I’m no health guru by any means, but I love fresh produce immensely. As a southern lady, I believe in frying, boiling, pickling, stewing, baking, sauteing, braising, grilling, roasting, and eating raw produce.
The picture you are seeing here is just a sample of the fresh produce I bought this week. Doesn’t look like much, does it? I actually brought 24 items for less than an average of $1.00 each. It was a good week for produce finds!
Here’s the full list of what was in my shopping cart this week and the cost breakdown:
1 lb. Bag
3 lb. Bag
3 med. Crowns/pk.
3 pc. Bundle
3 lb. Bag
3 lb. Bag
2 lb. Bag
8 oz. pkg.
3 lb. ($ by weight)
I think I can hear your cogs turning. You want to know how I did this, right? With a little time & practice, you can have a kitchen of full of fresh fruits and vegetables on the cheap, too, and here’s how to do it…
There are several questions you need to be able to answer before you get started. Don’t worry! The more you use the information, the easier it gets.
First, you need to know what is in season. Knowing what is in-season will allow you to be more alert to a price that seems to have drastically changed recently. It will also afford you the option of buying multiples of items you use often, which you can preserve by freezing, canning, & drying for later use – again, saving time and money in the long run.
The luxurious side of this knowledge is when you can buy something that is usually considered a special treat due to its usual non-existence or high price (Ex. Pomegranates, star fruit, etc.)
If you would like a list of when common produce items are in season, see the attachment listed below.
Next, you need to check the produce section of every store you go into and keep a mental note of the prices of commonly used items like onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, & celery. If you have trouble remembering, keep a small notepad or a piece of paper in your purse or wallet to write the information down. This will take only seconds to do. After a while, you will probably start noticing trends like sales, markdowns, & who generally has what at a more cost-effective price.
Third – Plan, Plan, Plan your meals! Be sure to also plan for drop-ins (kids, friends, etc.), leftovers (if needed), & reuse/re-purposing.
Planning your meals helps keep you on track. You know what you need, how much you need, & when you need it – all of which keeps you from overspending, underspending and wasting food.
I always plan for at least two extra people in my meal planning. Sound ridiculous? Hopefully, this will help you understand the reasoning for this part of planning. We have 5 adult kids, and there is no telling when one of them will show up – remember, they all know when we generally have supper around here. If no one shows, then we have leftovers for either our lunch the next day, reuse/re-purposing, or our Pot Luck Night.
Reuse/Re-purposing foodalso known as leftover-layering. This is really very simple. The basic idea is to use an item one night one way and the leftover portion is used the next night (or 2 later) in another way. Doing this can also cut down tremendously on the amount of time it takes to prepare a meal. A few examples would be:
Roasted broccoli, zucchini, squash, & mushrooms as a side dish.
Add leftover roasted veggies in a chicken and pasta dish with garlic sauce.
Cream-style corn – side dish
Add leftover corn to cornbread mix, bake and serve with soup, chili, or Hispanic food.
Underspending is just as bad, if not worse, than overspending. Underspending means you didn’t purchase enough of the ingredients at the great price, so you now have to make a “quick run” to the store to get what you need.
More often than not, this “quick run” turns into major overspending – the gas, bus fare, etc. used to get to the store, the much higher price for the item because really need it, the extra items you pick up as you are running through the store because you are in a hurry and not thinking logically, and the so-called “deserving quick boost” snack you picked up at the register that is not good for you (this one would be me).
The next step is one of the biggest ways you can save on fresh produce! Trading and sharing food with family, friends, and neighbors. This step isn’t talking about eating meals together. It means trading what you may have extra and sharing the costs.
Four families (mine is one of them) go in together and purchase a 50 lb. Bag of potatoes for around $8 every couple of weeks, and we split the cost and quantity. These are your average, run-of-the-mill potatoes used for mashing, boiling, frying, etc. When you break that down, it becomes $2 for 15 lbs of potatoes – $1 each week for 7-1/2 lbs – for each family, and that’s amazing! We have done the same thing with cabbage, carrots, apples, cucumbers, onions, squash, zucchini, and tomatoes.
There’s still one huge question that hasn’t been addressed…where do I find these deals? Well, here are some great places to start…
Local Farms – Go directly to the farm! Do you know a restaurant that is boasting that they use locally grown produce? Ask them who their local supplier is and go there!
Pick your own, if possible, for an even better deal (and lots of fun). Local farmers take great care in “adding” to your purchase and experience –they want you to return. The cost of the produce is generally better because there is no middleman, and the farmer keeps 100% of the sale. You also get to sample before you buy in most cases. Even if you are in a big city, there are farms close by, and it’s definitely worth the trip.
Grocery Stores – Yes, I said grocery stores! You especially want to visit the small-chain (franchise) stores, individually owned stores, & organic shops.
Don’t skip the marked down produce selections. A simple bruise can cut prices by more than half. Just be sure to use these products first.
Packing houses – This is one of the places that get products directly from the farmer. The packinghouses pack the produce (boxes, bags, etc.), sell to individuals and companies, and ship to places like grocery warehouses.
Farmers’ Market – This is another place where farmers take their produce to sell it. They may sell directly (prices may be higher than at farm due to hauling, worker, and setup fees), or they may sell to regular vendors & processors. Check prices at other stations before you buy.
Tailgate Markets – This is another “from the field to you” option. Local farmers gather usually once or twice a week to sell their products. These markets are usually held in town parking lots, parks, etc. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce for more information on this type of market.
Roadside Stands– Roadside stands can be a great source of inspiration and product, but be knowledgeable of local prices when you go to one. Not all roadside stands are owned by a farmer and the produce may have gone through several other hands before it gets to you, which generally inflates costs.
Flea Markets – You go to flea markets to find other things at a discount, why not produce, too? Flea market produce stands are one of the best places to find exotic and specialty fruits and vegetables. Again, know the general market prices elsewhere.
Finally, invest in a small portable digital scale (Ex. Fish scale). These generally run from $15 and up, but they can really strengthen your buying power. They are especially useful when sharing and trading and shopping at local farms, farmers’ markets, tailgate markets, roadside stands, and flea markets.
Good luck, happy shopping, and great eating!