Healthy, frugal winter produce. Does that sound like an oxymoron to you?
There are some standards of healthy eating that cost a whole lot of money, particularly during the colder parts of the year:
- Eating in-season fruits and vegetables
- Eating locally
- Eating 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Eat organic
Of course, from November through April, there really isn’t much that’s in-season in most of North America, striking a line through the first two options. And these days, who can afford to buy things that are out-of-season? The last time I was at the grocery store, a pint of organic blueberries cost a whopping $6.99. My kid could mow through that pint in one sitting.
Generally speaking, at this time of year, our options for frugal winter produce are fresh in-season foods, frozen ones, and canned goods. Let’s look at the most budget-friendly choices for the current season.
What fresh produce is in-season in the winter?
Some produce that is in-season during the colder months is overlooked because it is unfamiliar. Here’s a list of some items that are in the store at a reasonable price right now:
- Bok choy
- Brussels Sprouts
- Winter squash
Of course, the drawback is that some people don’t know what to do with these cold-weather vegetables. Here are some articles that can help:
- How to cook turnips, rutabagas, and celeriac
- Sunchokes: What are they and how to cook them
- 38 ways to roast and cook beets
- 15 ways to eat your greens in the winter
Learning to cook with what is available, in-season, and frugal can give us a significant advantage. It gives us time to practice working with unfamiliar foods that can be replaced easily and inexpensively. And, of course, it can cut your budget in half.
The Benefits of Frozen Produce
While some folks turn their noses up at anything but fresh, research tells us that frozen food is often as high in vitamin content as fresh. And on occasion, it’s actually even higher. That’s because the food is frozen immediately after harvest, retaining many of the nutrients that are lost over long shipping and storage times.
- Frozen vs. Fresh? Which Vegetables Are Best
- Are Frozen Vegetables Healthy?
- The Health Benefits of Frozen Fruit And Veggies
You definitely aren’t depriving your family of vital, healthy nutrients by using frozen fruit and vegetables. Both can be used in exactly the same way as fresh produce, but remember that frozen vegetables have often been blanched and will cook much faster than fresh. If you prefer your vegetables to be al dente, adjust your cooking times accordingly.
Frozen fruits, when thawed, can be a little bit mushy, so here are a few ways to make them more palatable:
- Add them to smoothies
- Use them in baked goods
- My kids have always enjoyed eating fruit straight from the freezer – they called them “fruitsicles” when they were younger.
- Puree them with yogurt for a healthy treat that is almost like ice cream
- Simmer them in their own juices (or with a little red or white grape juice) to make a topping for waffles, pancakes, or French toast
How to prepare canned fruits and vegetables so they taste delicious
Of all the ways to eat out of season produce, canned has to be my least favorite, especially for vegetables. And this probably sounds strange for someone who just wrote a new canning book.
For preppers, canned fruits and vegetables can be a mainstay of food storage. It’s easy to do ourselves, and the jars aren’t reliant on the grid. You can often pick up very inexpensive canned fruits and vegetables at the store to add to your stockpile, and those can last for several years in a cool dark place.
But, most of you are thinking, “Yuck.”
Don’t despair. There are lots of ways to eat these canned foods that will have your tastebuds singing. And wouldn’t it be better to find simple ways to make them more palatable before a crisis occurs?
First, remember that canned goods are already cooked and adjust your cooking times accordingly – we are reheating rather than cooking.
The biggest complaint about canned produce is the “mushability” factor. Here are some tasty ways to get around it:
- Add them to casseroles
- Add them to soups – they hold up better in the slow cooker than frozen vegetables do
- Any canned vegetables you have can be pureed and made into a creamy soup – top with cheese and serve with a hearty bread
- Canned potatoes can be fried up with onions, mushrooms, and peppers and topped with cheese.Pop them in the oven for 10 minutes to melt and brown the cheese for a tasty casserole
- Use them in shepherd’s pie (adapt Martha’s recipe by using drained, canned vegetables instead of frozen.)
- Canned tomatoes can be the backbone of many delicious sauces and soups – I like to use a combo of crushed and diced
- Drain the canned veggies well and put them in a buttery, sizzling, hot skillet for just a couple of minutes to brown them up quickly. Sometimes the addition of just a teeny amount of brown sugar and salt can give them a quick caramelized finish.
- Puree canned carrots for use in baked goods.
- Canned fruit often tastes better chilled. You can put it outside during a power outage or in the fridge if the power is on.
- Add canned fruit to smoothies.
- Simmer canned fruit in its own syrup (you may need to thicken it a little with some flour) and top French toast, waffles, or pancakes with it.
- You can make a delicious Mexican soup with canned corn, black beans, and a diced tomato and chili pepper mixture (known in the south as Ro-Tel.) Puree half of the tomato mixture, then add all of the ingredients to a pot (including the canning liquid.) Season to taste with chili powder and cumin. Cook until the liquid has reduced to the desired consistency.
Of course, if you are one of the people who likes canned produce you are in luck – you can make cheap winter meals without feeling deprived. For the rest of us, all we need is a little imagination to make some cheap meals and get some crisis management practice this winter.
In case you aren’t convinced here are a few more ideas for cooking with canned foods.
- 7 Recipes to Make with Canned Food in 30 Minutes or Less
- Cans Get You Cooking (a whole website dedicated to cooking with canned foods)
- Canned Food Recipes
- More Canned Food Recipes
What are your favorite, frugal ways with food in the winter?
I want to hear how you cook when you can’t pick up fresh salad veggies in the backyard or at your closest farmer’s market. Share your favorites in the comments section below!