Five Ways To Fill Up On Fruits + Veggies, Without Breaking The Bank

June 11th, 2009 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

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!



img_0688Contents 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!


img_0765Organic gala apple – ‘Oh no, but it’s sooo ugly’!

img_0774Organic 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!


  • Anne

    This might be the post I have been secretly waiting for! I would LOVE to be able to walk by my local organic green grocer with my dogs every morning, that sounds like a perfect way to start my day! But alas, I have no dogs nor a local organic greengrocer! Instead I’m sure I have another local shop or 2 that I just haven’t thought to visit on a more regular basic, instead succumbing to expensive Whole Foods-y stores. These suggestions are great, like a gentle yet effective shaking up of old habits! I will keep my eyes open for the smaller shops in my ‘hood, and see where that takes me.

  • Ginger Baker

    Some of this, I am sad to say, has to do with the neighborhood you are in. Living in Staten Island, I have relatively easy access to Manhattan, if one is willing to put in the time (hour and a half commute in EACH direction). So, if I venture into the city for my shopping, there are literally hundreds of choices, in all price ranges (Chinatown springs to mind!)

    However, in my local neighborhood, and living without a car, I usually shop at the supermarket near to me, a place where my fruits and vegetables are not that expensive but are also never organic. Most times, convenience wins out.

    We do however participate in a CSA from which I pick up bags of food once a week throughout the summer at a pickup in Manhattan – I swing by on my way home from work. Lugging heavy loads of veggies is not always fun but c’est la vie! There is rumored to be a CSA that delivers to Staten Island, which I hope to find out about this summer so we can sign up for next year.

    Local stores that are NOT supermarkets near me, have little to no fresh produce. I get jealous every time I visit my boyfriend in the Bronx, where he has around the corner TWO stores that have huge selections of produce, and several others with 10 minutes walk. He always sends me home with two huge bags of say pineapples and avocados LOL. But again, these are not organic.

  • Homegrown Texan

    I, too, am limited on *good* produce options, even though I live in a large metro area. Plus I telecommute regularly, which means anything I do is an extra trip out (== more gas and, right now, going out in 100+ temps, something I’m loathe to do).

    What I *do* do is go to my farmer’s market weekly. The closest one to me is open Sunday mornings. I go there and buy stuff that is a good price (some is, some isn’t). A couple of vendors sometimes offer “imperfect” produce for cheap or even free. Also, most of them tend to give you deals here and there once they get to know you. One lady in particular (who already has phenomenal prices) will often throw in something for free. Or once she overheard the kids begging me to buy lemons for lemonade, so she gave me a deal so I could buy enough to make lemonade. :)

    Bottom line is, when you go to the farmer’s market, you’re generally dealing with the actual people who are growing and selling the produce. They get to know you and appreciate the repeat business, and do things to keep you coming back. Which helps me save money, *and* supports local farmers. Win-win!

  • Homegrown Texan

    I also wanted to mention that it pays to ask around at your local farmer’s market. Around here, several of them don’t have organic certification because of the expense involved. But when I started asking around, I found that some of them use no pesticides, or don’t use chemical fertilizers, or both. In some cases they are as good as organic, just without the name; in others they are at least partially there.

    Also, the farmer’s market is a good place to get good, cage-free, locally grown eggs…Sayward, I know you’re vegan, but I’m guessing I’m not the only reader who’s not. Local eggs are far superior in color and flavor, and I love knowing that they come from chickens who are treated humanely and are being fed appropriate diets (although all farmer’s market eggs don’t fall into this category: *ask*!)

  • Sayward

    @ Anne – I’m so glad to hear that! ‘A gentle yet effective shaking up’ – I like that! =) I think it perfectly describes what I’m aiming for.

    PS – Whole Foods is a rip off! You can find much better, I promise!

    @ Ginger Baker – CSA’s are awesome! If I were in a different situation, that’s definitely what I’d do. Little steps!

    @ Homegrown Texan – Yes yes yes, all great suggestions about the farmers market. I hope other people read comments! Also, if you hit the farmers market at the very end when they’re packing up, you can usually get GREAT deals – if not totally free stuff.

  • Nicole Harris

    Whole Foods is a rip off… but have you tried there spiked kale & quinoa?? I would kill for the recipe! It’s that good!!

  • Sayward

    @ Nicole Harris – Mmmm, haven’t tried it but it sounds delicious!

  • Johnna

    I recently went vegan. (yea a whole 2 months now). i found it quite hard to figure out what i had to do to replace my “meat and dairy” but now im really finding the joys of avocados, lettuce, tomato sandwhiches with freshly baked bread and other tasties. I just found out where the farmers market was where I live and I got 2 eggpkants and 4 apples for a whole dollar. Now I am definitly hooked. It is going to be fun making my own concoctions of old recipes.

  • Krystal

    Hey, I’ve been reading around randomly on your blog for a while, I know I live in the same general area of the state as you. I was wondering what market you go to that offers the dollar bag deal- I think it would be perfect for some cheap, organic veggies for me green smoothies :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Alas, it just closed down a few months ago. Such a tragedy! However, People’s Co Op in SE Portland has the “beat up shelf”, as do a lot of co ops in the area. Luck!

  • Lynette Cowie

    Super tips, thanks Sayward!