Stretch Your Food Dollar: Fresh vs. Frozen
This is the eleventh installment in our weekly series about food budgeting.
You may have noticed that the price of produce has gone up since the end of the summer. Part of that, of course, is the current trend of food inflation that has been tied to the rising price of oil (despite this week’s dip during the debates about the Wall Street bailout). Another component of the recent upturn in food prices is the end of the summer harvest season. If you’re trying to stretch your food dollar, right now is a good time to think about purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables.
One of the obvious pros of buying frozen produce is price. Here’s a quick comparison on a few basic items:
Fresh Asparagus $3.99/lb
Frozen Asparagus $1.99/12 oz
Fresh Green Beans $2.49/lb
Frozen Green Beans $2.29/24 oz
Fresh Broccoli Crowns $1.99/lb
Frozen Broccoli Crowns $1.29/lb
Fresh Blueberries $2.99/6 oz
Frozen Blueberries $2.29/12 oz
You don’t really need to worry about any nutritional loss with frozen vegetables, because they are usually frozen immediately after harvest. And the taste of frozen vegetables is pretty close to fresh. In fact, compared to canned vegetables and fruit, frozen vegetables are superior by far. Another benefit of frozen versus canned is that they don’t have the added sodium that canned veggies do. And canned fruits are often soaked in sugary syrups. If you’re watching your carbs or you’re a diabetic, canned fruits are really not an option, despite any of the price differences.
The final advantage is convenience. Normally I wouldn’t recommend buying precut fruit and veggies because you pay more. But frozen produce is the exception. The produce is already washed and cut. All you have to do is heat up your veggies by putting them in boiling water for just a minute or two. This is perfect for mid-week meals when you’re running late or you just don’t feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
Keep in mind that you need to rotate the food on your freezer regularly, and you also need to store items properly so that you don’t get freezer burned food. Although I’m a vegetarian, my partner is not. I cook meat for him once a week. We get our meat in bulk at Costco. A package of porkchops or chicken breast can last us two months. First I split up the larger package into portion sizes. Then I wrap the meat in parchment paper before I put in in a plastic bag. For vegetables, you should keep items in their original packages. But remember to put everything into a freezer bag after the package has been opened. Nobody likes the taste of freezer burned vegetables, and you don’t want to waste the money you’ve saved because you had to throw that solid block of frozen corn into the trash.
On an unrelated side note, I also wanted to talk about the loss of bees this week. You may or may not have noticed that bees are disappearing. There have been several explanations for the great bee die off, but no one knows for sure where all the bees have gone. The loss of bees is having a devastating effect on the agriculture industry. Over $15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year, and the lack of bees to pollinate crops is putting a dent in crop yields.
Why should you care about bees? Well, smaller crop yields mean higher food prices. And if you’re growing your own vegetables to stretch your food dollar, you may have noticed that your plants are producing flowers, but no fruit. It’s frustrating to see the investment of time and money that you’ve put into your garden stalling because your plants aren’t producing fruit without bees to pollinate the flowers. You will inevitably have to pollinate your plants by hand, but you should also think about planting flowers and shrubs to try to attract bees to your yard. I saw my first bee in the yard yesterday and I couldn’t have been happier! So do yourself and the rest of us a favor: welcome bees into your yard so that they’ll keep pollinating the flowers.
Photo credit: stock.xchng.