Fresh produce is available in most communities year round. However, the price goes up and down depending on season, availability, where the produce is grown, and shopping options. It is well known that 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day has many health benefits as well as prevention of heart disease and some types of cancer. How can you make the most of your “produce dollar” when fresh vegetables and fruits are too costly?
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are affordable and/or in season. Many vegetables and fruits have a fairly long “shelf life” in their fresh state, as long as they are kept in a dry, cool place. Buy extra fresh produce when the price is lower, and freeze at home for long-term storage (read the next section to learn about “blanching”). Frozen vegetables and fruits can be great for soups, stews, casseroles, sauces and shakes.
Beware of “specialty” produce that is imported as it may cost more. Also, try to compare prices. Even “basic” produce like apples, onions, and peppers has different varieties at different prices, but all have similar nutrients.
The Freezer Section
If frozen vegetables and fruits are “properly” prepared, they can be just as nutritious as fresh produce. Most produce that you find in the frozen foods section of the grocery store has been “blanched” before packaging to destroy enzymes that will cause changes in flavour, colour, and texture that happen with storage over time. To blanch your own fresh produce, bring a pot of clean water to a rolling boil. Place cut produce in boiling water for about 2 minutes, then drain and put in cold water right away to stop the cooking process. When cooled, pack in freezer containers and store in the freezer for up to 12 months (Note: different vegetables and fruits need different blanching times – 2 minutes is an average).
If you are buying pre-packaged frozen produce, keep in mind that most frozen vegetables do not need to be thawed before cooking, and they need less time for cooking since they have been blanched. More nutrients are retained if the vegetables are cooked for shorter periods of time. Frozen fruits do not need to be thawed completely if you are eating them whole.
To reduce freezer burn, remove as much air as possible from the package before freezing. This helps to prevent moisture loss from the produce.
Canned produce can also be a healthy choice. Canned vegetables may be high in salt, so rinse the vegetables well before cooking and eating. Canned vegetables require shorter cooking time than frozen or fresh produce. Use shorter cooking times and little cooking water when preparing canned vegetables to cut down on nutrient loss. When buying canned fruit, remember that some are packaged in syrup, which can be high in sugar. Try to buy canned fruit packaged in fruit juice, or rinse canned fruit with water if it has been packaged in syrup. Choose unsweetened fruit sauces or 100% fruit juices to avoid added sugar in your diet. When it comes to cost, you might be surprised that some canned vegetables and fruit may actually cost more than the fresh produce. For example, compare the price of canned potatoes with a bag of fresh potatoes –It is likely that the fresh version will cost less in the long run.
Consider canning fresh produce at home. Buying fresh vegetables and fruit in season at lower cost and preserving them for later is a great way to enjoy a variety of produce all year long. Visit Safe Food Handling Tips for Preserving Your Harvest for details on safe home canning methods.
Including vegetables and fruit, whether fresh, frozen, or canned, is an important part of healthy eating everyday. Make healthy choices that work for you and your family.
For more information on how to include vegetables and fruits among the foods you eat every day, contact the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit’s Health Action Line at 1-800-660-5853 or 613-345-5685 and ask to speak to a Registered Dietitian.