Q: It’s summertime and that means lots of fresh fruits and veggies for my family. Sometimes I have to go the grocery store twice a week to restock our fridge. My kids eat five or six pieces of fruit a day, and my husband and I can finish a bag of cherries in 15 minutes flat while we’re sitting on the porch after supper.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see my kids eating healthy all summer long, but buying everything organic is really hurting my pocketbook. I can spend $100 on produce alone each week. Bottom line: I can’t afford to buy all my fruits and vegetables organic and sometimes have to go for the regular version (i.e. $3 a pound for cherries instead of $7 a pound). Got any tips for how to reduce my family’s pesticide exposure without breaking the bank?
A: You go to store only twice a week? That’s great! I find myself going every other day if I’m lucky (somehow a week’s worth of meal planning never goes quite as planned, like when I make sure to buy all the ingredients for meatballs and spaghetti … except for the spaghetti).
I do have some tips for you, though. First of all, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. There, you'll learn which fruits and vegetables have the largest amounts of pesticides on them. If you eat the top four or five regularly, try to buy those organic if you can. (For example, I just found out that peaches — I eat about four a day in the summer — are #2 on their list). Their top 12 are aptly titled “The Dirty Dozen.” They also have a list they call “The Clean 15” which are fruits and veggies with the lowest amounts of pesticides, things like watermelon (yay!) and asparagus (courtesy clap). The Environmental Working Group estimates that you can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80 percent simply by buying organic versions of their top 12 culprits. So if you love strawberry-kiwi salad (one of my favorites) and want to save some cash (also one of my favorites), try to buy at least the strawberries organic (#3) instead of the kiwi (#42).
If you must buy non-organic produce, rinse your fruit well. This means rinsing for at least 30 seconds under tap water. While you’re rinsing, rub the fruit with your fingers. Some suggest using detergent or dish soap to wash pesticides on your produce, but the Department of Agriculture recommends against this since those items are not FDA-approved for consumption. Plus, one study suggests that rinsing with soap or detergent doesn’t significantly reduce pesticide exposure any more than rinsing with tap water.
There are a number of natural home ingredients you could use to wash your fruit to remove pesticides, so that might be worth a try, but again, I’m not sure it’s any more effective than just using tap water.
Another option is to find locally grown produce. Even though they may not be certified organic, some farmers do grow fruits and veggies without pesticides. Just talk to the farm directly. To find one locally, try Local Harvest or Eat Well Guide. Not only can this produce be better for you, it’s better for the environment, with a smaller carbon footprint than say, the South American strawberries shipped to your neighborhood grocery store in December.
I hope some of these tips helped. If not, at least you can take comfort in knowing that non-organic fruit is probably better for your kids than ice cream, right?