Vegetables & Fruits

I’m constantly adding to this based on what I’m buying and the current prices, but I’m always a bit behind. I live in Minnesota and prices & quality vary wildly by the season. I hear from people all over the country that fresh produce is too expensive, yet pound for pound, it almost always beats out frozen and almost always beats out any other kind of food! We tend to undervalue the importance of produce.

It’s important to buy at the right time and shop sale prices! If you’re on a budget, start to really value fresh produce, use frozen when it’s good and supplement with some canned items if needed. (I use canned artichokes a lot!)

Leverage Your Sales:

Work sales priced vegetables in your menu plan, and use them well and often. You may very well be able to pick up on a rythym of sales as your store rotates produce sales week to week.

  • Take full advantage of the sale by buying it early in the week and picking up more for the following week towards the end of the sale.
  • Pick up extra of sturdy sales priced vegetables that last a long time & store well when they are at great prices: Potatoes, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, other root vegetables, apples, citrus, pears.
  • Buy both ripe and under ripe produce, if it is a type that will ripen on your counter or in a sunny window while it’s on sale, for this week and next. Green bananas, pale tomatoes, hard avocados, pears, mangoes, pineapples, etc.
  • Stock up during holidays! Most holidays feature fresh produce, often lettuce, berries, mushrooms, green onions, potatoes and whatever seasonal produce is served for that holiday.
  • Buy in season – out of season is generally not as good and almost always more expensive. Confused about what is and isn’t in season? Let the store pricing be your guide!
  • Buy out of season only if the price is great and the item looks AND smells great. Sometimes huge shipments come in and they travel fast.
  • Watch for unadvertised specials/mark downs. Many areas of the country take this produce to a food shelf, but if yours doesn’t, take advantage. Often I’ll find bags of avocados, lemons and limes.
  • Look for mark downs on produce that the store wants to move out quickly before it spoils.
  • Ask if a store will mark down items that are less than perfect.
Do Some Planning:
  • Reverse your idea of planning your menu around just the main protein, especially if you have a freezer you can pull from. My freezer is stocked with low cost poultry, beef, etc.
  • Use the vegetable as the main part of the meal as well as for sides!
  • Make a dish or two to freeze or blanche and freeze when great sales prices happen.
Compare, Compare, Compare:

Know how to make price comparisons to get the best deal! Don’t believe hype just because it’s repeated, especially from “experts” that have agendas – working for agencies, frozen food companies, online newspapers that are vesting in having you visit so they can make money from ads. They literally regurgitate nonsense & crap and often don’t do any investigating to find out if what they say is true.

  • Fresh produce, with few exceptions, bought on sale costs less than frozen and I think tastes better. Don’t believe any differently unless you pull out the scales & calculators. Coupons with the right sale may tilt the balance on the price of frozen.
  • Cost comparisons of bagged lettuce/spinach/cabbage will show prebagged is often five x the cost and sometimes up to 10 x the cost of loose. Bagged is usually sold in ounces, loose in pounds, which makes the comparison more difficult.
  • Some produce sales are per item and some are per pound. Knowing the better deal, especially in heavy items like cabbage, broccoli, melons, will save you money.
Alternatives to the Store:

I find I’m stopping more often at Aldi, Trader Joe’s sister company, for many basic vegetables and fruits. The selection is limited and although their pricing doesn’t always beat my store’s SALE prices, it does beat my store’s regular pricing.

Farmers Markets are a great source of produce – great variety, and a fun experience; sometimes prices are better than the store, but, at least in my area, I often find prices are often more…the value here is knowing where your food is coming from and how it is grown; sometimes growers will sell at a discount at the end of the day, especially if you offer to take what’s left.

Indoor Markets/Ethnic Markets – while I love our Global Market here in Minneapolis, it’s a trek from where I live, but not too far from where a friend lives there is a little Chinese market with AMAZING prices on everything from fresh chicken to vegetables…don’t overlook your smaller shops…and if you live larger cities, I probably don’t have to tell you about some of the wonderful marketplaces. I’m lucky enough to visit Atlanta often and go nuts in their DeKalb Market.

Farm to table CSA’s (Community Sponsored Agriculture) much like the farmer’s markets, can be more expensive than the grocery store, but again, for many there is great value in knowing where your food is coming from.

Growing your own: on a small or even larger scale certainly isn’t for everyone, but could be an option if you’re inclined to dedicate time and money. A start up garden from scratch isn’t an inexpensive proposition and gardening requires constant attention – even in areas with great soil, top soil is removed in building, and amendments are needed. Future years require less work and money, and depending on the scale of your garden, something will need to be done with the excess. Community or shared gardens can be an option for some.

