Monday, August 07, 2023

Grocery Savings ~ Buying and Storing Produce for Homemade Salads

    We all know that food waste is detrimental to the grocery budget, but sometimes it can be difficult to use up produce before it goes bad.  Learning how to prepare it and store it properly can both extend its life and ensure that we are more likely to use it.

    Today we are looking at some common salad ingredients, starting with lettuce.  I usually opt for romaine, as opposed to something like iceberg, because of its higher nutrient content.  Buying it already cut comes with a hefty price tag, so I buy whole romaine hearts and prep them myself.  I've been using this method for years with great success. 

    First, I cut up the lettuce into bite-sized pieces.

    Then I put it in a wash pan filled with water and a splash of vinegar and let it sit for a few minutes to make sure any dirt, bugs, or any type of pesticide or other residue is washed off.

    I rinse it in a colander and run it through my salad spinner.  

    To get any extra moisture out, I empty the lettuce onto a towel and toss and scrunch it gently.  It is important to get the lettuce as dry as you can.

    Finally, I transfer it to a Mason jar and store it in the fridge (shown below is a half gallon jar).  This keeps the lettuce fresh and easy to use.  

    You can see that I put a paper towel in the bottom of my jar above.  This is to absorb any extra moisture.  I've also packed the lettuce in fairly tight.  The less air and moisture, the better.

    If I have a lot of lettuce, or I know I won't use it quickly, I use the jar attachment on my vacuum sealer to remove all the air before storing.  I've had prepped lettuce last weeks and weeks this way!

    Now for the cost comparison, based on prices at my local grocery store:

    A bag of 3, whole romaine hearts (18oz) = $2.74, or $0.15/ounce

    A bag of pre-cut, chopped romaine hearts (10oz) = $2.98, or $0.30/ounce.  That's twice the cost of the whole hearts!  

    Granted, you do remove some of the weight when you cut off the bases, but not much.  With that kind of price difference, you still come out ahead when you buy the lettuce in its whole form.  You also get the benefit of versatility.  Save some leaves whole for sandwiches, burgers, or wraps.  

    Did you know you can plant the bases and grow more lettuce from them?  I tried it years ago and it worked!  I tried it again when I cut up the lettuce for this post, and it worked again.  I just put the bottoms in a little dish of water and set it on my kitchen windowsill.  This is how much it grew after just 3 days!

    Now for another common salad ingredient: carrots.  I usually buy a big bag of whole carrots and they last a long time in the refrigerator without any special steps, but for convenience I sometimes take a few out and prepare them so that they are ready to eat or cook right away.  I wash and peel them, then trim off the ends and cut them to the desired size.  Then I transfer them to a leak-proof container, cover them with water, and store them in the fridge, changing out the water every few days.  This keeps the carrots good and crisp.  The same method works for celery and cucumbers.  

{Daisy Creek Farms on YouTube has a video that shows even more vegetables that can be stored this way, as well as how to use the water that they are kept in so that nothing goes to waste!  He has a video on storing fruit and another, more extensive one on storing vegetables.}

    For the cost comparison on carrots:

    2lb bag of whole carrots = $1.68, or $0.05/ounce

    2, 1lb bags of mini cut carrots = $1.96 ($0.98 each), or $0.06/ounce

    Savings: $0.28

    I will admit that that's not much of a savings and you do end up sacrificing some of the weight when you peel and trim the whole carrots.  However, that extra $0.28 in savings is enough to upgrade to a 2lb bag of organic, whole carrots at my grocery store.  Some of the other varieties of pre-cut, chopped, and shredded carrots were WAY more expensive, like 3.5 ounces of chopped carrots for $1.98.  That's $0.57/ounce vs. $0.05/ounce for the bag of whole carrots!

    As with the lettuce, buying the whole carrots also has the advantage of versatility.  The mini cut carrots would be much harder to shred or grate, for example.  As for the peels and trimmings, those can go into a bag in the freezer for making broth (another savings which we will explore in a future post).  For that, I definitely prefer the organic.

    Now we look at pre-bagged salads.  The cheapest one I could find with romaine lettuce also contained shredded carrots and red cabbage slivers.  It was a 10oz bag for $3.28, or $0.33/ounce.  Since we already know our lettuce and carrot prices, let's look at the price of cabbage:

    An 8oz bag of pre-shredded cabbage (red and green mixed) = $1.68, or $0.21/ounce.  

    In comparison:

    A whole green cabbage (appx 2.75lbs) = $1.87, or $0.04/ounce.

    A whole red cabbage (appx 2.95lbs) = $2.89, or $0.07/ounce.

    The whole green and red cabbages are about 1/5th and 1/3rd of the cost of the bags of shredded cabbage, respectively.  That is a HUGE difference!  It would take over 5 bags of shredded cabbage ($8.40) to equal one head of green cabbage ($1.87).  That is a savings of $6.53, which is enough to buy a small jar of mayonnaise and a 2lb bag of carrots to put towards a batch of coleslaw.  Or a pound of ground beef and a pound of rice to put towards stuffed cabbage rolls.

