It’s no surprise to learn that food prices are on the rise. Severe weather prevented many farmers from planting and harvesting as usual and that, combined with rising fuel costs and demand, will make it more expensive than ever to feed our families.
Enviro Girl has to feed three growing boys, her husband and herself, so she’s vigilant about looking for ways to shave their food costs. Here are 5 ways she’s found to save money while eating healthy:
1. Buy in bulk in season. It’s a lot cheaper to buy anything when there’s a surplus of supply. When strawberries are in season, they’re $2 or less for a pint, off-season they cost $4 or more. If you can buy seasonal fruits and vegetables in mass quantities and freeze or can them for the rest of the year, you’ll save bundles of money. Enviro Girl buys a few cases of blueberries and peaches directly from a farm when they’re in season and freezes the contents — here’s the math on the blueberries:
$26 for a case in season is the equivalent of 30 pints that sell for $4 off-season, or $120.
Often you’ll find farmers selling bulk quantities of in-season produce at farmer’s markets — tomatoes by the bushel, cucumbers by the grocery sack to people looking to preserve it for winter.
2. Learn how to can or freeze produce. If you can put up 4-5 food items over the summer months, you’ll have food on hand to use when it’s out of season and you’ll save money because even if you buy that produce in bulk in season, it’s much cheaper than buying it processed at the grocery store. Enviro Girl doesn’t think you’ll become Ma Ingalls overnight, but she assures you that freezing strawberries, peaches, beans, tomatoes and peppers is a cinch — the prep time involved is minimal for these foods and they’re easy to add into one’s weekly diet year-round. As you learn how to put up a few foods each year, you’ll gradually add to your repertoire and soon have a pantry to rival any pioneer wife.
3. Grow your own. A 2 foot by 10 foot strip of dirt running along the back side of your garage or yard can produce enough tomatoes, beans, onions, peppers, cucumbers and carrots for a family to eat for a year. A tomato plant costs $1.50 at a greenhouse, a vine-grown tomato at a grocery store costs $1.50. You’ll pick at least 15 tomatoes off a healthy tomato plant, more if you nurture it well. By growing your own food to supply your groceries, you’re able to save money and reduce the impact of rising food prices on your family’s budget.
4. Join a CSA. For $25 a week (on average), you can buy locally grown produce every week in season. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a kind of farm business where the farmer sells “shares” to customers. Customers buy into the farm by purchasing “shares” and they get a portion of the farm’s production in return for their investment. This is the most direct way to support local farmers if you’re not inclined to grow your own food but want fresh-grown produce. It’s also less expensive than shopping at a farmer’s market. In Enviro Girl’s experience, her $25 share was the equivalent of $50 of grocery food, she hauled home a huge box every week and had plenty to feed her family with leftovers to freeze for later. Her money supported a local farmer, invested in organic food production and fed her family for less than any other resource around.
5. Get back to the basics on your table. Certain processed or “convenience” food only seem cheaper, but are really more expensive. Let’s compare a few foods:
container of oatmeal: $1.50 OR box of cereal: $3.50
gallon of milk: $3.50 OR gallon equivalent of bottled water: $5.00
5 lb. of potatoes: $3.00 OR 5 lb. of potato chips: $25.00
3 lb. of apples: $2.90 OR 1 48-oz. jar of applesauce: $1.78
1 lb. carrots: $1.00 OR can of vegetable soup: $1.30
Feeding your family isn’t going to get any cheaper. The best way to avoid extra expense is to cut out the middle man by buying directly from a farmer or grow it yourself. Learning how to preserve food while it’s in season and learning how to shop for raw foods instead of processed foods will also cut costs.
Tell us, readers, what are you doing to cut your grocery bill?