The bottom line: most of us on a budget with busy families and lots of things going on aren’t going to be trekking all over to far flung locations searching out our vegetables – but we CAN easily get creative with buying and fixing them in wonderful ways…

Super Market Trends: “Value Added” Products:

A disturbing trend, the shrinking produce aisle. Stores are transitioning over to “value added” products and reducing the varieties of fresh vegetables and fruits available. My grocery store recently cut the produce aisle by 2/3rds and what is left includes their flower stand. The types of fresh produce was reduced, but the overly priced, pre bagged and pre cut and more processed sections grew.

Keep in mind, we make a statement with our dollars – when we buy overly priced or processed items like bagged lettuce, cut up and treated fruit cups, etc., we’re telling the store: “Get more of this stuff. We don’t want the other, fresher, less expensive stuff that hasn’t been processed as much. Get rid of that. We’d rather pay MORE MONEY for LESS FOOD. Many of these foods are often recalled for e-coli and other problems, too.

Pre-Prepping and Storage:

To keep my precious fruits and vegetables safe, when I get home from the store, I put the bags of fruits and veggies in the fridge, open.  After they cool to fridge temperature, I take them out, turn the bag inside out and put them back in the bag and the fridge. This helps keep the excess condensation from rotting the vegetables and leaves enough moisture to keep them from drying out.

I’ll often prepare some of my vegetables ahead for some dishes I’ll be making or to have on hand for snacks.  Use your good judgement as to whether this will affect nutrient value, quality, taste or storage time – prewashing and/or cutting some fruits and vegetables will cause them to deteriorate faster.  Regardless, I wash all fruits and vegetables before using, and I do wash and drain all grapes right away, especially because I know my kids won’t wash them before grabbing them as snacks.  I want to be sure they aren’t picking up residual pesticides.

Organic or not?

In our area, the prices are higher and often the quality is not as good…I think it makes some sense to take a look at this list by EWG of 53 fruits and vegetables ranked by amounts of pesticides.  You can make an informed decision as to how you want to handle this:

  • Wash your fruits and vegetables very well, especially the top ranking fruits and vegetables for residual pesticides
  • Buy the most contaminated fruits and vegetables organically grown, and the cleaner ones from the store.
  • Eat more of the less contaminated fruits and vegetables and less of the very contaminated ones.

Of interest is an article by Henry I. Miller on Forbes linking to The Journal of Toxicology by Karl Winter and John Katz, “Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels” which basically says the levels of pesticides remaining on the fruits and vegetables on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen List is well below “chronic reference doses” of these pesticides. A scary thought meant to reassure us? Or a reassuring thought? You’ll need to make your own decision on these kinds of issues.

Left Over Vegetables:

For ideas on leftover vegetables, look under Smidges and Titches. I don’t ever like to let my leftovers languish in the fridge!They are some of your most expensive foods because you’ve invested in the produce, then you’ve invested your time in the buying, storing, prepping and cooking!

I waste very little of my vegetables – I save scraps of celery and carrots for my chicken stocks and soups, and parts and pieces of many vegetables to throw in my next day’s smoothie.

Over Bought and Afraid it will go to Waste?

Steam, blanche or sauté and put in ziplocs, label and freeze.

Hints on buying on a budget:

Notes on pricing – as I make each if my recipes, I use the most current pricing. I do try to get back to this page and update, but quite often the pricing here may be a bit behind, especially if a particular item has not been used by me for sometime.

Artichokes:  We get our best pricing late winter/early spring, where they’re often $1.00 a piece. I also see them drop to this price on specials now and then. Buy a few and share them – simply boil and serve with a bit of melted butter. They are worth the price, not only because they are wonderful, but also because they’ll slow you down and make the dinner an event!

They are often, for me, cost prohibitive and time prohibitive to buy fresh and prepare for a recipe, unless it’s something I’ve decided to make just for the fun of making it; I’ll do that now and then, just take a day and cook, and then to justify it all, in my head, it really counts as ‘entertainment!’ The frozen hearts are sometimes on sale, and I always watch for the canned variety to go on sale. Quite often I’ll see them in a cart of specialty items that aren’t selling well and are deeply discounted. Give them a good rinse before using in a recipe. If they’re in a sauce, they’re often an ok substitute for frozen or fresh.

Asparagus:  Almost always cheapest in the spring, in our area it generally will drop to around $1.99 a pound and start looking good. (Sometimes, it will drop to 99 cents, and I’ll always be sure to grab some then!) I’ve also noticed that asparagus is becoming more available during other holidays besides just Easter, so again, that would be a good time to buy.

