Find out my best tips and tricks for how to buy fruits and veggies on a budget, and most importantly without compromising on the quality.
Do you want to have a fridge loaded with colorful plants but your budget is not always up to the task? In this article, we’re discussing tips and tricks for going plants shopping with confidence while keeping your budget in the normal range. Learn how to make the most of your budget without compromising the quality of the products you buy.
Healthy plants to the rescue
Eating real food and, in general, many different kinds of plants is one of the best investments you can do for your health. This is my philosophy and one of the first things I recommend in almost any scenario. Of course, it also depends what kind of plants you’re eating, when you eat them, how they’re grown or how they’re prepared. But the essence is the same: eat different plants because plants come with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes and healthy fiber. These are the nutrients your body needs to power your daily activity, recover from stressful situations or repair itself.
I must confess that for me, buying plants has been a journey of discovery. From a person who never knew how a celery looks like, to somebody that stocks the fridge (and freezer) with all kinds of plants, I can safely say that I’ve come a long way.
Nowadays I rarely go shopping for food with a specific list in mind, instead I like to discover what’s out there and enjoy the moment (aka browse the store with a coffee in my hand). Most of the time I spend at least 20 minutes in the plants section, this way I let myself be inspired by the colors, textures, shapes and aromas. My philosophy is very simple: I know what plants I have in the fridge and I just buy the ones I’m missing. And since I don’t plan ahead any of my meals or smoothies, this leaves me a lot of room for improvisation when it comes to buying food or cooking it.
My best tips for buying plants on a budget
Visit the discounts area
Every store has a discount area and there’s no shame in checking it out. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities and the quality of the products you’ll find there. If you happen to find say a bag of carrots, it doesn’t mean they’re “expired”, it just means that 1 or 2 of the carrots from the whole bag were bad. Since the bag was opened to remove those bad carrots, it can’t be sold at a regular price anymore, hence why the reduced price. Next time you’re in the fresh food section, go check out that discount area and try buying something.
Quick note: Plants don’t have an expiration date even if your bag of potatoes says otherwise. Giving the proper temperature and humidity, plants can last a long time.
When to go shopping
I’ve discovered that it’s easier to find discounted plants at the end of week, at closing time or 1h after the store opens. These are the best times when stores add products to the discount area. At least this is how it works in Norway and I’ve seen the same thing happen in other places.
Frozen is always cheaper
This is true since frozen plants will keep fresh for longer periods. But did you know that sometimes frozen organic plants are actually cheaper compared to conventionally grown plants that are sold fresh? It’s funny but somehow this is almost always true. This happens fresh plants will go bad quicker (in a matter of days) while frozen plants will keep fresh for months in a row. Simply put, when you buy fresh berries, you pay more because they are ready to eat, not because they are healthier.
Fresh organic plants can cost less
Some fresh organic plants cost the same or less compared to their conventionally grown sisters. In Scandinavia, this is true for fresh bananas, avocados, coconuts, oranges and even broccoli sometimes. Since people tend to buy these plants from organic sources, instead of their conventionally grown versions, the price eventually goes down. It’s all about demand and if there is enough demand, the price will eventually go down.
Buy in bulk
Consider buying large quantities of veggies as the price per kilo will go down very fast. You can buy these from your local market, from local producers, or at the time the plants are in season. I found that this rule applies even better to frozen plants.
For example, instead of buying my broccoli or cauliflower in small sizes (300g), I try to go for the 1kg bag. This way, the price per kilo goes down by half compared to the small-sized bag. Another good practice is to buy in bulk when the plants are cheaper (eg: when they are in season or at a discount) and freeze them yourself.
Mix veggies yourself
Instead of buying ready-made frozen mixes (ex: broccoli + cauliflower + carrot), I’ve discovered that it’s actually cheaper to buy the individual plants and mix them on your own. Plus, it’s healthier since you avoid any added oils or fillers that can be found in some ready-made frozen mixes. This works great especially for frozen plants, since almost every supermarket carries a wide variety of frozen plants.
Here are some of my favorite homemade mixes:
- Berries Bonanza – combine your favorite kinds of frozen berries
- Tropical Wave – mango + pineapple + papaya
- Cruciferous Trio – broccoli + cauliflower + carrots
- Soup Mix – broccoli + peas + green beans + carrots + celery
- Stew Ready – carrots + peas + green beans + cauliflower + broccoli
Buy plants that are in season
You can buy fresh plants when they’re in season and store them in the freezer all year long. It doesn’t take much time to wash and prep them, the only rule being to have a big freezer available and some spare time.
Must buy organic list
There’s a short list of plants you have to buy as organic, since their conventionally grown “sisters” have been found to have more pesticide residue. This includes banana, citric fruits, and all the products listed in the Dirty Dozen list.
