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Cut up your own veggies and save $1,000 a year

In the kitchen, convenience usually means extra cost. A couple of minutes of prep work can bring substantial savings over time.

By Money Staff Oct 28, 2013 12:34PM

This post comes from Heidi McIndoo at partner site Living on the Cheap.


Living on the Cheap on MSN MoneyHow many times have you grabbed a bag of baby carrots at the store instead of buying and cutting up full-sized ones? Or picked up a package of pre-shaped burgers instead of a pound of ground beef? While these pre-prepared foods may save you a few minutes here and there, the convenience may not be worth the expense.


Woman carrying eco friendly shopping bag full of vegetables, low section © Harrison Eastwood, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesConsider lettuce, as it’s so readily available in a variety of mixes in bags and pouches. Where I live, iceberg lettuce costs roughly $1 to $1.79 a head. One head makes five to six cups of chopped lettuce. The bags run about $2 each and provide roughly three cups of chopped lettuce, or the amount of half of one head.


If you eat the equivalent of a head per week, over the course of a year, buying and chopping up a head will cost you $50-$90, while the bagged stuff will run you more than $200.


Is the few minutes you save with the bags really worth it?


Perhaps you buy the bags because a whole head is too much for your household. You may want to consider investing in a vacuum food sealer, which can prolong the life of lettuce by several days if not a week or more.


If the lettuce savings aren’t worth your time, let’s talk about carrots. Baby carrots are great to snack on or throw in kids’ lunch boxes, but all that processing to turn big carrots into little ones has a price. A two-pound (32-ounce) bag of carrots is about $2.29 a bag while a 12-ounce bag of baby carrots is about $3.50. Peeling and cutting a few carrots really takes only a few minutes — five at the most.  Let’s say you use two pounds of carrots per week. If you choose baby carrots, you’ll spend an extra $480 a year.


Kids, and many adults too, prefer to eat cut-up apples rather than whole. Those little bags of pre-cut apples are so convenient, right? And they’re less than $5 for a 12-ounce bag. I can get a pound of apples for $1 to $2. Buying two pounds a week and cutting them myself, which also takes just a couple of minutes, will cost between $50 and $100 a year. But buying the same amount of the pre-cut bags of apples gives the grocery store $620 in a year’s time.


The savings aren’t limited to the produce department. Those pre-made burgers are easy to throw on the grill, but a pound a week of them over a year will run you about $260. Buying a pound of ground beef each week to make your own burgers will cost just $150 over the same time. Plus, forming your own burgers also lets you add seasonings, cheese or any other ingredient you like.


If your family eats these foods regularly, buying them whole and taking a few minutes to prep them yourself will cost about $380 a year. But, if you choose to buy the pre-cut/pre-shaped foods, plan to spend about $1,190 over the year. Do it yourself and save a ton.


More from Living on the Cheap:


Oct 28, 2013 5:29PM
I'm opposed to this appalling practice of harvesting baby carrots. They will never get to grow up to be big carrots or live a full life in the garden. If we continue to buy baby carrots, the slaughter will continue.
Oct 28, 2013 4:48PM
Where the heck does this person shop? I get 1 lb bags of baby carrots for $1-1.50. And yes, the convenience is worth it for me. Plus the baby carrots are usually sweeter than full sized carrots which can often have a bitter taste and less tender.
Oct 28, 2013 5:07PM

....while a 12-ounce bag of baby carrots is about $3.50


huh? Lady where do you shop for carrots, Neiman Marcus? A lb of baby carrots at Aldi's is 99 cents.

Oct 28, 2013 3:20PM
It should be pointed out that things like fresh-frozen broccoli and cauliflower and carrots ("California Blend" or "Normandy Blend") are not quite as tasty as fresh, but they are often as cheap or cheaper.  For thanksgiving I'm going to make a cauliflower & broccoli and cheese dish which will be more expensive with the two fresh heads of broccoli and the head of cauliflower than if I bought the equivalent frozen veggies.

Another advantage of the frozen veggies is that they don''t go bad if you don't use them up in a short period.

Oct 28, 2013 2:32PM

Prepare everything from scratch, including the prep work (like peeling carrots, chopping apples, etc.) and you will save even more money.

