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Is Buying Organic Only About Mommy Status?

Organic Mom was in line behind me at the grocery store the other day.

Full disclosure: I have this really bad habit of looking at the contents of other people's grocery carts. I'm not judging them. OK, sometimes I am judging them. Mostly, I view it as "research."

But when Organic Mom was behind me, I was the one who felt judged.

Organic Mom's cart contained the following: organic yogurt, organic frozen vegetables, organic almond milk, organic spaghetti sauce, organic whole wheat pasta, and a jumbo pack of chlorine-free diapers. She was wearing a stylish, belted trench. She was talking on her cell phone to a friend about (I swear I'm not making this up) whether the snacks at her child's daycare were organic.

And me? I wanted to dive onto the conveyor belt and shield my items from view. Ideally, using the frumpy windbreaker that I was wearing.

I don't exclusively buy organic. In fact, most weeks only a handful of items in my cart are organic. I'm not convinced that my kids' health will suffer if I don't get the organic cereal, organic ketchup and organic gummy fruit chews. In fact, according to a brand new analysis of studies released this week by Stanford, organic food isn't more nutritious than the conventional type.

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Believe me, I love the idea of supporting sustainable farming with every single food purchase. But I also love the idea of paying my mortgage.

So why does Organic Mom, through no fault of her own, make me feel inferior—like when the moms at baby music class were carrying Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bags and I had the one we got for free at the hospital? Am I secretly worried that by not spending the extra $100 a week, I'm not doing the very best I can for my children? (Or am I just jealous of her Tory Burch flats?)

I think I feel inferior because organic food can sometimes seem like a status symbol—or worse, a badge of good parenting. It shouldn't be. It should be a choice based on science, personal values and budget. And we should all feel good about buying healthy foods for our kids, whether those items carry the organic seal or not.

Besides, it is possible to balance your family's health with your family budget. Here are some ways I do it:

Shopping strategically. I use the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Lists as a guide. That means I try to buy organic apples, lettuce and strawberries since they have higher levels of pesticides. But I don't stress out about asparagus and avocados. Produce with a thick rind or covering you throw away (pineapples, cantaloupe, bananas) or a strong odor that naturally fends off pests (cabbage, onions) usually has less chemical residue.

Washing everything well. Vigorously washing conventional fruits and vegetables has been shown in research to reduce pesticide residue by 30 percent. (The new research analysis did find more pesticide residues on conventional food.) What is vigorous? It means rubbing produce under running water for at least 15 seconds—not just wiping it on the front of your shirt.

Buying seasonally. Produce is a lot cheaper when it's in season, including organic. The cost difference isn't as big when you're buying apples in October and blueberries in July.

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Stocking up. When there's a great price on organic berries or peaches, I buy several packages and freeze the extras for smoothies or tossing on oatmeal (and my kids like frozen fruit straight-up—it tastes like little bites of sorbet!). Organic green beans freeze well, too, and frozen organic grapes make great snacks.

Considering the source. I prefer to spend my organic dollar on fresh, whole food. All organic food seems to have a health halo these days—but I don't fall for it. Organic chips, gummy fruit snacks and sugary cereals aren't magically nutritious because of the organic seal.

So the next time Organic Mom's high-priced haul is next to my tubs of non-organic, store brand yogurt, I vow to feel good about my purchases and remember that, like all moms, I'm doing my best.

And then I'll turn around, smile and tell her how much I love those shoes.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Do You Always Buy Organic?

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