This is a vegetable I don’t care for frozen or canned; often the price, when figured out is as much or more than fresh on sale.

I think I can’t use up all my asparagus, or have leftover that no one is eating, I’ll marinate it. I drop the hard ends that are normally discarded into my chicken broth when I make it or throw them in a smoothie. I sometimes store in a tumbler of water in the fridge, loosely covered with a produce bag, although it’s a bit of a treat at my house so generally gets used right away.

Avocados:  They drop down to between 89 cents to a dollar on sale in my area, with a rare price of 50 cents each. We really like them, and I feel they are worth the splurge! When they’re on sale, I’ll sometimes build a meal around them! (Like who really needs an excuse to serve tacos?) For years, avocados had some bad press, a vegetable with fat? Now we know, like nuts, these fats are good for you and help combat heart disease and high cholesterol.

Now and then, I’ll find bags of “almost” gone avocados at the store on deep discount, a great excuse for guacamole.

Beets: In season in the fall, they’re never expensive, and have a variety of phytonutrients not available in other vegetables. I love them roasted or pickled, and served as a side or in salads. Use the tops, too, lightly steamed.

Bell Peppers:  These can vary in pricing depending on the color, and of course, are always cheapest in the summer. There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. An average pepper usually weights about 5 ounces, so $1.69 a pound is about 53 cents a pepper, $1.49 a pound works out to about 47 cents a pepper, $1.29 a pound is about 41 cents. They really do add an important flavor ingredient to a lot of dishes.

  • When I can get a really good price, I’ll stock up and slice or dice and saute and put them in Ziploc bags in the freezer in quantities I generally use for my recipes, appropriately labeled, of course.  They’re generally a bit softer, so I go easy on the cooking process, and make sure to cook only till crisp/tender.
  • Char and peel, seed out and freeze peppers, too, especially red ones, to use in recipes calling for roasted peppers – very expensive to buy in the jars.
  • If I’m making something like a stir fry or another recipe that uses large slices of peppers (maybe fajitas) and I have a bit of pepper left over on the top and bottom, I’ll dice it and throw it in a ziploc in the freezer and just add to it over time. I’ll throw these in meatloafs or casseroles. It seems a strange thing to do with such small quantities at first, but the small quantities add up fast and there are a lot of dishes that can benefit from just a little pepper flavor.
  • I’ll use these little bits, too, in addition to carrot and onion to flavor my cream cheese for bagels.
Sofrito, onions, peppers, tomatoes cooked to a jam.
Sofrito, onions, peppers, tomatoes cooked to a jam.

Broccoli:  Always available for a low price, it is in season in the fall. Look for nice heads with no hint of yellow or brown in them for the freshest broccoli, cut it and cook it right. A good price in our area is usually $.68 to $1.49 a bunch, which is usually less than a pound.

Many people think that frozen broccoli is less expensive than fresh, but that is almost NEVER the case: The frozen one pound package contains about 10 ounces of Broccoli – making the price per package is considerably more per pound than you’d expect. If you pay $1.00 a package, that’s $1.60 a pound, and if you pay more, well use your calculator. (Plus, frozen, while ok in a pinch, is not nearly as good as fresh.)

  • I generally have a package of the frozen in my freezer for a casserole or to make soup with, or an emergency side, but for me it is so worth it to have fresh broccoli, both in terms of quality and price.  If your broccoli is fresh and cooked right, your kids won’t need cheese or other add ins to eat it and you can save those special dishes to dress up your broccoli for special occasions.  Check out my “rant” on frozen broccoli.  You’ll find my easy method for cooking fresh broccoli there, too!
Frozen & water left; fresh right
Frozen & water left; fresh right

Brussels Sprouts:  This is a vegetable that shines in the fall/early winter; I never buy it fresh at any other time because it is cost prohibitive in my area to do so. It’s often less expensive frozen, but if you’ve never had really fresh brussels sprouts, in season, cooked correctly, you’re missing out. This is one of those vegetables that people sometimes think they don’t like because they’ve never had it cooked right.

I will eat them frozen from time to time, but they’re overcooked and very soft.

The outer leaves can be removed before cooking and shredded for a slaw. Get your kids to like Brussels sprouts by seeing who can sound most like Smaegol (Gollum) when they say the word:  Brusssssselssssssprouts…they’ll be giggling and eating before you know it.

A good price ranges from $1.49 to $2.99 a pound in season – enjoy them then, because the quality goes down and the price goes up. Check my rant on Green Giant Frozen Brussels Sprouts: You’ll be amazed at how much those little packets of 10 ounce Brussels cost – up to $6.66 a pound for an equivalent pricing.

