Centsible Mom: Good deals on healthy foods are found at farmers markets

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z Centsible Mom: Good deals on healthy foods are found at farmers marketsAngela Pittenger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Junk food can make mealtime easy. And I admit it's often tasty.

But an expanding waistline and a decline in general health are often the consequences of relying too much on processed foods and snacks - and that can cost a lot more than springing for kale every week.

The average family of four spends about $150 a week on groceries, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

Nearly a fourth of that money is spent buying processed foods and sweets, says NPR's Planet Money. That's followed by meat at nearly 22 percent and produce, which takes about 15 percent of the grocery bill.

There are ways to get healthy food without breaking the bank.

Good deals on healthy food can be found at farmers markets, discount stores and through food rescue programs.

Shopping with friends to buy in bulk splits the bill to save money.

"It's wonderful that there are so many options for people," said Janice Smith, co-owner of Sunizona Family Farms. Whether you get your food through a food rescue program or local farm, "it's way better to put fresh food into your body than just to eat packaged processed food," she said.

Here are a few ways to get healthy food on a budget:

Community Food Bank Farmers Markets

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona operates four farmers markets in the Tucson area, two of which are like small farm stands.

The produce is from the Food Bank's garden or its urban farm and from the Community Foods Consignment program, which allows gardeners or small farmers to sell their extra produce on consignment.

All the produce in the program is naturally grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, said Marie Kessler, the Food Bank's farmers market manager.

Combine in-season produce with other things like beans to stretch your dollar, Kessler suggests.

The Food Bank's farmers markets accept SNAP benefits, as well as farmers market nutrition vouchers that go to low-income seniors and moms receiving WIC benefits.

At the food bank's larger farmers markets, other local vendors sell their products as well. "We really want to support getting locally grown food out to people," Kessler said.

For farmers market locations and information about the Food Bank's programs, see communityfoodbank.com

Zaycon Foods Drive-Thru Market

Zaycon Foods is a Washington based, family-run market that brings fresh food in bulk to various locations in the U.S.

Customers shop and prepay online, then pick up their food at the specified location, without having to get out of their cars.

One of Zaycon's signature products is farm-fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts, which sell for $1.79 per pound - about a dollar less per pound than in the grocery stores. It's a good price, but you have to buy a 40-pound case.

That's a lot of chicken, and a lot of cash up front.

Tucson resident Carol Herbin has a good way to deal with that. "I nearly always split the order with a friend or family member - it's a lot of product," she said. "I believe it's a great way to eat well and save money … but the quality of the meat has been the factor that makes me return," Herbin said.

Zaycon customers can work at one of the company's sales events to earn credit toward their food purchase, said Mike Conrad, the company's president.

Consumers are notified via email when a sales event is coming to town, so they can shop on the company's website, and prepay.

The next local event will be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 26. Register for a Zaycon account at www.zayconfoods.com Registration is free.

Market on the Move

Market on the Move is a project of the 3000 Club, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to food rescue and distribution.

For a $10 donation, you can get up to 60 pounds of fresh produce.

The hope of the organizers is that people who can afford the $10 and have the time to get the produce can pick it up and share with friends or family.

I went to last weekend's event, and I have to say, I was impressed.

There were huge eggplants, acorn and summer squash, cucumbers, yellow bell peppers and a few types of tomatoes.

It was organized, the produce was great and the volunteers were knowledgeable and helpful.

Getting that much produce really makes you experiment more in the kitchen.

Market on the Move events are held Saturdays at various locations. For information go to the3000club.org

Sunizona produce box

Sunizona Family Farms offers FarmBox, a weekly subscription service of certified organic produce, for shoppers set on buying organic produce from local farms.

Those who sign up can go shopping online and choose produce. It's like shopping on Amazon, says Janice Smith, co-owner of the farm.

"You just fill up your shopping cart and we fill up the box with what you ordered," she said.

There are no sign-up fees or up-front costs. Consumers are only charged once they pick up their produce.

"It's a convenient way to get local food," Smith said.

FarmBox produce costs about 5 to 10 percent less than it would at a higher end store. Prices start at $22 for a box of various produce.

Sunizona prices aren't the cheapest, Smith said, but the value for shoppers is getting certified organic produce within 24 hours of it being picked, as well as convenient delivery. For information about FarmBox or Sunizona Family Farms, see www.sunizonafamilyfarms.com

Eating Healthy on the Cheap

• Free up dollars for healthier food by cutting processed food.

• Stretch meat and poultry out by using fillers like beans, tofu or grains.

• Only buy in-season produce. Get extra and freeze, can or dry it.

• Get food directly from growers at farmers markets.

• 99 Cents Only Stores sell fresh produce.

• Experiment with vegetarian sources of protein like beans.

Free guide

Environmental Working Group put together a shopping guide called Good Food on a Tight Budget. It's got a food list, tips and recipes. You can print it for free at www.ewg.org/goodfood

Arizona Daily Star reporter Angela Pittenger, our "Centsible Mom," shares tips, ideas and news about how Tucson consumers can find value and stretch their budgets. Send suggestions, ideas or questions to her at apitteng@azstarnet.com or 573-4137. Plus, join the community discussion with Pittenger on her blog, at azstarnet.com/centsiblemom, where she shares her progress in trying to save more money this year for her young family.

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