We all know it’s important to eat fresh, healthy foods. The trouble is deciphering which ones, exactly, are fresh and healthy. All those labels can be confusing, and deceiving: organic, all natural, free range, non-GMO? What does it all mean? Does organic even make a real difference? And, what will buying these often more expensive items do to our wallets? Here are some tips to help make sense of it all.

  1. Buy in season. Perhaps one of the easiest things we can do to ensure fresh, healthy, AND affordable food is to buy things when they are in season. Visit farmer’s markets, roadside produce stands and local farms for the freshest in-season fruits and vegetables. You can often ask the farmer directly how it was grown, and what pesticides were used. Even at the regular grocery store, when you buy in-season produce, it is most likely grown at least regionally. This makes it fresher and more cost-effective than produce flown in from South America or elsewhere.
  2. Thinking about going organic? Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables without pesticides can reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. This is a great reason to switch to organic produce. Check out the dirty dozen and clean 15 list so you know which fruits and vegetables contain the most harmful pesticides, and which non-organic varieties are okay.
  3. Consider cutting out highly processed foods altogether. Cutting out processed foods reduces the amount of chemicals and harmful additives you and your family consume. But, it is not an easy task. Almost everything we find at restaurants or in the grocery store has been processed in some way. Check out 100 Days of Real Food to read about one family’s journey to cutting out highly processed food, and how to manage the costs. Generally speaking, when you are no longer spending money on highly processed foods, you can allocate those dollars to buying the sometimes more expensive organics.
  4. Take a small step. If you aren’t ready to take the drastic step of eliminating all highly processed foods, choose one processed staple your family consumes regularly, and substitute with something more healthful. For example, eliminate refined sugar. You can substitute honey or 100% maple syrup in most places where you would normally add sugar or sweeteners. Or, choose a handful of items that you buy every week and replace those with organic, all-natural choices.