Organic Food for Less

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Finding Frugal Organics

"The idea of eating more organic food always comes up," says Jim Juliano, 41, a stay-at-home dad to Clara, 4, and husband to Catherine Leclair, 36, an Ob/Gyn at Oregon Health Sciences University. "But we always think, 'Forget it. It's too expensive or too much work.'" It's a common complaint, which is why Organic Style took on the challenge of remaking the Julianos' shopping list. The goal wasn't to go 100 percent organic. (Really, who actually lives that way?) Rather, we wanted to show the family how to incorporate healthier food into their diet without spending more money or more time shopping. See how we made over the Julianos' grocery list and how you can use the same techniques on your own trips to the store.

How the Julianos Shop Now

Current Grocery List

4 cans beans ($1.19 each) $4.76
1 gallon milk $3.09
Peanut butter $2.99
London broil steak ($7.79 per pound) $7.56
Chicken sausage $4.99
1 pound asparagus $3.99
1 pound peeled baby carrots $1.89
Broccoli ($1.69 per pound) $1.98
Dried apricots $3.58
Braeburn apples ($.99 per pound) $1.22
Navel oranges ($1.49 per pound) $1.31
Mayonnaise $3.99
Hershey's chocolate syrup $2.49
1 pound butter $3.50
4 containers yogurt ($.80 each) $3.20
Maple syrup $6.99

Current list total: $57.53

Number of organic or hormone-free items: 0 (out of 16)

Since Leclair works 60 to 70 hours a week, Juliano does most of the family's shopping.

Trips per week: Three. One big outing to QFC (a chain owned by Kroger's) and Safeway to stock up on basics, and two express-lane trips for last-minute items

Food concerns: The family already eats a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in heavily processed foods. But Leclair, a doctor, worries about antibiotics in dairy products leading to drug-resistant bacteria.

< a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"> < img src="/resource/photos/shutterstock/shutterstock_120973696.jpg" width="300px" border="0px" alt="Saving on Organic Foods" />Woman Grocery Shopping photo from Shutterstock

What We Had the Julianos Do

The Julianos' local stores do carry some organic food, but not enough to make it possible to shop at just two of them without spending a bundle. We introduced Jim to Trader Joe's, a California-based discount food chain with nearly 200 stores in 17 states and New Seasons, a local Portland health-food chain with four stores. Then we armed him with some simple shopping strategies. Here's how it worked.

Made-Over Grocery List

4 cans organic beans ($.89 each) $3.56
1 gallon milk $5.89
Organic peanut butter $4.69
London broil steak containing no growth-promoting antibiotics ($6.69 per pound) $6.49
Chicken/turkey sausage $3.99
1 pound asparagus $2.29
1 pound peeled baby organic carrots $1.39
Organic broccoli ($.99 per pound) $1.16
Dried apricots $4.69
Organic Braeburn apples ($1.49 per pound) $1.71
Organic navel oranges ($.89 per pound) $1.09
Mayonnaise $4.99
Hershey's chocolate syrup $2.49
1 pound BST-free butter $3.69
4 containers organic yogurt ($.89 each) $3.56
Organic maple syrup $6.99

Made-over list total: $58.67

Number of organic and/or hormone-free items: 11 (out of 16)

1. Set priorities.

Since the family is concerned about hormones and antibiotics, and Leclair and Clara drink milk every day, organic milk is a justifiable expense.

2. Buy local produce.

Fruits and vegetables that haven't traveled far are likely to have fewer, if any, preservatives. Shop at farmers' markets and look for stores that carry local foods.

3. Compromise.

At Trader Joe's, organic butter is $3.59 a pound, while regular is $1.79. Juliano split the difference by buying non-organic butter, free of the hormone BST (bovine somatotropin).

4. Shop at discount grocers.

Trader Joe's carries more than 140 organic items. Costco and Wal-Mart also sell a large number of organic products at discount.

5. Keep track of prices.

Many organic fruits and vegetables are now the same price as or cheaper than conventional ones.

6. Buy conventional when it makes little difference.

Some fruits and vegetables are more contaminated by pesticides than others.

7. Indulge a little.

Denying yourself a favorite food will make shopping for organic products feel like a punishment, rather than something you'll want to stick with.

8. Buy in bulk.

Juliano could have saved more by purchasing a single 27-ounce tub of organic yogurt for just $2.49 but opted for the convenience of single 6-ounce servings.

More Ways to Save on Organics

Join a co-op, local farm, or CSA. Community-Supported Agriculture farms provide fresh produce to members weekly. Visit the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (

Use coupons. Although hard to find, organic product coupons do exist.

Buy frozen food. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables out of season can be expensive and unhealthy if they are among those most contaminated by pesticides.

Make your own. Making simple dishes like pancakes, waffles, and spaghetti sauce from scratch can yield real savings.

After the Makeover

Ten days after our shopping trip, we contacted Juliano for a reality check. His biggest revelation? "Going organic is affordable!" What else he learned:

Quality can vary. Juliano reported that the canned organic pinto beans from Trader Joe's were "terrible-really chalky." But the next time he saw organic beans at QFC, he gave them a try. The verdict: terrific.

It's worth paying more for great taste. Trader Joe's organic yogurt was fine, says Juliano, but Brown Cow organic yogurt, which he bought the following week for an additional $.20 a tub, was delicious. "I'd pay more for it because it's better."

Convenience counts. Juliano still often shops at QFC because it's two minutes closer than New Seasons.

Take this List to the Grocery Store

Tests by the Environmental Working Group reveal that pesticide residues in fresh foods vary widely. When setting your shopping priorities, keep the following in mind.

Food High in Pesticides

Bell peppers
Chile peppers
Imported grapes

Food Low in Pesticides

Brussels sprouts

Updated September 2013

Organic Style® is filled with information and inspiration to help you get even more enjoyment from your life and show you how to live in harmony with the world around you.

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