Let’s talk about what every parent should know about organic food!
But first, let me be clear: if you came here believing I was going to preach food purity and an all organic diet, you’re probably going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re looking for clear, judgement-free guidance regarding what role, if any, organic food should play in the way you feed your family, this post is for you.
I’m not here to sway you one way or the other or tell you what to do. I believe there are many right ways to feed a family. But I also believe that knowledge is power, so today I’m going to break down what I think every parent should know about organic food. My goal is to empower you to make informed food decisions you feel good about and hopefully relieve any parenting food guilt along the way.
What makes food “organic?”
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the role of organic food in feeding your family, I think it’s worth taking a moment to define what “organic” actually means when it comes to food. This is such a hotly debated issue in our society, and sometimes it seems people are convinced they should be feeding their kids organic food without really knowing what it is.
To sum it up, organic food is grown by farmers who 1) use farming practices that conserve natural resources and protect the environment, 2) ensure that the animals producing their meat and eggs are not given hormones or unnecessary antibiotics, and 3) grow foods without using conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers (Source: USDA).
The US Department of Agriculture carefully regulates this by requiring that a farm is inspected to ensure it meets all of the USDA’s standards before a food can be labeled as certified organic.
Why is organic food more expensive?
There are many reasons why organic food is more expensive than traditionally grown or raised food, but here are a few key factors.
First, compared to conventional foods, there is simply less organic food in our food supply. This low supply, coupled with the relatively high demand for organic products, drives the price up.
Second, many of the environmentally friendly farming practices of organic farms are more labor intensive, so the food costs more to grow. It also costs more to process and transport because it needs to be kept separate from conventionally grown food (Source: FAO).
With new and improving technologies and a continuing demand for organic food, we’ll probably see prices decline over time, but for now, it’s definitely more expensive. As a result, the ability to purchase organic products is often a privilege that not every family can always access or afford.
Why would I choose organic food?
In general, there seem to be 3 main reasons people eat organic foods.
- They believe organic foods are healthier.
- They want to limit their exposure to pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
- They hope to reduce the negative environmental impact of their food choices.
In terms of health, the studies have been somewhat mixed but overall show that conventionally grown foods contain just as many healthy nutrients as organic foods. In other words, you aren’t depriving your kids of any vitamin C or antioxidants by feeding them those conventionally grown oranges instead of organic ones. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the most important thing for children is to eat a wide variety of produce, whether it’s conventional or organic.”
On the other hand, organically grown produce has been shown to have lower levels of pesticide residue, and organic meats, milk, and eggs contain fewer hormones and drug-resistant antibiotics. The long-term potential health risks of these things are still unclear based on current studies, but it is possible that consuming foods with fewer pesticides and antibiotics may be beneficial for health in the long run.
As far as environmental impact, we do know that organic farms adhere to growing practices that promote conservation of natural resources and limit negative impacts on the environment. If that is of primary concern to you, then organic food may be the way to go if your budget allows.
Are all organic foods “healthy?”
NOPE. Not even close.
Terms like “natural,” “fresh,” and “organic,” are often used as a marketing gimmick, so you need to be a smart shopper.
Yes, it’s technically true that your organic barbecue potato chips are made with potatoes grown using organic farming practices, but potato chips are still potato chips. Those organic pork rinds are still pork rinds, and that organic ice cream is still ice cream. All of these foods have their place, but slapping an organic label on them doesn’t suddenly make them health foods.
If you could feed your family some organic foods but not all, which would you choose?
I generally skip the packaged snack foods and go for the whole, fresh foods that reap the most benefit from being grown organically – foods like meats, eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables.
However, like many of you, I’m on a budget. I try to buy these items in season and from local farms when I can, and that definitely helps. But if I’m shopping at the grocery store and prices are outrageous, I buy the conventionally grown foods and move on with my day.
A few other things a parent should know about organic food:
- If you’re on a budget, try shopping at the farmer’s market or purchasing directly from local farmers. Many small farms use organic farming practices but don’t pay to maintain an organic certification, so you may be able to find organically grown food without the organic price tag. You could also try growing your own food!
- Organic or not, wash all of your fruits and vegetables well before eating by rinsing with water or using a fruit and veggie wash.
- If you’re concerned about your impact on the environment but can’t afford to eat 100% organic, remember that there are other things you can do. Conserving water in your home, carpooling to decrease emissions, recycling, and reducing food waste all make a difference, too.
- Don’t stress! Stress is a million times worse for your body than a conventionally grown strawberry or a corn-fed piece of meat. Plus, if your kids see you stressing over food, they’re going to learn that food is stressful and either good or bad, rather than that food is meant to provide nourishment and enjoyment.
At the end of the day, what every parent should know about organic food is that it’s not the end all be all. The most important thing is that your kids are eating a variety of whole, healthy foods – organic or not. So be an informed consumer, make food decisions that you feel are best for your family, and let that be good enough.