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Monday, January 27, 2014

My Latest Frugal Produce Shopping Trip- Adaptability Required

 photo IMG_1702_zpsa70bbde5.jpgI have had to change how I shop for produce quite a few times in the last few years, because we are definitely going through a lot of produce each month, it's the biggest chunk of cash in our food bill, and the cheap places I used to rely on end up not always being so cheap eventually... The place near me that used to have amazing loss leader produce sales- between 7 and 25 cent a pound produce- one day a week, no longer has those sales. Another nearby grocery store used to have decent veggie sales, but they again, no longer sell veggies at such good prices usually. And the reduced rack in one of the local grocery stores rarely ever has fruit or veggies there (other than red peppers or hot peppers, which we tend to not buy) so even that I can't really rely on.
I started going to a local produce sale that happens once a week for 2 hours, where all produce is sold for either 40 or 60 cents a pound, which is terrific, since most produce in the local stores is at least twice that. That is where I do most of my shopping, but sometimes I can't make it to the sale during those few hours a week, and sometimes I run out of produce when there isn't a sale the next day, and we can't just "do without" produce for a few days, but I really hate to pay full price for produce when I am used to getting it much cheaper...
But even that weekly sale isn't always the cheapest for everything- there is never anything cheaper than 40 cents, and I can find cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, etc... on sale for cheaper than that- sometimes even half or a third the price, so even though its cheap, doesn't mean that it's not worth comparison shopping, and/or buying some stuff there and some stuff in other places.

This morning, I looked in the fridge and saw we were completely out of produce. Ok, not exactly- I had one red pepper, one zucchini, two wilted beets, two wilted cucumbers, and a few oranges... but those definitely weren't enough to last us a few days, and I was having a really hard time figuring out what to prepare for my family for meals with such little available to work with.


So today, after dropping the boys at school, I went to the farmer's market, to see what I could get there cheaply, and especially intending to go to the "reduced rack" stall that I wrote about here.

On the way to the store, I spotted a stand selling kohlrabi for 32 cents a pound- which was terrific, since our local produce sale sells them for 60 cents a pound, and I want to use more kohlrabi because it works decently as a potato replacement, especially now that I discovered that potatoes make me more nauseous... For such a good price, I bought 7 3/4 pounds of kohlrabi!
The same stall was selling pineapples cheaply. Well, let me backtrack. In my country, fresh pineapple is a delicacy and hard to find, and super expensive. When I see it being sold fresh here, it's anywhere between $5.70 and $8.50 a pop. As you can imagine, I have bought fresh pineapple fewer than 5 times in the 7.5 years I've lived here for this reason. But today at the farmer's market, I saw them being sold two for $1.40! Super exciting! I bought 6 as a treat for the family... For cheaper than 1 pineapple usually costs!

Then I got to the reduced rack stall. My sister, Violet, who showed me the ropes of how to shop there, told me her trick for getting the most for her money there- but this is something that only works with non picky eaters, who are willing to use what they have, and don't need specifics when it comes to produce... Her trick is to decide how much you want to spend, tell the guy who runs the store, lets call him Jake, that you brought x to spend, and you want him to give you whatever he wants, as long as it reaches x amount of money. The reason this works is because Jake knows what stuff he has more of, what stuff he has less of, what is cheapest per pound, and what he wants to get rid of- doing this will give you a huge amount of produce for as little money as possible.
Today I told Jake that I had $iato spend, and he asked me what I wanted- I told him I wasn't picky- I'd take anything as long as it wasn't peppers (they give me and my husband stomach aches) and I didn't want too many oranges, since I already had some at home.
Jake filled 4 giant bags of produce for me with a bunch of onions, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, radishes, persimmons, some oranges, lemons, and yellow cherry tomatoes!
33 pounds in total! For a total of $8.50! 25 cents a pound on average for these stuff!

And lastly, just as I was leaving the farmer's market, I saw a whole bunch of cauliflower scraps being thrown out- meaning cauliflower stalks and leaves, which, as I posted before, are edible and delicious. I filled a bag with 4.5 pounds of cauliflower scraps...

 photo IMG_1702_zpsa70bbde5.jpg

This is what I ended up with at home today.
50 pounds of produce, grand total of ~$15, averaging out to 30 cents a pound for produce.

Definitely worth the trip, and saved me a lot of money, because even the cheap produce sale near my house, the cheapest veggies are 40 cents a pound, most closer to 60, and the local grocery stores much more than that....

I think I need to start making trips to the farmer's market more often!

