INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Struggling to include fruits and vegetables in your weekly meal plan and still stay on budget? Kroger Executive Chef Manager Molly Harman has a few tips to make it possible.
First, Harman suggests shopping seasonally to save on fresh produce because it forces you to plan your meals around items in greatest supply.
“A lot of the time, the first things that are up front for the customer to see are what’s in season,” says Harman. “Right now we’re coming into fall, so pears and apples are what’s in season. During the summer it was corn and watermelon.”
Harman points out a high supply of certain fruits or vegetables results in a lower cost. She suggests reading through the weekly circular for your local grocery store for clues for what will be most cost effective.
“Let’s say you’re shopping seasonally and you have a lot of items on sale, you can stock up during that time which is more cost effective and then you can save and stock those and then freeze them yourself or can them yourself,” says Harman.
Plan meals around produce, not meat
Meat prices have soared in 2015. Drought has thinned herds of cattle, dropping them to their lowest levels since the early 1950s. Through June, ground beef prices were up 15 percent to about $3.40 a pound over levels one year ago. USDA choice grade sirloin steak was up 16 percent to $7.69 a pound, according to the most recent Consumer Price Index.
Meanwhile, pork farmers in more than 40 states have reported cases of a pig virus that the USDA reports has dropped the nation’s pig population to its lowest since 2006.
Rising meat prices have cramped food budgets and Harman suggests it’s the perfect time to switch each meal’s focus.
“Make sure you’re planning your meals around fruits and vegetables — not just around protein — so that’s going to be a little more affordable and cost effective for you.”
While fresh produce has a much shorter shelf-life, Harman suggests planning meals around it will ensure you’re not wasting what you’ve bought.
Canned, frozen produce
If a packed schedule often prevents you from preparing fresh items, Harman says to opt for a minimally processed frozen or canned option. When buying canned fruits, make sure they are packed in 100 percent juice, not syrup. For canned veggies, opt for a low-sodium or “no salt added” product.
Canned tomatoes are the most cost-effective option for when you need to buy outside of the summer season. Harman suggests stocking up stock up when canned tomatoes are on sale.
In the frozen section, vegetables are often harvested and frozen at the peak of the season, ensuring the maximum nutritional value.
“They’re already cleaned, they’re already chopped, they’re already prepared for you. It’s wonderful in a pinch when you’re trying to prepare a fast meal.”