5 Easy Ways to Combat Rising Food Prices

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?

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6 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Combat Rising Food Prices

  1. Ugh. Ethanol. Have you seen what’s happened to butter, milk and bacon prices in the past two years? We have ethanol to thank for a lot of that – plus we are paying $6 billion a year in subsidies for the privilege!

    I did learn to can two summers ago and have more tomatoes and pear jam (from the pear tree in our back yard) than I can use, which is fine with me.

    I have discovered that for certain ingredients – soy sauce, sesame oil, coconut milk, fresh basil, shallots – it’s a lot cheaper to go to the Vietnamese grocery store three miles down the street. I would put “ethnic groceries” on your list.

    I shop the bargain and day-old counters at the store. My grocery has marked down produce and bakery and the old sausage shop downtown, which makes brats and salami and Canadian bacon, has a seconds table for imperfectly-packaged goods.

    It also helps the meat supply to have an uncle who is a butcher. 🙂

  2. Oh, I hear you on the corn infusion–that tax subsidy needs to END! Great tip about “ethnic groceries.” I have seen that to be true for other products, too, like rice (in greater varieties than I find at my local grocer).
    A sausage shop that sells “seconds?” Hold me!

  3. We have our garden fully planted and my canning jars are at the ready in the pantry. At this point, all I’ve done so far is start freezing fruit. In another couple of weeks, I’ll start harvesting lots of basil for pesto, plus shucking corn to freeze.

  4. Melissawest – oh yes Usingers Sausage on Old World Third Street. Chicken sausages, bacon, salami, bratwurst (although I get mine from my uncle) – I can get 15 lbs of meat for $15. Not too shabby.

    On the bulk list, I would add buy grains and spices in bulk at the organic store. Oatmeal is even cheaper when you scoop it out of the container yourself.

  5. I’m a complete novice when it comes to freezing foods, I never know what I can and can’t freeze or re-freeze etc… Can you just put fruit in the freezer as it is? And what about vegetables? Do you have to prepare them in any way first?

    • Sarah, it depends on the fruit or vegetable in question. For example, berries can go into the freezer as-is. Make sure they’re clean and, if you want the berries chopped, do that first. Put them in the freezer spread out on a baking sheet, then store them in a bag or container after they’re frozen.

      Corn on the cob is easy, because all you have to do is remove the husks and silks, then freeze the cobs without any other prep. Since I have a daughter in braces now, this summer, I’ll be shucking the ears of corn first, then freezing the corn. I’m not planning to do anything else to the corn.

      For peas, I always blanch them first before freezing, but I only do so because that’s how I was taught and not because I actually know why.

      Bananas and potatoes do not freeze well.

      If you have questions about specific things, just ask us.

      – Recycla/Jen

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