Fresh produce makes up most of the list of SuperHero Foods we promote, and for good reason! Broccoli, berries, avocados, and all of the rest have so many fantastic nutrients to offer us. Berries have tons of antioxidants; broccoli and other cruciferous veggies contain many different vitamins; and avocados provide wonderful fats, just to name a few. We recommend making fresh produce a large part of your family’s diet.
But we also know that the pressure of a grocery budget can limit the amount of produce that makes it into the cart. Luckily, there are many ways that you can change your shopping, storing, and cooking methods to make your dollar go further and your produce last longer! Here are a few tips we have for eating more produce on a budget.
1) Buy less, more often
Most of us can relate to throwing out slimy spinach and bad apples because we bought too much at once and forgot about it. Not only is it a waste of food, but it’s also a waste of the dollars you spent on that food. Buying less more often can reduce accidental waste.
Think ahead and plan out meals if you can and don’t buy too much produce at once. Buy only as much as you know you can use up before it goes bad. By reducing waste in the kitchen, you make the most of everything you buy!
2) Compare grocery stores
Know where to shop! Have a large Asian supermarket in your area like H-Mart? They often have a great, inexpensive produce selection (although not much of an organic section). Costco and Aldi are great too! Aldi often has a great selection of organic produce. You can often find avocados at Aldi for less than $1 each! Thrive Market is also a great site for purchasing healthy kitchen staples.
Make a point to check out the different grocery stores in your area to see which have the best prices for produce.
3) Know the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
We advocate choosing organic produce whenever possible, but yes, it is more expensive and not everyone can afford (or find!) organic produce all the time. The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are lists put out by the Environmental Working Group of the produce most contaminated and least contaminated by pesticides.
For the Dirty Dozen, you should always try to buy organic if you can:
For the Clean Fifteen, it’s fine to buy conventional. Most of these are items that we peel:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
4)Prioritize in-season produce
In the US, we get spoiled by having almost all types of produce available to us all year around. But in many countries, it’s hard to find produce all the time. Did you know that a watermelon in South Korea can cost $30 off-season?
Prioritize buying local, in-season produce. When everyone’s crops are heading to market at the same time, prices drop. The bonus is that it’s much more delicious.
Plus, it’s better to pay our farmers now instead of our doctors later.
Many cities have great options for Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture. You can visit Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area, or consider markets like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods.
5) Store Produce Properly
Learn how to store that produce so it lasts. It is so disheartening to go to grab ingredients for a meal and find your produce wilted, slimy, or worse. We want the quality ingredients that we’re spending good money and time getting to stay fresh! Save the Food has an extensive resource on storing food, including tips on how to freeze items and revive older or leftover bits. Check out their website to learn about specific produce items, but here are a few tips to get you started!
Tips for fruit:
- Berries and figs: Don’t wash until you are ready to eat them! The moisture can make berries rot faster. Store blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries in a breathable container in a single layer on a towel.
- Apples and pears: Squeeze some lemon over sliced fruit to keep it from browning
- Bananas: Wrap the tops with plastic to slow the ripening process. Keep bananas away from other fruits as bananas can make other fruits ripen faster.
Tips for herbs:
- Basil: Don’t store in the fridge! Basil is sensitive to cold temperatures, so keep basil out on the counter if you don’t want it to brown quickly. If you have loose leaves, store them in a breathable bag with a cloth or paper towel to help moderate the moisture. If you have a bunch, store them in a glass like flowers and drape a plastic bag over the top. Change the water daily.
- Other fresh herbs: Other herbs can be stored like flowers too, but put them in the fridge to lengthen their shelf life. Heartier herbs can be hung in bunches in a dry, well-ventilated place to dry, or dried in the microwave between paper towels! You can freeze herbs to save them too.
Tips for vegetables:
- Many vegetables (including greens, carrots, celery, broccoli, and beets) like high humidity. You can wrap greens in a damp cloth to keep them moist, and make use of the high humidity drawers in the fridge
- Cucumbers: The ideal storage temperature for cucumbers in between room temp and the refrigerator. So if you have a cool, dark place in your kitchen, you can keep cucumbers there instead of the fridge. Do not store them near tomatoes, apples, avocados, or bananas as these will make them go bad more quickly.