    If we made our own salad with the whole ingredients that we prepped ourselves:

    8oz romaine lettuce: $1.20
    1oz carrots: $0.05
    1oz red cabbage: $0.07
    Total: $1.32 

    Compared to the (10oz) pre-mixed bag of romaine, cabbage, and carrots for $3.28, that is a savings of $1.96.  That would buy extra toppings like tomatoes, celery, or an avocado.  It would also buy a dozen eggs, which you could hard-boil and add to the salad for extra protein.  

    Because the prices and sizes of the packages vary so widely, I put together two hypothetical grocery lists- based on the ingredients we've covered- in which the total costs come out about the same.  This is so you can see how much food you get for almost the same amount of money.


    2, 10oz bags of salad mix: $6.56
    2, 8oz bags of shredded cabbage: $3.36
    Total: $9.92 for 2.25lbs of food

    Prep it Yourself:

    3 heads romaine (18oz): $2.74
    2lb bag organic carrots: $1.96
    1 head green cabbage (2.75lbs): $1.87
    1 head red cabbage (2.95lbs): $2.89

    Total: $9.46 for 8.8lbs of food

    That is a lot of food!!! You could make lots of salads, wraps, coleslaw, and cabbage rolls with all of that.   

    Ideas for salad toppings to buy with your savings:

  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Cheeses
  • Onions
  • Peppers (fresh or pickled)
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Black or pinto beans
  • Corn
  • Eggs, to hard-boil
  • Bacon
  • Chicken, grilled or fried
  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Ground beef, seasoned like chili meat
  • Fajitas 
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Dressings (or make your own!)
  • Croutons (or make your own!)
    All sorts of combinations can be made from these ingredients: cobb salad, Caesar salad, taco salad, grilled chicken salad, etc.  Or make tuna salad, chicken salad, or egg salad and serve over a bed of lettuce instead of on bread for a low carb, gluten-free option.  

    You can get creative with dressings, too.  I usually just use olive oil and sea salt to top my salads, but below I made my own dressing using Greek yogurt, thinned with a little milk and seasoned with garlic, salt, and lemon juice.  It paired nicely with the canned salmon I put on top of the lettuce.  I've also made my own ranch dressing, which can double as a dip for fresh veggies.

    One of the restaurants we used to go to had a cilantro lime dressing, which I want to try to replicate.  It was served on a salad made of lettuce, black beans, tomatoes, corn, shredded cheddar, chili-seasoned ground beef, and avocado.  A side of sour cream and salsa made it a delicious meal.  I've made honey mustard to go on a salad topped with leftover chicken.  Whatever your favorite is- I bet you can find a copycat recipe and replicate it for less.   

     As a side or turned into a main dish, salads can be a frugal option when you take a few extra steps to prepare them yourself.  What is your favorite salad/dressing/topping?  Have you ever tried a copycat recipe that you liked?


  1. This is fanrastic! I need to try some of these. Pinning. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My grandmother always put paper towels in her washed lettuce to make it last longer. Having yours for weeks afterwards is very motivating to try this method.

    I always buy the big five pound bag of carrots as they work out to less money than the baby carrots. And they last such a long time in my crisper drawer, much longer than baby carrots. The price difference of your salad made from these ingredients verses bagged salad is huge! Definitely cheaper to make your own salads at home rather than by the salad kits.

    My favorite salad dressing is a homemade ranch one, which we use for dipping chicken in as well. I also love olives, cheese, radishes, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and sunflower seeds in my salads. Croutons are good in there also.

    This is making me want a main dish salad for dinner soon. I need to put this on the menu for the week. Thank you for the great idea!

    1. I usually buy the big 5lb bag of carrots, as well. They do last a long time.
      I forgot all about adding nuts and seeds to salads! Thanks for the reminder.
      I look forward to seeing what type of salad you make this week. I'm glad the post triggered some ideas!

  3. We compost our produce waste, so it isn't entirely wasted, but, still, I don't want to not eat so much produce that I buy. Just yesterday, when I threw some stuff in the compost bin, my husband said, "We sure waste a lot of food." I definitely need to follow your idea for prolonging the life of lettuce. That seems to be the item I compost the most. Those bagged salads ARE convenient, but, wow, are they expensive. Plus, washing lettuce myself, I can be assured it is washed with what I want to use, and not with what I might deem toxic. Thanks for sharing about growing your own lettuce. I need to try that!

    1. I save my scraps for the animals and compost, too, but I feel the same way- it's food we could've eaten ourselves! I'm trying to be more diligent in that area.
      The bagged salads are convenient, but I've also found that they are usually a bit sad-looking at my grocery store. It doesn't take long for them to start getting that yucky slime.
      I do hope you give my method a try. The lettuce I cut up on Thursday is still fresh and crisp! And the lettuce bottoms I put in water are still growing!

  4. Hi Kelsey, This brings to mind the old saying 'use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without'. We have a compost bin that we put all of our scraps in, so that works well for us. I do not like to waste. I am going to try your suggestion of growing romaine from the core. I love this thought and how it would help with our budget. We eat a lot of salads. You have so many good ideas here. Thank you for sharing. Homespun Hugs, Teri

    1. I love that saying, Teri! The lettuce bases I put in water are still growing- actually I am amazed at how quickly! I'm waiting to see if they start growing roots, at which point I will try to plant them outside.
      Thank you for leaving such a kind comment 💕


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