By Lauren Fischer

If you had a money tree, your grocery cart would be piled high with organic everything. But like your parents always said, money does not grow on trees. High-quality food is important, but so is paying your bills. Balancing your budget and nutrition is possible by prioritizing the foods that justify higher prices for added health benefits. In most cases, the foods deserving of more dough are foods that are contaminated by pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.

Produce

Conventional farming practices allow the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. These chemicals keep the bugs at bay but they do not go away — even after washing and peeling produce. A 2016 study from the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) pesticide data program found 230 different pesticides and pesticide residues on produce samples they analyzed.

Pesticides may be associated with negative health effects in adults and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports, “associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” Furthermore, Harvard conducted an Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study that found men and women who reported frequently eating produce with high levels of pesticide residues had fertility problems. Fortunately, many grocers now sell organic produce, which must be USDA certified organic meaning they are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

According to the USDA pesticide data program, there are recurring fruits and vegetables that test higher than other fruits and vegetables for pesticides and pesticide residue. The Environmental Working Group calls these fruits and vegetables the dirty dozen and the most recent dirty dozen list includes strawberries, spinach, grapes, tomatoes, pears, apples, lettuce, cherries, cucumbers and green beans. Organic is worth the price for these fruits and vegetables. There are also fruits and vegetables that are often on the lower end of pesticide containments according to the USDA. Those foods include cranberries, grapefruits, oranges and sweet potatoes. You can save money by opting to shop conventional rather than organic on those fruits and vegetables.

Meat

Conventionally farmed livestock are exposed to antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. According to the AAP, the use of antibiotics in food that animals consume contributes to antimicrobial resistance, a serious public-health threat. Drug resistant bacteria develop in antibiotic treated animals and can be transmitted to humans.

However, organically farmed animals are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, are fed 100 percent certified organic feed and are less likely to carry drug-resistant bacteria. While organic is the more nutritional and healthier option, organic meats can be expensive. There are other healthy options that may be less expensive than organic, such as beef, pork and poultry free of antibiotics and hormones, and lean cuts of conventional meat like chicken breast or top sirloin steak. 

If you are trying to eat healthier without breaking the bank, setting aside a portion of your grocery budget for organic meats, vegetables and fruits provides the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.

Beyond buying organic when necessary to avoid antibiotics and pesticides, here are some more tips so you can continue to eat healthy while saving money.

  • Build your meal plan and shopping list around buy one get one free and sale items.
  • Shop for produce that is in season as it is often on sale.
  • Stock up on organic or antibiotic-free meats during sales and look for opportunities to buy in bulk from retail warehouse clubs or farmers markets. Separate your purchase into portion sizes appropriate for your family and freeze.
  • Buy fresh meat and produce for the beginning of the week and frozen for the end of the week.
  • Compare organic and non-organic food prices at your local grocers to find the most budget-friendly store.
  • Find a local farmers market for fresh and affordable produce.
  • Explore the numerous healthy, budget-friendly meal plans available online.