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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
In the winter, spuds are a favorite comfort food of mine. I love to make up a traditional Irish Stew. This recipe calls for lamb, but I would probably substitute stewing beef.
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!
10 thoughts on “Saving with Staples: Potatoes”
Great article! Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow in many climates and you can even grow them in grow bags or five gallon buckets. So there’s that.
I make fishcakes by mashing potatoes together with a little green onion and a can of tuna and frying them as patties. You can also bake them. If you want to get fancy you can roll them in bread crumbs. I don’t recommend deep frying because they fall apart, but regular pan frying works, and they are fantastic for dinner. You can make a mock crab cake the same way using imitation crab for the meat, though you’d want an egg as a binder in that case.
Fun, frugal, delicious. Who could ask for more?
Hi Redbranch, Thank you so much for your feedback. It is wonderful to hear from readers, as I am here in my little eco-cabin and it feeds my soul to know that others are enjoying my writing. Your suggestion of fishcakes is FABULOUS. I always keep cans of tuna and salmon in my pantry. MMMMmmmmm. My mouth was watering at the thought of a salmon potato fish cake with fresh green onion from my garden.
Thank you for sharing this great suggestion with the Frugalite community. Truly a Fun, Frugal and Delicious comment. I could not ask for more!!!
I grew up eating fish cakes every Friday. We used canned salmon, mackerl or leftover fish parts.
Hi Denise, Thank you for sharing your memories of fish cakes with us. I am looking forward to trying the salmon ones. I may add a little corn, too. Wishing you the best!
The price of potatoes varies depending on location, because potatoes aren’t grown everywhere.
For example, here in south-east Texas the cheapest potatoes I can find are $4.49 for a ten pound bag. A 5 pound bag is closer to your price. Still, we buy them often.
Thank you so much, Bill. I appreciate that you consistently share your local prices and context with the Frugalite community. I could not possibly even guess what is going on down in south-east Texas from here! When you say cheapest, are you talking about russet potatoes? Yes, even if the prices are higher, potatoes are still a great deal relative to many other foods. Wishing you the best!
Stuffed baked potatoes – veggies, taco meat (leftover or not), cheese, left over BBQ or even other meats.
Scoop out the “tater” and save the skins for side dish or could even be a whole meal. You can freeze baked potato skins. The skins can also be diced up and fried with other veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms).
Boiled potatoes browned up in some butter was always a treat for us – especially “new” (as in fresh dug).
Left over mashed potatoes were made into potato patties – little bit of flour, just enough to make a patty.
Hi Selena, My goodness, all your cooking sounds creative and delicious! These are all great ways to eat your potatoes. That is great that you have given your fellow Frugalites the idea of freezing the skins and frying them up with other veggies. That sounds tasty. I do the same and fry my boiled potatoes in butter. I like them with lots of crispy bits. So yummy. Thanks so much: you got my mouth watering with your comment.
Not sure how I missed this article earlier but have gotten good ideas from it now. Thank you for saying you substitute green onions for leeks. My daughter and I discovered leek and potato soup on a trip to Ireland and have continued to enjoy it often. However, leeks are not always available at our local grocery store in Wyoming — and they are very expensive. I’m going to try making the soup with green onions and see if we like it that way. I’m also thinking that I may buy a leek when I can find one and see if I could use most of it and put the end in water to regrow. I do that with green onions and love the fresh taste of the regrown green tops. I have also regrown lettuce the same way. It is a frugal way to have fresh greens when they get very expensive at the grocery store. I’ve also planted lettuce and spinach seeds in flowerpots in a sunny south window to see if we can grow our own salad inside over the winter. Thank you for this series of articles with good new ideas for using foods when we often get in a rut and don’t think about new and creative ways to use them.
Hi Nancy, It made my day to see your lovely message and learn that you had visited my homeland of Ireland (going back seven generations, that is!). I am delighted to hear that you have enjoyed the series. It has been a pleasure to write and I learned something new about each and every food item as I researched the articles. You are clearly a Frugalite! I could relate to your multiple attempts to grow multiple items in multiple ways. Many people aren’t aware that they can regrow green onions, so thanks so much for sharing all these tips. Right now, I have so many plants in front of my sunny glass door. At night, I give them extra “grow light” time. Some of them are food, like parsley, but some are little yellow flowers from my outdoor flower pots that did quite well in the cold days of fall. They are blooming right now and add so much cheer to my day. Wishing you the best with your indoor garden this year.