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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Budget Winter Fruits & Vegetables, My List

Tuesday's salad comprised of diced green cabbage, diced red cabbage,
lentil sprouts, and tangerine segments,
tossed with a dressing of sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and honey.

After several days cooped up in the house, I got out to Walmart on Tuesday. This is the second time I've grocery shopped in January. The primary foods I needed from Walmart were milk and produce. We all know that fresh produce prices are higher in winter for most items, than they are in summer and early fall. There are still some budget fruits and veggies to be had, some fresh, but many are frozen. (Convenience, yay!)

Since we all have to navigate the current food inflation, I've compiled a list of the fresh, frozen, canned, and grown-at-home fruits and veggies that I use regularly throughout winter.

Fresh Produce

Winter Fruit

bananas -- always a good deal for fresh fruit. Walmart and WinCo sell bananas for 58 cents/lb. Fred Mayer (Kroger) has bananas for 65 cents/lb.

apples -- can still be found in multi-pound bags for under $1 a pound through the month of January. Earlier in the month, I found 3# bags of Fuji apples for $2.48, or 83 cents/lb. Walmart currently has 5# bags of Red Delicious for $4.78, or 96 cents/lb (but my family doesn't care for Red Deliicous). Apples at Fred Meyer are over $1/lb this month.

By mid to late-February, the quality of fresh apples is deteriorating, and only the priciest of apples have much of a crunch. 

oranges and tangerines -- while tangerines can be expensive per pound, there are many pieces of fruit in a 2 or 3 pound bag, which means they go far in our household. I also try to stretch the tangerines by separating the segments and adding to dishes like slaw type salads. In Tuesday's cabbage and sprout salad, I used 2 tangerines for a family of four adults. To further stretch them, I cut each segment in half before adding to the salad. Tangerines were $3.97/3# bag, or $1.33/lb.

Oranges are a better price per pound and still beneath the $1/pound mark. At Fred Meyer this week, an 8# bag is $7.99, or $1/pound.

Winter Vegetables

cabbage  -- typically 78 cents/pound in either WinCo or Walmart, slightly more expensive at Fred Meyer at 89 cents/lb. I use cabbage in slaw and other salads, stir fries, faux stuffed cabbage rolls (a layered cabbage/meat/tomato casserole), soups (Cabbage Patch Soup is a favorite in my house). Because cabbage is one of the least expensive fresh veggies I can buy in winter, I use it for stretching other, pricier veggies such as broccoli, in addition to serving it as a stand-alone vegetable. I buy red cabbage when the price per pound is within 10 to 20 cents of that of green cabbage. Red Cabbage is 99 cents/pound at Fred Meyer this month. Red cabbage adds color and additional nutrients to our meals.

carrots -- in 10-lb bags, about 60 cents/pound. I bought a 10-lb bag of carrots at WinCo earlier this month for $5.98. Pureed cooked carrots can be used either to stretch canned pumpkin puree to make pies and breads, or straight in pumpkin bread and cookie recipes. I made a pumpkin pie the other day with home-cooked and pureed pumpkin. That batch of home-cooked pumpkin looked a little bland, so I added a little cooked, pureed carrot to the pie filling. The finished pie's color looked better and no one in the family guessed I added carrot to the pumpkin filling. I also use fresh carrots to stretch more expensive frozen vegetables. See below for frozen peas.

yellow onions -- bought in multi-pound bags, 50 to 65 cents/pound. Onions add flavor and stretch other vegetable mixes in recipes. See below about frozen peas and canned green beans.

potatoes -- really a starch food, but I use potatoes to stretch other vegetables (see below for frozen peas), in multi-pound bags 40 to 50 cents/pound in my area.

whole winter squash -- for a little more per pound, winter squash is a good buy for winter veggies. Our local Walmart has acorn and butternut squash for $1.28/lb. Acorn and butternut squash at Fred Meyer are $1.29. One of the aspects of winter squash that I feel makes them a good deal, even at this above $1/lb price, is that the part that is typically eaten is dense and loses less water during cooking than many other veggies. In addition, the seeds are edible just as pumpkin seeds are. I wash and freeze squash seeds. When I have enough collected in the freezer, I thaw and roast them in oil with some salt. If I don't feel like bothering with washing/freezing seeds for us to eat, I put them outside for the squirrels.

vegetables that are priced per piece, such as green peppers, cucumbers, avocados -- these vegetables can add a lot of zip to the monotony of budget winter vegetables. 

