You can stretch your weekly produce allowance if you check out the marked-down, overripe fruits and veggies in your grocery store! Here’s how to use clearance produce so you can shave dollars off your family’s grocery budget.
I’m all about incorporating more fresh fruits and veggies into our diet, but produce prices can add up quickly–especially in the months when we can’t supplement from our garden. In an effort to be frugal in the grocery store, I’ve come to rely on clearance produce to keep our grocery budget low.
I’ve found that you can stretch your weekly produce allowance a lot further if you check out the marked-down, overripe fruits and veggies!
I actually map out my grocery trips to stop at the clearance shelves and bins first. Most stores have these, and if you’re not sure if yours does, don’t be afraid to ask the store manager what they do with the overripe produce that isn’t at its prime but is not bad either. By taking advantage of these deals, you can shave up to 50-75% off your produce budget!
However, there are limits to what you can do with clearance produce. Keep these important tips in mind:
How to take advantage of clearance produce in the grocery store
Make a Quick, Mental Plan Before Buying
I’ve made the mistake far, far too many times of buying too much clearance produce. While 5 pounds of mushrooms for $2 may sound great at the time, if they all go bad before you can use them, then it’s $2 wasted.
While I scour the clearance produce shelves, I try to form a mental plan of what I will do with the items. Some clearance produce items are eaten fine as is! But many times they make the mark-down racks because they may have a bruise or be extra soft, etc. Can I turn the bruised apples into crock pot applesauce? Can I cook these soft tomatoes into a yummy pasta sauce? I find that without a plan, my “great buys” may buy themselves time rotting in my fridge only to be tossed in the compost or trash can.
Be Willing To Change Your Meal Plan
In her Plan It, Don’t Panic meal planning eBook, Stephanie stresses the benefits of making a flexible meal plan. This is key when taking advantage of clearance produce.
If you’ve planned on baking chicken tenders with a green bean casserole that night but spy a big bag of lettuce for 50% off, skip the green beans and serve grilled chicken salads instead! Move your night’s original meal onto the next night.
Know Your Produce’s Typical “Lifespan”
Believe it or not, there are actually a few produce items that will keep long past the point where they make it to the clearance shelves. Of course, the sooner you eat these items, the more nutritional value you will consume. It’s important to know which items will last longer than others–which foods can be stored in the fridge, frozen or used immediately, or used up or lost altogether.
Here are some basic guidelines for using up clearance produce before it spoils:
Store in the Fridge
These can sit in the fridge a few days if you don’t already have a plan for them:
- apples – I frequently find organic apples on clearance at the health food store–sometimes as low as $.49/pound in season! These will last a very long time, and if they do start to brown, you can easily make some applesauce, toss them into a smoothie or make a yummy apple crisp!
- carrots – If they don’t show signs of going bad right away, they’ll last in your fridge for quite a while. If you don’t think you’ll use them before they do rot, go ahead and chop or shred and freeze them. If you freeze them you won’t be able to eat these raw, but they’ll be perfect in a soup, like this Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup!
- citrus fruits – Unless they are growing mold (and, in that case, you need to toss them!), even clearance citrus fruits should last a bit longer than other produce.
Eat or Freeze
You should either eat or freeze these items the same day you purchase them:
- mangoes, pears, peaches and most fruits in general – If they are already soft and a bit mushy, you need to use them that day, or you can easily puree and freeze them in ice-cube trays. You can feed the thawed purees to your baby, or you can toss the frozen fruit cubes into a smoothie, like this Blueberry Banana Green Tea Smoothie. Freshly-pureed fruit is also perfect for making fruit leather. Ripe fruit is also perfect for making desserts and jellies/jams.
- bananas – These freeze so well! I usually puree mine first, so I can easily use the puree to make breads, muffins or in smoothies.
- greens – If you don’t plan on making a salad, specific greens dish (like this pasta with greens and mushrooms), or some fun kale chips that day, steam and puree these as well. Again, you can feed the thawed puree to your baby or use the frozen cubes in a green smoothie. You could also mix the thawed greens into a soup or dip.
- peppers – I never leave peppers on the clearance shelf. Whether you cut them into strips or chop them into chunks, peppers freeze extremely well.
- avocados – I have personally haven’t tried freezing these, but it can be done. Ripe avocados are perfect for making guacamole. Or, like many of the above, toss them into a smoothie!
Use It or Lose It
There are a few items that you really cannot freeze–and will not last in the fridge long either:
- mushrooms – Supposedly you can freeze them, but they must be fresh. If you don’t use them up quickly, they’ll go to waste.
- lettuce – I haven’t found a good way to preserve lettuce. So if you aren’t making that salad asap, leave that head of romaine on the shelf.
Did you buy too many clearance fruits and veggies? Here are 8 ways to use up leftover produce!