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
Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, hiking.

41 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

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