Shop Smarter – Fruits and Vegetables

We live in a very small and remote town in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. We have long, cold winters and live a long way away from anywhere remotely warm enough to grow food year-round. “Fresh” foods that you see on the grocery store shelves here can be of poor quality and overpriced. Even though I understand why that is and as much as I want to support local businesses, it’s just not feasible to feed my family that way. Most people here will drive the 200km round-trip to the neighbouring town, about once a week, for most of their shopping as it’s better quality and more affordable. But it can be a lot of work dedicating that kind of time to travel for your groceries. It can still be expensive and most of the fresh produce available still had to travel a long way to get there because its not in season.

Over the last few years I’ve really changed how I grocery shop and how I feed my family. I started to care more about how much time I was spending travelling and shopping. Started really caring about what we ate, where it came from, how much it cost, etc.. I really wanted to prepare more real food, more nutritious food. I wanted to learn more on how to be as self sufficient as we could. And last but certainly not least, I wanted to save some money. Not only on the initial cost of buying food, but wanted to stop wasting food to spoilage and wasting money.

Here are a three topics and a few tips for success that I’ve learned along the way to help save time and money by getting the most of your produce:

1) Shopping in Season

Ever notice that asparagus can drop to only $3/lb in May or how you can buy an abundance of apples for half the price in October? They’re in season! Which means there’s an abundance of it being grown and harvested close (or closer) to where you live. I’m sure that’s not big news to a lot of you but I remember how surprised I was when I actually starting keeping track of price changes throughout the year and paying closer attention to what’s in season and when. Not only are things less expensive when in season, but their quality drastically improves.

Everyone’s become so accustomed to being able to buy and eat whatever we want, whenever we want and a huge variety of fresh produce HAS to be available year-round to please everybody. So, where we live, instead of it coming from somewhere closer like the Okanagan in August, it’s coming from Central or South America in February. Fruits and vegetables with shorter natural shelf lives that are stored for a long time due to transportation, can rapidly lose some of their nutritional content. Sometimes these are harvested before peak maturity so they can ripen while being shipped great distances and still look appealing on a shelf for a week at the grocery store when it gets here… and then for another few days after you bring it home. No wonder some fresh food spoils so fast!

All that being said though, I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy fresh produce year-round. Just maybe choose a different variety at different times of the year. Pay attention to what’s in season, buy produce that has a naturally longer storage life in the colder months. Welcome the arrival of strawberries, asparagus and salad greens in the spring. Celebrate the abundance of stone fruits, tomatoes, melons and peppers in the summer. Enjoy the bounty of broccoli, squash and pears in the fall. Savour the heartiness of things like apples, carrots, potatoes and cabbages in the winter. Citrus fruit season peaks in winter, so it’s a good time to enjoy them. Making adjustments like these can make a big difference. Use this fantastic chart to see whats in season and when in the western provinces.

2) Storing Produce Properly

So, you’ve bought all these wonderful fresh fruits and veggies and want to enjoy them for as long as you can, right? Make sure you’re storing them correctly! This was another game changer for me once I learned how and where to keep my produce. Most things keep longer when refrigerated, but its important to keep most fruits separate from vegetables. They produce a lot more ethylene gas which can cause over-ripening and spoilage. Things like potatoes and squash store best in a cooler, dark place whereas tomatoes are best kept at room temperature. Here is a great in-depth guide on how to properly store your fruits and veggies.

When it comes to refrigerating fresh produce, one of the best investments I’ve ever made was in the Tupperware Fridgesmart system. Those fantastic containers drastically extend the life of fresh produce by controlling airflow and moisture. I use them for things like salad greens and spinach, berries, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, even citrus and apples to extend their already long shelf life. They have adjustable vents on the lids and easy to read charts on the containers, so you know how to store what type of produce really easily. I know they can seem a little pricey at first, but for us they easily paid for themselves within the first two or three months. Talk to your Tupperware lady about them (seriously!).

3) Fresh vs Frozen and Canned

Frozen and canned produce can make a big difference in your diet because its usually a lot more accessible, and accessibility is crucial. If you prefer using fresh produce but it can be too challenging to keep on hand or too expensive, frozen and canned versions are a more than suitable alternative. A lot of food doesn’t have to be fresh to be nutritious or delicious. Everyone always relates fresh with healthy and how canned/frozen isn’t as good or good for you because it’s been processed. That is certainly not the case a lot of the time. And at the end of it all, the most important thing is that a fruit or vegetable consumed is better than not consumed at all! And if eating more frozen and canned produce than fresh is more manageable and affordable for you and your family, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So how do you start? Take a good look at what kind of fresh produce you eat regularly, make note of what you find yourself wasting frequently and maybe ask yourself some of these questions when you are meal planning, grocery shopping and preparing your food:

  • What can I buy now that’s in season, or what’s on sale that I can stock up on?
  • Do I have room to store or preserve what I want to stock up on?
  • Will I use it before it spoils?
  • Could I easily substitute that for something else that’s currently in season or a frozen or canned version?
  • What kind of healthy meals can I prepare that accommodate using frozen or canned alternatives?

