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Saving with Staples is a series where I will look at a pantry staple (like potatoes) 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.
Potatoes are low in cost compared to other vegetables. They keep well. If you use cold storage, you can keep your potatoes through the winter. Let’s see how potatoes add up as a staple to save with.
What are the health benefits of potatoes?
If you think of the most common ways that potatoes make their way into our diet in North America, then you may not think they’re very healthy: chips, French fries, and skins.
However, the potato itself is a lot healthier than we might think. According to Registered Dietician, Ryan Raman, potatoes are full of nutrients. In particular, Vitamins C and B6, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, and folate. This is with the skin ON, so please keep that in mind when eating your thrifty potatoes!
However, Raman emphasizes that there are MORE benefits to your health when you eat them with the skin on. These benefits include:
- “resistant starch,” which may improve your blood sugar control and even help your digestive health
- fiber to help you feel full (One spud has 4 grams of fiber). In fact, a research study asked people to eat and rank 38 foods by how full they felt after eating them. Potatoes came first!
What are the frugal ways to buy potatoes?
I compared a number of ways to buy spuds 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 economical way to get taters is in a 10-pound bag. The price for 10 pounds of russet potatoes is $2.30. I was shocked that the price for a 10-pound bag of yellow potatoes was $4.62. Twice the price! For organic, the price is through the roof: a 3-pound bag of yellow organic potatoes is $5.39. That is out of the reach of a lot of folks these days.
Small plastic bags of pre-washed potatoes are popular. One brand offers a 1.5-pound bag with trendy colors like purple potatoes. The expense of buying these compared to a 10-pound bag of russet potatoes is staggering: they are almost NINE times the cost by weight!
Here is how all the options ranked, from cheapest to more expensive by weight.
- A ten-pound bag of russets
- a 10-pound bag of yellow potatoes
- canned potatoes (sliced or whole, approx. 2 cups)
- a small bulk bag (1.5 lb)
- buying four potatoes pre-wrapped in foil
- buying them individually from a bulk display
At harvest time, there may be more options for you.
Is there a food wholesaler near you? Fifty-pound bags may be available 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 could try to place a bulk order with a local farmer and use cold storage to extend the life of your potatoes through the winter.
Any version of processed potato (fries, wedges, hashbrowns) was three to seven times the cost by weight of buying russet potatoes in a 10-pound bag. Buying instant mashed potatoes was almost fifteen times the cost. Doing it at home yourself is going to help you save a lot of money when it comes to potatoes.
I hope this ranking opens your eyes to how you might save when you next buy carrots. Even a small change, like substituting a 10lb bag of potatoes for a small bag of pre-washed mini versions, will help you save money.
Are you concerned about pesticides on your po-tay-toes?
In terms of the “dirty dozen” (more pesticide residue) and “clean fifteen” (less pesticide residue) that some may be aware of, this year, taters come in at number 13, just past the dirty dozen.
So, if your budget is tight, maybe you would only buy organic when a special sale is on or if they are put on clearance. These are also one vegetable that you can grow in bags and creative containers, even on a patio. You may be inspired to give this a try in the future.
What are some creative ways to use taters during lean times?
Because spuds are so filling and they are good for you, you really can’t go wrong with making them a base for all meals. At the beginning of the week, boil up a bunch of potatoes. Then, get creative!
When times are lean, I eat a smaller amount of expensive foods, such as stew or chili. When I serve these foods, I serve them on a bed of steamed potatoes. That fills me up, and I still get a nice taste of a bit of meat and some variety in my diet.
Another way to use potatoes to stretch your meals is to make creative side dishes with them. Boxtys are traditional Irish potato cakes. They are made with leftover mashed potatoes and grated fresh potatoes. Maybe you only have a few eggs in your pantry, one onion, and some potatoes. You can serve a simple omelet and boxtys. Here is a recipe for boxtys.
I am of Irish extraction. I am proud of how the Irish can creatively use potatoes to stretch out a meal. Making bread with leftover mashed potatoes is another way. Here is a link for a recipe to make Irish Potato Farls, a fried bread.
The Wartime Cookbook, previously featured on the Frugalite, has a section on the use of the humble brown tuber that features some other bread and roll recipes worth checking out.
Here are some other ways to use potatoes along with pantry items in a way that saves you money:
Potatoes in the summer
Here are a few tater dishes best served in the warmer months.
Simple Potato Salad
If you don’t have a lot of food in your pantry one week and you’re invited to a BBQ, you could bring this simple potato salad that features fresh herbs and a basic olive oil and vinegar dressing. Ya, I don’t keep shallots on hand either: I would just substitute some garlic.
A fancy name for cold potato soup. Ya, I don’t keep leeks on hand, and I don’t grow ‘em. I would just substitute some onions or green onion. My mother made this once, and I never forgot it. It was refreshing and delicious.
Do you have a BBQ? You can do individual potatoes in foil (save money by doing this yourself!) or do a foil packet with some other vegetables.
Potatoes in the winter
My wonderful Mennonite Cookbook has a German Potato Soup recipe with only a few ingredients: potatoes, one onion, salt, a dash of pepper, water, butter, and flour. I could not believe how delicious this was! It was a hot soup and very filling.
More Frugalite potato recipes
Looking for more ideas? This fabulous article features kid-friendly recipes, including Cheesy Potato Casserole. The Ultimate Frugal Soup Formula also features potatoes, and this article shares three meals you can make with just potatoes, flour, and butter.
Potatoes: They’re taterly frugal.
Potatoes 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!