Fruits and veggies on a budget: How do I avoid waste?

Dear Alice,

I know how important it is to get plenty of fruits and vegetables in one's diet, but I've been finding it difficult ever since I moved out to do so. I live by myself, on a fixed income, and I can only grocery shop once a week. Whenever I buy fruits and vegetables, they end up going bad three or four days after I buy them, and I feel like I've wasted them. Do you have any advice on cheap, vitamin-rich fruits or vegetables that keep for a good long time? Thanks!

— Berry Healthy

Dear Berry Healthy, 

Eating a balanced diet on a budget, when you can only get to the grocery store once a week, can be tricky. But fruits and veggies don’t have to break the bank or spoil on the shelf before taking advantage of their nutrients! There are many strategies that can help. Buying fruits and vegetables that are low cost and nutritious combined with smart shopping habits, strategic meal planning, and effective storage can prevent waste. Here are some tips on how to more easily incorporate the good stuff into your diet and budget: 

Before you go to the store: 

  • You could consider your options for shopping. What options for shopping do you have available to you? Large chain grocery stores? Small local stores? Farmers markets? Community-support agriculture? Some of these may have lower cost options or more fresh food that could last longer at home.  
  • Check out the ads and build a list based on the sales. When available, use coupons!  
  • Purchase groceries based on what is in season, as those are more likely to be fresh and take longer to spoil than foods that are out of season.  
  • Determine how much food you already have on hand and how much you can eat in a week. This way, you’ll only buy what you can realistically consume and avoid waste. 

At the store: 

  • Look for foods that are on sale and buy in bulk to cut prices. Depending on the food, you can freeze whatever you don’t immediately use! 
  • If possible, avoid single servings or pre-cut product, as this can cost much more than whole fruits and vegetables. Depending on the food, it may also spoil faster.  
  • Consider purchasing foods that take longer to spoil, such as apples, pears, carrots, spinach, broccoli, kale, potatoes, and onions, among others. Frozen fruits and vegetables are packed at their peak freshness, ensuring they still have plenty of nutrients, if not more than their fresh counterparts.  
  • Canned fruits and vegetables can also be a great option for longevity, and like frozen fruits, are packaged at their ripest. It can be helpful to look for options that have little or no additional salt or sugar.  
  • Look for foods that aren’t yet ripe! By buying foods that still aren’t ready to eat, they can ripen throughout the week.  

At home:  

  • Plan your meals to use up your purchases in a given week. You can consider how long a given food usually lasts and plan to use the foods that spoil faster earlier in the week, while those that last longer can be used later in the week.  
  • Cook enough for multiple meals and freeze the leftovers. 
  • Fruit that is about to turn or purchased in bulk can be cut and frozen for smoothies or baking. 
  • Veggies on the way out can be frozen or made into soup. 
  • Store produce appropriately to help maintain freshness for longer. 

Taking stock at a variety of places throughout your grocery routine may help you find some ways in which you can extend the life of your produce. You may find that incorporating even a few of these changes into your routine may yield some changes into how long your produce lasts!  

Hope these tips gave you some berry good ideas! 

Last updated Apr 09, 2021
Originally published Apr 12, 2013

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