Produce: The 14 items you MUST by organic and why

organic produce
Photo courtesy of sell-buy-machines.com
 
If you can’t purchase all organic produce, you should absolutely try to avoid certain conventional fruits and vegetables.
 
It’s true, organic produce is more expensive than conventional. However, you really get what you pay for when you buy it. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that are toxic to both our bodies and our environment.

“Yeah, but I wash and/or peel my conventional produce, so it’s fine.”

This could not be more false. The chemicals penetrate the skins of fruits and veggies and get into the flesh itself. If it’s in the food, it ends up in YOU.

Some produce carries little risk of carrying pesticides/herbicides, as few are needed when crowing these crops. These include thicker skinned fruits like mangoes, avocados, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya, as well as heartier vegetables like cabbage, asparagus, and onions. Other conventional produce that use fewer pesticides include peas, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kiwi, grapefruit, and eggplant (please note that even though they contain fewer pesticides, this does not mean they are not genetically modified.)

Unfortunately, the above are the rare exception. Also unfortunate is the price you have to pay to avoid chemicals being sprayed (and then absorbed) on your food. Organic produce is on average 40-50% more than their equivalent conventional alternatives.

The biggest problem is the fact that it is nearly impossible to avoid non-organic produce unless you only only eat the organic versions you buy for yourself every single time you eat fruits or vegetables- conventional crops are literally everywhere we go. In an ideal world, this would never be an issue, but the reality in the United States is that eating organically for every meal every single day is not an option, unless you NEVER go out to eat, never go to a party, a friend’s house, or on vacation. Like I said- conventional produce is EVERYWHERE!

There are many reasons that people are not eating organic produce 100% of the time, the two main being: 1. Limited access to organic produce due to a number of factors (mainly, what your local grocery stores carry) and 2. It costs too much!!
 
(I will be writing a post about what to do if you have no access to organic produce because it is not in any stores around you- keep a look out!)
 
So what can we do to help protect ourselves if we can’t do organic all the time?
 
Pick and choose your battles wisely. If it is not possible to buy everything organic, these are the fruits and veggies you absolutely SHOULD buy organic versions of:
 
Dirty dozen plus
Photo courtesy of joyushealth.ca
 
The above are the fruits and vegetables  are known as the “Dirty Dozen Plus,” named the Environmental Working Group, the organization that did the data analysis. These were most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals (in the United States).
 
 
“For the past nine years, EWG has scrutinized pesticide-testing data generated by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. These sources are the basis for EWG’s signature Dirty Dozen™ list of foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides…This year [2013], as in 2012, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two crops – summer squashes and leafy greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic pesticides.”
 
A summary of what they found, taken directly from maximizedliving.com:
 
  • Apples. The dirtiest of the bunch. Ninety-nine percent of apples contained at least one pesticide.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers. One of these was as contaminated as a single grape.
  • Celery. At worst, a single sample revealed 13 pesticides.
  • Cherry Tomatoes. Similar to celery, one sample also contained the residue of 13 different pesticides.
  • Cucumbers. The third most contaminated vegetable, these should always be peeled and rinsed before eating.
  • Grapes. “A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides.”
  • Hot Peppers. Previously not on the list, recent tests showed these contain the seventh greatest amount of pesticide residues.
  • Nectarines (Imported). Every imported nectarine tested was shown to contain pesticide residue.
  • Peaches. Contained the fourth highest amount of pesticides among all fruits tested.
  • Potatoes. “The average potato had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop.”
  • Spinach. After celery, the second most contaminated conventional vegetable.
  • Strawberries. Ranked as the second dirtiest conventionally grown fruit on the market.
Therefore, you should definitely try to buy the entire list from the “Dirty Dozen Plus” in their organic forms as opposed to conventional.
 
If you don’t know where to look, here is a great resource for finding stores that sell organic produce in the United States: Organic.org Store Finder. Of course, check your local farmers markets or Co-ops too!

Now, how much will it cost to eat these if you purchase organic versions?
 
Here is a chart I made of the “Dirty Dozen Plus” with both their average conventional and organic prices (in the U.S.):
 organic produce chart
 
The prices were taken from a variety of sources through the internet, and were from a variety of years- there is no database that compiles all such yearly data (that I could find after hours of research!) Also, many of the prices reflect when the produce is IN SEASON. To get the best price, purchase organic produce when it’s in season.
 