Have you needed to change how you produce shop, because of increasing produce prices? What changes did you make, and did it end up saving you a lot of money? Is it a lot more work? My trips to the farmer's market involve 2 hours of traveling total, vs 30 minutes traveling total to get to closer stores... But it's still worth it for me.


14 comments:

  1. During the winter there are very few options for produce where I live - just the grocery stores, and Wal-mart! And none of them do "reduced" items in produce (well maybe Wal-mart does, but we don't go there). A few things can be found much more cheaply at the Asian grocery stores. But for the rest, we've started just buying big "family pack" or "club pack" packages of things, like the 5 pound bag of carrots, 6-packs of green peppers, 3 pound bags of brussels sprouts, etc. There are only two of us, so it means we don't get a lot of variety sometimes (if we buy the 2 pounds of green beans, we're gonna need to eat them for 3 or 4 meals that week!) but with some creativity it works out.

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    1. I don't know what your local community or social circles are like, but have you considered splitting family packs with others, if family packs are cheaper, so that you can get more variety, but don't have too much?

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    2. Why not freeze some of the veggies? You can take cut carrot sticks and freeze them for use in soup/stir fry.

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    3. That's also a good idea, but it is assuming that she has a big enough freezer...

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    4. Splitting with others is a great idea - we don't have many friends here anymore, since I'm a graduate student and most of my colleagues have graduated, but maybe in the next place we live I'll set something up! (Then again, maybe the next place we live, produce won't cost MORE at the farmer's market or through CSAs than it does at the grocery store. So frustrating.)

      We had been freezing some things, sometimes blanching them first, but my husband never remembers to think about what we have in the freezer when he's cooking (which he does slightly more often than me) so I got frustrated. The freezer has been used almost exclusively for meat and stock lately. The real answer, of course, is to come up with a better system for keeping track of what we have stored! I've just been lazy about that. So your comment is a good reminder to think about it! Thank you to both of you. =]

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  2. I tend to change my shopping habits more due to time than cost. I've changed stores due to quality, stopped going to farmers market due to time, and changed stores when the ownership changed.

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    1. Time is also an important factor. That's also why I like to do big shoppings infrequently instead of smaller shops more frequently. So if every 2 weeks I travel 2 hours (round trip) to go shopping instead of 2 times a week traveling half an hour (round trip), its for the most part the same amount of time spent shopping, just consolidated, but ending up with cheaper stuff...

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  3. Hi, Penny. Here where I live (Croatia) you can find reduced products in grocery stores from time to time, but not so often. The cheapest solution is the farmer's market, and they tend to reduce their prices as the time of closing is approaching, because they don't want pack all that stuff and bring it back home. There isn't such a great choice then, but it can be significantly cheaper.
    I would be very interested in recipes with kohlrabi. I usually put it into vegetable mix when I am preparing them in wok, but I noticed it tend to loose its flavor that way, so I enjoy it raw more often than cooked (like an apple).

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    1. At our local farmer's market, the end of the day you get much cheaper or even sometimes free stuff. Yes, selection is more limited, but it ends up meaning that you become more creative in your cooking.

      You can use kohlrabi almost any way you'd use potatoes, in stews, soups, etc... I like the blander flavor when replacing potatoes- but like it raw as well.

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    2. Rusulica- My mother in law slices kahlrabi raw (into sticks) and mixes with some fennel (which I leave out) and adds a lot of fresh lemon juice, some olive oil, and salt. That's it!

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  4. Do you have community gardens near you? They are huge in the UK and popular in areas (thankfully mine in upstate NY) in the US. I know you've explained many times your decision to stay in your apartment but you might enjoy the ability to grow some of your own food on a little rented allotment. Even in my first year with an allotment last year, I still saved a TON on produce. Which I am still eating as I was able to can more than a year's worth of things like salsa and tomato sauce and tomato jam (a grown up version of ketchup) plus freeze tons of veggies, pesto, etc. Last year was more expensive as I decided to buy some fencing and posts (not necessary but I am glad I did) so this year the costs will literally be just for seeds and some straw that I use as mulch.

    KK @ www.preppypinkcrocodile.com

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    1. I've looked into it- there is no such thing locally. Some people have been trying to convince the local community council to start one, but so far it hasnt happened yet...

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  5. You must be really pleased with how much great stuff you got. Can't wait for your kholrahbi recipes as all I use them in are tagines.

    Please, please tell me you didn't throw away the pineapple peels when you finished eating the fruits??!! I came across this page a while ago you might like: http://www.squidoo.com/pineapple-skin-uses

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    1. Definitely didnt throw them out! Thanks for the link! I knew some of them already, not others.

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