How to Eat Organic on a Budget

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure you have too: It’s too expensive to eat organic. But I finally decided to ditch the excuses and figure out how to make it work. Through a lot of planning, some readjusting of my expectations, and a little work, I think I’ve figured it out.

Do we really need to eat organic over nonorganic? Here are a few reasons why the answer is yes: Organic food doesn’t have nearly the amount of dangerous pesticides and hormones that nonorganic foods do, if any at all. Organic food is grown in healthier soil, under conditions that promote nutrient value. Organic meats come from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, while conventionally produced meat comes from animals that never see the light of day or a blade of fresh grass.

That being said, it can still be tough to balance your love of healthy living against your need to pay the bills. At first, it might take more planning and cooking than you’re used to, but you’ll feel great knowing your body is healthy and your money isn’t going to waste. Here are my tips for eating organic on a budget:

#1. Grow and Cook Your Own Food

Don’t feel intimidated about growing your own food. Even if you’re plagued with the black thumb, you can turn your luck around and learn to garden if you try. I did it, and now gardening, growing my own food, and cooking healthy meals feels like my most natural skill set.

Start with growing a few herbs on your kitchen windowsill or any sunny spot you can find. I started with rosemary, basil, parsley, and chives. Herbs don’t take up a lot of space, so you can grow them even if you don’t have a yard or garden.

Herbs are easy, and as long as you buy organic seeds or starter plants, you shouldn’t have to use any chemicals. If your plants get some invasive bugs, you can use an organic insecticide like neem oil to ward them off. Just remember to check the soil to make sure it’s got plenty of organic compost. Soil health determines the health of your plants.

As you get more comfortable gardening, start growing a few of your favorite vegetables. If you buy them organic from the start, give them healthy soil, and avoid using pesticides, you’re on your way to growing your own organic produce at only a fraction of the cost of buying them. Even better, you’ll experience the simple gratification of growing your own food and enjoy the amazing meals you’ll be able to cook at home.

#2. Prep and Freeze Meals

For me, the thing that most helped me be successful was prepping and freezing healthy organic meals to eat throughout the week. This weekly ritual has not only saved me a lot of money, but it’s also saved me so much time that my life is less stressful.

During the week, I often come home so tired from work that I don’t feel like cooking a healthy meal. But when I have a convenient, healthy, homemade frozen dinner waiting for me, I have no excuse. You might want to invest in a good vacuum sealer, but that will be easy with all the money you save by eating leftovers and reducing your food waste.

Almost any meals that freeze well can be made with organic ingredients. For an easy lunch or on-the-go dinner, try these spiced lentil, sweet potato, and kale wheat pockets. For a busy weeknight dinner, you can whip up a healthy casserole, stuffed peppers, soup, or curry. Just pull dinner out of the freezer after work and pop it in the oven. This is the easiest way to eat healthy and organic without overspending.

There are several fun and easy-to-master recipes in Men in Kitchens: A Good Day to Dine Hard. (This cookbook would also make an excellent gift for any men in your life who could use a little help honing their kitchen skills.) An even fresher option is to use a slow cooker. You’ll find unique, globally inspired recipes in the Slow Cook Gourmet by Chef Phyllis Quinn.

#3. Drink More Water

Water makes up 70 percent of your body weight and is essential to living a balanced, healthy life. We need water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and hygiene. Access to clean water not only protects us from disease and death, it can change the world.

Choosing water instead of sugary drinks is one of the easiest ways to live a healthier, more energetic life—and save money while you’re at it. But is water organic? The short answer is no. The USDA bars companies from stating that their water is organic, even if it’s obtained under certified organic soil. You may see an organic label on some flavored waters, but the water itself isn’t counted, only the herb or fruit juice ingredients.

The ideal drinking water is spring or well water that contains calcium bicarbonate—the kind of water that leaves a calcium deposit in the teakettle. It’s the easiest form of calcium for the body to assimilate. It helps build healthy, strong bones and protects against polio, colds, and fevers, especially in children.

Eating organic on a budget is easy when you put a little effort into it. If you can grow a few of your own ingredients, plan ahead, freeze organic meals, home-cook your food, and drink water rather than soda and pasteurized fruit drinks, you’re on the right track.

Do you have any tips for eating organic on a budget? Share them in the comments below!

Tylene Welch

Tylene is a writer, photographer, and gardener in Idaho. She spends the winter making homemade soup and reading Harry Potter. Follow on Twitter @tylenewelch.

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