GMO Note: The most genetically modified (GMO) crops used for produce in the U.S. are corn, soy, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and papaya (specifically Hawaiian grown). To avoid GMOs, purchase these items strictly in their organic forms.

Tip to being able to afford more organic produce: Give up something small in your everyday life that you don’t NEED. If you go get a daily cup of coffee on the go, maybe cut it down to every other day and use the dollars you save to put towards purchasing organic produce. Or if you like to go out to eat twice a week, make it once, and put what you saved towards your grocery bill. There are many little swaps we can all do to help us afford these (if not all) organic fruits and veggies.

To sum it up, I’ve taken the following paragraph from the same maximizedliving.com article as was used before:

“A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that eating organic produce can significantly reduce bodily toxicity. The study provided five consecutive days’ worth of organic food to children who typically ate a non-organic, conventional diet. After just five days, almost all pesticides had disappeared from the subjects’ urine samples. ‘This shows there definitely is a beneficial effect of eating organic produce,’ said study leader Dr. Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology.”

 

Now you have all the facts- it’s time to decide for yourself!

 

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$5 Organic Dinner for Two: Vegan Gluten-Free “Hummus” Burgers

hummus burger 6

I call these “hummus” burgers because they have the same ingredients as hummus: chick peas, lemon, garlic, and tahini paste. They are easy to make, delicious, vegan (without the cheese on top), gluten free, and kind of like a kitchen sink for leftover veggies. Whatever you have leftover you can throw in- I recommend broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, mushrooms, peas, corn, or any other solid non-leafy veggie that could be served warm as a side dish (i don’t recommend celery, radishes, tomatoes, or leafy greens like lettuce, though heartier greens like kale and spinach could work if finely chopped).

  • 1 can organic garbanzo beans/chick peas (my cans are 15.5 ounces, a little more or less wont matter)
  • Zest of one organic lemon
  • Juice of one organic lemon
  • 1 clove organic garlic (or one teaspoon chopped jarred organic garlic)
  • Fresh, raw vegetables: I used 2 organic carrots, a handful of chopped organic portobello mushrooms, 1/4 organic red onion
  • Handful of frozen organic peas
  • 2 tablespoons organic unsalted tahini paste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon grill seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon organic quinoa flour (almond, rice, or any other flour would work well here too)
  • 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil

Rinse and drain the chick peas, put in a food processor with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Pulse until the chick peas are broken into pea size and smaller pieces. Scoop into a medium mixing bowl. The mixture should look chunky:
hummus burger 1

No need to clean the food processor- add the veggies (unless using frozen peas, hold off on adding these now).
hummus burger 2
Pulse until the veggies are about the same size as the broken up chick peas. Use the same colander you used for the chick peas and run the peas under a little warm water just to take the frost off. Make sure all excess water is gone and add them to the chick peas and veggies:
hummus burger 3
Add the tahini paste and stir thoroughly (tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds.) Add the grill seasoning, starting with just 1/4 of a teaspoon. Taste the mixture (there are no eggs, this is safe to do) and assess the seasoning. If your grill seasoning has salt in it be extra careful. If your seasoning is salt free, you may choose to add a pinch of salt to bring the flavors out. If your tahini is NOT salt free, do not add any extra salt or use grill seasoning that has salt in it. Stir to incorporate. I use this tahini paste from the Woodstock company:
tahini
Add the quinoa flour, starting with just the one tablespoon. You may need more- it all depends on what vegetables you used and their moisture content. Stir everything together. I use Bob’s Red Mill quinoa flour:
quinoa flour
Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet. Divide the mix into 5 equal parts and form a patty out of each:
hummus burger 4
When the oil is hot enough, place the patties in the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown (I like mine on the darker, crispier side). Flip and cook the other sides to desired color.
 

I wilted some kale and spinach together as a side. I topped my burger with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.

.hummus burger 8

My husband had a bun with his and put brie and red onion on top. He added ketchup after the picture was taken.

hummus burger 9I made this meal for about $5.00 for two ($2.50 per serving). Every single thing was organic- organic chickpeas for $0.99, leftover organic vegetables ($2.50 worth), $1.00 in spinach and kale, and 50 cents for the coconut oil, spices, and quinoa flour. If you chose to do this recipe with conventional ingredients you will spend less, but $5.00 for organic?! Why not try it even if you’ve never done it!

