Your $50 Farmers’ Market Shopping List for 5 Weeknight Dinners
Raise your hand if you think farmers’ markets are expensive. Come on, I know a lot of you do. Farmers’ markets often get a bad rap for being pricey; food for the elite bourgeois, some say. But as an avid farmers’ market shopper, I know that’s not the case. A pound of onions at Trader Joe’s might only cost $1.50, but guess what? They only costs $1.50 at the farmers’ market, too!
So, last month I set out on a mission: to show off the affordability of farmers’ market items by creating a week’s meal plan from a $50 market haul. If it seems like an impossible feat, come learn my farmers’ market shopping secrets and tips for cooking sustainably, and you’ll be a believer in no time.
Come Up with a Plan
The first rule of saving money at the farmers’ market (or grocery stores for that matter) is starting with a plan. I started by thinking about ingredients that were easy to use in multiple ways. Eggs, for instance, are a meal planner’s best friend. They can be used for so many things: frittata one night, soft-boiled eggs over salad on another. I added carrots and celery to the list because I could use their greens to make pesto (great for salad dressing and/or sauce for roasted vegetables); carrots could be roasted and celery could be chopped into so many things; and their peels and scraps could be made into stock. I knew I wanted to limit the meat in my menu — it’s the sustainable thing to do, and it would also keep my budget down — but I did want to include a little bit of flavorful meat, so I decided to scope out prices for items like smoked turkey, kielbasa and bacon while shopping.
Shop for the Best Deals
With my basic list in hand, I headed to New York City’s Union Square Wednesday Greenmarket. I’m lucky to live in a city with a lot of farmers’ markets, and this is one of the best; beyond produce, vendors here sell everything from local dried beans and grains to meats, cheeses, honey and bread. To find the best variety, research your local options before you head out. This way you’ll discover which markets and days provide the most vendors.
I won’t lie: walking around the market looking for the best deals took effort. Instead of shopping at just one or two stands, I traversed the entire market at least three times, tracking the costs of every item on my list. The variation in prices was surprising. Some items, like spaghetti squash, varied greatly; one vendor sells it for $1.50 per pound, while another offers it for $0.99 per pound. There’s an even wider spread for green bell peppers; prices range from $3.25 to $2.00 per pound. But other items were roughly the same; kale was pretty much $3.00 across the market.
However tiring, after you’ve done this work once, you’ll know which stands have the best deals and where to shop for what. And a little hard work up front can end up saving you tons of money in the long run.
Use Every Part of Each Ingredient
With the prices calculated, I finalized my ingredients and menu. The total for my 14-ingredient haul — which includes 1 dozen eggs, 1 pound of bacon, 2 types of cheese, dried beans, wheat berries, a baguette, and seven different vegetables — is $52.75. A small caveat: I have included oil, salt, pepper and vinegar as items assumed to already be in the home pantry. And I’ve discussed some optional ingredients — such as mustard, spices and nuts — in the menu below, but I also give suggestions if you don’t have these things.
Remember, shopping for the best deals is key, but you also need to use those ingredients wisely. For this menu, I’ve chosen items that can be used multiple times and can add lots of flavor in various ways. And think smart: I’ve outlined a method using our grocery list, but if you have other veggies, cheese, meats, etc. on hand, use them! Jazz up the frittata with other greens; add even more flavor to the herb salad with parsley and mint; toss in extra root vegetables to the bean stew. Follow the plan, and by the end of the week, not only will you have used every bit of the ingredients, from root to stem, but you can also clean out your fridge and pantry, reducing your food waste.
With all those things in mind, may I present my $50 farmers’ market haul meal plan. This menu makes five weeknight dinners for two, however some of the dishes, like the risotto and bean stew, will easily serve more, while others, like the frittata and spaghetti squash, can be adjusted accordingly if need be. If you shop and cook from the meal plan, the FoodPrint team would love to hear from you. Share your pics on social with the tag #foodprinthaul, and let us know how it goes.