I make each piece last for several meals, as opposed to using entire vegetables in one dish. What I mean by this is the difference between serving stuffed green peppers, which would use 4 whole peppers for us or adding 1/4 to 1/2 of a green pepper to a pan of baked beans, which would also serve 4. Green peppers at WinCo earlier this month were 78 cents each. They're 79 cents each at Fred Meyer this week.

The same can be done with cucumbers (78 and 79 cents each at Walmart and Fred Meyer, respectively). I try to stretch a single cucumber with less expensive salad vegetables, or a few cucumber slices alongside some carrot sticks to eat with hummus. 

Avocados are also a good price in the winter months. I've been finding them regularly for 68 to 78 cents each at both WinCo and Walmart in December and January. Since we don't eat a whole avocado by ourselves in one sitting, that's a good deal. I add slices of avocado to plates of refried beans and rice or thinly sliced avocado to top hummus on lightly toasted bread. A half avocado can garnish and enhance a meal for all four of us.

Frozen Produce

I supplement the above fresh produce with frozen broccoli cuts, frozen spinach, and frozen peas. All of these frozen veggies are more expensive per pound than cabbage, carrots, and onions. However, I've found several ways to stretch the frozen vegetables with some of the less expensive fresh ones (or garden produce that I've frozen myself). The frozen versions of broccoli, spinach, and peas are less expensive than the fresh this time of year.

broccoli cuts -- if you're not familiar with broccoli cuts, they are chopped broccoli pieces that contain stalk pieces as well as some floret pieces. In contrast, a bag of broccoli florets will be exclusively the flowering tops of broccoli, with some stalk attached. The broccoli cuts may have a tough piece or two in a bag. 

This time of year, frozen broccoli cuts are less expensive than fresh broccoli sold in the produce section. For example, at Walmart this week, fresh broccoli in the produce section is priced at $1.48/pound. I can buy broccoli cuts in 2-lb bags for $1.14/pound or frozen broccoli florets in 2-lb bags for $1.37/pound. If I really wanted the broccoli florets, the frozen would be less expensive per pound than fresh. I buy the florets for when we have company meals. Otherwise I buy the cuts. 

I stretch broccoli cuts with turnip stem dices that I freeze in summer and fall as we harvest turnips, steaming all of the pieces together. I also stretch broccoli cuts with some cabbage shreds when making stir-fried beef with broccoli or small dices of cabbage when making a broccoli frittata or quiche.

spinach -- fresh spinach is over double the price of frozen spinach in winter. Even canned spinach is slightly more expensive than frozen chopped spinach. Best price on fresh spinach is $3.15/pound in 10-oz bags at Walmart right now, whereas frozen chopped spinach is $1.55/pound in 12-oz bags also at Walmart. Canned spinach at Walmart is $1.56/pound sold in 13.5-oz cans at Walmart. If we're eating the spinach cooked, then it makes the most sense to buy frozen spinach. 

I stretch spinach in a couple of ways. My family really enjoys creamed spinach. I add sautéed diced onion to the spinach and cream sauce. I also stretch frozen spinach in an Italian-style medley of onions, garlic, canned tomato chunks, Italian herbs, plus some spinach.

peas -- when it comes to peas, canned are much cheaper than frozen peas. However, my family will only eat canned peas when added to a soup. So I buy frozen peas, mostly. 

When buying frozen peas, there's a choice between frozen sweet peas and frozen petite peas. The sweet peas can be more starchy than the petite peas. But the petite peas are much more expensive than the sweet peas. With the exception of a special dinner, such as Easter, we stick with the sweet peas.

I stretch frozen peas with dices of fresh steamed carrots, or diced and sautéed onions, or with cubes of boiled potatoes in a cream sauce.

Canned Vegetables

We pretty much burned ourselves out on canned veggies in the last few years, with the exception of canned green beans, canned tomatoes, canned tomato paste, and canned yams

With canned green beans, we think they are more delicious when I add a generous amount of chopped onions that have been sautéed in a butter/oil blend. Doing so also stretches a single can of green beans to feed the 4 of us.

I use whole canned tomatoes in winter in many dishes. We made Chicken Cacciatore last weekend using canned tomatoes. I also make a veggie medley with canned tomatoes, as mentioned above concerning frozen spinach. In summer I make a similar medley, subbing fresh zucchini for the frozen spinach. I buy canned whole tomatoes at the restaurant supply, Chefstore. At Walmart, though, whole canned tomatoes are $1.48 for a 28-oz can or 86 cents/pound. Whole canned tomatoes are less expensive for me at the restaurant supply, but Walmart sells canned diced tomatoes at the same price per pound as the whole.