Money-Saving Meal Method: How you can afford to eat organically all week

Let’s face it- food is expensive. Food is even more expensive if you buy organic and/or non-GMO products. I’ve made the decision to go all organic, and thus I have to make up for the extra cost in order to stay within my budget.

I am not a vegetarian, though I find myself eating less and less meat. I don’t eat any red meat at home because my husband doesn’t. He eats poultry and fish so I make and eat those. I don’t miss the red meat at home- it’s expensive and not as healthy for you. So I’m definitely not complaining!

 
I have a system I use for stretching my dollars and it’s been working extremely well. The method is: eat a “whole piece” of chicken or fish only once a week, use one pound of ground turkey/chicken (or beef) stretched over two meals, organic sausage for one or two meals, and vegetarian options for the remaining meals.

Vegetarian for two or three nights?! Yes. It’s so easy and satisfying. Vegetarian doesn’t mean no protein. It means proteins that didn’t come from animals. It means INEXPENSIVE proteins. Beans and lentils are my go-to. A 15.5 ounce can of organic beans at my local grocery store costs $0.99. A can of organic lentils is $2.19, but I avoid those if possible because I can get a much better deal if the lentils are dry and I re-hydrate them myself (but that takes planning ahead- canned lentils work well in a pinch and are still a fraction of the cost of meat). Dry  beans are also cheaper than canned and are a great if you plan ahead (which also saves you money!).

Here is a sample weekly menu:

Sunday: Organic pizza night. I love Amy’s organic pizza. Frozen pizza that uses only organic ingredients and is in the process of getting non-GMO certified. They also make vegan and gluten free pizza options! I take organic chicken sausage and dice it to add on top of the pizza, along with some fresh (or frozen) organic veggies. The package of organic sausage has 6 links- I’ll use three here and save the other three for later in the week or freeze them for another time. The pizza makes four slices, 2 for each of us and is very filling. If I go light on the veggies or if I don’t use sausage, I’ll also make a salad.

pizza

Monday and Tuesday: (I make enough for both days on Monday) Meatloaf or meatballs made from organic ground turkey or chicken and organic veggies. There are a ton of great recipes I use-many to be posted soon! Organic veggies or a salad on the side.

meatballs

Wednesday and Thursday: (I make enough for both days on Wednesday) Veggie burgers- I have a dozen different ones I make so we never get tired of them. They are so good- I eat them without a roll, my husband often puts his on a roll with cheese and condiments like a real burger. I just eat mine with a knife and fork. Sometimes I put a little organic goat cheese and vinegar on top. Organic veggies on the side. If I don’t use sweet potatoes in the burger I sometimes make baked sweet potato fries- again, recipes to come!

veggie burgerFriday: Pasta. I buy sprouted organic pasta, but it can be expensive, so I sometimes go with 100% whole wheat organic.  I’ll use some of the fresh veggies left over from the other meals, or if I have any left over ground turkey/chicken or sausage links I’ll add them to the sauce to make it nice and hearty. I often do my sauce with just veggies. Makes more than 2 servings, so the rest go to our lunch the next day.

Pasta

Saturday: Whole protein night! Organic chicken breasts or fish/seafood, depending on what organic seafood my grocery store has. Sometimes they have none- when that happens, we go with chicken. Organic veggie, and an organic starch, like rice or potatoes. Sometimes I’ll cut up two whole chicken breasts to make a stir-fry.

stirfry

This is just a sample menu- the possibilities are endless. The more organic ground meat you use in place of “whole” proteins, the more you save. If you make more vegetarian meals that week, you save even MORE. It’s really up to you.
 
Can it be an adjustment to go from meat, vegetable, starch every night? Sure. But with good recipes it is easy, delicious, satisfying, and very budget friendly. A win four times over!

$5 Organic Dinner for Two: Black bean sweet potato burgers

black bean sweet potato burgerMy husband topped his with cheese and sauteed mushrooms.

You can do this for even less if the ingredients are not organic- it’s up to you!

You can double the recipe for four, or half it for one (though I recommend making the full amount and then having the rest the next day!)

