Some Fabulous Deals at the Market and Lots of Free Food

The other day I was in town, heading to the market via public transportation and I met another English speaker. She saw my empty folding shopping cart and asked me if I was heading to the market. I confirmed that, so she commented, "You can get some pretty cool deals there." Yes, definitely.
We were talking a bit and then introduced ourselves by name, and when I said mine she exclaimed "Oh! You're the frugal market lady! I read about what you get there!" That was amusing.
Anyhow, we then started talking and she asked me what I was planning on getting there and how much I planned to spend. Since I had a decent amount of vegetables in my house already, although not all the ones I needed, I told her that I planned to spend no more than $30, but ideally less than $15... Usually when I go to the market I don't decide beforehand how much I plan on spending. I just buy what I need for as little money as possible—trying to find as many free or nearly free things as I can—and whatever I spend, I spend.I does typically end up within the $15-$30 range, hence my goal. Once I have a challenge though, I have a lot of fun seeing just how little I can spend, because I enjoy proving something to myself and the one who challenged me.

I came home with all this food. 83.6 lbs of produce. 22.2 lbs of fish. 105.8 lbs of food, all paleo and unprocessed and healthy, for a grand total of.... wait for it... $11.42!
That works out to under 11 cents a pound for all that food!

So, what exactly did I get and how did I do it?

As always, my first stop was to Gideon's stall, where he has extremely cheap grade B/reduced rack type produce and often gives away free food. I got 20.7 lbs of zucchini for a grand total of $2.85, working out to be 14 cents a pound. He showed me a box of food he was going to toss, and suggested that I take it. It was filled with so much goodness, but more on that in a bit. He also gave me a quarter of a watermelon.

Next, I stopped at the stall of another shop keeper, who doesn't exclusively sell grade B produce, but often has a decent selection. I bought 4.1 lbs peaches, 1 lb apricots, 6 lbs pears, and 5.1 lbs bananas for a total of $7.14, working out to be 44 cents per pound. I bought all his grade B carrots, officially marked at 13 cents a pound, but since I finished them off, 13.82 lbs for $1.43, working out to be 10 cents a pound.

And that was all that I paid for. 50.6 lbs of produce for $11.42, averaging out at 22.5 cents a pound for produce. But that was not all, not nearly. And once you average in all the free produce, it works out to be so much less per pound on average.

I found a few more boxes with produce that was going to be thrown out, so I was able to get those without pay as well. I don't remember what was in each box, but here's the total amount of produce that I got free, from various places.

That quarter watermelon from Gideon, 2.8 lbs.
1.2 lb lemons.
3.3 lbs grapefruits
.2 lb nectarines
.3 lb pears.

7.8 lbs fruit free in total.

1.8 lbs zucchini
.9 lb pumpkin
1.4 lb cucumber
3.4 lb purple onion
.4 lb regular onions
.4 lb kohlrabi
5.3 lbs carrots
.6 lbs corn
1.3 lb fennel
5.1 lbs radishes
4.4 lbs peppers
.3 lbs potatoes

25.2 lbs of vegetables free.

Overall 33 lbs of free produce.

I also got free fish.

Since it was nearing the end of the day, some fish stores were throwing out their scraps. To the average person, these scraps seem like just that- garbage. But I know that they have so much good meat on them, which you can access if you are willing to do a little work and get your hands dirty. Since I try my best to stick to a paleo diet, and paleo friendly proteins are probably some of the highest cost items of my diet, when I can get that free, I am willing to make the effort.
The scraps were a mix of fish heads, fish bones, and salmon skin.
Fish heads, surprisingly, have a good amount of delicious and fatty meat on them, fatty fish being the healthiest type, since it is chock full of omega 3 fatty acids. (I did a calculation for salmon heads--and assume other fish have a similar makeup--to figure out the ratio of meat to bone, and discovered it was about 40% meat by weight. When paying for them, factor that in, as it works out to be 2.6 times the original price per pound for the actual meat.... but when it's free, it's a great deal, no matter what, since 2.6 times zero is still zero.) Fish bones also have a decent amount of meat on them that can be removed once cooked.
 As for salmon skin? It cooks up deliciously into crispy salmon skin, and is a wonderful filling for sushi- something they serve in many restaurants.

It was a total of 11.2 lbs fish heads, a mix of bream, mullet, sea bass. and tilapia from what I can tell (but more than half mullet).
9.1 lbs of fish bones. (I can't tell what most of it was simply by looking at the bones. I could tell what was salmon though, and assume the rest is the same as the heads.)
And 2 lbs of salmon skin.
22.3 lbs of free fish.
I didn't weigh the fish after cooking and deboning, but it was at least 10-15 cups of deboned fish, including at least 4 cups of deboned salmon, and the salmon skin.
I froze the skin to use at a later date.
If I wanted to get even more out of this, I could have boiled the fish bones after to make a fish stock... but didn't bother to this time.

I have been using some of the deboned fish in various dishes. I made yummy stir fry with  the fish and some of the other free veggies, and served over baked free pumpkin for myself and over rice for the kids. That food cost me 50 cents for two meals worth of healthy food for the family, including paleo food for me.

As you can see from my shopping trip, I brought home an extraordinary amount of carrots (nearly 24 lbs) and zucchini (22.5), as well as a large amount of radishes (5.1 lbs) and peppers (4.4 lbs), and have been trying to find ways to use that up.

I made this delicious carrot and peach leather...

I also made a really large batch of Vietnamese style carrot and radish salad and my spicy and sweet carrots medallions.
I'm going to make Korean radish salad.
I actually gave my dad most of the peppers, since he is such a big fan, and peppers are hit or miss around here, depending on my kids' moods.
I have yet to figure out what to do with this mother-lode of zucchini, other than just making it in various dishes...

