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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.
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:
- Saving with Staples: Potatoes
- Saving with Staples: Oatmeal
- Saving with Staples: Yogurt
- Saving with Staples: Carrots
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!