  • 2 small to medium organic sweet potatoes
  • 1 can organic black beans (mine are 15.5 oz, but a little more or less wont matter)
  • 1/4 organic onion, diced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of organic almond butter (peanut and cashew also work well)
  • 1/4 cup organic seasoned breadcrumbs *Gluten Free Alternative See Below
  • 1/2 teaspoon to one teaspoon of grill seasoning (depending on what ingredients are in your grill seasoning, especially if salt is one of them, you may want more or less- start on the low end- you can always add more but you can’t take it away!)
  • organic apple cider vinegar
  • Organic kale or spinach
  • Optional: organic cheese and organic mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, etc.

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes, add to lightly salted boiling water- cook until they are tender enough to mash.

While potatoes are cooking, heat a teaspoon or so of organic coconut oil (any other organic oil works well too) over medium-high heat in a skillet. Dice the onion and add to oil when it is hot enough to hear a sizzle. Sautee onions until they are starting to become translucent.

Rinse and drain the beans, add to the onions in the skillet. Mix together. Take a potato masher and slightly mash the beans and onions until the beans start to break apart. Scoop beans and onions into a large mixing bowl.

When sweet potatoes are ready, drain them, return them to their pot, and mash them until they are thick with no more cubes. Do not puree, mashing by hand is the best technique. A small lump here and there is nothing to worry about.

Spoon the mashed sweet potatoes into the bowl of beans and onions and mix all ingredients together. Add the almond butter and stir until it is fully incorporated. Add the grill seasoning, a little at a time. You can taste the mixture at any point- nothing is raw or uncooked, like meat burgers and there are no eggs so go ahead! When the seasoning is just right for you, add the breadcrumbs and stir until incorporated.

Heat two tablespoons of coconut oil in the skillet on medium-high heat (I use the same one I used for the beans and onions, just wipe it out first with a paper towel). Divide the mixture evenly into four or five sections, depending on how big you like your burgers. Form each section into a patty. When the oil is hot, place the patties in the pan and cook until the first side is nicely browned (I use a skillet screen to protect both me and the kitchen from spattering oil). Flip each patty and cook until the other side is nicely browned as well.

In the meantime, heat another skillet (make sure it has a lid) and put two LARGE handfuls of either the kale or spinach (I used baby kale this time- delicious!). I do not use oil when making the greens. Add a splash or two of water and cover the pan for a minute. After a minute, remove the lid and fold the bottom wilted greens into any greens that have not cooked. Place the lid back on, cook for another minute, and turn the heat off.

Poke a few holes in the top of the burgers with a fork, drizzle with the apple cider vinegar- it will absorb into the burger. Plate the burgers on buns if you like (I eat mine without a bun), melt cheese, sautee some mushrooms, add lettuce tomato onion, whatever you prefer.

Plate the greens, make sure to drain any excess water- if you’d like to add more, you can add fresh to the cooked and the cooked will wilt the fresh nicely.  Enjoy!

This meal cost me $0.99 for the beans, $1.00 for the sweet potato, $1.50 in kale, and about $1.50 total in extras, such as the almond butter, 1/4 onion, oil, grill seasoning. Buns, lettuce/tomato/onion/cheese/mushrooms/ketchup are all extras you can add into the cost if you are going to use them.

Non-organic versions of the above will save you about $1.00 of the total cost of the meal.

$5.00 for a completely organic, healthy, fast, and most importantly delicious meal?! Can’t beat that!

*For gluten free cooking, replace the breadcrumbs with almond flour, quinoa flour, or any other gluten free flour you like- just note that by removing seasoned breadcrumbs, you may need to add a little more grill seasoning for flavor.

Restaurant Wars: What to order when you go out to eat

vegetarian or meats

I LOVE going out to eat. I worked in restaurants for nearly half of my life and love being on the other side (that is, being part of the people who actually get to sit and eat as opposed to serving the food). However, going out is expensive. You also don’t know what you’re eating unless you’re at a restaurant that specializes in “farm to table” or “local,” but even then, you really don’t know what’s going in your food. The word “local,” in terms of food, by definition means that the item came from 400 or fewer miles away. 400 miles is not local at all! There’s not much we can do about that, other than eating in certified restaurants. According to the Non-GMO Project there are currently only two Non-GMO certified restaurants in the country, one in Berkeley, California called “Nature’s Express” and one in Seattle called “Mighty-O Donuts.” Other than going to those two, it’s up to us to make the best choices possible when eating at a restaurant.
  