Tomato paste is a staple for us. I make tomato soup, pasta and pizza sauce, and ketchup with canned tomato paste. I buy tomato paste at the restaurant supply store, Chefstore. However, Walmart has tomato paste in 12-oz cans for $1.22/can or $1.63/pound. That may sound expensive compared to other produce items on my list. Keep in mind that tomato paste is a concentrated food. In every use I have for it, I need to dilute it with water or other liquids.

Most of the time, we use yams in pureed form in a casserole, which means I don't "need" fresh yams for the recipes I make. And canned yams are less expensive than fresh red sweet potatoes in winter. At Walmart this week, canned yams in 40-oz cans are $3.12/can or $1.24/pound, whereas the fresh sweet potatoes are $1.78/pound at Walmart or $1.69/pound at Fred Meyer. In addition, I often find canned yams on clearance or at the grocery salvage store marked down significantly. The canned yams we're currently using were 50 cents/can in 29-oz cans.

Homegrown Vegetables

Homegrown Indoors

homegrown sprouts -- we like to add these to salads. I sprout lentils on the counter. It takes less than a week to go from dried lentil to sprouts. The Asian-inspired cabbage, sprout and tangerine salad from Tuesday is an example of how I use sprouts in salads.

homegrown and preserved from summer

I still have beet greens, Swiss chard, turnip stems, sorrel, grape leaves, apple chunks, chopped fresh tomatoes, dehydrated tomatoes, dried prunes, dried rhubarb, pumpkin puree, applesauce, crabapple sauce, blackberries, strawberries, onion greens, and garden herbs from last summer in the freezer, as well as a couple of fresh pumpkins, a bag of garlic, a few onions, and a box of potatoes in the storage room from the end-of-season harvest.

To make a list of the primary budget fruits and vegetables that we eat in winter here:

  • bananas
  • apples
  • oranges
  • tangerines
  • cabbage, mostly green cabbage, sometimes red cabbage
  • carrots
  • yellow onions
  • potatoes
  • winter squash
  • green peppers
  • cucumber
  • avocado
  • frozen broccoli cuts
  • frozen chopped spinach
  • frozen sweet peas
  • canned green beans
  • canned tomatoes
  • canned tomato paste
  • canned yams
  • home-grown lentil sprouts
  • home-grown and preserved garden produce
Occasionally I find a great buy on a dented can of fruits or vegetables. I will pick those up and add them to our meals at a great savings on produce. So, it pays to check those discount racks or sections.


  1. This is a very handy list! I would add lemons, limes, pears, grapefruit, radish, and green onions. We also like to pick up the cheapest coleslaw mix for $1.50.

    1. Those are good additions to a winter budget produce list. I especially like limes, as they have such refreshing flavor and are often less expensive than lemons. Limes are also usually less expensive than lemons. Plus a little goes a long way. Green onions are another produce item where a little goes a long way. A bundle of green onions can last a week in meals and are always under a dollar. Thanks for the additions!

  2. Your list is very similar to mine. Do you grow green peppers in your garden? We freeze some of ours to add to meals (like a stir fry). I do occasionally buy fresh sweet peppers in the winter when they are on sale, especially the red or yellow ones. They are tasty and look cheerful on a plate.

    Because our weather was so mild in December, we had fresh lettuce from the cold frame for a side dish in early January. That was a treat!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Peppers are very difficult to grow here. I think we're just a bit too cool. I try every year, though. Last year, we had enough for one meal. I also keep my eye out for sales on red peppers. the flavor and color really adds a lot to a meal . And like with several other vegetables, a little goes a long way.
      Yay for fresh lettuce in January!

  3. A very thorough analysis, Lili. While we do concentrate on what's in season and grow and preserve some fruits and vegetables, our main focus is just eating more veggies and fruit, so even if it costs a little more, if it will encourage us to eat better, we will buy it.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Both of my daughters really enjoy fruits and vegetables (I do, too) and are constantly thinking of more ways to add produce to the meals they cook. Meanwhile, I try to think of new ways to serve the old standby ones. I count my servings of produce each day and try to do better when I've had a couple of days of low counts. One thing that helps me is smoothies with my lunch. I can pack 2 servings of fruits/vegetables in a smoothie, then have some vegetables with hummus on the side. A lunch with 3 servings gets me way ahead of the game long before dinner. But I also see your point -- if buying a healthy food that is very appealing will get you to eat more in that category, then the money spent is worth it.


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