To Buy Organic or Not – Weighing the Costs

My sister had her first baby last month. He’s a tiny, blonde bundle of sweetness and I can’t wait to watch him grow up with my children, my brother’s children, my other brothers’ kids who are yet to be, and Zachary’s sister’s kids.

A few Fridays ago I had the day to myself and visited my sister and the new little one. I held him and snuggled him and my sister was grateful for a break from the monotony of breastfeed/change the diaper/console/repeat. I’ve been a stay at home mom or work from home mom for the past nine years, I know how it gets, and those first weeks can be a particular shock.

One thing she wanted to do was get out of the house, and top on her list was visiting a newly-opened Whole Foods. She put her son’s infant carrier in one cart and I pushed another that held the food, and we walked up and down the busy, clean aisles, admiring the shelves with organic produce and deli cases of glistening seafood.

Our trip to this shining mecca of wholesomeness had me thinking back to when I used to buy organic milk and produce for our family, probably two kids ago. I always tentatively reach for the organic milk when I’m shopping, but it’s more than twice as much per gallon as the conventional milk we’ve become used to buying, so it doesn’t end up coming home with me. My sister chose some beautiful, organic apples that cost $1 more per pound than I pay for conventionally grown apples (doesn’t that seem backwards? I would think organic would be considered “conventional” seeing as how modern pesticides haven’t been in existence that long, considering the history of humans), and we go through a pound of apples in one day. The grass-fed, organic ground beef at Costco is over a dollar more per pound than what I buy at my local grocery store to make tacos and Swedish meatballs.

Feeding four kids takes a lot of money. Our grocery bill for April was $838.31. That is for food only – we don’t count incidentals like paper towels or garbage bags. Only things we eat. Now, we’ve cut back on eating out, which used to cost us $300-$500 per month and the grocery bill was more like $650, so some of that is for increased meals at home. But still, that is a hefty price tag. I’m wondering where I can cut back, but also I’m trying to be mindful of our health and the earth and wishing I could afford more organic and free-range, grass-fed foods for our family.

May will be an experiment. I’m going to buy more organic milk, yogurt and produce, and keep trying to bake more treats/snacks for the kids vs. buying pre-packaged crackers and such. I recently attempted to make bread for the first time and it didn’t go so well, but I’ll dust the flour off myself and try again. We’re also going to plant our garden in the next few weeks. In the past three years, I think, we’ve had one little 8’x8′ raised bed. This year we’ll add an additional 4’x12′ raised bed and grow our cucumbers, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, sweet peas, green beans, zucchini, parsley, cilantro and basil. I’d also like to try broccoli again, which I failed at last year. Our growing season here in the upper Midwest is rather short, but for those few months it’s incredible to have fresh produce out of our organic garden. Plus the kids love to help, and it encourages to try new foods.

Do you buy organic food for your family? Do you do all organic or pick and choose what is most important to you? How do you keep your grocery bills in check?

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Comments

  1. Oh my goodness-well as you know I also have four kids and can totally relate. We also have the kosher issue on top of it all. Meat is more expensive, etc. I go back and forth with the organic. I.e. I’m completely inconsistent and sometimes it just depends on the price. Like if strawberries are twice the price I don’t, but if just a dollar more I do. It’s not an exact science . . .

    • It’s crazy, isn’t it! And wow, you have a whole other element to consider. My youngest is allergic to peanuts, berries and eggs, and I’m allergic to shellfish and a few other kinds of fish, so trying to plan meals around those restrictions are hard, too (especially when peanut butter is a good alternative to deli meat, for example, or eggs would be a good protein choice, etc.). I am scared for when my kids are teenagers and have bigger appetites, how about you??

  2. I put more emphasis on buying local and in season. An apple is a fall item…who knows where the organic apple came from or how much gas it took to ship it to MN in May. We are a member of a CSA and we pick up ‘organic’ (they don’t have the USDA organic stamp of approval b/c it’s a small local farm) veggies and some fruits every week May-November. And we get our milk, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and meat delivered from a local ‘organic’ dairy. I’m willing to pay more for hormone free milk since Syd and I drink so much of it. I also think buying some organic produce depends on what you are buying. They say to buy organic if it grows in the ground (carrots)…but if it grows on a tree or above the ground, that organic isn’t as nessesary (like organic bananas). I guess if you want to do this while saving $$ figuring out which organic items are more relevant than others may be the first place to save!

    • Good points! It is hard living where we do since our growing season is so short, but I do try to buy what is in season. Except apples and bananas, those always come home with us because my kids eat them up like crazy! But things like peaches, grapes, melons, corn, asparagus, etc. I try to buy seasonally. In part because they are cheaper in-season, but also for the environmentally-friendly aspect. I should work harder at this, though.

  3. I’m sort of a half-hearted organic milk person. I buy a half gallon of Promise Land organic and then a full gallon of regular. I cook with the regular–mac and cheese, eggs, buscuits…etc. The organic is for straight drinking. It probably doesn’t help a thing, but it makes me feel better.

  4. I’m so relieved to see your food expenses. We spend about $600/month (maybe a little more?) on groceries, figuring the cost of meat from the locker and our big stock-up trips to Aldi. My husband thinks it’s too much. I say there are lots of other places we can cut back first, but he sees our grocery bill as an “easy” solution. Sigh. It doesn’t help that my friend who was visiting confessed that she only spend $250/month on groceries for her family of four, they rarely eat out, and eat healthier than probably any family I know. Oh, and her number includes some extras like toilet paper, foil, and garbage bags. I don’t know how she does it!!! Of course my husband heard that figure and the grocery budget is now our go-to topic of disagreement. My argument is that we don’t eat extravagantly, use mostly store brands, limit processed foods, and usually eat everything we buy. Unless you are my freakishly frugal friend, eating is expensive. Sorry for the ramble. I remembered you had written this post and wanted to use it as Exhibit A in my argument 🙂

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