The Tale of the Bagged Carrots
Manna’s Director of Nutrition Programs, Jenna Umbriac, recently shared a great article with me about healthy shopping on a budget. A registered dietitian in New Jersey successfully shopped for a family of four–that’s 21 meals plus snacks–for $126. She used some important grocery shopping techniques we use here at Manna Food Center. In our ongoing partnership with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, we have provided 250 Montgomery County residents guided grocery store tours. One of the money-saving techniques participants talk about the most is the use of unit prices. I like to start off with the carrots.
Our Cooking Matters at the Store Tours take place at five Giant grocery store locations throughout Montgomery County. At all of these locations, I consistently find a variety of options in the carrot section for $1.99. There are at least four different sized bags and cuts of carrots all for the same price. It is in front of this array of carrot choices that I survey participants with the question, “Who likes to get the best value for their dollar?” 10 hands wave in the air. You see, this is how it goes:
10 oz. PREMIUM matchstick cut carrots
12 oz. crinkle cut carrot “chips”
16. oz. baby carrots (oh, excuse me, “sweet petite”)
2 pounds whole carrots (with maybe a little dirt on ’em)
ALL FOR $1.99
So I say: “Okay, I’ve got two dollars budgeted for a vegetable side dish tonight. I’m picking up some carrots.” But so many choices! The little bags with the cute shapes are so convenient, I could dump them straight out of the bag into a salad or a hot skillet of olive oil–the work is done!
Then the tour group leans forward, and squints a little at the orange box to which I’m pointing.
When the retail price of all the carrots say $1.99, it seems like you’re spending the same price no matter which cut you choose. But those cute, convenient matchstick (aka shredded) carrots are sometimes $6 per pound where the large bag of whole carrots can be as low as 70 cents per pound. Yes, you’ve got two pounds of carrots to wash and cut up throughout the week, but you have carrots for salads, snacks, stir fry, soups, casseroles, and your freezer. It’s an especially great idea to buy fruits or vegetables in bulk that freeze well: bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, onions, peaches, spinach, strawberries, or winter squash. Buying these items seasonally means they’re more affordable, and you can freeze them for off-season months. Berries can simply be washed, hulled, and frozen. By using this simple technique you can enjoy sweet strawberries in your oatmeal in November!
How to blanch and freeze vegetables:
Tour participants leave talking about how interesting and helpful unit prices are, and mention this lesson most often in our post-tour survey. Last week, one participant wrote us saying, “I might even try this blanching thing!”
If you work with an organization serving low-income Montgomery County residents, contact me to register your clients for a guided grocery store tour with Manna: Lindsey@mannafood.org . Find out more about the tours here.