Eating fresh produce doesn't have to cost a fortune. With a little planning and research, you can eat relatively cheap, unprocessed foods even through the cold months. From stocking up on summer produce to careful comparison shopping, our list of tips can help you eat fresh for less this fall.
Know what's in season.
For starters, build your menus and shopping lists around seasonal produce. Fall is the moment for vegetables and fruits like beets, eggplant, hard squash, berries, figs, and apples. Remember that the rarer the product, the more it costs, so choosing foods in abundance this time of year means eating fresh for less. In Ohio, for example, fall stars include cauliflower, pumpkin, and turnips. Check your own state's agricultural guides for details to learn about the local fall harvest. Food-delivery services, such as Green Bean Delivery in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri, and Full Circle in San Francisco, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, carry and deliver in-season produce right to your doorstep.
Freeze/can leftover summer vegetables.
If you've been nurturing a backyard vegetable patch for the past couple of months, don't let any of that summer cornucopia go to waste. An oversupply of tomatoes can be turned into sauce, salsa, or soup and then stored in the deep freeze or put up in sealed jars. An excess of hearty vegetables, such as green beans, peppers, or zucchini, can be chopped up and frozen for future use in soups or casseroles throughout the fall. Ditto for leftover basil and parsley after being transformed into pesto. Having these ingredients prepped and on hand ensures that you'll eat for less in the colder months when the veggies and herbs are hard to come by in fresh form. Plus, you'll be consuming produce that is preservative-free and nutrition-rich.
Venture outside of the grocery store.
The supermarket may seem like the most obvious place to buy fresh produce, but it isn't necessarily the cheapest. Check prices at the local farmer's market, roadside stand, or your friends' and neighbors' gardens. We found that buying from local producers often is cheaper than shopping at the grocery store. (Don't shun these stores altogether, though, because they occasionally run sales on fresh produce.) If plans for fresh fall produce involve growing your own, consider a co-op arrangement with neighbors so that you can all grow something different and then swap. This way you won't be saddled with bunches of radishes or mounds of cabbage heads and can enjoy greater variety.
Embrace frozen produce.
Coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables are rare but fairly common for frozen. When you see a good deal on frozen produce, stock up on vegetables for stews and stir-fries and on fruits for baking or cake and ice cream toppings. Frozen produce contains the same amount of nutrients as fresh and is usually pre-cut and ready for use. Plus, frozen vegetables and fruits keep for far longer than fresh and save you the effort of freezing everything yourself.
Get ready for next year's fall garden.
Anyone who enjoys fresh fall veggies should start planning a garden now for next year. Growing produce from seed is certainly the most frugal approach compared with purchasing partially-grown seedlings or paying for someone else's harvest. You can buy 12 packets of seeds for $11.95 versus upwards of $3 for a single seedling or, say, $2.99 for a pound of red bell peppers. It obviously takes longer to grow produce from seed, so there's no time to waste. Novices will need to learn about the proper container, light, soil, temperature, and maintenance routine for the best growing environment when starting with seeds and more veteran gardeners can always benefit from some expert advice. Be sure to choose varieties that are known to grow well in your area during the fall.