Since some plants come with more pesticide residue than others, it’s smart to buy those plants from organic sources. These are usually plants that are very popular (mostly fruits and berries) and also have an edible skin. Berries are a special category since, due to their thin skin and delicate body, are very hard to wash properly without ruining their texture.
No need to buy everything
Want to skip buying something? That’s totally ok! No need to buy a certain plant if it’s too expensive, you can always get it next time. Since prices can vary quite a bit, it’s perfectly ok to balance your budget, especially if you don’t need that ingredient right away. In my book it’s all about averaging the quantities on the long run, plus remember we don’t count calories.
You don’t need many fruits
Some of the fruits can be expensive and certainly more expensive than most veggies. The good news is that you probably won’t be eating too many fruits anyway (fructose is not that healthy), instead my advice is to eat as many veggies as you can. When you think that papaya or mango are quite expensive in most parts of the world, that’s another reason to buy veggies instead of expensive fruits. This is also true for fruits that aren’t in season or are imported from other parts of the world.
Spices are always expensive … or not?
Judging by their price vs quantity ratio, spices look expensive. It turns out that, since we only use a little quantity every time, the price is not an issue after all. Even vanilla powder, one of the most expensive spices I know, doesn’t look expensive compared to how little we actually use every time we make smoothies or desserts.
My best tip for getting good quality spices is to taste them, if you can. The taste and the smell should always be strong, that’s when you’ll know you have a quality product. Organic spices will always be more potent overall (enhanced flavor and health benefits) so they will last you longer.
Nuts, seeds and their derivative butters
Nuts and seeds are great, and I advise you to buy them organic if you can. Nut butters can be a bit pricey but they’re still ok considering the quality of the product itself. Most of the companies offer discounts in the spring and fall seasons, so it’s always a good idea to check their stores around that time.
Dried foods are always “tricky”
You may want to eat dried fruits from time to time (especially dates, figs, prunes, raisins or coconut chips). They’re great as a healthy dessert or a recovery snack, just make sure that what you buy doesn’t come with preservatives or additives of any kind.
Unfortunately, most of the dried fruits I see these days are chemically altered to increase shelf life and those are the kinds you want to avoid. I won’t go into all the details as to why preservatives and additives aren’t healthy, just keep in mind they can do more harm than good for your health, so they should be avoided.
Expensive doesn’t always reflect the quality
Expensive fruits may look beautiful on the outside, but the ones with more nutrients are the ones that look … normal. Most of the time, the price is set based on demand and not necessarily based on quality.
Remember that stores sell products for profit, not for the sake of health. For example, it’s very common that those big pricey apples don’t have any smell or taste, but have a perfect skin; whereas the small ones always smell great and taste even better.
Buy ugly plants
Contrary to what most people think, smaller plants are healthier. That makes sense when you think about this for a minute: plants that look beautiful and stay on the shelf for weeks at a time, are almost always sprayed or engineered to last that long. Those that go bad in just a few days are the ones not treated with nasty chemicals, hence why they go bad quicker. These “ugly” plants are the ones you should look for.
Know the real price
The trick to know if the prices have gone up or down from one week to the next, is to know the real price of the product you want to buy. From my experience, most people are always in a hurry and don’t know the prices when they’re buying something.
My advice is this: next time you go food shopping, spend more time and study all the prices, even take notes for comparing later. You’ll be amazed at how fast the prices change, and how you can save a lot of money if you skip buying those plants that are expensive at certain times.
Know the measurement units
Some plants are sold by weight while others are sold by the unit. Sounds simple, right? But wait, there’s more! From those that sell by weight, some are sold in bulk while others are pre-packaged. This is where many people get confused and spend more money.
From the ones sold by weight and pre-packaged, the price will always be for the package; what happens is you’ll end up paying more for the kilo compared to buying in bulk. Hope you’re still with me and this makes sense to you. For example, buying 250g of tomatoes in a box (pre-packaged) can cost the same as 500g of the same tomatoes sold in bulk. Makes sense, right?
More tips and tricks
Plants come in all shapes and colors
As a child, I wouldn’t eat any kind of raw veggies. In fact, I must confess that I ate my first tomato when I was 16 years old. I didn’t even like ketchup and I didn’t even like pizza. I had my soups and my meats, otherwise I wouldn’t eat anything else. Salads? Not a chance, not me.
Fortunately, these days I pretty much buy (and eat) any kind of fruits and veggies I can find. I tried everything and I like everything. My advice for you is to go out there and buy all the plants you can find (fresh or frozen) without thinking twice. You’ll figure out what to do with them once you’ll get home. Beautiful plants always inspire me to blend new smoothie recipes or to cook something exciting, and I’m sure this can work for you too.