 

Cabbage:  Almost always a cheap ingredient, it really has never had the respect it deserves:  It’s really good for you. Really, really good for you! Cabbage is at it’s best pricing in the fall, but inexpensive enough to use all year ’round. You’ll often find it at rock bottom prices right before St. Paddy’s Day –  I like to pick up a couple of heads then – it stores so well and I find ways to incorporate it into our menu.

Look at the bottom of the head when buying – if it’s old and wilted, generally the store will peel off the outer leaves, and you’ll see the ridges at the bottom. I put it in a number of dishes, especially vegetable soup or vegetable beef soups. If you’re not a fan of cabbage, don’t let the memory of someone’s overcooked crockpot of cabbage and corned beef or watery pre-packaged slaw deter you from trying cabbage again.

  • We often don’t use a full head at a time.  If you’ve cut in half, often the cut edge will dry and discolor. Just trim this part off and go ahead and use. Look for prices around St Pat’s of 17 cent a pound and up to 34 cents other times of the year.

Cauliflower:  One of my favorites, I use it as a side, in salads or in soups or for munching. Cauliflower is really coming into its own with all the paleo diets. One of my newer favorites: Cauliflower Mac n Cheese. (My kids always love Cauliflower with cheese, but I like it anyway it’s made.)

I think it’s often overlooked for being so common in the store. Early fall, it’s often at it’s best and cheapest, making it a great transitional dish at summer’s end. I don’t mind the frozen mixes, but it’s very often cheaper to buy fresh, and lasts a long time in the fridge.

Cauliflower can go on sale per head or per pound; look for per head sales – you’ll often find it least expensive then – in our area, $1.29 to $1.49 is a great price.

Carrots:  99 cents a pound at my grocery, regular sales price, they might drop a bit for a very good sale; I find myself thinking of ways to use them.  Often less expensive in 2 pound bags, they often go on sale more in 1 pound bags.

I always have some in my fridge. They keep well and I use them to sneak in a little nutrition in a lot of recipes as well as for a vegetable on their own. I save the ends and the parings for my stock. Fresh carrots, beautifully cooked are a beautiful thing – they’re like that girl in high school that no one noticed until she ditched the glasses and put on a little make-up.

Properly cooked, flavored, seasoned or glazed they’re a million miles away from the frozen squares in the microwaved cooked vegetable packet or the awful packages of frozen, sliced “coins.” I stay away, at all costs, from those precut “baby” carrots treated with bleach or amonia, the poor, pitiful dried up, flavorless things.

Celery:  Often on sale at my store for $.98 a sleeve. Again, just like for carrots and onions, I’ll save my tips and ends for stock. Make sure you use the leaves as they have a ton of flavor. Braised celery is a wonderful dish – I think it went out of favor when celery became so common.

If you see your celery running for less, pick it up – it stays in your fridge for quite a long time.  I sometimes quickly trim the tops and bottom to use in my stocks and broths – it makes the package fit better in my fridge, too.

Chives:  Just like parsley, I’ll bring a pot in from my garden to last through the winter.  I found I can often substitute chives for parsley or for green onion in a dish.

herb

Collard Greens:  I was first introduced to Collards by a Southern cook, and although delicious, it wasn’t long before I learned to thinly slice them, stems and all and cook them or steam them lightly in a little chicken broth or water. In our area, Collards are never on sale, but they are well worth the price any time of year – there are few vegetables more nutritious and they have anti-cancer properties.

If they come from the store wet, I give them a good shake  and untie them, then after they’re in my fridge for a day, take them out of the bag, shake again, and put them back in the bag. Too much excess water promotes rot.

Cucumber:  Generally sold by the cucumber, rather than the pound.  Aldi often has them on sale for about 50 cents each, and the regular grocery store will reach that price now and then.

They’re waxed, so scrub them well if you’re using the skin.  As with most fruits and vegetables, the skin is an important part of the nutrient value – I found if I used a pronged scraper and removed part of the skin, which can be a little bitter, my kids ate them rather ate “around” them in salads.  If you do remove the skins, throw them in a pitcher of water to soak for a mildly flavored cucumber water.

Fava Beans:  Very popular for a short time, I’ve not heard much about them lately.  They are very difficult to find in Minnesota; sometimes I’ll substitute frozen limas in a recipe. Favas are worth seeking out for special dishes, and sometimes I can find them frozen.

Fennel: Look for solid, white bulbs with no flowering buds. Fennel is in season from fall to spring, and the prices should be lowest then. The stalks, stems and the bulb are edible. Store for four days or so; after that the flavor will begin to dissipate.

Garlic:  Runs around 59 to 99 cents a head in my area in the boxes.  It can be a little tricky to discern the best prices because it can also be bought by the pound, and generally you’ll pay less this way.

