We all want to feed our families with natural foods that are free of chemicals and taste delicious. GMOs and political pitfalls of “Big Ag” aside, we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables. We know it’s true. If you’re like me, and scour the supermarket circular for deals each week, you’ve noticed that there are much fewer sales on eggplant and green beans than, say, frozen pizza and biscuits-in-a-can.
So how to eat more vegetables and not spend a small fortune?
- Eat In-Season: In general, if you’re only shopping at supermarkets, then in-season produce ought to be the cheapest produce in the store. In the summer months, you’ll have more choice, but in the winter, try to make food with fall root vegetables like beets, butternut squash, etc., which will be cheaper than summer favorites. Farmer’s markets will be guaranteed to have in-season produce, and may even offer it for a lower price than your local supermarket.
- Join a CSA: Community-Supported-Agriculture is a great way to invest in local farmers and to get produce that is fresh, in season, and in line with your food philosophy. Before the season begins you pay the farm for a share of the crop and pick up your share each week. For city dwellers, many CSAs will deliver your share to a specific location for pickup, or come to your door! Some CSAs even offer U-Pick options at the farm. Investing in a CSA is an expensive option up-front, but depending on the size of your family, it could pay for all your vegetables for the duration of the growing season. Use www.localharvest.org to locate a CSA near you!
- Shop Smart: You might be surprised to learn that, in terms of nutrition, frozen vegetables are at least as nutritious as fresh vegetables, and in some cases more so. Consider that frozen veggies are harvested at their peak of ripeness and nutrient-richness, quickly blanched or steamed, and immediately frozen. Reheating your frozen veggies in the microwave, skillet, or steamer breaks down some of those nutrients in the same way that cooking raw veggies does. Fresh veggies that are not in season have had to travel great distances to get to your shopping cart, and must be harvested before peak ripeness and before those wholesome nutrients have fully developed. So, when you’re considering buying broccoli in December in Michigan, the frozen florets may be the healthier (and cheaper!) option.
- Build a Garden: Whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or on acres of solitude, there is a produce-growing option for you! I live on about less than half an acre, much of it obscured from the sun by a magnificent 150+ year-old live oak. I was able to find enough consistent sunshine for four 8-foot raised beds in my front yard. The plans I used, with some modifications, can be found here.If you have less space, there is no shortage of resources online for creating vertical gardens, or selecting a few veggies to grow in a pot. This post from Williams Sonoma suggests three ways to take your small garden vertical. When I lived in West Africa, gardening supplies were limited, so I grew herbs and vegetables in the cut-off bottoms of plastic bottles and OJ cartons. Even if you choose to start with a few herbs and leafy greens, you’re bound to save money by not having to purchase those items at the supermarket. Just get some dirt and some seeds and start experimenting!