First stop, produce! One of the most popular questions I am asked is regarding how to save money on produce and I tend to write about my favorite tips often.
I must say that the easiest way to save a ton on produce will come from your local farmers market or produce stand. However, there are weeks when the grocery stores will highlight in-season produce on sale. Unfortunately, everything else tends to be over-priced. The good news about some supercenters (like Walmart) is that they will match the prices (also known as “comping” or “comparison pricing”) on any produce that appears in a sales advertisement, even from the local produce stand.
Now, if you want the best deals on produce, stick with what is in season. The following list is borrowed from Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill by Mary Ostyn:
January & February ~ broccoli, cauliflower, citrus (lemons, oranges, grapefruit), leeks
March ~ broccoli, lettuce, mangoes, pineapple
April & May ~ asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, mangoes, pineapple
June ~ apricots, cantaloupe, cherries, corn, lettuce, peaches, strawberries, watermelon, zucchini
July ~ apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, green beans, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon
August ~ apricots, cantaloupe, corn, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatoes, watermelon
September ~ apples, grapes, lettuce, pumpkins, spinach, tomatoes
October ~ apples, broccoli, cranberries, grapes, lettuce, pumpkins, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash
November & December ~ apples, broccoli, cranberries, mushrooms, oranges, pears, pumpkins, spinach, sweet potatoes, tangerines, winter squash
You can also use my “best price” list as a reference for the lowest prices I have ever found on produce items. If you find an item at one of those prices or better, you know you are getting a deal.
Trying to choose organic? The prices will be higher but do occasionally go on sale and sometimes have coupons available. Use your price book to track prices.
Some tips that Mary Ostyn shares in her book can be very helpful in stretching your dollars in the produce section even further:
- Make salads with cabbage since it is always cheaper and it lasts longer in the refrigerator than other lettuce. (She recommends cutting it into thin shreds, grating a carrot, and tossing it with an Asian dressing. I can testify that this is YUMMY!)
- Bagged lettuce is more expensive than a head of lettuce and iceberg lettuce is cheaper than its fancier (and greener) friends. However, the greener the green, the more nutrition. So, she suggests mixing chopped iceberg lettuce with some bagged baby spinach. The bags of baby spinach are often included in the BOGO sales at local grocery stores and you can even find a coupon online for these salads occasionally.
I also recommend knowing what fresh produce should look like. One time, I sent Bill to the store for a bulb of garlic. He came back with a shriveled, rotten mess because not all stores keep an eye on their produce as closely as they should. Some stores have a description of what you should look for when picking produce next to the price. Read it. For me, there is nothing worse than buying a piece of bad produce and having to chunk it in the trash.
Also, researching into how to store your produce will also help it last longer. I highly recommend the book, The New Food Lover’s Tiptionary: More Than 6,000 Food and Drink Tips, Secrets, Shortcuts, and Other Things Cookbooks Never Tell You
because it contains amazing tips that I never knew. For instance, did you know that:
- Tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator;
- Potatoes and onions should be kept away from each other;
- And, that carrots and apples make bad bin partners?
Now you know… cha~ching! You just learned to save more money!
Also, while in the produce section, keep your eye out for a cart of “Manager’s Specials,” produce that has been drastically reduced for a quick sale. These are still edible items so find the produce without a high water content and freeze it. Bananas can be peeled and frozen for smoothies or baking. Bell peppers and onions can be sliced or chopped and used in cooking. Broccoli and cauliflower florets can be used in stir-fry or casseroles. Just wash before cutting and allow it to dry before freezing.
If the prices are still too high, consider the freezer section. I try to keep my freezer stocked with bulk bags of frozen vegetables for nights when my produce bins are empty, the produce at the fruitstand looks bad, or the prices are just too high.
So, I want to know… how do you save money on produce?
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