Make Ends Meet: How to save money on fresh produce

You don't have to change your eating habits or stay away from the healthy foods, you just have to shop smart and plan ahead.
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 11:19 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The price per pound for vegetables has skyrocketed like everything else in American stores. People don’t have to change their eating habits or stay away from the healthy foods, but they must shop smart and plan ahead.

There are tips and tricks that people can try at home to make sure their family is eating what is best and feeling their best.

Fruits and vegetables can and should be part of that plan. Fruits and veggies on the menu may seem like a luxury for many families. In the end, it is not taste, but cost that often limits consumption.

“You have to have fruits and vegetables,” Cindi Sullivan, a garden expert for four decades and Executive Director of Trees Louisville said. “You just have to look for the best buys.”

Sullivan stressed a game plan at the grocery is as important as a game plan for a big event.

“Stick to a list is a great idea,” Sullivan said. “Look for the sale items. Know when your local grocery store is doing specials so that you take advantage of those.”

Take a minute to check the grocery store flyer to see what fruits and vegetables are on sale. If scheduling allows, hit the supermarket mid-week, then the farmers’ market on Saturday.

Towards the end of the day at the farmer’s market, many vendors may sell what is left at a discount rather than having to pack it up.

“Buy in season,” Sullivan said.

In-season produce is fresher, tastes better, and is cheaper. Out of season, people will pay premiums to import from somewhere else by plane, train, or truck.

Buy in bulk when it makes sense.

“You can really make a lot of savings,” Sullivan said.

If family size is small, people can buy in bulk with their neighbors to still get that great price without wasting food.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four throws out $1,500 in food per year.

Storage is key.

“Let’s talk about that for a second,” Sullivan said. “So, like when you buy in bulk right, buy a bag of potatoes, a big bag, and store them properly they can last for months.”

Know how to store what’s been purchased. Not everything should be tossed in the refrigerator, and some things can be frozen.

Despite what some people think, do not wash the produce before storing it. It adds excess moisture, which can speed up decay.

Instead, wash it before it’s eaten and not before it’s put away. Also, try to stay away from anything pre-cut or pre-packaged.

“Put value into your own time,” Sullivan said. “Take it home. Cut it up yourself. You’ll save yourself a lot of money.”

Do not immediately toss veggies or fruits past prime. Most overripe fruit can be used in quick bread recipes. Summer squash that is a bit over ripe can be added to meat for meatballs and burgers.

Jaqueline Walters from the Bullitt County Extension Agent for Family & Consumer Science shared information on fruits and vegetables that emit ethylene.

Ethylene is a gas hormone that causes ripening.

Some fruits and vegetables should not be stored next to each other because of the ethylene they emit. This little bit of chemistry may help store fruits and vegetables properly.

As ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables mature, they emit more ethylene gas. That is one reason that one over-ripe apple can cause other apples in a bag to “go bad.”

The other thing to remember is not to store the ethylene-producing produce in tightly sealed containers, because it traps the ethylene gas and causes them to ripen and spoil more quickly.

Here is a list of the common ethylene-producing fruits. These can all be stored together:

  • apples
  • apricots
  • avocados
  • ripe bananas
  • cantaloupe
  • honeydew
  • kiwi
  • mangoes
  • nectarines
  • papayas
  • passionfruit
  • peaches
  • pears
  • persimmons
  • plantains
  • plums
  • tomatoes

Never store the above items with these ethylene-sensitive fruits and veggies:

  • unripe bananas
  • green beans
  • Belgian endive
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • chard
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • leafy greens
  • okra
  • parsley
  • peas
  • peppers
  • spinach
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • watercress
  • watermelon

Below are a number of websites that offer more information in getting the best buys when it comes to fruits and vegetables and the best way to keep them fresh as long as possible.

The United States Department of Agriculture has a seasonal guide for vegetables.

Kentucky Department of Agriculture has shared information that can help low-income Kentuckians stretch their buying power.

Farmers’ Markets Senior Nutrition Program

“Plate-it Up” offers healthy recipe ideas for families on their website.

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