Saturday, May 1, 2010

Stretch Your Food Dollars and Save Time with Canned Produce

copyright Moms In Need of Mercy

Don’t get me wrong: nothing beats farm-fresh food. Raised in the Midwest, I earned many a dollar by picking green beans, tomatoes, and peppers at my grandparents’ farm in the summers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than a bean straight off the stalk or a tomato ripe off the vine. My mouth waters just at the thought.


Where we live now, ranches abound, but farms are few and far between. “Fresh” produce comes from—at the minimum—a state away. If I had to choose between rock-hard, “they will never ripen” peaches and a can of peaches (packed at their peak), I would choose the can hands-down, any day.

Here’s why:

Canned food has gotten a real bad rap in recent years. It’s been demonized as a lesser choice, only for the poorest among us. But that’s just not so.

It can be a healthy and affordable alternative when fresh is looking less than best. Canned fruits and vegetables are picked, and packed, at their peak. They’re packed in liquid, and, well, canned – much like one cans summer harvest at home (yes, I know home canning is healthier). They’re shipped in the cans, unlike “fresh” fruit that’s picked usually very under-ripe, and hauled cross-country on semi-trucks, losing more nutrients with every mile. (Frozen produce is another good alternative).

Canned food is also often cheaper, pound for pound. But not always. Fresh, in season, fruits and vegetables on sale are usually the best buy. But when they’re pricey or looking “yucky,” you can find a fresh version…in a can.

My thoughts on canned food were revolutionized once and for all when nutritionist Ellyn Satter wrote in one of her books about the merits of canned food. She said that many cooks on tight budgets have been led to believe that purchasing a can or two of vegetables and fruits of the shelf is something they should be ashamed of—that when their budget improves, surely they should “upgrade” to the fresh produce department. Yet, for the reasons shared above, one need not be ashamed to fill one’s cart with canned goods. One is saving her family money and still feeding them healthfully. So grab a can with pride!

Now before you comment, let me recap my position:

1. Fresh is best—no doubt. But when farm-stand fresh is not available, and when “fresh” trucked in to the grocers looks less than desirable, I believe canned is a great alternative. I’ve had many a can peaches, pears, mandarin oranges, tropical fruit (with guava and papaya) that tastes more ripe than some of the fresh versions I’ve bought.

2. You need not feel ashamed if you round out your shopping cart with some canned fruits and veggies. You can find varieties that are packed in their own juice without added sugar.

3. As far as vegetables are concerned, you can buy the low sodium versions, if you want to. But don’t forget: we all need some sodium in our diets.

Buying canned or frozen food helps you stretch your grocery dollars and trips to the store. You can buy enough fresh produce for a week, and then round out the rest of your meal plan with canned or frozen produce. This way, you can shop every two weeks—saving time and money.

If you have a kitchen-shortcut or other cooking hint or recipe you'd like to share, please feel free to link up as part of our once-a-month cooking festival. As a courtesy, please link back to Moms In Need of Mercy.

linked to Works for Me Wednesday at We Are That Family and to Frugal Friday


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Oops ... that'll teach me to click Post without rereading my comment!)

    Agree completely, and I also use frozen vegetables a lot. This week, for example, green peppers were $3.99/pound. Instead, I used a bag of frozen diced peppers (99 cents) in the recipe I was making.

  3. I worry quite a bit about Bisphenol A found in the linings inside canned foods, though.

    I think I'd rather use dried foods if I couldn't use fresh, frozen, or home-grown and preserved fruits and vegetables.

  4. I totally agree with you. If you can't get a nice peach, canned peaches are yummy. One of my favorite desserts is so simple--put some canned pieces on yellow cake and top with whipped cream. It's nice to always have fruit on hand no matter what the season!

  5. Do you happen to have an Angel Food Ministries delivery site close to you? You can order an entire box of fresh fruits and veggies each month for $22. I've had pretty good luck so far. I have some info on my blog if you are interested.

    I agree with you though. If fresh produce looks/tastes awful, why spend the money on it? I tend to use more frozen veggies because with coupons & sales, I barely pay anything for them. :)