Oct 28, 2013 5:20PM
those convenient little nubbins that you buy so called baby carrots are pretrimmed  and scrubbed. In reality, baby carrots are misshapen ;mature carrots that have been whittled down to a smaller & more uniform size.  the outer part that's thrown away , food scientists have learned, is much more nutritious than the inner core that remains.  as with most fruits and vegetable, the greatest concentration of nutrients is in the skin and the tissue right below it.  this makes sense, because the outer layers of a plant are its first line of defense against UV rays,mold,grazing animals, insects, fungus, and disease.
Oct 28, 2013 6:03PM
Well, I recently decided to stop buying baby carrots and peel my own, because grocery prices have just become too high and I am cutting costs wherever I can.  However, I do not see buying baby carrots as even a minor financial issue in the grand scheme.  We have a lot bigger problems in this country than a few carrots.  In a time when most people spent more than 50% of their food budget eating (unhealthy foods) outside the home, it seems like quibbling.  I'm not sure where this author shops to find baby carrots at such a price, BTW.  And, why would anyone buy Iceberg Lettuce?  There is zip nutrition in that type of lettuce.  Buy Romain, Spinach, Green/Red Leaf, just about anything else will beat Iceberg nutritionally.
Oct 28, 2013 5:01PM
For as busy as I am, I don't mind spending $1.50 on a bag of baby carrots. I don't think the difference adds up to $1000 a year though. If I buy a bag a week at $1.50 vs. a big bag at $3 a week, the difference is $78 over a year.
Oct 28, 2013 5:04PM
We have animals that love the small carrots..they are good for them..they are my babies and if it's healthy they can have all they want according to the vet..the cost be damned..
Oct 28, 2013 5:30PM
Preparing food from scratch is rewarding.  Some people say I spend too much time cooking, but I find the health benefits are well worth the time.  Also, I don't have to deal with so many recalls of prepared foods that are tainted with salmonella, listeria, E Coli, etc..
Oct 28, 2013 5:10PM
My bunny gets organic baby carrots and he is worth every penny!  It still doesn't add up to $1000 a year!  Not to mention, iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value at all.
Oct 28, 2013 5:51PM
My money and my choice of carrots......I love baby carrots as a snack.  And for anyone that cooks, who hasn't figured out that it's cheaper to process, prepare and chop-up your own food?..... but with me and a lot of other people, you just don't have enough time to make a big production out of every meal.  And I agree with some of the comments below, where the hell do you buy $3.50 bags of baby carrots anyway?..... probably the same place you buy $10 apples.
Oct 28, 2013 3:13PM
Check online recipe sites for OAMC recipes: these mean "Once A Month Cooking" and you can make several batches at once and give away or freeze them.  I make a great Shepherd's Pie, which requires peeling and cutting a lot of carrots, from such a recipe and often make 5 of them in those 12" disposable lasagna pans, and they'll freeze well for months.  I'm now considering smaller disposable pans and "single serve portions."
Oct 30, 2013 5:26AM
I think everyone is missing the point here.  Carrots were just an example used to show how shoppers can save, this example apples to all fruits and vegetables and just about any other food product that is available, including spices.  We grow a lot of the herbs that are so costly on the self @ the grocery store. I can see where a thousand dollar per year savings could be obtained if a person un-prepackaged vegetables and Fruits.  It is a matter of choice and  convenience.

Oct 28, 2013 5:22PM
"baby carrots" are almost always machine-cut, mature carrots.  they are chopped up full sized carrots, not actually baby carrots.  If you look closely at the bag, you'll see they actually aren't called "baby carrots", they are called "baby cut" or "mini-peeled". 
Oct 28, 2013 5:59PM
It's my money and I'll spend it however I please.
Oct 30, 2013 12:26PM
avatar mean....these vegetables are available in their WHOLE form? I can actually buy a head of lettuce and chop it MYSELF instead of having to buy that bagged salad mix? AND it's cheaper? It's a whole new world opening up out there!!
Oct 28, 2013 11:54PM
Cutting and peeling that many carrots would take forever.  And unless you are as proficient as a machine, you will have a lot more waste.  There is no way an average person can make this worthwhile.  That and most people's time is a lot more valuable.
Oct 30, 2013 9:10AM

When you're low on funds you shouldn't be thinking of convenience.

Use your time to save money.

Stop watching television and start preparing your own food from scratch.

Even a food savings of $20 a week x 52 weeks = $1,040 a year.

Oct 28, 2013 5:57PM
Baby carrots always run about 99 cents a pound here.  But, a 5 pound bag of full sized carrots only cost about $2.50.

Problem is, I can't eat the 5# bag fast enough before they get all rubbery.

But, you are an idiot to buy pre-cut lettuce, cantelope, watermelon, etc...
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