$50 Farmers’ Market Meal Plan
Monday: Kale Frittata with Roasted Carrots and Pesto
We all know it can be rough getting back into the week, so I’m starting Monday with a dinner that comes together fast. Frittata is one of my favorite waste-free recipes, because it’s great for tossing in whatever extra vegetables you have on hand and it cooks fast. We’re using kale, parmesan and mozzarella for this one, but if you have other veggies or cheese, feel free to add them in.
First up, get the roasted carrots going; trim off the greens, reserving them, and give the carrots a good scrub — no peeling necessary! Toss them on a rimmed baking sheet with oil, salt and pepper and roast. Easy, peasy.
Next, make the pesto. Instead of basil, use carrot fronds and celery leaves, roughly half of each. For nuts, use whatever you’ve got: pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios or almonds (what I used) are all good options. If you happen to have a lemon in your fridge, the pesto is even better with the lemon zest and juice of 1 lemon. If you don’t have nuts, make chimichurri instead.
After the pesto is finished, start the frittata. Follow this Kitchn recipe, adjusting it slightly to use 8 eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups chopped kale, 1/2 chopped onion, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, 3/4 cup grated parmesan and 1/4 cup grated mozzarella. Serve frittata with roasted carrots and pesto. Top leftover pesto with a 1/2-inch oil to prevent browning and chill.
Reserve remaining carrot fronds and celery leaves, but place all other vegetable scraps, including carrot stems, carrot tops, onion peel and garlic peels, in a container in the freezer for stock.
Food waste tips: Use some celery leaves and stalks to make celery syrup for a delightfully refreshing drink. Save those egg shells to use to scour pans! Enjoy leftover frittata and roasted carrots for tomorrow’s lunch.
Tuesday: Spaghetti Squash Kale Lasagna and Herb Salad
On day two, we’re using a veggie that’s an entire meal in one, another great meal planning ingredient: spaghetti squash. Since items at farmers’ markets are usually sold by weight, the size of your squash will affect its price, but I’ve called for a two pounder, which is on the smaller size and is a good portion for two people. Get a larger one to serve more people, or if you want lunch leftovers.
There are a number of ways to cook spaghetti squash, the easiest being the microwave. Call me old school, but I prefer roasting it in the oven. (If you want dinner done fast, roast it the night before.) You’ll also want to reserve those squash seeds (a #nofoodwaste duh!) and roast them for a crunchy addition to our salad. Tips on how to do that over here.
While the squash roasts, make quick-pickled onions using the remaining half onion from last night. After the squash roasts, follow this EatingWell lasagna recipe, using kale instead of broccoli rabe. Skip the Italian seasoning if you don’t have it; sub in dried oregano or rosemary if you have those on hand.
While the lasagna bakes, make a quick vinaigrette with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. (Make double the vinaigrette so you’re set for Thursday night’s dinner.) Chop half the spinach and toss in a bowl with a handful of celery leaves and carrot fronds, pickled onions and squash seeds. Place each squash lasagna half on a plate and serve with salad.
You’ll also need to make vegetable stock tonight. A slow cooker is great for this: just toss in all the scraps, cover with cold water and set on low overnight. Along with any scraps you’ve already collected (including the squash skins!), you’ll also want to use the onion and garlic peels from the two remaining onions and remaining garlic cloves and the bottoms of the remaining celery stalks. Strain stock in the morning and chill.
Food waste tips: A true food waste pro makes their own vinegar for vinaigrette: do it with apple peels and cores for the bragging rights. Reuse the onion pickling liquid to make other quick-pickled vegetables.
Wednesday: Slow Cooker Celery and Kale Risotto with Garlic Bread
You already know I am a fan of the slow cooker. Tonight, we’re getting over hump day by using it to magically make dinner for us with this delicious New York Times celery and kale risotto using this Food Network technique for making risotto in the slow cooker.
