Cheap healthy eating tips: organic food on a tight budget

Buying all your food organic is not always possible on a tight budget, but eating well is an essential part of good health, and the quality of the food you eat is vital. Often left in the ground or on the tree longer and grown in lovely rich compost, organic food can be superior in quality and in taste – yum!

If buying pesticide-free, more nutritious food is important to you, you can pay a bit extra to avoid the most heavily-pesticided fruits and vegetables grown using the nastiest methods, while still buying the cheaper, conventional produce that is lowest in pesticide residue, or produce with thicker skins most people don’t eat, like bananas.

3627894519 3f48d8d2df Cheap healthy eating tips: organic food on a tight budget
cc Cheap healthy eating tips: organic food on a tight budget photo credit: nosha

Buy Organic!

Top Ten Dirty Fruit high in pesticide residue (highest pesticide first):

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Cherries
  6. Imported Grapes
  7. Pears
  8. Raspberries
  9. USA-grown Grapes
  10. Plums

Top Ten Dirty Vegetables:

  1. Capsicum (Bell Peppers)
  2. Celery
  3. Kale
  4. Lettuce
  5. Carrots
  6. Collard Greens
  7. Spinach
  8. Potatoes
  9. Green Beans
  10. Summer Squash, eg. Zucchini (Courgette)

Save Money!

Top Ten Clean Fruits low in pesticide residue (starting at the lowest):

  1. Pineapple
  2. Mango
  3. Kiwi
  4. Papaya
  5. Watermelon
  6. Grapefruit
  7. Honeydew Melon
  8. Cranberries
  9. Rockmelon (Cantaloupe)
  10. Bananas

Top Ten Clean Vegetables:

  1. Onions
  2. Avocado
  3. Asparagus
  4. Frozen peas
  5. Cabbage
  6. Eggplant (Aubergine)
  7. Broccoli
  8. Tomato
  9. Sweet Potato
  10. Winter Squash

Don’t forget! Tips for saving more money:

  • Grow some of your favourite herbs and greens in pots very easily! We’ve also had success growing capsicum (red and green peppers), chilli peppers, cucumbers, zucchinis (courgettes), tomatoes, kaffir lime, and some citrus trees in pots.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets – buying direct from the farmer avoids the middle-man (stupormarket/corporate) costs.
  • Buy food that’s in-season in your local area! Plentiful produce + less shipping = more competition + lower costs. (Here are in-season guides for Australia/the southern hemisphere: Market Fresh and SBS Food, and for the USA/UK/northern hemisphere: Sustainable Table and Eat the Seasons.)
  • If you interact with growers directly, you can ask them questions about how they grow their food – not all organic/clean produce is certified! Some people don’t want to pay for certification, or may not agree with all the terms and conditions involved in certification. (You’ll have to decide whether to trust the word of individual growers!)
  • Buy in bulk: ask growers at the markets for the best price they can give you in larger quantities. Some foods like bananas or figs can be frozen to be used in smoothies or icecream or baking later. Bananas can also be bought at varying degrees of ripeness, so if you can get a mixed box of 10kg – from very ripe to very green and everything in-between – you’ll be set for weeks! Garlic and onion will last for AGES if stored in a dark, cool place. Or hook up with a few healthy friends and split the cost!
  • Some commercial warehouses or food delivery businesses that sell produce to shops and restaurants are open to the public once or twice a week. A town I used to live in had an outlet shop in an industrial area for in-season fruit and vegetables that the stupormarkets and other stores didn’t want to buy because they already had too much – a bit of Googling and a flick through the local business pages can save you a tonne of cash!
  • Sign up for free discount clubs and newsletters in organic stores – they nearly always have them. See if there are any co-ops in your area with the same sorts of discount programs.

(Note: the organic lists above are based on pesticide residue found on produce in the USA according to the USDA. If anyone has differing details for fresh produce from Europe, Australia, Asia, etc, I’d be happy to add it. Please let me know!)

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  • Kaitie

    This was great! A common response I get from those who eat meat is that being vegetarian is too expensive. Usually what I tell them is that eating healthy can be more expensive, but the amount you consume shouldn’t change too much because you should be eating fruits and vegetables even if you still eat meat! But I think that eating healthy can be expensive if you don’t know how to do it, and especially if you don’t plan ahead. Planning meals ahead of time allows you to get the right ingredients instead of last minute settling on mac n’ cheese. Good post!

    • RenéeMBM

      Fresh produce can be expensive, but that’s exactly it: it’s not just a vego problem! Anyone who eats fresh fruit and veg has to pay a little attention to avoid being ripped off. Processed organic foods can be expensive, too, but lentils, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts? Not so much if you pay a little attention to seasonal changes there, too! And certainly not expensive relative to “happy meat.” Not even comparable.

      I definitely don’t plan all my meals ahead of time, though. I could save a bit more if I did that! Good point. (:

  • Sarah Jans

    Hello, thank you for such a wonderful website. I’m vegan and GF so i find it valuable indeed!
    I’m lucky enough to work in an organic stall and we often get asked questions about this topic, why some organic produce is more expensive (like red capsicums and mushrooms), and what people can eat safely conventionally grown. Broccoli, is on our never eat conventionally list though. Mostly because its in brassicaceae and like kale, and cauliflower most pests love to eat their leaves, and they’re sprayed many times as the heads develop. Also, the large surface area of the head mean it absorbs much more of those pesticides!
    Hope this is helpful. :)

    • RenéeMBM

      Thanks for the info, Sarah!

      If I’m not growing it, I always try to buy broccoli organic just because I’ve found it tastes much better.