You know eating fruit and vegetables is good for you.
But which frugal fruit and veg should you choose when you’re on a tight budget?
In other words, which fruit and vegetables fill you up and give you the most nutrition for the least cost?
If your grocery budget is really tight, it’s important to get the most value for money, not just eating as cheaply as you can.
Here’s the shorthand version of how to do that:
- Stock up on the ‘ever-frugal’ veggies listed below.
- Combine these with fruit and veg in season (and when it’s cheap).
- Supplement with frozen fruit and vegetables; and
- Grow a few greens of your own.
The last article was a list of frugal pantry staples (including beans, which are technically a vegetable but never mind). Today’s article is a list of ever-frugal fruits and vegetables which, in addition to your pantry staples, are a foundation on which to build a variety of frugal meals.
Ever-frugal Fruit and Vegetables
Ever-frugal vegetables are ones that are:
- Cheap all year round
- Have a high nutrient value per calorie, giving you great value for money; and
- Store well, which helps reduce waste
How did I come up with this list?
Researchers from the Paterson University compared the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables and developed a list of 41 ‘powerhouse’ veggies in the order of the nutrients per calorie.
The nutrients measured are ones considered vital for health by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. They didn’t measure things like phytochemicals, which is why there are some surprising omissions on the list. You can see the entire list of powerhouse produce and read some of the rationale behind it here.
From this powerhouse list, I’ve picked some of the cheapest and most shelf-stable fruits and vegetables based on my own experience as well as this study done by the US Department of Agriculture on the cost of vegetables (PDF).
And I’ve added a few obvious frugal extras that while aren’t considered ‘powerhouse’ vegetables, they are still healthy and very cheap, so worth having on the ‘ever-frugal’ list.
7 Ever-Frugal Fruits and Vegetables
The top cheapest and most nutritious vegetable is cabbage.
The best use of cabbage is to make your own sauerkraut, which is super easy. This inoculates the cabbage with a host of good bacteria, making this highly nutritious food even more nutritious! And it lasts a long time this way too.
Other ways to serve it so it’s not boiled goop is as a fresh, crunchy coleslaw, braised, sauteed, or roasted.
Onions and Garlic
Onions did not actually make the list, but they are super cheap ‘prebiotic’ food, which means they feed good bacteria.
Besides using as a flavour base for just about everything, onions can also shine in their own right in frugal dishes like caramelised onion frittata and French Onion Soup.
Uncut pumpkin is super versatile and can be stored for weeks, sometimes months in a cool dark place.
Roast pumpkin for that deliciously sweet caramel flavour and serve with the Sunday roast. You can also put roast pumpkin in risotto, make roast pumpkin frittata or roast pumpkin salad. Pumpkin curry is also delicious.
Carrots are usually around 99 cents a kilo in the supermarket, giving you great value for money.
Sweet Potatoes (and regular)
While it was just sweet potatoes that made the powerhouse list, you can’t have a frugal list without including regular white potatoes too. Both varieties are cheap, filling and nutritious.
Sweet potato can be used in just about any way regular white potatoes can be used.
Roast, mash, steam, fry, turn into chips. Serve as a side, bulk up curries and casseroles, make gnocchi.
Like onion and garlic, a dash of citrus can level up the flavour of many dishes. Jamie Oliver puts a squeeze of lemon on just about everything.
As well as eating them plain, you can also juice them or add a squeeze to your glass to liven up plain water.
Keep citrus juice for even longer by squeezing and freezing it in ice cube trays. And don’t forget to save some rind!
Some of my favourite ways to use citrus include:
The only fruits beside citrus that made the powerhouse list were strawberries and blackberries, neither of which are cheap to buy, although if you can pick them for free, you can’t get more frugal than that!
And while buying fruit in season will mean you can get good prices on a variety of fruits, apples are usually always available cheaply and they’re another staple that will store for a long time.
Eat Variety on a Budget
Ever-frugal fruit and vegetables are just the start. To eat healthy on a budget and get plenty of variety, couple these with in-season, frozen and homegrown produce.
Diversify By Eating in Season
Seasonality has a big impact on the cost of fruit and veg. Many of those ‘powerhouse’ vegetables that didn’t make the ever-frugal list are cheap when in season.
Seasonality will depend on where you live, so keep an eye on prices throughout the year to discover what’s cheap and in season in your region.
You can also check out these printable seasonality guides for Australia, although again, there will be some regional differences.
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables offer great value for money. They are usually just as nutritious as fresh or more so as they are snap frozen when picked at their best.
You can buy frozen vegetables for as little as $1 a kilo and because they’re frozen, they have a long shelf-life, so they provide exceptional value in a frugal kitchen.
Go extra frugal and stock up on fruit and veg when it’s in season and freeze it yourself to enjoy cheaply throughout the off-season.
Grow Your Own
Some of the top ‘powerhouse’ veggies are also some of the easiest plants to grow.
Anyone can grow a pot of parsley or watercress on a warm windowsill.
And greens like lettuce, parsley, chard, kale, mustard greens, rocket, chives, dandelion are all super easy to grow in the garden, in pots, in hanging baskets, in vertical gardens and even hydroponically.
Snip what you need, and the plant will continue to grow and feed you for weeks and months on end.
The foundation of any frugal meal is frugal ingredients. If you have a well-stocked frugal pantry and some ever-frugal fruits and vegetables on hand, you can make a wide variety of cheap and healthy meals. For extra variety, add some seasonal vegetables and animal proteins if you eat them, which is the subject of the next article.