A lot of times, people criticize budget-conscious people because the food they manage to buy cheaply isn’t all that healthy(ramen, while dirt-cheap, isn’t that nutritious). I try hard to make sure that our diets include as much fresh produce as possible, though, and here’s how I do it while staying within my budget.
I buy produce that is almost always inexpensive. There are some fresh produce items that are generally sold for an everyday cheap price($1.50/pound or less), and I buy these regularly. These are things like:
Since these things could get a little boring after a while, I also buy what is on a very good sale. Generally, grocery stores will have one or two produce items on their front page(the front page is usually where the cheapest prices can be found. These items are called loss leaders) for a ridiculously low price. I buy a lot of fruits and vegetables for $.99/pound this way.
What’s on sale varies greatly, and so we have to be kind of flexible and eat what we can get cheaply. This means that we generally eat what is in season. The loss-leader produce that goes on sale varies…strawberries are cheap in the spring, oranges are cheap in the winter, green beans are cheap in the summer, sweet potatoes are cheap in the fall, and so on. There is usually something nutritious to be had at a good price as long as you’re not too picky about what it is. If you want watermelon in December or oranges in July, it will cost you a lot more than it will if you eat oranges in December and watermelon in July.
To help fill in the gaps when there’s been a lack of loss-leader produce or to supplement my cheaply obtained produce, I buy some canned and frozen fruits. I use frozen strawberries nearly every day to make yogurt smoothies. They’re around $1.50/pound at Coscto, and not much more at Trader Joe’s, which makes them cheaper than the fresh ones even at loss-leader prices. Frozen blueberries are also much cheaper than their fresh counterparts and can be used in smoothies, pancakes, and muffins. Since berries are frozen pretty promptly after they’re picked(and thus don’t have to be picked before they’re ripe), they are often fresher and sweeter than the unfrozen berries in the grocery store(and from what I’ve read, freezing causes no greater loss of nutrients than does picking berries prior to their maximum ripeness, transporting them for miles and letting them sit on a shelf in the grocery store for a few days). We don’t enjoy frozen vegetables very much aside from frozen corn, but if you and your family will eat them, they’re a good cheap option.
About the only canned fruits I buy are peaches and mandarin oranges. I combine these with whatever miscellaneous fresh fruits that I happen to have around and top them with a splash of orange juice to make a fruit salad. I don’t buy any canned vegetables(aside from tomato products), because I hate the way they taste. Also, unlike freezing, canning does destroy a fair amount of nutrients, so I prefer to stick to fresh or frozen.
Two other seasonal routes that I haven’t explored a lot myself are visiting farmer’s markets and growing your own produce. Farmer’s markets tend to be a little more expensive than loss-leader produce, but the food there is really fresh and tasty(and usually local), and that makes it worth it to me sometimes to pay a little more.
I haven’t done a whole lot of gardening myself because I’m live near my parents who have a huge garden, and I just mooch produce off of them. But, this year I decided to give it a small try, and so I have a number of basil plants, a pepper plant, and some tomato plants. And should I ever move away from this area(or if my parents move!), this is something I will certainly put more effort into.
To read the rest of the posts in the series, click here.