Frugality, organic foods, and the dirty dozen

I am not 100% organic. It’s not worth the expense to me. I walk a funny, fine line between frugality and the highest-quality food. It’s important to me to be using the best, healthiest foods, but it’s also important to me to not destroy my budget. We eat really, really well and enjoy new recipes every week. There are of course standbys, that are great any time. But we never got into the same things every week. You can same a ton of money with a regular menu, but we like to eat and try new things.

This week our menu was:

  • vegetarian stuffed acorn squash
  • butternut squash and flat iron steak
  • salmon burgers and potato fires
  • pork chops with cabbage
  • Latin-ish chicken and rice with veggies

Some of my ingredients were organic, but in the interest of maintaining my budget, not all were.

I generally try to stick to organic with the “Dirty Dozen” – the most contaminated items:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes


The 12 Least Contaminated items I usually head for conventional, unless organic is comparable in price:

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya

The Dirty Dozen can be really hard to remember, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it except for how they crops are grown and how voracious the “pests” are.

I came across this super-cute wallet cheat sheet a while ago! Print one out to help you remember. Teach your kids about their fruits & veggies while you’re at it. (This one reflects the 15 least contaminated foods)


If I peel something before eating it (oranges, carrots) I’ll vote conventional most of the time, because pesticides sprayed on are at least partially removed by discarding the peel. If I’m zesting a lemon though, I’ll get organic. If I’m buying just one piece of produce (like a banana or avocado for the Pie) I’ll usually choose organic.

Although I know I’m consuming some pesticide residue, wax, and whatever other weird stuff is on conventional produce, I have a budget to keep. In the best-case scenario, I would buy everything organic or grow everything myself, but I have priorities to juggle along with mouths to feed.

When I can I buy frozen produce – if I’m using something in a soup or stew or bake or something, frozen is not only less work but in these cases, won’t make much of a difference in the final product. For a pile of veggies on my plate though, fresh is the only way to go.

I shop at farmer’s markets when I can, opting for local over organic. Most local farms with stands at farmer’s markets use organic practices, but may not want to spend the money for the organic certification. The stamp doesn’t mean anything to me, I’m getting the same result. I sometimes ask about farmers’ growing practices, how they deal with their pests, and ask them what’s the best in their crop. Farmers love to talk about what they’ve got!

If you’re looking for a great deal at the farmer’s market and don’t have a specific shopping list, make your rounds at the end of the day. You don’t have the best pickings, but farmers will usually give you a fantastic price because they want to offload instead of packing their trucks back up. Ask for discounts if you’re buying a ton of something – for canning or if you happen to be making a dozen pies or something.

In order to save money, I buy staples in bulk. I try to make it to Costco every month and pick up things I use on a daily or weekly basis – onions, pasta, quinoa, rice, diced tomatoes, oatmeal, coffee, cheese, eggs, milk, among other things. Many of these things are also organic at our local Costco, which is wonderful! I try to only go to the grocery store once or twice a week, which helps me limit impulse buys and buying too much produce. I bake bread or biscuits (well, I try to do that weekly…) and I cook. I make yogurt for the Mountain Man and we eat leftovers for lunch. I try not to waste food – I compost produce scraps and I’ll eat bits and pieces of stuff for lunch or snacks. I’ll save even a few spoonfulls of food, if I know I’ll eat it tomorrow or if it can be added to a soup or salad or something.

Where organic and frugality intersect, I buy. When I can get organically grown local foods (whether certified or just grown using organic procedures) I buy all I can consume. And where organic and my budget diverge I make decisions about each item and my financial restrictions. We used to be a member of a CSA, receiving a box of organic produce weekly from a local farm, and we loved it. It was rather expensive, but worth it in health and the convenience of not having to go to the store for vegetables.If a CSA is a possibility I highly recommend it. You won’t have to think about your shopping list, you will get to experiment with foods you may not normally buy, and you know that you’re supporting local farms and your health. When in doubt, put it in a soup!

It’s sometimes hard to juggle my health and budget priorities, but working with the dirty dozen helps me to be able to draw a line with my budget and give myself permission to focus on frugality in some decision making.

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