I'm always looking for bargains, but when it comes to what goes on my family table, I won't compromise. Thankfully, the deals are out there for nearly everything, even fruits and veggies. You just need to know where to look for ways to save money on these healthy foods.
March is National Frozen Food Month with lots of sales in the frozen food aisle, so let's start there. The USDA tells us that the freezing process does not destroy nutrients. Recent research even indicates that some frozen fruits and veggies retain more benefits and are packed with higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene. So… on to the frozen food aisle…
1. Shop Frozen Fruits and Veggies
When frozen fruits and veggies go on sale, they can cost half as much as fresh options, plus you can also get out-of-season items year-round. You certainly don't want to switch to frozen all the time, but when the sales hit for what you like, buy extra and invest now at the lowest prices. Frozen veggies are best when cooked into a recipe, like casseroles, sauces, and chili. Frozen fruit is perfect to stir into oatmeal, yogurt, or blended into a smoothie. There! You just cut your produce costs in half and it didn't even hurt!
2. Blanche and Freeze the Savings
It's worth freezing produce when they're at the peak of freshness, in season and at the best prices of the year! Lots of fruits are easy to freeze with almost no preparation. Asparagus is one of my favorites and it's in season now through the end of March at up to 75 percent off the regular price. Freezing asparagus is simple and worth it at those kinds of savings. Enjoy your savings in quiches, omelets and soups for months to come. Fruit is even easier to freeze, and most of it doesn't even require cooking
3. Get Organic Produce for Less
When organic produce is on sale, and conventional counterparts are not, then you may actually be able to save more on organic. It's not uncommon for an item like regular broccoli to cost $1.69 a pound while organic broccoli is on sale for .99 cents a pound. I have seen organic oranges, avocados, lemons, lettuce, celery and more for less than conventional prices. So, even if you're not always shopping organic, be sure to check out those sales in the organic section.
4. Shop the Clean 15
If you're going conventional on some of your produce, you could save a dollar a pound or more by shopping the "Clean 15", then go organic on what counts the most, like the items on the "Dirty Dozen" list.
5. Compare Prices at Club Stores
Contrary to popular belief, warehouse club stores are not always cheapest on produce. Supermarkets have loss leader sales on seasonal produce, while club stores don't reduce pricing exponentially for seasonal savings. Compare to sales circulars before you pay $2.29 a pound for tomatoes that are on sale for .99 cents a pound at your grocer. I just took my friend Andy Wise, an NBC investigative reporter into Costco to prove my findings, and he was amazed.
6. Haste Makes Waste
Learn how to properly inspect produce to get more bang for your buck. Resist the urge to open those beautiful ears of corn. Doesn't it stand to reason that as soon as the husk is peeled back, the corn begins to die? You can choose the perfect ear of corn without killing it. See that the husks are evenly green and moist. The tassel is the most telltale for freshness, and should be a light green color as opposed to brown or worse yet, black and mushy.
Don't squeeze the avocados! Instead lightly press your thumb on the side of the stem, and if it pops off easily, you just found a nice ripe avocado. Ask your produce expert how to pick out a ripe melon, instead of bruising it up or buying one that's grainy or hard. There are ways and methods for each kind of fruit and vegetable. The pros will be glad to teach you. You'll be able to enjoy more of what you buy, with less waste.
7. Shop Late
Go to farmers markets near closing time. The selection may be sparser, but you can still find beautiful fruits and veggies, plus sellers are ready to negotiate and slash prices. I've paid two dollars for four heads of organic lettuce among other great deals at closing time.
8. Shop in Unusual Places
A trip to the dollar store might turn up three heads of artisan lettuce for a buck, or a pot of live basil that you can enjoy for months to come. You never know until you go!
From farmers markets to dollar stores, wherever you go, please don't pay full price… for anything!
Image: John Tornow