Organic Eating on a Student Budget

Wheatsville Food Co-Op offers local, organic food and produce, and is located witin walking distance from UT.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro

Consumer demand for organic products has grown tremendously, with sales valued at $35 billion in 2013 according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, students don’t always have the budget set aside to pay extra to buy all organic products, many either without a job or working part-time.

Just because the product you buy is not from Whole Foods or the farmer’s market doesn’t make it any less organic than products you can pick up at your local HEB or Randall’s. One effective rule of thumb is seeking out the U.S. Department of Agriculture seal that certifies a product as organic. You can find the USDA seal on a multitude of products, and regardless of what store it is from the provider has to pass the same federal standards.

If you can only buy a limited amount of organics, Whole Foods recommends purchasing based off what you use the most. In many cases this is milk, grains and eggs. For those who have never experienced it first-hand, try not to shop while you’re hungry. According to the University of Michigan, shopping on an empty stomach can make you more prone to impulsive purchases, which may not always be healthy.

“I have to learn how to prioritize my purchases,” senior biomedical engineering major Julie Dorland said. “For example, bread and milk I might buy organic, but I might not be as concerned about ice cream being organic or locally sourced.” 

When it comes to healthy sources of protein, buying organic meat such as grass-fed beef or free-roam chicken isn’t always the cheapest option, not to mention the hassle of cleaning and preparation. One way to get the protein you need and save time cooking is using tofu. In fact, in January the USDA even authorized schools to start replacing meat in the school cafeteria with tofu. Other alternative sources of protein the department suggests are beans, nuts, dairy products and eggs. 

The range of affordable substitutes is vast, ranging from soy-based sausage links to veggie burgers and falafel. When trying to decide between several organic products, decide by unit pricing. Stores such as HEB offer unit pricing, which tells you how much you are paying per a unit of measurement, such as ounces, so you can get the biggest bang for your buck. 

Once you have your organic products, be sure to actually eat them. According to a USDA funded study, the average family throws out as much as 14 percent of their food; his amounts to almost $600 annually — pocket money most people would like to keep in their wallets. One way to cut down on what you throw away is washing your fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home, so they are readily available to eat. Another step you can take is buying food in smaller quantities instead of making those giant trips to the store or making a list of what needs to be eaten first.

Finally, for those of you living on on-campus meal plans, there is hope. Outside of the universal salad bar and yogurt options, venture out to try the stir-fry the dinning halls offer that are heavy on vegetables and tofu. Get the chicken only if it is grilled instead of fried, or request egg whites for your omelet in the morning instead of just egg. An on-campus dietitian can also offer further guidance on eating healthy and organic on campus; the appointments are free of charge for UT students.

In the end, whether you are on- or off-campus, eating both healthy and organic on a limited budget is a challenge. It’s by taking those small steps, like deciding on the tofu over the chicken, which will make the difference for your wallet and personal health.