• Keep a clear head. You will probably buy that dragon fruit, put it in your fridge admiring yourself for being exotic, then forget about its existence until your fruit drawer becomes pungent. (Image credit: Boston Magazine).

  • When you buy in season, you're better off. Check by simply looking at the prices per kg. In-season prices are usually $6/kg and less, unless they’re highly sought after rarer breeds of fruit i.e. lady finger bananas. (Image credit: Bob Willoughby).

  • Local markets are the best place to shop for fresh produce. You can buy seasonal products which are the best quality, and the best price... Not only that, but it’s a pleasant atmosphere and there are always heaps of dogs. And dogs are the best. (Image credit: Red Bank Market).

Part 2: How to eat on a budget by a frugal foodie

In lesson two of eating on a budget by a frugal foodie we go from pantry basics to fresh produce: how to buy, where to buy and what to do. NB. markets are particularly good because they are seasonal, easy on the wallet and there are always lots of dogs. And dogs are the best.

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Welcome to part 2 of “How to eat on a budget by a Frugal Foodie”. In lesson one we established: a) that the writer is a food-loving hobo, b) eating deliciously is possible on a budget, and c) keeping the pantry full of reliable and useful basics is the key to achieving b.

In lesson two we go from pantry basics to fresh produce: how to buy, where to buy and what to do.

How to buy

Foremost, only buy for the very foreseeable future i.e. the next week at a maximum. And be realistic. See “big brand grocery stores” for why.

Secondly, the fact that we live in a First World country in the 21st Century means that we import food internationally and have access to a wide range of fruit and veg all year round, even when it is not necessarily “in season” or at its peak freshness (i.e. it has been frozen for long periods of time).

This means that, in the instant gratification tradition of Veruca Salt, we are used to having whatever we want, whenever we want it, and expecting to enjoy a mango soufflé in the depths of winter. Sorry mate, but you just can’t – not if you want it to taste good and be reasonably priced.

What the unobservant shopper might not notice is that while there is consistent availability of certain products, (except when a force majeure intervenes – read: the great banana debacle of 2011), produce fluctuates in price according to seasonal availability. Don’t plan meals based on what you know is probably available, rather, see what’s in season and then go from there. This is what restaurateurs do, and after all, they are the pillars of food in our communities. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s also better quality and means that you’ll be mixing up your home menu season to season, keeping your food-life alive and interesting. ; )

Here is a quick seasonal food guide for an idea of what to buy and when. Back in the rich years, this was something that I never paid attention to, but now that I’m in my own personal recession, I keep my eye on such things. Note, another way to check is simply to look at the prices per kg. In-season prices are usually $6/kg and less, unless they’re highly sought after rarer breeds of fruit i.e. lady finger bananas.

Where to buy

Big brand grocery stores

It would be remiss not to acknowledge that big brand grocery stores are the number one way that most people purchase their fresh produce, especially those on a budget. The big brand stores are usually cheaper than your local fruit store, and also very convenient when you’re shopping for other household items only found at these stores. But beware, big brand stores are excellent at marketing products to make you buy more than you actually need, often causing mass waste and overspending. Especially if you are shopping for one. Just like I am terrible at budgeting, I am also the worst at falling for marketing ploys. One kilo of oranges for $3? Don’t mind if I do! Two kilo bag o’potatoes? Absolutely.

Unless you’re a mad juicer or living in Ireland circa 1851 it is unlikely that you’ll make your way through all of those items before they go off. Especially since you probably got these along with 3 different herbs for $5, (which will ALWAYS go brown before full use) and an entire watermelon that you simply will not get through before the quality goes to sh*t. The exception is a bag of carrots. Properly refrigerated, those legends will last a good 2 weeks before getting bendy and will help your night vision to boot.

It is the most obvious and simple advice ever, but sometimes people need just that: only buy what you need and what you will use. If you’re shopping for a family, go ahead and get those whopping 1kg bags. If you’re shopping for one, just get what you know you will eat within the week. Its cheaper and less wasteful.

Markets

Local markets are the best place to shop for fresh produce. You can buy seasonal products which are the best quality, and the best price. You can also wander through the different stands to see who is selling what at what price if you’re particularly frugal. Not only that, but it’s a pleasant atmosphere and there are always heaps of dogs. And dogs are the best.

The warning about markets is similar to that of big brand stores. Because everything seems so cheap, again, you can easily get carried away, especially by some of the more exotic seasonal offerings. Keep a clear head. You will probably buy that dragon fruit, put it in your fridge admiring yourself for being exotic, then forget about its existence until your fruit drawer becomes pungent.

What to do

If you insist on bulk purchasing items, do it with things that are easily turned into a delicious soup, or are useful to have once frozen i.e. bananas. Sweet potatoes, tomatoes and capsicums are excellent soup starters, and frozen bananas can be turned into a heartwarming banana bread or are perfect used for a smoothie base.

Once youve purchased your in-season ingredients, grab your favourite cook book and search for that ingredient in the index for inspiration. Alternatively, simply google leek, pumpkin, zucchini, dragonfruit whatever it is youve bought, and the all-knowing internet will reliably provide you with hundreds of recipes to acquaint yourself with your freshly purchased and fairly-priced produce. Failing that, this website is the best.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nine out of ten corporate executives agree that Brisbane-based writer Elizabeth Tucker is an adequate administrator slash marketing officer. When she is not updating excel spreadsheets she is busy planning a trip across the Savannah Way as research for her first novel. Her career highlight to date is putting a surfing dog on the front cover of the Straddie Island News in her first issue as editor. Her life highlight is winning an amateur social netball competition. Elizabeth is one to watch. 

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