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Affording Fresh Fruits and Vegetables On A Budget

Affording fresh produceI shared last week about my quest to eat healthier to lower my cholesterol. The USDA recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but affording fresh fruits and vegetables on a budget can be tough. They’re much more expensive than hot dogs and ramen. How is someone on a strict budget supposed to hit all the recommended daily allowances and still have money left over at the end of the month?

Now, I know you can grow a garden, can vegetables and fruits for later, and make an assortment of jams and jellies. If you know how to do that, you probably don’t need to read this post. If you are like me and your thumb couldn’t even be considered a shade of pale mint, let alone green, and if you’re too lazy busy to be that ambitious, these tips are for you.

Saving at the Grocery Store

We all know to shop for produce that is on sale. I also like to sign up for a store’s email, value card, and coupon list. While it’s rare to find produce coupons from manufacturers, stores will send coupons in the mail or online for things you buy most. We get a packet of coupons once a month from our Kroger affiliate and there is almost always a free coupon for a bag of frozen fruit and a discount on carrots and greens.

Also, if you pay attention to the sales, you’ll know stores stock up before something goes on special. If it doesn’t sell, you can often get it at rock bottom prices after the week is up. Our store keeps a section back by the bakery that is pretty grab bag, but they had red bell peppers recently for 75% off. I’ve scored lots of deals this way, but you have to be willing to buy what’s there and eat or freeze it quickly.

Look in Non-Traditional Places

We have a restaurant and a couple of green houses in town that sell local produce year round. Obviously, you can’t get everything all year, but you can almost always find spinach and other greens at a better cost than the grocery. Local stuff always tastes better too.

In late fall, you can actually go around and pick wild asparagus in southwest Colorado. It tastes exactly the same as store bought and is free on public land. Colorado State University also operates an orchard near us to study different fruit species and soil conditions. They grow amazing fruit and let the public pick it for about $.75 a pound, but you have to be on alert because it isn’t well advertised. Being aware of non-traditional places can certainly go a long way toward making fresh fruits and veggies affordable. 

Invest in Some Kitchen Tools

The hardest thing in my relationship with fresh produce used to be waste. We would have grand, healthy plans, buy a ton of produce, and let it rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator. You might as well bury your money in the yard and hope it sprouts carrots.

The best idea is to wash and prepare your produces as soon as you get home. It costs more than double to buy a bag of mini-carrots or celery hearts instead the whole uncut bunch with dirt and all. However, uncut produce is what gets stuck in the fridge and left there because you don’t feel like peeling at the end of the day.

Get a peeler, some paring knives, and maybe a grater. As soon as you get home from the store, prepare your produce and put it in zip-lock bags or Tupperware type containers. My family won’t eat zucchini unless I grate it up and put it on a salad. We also probably would not cut up  a watermelon or whole pineapple in the midst of dinner prep. Preparing ahead of time eliminates waste and saves money.

Stir Fry and Smoothies

Even with the best intentions, you’ll find that you sometimes can’t eat everything before it starts to go bad, but that doesn’t mean it has to go to waste.

If you have leftover fruit, cut it up, remove any seeds or stems and freeze it.  For breakfast, make a smoothie using the fruit, a little yogurt and milk or juice. I’ve frozen just about any fruit you can think of. It’s all delicious in a smoothie, even things I don’t love to eat on their own.

If it’s a veggie, throw in in a big skillet or wok, add a little olive oil and your favorite sauce or seasoning. Voila, you have a delicious stir fry that can be frozen for later use. The only veggie that ever comes close to getting thrown out at our house is lettuce. If you have a way to preserve that, let me know.

Anyone Can Eat Healthy On a Budget

At first glance, it might seem impossible to get good, fresh produce on the cheap, but if you do a little planning, shopping around, and preparing, you’ll find that you can afford fresh fruits and vegetables without busting the budget. Your arteries will thank you as well.

 Do you get all five servings of fruits and veggies every day? What’s your best tip for affording fresh produce if you don’t garden?
Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

41 comments

  1. Storing lettuce:
    Once purchased, wrap in a dry paper towel(don’t wash them yet), place in airtight plastic bag/container (with practically no air inside), and place it in the fridge. When you wish to consume it, have the lettuce washed and they are good to go.
    When inside the bag, if they are dry and airtight, they won’t go bad for quite some time.

    Recently I had grilled pineapple, marinated with honey and cinnamon. Loved it! Maybe you could try that out 🙂

    • We do grill pineapple and it’s very tasty. I’ve’ never tried that recipe, but it sounds delicious. Thanks for the lettuce tip. I’ll give the paper towel thing a try.

  2. If you really want to wash the lettuce before putting it in the fridge, be sure to dry it nice and good. I think that might still work, not sure though. Maybe you could test it…

  3. My wife is big on getting things from the Farmers Market. She swears its cheaper and tastes better.

  4. Love these tips. We bought those green banana bags that the grocery store sells in the produce section. They really do help bananas stay fresh longer!

    • I am a banana snob and there is only a finite window when I feel the banana is acceptable to eat. I usually only buy 4 or 5 at a time and we tend to eat them pretty quickly.

  5. I’m trying to reduce eating meat and more on vegetables and fruits. I love making smoothies too, and making fresh fruit salad.

  6. I definitely DO NOT get five servings of fruits and veggies each day. I do try to get 3+ of each, but it doesn’t always happen. Smoothies are a great way to pack in a bunch of servings and my wife and I make them quite a bit.

  7. I second DC…I don’t get the recommended servings. We do pretty good with fruit as my kids can’t get enough of it. I always try to get whatever fruit is on sale at the grocery. Fresh veggies not so much, although my family does devour cucumbers.