  • I do cheat and buy a jar off season.  I hang my head in shame, but to tell you the truth for most dishes, I can’t discern a difference – if I were making a dish solely based on garlic flavor, of course I’ll buy the fresh, but for any longer simmering sauces or dishes it doesn’t matter that much.  This is of course, a home cook perspective, not a Chef’s…it’s also a time saver – how long does it take to peel and chop garlic? Not long, but it might be enough to slow me down on nights when timing is already an issue. I’ll also use the oil it was packed in to brush garlic bread or crostini or garlic bread.
  • I look for a price of  $2.99 a pound, or 54 cents a head.  I last priced in September ’11, and the price has stayed pretty steady.

Green Beans: In season from about midsummer through fall, green beans are at their cheapest, but are often available sporadically throughout the year at a great price. I look for a sale price of about 99 cents a pound, and like to quickly sort a bag out of the bulk beans so I can make certain I’m getting the best value.

Sometimes beans have a bit of a “rusty” color to them here and there – this is known as “rust” and a bit doesn’t really affect taste…a bit of won’t harm the bean or you, but overall, look for good moist beans that are a deep green color. They’ll keep in plastic for only a few days in the fridge, depending on how fresh they were when you bought them.

Green beans have been shown to keep most of their nutrients frozen for about three months, only, and freezing drastically change the texture…this is a vegetable I almost always eat fresh.

Green Onions:  These go on sale periodically, in my area, around 50 cents a bunch, and I’ll try to take advantage of them at that point in time.  Watch, especially around holidays for this pricing.

I use the green tops, then put the bulbs in a glass of water.  The tops will regenerate in about a week. (I’ve been on a mission lately to see how long I can keep mine alive this way – the longest was about 3 months before they were too weak to regrow.)

If they’re too pricey for me, I’ll omit or substitute chives or regular onion as long as it doesn’t compromise the recipe.  If a recipe says use only the bulb and the light green part, I just ignore it. (Of course, it the whole green onion is used for, say garnish or a vegetable platter, that’s a different story.  Kids love caring for these, by the way!

Kale: One of the powerhouse vegetables, kale should be eaten several times a week. Look for bright green kale with small, tender leaves and store tightly bagged and unwashed in the fridge. As kale ages, it dulls in color and become bitter.

Kale is a vegetable that never seems to be “on sale” and varied widely in price by region and time of year; regardless, it is one of the sturdiest greens and worth seeking out and buying regardless of the cost.

Lettuce:  I generally avoid the bagged, prepackaged lettuce, generally packaged up in 4.5 ounce to 12 ounce packages. When it first came out, it seemed like a godsend, but I immediately noticed the expiration dates were weeks out on these products. Now they don’t ship so early, but I’m not sure what they do to it to try to make it last so long – irradiation?  It often is not very tasty, and it’s generally MUCH more expensive than shopping the regular lettuce – usually over FIVE times as much based on a sales price of $2.50 a bag. Can you imagine how much more than regular lettuce the prepackaged would be at the regular $3.99 to $4.99 price? There have been numerous recalls on these products for contamination. There always seems to be some waste involved, as well; why not pick up just what you need and put it in your own bag?  It takes seconds to wash and tear or chop.

  • Some of the higher end stores sell their own blends of greens, but if not, it’s very easy to pick up a bit of this or a bit of that. If the lettuce is all the same price per pound, I’ll just put bits and pieces into one bag. Lettuce is one of the few vegetable items I can find coupons for; you’ll see them often as hang tags condiments or salad dressings. (I do make a lot of my own dressings, by the way, but more on that in pantry items.)

Romaine:  I watch for this when it’s a certain price per head, rather than per pound.  Last bought October ’11 for $1.39 for a 2 pound head, or 70 cents a pound, November $1.29 a head.  December, it’s up a bit, $1.49 for a 1 pound 7 ounce head, about 75 cents a pound.

Look at an example of pricing for Romaine compared to a prepackaged salad:

You could go with this, for about $2.00  to $2.50 or so on sale.  Based on the $2.50 price, which is the general sale price in our area, the 10 ounce bags are $4.00 a pound.  l pay about FOUR TIMES as much on sale as buying a head of Romaine, below, NOT on sale when I buy prepackaged!

$2.50 or 10 ounces = $4.00 a pound

Or you could go with this, a one pound seven ounce head bought December ’11 for $1.49, it prices out at 75 cents a pound.  With the savings, you can probably buy a pound of carrots and a cabbage and put those few little smidges in your salad, and make several side dishes with the rest.  The highest pricing in the last three months $1.49  for a head is $1.03 per pound, the lowest was $1.29 a head.

