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Choosing Organic Produce for Your Family and Budget

Making the choice between conventionally and organically grown produce can be daunting. Terms like growth hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics can sound really intimidating — especially when it comes to feeding your baby. Which foods SHOULD you buy organic, and when can you opt for the non-organic option and save a little money? Here are some tips and information that can help you before you go to the grocery store.

What Makes Certain Produce Organic?

Essentially, 100% organic produce and products don’t have synthetic additives and prohibit certain growing methods such as irradiation and genetic engineering. The USDA defines the requirements for organic products here1. You can learn more about what the USDA allows and prohibits for organic production here2.

Pesticides on Produce

Pesticides are mixtures of chemicals used to prevent or destroy weeds, pests, and diseases from damaging crops. The law says that organic farmers can use pesticides as long as they are derived from natural sources. This may be surprising and a little alarming to anyone concerned about chemicals on their food, but rest assured that although natural pesticides are not perfect, organic produce has significantly less if any of the synthetic chemicals that conventionally grown produce may have.

Picking and Choosing the Best Organic Buys

Some families choose to pay higher prices and buy all organic produce when they grocery shop. However, it may not be a practical option for every family. If the grocery store prices are too high, try checking out your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets can be a great resource for locally grown organic produce at a lower price. Not only do many local farmers practice organic farming, but they usually sell their own produce at the markets and are available to answer any questions. Don’t be shy! Ask them about their farming methods, if they use pesticides, and if so, what kinds. Many small farms cannot afford to pay to become certified organic, but they usually have signs telling you that they farm organic or grow chemical-free produce. Whether or not your produce is organic, be sure to wash it thoroughly in cold water before cooking or eating it to help remove any residue.

Produce With the Least and the Most Pesticides

According to the EWG shopper’s guide, these are the latest lists of the 12 fruits and vegetables that have been found to contain the highest amounts of pesticides on them, and the 15 non-organic fruits and vegetables that contain the least amounts of pesticides3. You can use these lists as a guide to which foods are better to buy organic, and which are a little safer to skip the organic label. If you are trying to buy as much organic as possible while staying on a budget, buy The Dirty Dozen organic and save some money by shopping for The Clean 15 non-organic.

The Dirty Dozen:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale, collard greens, and mustard greens
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Bell and hot peppers
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Green beans

The Clean 15:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Honeydew melon
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Mangoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Carrots

Why Choose Organic?

Certain chemicals, and particularly pesticides, used in modern farming have proven to be harmful to people’s health. Children and babies can be especially vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. Many studies dating back as far as 1993 have outlined the potential hazards of pesticides in our environment and diet4. The more we can mitigate these risks, the better.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid chemicals and pesticides altogether, we can only try our best. Don’t beat yourself up if buying organic doesn’t always work for you and your family. Learning the facts is the first step to making more informed decisions in the future. Next time you’re in the produce aisle, don’t panic! You have the tools to choose your fruits and veggies with confidence.


  1. McEvoy, Miles. Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. 2012.
  2. McEvoy, Miles. Organic 101: Allowed and Prohibited Substances. 2020.
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