Get the Most Out of Your CSA Share: How to Waste Less Food and Save Money

Reducing Food Waste Means Saving Money Find Out How To Waste Less Food

Have you signed up for a vegetable community supported agriculture (CSA) share this year? Are you a bit worried about how you will eat through your share without wasting a lot of it?  As CSA season is just getting started, I thought it would be a great time to share some of the tips and tricks that help me keep produce waste to a minimum, which means saving money.

As I shared with you last week, food waste is significant in North American households. Several years ago, I realized my family was wasting a lot of food.  I decided we had to do better.  Then, three years ago, I signed up for a vegetable CSA share.  The CSA share meant that I would no longer be the one selecting our vegetables, or even the quantity of vegetables.  I was getting what was in season.  The farmer, and Mother Nature, was deciding for me.   At that point, I knew I really had to implement a strong strategy to minimize our food waste.

Reducing food waste is good for the planet, and good for the wallet.

Produce waste can be a problem, regardless of where you buy it (a CSA share, the grocery store or the farmer’s market). Having a CSA share can pose some particular challenges, as you don’t have control over what or how much you buy.  This strategy can help.

Make the most of your CSA vegetable share. Learn how to waste less food.

My first vegetable CSA box of the 2016 season.

When you pick up your vegetable share:

  • Ask about any unfamiliar items – The person giving you your share should be able to identify any new to you vegetables, and let you know the best way to prepare them.

 

  • Note what you can’t / won’t eat – There may be some items that your family doesn’t like or can’t eat. In this case, if you can’t leave it at your pickup location, make arrangements to donate the unwanted items to family, friends, or neighbours. They will likely be happy to receive these farm fresh offerings.

 

When you first get home with your vegetables:

  • Inventory what you have – Knowing what you have will help you meal plan for the week.

 

  • Post list on the fridge—You’ve taken inventory of what you have, now place the list in a prominent place where you will see it. I keep a whiteboard on my fridge. I list my vegetables on it as well as the meat in my freezer, and erase items as I use them up. This way, I can easily see what I have at all times. It has eliminated that moment of discovering an item that made its way to the back of the fridge only to be found weeks later. It also helps me decide what to make for dinner and I don’t even have to open the fridge or freezer door to hunt to see if I have a particular item.

 

  • Clean and put away – A bit of extra time spend at this stage can greatly extend the shelf life of your produce. Clean the excess dirt from root vegetables before putting them away. Dirt can harbour bacteria that will accelerate decomposition. Select the best storage method for each item. I shared some of these with you here.

 

Over the week/2 weeks between vegetable pickups:

  • Make a meal plan – A meal plan helps you map out how you will use all the fresh produce you have on hand that week. Try planning your meals around the vegetables. Yes, I said the vegetables. I know this may seem radical for North American meat centered meals, but this way, you actively think about using your vegetables, as opposed to having them be an afterthought. I find that by looking at my inventory of vegetables I see patterns of what I want to use together, and it helps to me plan my meals. For example, if I have broccoli, carrots and peppers, I might plan for a stir fry, while tomatoes, hot peppers and onions might mean some pasta sauce.

 

  • Eat the most perishable first – Some vegetables have a short shelf life. Eat those first. Making a meal plan can help you with this. I often use the most perishable item on the day I bring my vegetables home. On vegetable pickup day, I’m usually prepared for the possibility that I might need to grill highly perishable items like eggplant and summer squash, or I might make a salad with the various fresh greens.
    • Highly perishable, eat within a few days: eggplant, berries, corn as it turns starchy, tomatoes if very ripe, radish greens, summer squash, mixed salad greens, spinach, asparagus, peas, and surprisingly, broccoli
    • Moderately sturdy, eat within 5 to 6 days: cauliflower, head lettuce, cooking greens like kale and chard, peppers, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes if firm, rhubarb
    • Store well, eat at your leisure: onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage, radishes, leeks, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, winter squash

 

  • Eat the whole vegetable – This is one many of us can improve as we tend to discard many parts of the vegetable. In reality, many of those parts make good eating. Most green tops, for example, are edible. You can eat beet greens, radish tops and even carrot tops. But these are very perishable, so you want to do that within the first couple of days. Also, the skin on many veggies is edible. Think carrots, potatoes and even baby beets. When you get your vegetables fresh from a local farm, the skin on them in quite nice and delicate. No need to peel them. Just scrub well before preparing.

 

  • Freeze the extra – There may be items you are unable to eat that week. Before they spoil, freeze them. Many vegetables can be frozen, not just the obvious like beans, peas and corn.
    • Tomatoes: Yes, you can freeze tomatoes. Wash and dry the tomatoes, then place them whole in freezer bags. The texture will change due to freezing, but they are great to use in any way you would canned tomatoes – chili, tomato soup, pasta sauce. Think of how much you will enjoy using locally grown, vine-ripened tomatoes in the winter.
    • Onions: Onions are often much larger than what is needed for a recipe. Dice the entire onion, use what you need in the recipe, and freeze the rest in one cup portions. Like tomatoes, due to high water content, freezing will change the texture, so use them in dishes where they are cooked, like soups and sauces.

 

  • Google is your friend – Have a vegetable that you aren’t sure how to prepare? Don’t know what to do with that overabundance of cucumbers because you can only eat so many salads? Google. You will find something new.

 

Love Food Hate Waste

This strategy has helped my family to significantly reduce food waste. It has helped us win in many ways:

  • I feel better about wasting fewer resources;
  • My family is eating more vegetables on a daily basis;
  • We save money by planning our meals and eliminating the need to replace vegetables that have gone bad; and
  • I can happily say, my days of finding gross things in the fridge are over.