Fresh Romaine $1.49 a head or $1.03 per pound
Fresh Romaine $1.49 a head or $1.03 per pound

Lima Beans: I’ve never seen fresh Lima beans in my area, but the plain frozen ones seem to be, for the most part, very good. I use dried in dishes like “bean pots” and in combinations with other bean for soups.

Mushrooms:  Watch for really low prices on mushrooms around any holiday – often less than half of the regular sale price.  If they’re tightly wrapped, uncover them and loosely wrap – make sure there isn’t any moisture in the bottom of the carton or any that are too soft.  Remove them before throwing in the fridge.

Onions:  Usually cheapest in the fall, I bought last at 33 cents a pound.  I generally look for larger bags as they have larger onions; less time peeling.  I’ll also stock up because they keep for quite a long time.  Do not keep them next to your potatoes, however.Whenever I peel my onions, I save the tops and bottoms and skin for my stock.  If I only need a partial onion, I’ll often just saute up the whole thing and put the excess in a zip bag in my freezer for a later use.  This saves that odd 1/2 onion lurking around in the fridge, getting stronger and drying out.  Update:  It’s spring now, and I’m paying 66 cents a pound at Aldi.

Parsley:  I’ll never pay for parsley, just snip from my garden.  I’ll bring a pot in every fall to last me through the winter and hope I don’t kill it!  If I don’t have, I’ll omit, substitute or not make the recipe if it truly relies on the parsley.

Potatoes:  Our family, being from the north, prefers potatoes over rice, pasta or other grains, which is a little bit of a shame considering the nutrient value!  (We’re learning.)  This is an item I generally have on hand, especially in the fall when they’re so plentiful and cheap.  Late summer and early fall is also when I seek out the more expensive baby potatoes and fingerlings.  Cooked simply, they are so flavorful and delicious, they are worth the extra bit of money.

Regular Russets and Bliss, I’ll buy in larger bags on sale since they keep so well.  Last year, I  picked them up dirt cheap, but this year, like so many items, I haven’t seen them drop to anywhere near last year’s prices.  I found them in September ’11 for $1.99/10 pounds, but in October, I just bought for $1.89 for five pounds, in November, 78 cents for 5 pounds.  Learn to cook your own potatoes and oven fries – you’ll save money and avoid a lot of additives!  Plus, they taste better – see my Rant on Frozen French Fries.

  • To store, keep your potatoes well aired and in a cool, dark place, not next to your onions. I take mine out of the plastic and put them in a heavy grocery bag and roll the top down.  If it looks as if I won’t use all my potatoes before they’ve gone bad or if I find a deal that is more than my family would generally use, I’ll take a little time and prep twiced baked potatoes and freeze in Ziploc bags in portions my family will use.  Sometimes, we’ll make a meal of them or my kids will eat them as snacks.  I’d rather see them do this then eat some of the stuff out there!

Spinach:  Much like the lettuce varieties, spinach is generally much less bought in bulk or a bundle than its pre- packaged counterparts. In December, 2011, I bought fresh Spinach for $1.49 for 10 ounces, which equaled $2.38 a pound. The Fresh Express, the same day was $2.49 for an 8 ounce package, which equaled $4.98 a pound. Same variety, both baby, and both had stems. The Gourmet version of prepackaged Spinach (which was the same variety, as well, and not organic, with stems) was $4.99 for 10 ounces. That works out to $7.98 a pound.  The prepackaged is often dried out and smelly.  Do “release” your bunch spinach from its ties or it will deteriorate around those areas.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams:  I use interchangeably, depending on what is least expensive.  They last at home a long time, so look for specials before Thanksgiving and Christmas and buy enough to last for several months – you’ll generally pay about half of what they normally cost.  I really like Sweet Potatoes baked or microwaved and served simply with a pat butter.  For years, I thought I didn’t care for them because the only way I’d ever had them served was junked up with marshmallows and sugar – fine for a holiday side dish but not frugalest or healthiest way to eat them.  I look for a price of 68 cents a pound, but will pick them up if they drop lower.  They last for weeks in a paper bag.

Swiss Chard: Chard is another green, but this one has some unique properties in that it seems to have an effect of stabilizing blood sugar in many species. I’ve yet to see a sale on chard in my area, and prices vary by season. Regardless, chard is one of the most important vegetables one can eat and is really a bargain at any price.

Do not wash before storing and keep in the fridge in a tightly closed plastic bag.

Tomatoes:  They vary widely by season here in Minnesota, and can be really iffy in taste and texture during the off season.  I’ll often pick up cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes which tend to be a little better quality if I have to buy them in the store.   I’ll sometimes substitute a good canned tomato.

