all organic is very costly and I’m painfully aware that not every family can afford $200/week grocery bill. And until online food stamps become a reality, those who live in food desserts have no good options. The truth is it’s a lot of work to select healthy food products if you can’t afford organic. So when I am out of budget for organic and GMO free foods, I do make certain choices. I’m sharing what you should do if you are on a limited budget to ensure your family is eating the safest food your budget can buy.
How To Shop If You Can’t Afford Organic
The following are tips for when you can’t afford to purchase 90% of your food organic, nonGMO or grass fed.
Tips For Buying Cleaner Packaged Foods
- Find affordable Non GMO brands.
More and more everyday brands are going non-GMO, like Dannon or Cheerios. Visit the websites of the brands you love to see what their policies about GMOs are now and in the future. Are they making new commitments to organics and non GMO foods down the road?
- Buy foods with less ingredients.
I’m not going to give you a general guideline, like “less than 5 ingredients.” I will tell you that you can look up each and every ingredient on the EWG database. I’ve done that and it takes forever. Instead, buy foods that are only made with familiar and real foods: wheat, tomatoes, vanilla, etc. Natural Bliss Coffee Creamer comes to mind if you must use creamer; it only has 3 ingredients, contains no RBST dairy (very bad) and claims to be GMO free, although it’s not verified.
- Buy products that say they are GMO free.
It’s not a legal standard but there is a law against false advertising. It also may apply to some but not all of the ingredients, so take this sort of label with a grain of salt but it’s better than 100% full of GMOs.
- Avoid artificial food dyes and preservatives.
These kinds of ingredients are linked to all kind of cancers and brain issues. Avoid them at all costs! Side note: natural flavor is not always great either but I’d pick it over artificial any day.
- Avoid soy and MSG.
Even if you buy organic, soy really is the devil. It messes with your hormone levels, so unless you know where they are at, you should avoid even organic soy. There are better substitutes. And MSG is terrible! Learn more about this toxin that destroys neurons and the various names and products that contain MSG.
- Avoid the worst non-organic foods.
GMOs are not in everything but they are in some crops: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini, yellow summer squash and GMO sweet corn. Visit the Non GMO Project fact page to learn what other crops may have significant risk, what crops to worry about and common ingredients that are derived from GMOs. (This helps with tip #2!)
- Avoid GMO under it’s various names.
The Non GMO Shopping Guide has an extensive list of “invisible” genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
- Cook more fresh foods.
The less packaged food – and that includes sauces and mixes – the better. Cook fresh when you can!
Tips For Buying Cleaner Fresh Foods
- Buy non-organic produce with thick skin.
Think spaghetti squash, pineapples, bananas, etc. Make sure you are not buying any GMO produce because then the threat comes from within and a thick skin won’t matter.
- Visit local farmer’s markets.
When you go, talk to the vendors about their produce or livestock and how they farm/raise them. To save money, go near the end of the market as vendors need to give away for dirt cheap what they haven’t sold!
- Know your vendors/suppliers.
If something comes from a local farm, check them out online and if you can, visit the farm or call them to answer your questions. Some farms abide by the organic standard but simply cannot afford the certification.
- Buy pesticide/herbicide free produce.
You can get this at local farm stand, but remember, you cannot verify it. The local Amish and Mennonite communities often sell produce with this sign on it around here. It’s not organic, but you’re not getting pesticides and that’s a good thing.
- Buy your supermarket’s organic brands.
They can be more affordable or go on sale from time to time. The key is where they sourcing their food – is it local? – and how they treat or care about their suppliers.
- Buy the “Clean 15” only.
The Environmental Working Group makes it easy its annual list of the cleanest and “dirtiest” produce, in terms of pesticides. You should avoid the Dirty Dozen altogether or buy only organic.
- Buy hormone and antibiotic free meats.
It’s better than the other options, even though it’s not the best. You can also eat less meat if this worries.
- Buy “No RBST” dairy.
If you find a milk or product that has this on the label, grab it! Conventional milk is sometimes made this way.
Tips For Buying Bath, Beauty and Personal Products
- Look for products that are fragrance free.
- Find products that are free of parabens, phthalates and sulfates.
- Make smart trade offs. For example, you can buy reasonably priced (but not cheap) sunscreen which is so important. If you only wear certain kinds of makeup once in a while, you can go cheaper on those items. Physician’s Assistant products get good to so-so rating at EWG’s skin deep database, so I use that brand on the occasions I wear makeup. You can buy Tom’s of Maine deodorant, but there are some with safer ingredients than others from that brand.
- If you can, create DIY products.
- Find bargain sized brands. I recommend Alaffia Everyday Coconut Super Hydrating Shampoo and Everyday Coconut Super Hydrating Conditioner. Affordable around $10-11 for a 32 ounce bottle – and most effective if you buy the conditioner too.
General Money Saving Tips
- Shop before you shop.
Do the research – what’s on sale, what’s has a rebate, which brands are giving coupons. Check circulars, the Pirc app, your Cartwheel app for Target…you never know where the discounts will be.
- Combine discounts.
Ultimately, you want to shop for items on sale with a coupon (or more if your store allows) and then submit it for a rebate. For example, Pirc will tell me when there is a discount on paper products at CVS, which I can then combine with coupons and discounts that I get from their app and being a member.
- Buy bulk.
We actually haven’t found any brands that work like this for us in bulk shops but a new one is coming to us!
- Use your loyalty card.
One reason I love Giant? They now let you load coupons right to your card. And, you can accumulate points for a discount on gas. Awesome.
- Forget going green with paper products.
Just get what’s on sale and/or rebate.
- Always be on the lookout.
My Big Lots often has dented organic brands or Beanitos for stupid cheap. It’s actually worth the extra stop.
- Visit your health food store.
Usually these are more expensive, but mine has the best organic produce prices.
- Allot a portion of your budget for organic.
It’s worth it if you ask me! Even buying 10% or 20% of your food organic will reduce your body’s exposure to pesticides.
Want more tips and ways to save on organic and allergy-free food? Check out these articles: