How Not to Waste Money on a Healthy Eating Plan

This post from The Civilised Caveman George Bryant reminded me that I wanted to post an update to my Healthy Eating on a Budget from back in May.

There are many ways to save money when you're eating healthy on a budget, and I think the most important way is JUST DON'T WASTE IT!  Sometimes this may get lost in the overall message of eating right.  Is eating healthy more costly than eating junk food?  Here in Canada it is, but in the US, land of the Dollar Menu, not always.  So here are some tips on where you can not waste money, starting with the download from the Civilized Caveman linked above.  Knowing how long foods generally "last" is half the battle, and knowing how to store them is the other half.  The third half (yes, I suck at maths!) is knowing what to buy, and what not to buy.

A couple of things I would like to add to George's list are leafy greens and some vegetables.  How to keep them from going all wilty and gross.  First, for leafy greens like lettuce, keep it in a salad spinner in the refrigerator.  I have found that keeping the lettuce (or kale, or spinach...) cold and humid, but not directly wet, helps to keep it fresh longer.  If you don't have a salad spinner, keep it in a plastic produce bag, like you get in the produce section at the grocery store.  These can be re-used a few times, just rinse and dry them on the dish rack.  Plastic is very wasteful, but sometimes a necessary evil.  A salad spinner will last almost a lifetime, so your choice ;)

The same goes for celery, carrots, Brussels sprouts, keep them in a plastic produce bag in the fridge, in the drawer labeled "vegetables".  Believe it or not, there is a reason there are 2 drawers in your fridge, one for vegetables and one for fruits.  The humidity levels in each drawer are different, and in some models, may be adjustable.  Each shelf in your fridge is also more suited to some foods than others. 

What's a fruit and what's a vegetable?  And which should be refrigerated and which ones don't need it?  Anything that has internal seeds is a fruit.  Cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, avocados, olives, squashes, etc.  Yes, they're commonly served as vegetables, but botanically they are fruits and this should be kept in mind when you're trying to figure out how to store them.  Cucumbers and zucchinis tend to go mushy within a few days of picking, so keep an eye on them and don't buy more than you're going to eat within that time frame.  There's nothing worse than putting your hand into the crisper to grab some fruit and coming up with a handful of slimy mush!  Yuck! 

There's another tip hidden in there...don't buy more than you're going to use within its lifespan!  It doesn't matter if zucchini are on sale $1 per dozen if you are not going to eat a dozen zucchini before they turn to mush, you've just wasted $1.  And if you add up all the food that you have thrown out within the past 12 months because it's gone bad, I'll bet you'd have enough at least for a movie night out with your paramour!  Although, you could make a few loaves of zucchini bread and then freeze it! 

If you know how to preserve food, DO IT!  Last year I taught myself how to make pickles and stuff.  It's really incredibly easy, maybe a bit messy, and will certainly take up a day of your time, but then you've got a pantry full of pickles to last you a few months!  If you can forage wild food in your neighbourhood, do that too!  Last week I went and foraged a bag full of wild apples and made a few jars of applesauce (scalded myself with the boiling water in the process too! so be very careful!).  I plan to go out and get some more too.  Free food is awesome, and free food that'll last you through the winter is even better!  I personally don't like applesauce, but my mother does, so I made it for her. 

If you have a freezer, utilise it to it's full capacity!  A full freezer is a better functioning freezer.  During this harvest season, go and buy up fresh fruits and vegetables by the bucket load, and then freeze it for later in the winter.  Frozen vegetables and fruits are more nutritious for you than produce that has traveled thousands of kilometers to get to you in the dead of winter.  If you go direct to your farmer and do your shopping, you know it was picked that morning, or just the day before, and if you freeze it directly when you get home, it's still fresher than anything you'll buy in January in your grocery store.

Berries can be frozen directly, some vegetables will need to be "blanched" first.  For berries, spread them on a baking sheet that's covered with a sheet of parchment paper (this will keep them from sticking to the metal pan) or use a silicone mat.  Put them in the freezer for a few hours, then put them in a freezer bag.  Freezing them on the pan before sticking them in a bag will keep them from getting all mashed together.  Easy peasy!  Fresh berries all winter long!  I've got 2 bags of strawberries (I will probably buy another flat before the season is over), 6 bags of raspberries (from my own garden :) ) and 3 bags of blueberries.  I've also got a bag of rhubarb (from my own, and my neighbour's garden).  Some fruits can also be frozen in the method as well, but may need to be sliced first.  Like apples, peaches, nectarines etc.