- Asparagus: store in a loose bunch with the ends in water like flowers and keep refrigerated, or wrap in a damp towel and refrigerate.
6) Befriend your freezer
The freezer is the magic pause button in your kitchen. Bananas going bad? How about berries? Peel the bananas, wash the berries, and put them in the freezer. A frozen banana is an amazing sweet treat and it’s great in smoothies too. Grapes are delicious when frozen as well!
Wilted carrots and celery can be frozen to save for your next batch of stock. Save the stems of your asparagus and green onions. Many vegetables (like corn, kale, and green beans) can be quickly blanched and frozen for a later date too.
The freezer is your friend for seasonal abundance too. When berries are on sale, you can buy while the price is low and freeze the extra for later!
7) Learn how to preserve your produce
Our ancestors have been preserving foods for centuries! The best way to preserve your food is through canning. Through heat, you remove the air to create a seal. This process limits bacteria and makes the food shelf-stable.
But we understand that canning is a big undertaking to learn. Lucky for us there are many other simple ways to preserve food. Along with befriending our freezer, you can make preserves, pickles, and ferment. You can make fruit preserves and portion them in small mason jars that you freeze. You can make refrigerator pickles that last a few weeks or longer. You can pickle more than just cucumbers. Have you tried pickled carrots or jalapenos? Pickling is a great way to use up other produce that might be starting to go bad in your fridge like collard greens, kale, jalapenos, carrots, and more.
8) Kitchen sink recipes
Have an arsenal of kitchen sink recipes! What does that mean? Recipes that can handle all the random produce from your last trip to the grocery; you know, everything but the kitchen sink. Think rice bowls, frittatas, casseroles, soups, and other recipes that are great for using up the leftover produce you have sitting around. Don’t be afraid to mix unlikely things together or hide that half a tomato in the soup pot. These may not always be the most delicious meals you’ll ever make, but they could lead to some magical creations. Don’t be afraid to deviate from recipes!
9) Grow your own
Some produce like fresh herbs and sprouts can be very expensive for the small amount that you get. But herbs and sprouts have great health benefits and are a super addition to your family’s diet. Instead of skipping them altogether, consider growing some of these expensive to buy but easy to tend plants.
Growing herbs and sprouts is super simple and doesn’t require much room. You can grow sprouts right on your counter if you have a nice sunny window and keep a basil plant right next to it! You’ll have to pay for the herb starts or seeds to sprout, but they will yield so much more food in the long run with a little of your time and attention. There are tons of resources on growing sprouts online, like this blog post and this one. Kids love watching things grow too! They are often way more likely to try a new food if they have been involved in growing it.
10) Organize, organize, organize!
Organize your fridge. Location can make all the difference in the world. If you can’t see a bag of spinach because it’s hidden behind stacks of condiments, then how will you remember to make that salad? Place produce where it will keep well AND where you won’t forget about it.
Take some time to clean out the fridge on a regular basis so that it doesn’t become filled with old, almost empty jars that hide away the fresh produce that you really do want to eat! Once the fridge is clean, determine where the best place is to keep items like berries or green beans that need to be eaten within a day or two.
This goes for the items that live out on the counter too. If you have a fruit bowl, make sure it’s in a central location where it invites everyone to grab an apple or orange for a snack.
Organizing your grocery lists and weekly meals can help you make the most of your produce too. If you’ll be shopping at multiple stores, write out your list in sections of what you’ll buy at each store. If possible, start at the discount stores (I often find these have less variety and the inventory can be a bit unpredictable), and end with the store that you can count on to have most everything.
Planning out meals can take the pressure off of figuring out what to make for dinner last minute after a long day. Even if it’s a loose plan like “green beans on Monday” or “Taco Tuesday,” a little bit of organization can help reduce waste from forgetting about perishable items.
Creativity, planning, and a little extra learning can make SuperHero foods much more accessible and easier on your wallet. We believe that healthy food is a right. Although our current system makes eating healthy more expensive and harder than necessary, we are committed to sharing tips and tools to make it work. We hope these tips help you and your family with eating more produce on a budget