I 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.