Many people on a tight budget, including college students, think that fruits and vegetables are beyond their budget. Maybe a carton of orange juice and a package of carrots are affordable, but five to nine servings a day? No way.
If that sounds like you, it’s time for some facts. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published data showing that the average American family spends more money on food than is necessary to consume a nutritious diet— one that includes the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. The report concluded that, contrary to popular opinion, people on a tight budget can eat healthfully, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, and spend less on food.
So how do you do it? Here are some tips:
- Focus on five fresh favorites. Throughout the United States, five of the least expensive, perennially available fresh vegetables are carrots, eggplant, lettuce, potatoes, and summer squash. Five fresh fruit options are apples, bananas, pears, pineapple, and watermelon.
- Buy small amounts frequently. Most items of fresh produce keep only a few days, so buy amounts that you know you’ll be able to eat or freeze.
- Celebrate the season. From apples to zucchini, when fruits and veggies are in season, they cost less. If you can freeze them, stock up. If not, enjoy them fresh while you can.
- Do it yourself. Avoid prewashed, precut fruits and vegetables, including salad greens. They cost more and often spoil faster. Also, choose frozen 100 percent juice concentrate and add the water yourself.
- Buy canned or frozen on sale, in bulk. Canned and frozen produce, especially when it’s on sale, maybe much less expensive than fresh. Most frozen items are just as nutritious as fresh and can be even more so, depending on how long ago the fresh food was harvested. For canned items, choose fruits without added sugars and vegetables without added salt or sauces. Bear in mind that beans are legumes and count as a vegetable choice. Low sodium canned beans are one of the most affordable, convenient, and nutritious foods you can buy. If you can’t find low-sodium beans, just rinse them before heating.
- Fix and freeze. Make large batches of homemade soup, vegetable stews, and pasta sauce and store them in single-serving containers in your freezer.
- Grow your own. All it takes is one sunny window, a pot, soil, and a packet of seeds. Lettuce, spinach, and fresh herbs are particularly easy to grow indoors in small spaces.