Let’s be honest, groceries can feel like such a Catch 22. Out of all the areas in your budget (rent, car payment, utilities), there is no other area that is quite so flexible. How much you spend (or save) is determined completely by what you buy, and it can radically vary from month to month. So, if you are wanting to get you spending under control or save money, reducing your grocery budget is a great place to start. BUT, at the same time, it can feel like groceries are soooo expensive, especially healthy groceries! Has this ever happened to you? You run into the store to grab food for dinner, you’re floored at the prices, so you decide buy “just a few things,” and you still find yourself spending $20. It’s the worst! So that’s why I’ve put together this list of 14 must-try ways to save on produce.
Because the reality is that saving on healthy food, including produce, doesn’t have to be so difficult. And the below methods absolutely work, even on organic fruits and vegetables!
First things first, meal plan!
Don’t go into your grocery store, without having first decided what you are going to make each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Create a shopping list so you know the exact ingredients to buy. And make sure to also write the quantity. I can’t tell you how many times I have simply written, “Potatoes,” only to get to the store and not been able to remember how many I needed. 2? 4?
Do you need help coming up with meal ideas or do you feel uncomfortable creating a meal plan from scratch? Real Plans is the meal plan service I use, and it makes planning your weeknight dinners, quick morning meals and even afternoon snacks sooo easy. You can read all about meal plans here!
Base your meal plan on sales
Check your local sales flyers to find out what is on sale that week. I love using the app Flipp for this. I can search by ingredient to see what stores have it for sale, create shopping lists, and more. By using circulars to plan your meals, you can make sure that you are going to spend as little money as possible.
Shop at home
Before heading off to the store, shop your refrigerator and pantry. You might have forgotten that you already have a bunch of carrots or half of a bell pepper. Take a look at your recipe and decide if substitutes will work. Does your recipe call for white onion, but you only have red? Use it instead. Then, go ahead and mark off your shopping list those things that you already have.
Helpful hint: Arrange all of the produce in your fridge so you know what you have. If you have two crisper drawers, put new produce in one and older produce in the other. Use the food in the older bin first before moving on to other.
Learn produce prices
One of the most important aspects of saving money is knowing a bargain when you see it. Produce can often be tricky, however, because it is usually priced by the pound. Create a price sheet that you carry around with you. Write down the average price for each fruit and vegetable so that you know if that bag of avocados is really a steal. Next, weigh your produce at the store so you know the exact weight of each item. Don’t just eyeball it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed a bag of grapes that I thought were a good deal, and inadvertently bought several pounds (that I really didn’t need).
Purchase pre-bagged produce
Pre-bagged produce is usually based off of volume and not weight. Meaning that 3 five pound bags of potatoes could weigh 4, 5, and 6 pounds, respectively. So weigh the bags and see which one gives you the most bang for your buck.
Do the hard work yourself
The most expensive produce is the pre-cut, pre-chopped stuff. Instead of paying for other people’s hard work, do it yourself. One of my favorite things to do is buy a big bag of onions, chop all of them, portion them into 1 cup servings, and freeze them for later.
I love shopping and eating seasonally. Not only is produce in its peak season much cheaper, but eating seasonally is the way our ancestors ate. When I eat seasonally, I feel more connected to world and in tune with nature. But you can also shop seasonally, and then can or freeze the foods you buy to enjoy later.
Shop at discount or bargain grocery stores
If you live in an area with an ALDI store, then you need to be shopping there! It is an excellent place to get inexpensive produce, and much of it is organic! Don’t limit yourself to just Aldi though. There are plenty of other discount grocery stores. My best friend, Melissa, has a locally-owned discount grocer in her town, and everything they sell is organic! Awesome, right?
Visit your ethnic stores
Here in Los Angeles, we have lots of ethnic markets, and I have noticed that many of them have produce that is much, much cheaper than my regular grocery store. Granted, much of produce isn’t organic, but if that isn’t your main focus or if you are following the “Clean Fifteen” and the “Dirty Dozen” (see below), you’ll be fine.
Don’t forget about the frozen produce
Speaking of apps, coupons and rebates for fresh produce coupons might be hard to find, but coupons for frozen vegetables are much more common, and they go on sale often. Any time frozen veggies are on sale, buy them! They last for several months and are just as nutritious as fresh.
Stop at the roadside stand
Even though I live in Southern California now, I grew up in the South, the real South. and some of my favorite childhood memories are of stopping at roadside stands and buying peaches and boiled peanuts. Whether you’ve had experience with roadside stands or not, they tend to be way cheaper than grocery stores.
Talk to your local farmer
Remember me mentioning my best friend, Melissa? I think she is a genius! Plenty of people I know frequent farmer’s markets, but Melissa was smart enough to contact one of her local farmers and create a special arrangement. Every week, she swings by the market as it;s closing and grabs a box of fresh produce. It is all stuff that the farmer doesn’t want to carry back home with him, and he sells it to her for half off. She ends up getting $40 worth of fresh fruits and veggies for $20. It’s amazing! So talk to your local farmer and see if you can develop the same arrangement.
Accept the imperfect
I am so, so lucky to live in a service area for Imperfect Produce. Imperfect Produce’s mission is to help reduce food waste by selling food to people that would otherwise be thrown away. Don’t worry; it’s not spoiled! Rather, it’s food that is irregularly shaped or was simply surplus. By using Imperfect Produce, I am able to reduce global waste and get fresh produce for a fraction of what I would pay at a regular store.
Which Produce to Buy
There are 15 foods that are called the Clean Fifteen. These crops have reduced exposure to pesticides or farmers simply use less chemicals to grow them. Here is the list:
- Honeydew Melon
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
On the flip side, there is also a list of foods known as the Dirty Dozen. Even if you can’t afford to eat all organic, these are the ones that you definitely want to buy organic:
Print this list and take it with you to stores, or include in in your pricing sheet so that you can make educated choices while you shop.
Are you looking for more ways to save money on real food (not just produce)? And no, there is no coupon clipping required! Here are 12 Ways to Save Money on Real Food.
And now I want to hear from you! Do you know of ways to save on produce that aren’t listed here? Share them so others can learn from your experience.
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