Tomatoes: Saving with Staples

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Saving 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. 

Tomatoes are a bit more expensive in cost compared to other vegetables by weight. However, they can well and keep well in your freezer. Let’s see how tomatoes add up as a staple to save with.

Health benefits of tomatoes

Are tomatoes really all that healthy? According to Registered Dietician Cynthia Sass, they sure are! She cites no less than seven health benefits related to eating tomatoes. Many of these benefits are related to the wonder-compound and anti-oxidant lycopene, which coincidentally gives them their rich red color. Other benefits are related to the many vitamins they contain, including vitamins C, A, and even K. The nutrients potassium, lutein, and beta-carotene are also found in tomatoes. 

What are the other potential health benefits of tomatoes? Here is the impressive list: maintaining heart health and function, healthy blood pressure, vision, digestive health, beautiful skin, protection against diabetes complications, and possible protection against cancer. Whew! Just typing all of these out made me want to reach for a jar of my canned Roma tomatoes.

Cost of tomatoes: What are the frugal ways to buy them?

I am going to reveal my own bias, but I basically never buy tomatoes out of season. Not only is buying tomatoes out of season more expensive, but I found that the flavor was so much less than the seasonal tomatoes that it was worse than not eating them.

My family background is Irish, and I didn’t discover the Roma tomato until I left home and started gardening. Until then, I honestly thought, “What is the point of those tomatoes?” Our family garden was filled with juicy beefsteaks that we lived on in sandwiches in the summer, but nary a Roma was to be found. 

As my main focus is self-sufficiency on my Half-Acre Homestead, I primarily grow Roma tomatoes intended for canning and eating during our long Canadian winters. They are more “fleshy” than beefsteaks and thus provide more substance to the sauces and chilis that I make with them. 

Our current off-season price in our local discount grocery is $2.19 per pound for either Roma or Beefsteak tomatoes. During tomato season, I was able to buy an entire half-bushel of perfect Roma tomatoes for only $7.25. The price for those tomatoes at harvest time was only 28 cents per pound. The difference is almost a ten-fold difference in price. I had the entire half-bushel canned in two days. Because I only eat tomatoes in soups or stews or casseroles, I don’t miss having them fresh in the winter at all. 

But what about canned tomatoes in the grocery store? I’m glad you asked. They are pretty inexpensive in our local store brand: You can get 28 fluid ounces for only 87 cents. What does this mean? Basically, it means that when I BUY my tomatoes in the half-bushel, I am not saving a lot of money by volume. Why do I do it, then? It is because the taste of these fresh-canned tomatoes is so far superior to any canned product out there. I do it for my enjoyment of them. Now, when I can my own harvest of Romas, I am saving that expense of buying the bulk tomatoes, so there are some savings there, especially if I grow my own seedlings. 

At harvest time, there may be more options for you. Is there a food wholesaler near you? Similar to the deal I found, half or full bushels 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 can your tomatoes so that you can eat them through the winter. If you just aren’t able to can, do what my aunt does and just throw some in the freezer. Yes! It CAN be that simple.

Creative ways to use tomatoes during lean times

The one way that I find tomatoes can make a meal is by making a homemade cream of tomato soup. I use my wonderful Mennonite cookbook for the simple recipe, making a butter, onion, and flour roux, adding two cups of my canned crushed tomatoes off heat, returning to heat and adding two cups of whole milk. This is such a tasty and satisfying soup that I don’t add any lentils for protein; just a side of crackers or bread is enough. Oh, and don’t forget the basil!!!

When times are lean, I can stretch my food dollars by reaching into my pantry. I make a casserole with a box of mac and cheese and a can of tuna. By sautéing some onions and adding a pint jar of tomatoes from my pantry, and adding some hot pepper flakes, I turn what might be drudgery into delish. A pot of this lasts me several days and seems to have enough protein for a hungry farm worker.

The Wartime Cookbook, previously featured on The Frugalite, has numerous recipes that feature tomatoes, including Lentils with Rice and Tomatoes and a Tamale Pie with cornmeal. These are really worth checking out.

Frugalite inspiration

Looking for more ideas? The Ultimate Frugal Soup Formula features tomatoes. What is awesome about this “recipe” is that it allows you to use whatever you have on hand. Especially these days, it can be important to be thrifty and use up those leftovers! 

With inflation rising sky high, you may have already canceled eating out, but you don’t have to cancel pizza night if you use these great tips and put canned tomatoes (homemade or store-bought) to good use in a simple sauce.

Tomatoes: They’re everywhere in a thrifty kitchen

Tomatoes are a healthy staple that can be added to most dishes. Could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here? Do you have one you can share with us? Are tomatoes a regular part of your kitchen staples?

