As a health coach, I work frequently with individuals who would like to lose weight or improve their health. Part of any healthy eating plan includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and eating more of them is my first recommendation. This suggestion is often met with the response that fresh produce is just too expensive. While fresh produce can be pricey, there are some shopping practices you can implement to stretch your dollar at the grocery store.
1. Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. For instance, apples, leafy greens, squash and sweet potatoes in the fall and strawberries, grapefruit and asparagus in the spring. Getting fresh fruit or vegetables in their off-season requires expensive travel and shipping, and the store will pass the cost onto the customer.
2. Watch for sales. Learn when your favorite produce items are marked down and have a recipie or plan to use them before their use-by date. For example, I buy gallon-sized bags of pre-chopped broccoli and cauliflower for $1.99 when they are regularly priced at $3.99 each.
3. Go frozen. Frozen produce is often more nutritious than fresh because it was frozen at peak freshness. Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, peas, artichokes, and corn are great for frozen dinners, stews, casseroles, eggs, soups and pasta-based recipes. To thaw, just measure out how much you are going to use into a microwave safe dish with ¼ to ½ cup of water, cover and microwave for 3-4 minutes. Then drain well and add right into the dish.
4. Do the can-can! Canned produce is cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables and lasts much longer so you don’t need to eat it right away. If you are concerned about the sodium content in canned fruit or vegetables you can give it a good rinse before eating or buy the low-sodium variety.
5. Buy in bulk, then freeze. First find items that you can freeze as soon as you get home. Second, if you can’t freeze the produce right away, cook all the veggies, store in separate containers and freeze. The general rule with freezing produce is the higher the water content, the less likely they will freeze well.
6. Repurpose overripe items. Those brown bananas? Cut up and freeze to add to smoothies or make banana bread. Overripe pears and peaches are great added to baked goods in place of sugar. Carrots can be pureed or chopped and added into pasta sauce. Apples can be made into applesauce or used in pies. Throw those last few overripe berries into a smoothie.
7. Know the budget buys. For fruit, typically the least expensive items are watermelon, bananas, apples, pears, honeydew and plums. The least expensive vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and sweet potatoes. Keep in mind that the price for all fresh produce fluctuates depending on the season.
8. Have a plan! This might be the most important tip of all – if you get a great deal on the fruit or veggies but don’t have a plan to use them, they will likely end up rotting and you'll lose those savings. The fresh stuff will likely need to be used within the week, frozen can be stored up to 6 months and the canned are generally good for a year plus. Make sure you are rotating the older fresh produce in the fridge so you use it first. Plan meals around what is going to expire first so you minimize food waste and maximize your fruit and vegetable budget.