Wash your plants properly
Even with all the organic plants around you, it’s likely that you can’t ignore conventionally grown plants. At least not yet! And since conventionally grown plants pack more pesticide residue, you definitely need to invest some time into selecting them or washing them properly. You just cannot buy any plants from anywhere, and for most of them you need to make sure they’re washed properly before you consume them.
Tips on how to wash your plants:
- You can wash them with plain water but make it at least a few minutes.
- Washing with a solution of baking soda, vinegar or salt water for a few minutes will remove more of the pesticide residue.
- A solution of 5-10% baking soda, vinegar or salt water should be enough to remove most pesticides.
- Keep the plants in the washing solution for at least 5 minutes (ideally 10-15 minutes).
- Make sure you give them a solid rinse for a few straight minutes.
- Here’s a simple rule: if you eat the skin, wash it twice as long.
- Be careful with berries and mushrooms, as they’re very easy to ruin.
- A salad spinner always helps with greens or berries, as they can be easily washed and rinsed.
How to wash plants in 5 easy steps
- Clean your plants by removing any dirt, bugs, or excess soil residues. Use plenty of water if needed.
- Place the plants into a water bowl and add baking soda and/or vinegar (5-10% solution).
- Let them soak for at least 5 minutes (ideally 10 minutes).
- Drain them in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with plain water for a few minutes. Pay special attention to small fruits and delicate plants (things like. berries or mushrooms), too much water pressure can easily ruin them.
- Let them dry naturally at room temperature. Once dried, place them into the fridge or freezer until you consume them.
Buying real food is an investment in your health
Think of plants as an investment in your health. Sometimes it’s smart to invest in organic plants instead of a beer on a Friday night. Maybe you don’t always have a budget for organic plants, but at least make it a priority to buy plants instead of objects or things you don’t need or care about. This kind of mindset has worked wonders for me in terms of health.
Listen to your taste buds
Contrary to what most people would tell you, I advise you to go shopping for food exactly when you’re hungry. You read that right, yes! As a matter of fact, I dare you to also cook when you’re hungry. There’s just one rule: know that if you buy junk food, you’ll get unhealthy. What better motivation is there, anyway? As for myself, I discovered that when I’m hungry, I’m very creative with food shopping or cooking.
Make it a fun activity together
Make shopping and cooking a family activity, not just a boring routine. I always go food shopping with my wife; we get coffee, we discuss our day, we feel good together and we enjoy searching for healthy food. We get creative together and, as a matter of fact, some of our best ideas have developed after taking a trip to the supermarket.
Educate your kids to love plants
It’s true that kids may be easy to trick by food manufacturers, but they can also be easy to educate by you if you have the right approach. Talk to your kids about plants and real food. Explain to them why a certain product can be unhealthy for them and how they can benefit from eating fresh plants or from drinking smoothies. Let them choose the plants they feel like eating or ask them to help you in the kitchen.
Visit local markets when you travel
Depending on where you live, there’s a big chance that some of the plants you buy are imported from other countries. This means you don’t get them ripen plus the prices are higher compared to their original land.
With this idea in mind, make it a plan to visit local markets and local producers next time you travel. This way you’ll know the real value of some of those imported plants, and this can really help you plan your budget better. You’ll know if a certain plant is too expensive in your local supermarket and if it’s worth buying it.
Check out local producers
Look out for local producers, go check their farms and talk to them. Depending on where you live, this is true from early summer to late fall. Ask them how their food is grown and taste local traditional products. They are out there and the odds are they’re growing their fruits and veggies naturally, not to mention that the prices will almost always be lower compared to supermarkets.
Checklist for buying healthy plants
- Buy as many organic fruits and veggies as you can.
- Always read the labels and know what you’re buying.
- Always look for hidden oils, especially when buying nuts and seeds or frozen vegetable mixes.
- When buying nuts, seeds or dried fruits, look for the ones that are unprocessed (avoid roasted, baked or coated).
- Always look for preservatives and added sugars, especially in dried fruits.
- Wash all the plants properly before eating them.
- Avoid frozen veggies mixes that come with added oils and/or preservatives.
- Always read the labels, even if the product “looks natural”.
- Know the real price of food and skip the plants that are too expensive and don’t fit in your budget.
- Learn what foods you need to buy organic and which ones are safe to buy from conventionally grown sources.
- Don’t forget to check the discounted area before leaving the store.
- Involve your kids with buying plants and food preparation;This is a great way to educate them towards eating more plants.
- Make food shopping a fun family activity and buy plants in all shapes and colors.
I hope that you enjoyed my tips for buying plants on a budget. What are your best tips for going shopping for plants on a budget?