There are a lot of ways that you can feed your family healthy food that is actually cheaper and better for you than the stuff you buy at the grocery store.
We are big advocates of buying local, and organic if possible, produce. I’m also a cheapskate. Those two things don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Some ways to find local food are pretty obvious, like go to a Farmer’s Market. The stuff there is usually still cheaper than the food at the grocery store, but you can get even better prices with a few simple tricks to save money on produce.
#1: Buy Seconds.
“Seconds” are the fruit that the orchard can’t sell at full price because it fell to the ground, it’s too ripe, or it is bruised. They are sold at steeply discounted prices and you can stock up and freeze or can them to use throughout the year.
I didn’t buy any last year because we were busy putting our house on the market and caring for an infant, but in 2011 I bought 80 pounds of peaches for $30. The cost for that many peaches at the grocery store would have been $160 that week (of course I checked the circular to see how much I was saving) and they probably would not have been locally grown.
In our area, I prefer Brown’s Orchard because they have an entire room dedicated to seconds and I can purchase more than one kind of produce at the same time. They are a little more expensive than the seconds at some other local farms, but they are a MUCH better quality. (I purchased seconds from a different orchard the same year that turned out to be rotting and invested with fruit flies. Gross. At Brown’s I’ve actually never been able to tell the difference between my seconds and the fruit they have out in the store, other than that the seconds are usually more ripe. And a few might have some very small spots, like the peach that is front and center in the above picture.)
You can find farms in your area by checking a website like Local Harvest. Call and see if they have any seconds available. It never hurts to ask. Also, join the Facebook pages for your local farms. They often run specials for their fans. For example, last year there was a one day only buy one, get one free sale on 20lb boxes of seconds at one of our orchards.
#2. Pick Your Own
If you’re not into growing your own garden (which is the cheapest way to get your produce, but requires a lot of work, time, patience, and outdoor space that some people just don’t have), many areas offer fields where you can pick your own fruit. We do this every year with blueberries and strawberries and have also done apples and cherries in the past. I find that the berries are the easiest to preserve because I can just freeze them. Apples are fun, but they require a lot of work to preserve. Cherries were pretty cool, but aren’t something that’s in our everyday diet, so we didn’t use them well and too many of them were wasted. Like couponing, you’re only really saving money if you are buying things you will actually use. So we don’t do cherries any more.
The picking is a fun experience for the kids and it’s a really inexpensive way for the family to spend quality time together and save money on produce at the same time.
We went blueberry picking last Friday and paid $3 per pound. That’s $0.19 per ounce. The blueberries at our grocery store are currently selling for $0.33-$0.50 per ounce. And those are the “good” store prices because blueberries are in season and on sale right now. I paid $7.50 for 2 and a half pounds of blueberries. At the store that would have been up to $20. I just wash them and stick them in Ziploc bags and throw them in the freezer. I add them, still frozen, to pancake and waffle batter, yogurt, smoothies, etc. throughout the year.
#3 Learn to Preserve Food
In addition to being one of the few prepared in the event of the zombie apocalypse, preserving food is actually super easy and it saves you a ton of money. Literally, if you can boil water and you have access to a big pot with a lid, you can can your own food. Freezing is even easier if you are sort of lazy, like me. Which is why the blueberries are my favorite.
When you find in-season food at great prices, buy a ton of it. (Like 80 lbs of peaches for $30) Preserve it, and you can use it all year. That’s money that’s not coming out of your pocket every week when you’re at the store. There is no one else in my family that does any type of canning, so I’m self-taught via Google and this book and not all that great at it, but even I’ve canned peach slices, peach butter, peach honey, apple butter, apple sauce, and strawberry jam and they were all really easy to do, although time consuming. It feels really good to be able to reach in your pantry several months later when it’s 5pm and you haven’t made any plans for dinner and pull out something you know is healthy and locally grown that won’t cost you any additional money. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve had a store-bought rotisserie chicken with apple sauce or peach slices from the pantry when I didn’t feel like cooking or we were going to be too busy for a meal that took a lot of time. Or blueberry waffles for dinner for that matter. It’s cheaper than fast food and way better for you.
Plus, if it’s already sitting in the pantry, homemade apple butter makes a nice last-minute Christmas gift. Ask all the people I gave it to the year I was pregnant with Penny and didn’t feel like doing any Christmas shopping by the time December (and with it, my due date) rolled-or in my case, waddled- around. Sometimes I take things we have canned when I drop of a meal to a new mom because I was cheap, pressed for time, and also I didn’t want to take 3 kids with me to the grocery store to buy something to make a meal.
One thing I have been horrible about preserving is tomatoes. Do you have any tricks? I’ve heard that you need to use a pressure canner because of the acidity level and we don’t have one. I’m also super confused by the limited tutorials on the internet.
Somebody please teach me how to can tomatoes!