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Getting the Most for Your Money

By: Lynn Jones - Updated: 9 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
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You know that vegetables are good for you but fresh vegetables can be expensive, especially if they’re organic. How can you get the best – and healthiest – vegetables for your money?

Buying Fresh Vegetables

Choose vegetables that are grown locally and in season. Vegetables lose nutrients after being picked – the longer they’ve been in transit, the more nutrition is lost.

Organic vegetables can seem costly, but the health risk of pesticide-laden vegetables is no bargain. If you’re on a budget, buy organic for those vegetables high in pesticides, and buy conventionally-grown for those with very low pesticide residues.

Making fewer trips to the supermarket saves time and petrol. Stock up on fresh vegetables that keep well. Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and onions are inexpensive and always good to have on hand. Why not try winter squash and less common root vegetables, such as turnips and swedes? They’re all nutritious and good keepers.

Buy cabbage or the lesser-known leafy greens: kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens and turnip greens. These greens are all very good bargains and have similar nutrient profiles to spinach and the more expensive brassicas such as broccoli and cauliflower. They can be steamed like spinach, sautéed, or added to soups and stews. Leftover greens are easily chopped and frozen for later use. See the articles under Cooking Vegetables for suggestions.

After getting a good bargain, don’t let your fresh vegetables go to waste because of improper storage. See Refrigeration Tips for more information. If you buy more vegetables than you can use, don’t let them spoil in the refrigerator: freeze them. See Freezing Your Vegetables for quick and easy ways to freeze peppers, leafy greens, string beans, tomatoes, and onions. Frozen vegetables (either home-frozen or store-bought) can be added to soups - giving canned soups a homemade touch - for added nutrition and flavour.

When to Buy Frozen Vegetables

While vegetables fresh from the farm or garden are the most nutritious, frozen vegetables may actually contain more vitamins and minerals than “fresh” vegetables that have traveled a long distance to reach the supermarket. Commercially frozen vegetables are usually frozen within hours of picking. Consider buying frozen rather than fresh for vegetables that are not in season locally. Avoid packages of frozen food that are covered with frost, which is usually a sign that the product has thawed at some point. While frozen foods retain 100 percent of a vegetable’s vitamin C content, freezing does cause the loss of vitamins E and B6. Especially good bets are frozen sweet corn and frozen peas, both of which contain very low pesticide residues.

When to Buy Canned Vegetables

Canned vegetables are a thrifty and healthy alternative to vegetables that are either out of season, not grown locally, or too expensive to purchase fresh. While it’s often believed that vitamins A, C, thiamin (B1), and riboflavin (B2) can be lost in canning, a 1995 study by the University of Illinois showed that canned vegetables retained their fibre and vitamins A, C, B1, and B6, as well as potassium and carotenoids.

Surprisingly, canned vegetables are sometimes better for you. Canned pumpkin - great as a side dish or made into soup - was found to contain more vitamin A than fresh pumpkin. Cooked tomato products – sauces, soups, and pastes - are actually richer in lycopene than fresh tomatoes. While some vitamin C may be lost, the heating involved in the canning process makes the antioxidants in the tomatoes more available for the body to absorb them. Look for canned vegetables without added salt or sugar. The bottom line: canned vegetables are nutritious, cost-effective, and easy to keep on hand.

Soy and Legumes

One way to get more for your money: buy legumes. Soy products – including tofu - and dried or canned beans are a great protein-rich alternative to more expensive meat or fish. For a very inexpensive protein source, buy dried beans and cook them in a slow cooker. Canned beans are easier if you don’t have a lot of time to cook. Soups (lentil, split pea, and minestrone), baked beans, and hummus are just a few of the thrifty recipes that can be made using dried beans.

Tofu can take on virtually any flavouring you add to it. Healthy stir-fries can be made using tofu and whatever vegetables you have on hand. Cubed tofu and/or canned chick peas also make a luncheon salad even healthier and more filling.

Fresh, frozen, or canned: buy some of each the next time you go grocery shopping. Having a variety to choose from may encourage you eat more vegetables rather than reaching for an unhealthy alternative!

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