How to Take Advantage of Clearance Produce

overripe bananas

Written by Erin Odom, Contributing Writer

Since this season is all about incorporating more veggies into our diets and eating from our pantries and freezers, I thought it would be a prime time to share one of my favorite frugal grocery shopping tips: how to take advantage of clearance produce.

You can stretch your weekly produce allowance a lot further if you check out the marked-down, overripe fruits and veggies!

I actually map out my grocery trips to stop at the clearance shelves and bins first. Most stores have these, and if you’re not sure if yours does, don’t be afraid to ask the store manager what they do with the overripe produce that isn’t at its prime but is not bad either. By taking advantage of these deals, you can shave up to 50-75% off your produce budget!

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Image by Wonderlane

However, there are limits to what you can do with clearance produce. Keep these important tips in mind:

Make a Quick, Mental Plan Before Buying

I’ve made the mistake far, far too many times of buying too much clearance produce. While 5 pounds of mushrooms for $2.00 may sound great at the time, if they all go bad before you can use them, then it’s $2 wasted.

While I scour the clearance produce shelves, I try to form a mental plan of what I will do with the items.  Some clearance produce items are eaten fine as is, but many times they make the mark-down racks because they may have a bruise or be extra soft, etc. Can I turn the bruised apples into applesauce? Can I cook these soft tomatoes into a yummy pasta sauce? Can I freeze the browned bananas to use later in smoothies? I find that without this plan, my “great buys” may buy themselves time rotting in my fridge only to be tossed in the compost or trash can.

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Image by amberdegrace

Be Willing To Change Your Meal Plan

In her Plan It, Don’t Panic meal planning eBook (which is 25% off right now!), Stephanie stresses the benefits of making a flexible meal plan. This is key when taking advantage of clearance produce.

If you’ve planned on baking chicken tenders with a green bean casserole that night but spy a big bag of lettuce for 50% off, can the green bean plans and serve grilled chicken salads instead! Move your night’s original meal onto the next night.

Know Your Produce’s Typical “Lifespan”

Believe it or not, there are actually a few produce items that will keep long past the point where they make it to the clearance shelves. Of course, the sooner you eat these items, the more nutritional value you will consume. It’s important to know which items will last longer than others–which foods can be stored in the fridge, frozen or used immediately, or used up or lost altogether.

Store in the Fridge

Don’t be scared to let these sit in the fridge a few days if you don’t already have a plan for them:

  • apples–I very frequently find organic apples on clearance at our local health food store–sometimes for as low as $.49/pound in season! These will last a very long time, and if they do start to brown, you can easily make some applesauce, toss them into an applecado smoothie or make a yummy apple crisp!
  • carrots–If they don’t have any signs of going bad right away, carrots will last in your fridge for quite a while. If you don’t think you’ll use them before they do rot, go ahead and chop or shred and freeze them. You won’t be able to eat these raw, but they’ll be perfect in a soup!
  • citrus fruits–Unless they are growing mold (and, in that case, you need to toss them!), even clearance citrus fruits should last a bit longer than other produce.

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Image by Calvert Cafe & Catering

 

Eat or Freeze

You should either eat or freeze these items the same day you purchase them.

Use It or Lose It

There are a few items that you really cannot freeze–and will not last in the fridge long either:

  • mushrooms–Supposedly you can freeze them, but they must be fresh. If you don’t use them up quickly, they’ll go to waste.
  • lettuce–I haven’t found a good way to preserve lettuce. So if you aren’t making that salad asap, leave that head of romaine on the shelf.

How do you take advantage of clearance produce?

Top Image by Roberto Verz

About Erin O

Erin is a follower of Jesus, wife to Will and mommy to three little redheaded girls (born in 2008, 2010 and 2012). She is a life-long, professional dreamer and recovering overwhelmed homemaker. Her mission is to encourage, educate and empower her readers at The Humbled Homemaker to live a grace-filled, natural life. She is the author of a 200+-page eBook all about cloth diapering-- Confessions of a Cloth Diaper Convert: A Simple, Comprehensive Guide to Using Cloth Diapers.

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Comments

  1. If you rinse lettuce that you won’t use in a salad before it goes bad, and freeze it, you can use it later in green smoothies. This also goes for any other greens: kale, chard, beet greens, sprouts, etc. I learned this from greensmoothiegirl.com.

  2. Suzetmarie says:

    I have found soooo many uses for dscounted produce. Lemons and limes you can cut them up put them in a jar in the sun. Add to cleaners! Really helps to cut grease. Berries, berries, berries! I live in an apartment surrounded by blackberries but not any raspberries, blueberries ect. I buy them reduced and have found typically they are all good berries repacked and also more often than not they are organic. I cut the tops off of the strawberries place them on wax paper to freeze then pop them in a gallon ziplock they last all year. (I do not rinse them until I pull them out of the freezer to use or they tend to form Ice crystals) If it is something like carrots I put it in my homeade dog food which I make from rice and clearance meat, usually chicken.

  3. I dry mushrooms I find on the clearance shelves. I toss a handful in soups, casseroles, whatever.

  4. THese are great ideas. I used to use a lot more clearance items, but the past few years it hasn’t been good. It used to be .99 cents, now sometimes its not worth it to pay 50% off…its too far gone at times.

    I’m hoping to find some bananas soon. My stash is almost gone!

