As soon as the weather gets hot, I really start enjoying produce. I find juicy fruits, and light greens so refreshing, and stews and hearty fare start to just seem too heavy. I think it’s a bit of a joke to say that buying fresh produce is “cheap.” There is a misconception that buying and eating produce will save you money. That’s not always true. The government subsidizes many crops, such as corn, which are then made into a wide variety of products (such as corn syrup), which then makes junk food cheaper than it should be. (Sometimes junk food really is cheaper to buy, which can be discouraging when you're trying to eat well.)
While quality food is always going to cost money, there are ways to help make it fit into a limited budget. Here are some ideas for you (and I’d love to hear yours as well!)
Get lettuce at the farmers market
One of the things that I notice is that while it may be the same price to buy a head of lettuce at my local store, and the farmers market, often the heads of lettuce at the farmers market are huge! I have gotten at least twice the amount of lettuce from one head of lettuce when bought at the farmers market. This is especially true during the peak seasons for greens. It is a simple way to get fresher lettuce for less. (The above photo is some of the lettuce I am talking about!)
Save money on quality oils for homemade salad dressings
It’s often the extra virgin olive oil that kills my budget when making homemade dressings — especially since I try to buy from farmers I can trust to be selling me the real thing (read this post on how so much of olive oil on the market is laced with inferior oils). However, my Nutiva coconut oil is about half the price of the quality olive oil I buy in bulk (and most olive oils I can buy at the store that are good quality are far more expensive per ounce).
Some have had success using coconut oil by simply melting it very gently right before mixing it with other salad dressing ingredients, and not letting it chill (which would make it re-solidify). You could also make Mary’s Oil Blend, which uses equal amounts of non-toasted sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, and melted coconut oil. This helps prevent the coconut oil taste from overwhelming the salad and it is supposed to be a better oil for weight loss as well. Generally speaking, sesame oil and coconut oil are much cheaper than buying a reliable brand of olive oil, so mixing olive oil with both of them will significantly cut down on your salad dressing costs.
Use raw apple cider vinegar
I love many of the specialty vinegars, but they are generally much more expensive per ounce. Even a moderately-priced organic balsamic vinegar is much more expensive than raw apple cider vinegar. I thought that raw apple cider vinegar was not a very good salad dressing vinegar, until I figured out how to balance its flavor with mustard, garlic and herbs. You can check out my Everyday Salad Dressing recipe from "Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons," on this PDF sample from my book. It uses Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, and has been quite popular! My salad cookbook also utilizes this vinegar a lot.
Use leftovers in your salad
Shredded meats, leftover beans or grains, roasted vegetables, and other leftovers can be delicious additions to your green salads, and helps cut down on waste in your kitchen. Since you don’t have to buy new ingredients to top your salad with, I find it helpful in keeping my food budget down as well.
Grow your own
I wrote about my (mis)adventures trying to learn how to garden here. However, I have saved a lot of money by growing my own tomatoes in the past (they do great in containers, which is perfect for those who don’t have a garden plot), and many have a lot of success growing salad greens (mine are doing well this year!), cucumbers, and zucchini (which make a great addition to salads).
Those are some of my tips. I’d love to hear any ideas you have too.