budget talk

Why Should Budget Smart Cooks Love Their Veggies?

Well, actually everyone should love eating vegetables, but for those of us who watch the pennies, veggies offer great value. They pack lots of nutrition and can even help you stretch your food dollar. Here are some other reasons to love veggies.

You Can Always Find Them at the Store
Okay, some vegetables aren’t available year round, but stop by any produce department and you’ll always find items to make a low cost meal. Things like broccoli, mushrooms, peapods, peppers…all the basics for a stir-fry. And if you’re using beef, chicken or shrimp in that stir- fry, use less of these items and simply double up on the vegetables. I’m taking a guess you and your family won’t notice the difference.

They’re Great for the Freezer
One way to make sure all vegetables are available year round is to buy them while they’re in abundance, and therefore, cheaper, and freeze them. Farmer’s markets will be opening again, so check out the first crops of the season.

They Even Have Frozen and Canned Cousins?
When fresh vegetables aren’t available you can use their frozen and canned counterparts. But should fresh vegetables always be considered the best? Most health experts say as produce is usually frozen or canned as soon as it’s picked, the vitamin and mineral content remains intact. And most nutritionists give the following guidelines, first select fresh, then frozen, and finally canned. I have to admit I used to feel really guilty if I relied on too many frozen and canned vegetables for meals, but now I base my decision on the following points-

What’s In Season?
I look at what’s available, how much it costs and compare it to what’s in the freezer section. Another thing to consider is what’s on sale. Most stores have some type of promotion on frozen vegetables at least once a month. So even in summer, buying frozen often makes more sense. Another plus to buying frozen or canned vegetables is there’s no waste. Everything’s trimmed and prepared, so you know everything is going to be eaten. No more broccoli stalks or corn husks to toss away. Here’s a site that tells you when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, which I find really helpful www.kqed.org/topics/home/cooking/whats-in-season.jsp

What Type of Recipe Am I Making?
I have lots of pasta recipes that use peas as one of the ingredients. Since I haven’t seen fresh peas in the produce section for years, I’ve got no alternative but to use the frozen kind. Plus, the taste of the dish never seems to be compromised.

How Does the Price Compare?
A favorite dish that I make at least once a month is vegetable lasagna, and one of the main ingredients for my recipe is spinach. For those of you who have used the fresh variety, I probably don’t have to tell you that when spinach is heated it becomes the incredible shrinking vegetable. The first time I used frozen spinach for this lasagna recipe, I must admit that I did feel guilty, but now I know it makes perfect sense. The frozen spinach is cheaper and cuts the preparation time in half. The bottom line is you still get a healthful meal and sometimes for pennies less.

Remember the Five Fruit and Vegetable A Day Recommendation
Do you sometimes avoid recipes using fresh vegetables because you haven’t got time to clean, peel and cook them? If that’s the case then definitely opt for the frozen or canned varieties.

I’m Throwing Away the Veggies
I don’t know anyone who’s not guilty of buying fresh produce only to let it sit and rot in the refrigerator. Frozen and canned foods have a longer shelf life. And having to toss away spoiled produce isn’t saving you money.

Sometimes the Taste is Better
One vegetable I really prefer in the canned variety is asparagus. I don’t know why, but the fresh version just doesn’t impress me. And if you have children who are picky about eating their veggies, you can add a few canned vegetables to the odd dish or two, and most of the time they can’t taste them. Even frozen mixed vegetables can be added to things like casseroles and soups and usually children won’t complain.

I Don’t Have Those Ingredients
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started to make a recipe and realized I don’t have a particular vegetable sitting in the refrigerator. One thing I always fall back on is my pantry supply of canned and frozen foods. The only concern I have about canned vegetables is their sodium content. I usually rinse them in water, which won’t get rid of all the sodium, but at least cuts down on some of it.

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