Guide to getting the freshest foods
Spring has sprung, and with it comes an abundance of fresh produce. Buying in-season not only guarantees the best taste, it can also help your bottom line. And seasonal bargains don’t just apply to fruits and veggies. Even sweets and ice-cream treats vary in price, depending on the time of year. Want the skinny on what to buy when? Here’s a month-by-month guide on the best time to buy everything from fresh fruits to frozen foods.
January / February
The first month of the year is the best month to buy oranges, grapefruits and other citrus fruits, says Deborah Taylor-Hough, author of "Frugal Living for Dummies." Navel oranges that cost just 92 cents a pound in January, for example, increase 40% in price by September, according to 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Chocolate lovers rejoice. If you can wait till Valentine’s Day is over, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with deeply discounted treats from Godiva and other well-known brands. Prefer something more savory than sweet? February is also National Snack Food Month, a promotion launched more than a decade ago by the Snack Food Association and the National Potato Promotion Board to improve snack sales. What that means for you: More sales and special offers for your favorite salty, crunchy snacks.
March / April
March is National Frozen Food Month, a holiday that’s sponsored by the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association, Inc.and observed its 30th annual celebration this year. Most grocery stores will offer significant discounts and coupons on frozen items as a result, making it a great time to stock up on frozen staples. Want a fresher alternative? Spaghetti and macaroni tend to cost less too -- about a dime less per pound than they will by late summer.
In April, buy snap peas, green beans and peas, says Sanura Weathers, creator of the blog My Life Runs on Food. “These sweet vegetables taste like dessert when served during the spring,” says Weathers. Other seasonal produce to stock up on at the grocery store or farmer’s market: asparagus, beets, chives, lettuce, and sweet onions.
May / June
Late spring is the time to buy berries, says Weathers. "Remember when berries only came into the grocery store once a year, usually during late spring? Today they’re available year-round, and they’re expensive, large and flavorless," warns Weathers. "When they’re in season, they’re tiny, robust and super sweet." The price of strawberries can rise from about $1.65 in May (for 12 ounces) to $2.88 for the same amount in December!
Nicole Franzen, the food and lifestyle photographer behind La Buena Vida (which focuses on seasonally inspired recipes), suggests joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) in the summertime. "Joining a CSA not only supports local farmers and makes it easy to try new produce, but is generally a good deal. I typically pay something like $300 for a weekly delivery for three months, and the produce is always in season," says Franzen. In-season produce can include cherries, corn, watermelon, and -- toward the end of the month -- nectarines and peaches.
July / August
July is the time to buy stone fruit, like peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots. “There are people who only buy stone fruit in the summer, and I am one of them,” Weathers explains. “Out of season, stone fruits are picked before ripening thousands of miles away, and they have a mealy, bland taste. During the summer, the prices drop and the quality increases.” It’s also a great time to fry up frittatas. Grade A, large eggs will cost you roughly $1.65 per dozen in July, compared to about $2.01 for a dozen in December.
Michael Natkin, the Seattle-based brains behind the vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious, also says it’s worth asking for the second-quality bin at farmers’ markets. “Tomatoes in second-quality bins might be slightly damaged, but if you are cooking them or are willing to cut around the little imperfections, they can be much more affordable,” says Natkin. In August, tomatoes by the pound will likely set you back only about $1.44; in December, expect to pay around $1.60 per pound.
Franzen also suggests checking out farmers markets for heirloom tomatoes. For even more savings, Franzen suggests: “Go to your local farmers’ market towards the end of the day and the items will be cheaper [since] the vendors will be trying to get rid of their stock.”
September / October
September is the time to buy figs, but don’t dawdle because their season is short. “Late summer and early fall, watch the prices for figs sharply decrease,” says Weathers. Then make some fig jam perhaps? Zucchini and other squash are also in season.
Taylor-Hough and Natkin both suggest buying cauliflower, pumpkins, cranberries, and grapes in October. “October is when these items become ripe in much of the US,” explains Natkin. Grapes purchased in October might cost you about $2.34 per pound but two months later, in December, the same amount will set you back $3.01.
November / December
Just like post-Valentine’s Day sales, you’ll be able to get your candy fix come November, as long as you don’t mind Halloween-themed sweets. Similarly, Taylor-Hough says that after Thanksgiving, a frugal shopper can get great deals on turkey, sweet potatoes and other traditional holiday sides. In 2012, shoppers paid $1.49 per pound for a whole frozen turkey in November; in March, the same turkey cost $1.81 per pound.
In December, make room for apples and pears in your fruit bowl. Anjou pears will cost you about $1.33 per pound this month, but in May, they can cost up to about $1.50 per pound. “An apple you buy in early winter will be [from] this year’s crop. When you buy an apple in the summer, it is either from another country or has been stored for several months which isn’t necessarily horrible because apples store well, but the freshest is usually the best,” explains Natkin. December is also a good time to stock up on Champagne, since the increased holiday demand makes the prices drop. Cheers!
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