Going over my grocery list, a discerning eye might notice the distinct absence of one key group: fresh fruits and veggies. But do you really think I’m skipping my greens? Hells no! Quite the opposite in fact – local produce makes up the majority of my diet!
I alluded to my practice of produce scouting in my last grocery article, and I thought it could use a follow-up now. But let me first say that everybody’s situation is different, and this advice is only meant to inspire, nothing more. Keep in mind that I didn’t create these habits overnight. I have spent years adjusting my lifestyle to suit my aspirations, and as far as I’m concerned I still have a long way to go. We’re all on this journey together and we’re all doing just as much as we can!
So, this is how I keep my crisper flowing with fresh, seasonal goodies – all on a shoestring budget. Remember, these rules ONLY apply to produce, okay? I’m not advocating you browse the snack aisle every day!
1) Buy Organic Okay, this isn’t a trick for shopping, this is a tip for LIFE. If you’re not quite sure what ‘organic’ entails, I summarize the process in my article, Interpreting A Label. Eating organic is essential guys; we implement steps 2-5 so that we are able to buy organic. This is a must!
2) Shop Often I visit my little local market at least every day, sometimes more than once. I’ve worked it into my routine - I swing by the store on my morning dog walk - so it’s never a chore or a hassle. Perhaps there’s a fruit stand en route to your office, a veggie vendor next to your gym, or a co-op just past your coffee shop. However you can work it into your day, you should find a quality produce mart and make your visits habitual.
At my shop, there’s a special shelf outside. Throughout the day they collect the fruits that are losing their luster, the veggies beginning to wilt, or anything that’s overstocked. They bag up the second-rate pieces, and periodically place them on the shelf – at just $1 per bag. That’s why it pays to keep checking back!
Contents of a recent dollar bag.
So okay, not every store does ‘dollar bags’, but most are willing to drop their prices on less-than-perfect products. Check out all your local markets, find the one with the best bargains, make it your go-to grocer and Check Back Often!
3) Shop Local The kinds of deals described above? You won’t find those at chain supermarkets, like Safeway, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Kroger, or even (gulp!) Wal*Mart. As a former employee at one of these corporate giants, I’m appalled at how much food is simply wasted! But the overhead is so high and the operation is so large, that they can afford the losses. This isn’t true of the little local guys, and thus they’re willing to take the cut if it means they’ll still make a sale. In other words, ‘SuperMegaMonsterMart’ will toss their beat-up broccoli bunches, but ‘CornerStoreCooperative’ will happily sell you the blemished bundle for a fraction of the price. Score! And this way everyone wins.
4) Shop Sales Even if your market doesn’t offer drastic discounts on aging items, they’re bound to offer sales. When it comes to seasonal produce, prices constantly adjust to accommodate supply. In a local grocery shop, the farmers bring in a haul whenever the crop is ready, all at once – and that means SALE! A few weeks ago I nabbed some perfectly ripe and delicious organic cantaloupes for a dollar apiece, all because of the overflow! That’s not going to happen at big box grocers, and certainly not at that quality of smaller regional farms.
Much like my produce market, my co-op keeps a single shelf especially for sales. That’s where the ‘eyed’ potatoes go, along with the limp lettuce and soft spotted fruits. And that’s where *I* go, too! For a third of the cost, what do I care about a little bruising?! It’s all going into the blender, anyways!
Organic gala apple – ‘Oh no, but it’s sooo ugly’!
Organic gala apple, ready to get green smoothied . . .
If you stick to shopping sales, you can save hundreds each year. It’s really that efficient. All it takes is a little loosening up, which leads into our final point . . .
5) Shop Open-minded The key to my entire method is maintaining a sense of spontaneity. I simply can’t be tied to a preconception of what I’ll eat, because I never know what I’m going to find. Instead, I try to treat it like a challenge! It keeps me creative in the kitchen, and I like living on my toes like that. So many times I’ve opened a bag to find a veggie I’ve never encountered before. But luckily, “How the hell do I cook this??” is one of my favorite questions! If you can approach your kitchen with that kind of attitude, you’ll save yourself a lot of anxiety – and a whole bunch of money!
I hope these ideas have given you something to think about, and that you can incorporate some of my style into your own routine. The most important thing is that we’re all healthy and happy. By eating good food and keeping good community, we’re off to an excellent to start!