Cindy Burke is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic and recipe writer for The Trans-Fat Solution.

What to buy organic in winter

Ten tips to eat healthy and get the most bang for your buck

December 10, 2007

Shopping for food during the winter can be a challenge. Organics are often very expensive in winter and the price of many diet staples has increased dramatically in the past year. What are your best strategies for eating healthy while still getting a good value for your grocery dollar?

  • Buy food that is in season. Citrus fruits and tropical fruits are in season and at the peak of flavor in winter. Good winter vegetable values include:
    Non-organic: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, avocado, onion, garlic. Organic: potato, sweet potato, beets and other root vegetables, carrots, leafy greens.
  • Avoid foods that are out of season: strawberries, raspberries, bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini. They will tend to be very expensive and of poor quality — not a good combo. If you buy grapes, buy only domestic grapes. Imported grapes from Chile and Argentina are fumigated with methyl bromide (a neurotoxin) to kill medflies and other pests when they reach U.S. ports.
  • Tropical fruits and citrus with thick skins that you do not eat (orange, grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, kiwi, banana, coconut, mango, pineapple, avocado) typically have low or no discernable pesticide residues, so save your money and buy non-organic.
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage) have low or no discernable pesticide residues, so there’s no need to buy organic here either.
  • Their pungent smell provides some foods with a built-in pest repellent.
    Green foods should be purchased as organic or avoided in the winter. If you look outside and don’t notice much “green,” you’ll know that “green” food had to travel a long way to get to your grocery. Non-organic green food has been treated with not only pesticides, but anti-mildew sprays and food waxes to maintain an appearance of “freshness.” Leafy greens, crunchy fruits and vegetables (celery, apples, pears, cucumbers, peppers), and all lettuces are better to buy organic. Cruciferous veggies and tropical fruits are the exception to this rule.
  • Use plenty of onions, garlic, and shallots when you are cooking. They have a built-in “pest repellent” with their pungent smell, so commercial growers use little or no pesticides to grow them successfully.
  • Buy organic dairy products. If you cannot afford organic, choose nonfat dairy. The more fat a conventionally grown product contains, the more toxins are found in the food, because many toxins concentrate in the fat.
  • Choose organic or sustainably raised meats. If you have to buy non-organic, do choose chicken and meat labeled as raised “antibiotic and hormone-free.” To use organic meat more economically, make it a flavoring instead of a primary ingredient — soups, stir fries, casseroles, and stews all feature the flavor of meat, but in small portions.
  • If you do want fruits that are out of season (such as peaches), choose canned fruit. Canned peaches, apricots, and cherries have considerably less pesticide residue than those same (non-organic) fresh fruits. Farmers who grow fruits used in canning use fewer pesticides because the fruit does not have to look “perfect.” Additionally, the fruit is scrubbed and washed several times before processing.
  • Finally, store your food properly to avoid waste. When you buy organic vegetables with greens still attached (carrots, beets, turnips), remove the greens as soon as you come home. To keep leafy greens crisp, rinse, trim, and pack the greens with a damp paper towel on top. Store apples and other soft fruit in your refrigerator. Potatoes, garlic, and onions should be stored in paper bags (not plastic!) and away from bright light (moisture and light cause them to begin sprouting).
There are 18 comments on this item
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1. by Tip Diva on Dec 10, 2007 at 12:44 PM PST

One of my downfalls to eating healthy during the winter is not wanting to go out to the store - our natural food store is a bit of a hike. So I stock up where I can with dry and canned goods, and fresh bread, which I freeze. Shiloh Farms Bread For Life Seven Grain Bread is a good bread to freeze, and it doesn’t taste “frozen” when you defrost it.

2. by Carrie Floyd on Dec 10, 2007 at 5:14 PM PST

Thanks for breaking this down into readable — and easy to remember — bites. Is this what your book is all about, making educated choices about buying organic?

3. by anonymous on Dec 12, 2007 at 7:05 AM PST

Regarding using canned items...the linings of almost all cans contain bisphenol-A (BPA); thus, we are adding a toxin to our diets by consuming canned food.

4. by anonymous on Dec 12, 2007 at 8:58 AM PST

What about frozen vegetables and fruits that are out of season?

5. by Matthew Artz on Dec 12, 2007 at 9:30 AM PST

You assume of course that the primary reason for buying organic is to avoid taking pesticides into the body (thus your comments to save money and buy non-organic). This neglects the fact that the pesticides are still being used on the fruits/veg, still entering the soil, and still entering the ground water. While they may not be hitting me directly, those pesticides are still impacting someone.

6. by Cindy Burke on Dec 12, 2007 at 12:52 PM PST

Thanks for sharing your opinions on my recent post. My book IS about making educated choices when buying local, organic or non-organically grown food. I wrote the book after I actually spent $11 on a single organic cauliflower at the grocery store—and then wondered the entire way home if that purchase was excessive and foolish. I’m sure many people can relate.
I became well informed about farming and growing methods so I could make wise and economical food choices. The fact is that organic growers do use (approved) pesticides as needed, and non-organic growers don’t always use pesticides. Many factors come into play, including the climate, the crop, the soil, history, weather, and economics.
As I talked with farmers throughout the US, and many others in our food supply chain, I discovered that there is no simple rule, such as “always buy organic to save your health and save the environment.” Most of the smartest and most environmentally-responsible farmers I know are NOT certified organic growers. Surprised to hear this? I was too. That’s another reason I wrote my book—the world of organics has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, and many consumers are not aware of how these changes affect the organic food you buy at premium prices.
My blog post next week will discuss the differences between Grade A organic producers and Grade B (agribusiness) organic producers.