 

Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your CSA share? Please share in the comments.

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Tips to Save On Groceries

12 Tips to Help You Save On Groceries

Original photo by SeniorLiving.org (CC BY-SA 2.0 licence) – Text additions are my own.

Many of us are searching for ways to save money.  Food is a big part of the family budget for most of us.  Fortunately for those of us that are trying to eat healthy or healthier, as I wrote about last week, healthy food is affordable, and actually less expensive than processed food.

Even though whole foods already cost less than processed foods, there are many things that you can do to help you to save on groceries.  Three years ago, when my 16-year-old step-daughter moved in with us, our grocery costs doubled overnight.  Our other expenses also went up, making our finances very tight, so reining in the grocery bill became a high priority for me.  Although I had always been a careful shopper, paying attention to prices, I quickly learnt more ways to save on groceries, which brought our weekly grocery bill back under control.

Here are some of my strategies and tips for saving money on the weekly food bill.

compare prices

  • Scan the flyers:  I look at the flyers each week to determine what is available at a good price and I buy those items. I know my prices, and so I know when something is worth buying and when it’s worth waiting for another week or two.  Sales are cyclical.  If chicken isn’t on sale this week, but beef is, I buy the beef and wait for a better price on the chicken.  I know it will happen within a few weeks.  If broccoli is on for less than a dollar, then I will buy two of three of them, as we can easily eat that within one week.
  • Buy meat in value size packs: The larger packages of meat are usually cheaper than the smaller packs, by up to $1 per pound.  I buy the value pack and separate the meat into meal sized portions, placing each portion into large freezer bags that I label with all the info I need (type of meat, weight, date) and then place in the freezer.  Not only am I saving on the meat when I buy it, but then I have some in the freezer for the weeks when that type is not on sale.
  • Eat seasonally:  As much as possible I buy my fruits and vegetables when they are in season.  Have you seen the price of berries in the winter?  It’s so much higher than in the summer, and the berries don’t tend to taste as good.  So in the winter we leave the berries behind and take advantage of what is at its peak, like citrus, pomegranates, squash and root vegetables such as carrots and beets.  Produce that is in season is cheaper and fresher than what is not.

shop with a list to save money

  • Shop with a grocery list:  I make my list based on the items that I have run out of and what I find on sale in the flyers.  This helps me to ensure that I get everything I need for the week, and helps me to not add too many impulse items.

 

  • Get a rain check:  Many grocery chains in Canada give rain checks if they are out of stock on an item that is on sale in the flyer.  Go to the customer service desk on your way out of the store, and ask for a rain check.  At most chains, the rain check is good for 30 days.  This will allow you to get the sale price on the item the next time you go to that store.  I keep rain checks in an envelope in my purse and put my grocery list in that envelop.  That way I remember the rain check and I have it with me when I need it.
  • Plan meals for the week:  After looking through the flyers and seeing what is on sale, I plan our meals for the week, and make sure that I include all ingredients that aren’t already in my pantry on my list.  I also plan to use some of the same ingredients in more than one meal that week.  I’m flexible with the plan, and sometimes change things a little over the course of the week, but this helps me have the right ingredients on hand, not need to run out to the grocery store, and really helps reduce waste from food going bad.  Meal planning helps me to buy the right amount of food for our needs for the week.  Not wasting food is better for the planet and helps me save money.
  • Go to only one store per week:  By limiting my shopping trip to only one store per week, I avoid the temptation to buy extras that are not on my grocery list.  If I go to multiple stores, I end up spending more money because of all the extras.  Best to avoid temptation all together.
  • Price match: Many grocery chains in Canada price match (like Real Canadian Superstore, FreshCo, No Frills and Walmart).  By price matching, I can go to just one grocery store but take advantage of the sale prices at all the different chains. This leads to great savings on fruits and vegetables in particular, as the different chains tend to put different items on at low prices in the same week.  So while one chain has a great price on grapes and oranges, a different chain has low prices on cucumbers and lettuce, while the third might have broccoli, carrots and green beans on for cheap.
save money buy spices in bulk

Photo by Greta Lorenz (CC BY-ND 2.0 licence)

  •  Buy spices in bulk:  I buy my spices in bulk (at The Bulk Barn usually) as the cost is significantly lower than buying spices in bottles. I usually pay between 10 and 25 cents for a small baggie of spices, as opposed to $4 or more for a bottle.  As an added bonus, I can buy a smaller quantity, which is helpful if trying out a new spice and also for freshness.  Spices lose their potency after a few months.  By buying in smaller quantities, I am able to use the spices up while they are still relatively fresh.

 

  • Make your own marinades:  I have started making my own marinades.  They are easy to make, I can adapt the flavours to our taste and I save money.  The cost of making my own marinade is usually less than half the cost of a store-bought one.
plant an herb garden

photo by blackeiffel (CC BY-NC 2.0 licence)

  •  Plant a herb garden:  If you use fresh herbs, consider planting a herb garden or even a few pots if you can’t have a garden.  Not only will it cost less, but your fresh-picked herbs will have even more flavour.

 

  • Use loyalty programs:  Many grocery chains have a loyalty program that is available for free.   You can earn points to redeem for free groceries.  If you are shopping there anyways, why not be rewarded for it?  The key to getting ahead with a loyalty program is to avoid buying items only because you will earn points.  Buying something just to get points will cost you more in the long run.  Buy what you need and you will see that the points will add up quickly.

These are some of the strategies that I use to save money while feeding my family healthy, great tasting food.  How do you save on groceries?  Please share your tricks and tips in the comments.

 

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