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5 tips for fitting produce into your grocery budget

Try these tips for adding fruits and vegetables to your grocery list without busting your budget.

Tight budgets are a fact of life for many of us. But no matter how pinched yours is, there’s still plenty of room for nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables.

“There’s this perception that produce is a budget buster,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, former spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But that’s simply not so. Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you can still afford to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.”

And eating more produce is certainly in your best interest, Blatner emphasizes, as the more you consume, the lower your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Indeed, produce is so important to your health, that it should make up half of the food you put into your grocery cart, she says.

But how’s that possible without overspending?

Try these five tips from Blatner and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

1. Buy in season. Fresh produce is typically both the least expensive and the most flavorful when it’s in season. If you live near a farmers market—where seasonal food is often the main attraction—consider shopping at the end of the day. Produce that hasn’t yet tempted anyone might be marked down.

2. Work the sales. Study grocery store flyers to see what produce is on sale. Then plan meals and snacks around bargains.

3. Check out frozen and canned produce. Those without added sugar, salt or rich sauce are good for you, just like fresh produce. Canned green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, green peas and asparagus are typically less expensive than their fresh counterparts. Ditto for frozen raspberries, okra, and collard and turnip greens. To really stretch your dollars, opt for store brands; they typically cost less than name brands.

4. Steer clear of pricey precut or prewashed items. “You often pay dearly for convenience,” Blatner cautions. Do your own prep work.

5. Reprioritize your grocery list. A final way to save money for produce is to spend less money on other, less healthful items. Meat in particular tends to be expensive, and chances are you eat more of it than you need for a healthy diet, Blatner says. By cutting back on meat—and fatty or sugary snacks or desserts—you can free up your food budget and buy more produce.

Avoiding waste

Clearly there’s no point in buying produce—even if it only costs pennies—and then letting it spoil. “That’s the equivalent of throwing money away,” Blatner says.

Yet who hasn’t let produce go bad? To avoid waste, follow these tips from Blatner:

  • Be creative with leftovers. Add last night’s broccoli to this morning’s omelet, or use leftover spinach—before it wilts—as a pizza topping. Likewise, make salsa from uneaten tomatoes or smoothies from fruit.
  • Keep produce at eye level in your fridge. If you could peek inside Blatner’s refrigerator right now, you’d find a bowl on the middle shelf filled with apples and cut-up cucumbers. Both are ready to eat—and more important, they’re immediately visible. “When food is in sight, it’s in your mouth,” she says. Conversely, when it’s hidden, it’s forgotten.
  • Shop smart. Rather than buying only fresh produce, make half of it fresh and half of it frozen or canned. At home, eat what’s fresh first, then proceed to fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life.

reviewed 10/25/2013

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