I really love going to the market, because it gives me a fun challenge, to see if I can beat my spending goal (and I did, by $3.50), and because I end up with so much great and healthy food. If I shopped at local stores, yes, I would have less work, because it wouldn't involve taking all this back home on public transportation (usually an hour and a half each way), but I'd end up spending at least 5 or 6 times that amount to get the same amount of food, or less. Going to the market to get my past prime produce and more is probably my favorite money saving "trick" because it really does allow me to live by my mantra, living well without spending a lot. I get delicious and healthy food without needing to spend too much. Win win for me. (And as for time, even to go to the closest big grocery store takes me 20-30 minutes each way, so it ends up being an extra 2 hours once every week or two, which I think is worth it.)

Have you gotten any terrific deals lately? 
What frugal idea or skill do you find best allows you to live well without spending a lot?
What should I do with all my zucchini? Ideally freezer friendly ways.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I used to shred zucchini and put it in correct portion size packages for the freezer, for recipes I used often. I also like to throw the contents of a packet in soup, stew, what have you, to increase the nutrition and bulk it up.

  2. Grated zucchini is an ingredient in many types of muffins.

  3. I grate mine with a food processor and put 2 cups in freezer bags. I mash them flat so I save room. I use these in place of rice or noodles. I eat Keto so this works out nicely. 2 cups is also what my zucchini bread recipes call for so that is always nice. My mom uses zucchini to make a lemon cake that is delightful.

  4. What a geat haul! What about dehydrating some of your produce? Then making vegetable powders with some of it to enrich or thicken soups. Can fish trash be buried in your yard to enrich the soil for gardening? Can you mulch the nonedibles? You always do such a good job shopping. JAV

  5. A great way to use up excess zucchini is to blenderize / puree it into a liquid. You probably have to add a little extra water to get it past the chopped stage into a liquid puree. The liquid zucchini can substitute for water or milk in stews, or in baking bread, cake, etc. Easy to freeze until you want to use it too!

  6. Kudos to you Penny. Great shopping trip. You can make zucchini fries. Bet that would make a easy dent. Just dip in egg/water wash, dreg thru some breadcrumbs and fry them up. I got a nice little bag with 3 zucchini and 2 apples for 99 cents at Kroger in their mark-down section. Also got a bag of 3 orange peppers, and another of 3 limes and 2 lemons. So all that for $3. I got pork loin for $1.59 lb too. Gonna make some pulled pork sandwiches. Hubby and I can get 3 meals out of the 7lb pork loin.
    Time for a pantry challenge. Mine is stuffed. Keep up the great work.

  7. Totally amazing, even taking into account that you may have to cut off pieces that aren't good.

  8. My grandkids love pickled radishes as it takes the heat out of them . Put some white vinegar in jar. Same amount of water. Drop in radishes -washed etc, thats it! Leave in fridge for 2 days. Done and delicious.

  9. To the average person, these scraps seem like just that- garbage.
    That comment you made is the first thing I've ever agreed with on this blog. And please, don't try to snow us and pretend you don't mind all the extra work and effort it takes to get cheap food. No sane person would be happy to ride on a bus 2 hours a week to get cheap fish skin and produce headed for the garbage.

    1. I'm not sure which comment you are referring to. (And if its the first thing you've ever agreed on on this blog, why do you keep coming back to read it? But I digress.)
      I will be brutally honest with you here. There are many conflicting emotions going on here. Am I happy to go to all this extra work and effort to get cheap food?
      I'm happy that despite our limited income, I don't have to sacrifice on my family's health, buying cheaper "regular" food from the grocery store that I think are less healthy and also make me feel unwell. I would vastly prefer to be on a paleo diet and my kids be eating gluten free doing this than buying cheaper gluten filled and non paleo cheap items from the grocery store.
      I am happy do my part in helping the environment.
      I am happy we are able to live within our budget.
      And honestly, a big part of me gets a kick out of "beating the system" like this, and proving to people and to myself what is possible.

      Is it an ideal situation? Would I be happier doing other things?
      I would be happier to be self sufficient and grow as many of my veggies and produce as possible in my garden instead of getting them from the market as I do, and I am trying to start a garden for that reason. I would be happier if I were able to raise my own animals for slaughter or fish myself instead of getting these things from the market, but those aren't options right now. I would be happier if the cost of living locally were lower or my husband's salary and mine were higher... But...
      I'm not trying to snow anyone. I don't mind it. At this point I do think it is the best option for us. Would I like to do things a little differently in the future? Sure. But I'm definitely not unhappy doing that, honest truth.

    2. To clarify what I mean about the Paleo diet- I could completely go without going to the market for veggies and free fish and still manage on the same budget, but I wouldn't enjoy things as much, and it wouldn't be as healthy. I could serve rice and bean based meals predominantly, with small amounts of vegetables. Lots of carb heavy starches. Vegetables and fruit in small amounts from the local stores. But I really would prefer to have more expensive produce (such as artichoke, etc...) for free, even with this effort, than I would to buy only the cheapest vegetables and fruit locally, eating just a little here and there to keep down the cost, instead of eating a very produce heavy paleo diet filled with delicious dishes...

  10. Where can I get it too? I didn't see where it happened.

  11. I appreciate your total honesty and being willing to share your journey with us. I live in the States, have a paid for house, savings, retirement yet I got a whole case of free organic lettuce at the health food store because I like living like this. I think the fish idea is the greatest one. Think of all the Omega 3's that you are getting. We are putting some of our savings into finishing our basement and possibly renting it out like you did with your upstairs. That could be possibly used as more retirement income. Thanks so much for your blog!

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