This is part of our 5-part series on how to save money on healthy food. Hope you enjoy, and be sure to share how you save money in the comments below!

One of the toughest places to save money in your grocery bill is on produce. There aren’t many coupon opportunities with fresh food and you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) just eat less of them. When you add in trying to avoid conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, it gets even harder.

With a growing 2.5 year old, we go through a lot of fresh fruit in particular. Therefore, we’ve had to find creative ways to save money on food, especially organic. In this post, I’ll share how to save money on food, as it pertains to healthy produce.

How to save money on real food - colorful beetsHow to Save Money on Food: Be flexible

This is the number one way to save money on food. Be flexible. If you are willing to try new vegetables or to forgo your favorite fruit when it’s not on sale, you can save a lot of money each week.

  • Know how to substitute in a recipe. Use raspberries instead of strawberries, or white onions instead of red. The taste won’t always be the same, but sometimes you can come up with some really yummy combinations that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
  • Plan your meals around affordable produce (instead of buying produce to match your meal plan). There are a few ways you can do this. Find a few staple recipes that use in-season ingredients, since you will be most likely to find those for a good price. Also, keep a recipe book (paper or digital) of your favorite recipes, so when you bring home your thrifty produce finds you can match them to a recipe.

Know when to compromise to save money on food

Buying all organic all the time can be very expensive, but there are ways to get the benefits of organic while reducing the harm of conventional produce. Focus on buying organic fruits and vegetables that are on the dirty dozen list, and compromise on conventional produce from the clean 15. You can find this year’s lists here.

For example, my family buys only organic apples, because we love them and eat quite a few every week, and because they are the most contaminated with pesticides. We prefer to buy organic berries too since they are on the dirty dozen too, but since we don’t eat a lot of berries I sometimes buy conventional. I tend to buy conventional onions, asparagus, and avocados. You can also treat conventional produce with a raw apple cider vinegar wash to help reduce some of your pesticide exposure.

Money saving tip: Shop the sales

When organic produce goes on sale, buy as much of it as you can afford and stock your freezer to save money on food. Even if you can’t find exceptional deals on organic produce, you can still save on conventional produce from the clean 15 list. You may even be able to find coupons for bags of organic frozen veggies or organic salad mixes directly from the company.

Though not always the case, sometimes warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club can have good deals on large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Just be sure you can use or preserve it all before it goes bad.

Save on grocery costs and do the work yourself!

Prewashed and cut fruits and veggies can cost twice as much as whole produce. Buying whole organic carrots instead of baby carrots and whole pineapples instead of precut is the best way to save. You can cut and packaging them yourself for on-the-go snacks.

Learning to preserve your bounty is essential if you find a great deal on a bunch of produce. Freezing is usually the easiest way to go if you have the freezer space available, but canning or lacto-fermenting your produce is a great way to preserve since they last a long time and, in some cases, don’t require electricity to store.

I like to cut carrots sticks, slices of peppers, and celery and store them in the refrigerator so they are more accessible. Who wants to bother cutting and slicing veggies when you’re hungry anyway?

Looking to save on fresh foods? Buy in-season.

Stick to in-season fresh produce whenever possible, but don’t be afraid to check the frozen section for out-of-season fruits or veggies that may be cheaper than fresh. Doing this can save you money on food. Check this site for in-season produce in your area. Buy enough in-season produce for the whole year (or as much as you can). Freeze, dry, can, pickle, or ferment anything you can’t use before it goes bad.

Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables because it’s so versatile. If I don’t have enough in my garden, I buy organic zucchini at the farmer’s market and either shred and freeze it to use in bread or zucchini pancakes, or I will bread and fry (or bake) them and then freeze for a quick snack throughout the winter.

Another way to buy “in-season” is with a meal delivery service. All the best meal delivery services work directly with farmers to ensure you’re getting the freshest, in-season produce.

How to save money on real food - grow a garden

Want to save on vegetables? Start a garden

Even if you live in the city, there are a number of easy to grow fruits, veggies, and herbs that can be grown in a windowsill. Herbs are especially expensive to buy fresh, but are relatively easy to grow at home. Some easy-to-grow herbs include rosemary, thyme, chives, mint, oregano, basil, and cilantro.

If you have a little bit of garden space, consider planting some of the produce that you would otherwise buy organic, like those on the dirty dozen list. Berries are a great choice, since they are expensive to buy even when they are on sale.

Farmer’s markets are also a great place to save money on produce

Farmer’s markets are a great place to buy local and organic produce for much less than at the grocery store. Build a relationship with your favorite local farm and learn to negotiate prices.

Also keep in mind that many small farms choose not to become certified organic in order to keep costs low, but may still follow organic guidelines. Ask around. These farms are the best place to get healthy produce for less.

Choose the best time to go to the farmer’s market… arriving at the beginning will ensure the best selection. However, if you show up near closing time, you may be able to get a better deal because many farmers would rather sell produce cheap than have to cart it back home.

You may also be able to get a discount on buying produce by the case or by purchasing the ugly fruit that some folks don’t want.

Joining a CSA can help you save money

Buying a share of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is less expensive than buying similar produce from the store. Check online directories like localharvest.org for local farms where you can buy a share in a CSA. (For a longer list of resources, check out How to Save on Real Food pt 2 – Dairy).

By participating in a produce CSA, you get top quality produce for a reasonable price. You may also get other perks. For example, if a farm has only a small amount of one type of produce, the CSA members often get it first. You may also get access to special deals or members-only events.

How to save money on real food - forage for food

Foraging for food is the ultimate way to save money

Foraging was once a large part of daily life, but is hardly done anymore. For beginner foragers, it’s best to get guidance from an expert on what edibles are available to forage in your area. With a little education, you could be enjoying fresh wild berries or dandelion coffee!

If you’re interested in learning to forage take a look at this list of foraging classes across the U.S. Another great place to find guidance is meetup.com. You may be able to find some local experts who can help you for free.

Of course, stop wasting produce

Have you ever stored produce in the refrigerator, forgotten about it, and then had to search for the foul smell in your fridge a week later? Yep, I know I have. And yep, it’s a huge waste of money. Here are some ways to avoid spoilage.

  • Get organized. Keep a list of what produce you have on the outside of the refrigerator, and check it off as it’s used up. Another way to stay organized is to use one produce drawer for leftovers from the previous week (which should be used first), and one drawer for new produce.
  • Learn how to use up leftover produce. Store carrot ends and other veggies in the freezer. When you have enough, take it out and add it to a pot of water to make broth. When you have just a few leaves of spinach or a couple of strawberries, toss them into the blender and make a smoothie.
  • Buy the freshest produce you can find. The fresher it is, the longer it will last.

How about you?

How do you save money buying produce? Share with us in the comments below so we can learn from each other!