Simplified Menu Planning: Day 17 – 5 Ways to Buy Fresh Produce

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31 Days to a Real Food Approach

31 Days to Simplify Your Menu Planning

Reduce the mental effort and time you invest in your pantry, grocery list, menu plan, and dinner recipes process. This 31 Days to Simplified Menu Planning series will break down the simplification into baby steps and show you how to develop a simple, easy, and effective strategy for feeding your family every day: without an overflowing pantry or extra trips to the grocery store.

Five Strategies for Buying Produce

1. Shop based on the weekly grocery ads

This is many people’s default method, but it does require a lot of time – both to look through the ads and to stop at multiple stores.


  • Takes advantage of the lowest prices offered.


  • Often the large chain stores that offer loss-leader deals are not carrying local produce.
  • Takes a lot of time.

2. Shop at one or two favorite stores and select standard seasonal options

In my town, the store that usually has the best prices (and local produce) doesn’t put out ads, and often their regular price is Safeway’s sale price. So I don’t bother browsing ads or driving all over town. I shop at my standard grocery store and buy onions, carrots, garlic, zucchini, and cabbage, and then additionally whatever else is on sale, which usually coincides with what is in season.


  • No research or running around town necessary.
  • You reliably get good produce at a good price, with minimal effort and time.


  • The discount grocer might not carry the best produce in town.

3. Patronize a local farmer’s market or produce stand

If you live in an area with agriculture, there are likely several farmer’s market or produce stand options, where the growers themselves are there selling. If you are not in an agricultural area, farmer’s markets might just be the same trucked-in vegetables as Safeway carries but with a surcharge for the trendy experience. Know your own area and your options.


  • In-season, local produce
  • A higher percentage of your cost goes to the farmer rather than middle men
  • Usually very good quality produce


  • Limited hours, days, and seasons
  • Not always less expensive

4. Subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)

A growing trend is for local farmers to offer subscription vegetable deliveries. Customers pay upfront before the season begins and receive a weekly delivery (which must be picked up) of whatever is ready to be harvested on the farm.


  • In-season, local produce, picked ripe
  • A higher percentage of your cost goes to the farmer rather than middle men
  • Usually very good quality produce


  • Unpredictable types and amounts of vegetables
  • You have to get get your box at a set day and time
  • Only available seasonally

5. Plant a garden

Of course, if local, seasonal, picked-ripe produce is important to you, then the best way to get it is from your own backyard! It is lovely to be able to step out during dinner preparations to pick 2 green onions and a bowl full of lettuce leaves. “On demand” vegetables, as it were – as long as the crops don’t fail.


  • Absolutely fresh, picked-ripe produce
  • Pick what you need when you need it


  • Lots of time and work required (but it also counts as exercise)
  • Harvests are unreliable

Of course, rather than settle on one of these methods, most people will blend them. Choose one as your primary method of acquiring vegetables, then supplement with any others that are available to you. Be aware as seasons of life as well as literal seasons make one option more viable than another.

How do you procure your produce?

Mystie Winckler began menu planning at 11 years old when her mom delegated one dinner a week to her. Marrying at 19, she’s had a lot of practice over the years. But between growing and homeschooling her family, meal planning often requires brain power that just isn’t there any more. Simplified Dinners is her solution to take the effort and thought out of healthy, frugal cooking. And now it is available for you, too!

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