Fresh produce vs. canned, dried, or frozen: Which costs less, but is the better choice? Sometimes, it depends on the time of year and what you’re planning to make. Here are some handy tips to get the best flavor, while spending less dough.
Often, fresh vegetables are less expensive than canned – but not always. For instance, fresh tomatoes are sometimes more expensive per pound than canned, and there are times when you don’t want to (or don’t have time to) blanch, peel, and seed fresh tomatoes. It pays off to know what fruits and vegetables are-in season, and weigh that against your purpose. Canned tomatoes will hold up to longer cooking times than fresh ever will (the texture and flavor will be retained, too). Fresh tomatoes are great in salads, sandwiches, and in quick-cooking fresh sauces, or as toppings — make good use of them when they’re in season and the price is low. In the summer, two ears of fresh corn will probably always be cheaper than even the least-expensive canned corn, and more flavorful (it’s also not a big project to cut corn off of a cob, and the kernels will freeze well once blanched). Dried beans aren’t packed in salty liquid like canned beans, so although they take longer to cook, they’re the healthier and less expensive choice. A good rule of thumb: fresh anything works best for meals that cook quickly, but canned and dried are better for meals that cook longer.
On that same note, canned potatoes are never worth it at any cost, with a mealy texture, added sodium, and a terrible taste. Generally, buying a five- or ten-pound bag (provided you have space for storage) is the most cost effective option, but a single russet (usually marked as “baking” potatoes) will do — and one or two potatoes at 77 cents per pound sometimes makes more sense than buying in larger quantities (particularly if you’re not going to use that many). Canned peas are mushy and salty; always go for fresh or frozen.
Frozen fruit almost always costs less than fresh. If you are using berries for a dessert or in a smoothie, you won’t even notice the difference. Frozen will probably taste even better; the fruit is usually riper than fresh, since it doesn’t need to be sturdy for shipping, and then sitting on a shelf in the produce aisle. Frozen broccoli is great, but be sure to buy florets, or you’ll have a lot more fibrous “trunks” than tender “leaves.” In recipes where ingredients are exact (baked goods, casseroles, etc.), thaw frozen produce first and remove any extra liquid before adding them unless the recipe specifies otherwise.
Canned fruit and fruit in those little plastic cups? Skip those, unless you have picky kids and they’re on sale. If you must buy them, look for the ones packed in natural juice vs. ones packed in heavy syrup. Pre-made applesauce is convenient, but a fresh apple is healthier and cheaper, with less sugar and more nutrients. An apple a day doesn’t keep Doc Frugal away!