Friday, December 30, 2011

A Short List o' Cheap Produce

One thing I did not do as much of in 2011 as I did in 2010 is canning. In 2010 I spent an embarrassing amount of time finding excellently priced produce at the Farmer's Market and preserving it.  I went right for the half bushels of vegetable seconds, priced for $5 or so.  For example, I got a huge basket filled with about a dozen or so heads of cauliflower for five bucks. If you're a cauliflower eater, you know those fellas go for about $3 per head at the grocery store.

Seconds are the veggies that have spots on them and other minor defects, but are otherwise fine.

It got to the point where I'd have bushels of produce in the mud room waiting to be processed and frozen, or canned, or dried. And so for most of the past year and a half, we've had plenty of veggies just sitting around waiting to be had...and by the time we ran out, not a problem: it was summer again and the farmer's market was open and there was stuff coming out of my garden. And I admit part of why I did less preservation was partially out of laziness, and partially out of feeling kind of silly about the whole process.

But now, having slacked off in my veggie preserving ways, we're facing the grim reality of veggie prices again. Three freakin' bucks for a head of cauliflower. And where last year I had put up BUSHELS of apples, this year I put up maybe half a bushel and apples are FOUR BUCKS for a bag.


So I've been pricing veggies in the real world once again, trying to come up with a peaceable, low cost solution.

What I've found so far in the Below $1 per pound range is this:

Cabbage: Cabbage is probably the cheapest vegetable in the produce aisle, often cheaper than POTATOES, coming in at around 44 cents per pound vs. 45 to 50 cents per pound for a bag of spuds. Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 and B6, phosphorous, and of course sulfur...which is apparently good for you for whatever reason. So I've been buying cabbage.  Fortunately, my three year old loves the stuff.  We eat cabbage multiple times per week.

Bananas: You can fill my ear all darn day about why bananas are so cheap, but as for now, when buying cheap foods, they're one of the cheapest types or produce per pound, with a high nutritional and caloric content. Today, for example, I got 5 bananas for $1, or about 500 calories, and the kids love 'em. When they start to go mushy, put 'em in the freezer until such day as you have time to make banana bread.

Sweet potatoes: These vary in price a lot, from month to month, or from store to store. They're about 99 cents per pound but can get as cheap as 65 cents per pound. They have much more energy than, say, cabbage or carrots, and are loaded with vitamins. Another great thing about sweet potatoes is this: they keep forever. You can put a sweet potato on the counter for weeks and it's still fine to eat.

Squash: In the early winter to late fall, squash can get as cheap as 65 cents per pound, an incredible buy, and they, too, will last forever on your kitchen counter and make great soups.

Carrots: We BLOW through carrots in the Muskegon Critic household. The kids open the fridge, grab a carrot, and much on it throughout the day. Carrots have plenty of vitamins and fiber, and they can be as cheap as 75 cents per pound.

Clearance Veggies and Fruits: Our grocery store has a cheap produce area where produce that's near to being removed from the floor are placed and marked WAY off. For example, today I got a bag of 8 roma tomatoes in the clearance veggie place for 78 cents. I picked up a few more of those bags and I'm going to freeze them.  When you fined a deal and you happen to have the means, you can go into preservation mode and freeze/can/dry them.

It's true though, that older veggies have less nutritional value. But in a world of financial constraints we're looking for healthier alternatives to Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. For higher nutritional's good to opt for frozen veggies.

Frozen Veggies and Fruits: Frozen produce can often be had for less than $1 per pound, especially at the thrift stores like Aldi: peas, carrots, green beans, broccoli, spinach greens, diced onions, bell peppers.

Anyway...there's that.

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