A reader asked me a while back how I keep my produce budget under control. My simple answer is that I rarely spend more than $20 on produce. I feel like I know this because our grocery store often has coupons for extra gas points if you spend more than $15, I pay cash at the farmer’s market and often start with a $20, and I pretty much only buy produce at the farm stand so I see the total.
I feel like our biggest budget hit is dairy. That being said, I could be wrong so tomorrow I’m going to analyze our September grocery bills by category and I’ll let you know! Granted it will only be one month, but I have no reason to think its not a representative one.
To more thoroughly cover the produce question, I did an audit in mid-September of what produce we had on hand. I think when people think produce, they often think fresh produce (certainly I did with my initial response above). But, we keep lots of canned and frozen produce around and in these modern times those can be as good, if not better than, fresh.
Apples – We have these year-round. Galas starting in the fall until the grocery supplies start aging and then we switch to Red Delicious. I might by Granny Smith or Cortland for specific fall baking.
Broccoli – I buy this in bulk, in season at the farm stand. Currently we have enough for three meals.
Grapes – The end of a bag that was on sale.
Bananas – 14 ranging from a little green to way over ripe. I usually buy two bunches a week as these are eaten steadily in our house. If they do get too ripe they end up in smoothies, banana cake, or banana bread.
Ginger – A fresh bit good for one meal. I meant to make something with this right when I bought it, but it hasn’t happened yet. Thankfully ginger will keep for a while or I can freeze it.
Campari Tomatoes – I buy roughly one bulk pack of these per week. The kids just eat them sliced.
Jalapeno – 1 to add a kick to some Mexican recipe.
Peaches – 2 that only I will eat. It’s peach season so I’ve been buying a few a week.
Sweet Potatoes – One three pound bag that will be used for muffins. They all love the muffins and they make good snack options for school. I’m the only one who wants to eat cooked sweet potatoes in any form.
Russet Potatoes – About three pounds from a bulk bag. These are our general purpose potatoes, but I can’t store a lot in the summer.
Shallots – I usually buy these one or two at a time. But, I was at BJ’s when I needed them and I use them often enough that a special trip to buy fewer wasn’t warranted. I’ll chop these up and freeze them if necessary.
White Mushrooms – We always have these, mostly for slicing and eating vs cooking.
Lemons – I needed one so I bought a bulk bag thinking I’d eventually use the others.
Onions – One. We don’t use them much in the summer and they don’t keep.
Garlic – One and a half heads. I don’t remember what I bought this for and have no use for the rest at present, but it will keep for a while.
Spinach – One and a half bags. The kids eat this constantly.
Fresh Herbs – We currently have sage & thyme. I usually use dried, but if I can string enough recipes together to justify fresh I will buy them.
Carrots – Roughly three pounds left from a bulk bag. I always have these available.
Celery – Half a package bought for a recipe. I don’t usually have celery around, but I can chop and freeze it if I don’t use the rest.
Miscellaneous leftovers – Three cooked ears of corn, 1/2 an heirloom tomato, and 1/2 a cucumber.
Peaches – One 3-lb bulk bag for smoothies.
Blueberries – Roughly four cups that I froze after we picked them. They will be used for muffins or cobbler.
Celery – I diced up some leftover celery before it went bad. I also left some in stick form because I ran out of time, but this has much more limited use when frozen.
Onions – I was trying out diced, frozen onions since the fresh ones don’t keep in the summer and we don’t use much. One 1-lb bag lasted almost the entire summer. I definitely won’t buy this in the winter when we use a lot of onions and I may just dice and freeze my own next spring.
Pearl Onions – 1 bag that goes with a specific winter recipe.
Corn – One 5-lb bulk bag that we will eat.
Strawberries – One 3-lb bulk bag for smoothies.
In the Pantry:
Dried – Dates, shredded coconut, raisins, and craisins. These are for eating and baking. They all keep basically forever.
Fruits – Three types of applesauce, tropical fruit cups, diced pears, diced peaches, and mandarin oranges. The peaches, pears, and oranges I buy in bulk in single serve containers. All of these fruit options are used for school lunches.
Tomato products – Diced tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and salsa.
Canned vegetables – Corn and peas bought in bulk. We eat the peas, but the corn I use for cooking.
Pickles – These are mostly eaten in the summer so I don’t expect to be restocking anytime soon.
In summary, whether fresh, frozen, or canned I often buy in bulk. To that end, I do find myself planning meals around what fresh produce needs to be eaten up. Or, I break down the fresh produce and freeze it. In any case, it is important to stay on top of what we have so as not to hoard to much unnecessarily.