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Don't Overpay for Fruits & Veggies

posted Sep 25, 2015, 6:08 AM by
You know you should be eating more fruits and veggies. But stocking up on pounds of fresh produce every week can be expensive. Don’t let money stand in the way of your healthy eating goals: use our top 10 favorite tips for saving on produce and reap the savings.
  1. Buy in season. We’ll discuss the benefits of seasonal produce in greater detail next month, but buying what’s in season in your area is almost always cheaper and tastier. When you buy produce that’s not in season, it has to travel long distances to make it to your grocery store. Those transportation costs are passed along to you in the form of higher prices.  It’s also an issue of supply and demand—when the supply of tomatoes or squash in your area is high, prices tend to be lower. To find out what’s in season, check out this chart for Virginia. DC and MD have similar climates and growing seasons.
  2. Join a CSA. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Typically, you pay at the beginning of the growing season for a share of a local farm’s harvest. Each week, you get a portion of whatever they’ve picked.  CSAs can be a great way to save money on high quality produce. Since you pay upfront and cut out the middleman, prices are often lower than what you would find for similar quality produce at a store, but you have to be willing to cook with whatever produce comes in your weekly box. If you’re considering it, the Washington Post has a great guide to local CSAs.
  3. Keep produce fresh longer. Check out our blog post from last week, where we discuss how to store produce properly to keep it fresh and tasty. Reducing food waste can add up to big savings.
  4. Don’t restrict yourself to organic. Organic produce can be much more expensive than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Earlier this month, we discussed why the differences between organic and conventional produce may not mean much for your health. You may decide the price premium for organics isn’t worth it for you and your family.
  5. Use frozen and canned produce. Although nothing beats the taste of fresh, in-season produce, frozen and canned fruits and veggies are often just as healthy. In the off season, canned or frozen produce may be better tasting (think of how much better a can of diced tomatoes tastes than a pale, January tomato) and is almost always less expensive. Both canned and frozen produce are super convenient—they are often pre-chopped and cook faster than fresh produce. Since they last so much longer than fresh produce, you can always keep them on hand so you can get your fill of fruits and veggies even when you haven’t been to the store in a while without worrying about food waste. And, it’s easy to stock up on canned or frozen produce when they’re on sale, increasing your savings. Just be sure to choose plain frozen fruits and veggies without added salt, sugar, or sauce. For canned veggies, look for low sodium or no salt added versions and be sure to drain and rinse before using. Choose canned fruits in 100% juice rather than syrup.
  6. Buy in bulk and freeze your own. You can also take advantage of sales on fresh produce. If you buy more than you can use before it spoils, you can freeze the excess. Check out this infographic to learn about which produce you can freeze and tips to improve the flavor and texture of frozen produce.
  7. Think outside the supermarket. Supermarkets are definitely convenient one-stop shops, but they may not always have the best prices. Warehouse stores or independent grocery stores may have better prices on fresh produce. Ethnic grocery stores often have great deals on fresh produce and if you’re adventurous, they provide an opportunity to experiment with fruits and veggies that you may not be familiar with. Don’t rule out your local dollar store either—deep discount stores often have great deals on canned goods.
  8. Don’t buy pre-washed, shredded, or cut produce. We discuss the price premium that you’ll pay for produce that requires less work here. In some cases, you may decide the time savings is worth a higher price, but if you’re looking to save, consider doing more of the work yourself.  
  9. Be flexible. Meal planning can save you time and money (we cover the basics in our August newsletter), but if your meal plan is flexible, you’re better positioned to take advantage of sales. For example, if your meal plan calls for green beans, but broccoli is on sale this week, make a substitution and enjoy the savings.
  10. Grow your own. Starting a vegetable garden isn’t necessarily easy, but if you have the time and interest, it can save you tons of money on produce. If you’re not sure where to start, this article provides suggestions for first-time vegetable gardeners.  Even if you don’t have much time or space, a small container garden can provide some savings.

For more ideas, check out the USDA’s ten tips for affordable vegetables and fruits