I take $20 a week when I go to the Farmer's market. (The real one, not Henry's.) I buy from the local organic producers. I get fresh quality, I get what's in season, and that $20 worth of produce usually lasts more than one week. I usually spend another $10 or so on fruit that I can't find at the Farmer's market.
So here are some tips for saving money on fruits and vegetables.
- Only purchase what's in season. When it's in season you can also buy more than you need and preserve it, canned, frozen or dried, to enjoy it into other season's as well. Fifty years ago people still ate according to the seasons. There were cookbooks devoted to the preparation of seasonal produce. Why do you think the French invented onion soup? They had to eat something in the winter and onions keep a long time. Apart from preserves, berries were only eaten during the summer, squash and apples in the fall, potatoes, leeks, onions and other root vegetables throughout the winter, baby greens in the spring. My husbands brought into our marriage a cookbook from a monastery in France called the 4 seasons. It's a collection of vegetarian recipes all tailored to the seasonal availability of produce. (It also contains my favorite recipes for custard and pears flambe. (I've got a little project I working on that may be helpful in this respect too. I can't say any more than that because it's still in the works but I'll keep you posted.)
- Buy local, go to farmer's market's, join a food co-op or direct market organic delivery service if there are any in your area. Here are some places to start looking. Food coops are groups of people who organize to purchase direct from the growers at bulk prices and then split up the orders between themselves. They usually require a onetime membership fee, less than $30usually, and depending on the size you may have to take one day a week or month to join your fellow co-opers and divide up the orders to take home. They are easier to find in urban areas. Some are so well organized that you can order what you want online, the order is prepared for you and once a week you can pick it up at a home nearby. (How I miss Vancouver.)
- Organic food is usually more expensive. When I'm on a budget I will limit my organic purchases to those things that tests have shown often have large quantities of pesticides on them still when they reach the shelves. Or I'll skip them altogether. The 10 most contaminated foods are:strawberries, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, spinach, cherries (US), peaches, cantaloupe (Mexican), celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes (Chilean), and cucumbers. For the entire study and alternative foods go here.
- Join a gleaner's club. Lot's of people have trees that produce fruit but don't have the motivation to harvest it. Gleaner's clubs gain permission to harvest the fruit themselves. Most of the time they donate it to food banks but you can keep some of it yourself. Or, just ask that next door neighbor with the cherry tree if they mind if you pick their cherries for them.
- Of course, no discussion of cost effective produce can forget to mention growing your own. Depending on where you live, how long of a growing season, and what it costs to water, growing your own vegetables can save you lots of money leaving your budget free to purchase what you can't grow. You can even plant your own fruit bearing trees, ask your local gardening expert what grows best in your area. Even if you don't live somewhere with dirt of your own to plan a garden in, there are a lot of things that can grow in containers on apartment balconies, front steps, etc. I live in a ground floor apartment with a concrete patio. This year I took one of the kids wooden toy boxes that was falling apart and they never use, reinforced it with a few screws and filled it with gravel, pine cones and potting soil. Right now I have tomatoes, oregano, and basil growing in it. In another container I have planted lettuce seeds, and in another I have mint, in another cilantro, and in another rosemary. Here is a handy guide to container gardening. The added bonus of growing your own food is that your children can be much more excited to try it when they've watched it grow.
- The last thing I'd like to mention is an idea Rose had in this post. She concluded that the most cost effective way to have fresh nutritious produce in the winter was to sprout seeds in her kitchen. Seeds for sprouting can be found anywhere, even the Target garden section. Here is an online source for purchasing a sprouting starter kit. That $40 will provide everything you need to start and last up to a year. Sprouts taste good raw and can also be sauteed, stir fried, baked into breads and casseroles and provide a lot of protein and nutrients. The quick guide to sprouting is to soak seeds in a jar for 8 hours keeping them in a dark place. You can tie a piece of cheese cloth across the top of the jar if you have no strainers in order to drain the water. Continue to keep the jar in a dark place and rinse with clean water at least twice a day. In about three days you have sprouts and you can eat them.