How Much Does It Cost to Go Organic?

No pesticides, no hormones, no antibiotics. Sounds like a good idea. But what does eating organic mean for a budget? My partner and I planned a menu for a full week of three meals a day (nothing too fancy, but no TV dinners, either), so we could eat “regular” food one week, then prepare the same meals using organic ingredients the next week, and find out just how much more it costs.

This study was by no means scientific. Our findings inevitably depended on which grocery stores and meals we chose. To make our results more widely applicable, we shopped at large chain stores (Safeway and Albertson’s) for most regular and organic groceries and turned to Whole Foods to get harder-to-find organic items like meat and certain condiments. Yes, Whole Foods has a reputation for being expensive, but we always bought the cheapest options, which were usually from the chain’s own low-cost specialty line, 365 Organic Everyday Value, and we didn’t find Whole Foods to be significantly more expensive than other specialty supermarkets. One thing we noticed immediately: organic food is invariably packaged in smaller sizes and, as we suspected, also more expensive. Keep in mind, though, that the phrase “prices slightly higher west of the Rockies” is, in San Francisco, an understatement.

Our menu was fairly routine: waffles or cereal for breakfast; sandwich or soup for lunch; and pasta or meat for dinner. On the whole, we liked that prepared organic items generally had less sugar and salt than regular ones. Organic meat was the most different: an organic steak had a rich beef flavor that was well worth the cost. We were unprepared, however, to cook organic chicken, which isn’t artificially plumped up and dries up if cooked like regular chicken.

THE VERDICT: Our run for “regular” groceries at the local Safeway came to $136.31, typical for a week’s worth of our groceries (and some leftovers).

The total for the organic groceries was $199.78, about $65 more. And remember, organic food comes in smaller packages. Using these rough numbers, eating purely organic would cost us about $260 more per month.