  • Last bought cherry tomatoes on sale for $3.49 for 12 ounces with a 75 cent (doubled) coupon for a total price of $1.99 in September of 2011.  Cherry tomatoes do sometimes have coupons.

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Fruits:  For ideas on how to use leftover fruits, see Smidges and TitchesI generally let pricing help guide me on what to buy:  what is cheapest is what’s in season…what’s in season is what tastes best.

Apples:  So often taken for granted, they’re really best in the fall.  In Minnesota, our prices drop to 89 cents a pound for the locally grown varieties.  I generally avoid Red Delicious, and look for varieties with more flavor and texture.  Watch for drops in price in the fall, then again around January, when the cold storage ones need to be sold.  After that you’ll get apples stored in gas, and with them another drop in price in late spring.

According to the US Apple Association,  “Refrigerate apples as soon as possible to slow ripening and maintain flavor. Properly−refrigerated apples can keep anywhere from 4−6 weeks. Store apples away from strong−smelling foods, to prevent them from absorbing unpleasant odors.”

Bananas: Keep green bananas on the counter to ripen. Remove from any plastic. If you don’t want them to ripen quite so fast, place them in the fridge. It’s said bananas last longer at the ripe stage if hanging, and there are some hints that say to cover the stems with a little cap of aluminum foil. To ripen faster put them near other fruit. A cut end may be kept fresher if dipped in citrus. Bananas that are a bit overly ripe can be stored whole in the freezer or mashed and put in a container for baking with.

Berries:  I see them in the store all year, but they are cheapest and best during the summer.  I rarely bother with them any other time of year: tempting though they look, they so often disappoint.  It’s a fun family outing to go to a berry picking farm.  There are often sales around Holidays for any type of berries.

Eat them quickly – they bruise so easily they only last a few days in the fridge. When you get them home, take a moment to open the container and check through the berries. Discard any that are moldy or crushed. If some have been crushed, carefully rinse any that have been in contact, replace the paper at the bottom of the basket with a fresh napkin or paper towel if it has juices unless you will be eating them right away.

Cherries & Grapes:  Store in refrigerator, unwashed, in their packaged plastic containers or plastic bags until ready to wash and eat. Many come in heavy perforated bags which work well if the fruit is stored in the drawer.

Honeydew:  Best pricing is anytime during the summer, but sometimes I’ll find them on sale in the winter.  They’ll vary widely in price, so throw them on a scale first – they can be surprisingly heavy and might cost more than you’d think.  They really are a fruit that is good anytime of year.  Slice and serve along the side of your plate for all kinds of dishes instead or, or with a salad.

Keep on the counter until ripe or nearly ripe, then store in the fridge. A ripe one will generally last 5 to 6 days. No need to wrap unless it’s been opened. After opening, scrape and discard any seeds before storing, with the cut side wrapped in plastic or the fruit cut or chunked in a lidded storage container.

Lemons:  Look for lemons to drop in price from January to April, which is just about the time a fresh lemon meringue pie or dessert can save you from those cold, dreary spring days.  I even stock up a bit when the price is really great as they keep for several weeks.

Store citrus in the refrigerator in a heavy, sealed plastic bag. Cook’s Illustrated did extensive testing and found lemons, and presumable other citrus) can last up to 4 weeks without losing the juice. Don’t let them roll around loose, keep damaged ones with the rest, and do watch for condensation.

  • I use every part of a lemon, every time I get one.  If the recipe doesn’t use all the rind, I’ll grate off the rest before I squeeze it and put it in small snack sized Ziplocs in the freezer for another use, brightening up a pasta sauce or a soup.  Last bought 40 cents each October 2011.   To get more juice out of your lemon, press down on it and roll it on your counter, or place in the microwave for just a few seconds to barely warm.

Limes:  I use often to add freshness to salsas, Mexican food and marinades from everything from chicken to steak.  I rarely see on sale, but they’re generally very inexpensive.  Just like with lemon, I’ll use every little bit.  See lemon for ideas on how to get more juice.  Don’t be concerned about the color of your limes – when you buy, pick up several and choose the heaviest ones.  They’ll be the juiciest.  They often have a wax on  the skin, so before zesting, go after them with a “scrubbie.”

Store citrus in the refrigerator in a heavy, sealed plastic bag. Cook’s Illustrated did extensive testing and found lemons, and presumable other citrus) can last up to 4 weeks without losing the juice. Don’t let them roll around loose, keep damaged ones with the rest, and do watch for condensation.