There are many others that say they try to avoid GMOs in their food- use Google or the Organic Food Database or Non-GMO Organic Restaurants to look up restaurants in your state or country.
  
The choices: Meat, poultry, and fish that may be genetically modified, injected with hormones, steroids, or antibiotics (or all of the above) or vegetarian meals that may contain genetically modified ingredients.
  
I personally go with the “lesser of two evils”- vegetarian options. By choosing vegetarian dishes I can eliminate some of the chemicals and/or substances I’m trying to avoid. If I can, I avoid corn, soy, papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and sugar beets since they are almost certainly genetically modified (GMO).
  
I personally just don’t know where the meat, poultry, and fish are coming from. A lot of seafood comes from overseas and is not thoroughly inspected. Cows, pigs, and birds (chicken, turkey, duck) are given genetically modified feed because it is cheaper to feed the masses this way. Don’t be fooled by “grass fed” beef- yes, grass fed is better than grain fed, but there is no guarantee that antibiotics and/or steroids weren’t given to those animals.
  
Other than most likely being the healthiest option, ordering vegetarian dishes are much cheaper than meat, poultry, or fish based dishes.

  • Pasta/Rice Dishes: Sure, the markup on pasta is ridiculous (think about it: it costs only a dollar or two for a box of pasta and one serving is sold for $10+ at the average restaurant) but for me it’s the safer choice. Just remember that regular pasta has bleached flour in it and the chemicals used to do so have been linked to organ failure- try to order 100% whole wheat pasta if you can. Same goes for bread and all other grain based dishes- order 100% whole wheat when you can (less than 100% whole wheat means the product uses a combination of whole wheat and regular white bleached flours)
  • Veggie burgers: They’re cheap and if made in house are great because they often contain beans or lentils which are big on protein but don’t contain the aforementioned additives that a beef or turkey burger would. Just remember that the bun is probably made with bleached flour. Ask if they have whole wheat buns! Also, think about the fries. The oil they’re cooked in is most likely GMO.
  • Veggie Stir-Fry: Great option, but ask what oil they use. If it’s vegetable, soybean, or canola, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be GMO. Peanut oil is less likely to be so, but peanut oil is a risk for restaurants based on allergies. (olive oil is not used in stir-fries, besides flavor, it has a lower maximum cooking temperature that stir-fries exceed)
  • Salads are great options, but consider the add-ons: cheese (from GMO cows/milk), dressing (GMO oil if the dressing is a vinaigrette), tortilla strips (GMO corn AND GMO oil), etc. Just be aware that even though vegetarian dishes are most likely better for you than meat/poultry/fish dishes, they are not necessarily “safe.” The safest way to eat is to buy your own ingredients and cook at home (even more so if they are USDA Certified Organic and verified by the Non-GMO project!)

  
If I’m going to a really nice restaurant I will more likely order a meat, poultry, or seafood dish because at smaller, higher end places (ie non-chains) the quality is usually much higher. I’ve worked in very high-end kitchens and can say that this is true, at least in the places I spent time in.
  
In general though, vegetarian at restaurants = better for you AND cheaper; a win-win!
 
If you want to avoid GMOs and are looking for a quick bite you may be in luck- Chipotle announced that they will be removing all GMOs this year (2014). Check out the article here.

Leftover Makeovers: What to do when you’re in a leftover rut

We’ve all been there- staring at the inside of the fridge at plastic containers and feeling…underwhelmed. No longer! Click on my “Leftover Makeovers!” page, which will be a permanent fixture on my blog. You can even leave a reply with any leftovers or lefteover ingredients you want to use up and I will give you a recipe or method for using them up. No more throwing money down the drain! You can save THOUSANDS a year (seriously- check out the page!) 

  

  Leftover Makeovers!

What these seals REALLY mean

Organic Non-Gmo

Seen these on food or products but don’t know what they really mean? Check out the new pages that will be permanently displayed on Two Peas & A Wad so that you can refer back to them at any time. Learning about your food can be confusing- I’m here to help!

Why Go Organic?     and      What Are GMOs?