7. by Cindy Burke on Dec 12, 2007 at 12:58 PM PST

Re: anon 1 and anon 2: Good point about the bisphenol-A (BPA); it seems best to minimize one’s exposure to any chemical. Frozen fruits and veggies are fine choices when you have to have an out-of-season ingredient. Fresh and in-season produce will always taste better, I think.

8. by Joanne on Dec 16, 2007 at 8:54 AM PST

Hi Cindy, I completely disagree with you about not choosing organic whenever possible. Organic produce is proven to contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Beside the health benefit, choosing organic also supports organic and sustainable farming. I do agree that there are some great farmers which are not certified organic - so of course the best 1st choice is knowning and buying from your local farmer (at the farmer’s market). At the grocery store, the best choice is always organic unless you know the produce comes from one of these great non-certified farmers.

9. by Jack on Dec 16, 2007 at 9:24 AM PST

Cindy says, <I>I wrote the book after I actually spent $11 on a single organic cauliflower at the grocery store—and then wondered the entire way home if that purchase was excessive and foolish.</i>

But why do you feel you’ve paid too much? Com’on, we in the US already have the cheapest food in the world (for a major country), why must this excessive “cheap ethic” apply to food as well? Have you not noticed how our country is terribly fat, obese, and diabetic from our excessively cheap food? (And hey, I’m not picking on you; these three questions are addressed to everyone.)

I think people need to be reminded that our food prices are artificially low, and that they should be encouraged to spend more money on real food, not less. Your advice above discourages this.

But I really do like the rest of your article!

10. by OpusOne on Dec 16, 2007 at 9:31 AM PST


I continue to find this discussion extremely enlightening. The arguments on either side have merit, but I have to side with Cindy on the basic idea that absolutes in this case can be very unproductive, or even wrong.

I think about the number of friends I have who completely understand the benefits of organic products over non-organic, but also challenge the absolute nature of making that choice. We are questioning and curious creatures and sometimes what makes logical sense just does not work in certain contexts -- I hate to say this, but compromise is the only way people make real changes over time, we do not leap to the ‘end-state’ in one step without ultimately falling back to the start. Habits form over time and often times, saying something is Organic, does not been it is the right choice.

11. by anonymous on Jan 10, 2008 at 5:31 PM PST

Thank you Joanne. I agree with you. Eating organic is not always about the pesticides. It is about the nutrional content involved. A lot of non-organic fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered and thus have proven to have less vitamins and anti-oxidents. I personally have recently been diagnosed with several auto-immune diseases in the last few years. I have tried eating organic for the last few months and have noticed a dramtic physical difference in my health in which prescription drugs have not been able to treat for me. I have my whole family eating organic everything now and am a big advocate for it.

12. by David on May 31, 2011 at 9:25 AM PDT

Methyl Bromide on our grapes? Lovely! (sarcasm intended)

Good point about garlic and onions having built in pest control.. I never thought of that but it makes sense.

13. by Mark from Caravan Mover Reviews on May 31, 2011 at 11:10 AM PDT

It’s a really valid point about eating canned fruit. I read somewhere that the quality of the fruit is almost as good as eating fresh, and of course it will last for a LONG time. I also think it doesn’t hurt people to learn about seasons, and simply accept that you can’t have everything when you want it (opposite to what our supermarket culture has taught us!)

14. by Self Help Reviews on Jul 25, 2011 at 8:56 AM PDT

If you’re concerned about the effects of metal cans used commercially, there are some good alternatives that are packed in glass jars. Better yet... buy organic fruits locally and can (jar) them yourself.

15. by Isabel De Los Rios on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:44 PM PDT

Winter, a time to rest and get fat because of all the foods prepared for Christmas season, but I say that it would be better if we all buy something we can store that won’t get rot, I also think that it is better to buy one in jars, like @SelpHelpReview15 have mentioned, than the one in cans.

16. by Chloe Emerson on Dec 10, 2011 at 10:16 AM PST

@Isabel - Please don’t sit and get fat! Exercise!

Eat well, but take care, and tone yourself too!

17. by Jon on Jan 22, 2014 at 2:32 AM PST

I notice from the date on the article that this is a little old - would you agree that the prices of Organic have stabilised a little and price rises in different seasons are not as bad as they where?

18. by Sheila on Jan 22, 2014 at 8:49 AM PST

Even if there aren’t pesticide residues, citrus and banana growing practices are among the worst environmentally - migratory songbird populations particularly vulnerable - also citrus greening is said by some to be a result of toxic monoculture farming - support organic practices wherever possible, and pay the extra for better food, better growing, better planet

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