A few notes: I can’t buy Arborio rice locally in New York, but the Greenmarket does have a really great program featuring regional grains, so I was able to get my hands on some deliciously nutty red winter wheat berries. While they don’t cook up exactly like Arborio (and the slow cooker method yields a less creamy, albeit easier to make, risotto in general) I was happy with the results. Use the vegetable stock you made last night, along with the remaining kale (you should have about a quarter bunch left). I subbed apple cider vinegar for the wine and used celery leaf in the place of parsley and chive, but if you happen to have white wine and chives at home, by all means use those!
While the slow cooker is cooking away, slice half the baguette. Transfer slices to a rimmed baking sheet, rub each with a crushed garlic clove, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with chopped parsley leaves and bake at 350F until golden brown and toasted, about 10 minutes. Drizzle the finished risotto with oil, top with light green celery leaves and serve with garlic bread.
To make things easy for tomorrow night, cook 1/2 cup of the dried beans using this method, simmering them with a smashed garlic clove and some celery leaves. Chill overnight.
Food waste tips: This recipe makes more than enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day. Add a few tablespoons of water or vegetable stock to risotto when reheating. You can also use risotto leftovers as a stuffing for roasted vegetables like portobellos or peppers, or to make veggie burgers.
Thursday: Celery and Bean Salad with Soft Boiled Eggs
It’s the end of the week, and if you’re anything like me, you’re exhausted. So, for Thursday’s dinner, we’re making things super easy, with a quick dinner salad. I followed this FoodPrint celery leaf salad recipe, reusing my salad dressing and pumpkin seeds from Tuesday night and subbing in parmesan for the blue cheese.
In order to take things from side salad to dinner salad, I boosted the bowl with protein, adding in the beans, two eggs per person, and some bacon (cook one-quarter of the bacon, about 4 ounces). If your farmers’ market doesn’t offer dried beans, you can skip this ingredient altogether, or pick up some canned or dried beans from your local grocer. I prefer creamy white beans, but whichever variety you prefer will work here.
Food waste tips: Again, save those egg shells to scour pans!
Friday: Slow Cooker Bacon Bean Stew with Cheesy Toast
Tonight is the night to use it all up! We’re leaning on our good friend Mr. Slow Cooker one more time, making it an easy end to the week. In the morning, you’ll toss the remaining ingredients together in the slow cooker, set it on low and come home to a stew-y dinner. This recipe is great for a chilly night, and it works with so many different ingredients. If you have extra root vegetables, any leftover cooked meat or other dried beans or grains, you can add them in as well, just adjust the liquid accordingly. But you’ll find that even with only a little bit of bacon — the remaining 12 ounces — you can get a lot of flavor and the base recipe works well with just the few ingredients called for below.
For an equally comforting side, use the remaining cheese and bread to make cheesy toast. Slice the baguette, transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, cover with the remaining grated parmesan and mozzarella, sprinkle with some chopped celery leaves and bake at 325F until golden brown and melty, about 8 minutes. Serve the cheesy toast alongside the stew.
Food waste tips: This is a great time to use any leftover dried beans, rice and grains hiding in the cupboard. It also freezes well; portion leftovers into airtight containers and freeze for up to 6 months.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Bacon Bean Stew
Katherine Sacks, FoodPrint
Serves 4 – 6
Time: up to 8 hours 15 minutes
This recipe is great for cutting back on food waste and using up odds and ends in your pantry and crisper drawer. You can add chopped root vegetables, leftover cooked meat, dried beans, rice and other grains to the pot. Simply adjust the liquid and seasoning accordingly. Serve with cheesy toast or cornbread on the side.
12 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups dried beans
1 cup wheat berries
3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
6 cups vegetable stock
Olive oil, for serving
2 tablespoons light green celery leaves, roughly chopped
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to slow cooker, reserving 2 tablespoons bacon fat in pan. Add celery, garlic and onion to pan and cook on medium, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Transfer celery, garlic and onion to slow cooker.
Add beans, wheat berries, salt, cumin, pepper and paprika to slow cooker and stir to combine. Pour vegetable stock over, cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low 6 – 8 hours.
Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Pour into bowls and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and celery leaves on top. Stew can be made 3 days ahead; cover and chill, or freeze up to 6 months.