We all know eating fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies, but it’s not always easy or cheap. Costs can especially rise when organic produce is factored in, and it’s an unfortunate truth that a lot of fresh foods end up going bad before we get a chance to use them. Thankfully, though, there are several things you can do to waste less + save more on produce.
Check out store flyers to see what’s on sale.
Looking at flyers before you shop is not only a great way to see what’s on sale, but also to compare prices between stores. It may be a little time consuming at first, but you’ll soon get to know which stores usually carry produce for cheaper. You’ll also learn how much fruits and vegetables typically cost, making it easier to spot a deal (or steer clear of a scam).
Plan multiple meals with the same fresh ingredients.
Planning meals and making a grocery list before you get to the store has a whole slew of benefits, from making sure you don’t forget something you really need (like toilet paper, whoops!) to keeping you focused on only buying what you’ll use. Take note of what’s on sale while you’re looking at store flyers and plan your meals around those products. Is there a really good deal on broccoli this week? Buy a few heads and make 3-4 meals out of it. Apples are BOGO? You better believe I’m buying two bags. Sure, variety is the spice of life, but not when it leads you to spending money on food you’ll end up throwing away.
At the store:
Don’t buy produce too far in advance.
This is something I struggle with actually. Life is busy, and it would be so convenient to only go shopping every other week. However, fresh produce isn’t made to last that long, so by the end of the second week, you’re living off processed food and wilty lettuce. Try not to buy more produce than you can use (or store) within a week. Use your big bi-weekly grocery haul to purchase everything you’ll need for two weeks – except the fresh foods you need for the second week. Then just keep a note of what you need to pick up later. Fortunately, most produce sections are in the front of stores, so this should be a quick trip. This is a great way to waste less + save more; throwing away less rotten produce is better for the environment and your wallet. Score!
Learn the “Dirty Dozen” for buying organic foods.
Let’s be real, here: organic food gets talked up a lot, but how much of a difference does it actually have on health? Well, that depends what you’re buying. The Environmental Working Guide has published a list of the 12 Most Contaminated fruits and vegetables: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. Non-organic versions of these foods have the highest pesticide residues, which is definitely a good reason to spend a little extra for the organic ones. There’s also a list for the 12 Least Contaminated fruits and veggies, including bananas, avocados, broccoli, and onion. If you’re on a tight budget, buy the organic versions of the Dirty Dozen and whatever’s cheapest for anything else.
Share produce with a friend or neighbor.
This is one of the most economical tips I have for you. Produce is often cheaper in bulk, but it’s difficult to go through it all before it goes bad. See if you can work out a system with someone (a friend, coworker, parent, neighbor, etc.) to divide and conquer in the produce department. For example, you buy a big bag of onions and your neighbor buys a big bag of oranges – split them 50/50 (or whatever works best for you), and you’ll end up with more variety in your produce without any added cost.
Store fruits and vegetables properly.
I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at this. Can I put my bag of apples in a bowl on the table or should I put them in the fridge? What about onions? If you leave the pit in a half-used avocado, will it stay good longer? There are all kinds of thoughts out there about these things, and I encourage you to do a little research on it.
Use the freezer.
This is part of what I was referring to in #3 – only buy what you can use or store within the week. Certain fruits and vegetables survive the freezer better than others, like bananas. If you find a really good deal on something that freezes well (broccoli, for example), stock up! Cut it up if you want, but just get it in the freezer as soon as possible to lock in those fresh nutrients. You can even store produce in measured amounts to make it easier to quickly throw in a meal later.
Purée and save.
Canning is your friend, my friend. I know a lady that picks bushels of tomatoes in the summer when they’re plentiful and cheap and makes every tomato-based product you could think of out of them: salsa, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, diced tomatoes…. You get the idea. She cans dozens of jars and has enough to last the whole year. It’s time-consuming, definitely, but wouldn’t it be a dream to a) know everything that’s in your sauces, and b) not have to spend money on them for a whole year?! There are so many things you can can (see what I did there?): applesauce, mushrooms, jams and jellies, beans, beets, potatoes, squash, corn – you name it, you can probably can it.
Maybe you’re not totally into canning, and that’s okay. You can make other things with a purée (though you’ll have to put them in the freezer if you don’t can them). Namely, baby food. Mix up a whole concoction of fruit and vegetable medleys, put them in reusable containers, and stick them in the freezer. Even if you don’t have a baby, you can use the little mixtures as a boost for a smoothie or a base to a soup. I’ve even heard people say they freeze fresh herbs in olive oil to use in future dishes.
Throw out something that’s already rotten.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to throw away something that’s gone bad. I don’t know the exact science behind it (something with chemicals), but it’s true what they say that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. If you notice a piece of produce that’s gone sour, get rid of it. It’s better to sacrifice that one piece than allow it to spoil the rest of its fresh companions. Of course, if you do know of a way to save it (Cider, anyone?), by all means, do it! I love buying bananas for this reason: even the brownest one can be used to make great banana bread.