Organic on a Budget

The last few years have been economically stressful for many people. In these penny-pinching times, eating well and cooking wholesome, delicious meals is a priority for many.

Nourishing food sustains us by reducing stress. Calm meals, especially those shared with family and friends, can help prevent anxiety and brings people closer together.

Shopping for bulk foods and cooking from scratch whenever possible are always good ideas. Not used to that kind of cooking? Here are some inexpensive, easy ways to start cooking organic food, including recipes from our own demo program, What's for Supper? The Wedge has brought organic food to Minnesotans for over 35 years, so we can help you make the best choices and save a little money in the process.

Here are three pieces of advice to keep in mind before you start shopping organically:

Tip: You can find all Wedge specials online. Typically, organic foods will be indicated with an "O." When the packaged goods you want go on sale, start adding organic foods to your cupboards.

1. Pin-point Shopping

You don't have to buy everything organic every time you shop. By pin-pointing your shopping, you can save money and still make a real difference for your health. Certain foods carry a higher pesticide burden than others. Peaches are the worst, while onions are the safest, according to the Environmental Working Group. We recommend avoiding the top 10 or even top 20 on that list. As you make your grocery list, write an "O" next to the items with the highest pesticide load so you buy those foods organically when you shop. The Wedge Produce Department has this list posted and Customer Service can find it for you, too.

2. Know the foods your household consumes the most

Even without buying all organic food, you can still make an impact by identifying which foods your family consumes the most. For example, does your family drink a lot of milk? A Danish study proved that organic milk from grass-fed cows (like those from Cedar Summit Dairy of New Prague, MN) is higher in the healthy fatty acid CLA than traditionally made milk—now that's a smart, heart-healthy purchase. What fruit do your kids enjoy the most? Especially if thin-skinned fruits like apples and strawberries are preferred, buy them organically and keep them in good supply to encourage that kind of eating in the future.

3. Budget your time

It's easy to let time slip away when life gets hectic, and, to make time, busy families often cut corners where food is concerned. We say go ahead and slow down, if you can, or find other areas of your life to shave off a few minutes. Always keep dinner unhurried, sacred and fun.

For Fun: A slow cooker is great for making big batches of food while you're at work, but why not view dinner as part of your family's time together, too? Try new recipes with foods you know your kids love, or better yet, get them to decide what new recipes you can all try.

For Family Time: Cook together. Little kids love to get their hands on food, whether it's kneading dough for dinner rolls or shredding lettuce for salad, and you'll be glad to know how much better older kids eat if they get to be part of the cooking as well. Making dinner prep a family activity even just one night a week is an easy way to get everyone involved. And once it's started, that family time becomes a tradition.

For Health: Organic food is an excellent investment for your health. Many studies, including a recent four-year-long European Union study, have proven organic food is loaded with powerful, cancer-fighting antioxidants—up to 40% more than traditionally grown foods. Because eating all organic can often mean a higher food bill, try re-evaluating your budget and seeking out areas where you can save money and eat more healthfully. Seasonally changing your diet is also a fun challenge, allowing four distinct seasons of cooking and eating.

For Date Night: Do you and yours currently budget for eating out? Make each dinner date an adventure by choosing restaurants with seasonal menus that emphasize the great local foods of Minnesota, or those that cook with organic ingredients.

For Left Overs: Does your hectic work schedule leave precious little time for home cooking? Prepare extra when you have the chance and make sure to use those leftovers for lunches or dinners. Just don't show your coworkers—they'll be asking for a trade, or an invitation to dinner!

Cash in on coupons: Coupons are a great way to save on your favorite organic products. Many manufacturers make printable coupons available on their websites. You can also ask your organic retailer about in-store products for which coupons are available.

Organic: The Next Steps

When people start buying organic foods, they often think it means simply replacing every conventional snack or packaged product they currently eat with new organic counterparts. The former is not necessarily "bad"—those items can do the trick when we're so strapped for time we can barely think and all we crave is something quick and easy. The real goal here is getting ourselves away from the less nutritious, manufactured foods and towards cooking with natural, whole ingredients so we can keep pace in our ever-busy lives. As you include more organic foods on your shopping list, keep in mind that healthful, joyful eating, rather than constant meals on the go, will sustain you and your family best.

More ideas for organic on a budget with recipes and more.