Baby Step 13: Saving on Produce

BabyStep13Last Baby Step we talked about taking a look at what we really spend on food – including all those last minute purchases and take out bits. Today I want to focus on saving money on some of the healthiest food around, produce. Saving on produce tends to fall into two basic categories: 1) spending less and 2) using more (or wasting less if you’re into complete grammatical parallels). Both approaches are obviously valid, but the greatest savings (and satisfaction if you’re a cheap freak like me) comes from employing methods from both categories to maximize the nutrish for the dinero, moolah, green, whatev.

Some of these are obvious, but if you’re anything like me you tend to get real good about focusing on one and then forget some of the others. Let’s run through the possibilities. Healthy food, which for most folks means adding more produce, is affordable because  it satisfies you and prevents spending money on chronic illness. Healthy food is more affordable if you get good at finding it cheap and using it all.

Saving on the Front Head

1) Shop Seasonally: Ever notice that tomatoes get cheaper when it’s blazing hot in your region? That grapefruit gets wicked inexpensive in winter? This is all about season.  So many of us have forgotten about shopping seasonally because thanks to international exports and masterful storage by food producers we have grown accustomed to getting just about anything we want any time of year. When you take advantage of sales in season you are far more likely getting the freshest (and most delicious) produce you can buy at a good price, which means good nutrish for less dish.

2) Double that Load:  When the price is really good, get a lot and just eat it like it’s going out of style.  Eat salad every meal in Spring.  Eat it until you can’t bear the sight of that super fresh super nutritious bright green snap pea. Know why that’s okay? Because if you’re shopping in season too, right about the time you burn out, it will be time for the next wave. Taking advantage of sale prices by buying a lot also allows you to save for later times (which we’ll discuss in more detail later but you can check out my strawberry post as strawberries are still going for great prices in my neck of the woods).

3) Find that Farmer: I know, I know you’ve heard it before and if you aren’t into farmer’s markets you don’t likely want to hear it again, but the truth is that farm markets are often the best place to get the freshest high quality produce at the best price.  They also allow you to try your hand at a little wheeling and dealing.  In years when the squirrels take too many of my maters, we negotiate with one of our favorite local guys for big boxes of tomatoes so that I can save some. Make relationships. These folks will share amazing produce AND knowledge and if you’re smart you’ll ask enough questions that you can…

IMG_90834) Grow Some: Okay, okay you’re not a gardener. I get it. Truth is most folks can save at least a little dough, or at least improve their ingredients, by planting a couple of pots of herbs. There are plenty of veggies and fruits that can be done small-scale and if you have more room, it might be wise to consider which veggies you eat the most of and which cost you the most at the store in order to maximize your savings with your efforts in the dirt.

5) Shop/Grow Cooperatively: If you garden and so does your pal, make some deals so you can make the most of your space but still enjoy a variety of veggies.  If you don’t garden, work with a friend so you can help each other by taking advantage of sales for one another.  If you text, this is REALLY easy.  It goes something like this: Me: “At Weggie’s, Org Strawberries 3.50/lb. Want some?”  She: “YES!! Get 3!”  There it’s that simple.

Use More/Waste Less

IMG_92521) Freeze those Bits: Got more beans than you can handle? Strawberries starting to look dusky before you’ve used them? Peas or broccoli coming in from the garden in quantities too small to use at one shot? Experiment with small batch freezing.  I’ve been doing this all summer with berries, peas, broccoli florets and greens.  I have a tray set in the freezer with wax paper for berries and a simple sheet of wax paper for the veggies.  I wash, trim (if needed), lay them on the wax paper, check the next day and put them into a storage bag.  Done.  Slowly gathering quantities for the winter, just like those pesky squirrels who eat my tomatoes do….  This should probably generate some compassion for them from me…  Hmmmm….

