Save Money on Produce


It’s that special time of year when the vendors at the Farmer’s Markets are starting to really show off their stuff!  Their tables are loaded with lots of fresh, wonderful produce. Customers hurriedly leave the market to run home and prepare their yummy delights.  But if you don’t pay attention you may just find your investment of fresh produce being tossed into the compost pile. Plan well — and you’ll save money on produce!

A University of Arizona study in 2008 revealed the average American household throws out about a quarter of the fresh produce it buys.  For a family of four, that adds up to about $500 a year, according to the study.  “Reasons which cause a family’s produce to go bad range from poor meal planning to incorrect storage, to picking fruits and vegetables that are not the best quality”, said Shari Steinbach, a registered dietitian and healthy living adviser for Meijer, based in Grand Rapids. She leads the supermarket chain’s team of dietitians.

Our family is a large produce vendor at the Orchard Homes’ Farmer’s Market each Thursday afternoon.  As a vendor, I am often asked the best way to care for produce in order to extend its life or even maximize the produce’s edible possibilities.  Here are some tips to reduce your waste and save money:

1)  For all salad greens (spinach, lettuces, kale, etc): Wash and DRY well, then place in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel.  The towel absorbs any extra moisture.

2)   Herbs:  When you get home, cut their bottoms off and put in a vase or container with cold water.  Change the water out every couple of days.  Once I use the fresh herbs one or two times, then I take them out of the water and lay them out on a paper towel to dry.  Once dry, crumble the herb into a Ziploc bag or container.  These will last all winter long and have a better flavor than store bought dried herbs!  I also flash freeze many herbs such as Cilantro and parsley which then I add to soups, meats, etc in the dead of winter.

3)  This is a no-brainer but worth mentioning:  Before handing over any cash, be sure the produce you’re buying either at the market or store looks and feels fresh.  The produce from a farmer’s market will tend to be fresher than the grocery store.

4)  In the height of market season, you will find produce is less expensive.  This is a key time to stock up.  If you have never preserved food before, I highly suggest this method of maximizing your produce purchase.  My “bible” for preserving food is Ball’s Blue Book.  It is available in most stores (I’ve seen it at Ace and Walmart) in the canning section.  This guide will teach you the basics of canning, freezing and drying food for long term storage.

5)  Pre-packaged produce (think: salad mixes) usually cost lots more (unless you have a great sale matched with a coupon). Consider buying whole carrots rather than baby carrots and whole lettuces rather than bagged salads. You will save money on produce this way over the course of a year. BIG money!

6)  Be sure to remove squash, onions and potatoes from plastic bags and store separately in a cool dry place. They should last longer this way.

Photo of fresh cauliflower as one way to save on produce.7)  Fresh berries just don’t last long, but if you wash them, they spoil even quicker — wash only the berries you intend to eat. Pick out any moldy ones as they will cause the good ones to spoil faster.  Since berries are expensive, I stock up on them when they are either on sale or in season and freeze them whole.  They are great on top of cereal or in smoothies.

8)  Here’s another reason to Menu Plan—by planning your meals you will avoid the temptation to buy produce you won’t use before it goes bad.  And, if you have things which tend to spoil quickly, schedule them into your planning first.  Things like basil, cherries and corn tend to spoil faster so be sure to plan your menus around these things first.

9)  Chopped onions, garlic, green peppers and hot peppers freeze well and can be used in soups, stews, salsas and casseroles.

10)  Mushrooms should be taken out of their packaging and placed in a paper bag.  In our house we dry our mushrooms with the food dehydrator–they rehydrate wonderfully and really give us the best bang for our buck.

This is a great time of year to enjoy the abundance of produce available locally.  By having some knowledge on how to buy, store, and prepare your fresh produce you will enhance your meals,  cut down on waste, save money on produce, and lower your overall food costs.  Bon Appetite!

Please share any tips you may have about extending the life of your produce. And be sure to click +1 on this blog post (see button below).


Enjoy this blog?  You might also like Erin’s previous posts on Saving Money with Christmas is July,  10 Ways to Save WITHOUT Coupons,  Drug Store Couponing 101, and Couponing 101 The Basics.   AND, be sure to check out the “Missoula Save it Club”  on the home page of (See the Daily Missoula Fix buttons in the left navigation bar) for savings updates throughout the week!

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian.  Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.