It took some adjusting at first but it’s been wonderfully rewarding. It forces me to spend a lot more time cooking from scratch, but that’s all time I normally would’ve wasted having to take a half or full day every week or so to make that 200km round trip to grocery shop. In the summer we enjoy a lot of fresh produce but in the winter, I prepare almost all of my family’s meals from the pantry, root cellar and freezer. Each of them has a mix of things we grew ourselves, things we bought locally like at a farmers’ market or things we bought from the grocery store. It took some adjusting at first but it’s been wonderfully rewarding. It forces me to spend a lot more time cooking from scratch, but that’s all time I normally would’ve wasted having to take a half or full day every week or so to make that 200km round trip to grocery shop. Sure, it can be a lot more work sometimes preparing meals from scratch, but I think it’s really rewarding work. I would rather invest my time cooking at home from scratch, learning new skills and teaching them to my son. Plus, we save a lot more money shopping and cooking this way AND we don’t waste food like we used to anymore. So, it’s a win-win-win situation.

That all being said though, there’s no “right” or perfect way to do it. You can do as much or as little as you can and it is important to do what works for you and your family. My hope is to only ever help you with our common goals: to feed ourselves and our families good, healthy food without it being too complicated or too much work, and to try and save some money doing it.

To your success, my friends ❤

Pantry and Freezer Challenge!

For the month of March, I’m hosting a pantry challenge!

For 31 days, I invite you to join me in preparing meals at home using only what you have on hand – no grocery shopping for a whole month!!

It’s a great way to get creative, save a ton of money, waste less and fall in love with cooking (or fall back in love with it, perhaps). It might seem intimidating at first, but with a bit of planning, it can be done! 

Last October, I set a goal to try and grocery shop as little as possible this winter and primarily cook from our pantry, freezer and root cellar. It’s been a really rewarding and enjoyable experience. I get a ton of feedback and questions about how and why I shop/cook this way. I’m hoping that this challenge will encourage people to try it and see how easy it can be once you get in the routine of it. 

Sure, cooking from the freezer and pantry can be more time consuming. But so is shopping. At least where we live… The two hour round trip to town every week or so to grocery shop takes a lot of work, time and money!

I would rather do more work and enjoy a bit more time than usual in the kitchen, than having to spend most of a day wrangling a toddler in town to a bunch of different stores to spend more money than I would’ve liked to. 

Plus there’s so many more wonderful benefits like knowing exactly what’s in your food, saving money, learning new skills, teaching your kids to cook, greatly reducing food waste, did I mention saving money? 

Here are a few helpful tips for preparing for the challenge and planning for success:

  • Take an inventory of all the food you currently have stored! Knowing what you have is knowing what you need to use up. Plus having an inventory list to look at and work from is much easier than rummaging through cupboards when planning and preparing meals. 
  • Think of a few of each breakfast/lunches/dinners/snacks recipes that you can make from your inventory. Don’t be afraid to try new things or make substitutions in your favourite recipes with things you already have on hand.
  • Try making a meal plan and do some food prep. You don’t have to follow a super detailed daily meal plan if that doesn’t work for you, but a rough guide could be a big help. Also doing some big batches of food prep on weekends or days you have more time will also be helpful. Especially if you’ll be doing a lot more baking and cooking from scratch.
  • Stock up on some essentials beforehand if needed. The idea here is to use what you have an excess of and save money. But you need to have some staples on hand with a bit of variety to help you be successful! 
  • Fresh produce doesn’t have to be off the menu! When shopping this week, try to buy a few things that keep longer to enjoy throughout the month. Think carrots, rutabagas, potatoes, cabbages, squash, apples, citrus, etc. 
  • Freeze a few dairy products for later in the month or buy a few shelf stable fresh dairy alternatives to incorporate into baking, smoothies and cooking.
  • Don’t forget about pet food/supplies and non-food items. Make sure you have enough paper products, cleaning supplies, toiletries, diapers, etc. to last the month. If buying a month’s worth of certain things all at once isn’t in your budget, do what you can! Also if you currently use or want to try adding some reusable products into your household, this is their time to shine!
  • If a month seems outrageous to you, try participating for just 2 weeks of it. Another option is you can plan to only spend a small amount weekly on some fresh foods to make it more manageable. I do really encourage you to try and stick to the whole month without shopping, but this is YOUR pantry challenge. Do what works best for you and your family!
  • Last but certainly not least – Plan for success! You will do what you need to do in order to do what you want to do! Choosing convenience and old habits over something challenging and building new skills will not set you up for success. Do what you can, and you can plan for success! 