Yesterday I froze a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower.  These need to be blanched before you can put them in the freezer, otherwise they kind of get gross :p  To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to to a rolling boil, once boiled put the vegetable in the water for up to one minute, then remove and place on a parchment covered baking sheet.  If you have more vegetable than will fit, do them in batches.  Allow the water to come to a full boil again between batches.  Wait for it to cool before putting in the freezer.  Once frozen, put in freezer bags.  Broccoli at the farm was $1 per head, and cauliflower was $1.50.  In the winter "fresh" broccoli or cauli would be $3 or $4 each, and not very fresh!  A bag of frozen would also be about $4 or $5, so I've saved a couple of dollars right there, and it only took me about 10 minutes maybe to prep it all and stick it in the freezer.  Green and yellow beans can also be blanched and frozen for later use. 

It's almost my favourite harvest time, PUMPKINS!  I just love pumpkin all year long, but of course, getting fresh pumpkin in March is not going to happen!  Sometimes even trying to find a can of pumpkin puree in March can be tricky, so for the past few years I have just bought a whole bunch of pie pumpkins and processed them myself.  There's a little bit more work involved for squashes/pumpkins than for broccoli, but oh my is it worth it when you're craving pumpkin custard in the dead of winter!  Make sure you buy pie pumpkins, at most farms they're pretty cheap in October.  I usually buy 6 or 8 of them.  Cut the pumpkin in half through the equator (as opposed to pole to pole), scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, and put them face down on a baking sheet with a bit of water and bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.  Check to see if you can easily insert a sharp knife through the rind, if yes, remove from the oven.  If not, return to the oven for a few minutes.  Let them cool before you scoop out the flesh from the rind, you don't want to burn yourself.  Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and put it into your food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, a stick blender/immersion blender, or high powered blender will also do, it'll just take longer.  Process until there are no lumps, then measure out 2 cups for each small size freezer bag.  Most recipes for pie will use about 2 cups.  Store the small bags in a larger freezer bag.  You can use this method for pretty much any squash.  Just make sure you label them if you're keeping different kinds in the freezer.  You don't want to make a a pumpkin pie and find out after it's done that it was actually a pepper squash!

George also didn't mention ginger root.  I love ginger root, but it usually goes moldy in the fridge before we can use the whole thing.  Keep it in the freezer!  Wrap it in a couple layers of freezer bag, and it'll be good for up to a year.  I've kept mine for that long anyway, and it still tastes fine.  It's great for stir fries, soup or tea like this.  If you have a recipe that calls for "fresh" ginger root, you may want to go buy one, and then freeze what's left over.  Garlic cloves can also be frozen.

Avocados!  These are tricky little fruits, but oh so tasty!  I usually buy the bag of 5 or 6 of them, and when I get home I put the darkest one on the counter for eating within the next day or 2, and put the rest in the fruit crisper.  I take out one as I am about to eat the one that's on the counter.  Keeping it in the fridge will slow down the ripening process, putting it on the counter with other fruit will speed it up.

Things that don't need to be refrigerated!  Potatoes, whether white or sweet, do not need to be in the fridge, and keeping them there can actually affect the taste.  Keep them in a cool dry place.  If you have a root cellar, it's called that for a reason ;)  Use it!  Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips etc can all be kept in the root cellar, or a cool humid place.  They're ok in the crisper, but if you have a place under that stairs, or in the basement, they're good there too.  Just don't forget about them.  This blog here has a lot of tips for storing root vegetables.  As does Mother Earth News.

Tomatoes also do not need to be kept in the fridge, and will taste better if they're not.  Keep them on the counter, and only buy as many as you're going to use before they go bad.  Citrus fruits, apples, pears, etc also do not need to be in the fridge, but will be ok in the crisper.  Again, don't buy more than you're going to use.  Bananas can be frozen.  I peel them first, and put them in a freezer bag.  They're good for smoothies or ice cream, but not much good in lunches ;)  They do turn a bit brown after a while, but that's ok. 

That's a lot of information to digest, so I'll leave you with that for now.  If you have questions or comments, please post below, or send me an email to 


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