We know that healthy plants are essential for our health, but sometimes cost can keep us from consuming the five servings we need in a day. In fact, over 19 million people in the United States live in a food desert, an area where grocery stores are not very accessible and fresh food can be more expensive. No matter your reasoning, exploring how to get healthy food on a limited budget can open up better options for healthy living.

Consider these five tips for getting more plants without affecting your pocketbook:

Grow your own

If you don’t garden already, this can be a great way to get a good return with low investment with some time, love, and patience. Before you start gardening, make sure you do your research. Find out what plants grow best in your region, how to maximize your space, and what produce will benefit your family the most. 

Most of the time we consider gardening a summer project, but indoor gardening is a great way to give you fresh produce all year round. If you have a sunny window, create an indoor herb garden. 

When you’re feeling more confident in your gardening skills, try your hand at using starters from previous plants. You can grow onions, garlic, carrots, beets and lettuce all from the root ends.

Organic garden at summer harvest
Plant what grows best in your region, but make sure it’s something you’ll actually eat!

Eat seasonally and locally

Have you ever wondered why produce like strawberries, asparagus, or apples have great fluctuation in price and quality throughout the year? Depending on your region, this can vary due to what grows locally in your area and if that produce is currently in harvest. The math is simple: the further something needs to travel to get to your grocery store, the more expensive it will be.

To reduce your cost, eat seasonally and locally whenever possible, and recognize that not all produce is readily available all year long. This can be an opportunity to try new recipes and get more familiar with your local farmers or agriculture landscape. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Directory or National Farmer’s Market Directory as a starting point.

Know how to store food

One of the most frustrating things that can happen is letting produce go to waste. We’ve all had to throw away those moldy strawberries because we forgot them in the back of the fridge. Knowing your produce inventory and how to store them can prevent this unnecessary waste. 

For example, did you know the best way to store asparagus is in a jar filled with water in the refrigerator, that basil hates the cold, or that potatoes last longer in a cold, dark area? Review this guide to understand best practices around produce storage. Additionally, it’s critical to know how long each product lasts after purchase. If you have something that’s time sensitive, make sure it’s on your menu for the next day or so to prevent wasting both food and money. 

Propagating a bunch of basil in a jar of water for storing it fresh or regrowing later
Basil doesn’t tolerate cold temperatures. Keep it on the counter in a jar of water.

Utilize the freezer

Your freezer can be your best friend for making healthy plants last longer. Review the freezer section in your grocery store for options that can make for a delicious, healthy meal. Better yet, if there is a great sale on a popular household produce, you can buy large quantities for later. Don’t be afraid to use frozen produce in smoothies, or stir fry for quick, healthy, frozen food options.

Also, remember the freezer if you have produce about to go to waste. Do you have a lot of bell peppers or butternut squash you won’t be able to use? Cut them up and save them for later. You’ll be glad you did!

Get creative

Getting creative can look different to everyone, but there are two things that can inspire creativity. Leftovers and using the whole plant. 

Repurpose leftovers to make a delicious meal. Put together an omelet, quesadilla, chili, or a yummy salad to use up some of the veggies lingering in your fridge. Dedicate a day for regular fridge clean out where you can take inventory of what you have on hand and make a plan to use up what has a limited lifespan.

Meatballs in a thick vegetable soup Albondigas. Mexican and Spanish cuisine
Use veggie scraps to make a soup!

Lastly, use the whole plant and recognize opportunities for substitution. One of my favorite examples is carrot top pesto. Do you ever use the tops of carrots? Try it as pesto sometime. Are you now thinking that pine nuts for pesto are really expensive? You’re right! But you don’t need to use pine nuts, you can easily replace them with cashews or even walnuts. Another idea: make your own veggie stock with the scraps of your bell peppers, carrots, and onions. Keep a bag in your freezer (yes, the freezer again!) and drop your scraps in there and when the bag is full, use it for a hearty veggie stock that can serve as a great base for future meals.

Knowing how to use the whole plant or recognizing what is a good recipe substitution can help stretch your healthy plants and allow you to have flexibility within your cooking. The possibilities are endless!

Whether your budget is tight, you’re looking to limit your food waste, or you just like to think differently about your approach to healthy plants, there’s always an opportunity to do better. What changes can you make to your habits?