Eating Healthy on a Budget: Part 2

If you're just tuning in, be sure to catch part 1 of this series where we hit on "Dine In", "Plan, Plan, Plan" and "Shop Smart". This is a big topic, with lots of good tips. Today, I bring you Eating Healthy on a Budget: The Produce Edition.

Eat Seasonal

You've probably heard this before, but if you enjoy the bounty of the season, you are likely to save money. And let's be honest, it's a lot tastier. Years ago, my nephew (4 or 5 at the time?) explained the difference between a strawberry in May and one in January: "These are so good. I'll never eat one of those other strawberries again."

Need help determining what's in season? I love this resource from Whole9

Want to try something new, but don't know how to cook it? Check out Eating Well's guide to cooking 20 vegetables. Or, of course, try Google.

If you take advantage of seasonal prices, preserve some for other times of the year. Freezing or canning are great ways to enjoy later. Speaking of...

Check out Frozen

No, I'm not talking about the latest Disney movie (which I still haven't seen, but that's another story). I'm talking about the frozen aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a GREAT nutritional bang for your buck. This produce is picked at its peak, and then flash-frozen to retain nutrients. It is nutritionally equivalent (or even superior) to its fresh counterpart, and also allows you to buy out of season. 

What about canned? Surprise, the nutritional value is also excellent in those fruits and veggies. Just be mindful of added salt and sugar - look for "no salt added" or canned in its "own juice". Also, you can remove up to 40% of that sodium by rinsing and draining the canned vegetables.

Organic or Not

I'm not going to get into the benefits of organic items here, because it's a different conversation. What I want to stress here is how to help you prioritize what (if anything) you buy organic. Because I don't know about you, but I'm not rubbing shoulders with anyone who has a grocery budget large enough to always choose organic.

First, be familiar with the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. This is a list created by the Environmental Working Group that evaluates the amount of pesticides in produce. Aim to buy organic for Dirty Dozen items, but don't waste your money on organic versions of the Clean Fifteen. That Whole9 list includes some of that information, as well. 

Some produce tends to be more heavily sprayed, and some tends to soak up whatever is sprayed on it more readily. The "thin skin" vs "thick skin" rule is a good place to start, but notice that potatoes are Dirty and sweet potatoes are Clean - you would probably never guess that on your own.

Second, consider what you eat a lot of, and what you rarely eat. If I'm putting leafy greens in my body every day (which I am - this girl loves her salad!), it makes sense to invest in my health and avoid those daily pesticides. But if I'm only eating grapes a couple of times a year, I'm not as stressed about the amount of pesticides I'm eating.

Grow Your Own

Another great way to save money is to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Now I'm not going to lie you, this is a "do as I say, not as I do" suggestion. I have a black thumb (that's worse than brown). Add to that a lack of outdoor space and direct sunlight, and...

But you, dear reader, should really consider gardening! Front yard, back yard, window-sill, community-based. There are tons of options. If I was going to try gardening again, I would go for fresh herbs. They tend to run on the expensive end at the grocery store, and I never can buy the perfect amount - either I run out or waste. And they add such amazing flavor!

Waste Not

Find yourself throwing away produce before you eat it? First, buy what you need. This goes back to "Plan, Plan, Plan". Then, store it right and make it accessible. Below are a few tips on storage, though I also found this amazing A-Z blog post on keeping it fresh:

  • separate fruits and vegetables
  • untie things that come in bunches to let them breathe
  • make sure your fridge and freezer are at the right temperatures (35 and 0, respectively)
  • airtight in the freezer to prevent freezer burn

How do you make it accessible? If it's something that you're going to be snacking on (vs putting in a recipe), make it grab-able RIGHT AWAY. Peel, slice, etc and store in clear containers where you, your significant other, or your kids will be most likely to see and eat.

And, if you're not going to eat it all before it goes bad, consider freezing or canning, again!

My oh my, there's still more to come. Stay tuned.

What other things do you do to save money on produce?

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Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.