5 Reasons Why the Produce Aisle Is the Best (and How to Shop It)

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I have a confession: I absolutely LOVE grocery shopping. This is a bit unexpected, since I’ve never enjoyed going to the mall, even as a teenager when my desire to master (pre-Atari) Pac-Man meant hours at the mall arcade. But the grocery store? I love it! I get lost in studying the merchandising and sales strategies, and can completely lose track of time browsing the shelves checking out SKUs. (I suppose this is why I have the job that I do.)

My favorite section of the grocery store is the produce aisle, and I want to make it yours, too. Here are five reasons why the fruit-and-veggie section of the grocery store plain old rocks:

What’s cheapest is what is best.

We operate with the assumption that if something costs more, it’s better. And often, that is true! But not in the produce aisle. When a particular vegetable or fruit is in season, the price goes way down due to the “overstock” at the “factory” — simple supply-and-demand economics. (Side note: Wouldn’t it be great if this were true everywhere? I’d love to get a Cadillac for less money than a used Chevrolet.)

Takeaway: Follow the sales in the produce aisle not only to save money but also to get the highest quality!

Simple math skills are rewarded (or “My flashcard years are finally paying off!”).

There are multiple price points available at any given time in a grocery store, and nowhere is that more evident than in the produce aisle. Produce is offered to us at multiple price points, and those who spend 10 seconds doing a little math can really benefit!

Take potatoes, for instance. Usually they will be sold loose and packaged in 5- or 10-pound bags. Let’s say the loose ones are 79 cents per pound, which sounds like a reasonable price. You grab four or five potatoes and plop them into your cart. Not so fast! Right next to those loose potatoes is a 5-pound bag that sells for $1.59, or 32 cents a pound — less than half the price! (The 10-pound bags are usually even cheaper per pound, but be aware that 10 pounds of potatoes is a lot to use up if you aren’t entertaining.)

Mushrooms, carrots, apples, oranges and lemons are also commonly offered both loose and packaged.

Takeaway: Run a quick calculation to determine the best per-pound price. (No shame in using your phone’s calculator here!)

I can shop with (relative) abandon.

Most of the produce aisle is relatively inexpensive. Yes, if you try to buy peaches in January, you’ll pay a small fortune. But if you stick with what it is generally in season, it’s almost impossible to break the bank in the produce aisle.

Replace your processed foods with fresh produce and you will save money, period. It goes without saying that if you buy produce and then load up with processed foods and then go home and eat the processed foods and let your produce go bad, then you will waste money. But that is a processed-food-eating problem, not a produce-pricing problem.

Takeaway: Buy produce in season. And then eat it.

Produce is a safe splurge, for both my wallet and my health.

I’m pretty strict about spending money mindfully. However, even the most-budget-conscious cook wants to splurge a little! And the produce aisle is the best place to do it.

Go ahead and grab a handful of high-end mushrooms to add to your pasta recipe — it will feel fancy and it will set you back a buck or two. Compare that with a protein splurge: Upgrade your steak instead and you could easily spend an extra $20 on dinner. Finding some high-end fancy upgrades in the produce aisle keeps the financial impact of the splurge in check. Plus, veggies, even fancy ones, are healthy!

Takeaway: Treat yourself with cool fruits and veggies when you want to splurge!

Free facials: Sticking your head in that veggie mister is a real wrinkle reducer.

I’m kidding — just making sure you were paying attention. The final reason I love the produce aisle is: I love vegetables and fruit. I feel good picking out healthy foods that I know will nourish my family. As a budget shopper, I don’t just consider the cheapest calorie I can stick in my body as the biggest win. Some budget shoppers make the mistake of thinking only about cost per calorie. I want to change that! Let’s think about cost per nutrient.

Takeaway: Remember that produce is a nutritional bargain, and load up.