Mangoes:  One of those fruits that is shipped unripe and ripens in the store or at home.  Like bananas, you’ll want to be careful of bruises – they just magnify as it ripens.  I like to cut off sections, score them nearly to the skin, flatten them with the palm of my hand and run my knife between the flesh and the skin, parallel to the table.  At our store they go on sale frequently, and I’ll often pick up several at various stages of softness for salsas and smoothies.   I let them ripen on my counter.

Never refrigerate a mango until it has reached its desired ripeness.

Oranges:  Best pricing is in the winter, and you’ll find them juicy and flavorful.  They are available all year long, of course.  I save a rind or two in a Ziploc bag in my freezer – I use them when I make things like spiced tea or mulled cider, even when I don’t have an orange on hand, and the rind is the most flavorful part.  See lemon for ideas on how to get more juice. A good price is 89 cents a pound, but I’ll often find them on sale in April for much less.

Store citrus in the refrigerator in a heavy, sealed plastic bag. Cook’s Illustrated did extensive testing and found lemons, and presumable other citrus) can last up to 4 weeks without losing the juice. Don’t let them roll around loose, keep damaged ones with the rest, and do watch for condensation.

  • Although it’s a pantry item, I have to mention I really do like to buy canned Mandarin oranges around the winter Holidays.  They seem to drop to an absolute low then.  I sometimes find them cheapest at Walgreens.  Odd, I know.  Mandarin oranges, canned salmon and tuna and honey are all cheap there when on sale.

Pears:  Fall is the best time to buy; you’ll see sales based on the different varieties as they come into season.  Handle gently, and be ready to use when they ripen.  I love them for baking, salads, cheese platters or just eating out of hand.  Look for prices of 89 to 99 cents a pound.

Pineapples:  I look for a price of about $1.49 a pineapple, which usually happens around Christmas.  I find them often through the winter at that price at Aldi.  They’re like bananas or pears:  you’ll want to take them home and let them ripen.  If you find them at their lowest sale price, pick up several in various states of ripeness, and you’ll have them for some time period to come.  Wash your pineapple before you cut it and throw the skin into a pitcher with water overnight.  You’ll have a flavored water the next day.

Strawberries:  I rarely buy out of season – they just don’t taste good.  If I can buy in bulk and bag my own, I will – otherwise look at the top and the bottom of the carton for the best – they’re often packed with nice ones on top, unripe ones on the bottom.  They will not really ripen any more when you get them home.  Just like with Pineapple, I now throw the trimmngs in a pitcher of water overnight and strain for a completely natural flavored water – I saw Jacques Pepin talk about this – he doesn’t waste anything!  Good man!  For years $2.50 for a pint was a great price – now I find them cheaper and better at Aldi.

Stone fruit: Keep nectarines, peaches and plums in a paper bag on the counter until they are ripe then move to the refrigerator where they’ll last a few more days.

Tangerines:  Look for them on sale generally from December through Spring.  Cuties often come in larger boxes and I often find coupons for them.  See lemon for ideas on how to get more juice.

Watermelon: Can be kept in a dark, dry place away from other produce. Store cut fruit in the fridge.

Saving on Basic Ingredients

Links for The Twelve Strategies:

  • Store Fruits And Vegetables Without Using Any Plastic Products (survivalfarm.wordpress.com)
  • http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ (The Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen from EWG)  They note:  If you choose 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG’s Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. You’ll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day. If you choose 5 servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables, you’ll consume fewer than 2 pesticides per day.

4 thoughts on “Vegetables & Fruits”

  1. WOW, this is REALLY REALLY helpful. You have no idea how quickly my produce seems to go bad. I am never sure if I should be storing tomatoes in the fridge, mangos in the pantry, and apples in the oven (ok, that last one was a joke).
    Seriously this is a great reference you have here. THANKS!

    1. Thanks much, Mr. Fed Up – I’ve read your very amusing blog, and I think you might have a thing about produce…hmm? Notice I store my asparagus in a jar in water with a bag – I’m still a little jealous of your asparagus contraption.

      Really, though, I appreciate the kind words – I’ll keep adding as things occur to me.

      1. Yes, I did write about how I “save my cilantro” and my other herbs. I figured out how to preserve them using some gadget. But sadly I still seem to really screw up storing alot of other vegetables/fruts. I really like you site too. I am so careful with every dime and I am always looking for a way to get my money’s worth.

        1. I LOVE it when other people tell me they’re cheap, too. We’re in good company – Jacques Pepin always talks about not wasting anything, Julia Childes tells chefs on her show what to do with the bits of ingedients they don’t use; Martha Stewart takes bowls from bakers on her show and scrapes them down while berating them about leaving excess batter behind…

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Recipes so Good no-one will know you're Cheap!

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