We all know that vegetables and fruits are so good for us and that we should be eating them every day, several times a day. Vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients and healing properties that our bodies need, but many of us shy away from loading up our shopping carts with a rainbow of colors because produce seems really expensive. And I get that. You can buy an entire box of pasta that will feed a whole family for the same cost as one avocado. But the nutrient density of that avocado out weights the pasta a million fold. (That’s hyperbole, so don’t go quoting me on that.) When we think about spending money on food (i.e. our health), we should spend it in a way that gives us the biggest bang for our buck nutrient-wise, as opposed to filler-wise. Having said that, it can still be really expensive to buy all the vegetables and fruits we should be eating, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some tips for saving money while satisfying our nutrient needs.
- Have a produce plan. Have a plan for all your produce so that none goes to waste. The most expensive vegetables are the ones we throw out. Check out last week’s post on meal planning for some tips.
- Buy in season. One reason fresh produce is so expensive is that we buy them out of season. A tomato or strawberries are going to cost a whole lot more in January than it will in the summer, and they will be missing a lot of flavor. The ideal time to buy a vegetable or fruit for both your taste buds and your pocket is when they are in season. You can check out your state agricultural agency or your local CSA for information on what vegetables are in season near you.
- Know the organic rules. Organic fruits and vegetables tend to be more flavorful and more expensive. While organic foods are better for the environment and our health by reducing our exposure to pesticides, it might not always be feasible to buy all organic produce. For those of you concerned about your families exposure to pesticides, I will point you to the Environmental Working Group’s lists of produce that you can get away with buying conventionally and those you should pay a little extra for. If you have access to a farmers market, speak to the farmers to learn about their farming methods. I’ve found that though not all farms can pay to be certified as an organic farm, but many do practice organic farming. You may get a better price at these stands if they are trying to compete with larger farms with organic certification. Also, buying organic vegetables frozen (see tip #5) is a great way to save some moolah.
- Buy in bulk and preserve. If you really like tomatoes, berries, basil, peppers, or whatever and need them all year round, then you can buy them in bulk when in season and preserve them. Some farms will have special deals on seasonal produce if you buy it in bulk. For several years my good friend and I have made it a point to buy several pounds of tomatoes in June and make salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup, and crushed tomatoes to use at a later date. You can tell from this picture (it was late!) that it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s well worth it when you can reach into your pantry in January and grab some crushed tomatoes for dinner. If canning doesn’t float your boat, you can always freeze berries, peppers, and herbs for later use. I have a friend that makes big batches of pasta sauce when tomatoes are cheap and freezes servings for later use. It may take a little work, but you really do reap the rewards (pun intended). Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for instructions and information on food preservation.
- Don’t forget the freezer section. I prefer buying fresh vegetables and fruits, but if I can’t, then I’ll buy them frozen. Frozen vegetables and fruits are typically cheaper than buying fresh and because they are picked at the height of freshness , and they are pretty taste, too. Throw frozen vegetables into a chili, a soup, or other one pot meals helps you to get more vegetables in without all that pesky cutting. You can even roast frozen vegetables, which is one of my all time favorite methods.
I hope this helps you feel inspired to go out and buy those vegetables. Look for recipes in the coming weeks that use seasonal vegetables in typical meals.
For more in this series, check out the post Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and watch this space for more.