Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Veg Out Part I: CHEAP

Have you bought food, driven anywhere, or been out of the house in the last few months? If you have I'm sure you noticed that prices are a wee bit up. I practically fainted the last time I bought a loaf of bread.

With the cost of food so high, how can any of us afford to emphasize fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables? When times are tough it's tempting to stick with foods that are cheap, calorie-dense, and comforting (like starchy American junk food) instead of foods that have fewer calories and might go bad before you finish them.

But fruits and vegetables are good for us! Eating healthy foods will save us money on medical expenses in the long run, and if you're a savvy shopper they might not cost as much as you think. Here are some of the cost-saving ideas I use and would like to share.

1. Don't stick to organic.

I know, it sounds terrible. It's certainly not ideal, but when I'm trying to save money, not every vegetable and fruit I buy is organic. Organic tends to cost more, sometimes a lot more, and unless it’s on the most contaminated list I'll buy whatever is cheapest. I wash all my produce well and peel non-organic fruits and cucumbers.

2. Eat seasonally.

Produce is generally cheaper when you eat what’s in season in your area, and it usually tastes better, too. More on seasonal, local produce in the next Veg Out post...

3. Eat frozen instead of fresh

Frozen vegetables are usually less expensive, and they are more nutritious as well.

Unfortunately, my son hates the texture of frozen broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and green beans. I have to agree; except for corn and peas the texture of frozen vegetables leaves me cold. Keep that in mind when considering switching to frozen; it’s no savings if nobody eats it.

4. Shop like a restaurant


Look for any bulk or wholesale grocery stores (aka "Cash and Carry") that cater to restaurants and businesses in your area. There are two in my city that are open to the public. Anyone can shop there and buy their personal groceries at the same price that a restaurant would.

Here is a picture of my purchase from the other day: six romaine hearts, a bunch of bananas, six grapefruit, pineapple juice, a 5-pound bag of frozen mango, an enormous bag of broccoli crowns, and cauliflower. The total cost: $19.29. The bag of romaine only cost $2.00, and the mangoes were a bit over $5. Look in the yellow pages under "Grocers-Whsle".

5. Ethnic Markets


Have you checked out the ethnic grocery stores in your area? Our local Asian market was selling bags of beautiful baby bok choy before the big grocery stores had even heard of it, and at a very low cost. Our Hispanic markets sell mangoes, limes, avocados, and more at much lower prices than the regular stores.

Was this helpful? What are your money-saving ideas? Please add your own ideas and suggestions in the comments!

24 comments:

Luna 22 said...

I save money by making food that can be eaten cold. I usually set aside some time on Sunday afternoons and prep some items that can be easily thrown together for a healthy dinner. I pre-cook brown rice, quinoa, or some other grains. I chop veggies and put them in glass containers in the fridge. Then when dinner rolls around I pick and choose from what I have, put some dressing on it and serve it with a salad. I'll add some protein to it. Usually, I have homemade frozen lentils or beans that I can heat and serve. Or some baked tofu that can be eaten cold. This works for summer. In the winter, well, let's just say that there are a lot of soups in my house. I work 40+ hours a week and so does the hubby and we have a two year old. Time is precious, but healthy meals are so important. This is what works for me. It's my own "fast food". The less I have the oven/stove on the more energy I save.

Char said...

Something I'm starting myself: grow your own fruit and vegetable garden. These are the 2 books I'm reading: The New Self-Sufficient Gardender by John Seymour; and How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits: (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) by John Jeavons

Jennifer Liang said...

Great tips! I linked this to my blog, I hope you don't mind. =)

Sarah said...

Really great tips. Ive never thought about going to a restaurant whole sale, that sounds like such a good idea. Im going to check to see where we have one closest.

Esther said...

I would also add that dried beans are much cheaper than canned, and taste better too! I like to soak & cook a lot of beans at the beginning of the week, then keep them in the fridge-- ready to use in salads, curries, pasta dishes, etc...

Brigid said...

Those are some great tips. I don't really have any others to share about saving money. There are only two of us in my household, so buying fresh fruits and veggies isn't much of a financial hardship. Plus, having them around saves us the money we would have spent eating out or buying a frozen meal. Plus, even if it is more expensive, it's worth it. Nothing tastes as great as a homemade smoothie!

Sara said...