2) Be Aware: More often than not when produce goes bad in my fridge it’s because I forgot it was there.  Something got shoved on top of something else and something got shoved to the back and the container opened and now there’s this weird smell… yeah.  You’ve been there. I’ve been trying to be a lot more aware of what’s in there by at least once a day (while I’m getting stuff, not like an extra trip) taking a peek through both of those bins and eyeballing the fridge generally (I often have too much produce for just the bins). I’ve also adopted the practice when I get home from the market of pulling things out of the bins and consolidating BEFORE I add the new bits.  Now I know exactly what’s in there. When you know what’s in there, there’s a better chance you will use it especially if you….

3) Develop an Early Warning System: When you know you’ve had some produce too long, move it somewhere obvious.  I’ve seen folks do this a variety of ways – a special bin in the fridge for things that must be used pronto, a list of items to use up ASAP, a quick change of the menu or lunch leftovers to accomodate those fragile veggies. I tend to pull them out of the crisper for easy viewing and adapt my menus to take advantage of them. Make it easy on yourself; adopt a system of some kind.  I can’t speak for you, but if I rely on my head to do all of this, I’ll have a fridge full of yuck and P.U.

IMG_92744) Try Some Canning or Drying: I have both canned and dried produce, and to be honest I’m not in love with either process, but I will can some tomatoes and I will dry me some herbs.  I find the payoff on both of these to be well worth the effort.  If I have enough berries I will also do some syrup or jam, but I usually just stuff those directly into my giant gaping maw.

IMG_94695) Alter the Food Format to Buy Some Time: Got bananas that are past their prime? You know what I’m going to say, right? Banana bread is yesterday’s answer (although it’s always a good one). Super soft bananas are great for baking LOTS of healthy bits like cookies, pancakes, just about anything that you usually put fat into and that is meant to be enjoyed sweet. For savory produce savings, see if you can turn your veggies into a slaw or fresh pickle in order to buy some time.  Vinegar is magical and will give you some more time to enjoy those bits. Delish, frugal, and oh so satisfying.

Spend less, use more and eat food, real food.

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14 responses

  1. Last summer, I grew way too much swiss chard. My family got quickly fed up of it in every meal that went on the table. So, I chopped it up and froze it then put it in my green smoothies over the course of the winter.

    • Isn’t chard the best? SO versatile and so much less objectionable than some of the other greens I try to shove down their throats. ;-) Thanks for sharing your story and happy green smoothie to ya!

  2. Good tips, I find myself doing the same eating one thing when in season until I am sick of it. It’s a little like binging on something you’ve been craving by the the time it’s over you don’t want more, in this case when the season is over I’ve had my fill for a while.

  3. Thanks for the great tips for buying and using produce more efficiently. One thing that goes hand in hand with buying seasonally is subscribing to a local CSA program. Most areas have programs where you can subscribe to part of a farmer’s harvest during the growing season and it’s usually pretty affordable. I live in southern California and so my program goes year-round, although I know that most areas only get deliveries in the Spring/Summer. There’s some great information on my site if you are interested:
    What Is CSA?

  4. I really think this is one of the most practical and useful posts I’ve read about how to keep food from going bad – I especially loved and plan to implement the early warning system. Thanks!

  5. Small batch freezing and an early warning system are two tips that I need to implement! I hate when my produce goes to waste. I have some grape tomatoes that are past their prime in terms of eating fresh, but still ok (just wrinkly.) I recently starting watching youtube videos called depression cooking (the most adorable 90 something year old woman!) Anyways, she showed how she made her tomato sauce and she started by making tomato paste from cherry tomatoes. I think I’m going to take a page from her book and use up these wrinkly tomatoes for some tomato paste ASAP!

  6. We have a CSA for our veggies. When I get home I write a quick list of what I got on a piece of scrap paper and stick it on the fridge, crossing off as I use them. I am an out of sight, out of mind person and easily forget all the veg in my fridge bins. Also helps w/meal planning!

  7. Another way to stretch your produce budget is to save all the veggie trimmings in a gallon bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, turn it into vegetable broth. We freeze ours in ice cube trays for easy small servings. Pop a few of the cubes into your rice or quinoa instead of water to add flavor and nutrients.

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