As a registered dietitian, one recommendation that I make to almost all of my patients is to increase the number of fruits and vegetables that they consume. Why? Produce is bursting with nutrients, low in calories and high in fiber. They help control blood sugar and weight while nourishing the body. In fact, research has shown in folks that eat 9-10 servings per day have reduced cancer risk.
But what is one of the most common reasons that I hear on why people can’t consume enough? Price. “I can’t afford to eat more fruits and vegetables”, my patients lament. The good news is that fruits and vegetables can easily fit into a tight budget.
1. Rely on low cost staples: There are several fruits & veggies out there that are lower in cost no matter the season. Make these the foundational produce that you buy. Even though they are low in cost, they are still excellent sources of nutrients.
- Inexpensive veggies: cabbage, carrots, potatoes, celery, onions, garlic
- Inexpensive fruits: bananas, apples, oranges, cantelope and honeydew melon
2. Find variety in loss leaders: Plan your meals around what veggies & fruits are on sale that week. Often, these loss leaders are what is in season.
- Fall: pumpkin, apples, acron/butternut/spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, cranberries
- Winter: beets, grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, celemintines
- Spring/Summer: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, watermelon, asparagus, green beans, grapes
You may have to look outside your traditional supermarket to get the best prices. Here in Chicagoland, I shop at local produce markets in addition to my grocery store to get rock bottom pricing on produce. Other vensues that may work for you are: CSAs, farmers’ markets, Aldi and Costco/Sam’s Club. These alteratives may beat your local supermarket on produce prices. Supplementing with your own garden’s bounty is also a great way to save!
3. Fill in the gaps with preserved produce: You can routinely find frozen vegetables for $1 per pound (my go-to price) even without coupons. Wait for a sale and use coupons to get a wide variety of frozen veggies. Or freeze them yourself when your own favorites are in season (usually last around 3 months). Frozen vegetables not only offer great pricing but are just as nutritionous as fresh as they are frozen right after picking. Other inexpensive options are canned vegetables (rinse before cooking to reduce sodium content), canned fruits (look for those that are canned in extra light syrup or fruit juice) and dried fruits such as raisins.
By filling your cart with low cost staples and adding variety through seasonal & preserved produce, you can nouish your body and prevent disease by consuming lots of fruits and vegetables despite your tight budget.
Here’s to health!