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Saving Money with Staples is a series where I will look at a pantry staple and consider its nutritional value. Then, I will investigate the economics of this staple: what is the most cost-effective way to buy it. Finally, I will offer some suggestions on how to eat and serve this staple to get the most benefit from the savings that it offers.
What are the health benefits of carrots?
I’m sure many of us were told at some point in our lives to “Eat your carrots: they’re good for you!” I remember my mother telling me that they were good for my eyes. Was she right? You betcha! According to Registered Dietician Anna Taylor, carrots are very good for our eyes. In fact, “carotenoids, an antioxidant pigment found in carrots, may decrease your risk of age-related macular degeneration.”
However, carrots also have other important health benefits, according to Taylor:
- Help your body fight infections
- Reduce cholesterol levels, improve heart health
- Reduce risks for several types of cancer
For the budget-conscious, Taylor mentioned an important fact about carrots: they are low in calories while containing healthy fiber. A half-cup of carrots only has 41 calories while containing almost 3 grams of fiber. Wow!
Taylor highlighted this quality of carrots in relation to potential weight loss. I would add that when the budget is tight, carrots would be a good food to fill up on that has fiber and nutrients our bodies need. It will help you feel full, even when you’re trying to stretch your pantry to the limit.
Cost of carrots: What are the frugal ways to buy them?
I compared a number of ways to buy carrots as I prepared this article. While the prices may vary from region to region, I am pretty sure that this ranking would not vary unless there was a very good sale. In my region, the most common way to get carrots is in a bag. The price for two pounds of organic carrots or three pounds of standard carrots is the same at a popular discount grocery store: $2.75.
Are you concerned about pesticides on your carrots? In terms of the “dirty dozen,” (more pesticide residue) and “clean fifteen” (less pesticide residue) that some may be aware of, this year, carrots come in at number 29, very close to the clean fifteen, which starts at number 32. So, if your budget is tight, you could only buy organic varieties of the items on the “dirty dozen” list. This way, you could get that extra pound of carrots each time you buy them.
So, the cheapest way to buy carrots I found was the largest bulk bag.
Here is how other options are ranked, from cheapest to more expensive by weight. I could not find frozen carrots alone, but they are clearly an economical way to buy your veggies:
The large bulk bag (2 or 3lb), frozen no-name peas and carrots (1.5 lbs), a small bulk bag (1 lb), a bunch of fresh carrots (approx 1 lb or a bit less), a bulk mini carrots (2 lb), and then a small bag of mini carrots (less than half a pound).
At harvest time, there may be more options for you. Some grocery stores in our area offer 10 lb bags in the fall. You may be able to contact a local farmer to ask if you can glean his fields in exchange for some produce. You may be able to place a bulk order with a local farmer and use cold storage to extend the life of your veggies as well.
I hope this ranking opens your eyes to how you might save when you next buy these fantastic roots. Even a small change, like substituting a bulk bag of carrots for a small bag of mini carrots, will help you save money.
Creative ways to use carrots during lean times
If you buy carrots with the tops on or grow your own, one way to save money with carrots is to eat the TOPS, too! I started doing this over a decade ago, and back then, my friends and family thought this was strange. You can chop carrot greens into basically anything: salads, pesto, tabbouleh, smoothies.
I dry mine in the fall and throw the dried carrot greens into soups and stews over the winter for extra flavor and nutrition. If you would like to try this, here is a great link with no less than SEVEN suggestions on how to eat your carrot tops.
Here are some other ways to use these veggies along with pantry items in a way that saves you money:
Save on snacks by cutting your own carrot sticks rather than buying baby carrots. Grate up a root or two and make some whole wheat carrot muffins with raisins. I sweeten mine only with mashed dates. Delish! Freeze five of them for later and keep seven for your week if you live alone. Juice your carrots and save the pulp to make your own broth. If you like hummus as a snack, you can blend in leftover cooked carrots and/or carrot tops. Yum yum!
Carrot main dishes
On a lean week, you might find me making a simple omelet for supper: I sautee onion and garlic first and then throw in some grated carrot. Once that is soft, I throw in the beaten egg and milk. Voila! Supper!
In the cooler months, carrots can form the basis for a simple stew or my famous red lentil soup, which feeds me for a week. You can make chicken soup with a carcass and add carrots. Here is a link to a recipe that allows you to turn 2 pounds of carrots into eight servings of pureed ginger carrot soup. While this recipe calls for cream, you can substitute coconut milk or broth if you prefer non-dairy.
By using chickpea flour, these vegan veggie fritters featuring carrot tops and bottoms become a whole low-cost meal. As a non-vegan, I would probably add one of my friend’s free-range organic eggs to this recipe to help with binding. Kept in the freezer, these fritters can last at least three months. The possibilities are endless!
Side dishes with the orange root
One healthy way to eat these versatile vegetables is to steam them. Research has shown this is good for nutrition AND taste. Here is a link to instructions on how to best steam carrots. My go-to method of preparing them is to steam them and serve them with a bit of butter and fresh black pepper.
However, for very little money, you can add creative toppings that can make these types of side dishes come alive. How about carrots with Mediterranean dressing? or Carrots with Honey Mustard Sauce or Minted Carrots with Pumpkin Seeds? I have recently found the World’s Healthiest Foods website and love the way their recipes turn old friends like carrots into something new and exciting for very little cost.
Carrot greens can combine with either basil or spinach to make pesto for a pizza base or pasta dish (hot or cold). If you are on a budget, you could buy the carrots in a bunch once in a while, rinse and dry and carrot tops, puree them and freeze them in small quantities to use later.
In my wonderful Mennonite cookbook, one of the books that I use to save money, I found a simple recipe to reuse the brine from a 1-quart jar of pickles to pickle your own carrot sticks. How thrifty is that!?!
This one wins the award for the most creative carrot condiment: Carrot Cashew Pate. You can add this to wraps, throw a scoop on your salads, or use it as a dip. How cool is that!?!
Carrots: Tops for savings
Carrots are a frugal pantry classic with lots of potential for savings. Could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here? Do you have one you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!