October 21, 2009

Saving Money on Healthy Foods—Part 2

Part 1 of the series

Today we are focusing on Vegetables and Fruits.  I’ve recently heard people talking about how hard it is for them to fit in the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables per day.  During the growing season, we do not find that to be such a problem in our household.  We have a large garden and purchase a CSA basket of fruits and vegetables each week.  In the winter, though, I am more conscious with the inclusion of fruits and vegetables into our diet.

Then there is the money issue.  Many people have to decide what foods they buy based on price, and therefore fruits and vegetables often are left out of the grocery cart.  While there are occasionally coupons for fruits and veggies, they are few and far between.  What to do?  Check out the tips below for some ideas.

How to fit more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Make soup.  Soup is an easy and inexpensive way to cram a lot of vegetables into a single dish.  You can make what I call “Everything but the kitchen sink soup” by simply looking through the refrigerator, freezer and pantry to see what needs used up.  Start with a base of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth or stock and then start adding.  You might be surprised how many different vegetables you can include in a single pot.  The bonus—if you make a large pot of soup,  you can freeze the extras for future meals.
  • Add extra vegetables to just about everything.  Making a sandwich?  Be sure to include tomatoes, lettuce, and sprouts.  What about even adding that grilled eggplant or squash from last night to see how it tastes with your turkey sandwich.  Making pasta?  Throw a few frozen vegetables into the pasta water during the last couple of minutes of boiling.  Add your sauce as usual. 
  • Think about fruits as desserts.  Sauté or bake apples or pears for a delicious after dinner treat.  Make a milk shake and include a frozen banana or frozen berries.
  • When you get home from the grocery, prep your fruits and vegetables so that they will be easy to carry with you for a snack or in a lunch.  Wash the apples, cut up the carrots, put them in smaller containers to grab and go. 
  • Look to other cultures for meal ideas.  Let’s face it, the American diet is not known for being a healthy one.  Instead look to the Mediterranean or to the Orient for inspiration.  Mix up a quick stir fry and serve it with chop sticks to make it more fun. 
  • Don’t eat humdrum salads.  Add sliced pears and walnuts to your salad greens.  Grind in some flax seeds for an extra dose of Omega 3s.  Make your own salad dressings.  Try different cheeses to see how they taste with the greens. 
  • When eating at a restaurant, if a salad bar is available choose it.  You’ll be able to load up on vegetables and sometimes fruits for a price that is usually a little lower than other entrees. 
  • Don’t forget dried.  Dried fruits often taste a little sweeter, and therefore are more appealing to both adults and children. 

How to save money when purchasing fruits and vegetables:

  • Shop in season.  This time of the year, greens, lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, kale, chard, winter squashes, and apples are in season.  Shop at your local farmers market for the best deals on these, especially if buying organic is important to you.  As I’ve said before, apples, winter squashes, and cabbages will store for weeks if not months in proper conditions.  Stock up now to save.  Likewise, when the strawberries are in season, pick extras and freeze them.  Because we have been preserving food all year, we have berries, pears, and a variety of vegetables canned, dried, and in the freezer ready for use this winter. 
  • Bulk buy when it is a great deal.  Like I mentioned above, when the price is right, buy extras.  If onions are 78 cts/lb this week, buy 5 pounds.  If you don’t think you’ll use them before they start to sprout, chop them and freeze.  If bananas are marked down because they are ripening, bring them home and pop them in the freezer as is.  They are great for banana breads, muffins, pancakes, “popsicles”, or smoothies.  Around the holidays you will start to see good deals on canned goods such as corn, green beans, pie filling, and pumpkin. 
  • Do a price comparison between frozen and fresh.  If you aren’t buying locally grown foods, they have traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to your grocer.  This means that the vitamins and nutrients in those foods have oxidized over times.  In contrast, frozen foods are bagged very soon after they are picked and are often more nutritious. 
  • Make your own sprouts.  I have a simple sprout container that a friend gave me, and we enjoy sprouting broccoli seeds to add to our salads.  Do a quick internet search and you will find many resources for making your own with a mason jar or plastic container. 
  • Next year, grow your own.  A tomato plant costs very little money but in a good season will yield at least one gallon of the fruit.  Plants you grow directly from seed cost even less.  Last year I saved some seeds from a butternut squash we had.  We had some extra room in the garden so my hubby through some extra compost we had in a pile.  I surrounded the area with pats of straw and planted about 15 seeds.  I thinned many of those out and passed them to a friend when they sprouted.  With about 5-7 plants and some growing room, we have harvested over 20 squashes.  Compare that to the grocery store.  Butternut squash usually cost anywhere from $1-2/lb.  Each squash weighs at least 4 pounds (many weigh more).  If I had bought that amount at the store it would have cost at least $80!  Many people do not have the room to grow a garden in the ground.  Consider adding some containers to your porch or terrace for herbs or greens.  Your city might have a community garden where you can plant a row and grow your own produce.  Visit the farmers market and ask around.
  • Ask a farmer if you can provide labor for produce.  Some are happy to make this kind of barter.
  • Pick your own—we not only save a little money per pound but also make a family outing when we pick berries each year.
  • Search for coupons and sign up for your grocer’s loyalty cards.  I receive coupons from Earthbound Farms because I signed up for their newsletter months ago.  Kroger sends me magazines with coupons that occasionally have produce discounts inside.  Try to couple the coupon with a sale or discount.  Last week I purchased some mark down organic salad greens 1 pound for $1.60.  I had a 90ct off Kroger coupon, making the salad only 70cts. 
  • Aldi and Save-a-Lot stores offer a wide variety of produce at a mark down price.  Bananas are usually less per pound there than at other stores.  You might not find “fancy” vegetables there but the basics will be much reduced.  Make note that I have found very little organic produce at either store, though from time to time you can find canned and frozen organics.
  • Ask around for free foods.  You might find adds on Craig’s List or hear from friends who are happy for you to come and pick their pear or apple trees.  This year a friend gave me 2 car loads of pears for free, and I was happy to receive them!

What other ideas do readers have for eating more fruits and vegetables or saving money at the store when purchasing them?  Please add any tips to the comments section so that all readers may benefit.

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