  5. I did not realize that you could do so many wonderful things with fruits and veggie that were going bad. I usually throw them in the trash. I have been wasting alot of money. I am glad you shared this with us. I have always bought the day old cakes and cookies off the back rack at the market. I can not wait to try a few of these ideas and maybe save some money.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I saw someone on Pinterest who puts her chopped lettuce in vacuum sealed jars…she says it stays fresh for weeks! Here is the pin:
    http://pinterest.com/pin/114208540520014080/

    And this one for green onions:
    http://pinterest.com/pin/114208540520159516/

  7. Brittany E says:

    We freeze mushrooms all the time… Dice them into pretty small pieces(or throw them in your food processor and pulse), saute them with a little butter/EVOO, salt and maybe some spices and then freeze them in small portions. I will throw them into spaghetti sauce, polenta, rice pilaf, cheese sauces… On top of salmon, in a stuffing, with pulled beef, on top of baked potatoes…. Basically on anything:)

    Thanks for the post!

    • This is great news! Are the mushrooms fresh, though? I’ve read you can really only successfully freeze fresh mushrooms, but those sources may have been referring to raw, fresh mushrooms. Cooking them before freezing makes sense–and it sounds feasible even with these clearance mushrooms! Thanks for the tips!

  8. If you mash avocado, they freeze extremely well & don’t even turn brown. When my daughter was first eating solids, I would mash & freeze avocado cubes and they lasted a long time. They still tasted great too–my daughter loved it.

    • Thanks for the tip! My two daughters have both loved avocados since infancy, and I hope to try your tip with my baby due in August!

  9. Christianna Kenley says:

    I put my greens in my blend tec then freeze it in cubes for later Smoothies.

  10. They don’t really mark down the produce here like they used to. The bags of over ripe banans are only marked down 5-7 cents a pound. Not really much savings. The grocers have caught on to the uses for these gems, what with the t.v. chefs extolling their virtues, the rise of smoothie makers, etc. I love the ideas presented here.

    • That really stinks! :( Not all of our stores around here have actually clearance shelves/bins…some just put a clearance sticker on the produce, and I really have to look for it. I would be so sad if they stopped altogether!

  11. Thanks for the great tips! I just finally found a store that does have a marked down produce rack in our area, so I have been looking for ideas as to how to maximize the savings. This post gave me some ideas I had not thought of before.

  12. LOVED this post! Nothing makes me happier whilst grocery shopping than good deals on produce and breads. Well, my children being well behaved in the store makes me happier. But clearance produce runs a close second ;)

    • Same here–and I agree with the kids’ behavior as well! Haha! I have been doing more and more of my shopping on the weekends while my hubby is home!

  13. i often buy the marked down bananas for smoothies. i always consider it jackpot day when there are a bunch of bananas on the clearance shelf. :)

  14. I use a lot of bananas in my green smoothies. I just peel the bananas and put them in a freezer bag whole. When I need one for a smoothie, I just take it out of the bag and let it set while I blend up the other ingredients. When the banana has thawed a little bit, I just had it to the blender.

    I have a Champion juicer so I can also use these frozen bananas to make banana ice cream. Yum!

    Love this post. Thanks for the info.

    Susan
    EducatingToday.com

    • I made the HUGE mistake of NOT peeling the bananas one time before freezing! I was lazy and just threw the whole bunch in the freezer. It was a pain to have to peel the bananas while frozen! haha! I’ve learned my lesson!

      That banana ice cream sounds fabulous!

      • You can just let them thaw on the counter (in a bowl to catch the juices) & then cut off the top & squeeze the banana out into your mixing bowl for making banana bread, no mashing required! I freeze bananas without the peel for smoothies & with the peel for baking…makes it so easy!

        • My problem? I usually get the craving for a smoothie on the spur of the moment…and I don’t want to take the time to let the banana thaw!! LOL! I usually run it under hot water and then peel w/ a knife…but it freezes my hands. So, I now prefer to freeze with the skins off.

          But your method sounds great for those who plan a little better than I do!

  15. This is exactly why I need a second chest freezer. :-)

    • Girl, I need a first chest freezer! We have to squeeze everything into our side-by-side. We have no space for a chest freezer in our townhouse. I hope we will have room one day!

  16. I have parrots and buy fruit and veggies often for them. I try to buy what will be used in 2 days. I like the idea of preserving the fuirt and veggies I can get on clearance rack. Thank you. Has anyone made kale chips without salt? Birds really should not have salt in their diets.

    • Feeding pets with the clearance produce sounds like an excellent idea! I have never made kale chips without salt, but I don’t see why you couldn’t? Obviously, the chips will taste blander, but I don’t think the parrots will mind?

  17. I freeze avocados all the time (just the green inside). But make sure that when you freeze them, separate the pieces, or you’ll have one big chunk of pieces stuck together. The pieces are very difficult to get apart from each other without thawing. I use the pieces in smoothies.

  18. Great list! Good idea to steam and puree the greens – I’d never thought of that one.

    • I don’t think it occurred to me to do it for green smoothies, etc. until I had some frozen baby food puree leftovers!

  19. I would add asparagus to the “use it or loose it” category (speaking from experience). But great post – I frequently buy produce from my local market’s “clearance cart.” I love it!

    • Oh yes–I’ve let asparagus go “slimy” way too many times. And I always kick myself because it’s soooo good yet so expensive!

  20. Last year we had excess lettuce from our garden. I made lettuce soup with the tired, wllted parts and salad with the rest. The lettuce soup was much yummier than I expected it to be.

  21. We don’t get much at our local store, but if I can be there, I get what I can use. You can also dehydrate many of these fruits and veggie to use for another time. My favorite is grabbing up mushroom clearance and tossing them in the dehydrator to use at a later date in pasta sauce, stocks and hubby loves eating them for snacks.

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