5 Ways to Save BIG with Produce

The coolest thing about blending smoothies is doing it in a way that “beats the system.”  Beating the system to have enough produce to fuel your family and still have moola left over for the other things your family needs. The conventional approach is to simply buy it everything you need at the grocery store you frequent weekly. Conventional schmentional – we are schemers and doers here and of course have a better way. This better way involves 5 things:

  1. a garden – the single most effective tool you have use to decrease produce cost
  2. comparison shopping/price matching
  3. produce co op’s
  4. ask a mom with a ton of kids
  5. freeze stuff before it rots in your fridge

The #1 Secret of Goodness and the way I crush the system and explode my budget right to the bank is with….the not so secret mind blowing bonanza called… the garden. If you have never grown anything at all it’s ok! We can change that.  You don’t even have to go to a nursery to get plants if that is too intimidating. Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, and most grocery stores even sell plants and seeds you need to make this work. If you only try to grow three things choose tomatoes, kale and zucchini. Check on my home page under the GROW IT heading for more info on starting a garden.

The #2 Secret of Goodness to getting your freezer full of produce love is bargain shopping. When the ads come out, open them up. You can go all OCD and make a spreadsheet of produce, dates and prices to see what is the best deal and when. Or you can simply default to whatever the grocer has listed on the front page. The front page is where you find the blow out, “loss leader.”

Loss leaders are the products they discount the most that week to get you to come in and buy because it’s such a good deal. Stores do this with the hope that you will also pick up other items once they got you in the door. Loss leaders are to our advantage because that is when we buy tons, freeze it, pack it away and laugh all the way to the bank. Take the strawberry bargain blow-outs they usually do in the spring. I’ve seen 1 pound containers for as low as 75 cents at Walmart.   Ummm, shazam! That bargain is smoothie making material destined for the freezer!

I know some people feel strongly not shopping at Wally World. I shop there. Somethings I love and somethings I despise - hang me out to dry with most of America. I price match every single time I shop. Especially on produce! They will price match the items if they like items listed and sold the same way. For instance broccoli for 79 cents or pears for 89 cents a pound are honored.  But, they won’t match 99 cents per pound on pineapple when they have pineapple listed for $2.98 each or oranges for 50 cents each cannot be price matched for 39 cents a pound.

We live in Northern Utah and have a sweet chain of grocery stores called Rancho Market. My Spanish skills involved 3 years in Junior High and 2 years with the kitchen staff in the Chinese restaurant I worked at in college (yes, the kitchen staff in the Chinese restaurant was from Chihuahua, Mexico). I don’t comprende mucho and I habla even less but I can shop at these specialty markets just like anyone else.

Rancho Markets have incredible deals on produce. Like within the last two months, navel oranges for 25 cents a pound. Gala apples for 49 cents a pound. Onions, 8 pounds for $1. Avocados 10 for $1. The produce isn’t crappy and about to rot, it’s great quality and an exceptional price.  Their loss leaders are out of this world. Although I am known in some circles as a bit of a smoothie freak, alas, I do not blend onions into my smoothies. But I do cook with them a lot so a price like that makes me super happy.

WinCo is another store that has really awesome produce prices. Stick to the produce that is seasonal and at the rock bottom price. Target will price match too and with their red card you get an additional 5% off. Sometimes it’s nice to shop where the expectation of the experience is different.

Look for specialty markets like these in your area. Stick to the loss leaders, buy as much as you can afford, freeze it, stack it and blend it into smoothie love while you laugh all the way to the bank.  Remember you are not only saving on food but you are investing in better health.

My #3 Secret of Goodnes is through an old fashioned produce co-op. There are several ways you can be involved in a co-op. First is to simply google “produce co-op + your city” and doors to bargains will open. Some co-ops stress organic produce while others are conventional produce. Pick on the best fits your needs and give it a try. You will be happily surprised.

Several years ago I participated in a co-op called Bountiful Baskets www.bountifulbaskets.org. They are currently in 19 states and it’s highly likely there is a pick-up location near you. It’s more west coast to the mid-west right now but it is expanding all the time. This co-op has you choose a conventional basket for $15 or a 100% certified organic basket for $25 and the produce is usually 50/50 fruits and vegetables. You pick up your basket on a Saturday in a location anywhere from a car dealership to a fire station to a campus. Although you don’t control what goes in the basket they generally have the staples each week and then something fun, new and exotic. When I did it several years ago we had a ton of mangoes week after week so I would just cut them up as they ripened, froze them and used them in the smoothies.  I also remember getting fava beans…how cool!

Believe it or not you can also start your own produce co-op and get your produce for free in exchange for the work you do to pull the co-op off.  I have a good friend who has done this for 3 ½ years. Megan started it up after being a customer of Bountiful Baskets and wanted to do it her way instead of their way.

She orders twice a month and has 24 baskets that are $17 each. The work she does with ordering, arranging help to sort the cases of produce into baskets, providing the spot for distribution and facilitating the moola is her “share” so she gets her produce for FREE. Below is a photo of the produce I got in my basket from her today. I swapped out 2 grapefruit (ewww, even with salt), 5 roma tomatoes (I have gallons of tomatoes in the freezer) and a huge head of romaine lettuce (not awesome in the blender and I have a pillow of spinach from Costco in the fridge all ready). Swapping out is simply trading stuff your family doesn’t really eat for stuff they do. I swapped for more apples and a second head of broccoli. On average we save $12 per basket over purchasing the same items in the grocery store.  That is almost $300 per year savings when done year round!

Often the though the co-op we are notified of extreme bargains. Like blueberries a few months back. They came in 18 ounce containers with 8 containers per case. If we ordered more than 10 cases our price was $12.50 per case. BOOM!!!! $1.30 per POUND for blueberries. MIND BLOWING MATH!!! = frozen orbs of goodness packed away!

My 4th Secret of Goodness was discovered while hiking with a friend who had 6 kids in 9 years. Yikes huh! We were chatting about good food, budgets, feeding your kids healthy stuff and bargains and she told me about a store in Salt Lake City called NPS. It is a huge warehouse filled with grocery, clothing, electronics, houseware, etc. It’s all of the UPS un-deliverables. Only delivered to you on a silver platter because their prices are incredible! The store is a bit hit and miss but when you hit, it’s big time!  A few weeks ago my same friend came home with a case of blackberries. Each 18 ounce container was only $2. BOOM again!!!

Even if you don’t live in Salt Lake City the concept is still the same, hunt for it,  better yet simply ask any mom with a big family where the excellent deals are and you will find treasures of goodness waiting for you.

#5 Secret of Goodness - freeze the stuff in your fridge before it goes bad and use it in your smoothies. Broccoli and/or cauliflower about to get slimey? Parboil it, freeze it on a tray and plop it in a bag. Oranges not looking good enough to eat? Peel the outside with a knife like you are going to segment them and freeze for later. You can do the same thing with apples, pears, peaches (but I don't understand how anyone could ignore a peach to the point of loosing it to the rotting demons), berries, carrots, zucchini, mango....I'm rambling but you get the picture. Freeze it before you just have to compost it - saves you money!

It is totally possible to provide your family with the awesome power of whole foods on any budget, level of garden expertise and a dash of savvy shopper.

Start Blending!