One piece of advice I have is to invest in a stand mixer if you don't already have one. You can get a refurbished one on Amazon for about half the price. My mixer has increased my bread-baking exponentially, which is a huge money-saver, especially if you live in a house where bread disappears quickly! With the mixer doing your kneading for you, homemade bread becomes super easy to fit into the evening...10 minutes putting everything together, then wash the dirty dishes while the bread briefly kneads, then do other stuff while it rises and spend a couple of minutes punching down and shaping. Even if you don't have a stand mixer, there are lots of bread recipes with little/easy or no kneading. I can't recommend homemade bread enough!

My other advice is to walk or bike to the grocery store if you can...with gas the way it is, that can really add to the grocery bill!

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like said...

These are all great! A farmer's market is a great place to find veggies cheaper than the store (and usually with fewer pesticides, too). If you can afford the fee upfront, farmshares can also be great money savers: mine costs about $20 per delivery in the summer and contains a whole lot of food!

If you can do it, it can also be helpful to have a chest freezer so that you can buy veggies (and especially fruits) in bulk and then freeze them: no more buying raspberries at $5/pint in the winter! They're pretty cheap to operate, but don't come up used as often as I wish.

Carolie said...

I'm with you and Shmoo on the frozen veggies...can't stand the texture except for corn and peas. However, using the frozen veggies for things that are mashed up, like soups, dips, spreads, etc. is perfect, because the texture doesn't matter AT ALL in those cases!

I look for sales on the canned goods that I use a lot, as I can buy a ton of them on sale and they don't go bad. I buy canned beans (black, northern, cannelli, pinto, navy, etc. -- I always rinse before use), canned tomatoes (diced, whole, stewed with okra, diced with green chiles, etc.), canned pineapple, canned coconut milk, and sometimes canned greens to use for quick soups when I don't have fresh collards/kale/etc. on hand.

My husband adores soup made with a can of white beans, a can of turnip or collard greens and a can of tomatoes with green chiles -- add some water, some seasoning and some dry rice or pasta. He also likes chili made with a can of tomatoes with green chiles, a can of black beans, half a bag of frozen veggie crumbles, and a little cumin and cayenne.

Jessica said...

I kicked myself in the butt when I bought organic kiwi. Been doing pretty good at getting organic apples. Expensive but they're on the "dirty dozen" list.

How do you use all that lettuce?

On the frozen vegetables... I've started sticking them in my lunch the night before. Thaws and isn't as nasty -- not a huge fan of frozen vegetables either -- when I microwave it at noon.

Al Fox said...

I like buying bulk dried things when they are on sale: mainly beans and grains. They're all stored in washed/reused jars in the cupboard.

And I *wish* I had a large freezer! As well as all the delicious summer fruits, I buy things like carrots and zucchini when they are on sale and grate them to store in the freezer. Then each time I cook up a pot of brown rice, quinoa, millet, or couscous, I just pop in about 1/4 cup of each (who measures?) to sneak in a bit of extra veg :)

Have you seen http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/ ? It has some good tips on storing foods and maximising use of the things we buy.

I am lucky enough to have a farmers market and a Capers store each within walking distance of our apartment, which is wonderful! Just pop out with my daypack and some cloth bags and when I come back I don't even need to go to the gym! :)

Thanks for all the wonderful posts, it's ACE to have you back!

Bianca said...

Great tips, especially on the ethnic markets. I have a little Vietnamese grocery near my house and pounds of tofu there cost 89 cents. Three-packs of tri-color peppers: $2 (that's compared with almost $4 at the regular grocery store).

Bronwyn Schweigerdt said...

Good advice. On the flip side, sometimes I need a little inspiration to spend so much money on food in the first place. Usually a visit to the local rest home does this for me: I'm reminded just what an investment I'm making in a long, disease-free life.

Eesh said...

Thanks for all the tips! I'll definitely be looking into a couple of those. Especially the 'cash and carry' as I recently saw one in town and was wondering if it was open to the public.

= ^ ~ ^ = said...

Oh, wow! Shows how little I know! *laughs* Thanks a bunches! I am SO showing my mom this! *drags mom to the computer*

wingraclaire said...

I'm with Luna22. The other night when I was making my husband his father's day dinner of nutloaf and roasted potatoes, I made some baked tofu and stuck some sweet potatoes in the oven as well. We have a gas stove, and the more we can save on it, the better I feel. We also do the ethnic food store thing and it helps a lot. And yes, we also don't buy everything organic. However, recently I have been hearing a lot about BPA in plastic, which makes me more aware of how I cook and store food, but on public radio a biochemist said that canned foods come in cans lines with BPA-laden plastic. UGH! So this would be a good reason to cook the dry beans, even though I love the convenience of canned.

