How To Cut Your Veggie Bill

In an off season or a reduced harvest crop due to weather problems, vegetable prices can soar. Here's how to bring them down to earth.

Health and medical groups continue telling the public how important it is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Veggies, especially, with a wide-ranging assortment of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, has been shown to promote better health by preventing diseases like stroke and cancer, improving circulatory health, and perhaps even adding longevity to life.

But when crops fail due to drought or wildfires, or between harvests, vegetable prices can rise dramatically. As a result, many shoppers look for cheaper foods to eat, losing out on the wonderful benefits of getting their greens.

If you want to continue eating vegetables during unfavorable market conditions, consider adopting strategies like these:

1. Buy in bulk. Some grocery chains feature extra low prices for customers who bag their own purchases and buy in bulk quantities. Instead of getting a single head of lettuce for dinner, but three for a buck and make up salad for the rest of the week. Store it in containers to stay fresh, and munch when hungry. You'll also save preparation time by doing it all at once.

2. Shop locally. Look for roadside produce stands or buy from neighbors with abundant crops. Sometimes people with gardens will practically beg you to take the overflow off their hands to keep it from rotting or going to waste. Community grocery stores and supermarkets often buy from local growers as well as commercial wholesalers, so look for "home grown" signs that feature special products at reduced cost.

3. Eat what's in season. Experiment with new vegetables that you may not have liked or tried previously. Never had cauliflower? Find a recipe for steaming it with melted cheese. Aren't fond of broccoli? Give it a renewed try with mushrooms, onions, and red pepper. Hunt for tasty new recipes that can add zest to a veggie you thought you disliked. Before you know it, you may be able to eat fresh veggies all year round when you're willing to try those in season that you readily overlooked previously.

4. Freeze and can. Looking for a hobby? How about growing some of your favorite produce and preserving it? Tending a garden offers therapeutic benefits for many folks, and it's a great training ground for teaching children to respect life and nature as well as looking after a grocery budget. Then take a canning class or spend an afternoon with Granny Wilson or Cousin May who have been canning all their lives. While catching up on family news, you'll learn a brand new technique that will preserve your food budget as well as your fresh-grown produce. If you can't get into food preservation, buy the frozen versions that are so much tastier than canned, if not quite as good as fresh varieties. Canned veggies often go on sale in the fall, so stock up for the winter and get your nutrients that way.

5. Use coupons and discounts. If you simply must have fresh, rather than canned, potatoes or carrots, watch the ads for sales and clip useful coupons. Search for veggie savings online as well as in your favorite store. You need not pay full price if you're willing to look for discounts and bargains.

Isn't it great we don't have to clear the wilderness and plant gardens to survive? All the same, it may pay to take a few extra steps to claim fresh veggies year-round to protect our health and our pocketbook.

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