  8. Great tips here, Kim ! I would love to have an abundance of wild asparagus nearby. We are just doing asparagus for the first time in our garden this year. I agree especially with your tip about looking in unexpected places; a restaurant near to us sells prime rib roasts for dirt cheap every year during the holidays.

  9. Great tips Kim! We garden quite a bit, but we also do a lot of the things you mention here. The biggest thing for us is stocking up and freezing where we can when there are sales and doing things like smoothies or a stir fry. It can be difficult to eat healthier on a budget, but it can definitely be done if you work at it. We’ve totally changed our eating habits and getting our 5+ servings pretty much every day now.

  10. While some produce you want to wash, there’s a lot of produce, like lettuce, that you don’t want to wash until you’re ready to use as it makes it prone to mold. Berries are another product you should wait to wash. Unfortunately, sometimes a person’s fridge is what sets produce to rot. I always told myself that when I’m in a place I own, I will immediately buy a fancy pants fridge that has all sorts of produce drawers to keep food fresh. 🙂

    Here in NYC, a nice perk they do at open air produce markets is that they have things set up so people can use food stamps to buy fresh farmer’s market produce. It’s a win-win as the produce is often more fresh than from a grocery store and the direct sale benefits small farmers.

    • My husband apparently does not know how to wash, so if I don’t do it, he’ll feed it to the kiddo as is. I guess we eat berries too quickly to let anything mold. I would love a fancy pants fridge too! I am pretty sure they take food stamps at the farmer’s market here too. I’m not sure how many take advantage. That would be an interesting statistic.

  11. We do a lot of stir-fry and a lot of steamed veggies. My kids will eat almost anything steamed!
    We used to eat a lot of salads but not so much anymore. I don’t like salads unless they have 1,000 calories of dressing on them ‘/

    • I actually hate just about every salad dressing so I’m lucky there. The only one I really like is the house dressing from Olive Garden, which we eat maybe once a year.

  12. I think I just about hit that mark. Truth be told, I don’t even worry about the cost too much because I’d rather eat really healthy despite the expense and try and stave off expensive health problems later. I do believe though that frozen veggies are just as good for you as fresh, and they are cheaper.

    • I just don’t like most veggies that come frozen unless I slather them with cheese or put them in some sort of casserole. Frozen is a million times better than canned though, unless it’s those French style green beans. Love those.

  13. Smoothies are a great way to pack in some fruits. I need to learn how to store veggies and fruits because too often it goes bad. As for good prices, I find Aldi’s has good prices as well as ethnic supermarkets.

    • I would love the option of an Aldi. My Mom has a Sav-a-Lot that I think is pretty similar. They have some good local produce in the summer.

  14. We have participated in a local co-op here where we pay an annual fee and a bunch of what’s produced in season from the collective of farmers. It is typically more than we can eat in a week so we definitely have had to learn tricks like blanching and then freezing so that we don’t have a lot of wasted produce.

  15. My wife and I like to get our fresh fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market. This is especially true when the summer hits. We can get some great stuff for a cheap price.

  16. Yes, I definitely eat my daily recommended amount of fruits and veggies. Smoothies are definitely a great way to get some fruits and veggies in you. I eat a lot of steamed or roasted veggies too. Like you, we try to keep things ready to eat too because when you’re hungry, you don’t want to have to clean and cut-up the veggies or fruits but you just want to eat! We don’t have a garden but are fortunate to have great farmer’s markets open year-round.

  17. I don’t concern myself much with the cost of fruit and vegetables, though my husband occasionally chides me about my purchases. It’s a big priority for me to get vegetables in so I would just rather avoid spending money on convenience and junk food than worry about the cost! We have a CSA and visit the farmer’s market but I don’t find it to be a cost-saver over conventional produce.

    • The Saturday farmer’s market is more expensive but if we shop at the one that’s open every day, it’s almost always the same or less than Kroger. It’s all organic too. I love my summer produce lady!

  18. I have to second the tip about the lettuce wrapped in paper towels. My grandma swears by it, and my mom tried it with success. I buy mostly frozen vegetables because I know things will sadly go to waste otherwise, but I have noticed I enjoy fresh more. I’m with you on the house salad dressing from Olive Garden, though we’re not big salad eaters. I think preparing veggies ahead of time would help a lot as I hate spending time cutting them up when trying to cook other things!

  19. I need to eat more vegetables… If a potato is a vegetable, and you deep fry it, does that count? And lettuce and tomato on a bacon cheese burger has to add up to some good? Or a wild rice soup with carrots and celery in it?

    • That sounds like how my husband used to think. Try the smoothies. He’s addicted now and likes just about anything I put in them.

  20. Sounds Great!
    Why is it so expensive for fruits and vegetables- are they organic?

    • Healthy fresh food is just more expensive than processed stuff for the most part, but you can find deals and sales to make it affordable.

  21. It always surprises me when I see that the USDA only recommends 5 servings of produce per day. I definitely believe that we need a lot more than that to be healthy, but I guess most people don’t even eat 5 servings so that’s even a stretch. I eat a ton of produce and because it has a lot more nutrients per calorie than junk food, I see it as breaking even as far as costs. I tend to get produce at 50% off because it’s getting old, at the grocery store (which usually means it has a few more days left in it!) and use it in recipes right away. It’s a great way to save.

  22. I love smoothies to use up fruit before it goes bad! Honestly I’ve been terrible with eating at home (and eating healthy lately), but it really doesn’t have to be that expensive. I just have to not be lazy.

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