Bear said...

Forming a small buyers food co-op (4-10 households) can be a great way to save too! If you can find a and a few families who share the same food taste band together, you can purchase fresh veges and fruits by the case and then divide them up later in the day. You can get a better price by buying in bulk from the whole sale grower’s outlet if the orders are big enough.

There are few whole sellers here in Portland who will even fax or email you their price list and you can pre-order and pick up you order at the dock. Even the organic food wholesalers will sell to you if you purchase the minimum amount usually about $200-250 per order. Though this may sound like a lot if you were purchasing just for yourself, if you were to divide the purchase by 10 households this comes to about $20-25 each week. Most cases will come by the weight but have an even amount inside. Take a case of oranges for example. Here you can have a 20 pound box with a count of 48 or 72 depending on the sizes of the oranges.

So if you do form a food co-op you will need a scale for the veges/fruits that come by the pound. Another good purchase is a vacuum sealing machine with a hose and jar sealer to vacuum seal canning jars for dry goods such as beans/rice/flour to keep out the bugs and keep them fresh. Having this machine at each event when dividing the purchases will allow all the members to preserve their foods right then and can be a good community building event for those in the food co-op.

The Voracious Vegan said...

My only tip is bring tissues with you to the cash register because you will be crying. I live in Bahrain where the food prices have gone up 80% in the past two years. There are weekly riots and violent demonstrations here by people protesting the horrendous cost of living. The rent and food bill just keeps going up and up while our salaries stay the same. We are struggling to feed 8 mouths (2 human, 6 canine) and we are college and grad school educated westerners with some job experience. I don't know how people who haven't had the opportunities we have had even begin to manage.
What really gets me is that you could eat at a junky fast food restraurant 3 times a day, every day of the week and save so much money compared to eating fresh, healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables. Sigh. It's a crime.

twokitties said...

It helps my wallet and waistline to go to the store with a meal plan for the week. I only buy what I know I'm going to make. I don't spend on processed foods - if I want cookies I make something whole grain at home. We live in Montana and have really poor grocery stores in my area. Costco has great food but we're just two people - so I invested in a vacuum food saver and a big freezer. I freeze everything - fish, cheese, blanched vegetables.

Courtney Suzanne said...

I've really felt a pinch at the grocery store, and I've switched to dried beans (whenever possible), baking my own bread, and growing my own veg in the warm months. When more things are in season, the farmers market can be a real value, too, if you shop smart.

The Voracious Vegan's post should remind us all that there are people in other countries who are literally dying because of the price of food. It may not make our food any cheaper, but it puts things in perspective.

Julie said...

We're doing a CSA this year. It's amazing. This week we got baby bok choy, broccoli, sugar snap peas, arugula, and mizuna.

Missy said...

Great tips. I do all of these right now and they do work. Something else to try is garden your own veggies. Even if you are in a small space, container gardening is great. We have 4 semi-raised beds that are going crazy right now. It saves so much money and you know what is going into your food.

Find local markets. Many vendors sell their bread and produce at cheaper prices. You just have to shop around. I just found a local organic farm that is right down the road from me. They don't jack up the prices on their stuff and they have a little store on the premises. I bought eggs (I buy only fresh local eggs) at $3.61 for 2 dozen. They had just been collected. You can't beat that. They have produce for good prices, too.

I also got 2 loaves of fresh homemade vegan bread a couple of weeks ago at our local big farmer's market at a price of 2 for $5. It was the end of the day and he wanted to unload. They freeze great.

arabidmouse said...

I don't know if anyone here has read the Tightwad Gazette, but I love it and Amy gives so many amazing tips for saving money. One of the big ones is to make a lot of your own stuff from scratch. (This doesn't always work out to be cheaper so be discerning.:)

If you live in an apartment (we live in a basement suite without a balcony), it may not be all that practical to grow your own fruits and veggies (I am so envious of my mom's vegetable garden).

However, I do grow my own fresh herbs and some small veggies. Veggies that work well in apartments are cherry tomato plants, lettuce or leafy greens in a window box, hot peppers (or you could grow sweet peppers and pick them while they're small). I was also growing some purple beans, but they died. :( I don't think I re-potted them in time.

Anyhow, I love your blog and your book Jennifer. Thanks so much for all you do! :)

M.C.T. said...

You are so thoughtful and thorough, and you treat your readers so well. Thanks for taking the time to offer these tips, Jennifer!