Typically, I pride myself on being a pretty good grocery shopper. Although Joe and I spend a decent amount of money on groceries each week ($100/wk), I like to think that it’s a pretty great bang for our buck considering the quality and healthfulness of the items we purchase. Each Saturday morning, I sit with my computer and compare the sales fliers of the two local grocery stores we shop at (HyVee and Fareway for you Midwesterners) to decide what I will buy where. It’s an amazingly effective strategy that saves us a lot of money. And unlike coupon clipping, I find it really fun to browse the store fliers.

Of course, most of the time the produce and other items on sale are not for organic products, but rather the more conventionally-raised and grown items, so that is what we eat by default. And while I’ve always felt a pull toward wanting to purchase more organic food, it’s always seemed so expensive to do so. This week, I decided to do a little experiment. When possible, I was going to purchase organic fruits, veggies, dairy and other weekly staples to see how our grocery bill stacked up against a week when we didn’t purchase anything organic.

I assumed that it would be easy to find organic equivalents of all my typical weekly staples. Boy was I wrong! It turns out that finding organic food in the small-ish town that we live in was much harder than I imagined. I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to buy 100% (or even close to it) organic food items, so I decided to settle for what I could find.

Since Joe and I eat a lot of dairy in the form of Greek yogurt and milk, finding organic diary items was my first priority. Some studies say that the hormonal impact of organic dairy is less than that of conventional dairy products, and that organic milk has lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids (believed to be harmful to the heart in large amounts) and higher in heart-healthy omega 3′s.

Where matters of produce are concerned, I decided to focus on buying organic items from the dirty dozen list, a compilation of the food that contain the greatest amount of pesticide contamination. I knew we would have very little chance of finding organic equivalents for every item we wanted to buy, and I was right. It was incredibly difficult!

Items Purchased:
*Free-Range Organic Eggs ($3.08)
*1/2 Gal. Organic Light Soy Milk ($2.67)
*1/2 Gal. Organic 2% Milk ($3.58)
*2 (16-ounce) containers organic plain 0% Greek yogurt  ($3.98/each)
*1 (4-pack) organic flavored Greek yogurts ($3.98)

*Kashi Organic Island Vanilla cereal ($3.00)
*Organic hearts of romaine lettuce ($3.68)
*2 lbs. organic green grapes ($5.60 – $2.68/lb)
*Organic baby carrots ($1.48)
*3 Lara Bars ($2.50 total)

As I look back at the list and prices of the items we purchased, it seems really expensive to me! Surprisingly, we managed to stay within a few dollars of our weekly grocery budget and had plenty of food to eat throughout the week. Surprising, right? I’m not sure if I unconsciously compensated for the more expensive items, but I didn’t feel like we ate less or lower quality food than usual. I’ll have to give it another couple weeks to see if this was just a fluke.

Let me also take a minute to say that I agree that the cost/benefit ratio for organics is very mixed, and I myself am undecided on how I feel about organic vs. conventional methods of farming. Since I like to err on the side of caution, organics appeal to me because I like to know the impact the things I’m consuming have on my body. Do the chemicals and hormones used in traditional farming practices have a negative impact on our health? I’m not entirely sure. Do I think that it’s practical (and affordable) to think that we can feed the world’s population with organic food? Not really. Food choices are a very personal thing, and how each one of us chooses to spend our food dollars is a matter of personal preference. I’m largely undecided on how I feel about organics and what is right for our family based on health and our current budget. It’s interesting, and eye opening, to experiment with purchasing organic food, and I anticipate that I’ll continue to try and find the balance that is right for us over the weeks and months to come.

That said, I’m curious to hear what you all think. Do you think it’s worth the extra money to purchase organic food? What items, if any, do you always make an effort to purchase organic? 

 Madison

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  • Heather @ girlyeverafter

    I go back and forth w/ buying organic and usually do 1/2 and 1/2 on my trips. Dairy, eggs, meat and any produce where the skin is edible I always buy organic. For everything else I look at the labels and avoid tons of preservatives, additives, and sodium. I also try to buy local as often as possible to avoid anything bad, but convenience sometimes wins out.

  • http://livefaithfully.blogspot.com/ Urban Wife

    I’m usually 50/50 on buying organic everything. Some stuff (i.e. produce, dairy, meat, etc.) I feel is worth the extra cost, since it impacts our long-term health. Other things (anything pre-packaged which we don’t buy much anyways) I really don’t care much whether it’s organic or not.

  • Lea @ Greens And Coffee Beans

    I try to buy organic when I can, but I’m a broke little college student so it doesn’t always happen. Even if you’re not sure about the health benefits, buying organic is still important because organic farming is much better for the environment than conventional farming.

  • Cindy Germann

    I’m wishy-washy with organic. I love the idea of it, but the reality is that it’s expensive! I do the majority of our grocery shopping at Aldi and they don’t sell organic, so that makes it harder. We buy our (grass-fed) beef from a local farmer, and I get as many veggies as I can from the farmers market during the summer. If I’m stocking up at Costco I’ll go for organic when it’s feasible. We really only eat produce and meat (and eggs!!) for the most part, so I’d love to switch to all organic, but….youch. I’m really interested to see what you find with your grocery bill experiment!

  • jamie

    i try to buy organic when it comes to certain items. i also like to look at the “clean 15″ list (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/). i definitely think it’s worthwhile to buy organic dairy, but i’ve tried to steer clear of dairy as much as possible because, organic or not, by it’s very nature there’s a hormonal impact. all that said, it can be difficult and stressful to make every single food purchase an organic, local, grass-fed, free-range, etc. one…so i really feel like it’s just about doing the best you can.

  • Cassandra

    I think it’s important to weigh out what you need to buy organic and what you don’t– like checking the “dirty dozen” list as you did. For some foods, it doesn’t matter at all (from what I understand).
    While I lived in Idaho, I had a chance to live and work on a small organic “farm” (a large garden whose produce we sold at Farmer’s Market), and it really opened my eyes. I see the comparison between organic farming and mainstream farming as being similar to holistic/homeopathic medicine and traditional medicine. Really, though, I don’t know how feasible organic is on the large scale…

    So, like you, I guess I’m undecided. Finances have a lot of pull, and it is cheaper to go with the traditionally grown foods, at least for me. (Maybe because I buy my produce at the dollar store?)

    Long story short, I guess we each need to make a responsible, informed decision for ourselves.. wherever we land on the spectrum.

  • Laura @FoodSnobSTL

    We always buy organic dairy, meat and dirty dozen veggies. It is worth it to us because I am breastfeeding and we want to minimize her exposure to stuff like that.

  • Marissa

    I like the idea of organic, when possible. But I feel that buying local is more important to me, since the carbon footprint of transporting food can be so high and so many foods are available close to home. (Why would I want apples from New Zealand when so many varieties are grown within BC? -Im from Vancouver).
    The only thing Im a sucker to buy organic is milk. I dont drink very much milk, but I find that the quality difference always makes it a better choice. Plus it tastes so much creamier so I find I can buy 1% and it still tastes like 2%.

  • Ashley @ Happy Penguin Press

    Hi Madison, We started buying the majority (maybe 75-80%) of our groceries organically a few years ago. We made the choice because after a few weeks of personal study, we found that my husband’s Crohn’s Disease was much easier to manage on a mostly organic diet. In fact, he felt a noticeable difference, and I did too. Having a Whole Foods Market in our town makes this much easier for us. We find their prices to be very competitive with other local grocery chains, so meeting our budget each week has been pretty easy.