Should You Feed Your Kids Organic Food?

You’re at the grocery store for your weekly trip, and once again you notice that the organic and natural foods sections are expanding and more prominent than they used to be. Then you peek into the cart of another mom and notice that she’s buying all organic foods (even the fruit snacks!) for her family. And you wonder, is that what I should be buying too? But then you consider your budget and think, organic food can be so expensive!

Although the prices are becoming a little more reasonable on some items, most organic and natural foods do command a premium over conventional foods. Are they worth the increased cost? These days, it depends who you talk to and what their reasons are for buying organic. As reported recently on National Public Radio, studies have shown that some organic produce contains more antioxidants than their conventionally grown cousins, and that organic meat and dairy does have higher levels of omega-3s fatty acids. The same report noted that organic options haven’t been found to have additional vitamins, and that some experts are skeptical that the increased levels of antioxidants and omega-3’s are significant enough to make a difference in people’s health. So eating organic foods might not make much of a difference when it comes to nutrition.

Some moms choose organics not for what they have nutritionally, but for what they don’t have, namely pesticide residue. Conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are often sprayed with fertilizers, some of which have been linked to some nasty stuff, and kids might be more sensitive to all that exposure. As of now there’s no research showing that eating all organic food means having fewer illnesses, just as it is hard to directly link the cause of specific diseases to non-organic diets. Long-term studies are needed on the effects of both organic and conventional diets. And while conventionally-raised meat and dairy might contain antibiotics from the animals’ diets (the use of antibiotics is prohibited in organic farming), there’s not any direct evidence to suggest consuming these foods is bad for humans. But we really just don’t know yet.

So do you need to feed your kids organic food? If you’re doing so solely because you think it’s significantly more nutritious, the answer is no. If your concern is about the potential health effects of pesticides, and environmental issues linked to them, you’re better off buying organic. But you might not have to buy everything organic. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the “Dirty Dozen,” which are the items in the produce section that have the most pesticide residue on them. Stretch your food budget by purchasing these fruits and veggies organic and opt for conventionally-grown choices when shopping for the items on the EWG’s “Clean 15” list (hooray, superfood avocados are number 1!).

And experts are quick to emphasize that it’s more important what your kids are eating rather than how it’s grown. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the organic food debate for the first time, and emphasized that kids need to eat a balanced diet featuring plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and dairy. Eating more conventionally-grown produce is preferred over serving organic fruit and veggies less often, they noted.

What do you think about the organic food debate? How important is it to you to feed your kids organic food?