Please tell us in the comments below.

Want more information on saving with staples? Check out the other articles in this series:

About Colette

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. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

Tomatoes: Saving with Staples
Colette

Colette

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. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

10 thoughts on “Tomatoes: Saving with Staples”

  1. I love your tips on using tomatoes. Regarding pizza night, once I had a bunch of romas that I was not sure how to use. I’m not great at canning but I have a big freezer. I made the romas into pizza sauce and then froze them in muffin liners. I used silicone ones because they release from anything and can be used over and over. Once frozen, I put those muffin sized tomato pucks into a bag and then back into the freezer. The benefit of this is one liner-full is about right for a smallish pizza, and two is about right for a large one. It keeps them in great condition!

    1. Hi Redbranch, How ingenious! This has been an ongoing problem for me: how to set aside and freeze the small amount of sauce required for a pizza. By easily removing them from the silicone, you then protect them from freezer burn. What a GREAT idea!!! I make a small pizza myself. Thank you so much for sharing this to benefit the Frugalite community. Wishing you the best with your own pizza night.

  2. I agree 100% with the importance of tomatoes in my kitchen! Not sure where you are but here a 20 oz can of tomatoes is $2.29 for the store brand and its mostly water. I grow my own and grow plus can enough for 3 other families…Always have them in many forms…sauce, diced, garden special (tomatoes, onions, green peppers and celery) just waiting for the call to come up for a dinner, stew or soup.

    1. Hi Pamela, Oh My Goodness! I most sincerely wish that you were MY neigbour, Pamela! How generous and kind of you. Certainly, I have found that once you have home canned tomatoes, you CAN’t go back (my modest attempt at a pun!). Your canning efforts are also much more diverse than mine. I can crushed tomatoes, I’m impressed by what you put away. When I open that jar, the first thing I always do is simply SMELL it. The smell is pure garden beauty, bringing me back to the freshness of the tomatoes right out of the garden. Wishing you a wonderful memories and taste each time you open a jar this season.

  3. My tomato crop fizzled this year…boohoo!
    I use canned tomatoes for my spaghetti sauce. So much tastier than the ready made stuff. In chili, I use tomatoes with green chilis and for spaghetti sauce, I add another can of tomatoes with garlic and basil.
    I also make my own tomato soup like yours because there is too much salt in commercial soups; pairing with a sandwich it’s a great dinner.
    I use tomatoes for just about anything from soups to stews to baking them on meat. My mom put them on beef roasts, but I do not remember a pork dish with tomatoes.

    1. Hi Marie, Ah, my gardener heart goes out to you! Yes, it happens to all of us. This year, my butternut squash crop only produced a small quarter of my regular crop. I will say a little prayer that your tomato crop will be better than ever next season. Oh, I would absolutely love spaghetti sauce with a bit of heat from green chilis like yours! Now that they are putting GMO soy oil in canned tomato soup, I can’t even eat it. I react to those chemicals, which really I consider to be a good thing: my body saying, “Please don’t eat that again!” One pork dish I made with tomatoes was simply a pork chop skillet. I browned the pork chops and then poured a can of my crushed tomatoes in with some of my herbs from the garden and onions and green pepper. Oh my GOODNESS! Those pork chops came out so tender. I served it on rice. It was fantastic. Wishing you the best with your tomatoes in the coming year!

      1. I did not know about the GMO oil in canned tomato soup. Yuck. Another reason to cook from scratch.
        Your recipe for pork chops sounds like one my mother used to make. I remember it as soooo good. Ever have eggplant casserole? Peel and cube the eggplant, add tomatoes, spices, mozzarella cheese, top with bread crumbs and butter, and voila! I like it like that, but you can put in a binder if you like.

        1. Hi Marie, Yes, I didn’t know about the GMO until I had that reaction….I went back to check the label the next morning and the soybean oil/canola oil had been added (not labelled as GMO of course, as there is no law in Canada to enforce that). Given the enormity of my reaction, that was taken off my grocery list permanently. My mother made an excellent eggplant casserole and yours sounds very similar. There is something so wonderful about the texture of baked eggplant. I think mom may have added some ground beef, too. Thanks so much for your comments; they are always appreciated!

    1. Hi Hillbilly on a Homestead, Ooooh! You had me at ground venison. I have a beautiful venison stew in my freezer gifted to me by a friend. I plan to eat it this week. What a treat that will be! I wonder how you grind your venison? With one of those old hand cranked grinders, I would imagine? Thanks for sharing that delicious image of all your tomato/venison meals on your homestead! Wishing you happy hunting!

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