For more helpful tips and pantry meal ideas, be sure to check out my Facebook or Instagram. Join in on the fun and share your some of your pantry challenge success with others, using the hashtag #pintsizedpantrychallenge

So there you have it. I hope you found this helpful and I sure hope you decide to give this challenge a try. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

All the best,

Cassie ♥️

How I Clean Our Chicken Coop (video)

Tag along while I clean out our chicken coop on a beautiful, sunny winter day!

If you have any coop cleaning questions or tips to share, please leave them in the comments below!

If you liked this video, be sure to give it a thumbs up and please subscribe to my channel.

Thanks for watching!

Cloth Diaper Storage and Organization (video)

Here’s a look at how I store and organize our cloth diapers and change station. For a more detailed look at what’s in our one-size/bigger sized cloth diaper stash, check out my video about it here. If you liked this video, please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to my channel!

Thanks for watching!

Shop at Lagoon Baby – my favourite Canadian site to shop all things cloth diapering and more:

Munchkin change pad:

They don’t sell my change pad cover anymore but here’s a really nice, similar one:

Some of the links I share are affiliate links. If you shop through them I make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

Cloth Diaper Stash (video)

Here’s an in-depth tour of all our one-size and bigger sized cloth diapers that we use on our 20 month old son. For some change table set-up ideas, check out my cloth diaper storage and organization video here. If you have any questions or helpful tips to share, please leave a comment below!

If you like the video, please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to my channel!

Thanks for watching!

Shop at Lagoon Baby – my favourite Canadian site to shop all things cloth diapering and more:

Munchkin change pad:

They don’t sell my change pad cover anymore but here’s a really nice, similar one:

Some of the links I share are affiliate links. If you shop through them I make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

Root Cellar Tour (video)

If you enjoyed my last post on our root cellar, then you’ll love this one! I started a YouTube channel in conjunction with this blog site. Please go ahead and check it out!

Here’s a quick tour of our root cellar where I store root vegetables, squash, home canning, some bulk pantry staples and more. If you have some tips to share or have a question about for storage and preservation, please leave them in the comments!

If you liked this video be sure to give it a thumbs up and please subscribe to my channel. Thanks for watching!

Root Cellar Tour

Welcome, to what is probably my favourite room in our house! I always call it the root cellar but I should probably use the more appropriate term, which would be a cold room. It’s warmer and drier than a traditional root cellar should be, but it’s still a dark, cold place that works great to store many of my garden’s goodies in. This room is a popular conversation topic and people always seem interested in learning more about long term food storage, so I’ll give you a tour and show you what I do and why it works for us.

It used to be our house’s cistern before our subdivision had municipal water and one of the previous owners connected it to our basement hallway and converted it into a storage room. Since then, we’ve turned it into our cellar by adding ventilation and shelving. I’ve put my heart and soul into this room and all its contents. Food preservation and gardening have become very big parts of my life and this room showcases the hard work, lessons learned and success I’ve had throughout that journey. It’s a very wonderful and rewarding feeling, looking at all the beautiful food you’ve grown and preserved yourself. As always, I encourage you to try it if you don’t already – and don’t be afraid to start out small. Grow some tomatoes!  Can a batch of jam! Pickle something! Okay, back on track…

When you first walk in the room, I have a heavy duty adjustable garage shelf where I store my pressure and water bath canners, dehydrator, electric roaster and some bulk pantry staples. I have another space upstairs where I store all my bulk dry goods (which I’ll cover in a different post) but I keep a lot of commercially canned food, cooking fats and oils, or heavy items here.

When I say pantry staples, apparently what I really mean is hemp hearts and plant milk 😂

I have a thermometer hanging on the wall here so I can see the room’s temperature easily when I come in. Right now it’s been sitting around 13 degrees Celsius (at least when the door is closed and I’m not hanging out in here) but come January it’ll cool off to 8 or 9 degrees. Not ideal, but still plenty cool enough to keep potatoes well into February and squash for a full year (seriously, we ate our last spaghetti squash from last years garden this September).

To the right, I have a very large built-in shelf where I keep all my home canning, a few more store-bought staples, and my emergency water supply (I’ll go into detail about that in another post also). These shelves were built to maximize storage but were spaced far enough apart so I could comfortably reach my arm in to pull jars forward. I process 1000+ jars every year and these shelves have been wonderful for storing them.

Can all the things! Starting at the top left: A bit of meat, soups, tons and tons of dry beans, pancake syrup, chutneys, marmalades, jams, pie filling, applesauce, fruit (tons of peaches), SALSA, over a dozen types of pickles, and then all the veggies… cabbage, beets, tomatoes, more tomatoes, tomato sauce, carrots, green beans, corn, greens and zucchini. ❤️

This year I wanted to try storing apples long(ish) term in here so I individually wrapped about 80lbs of apples in newspaper and stored them in boxes on the top shelf. About a month or so later I started realizing that this room would never be cold enough for them to keep well, so I ended up refrigerating, freezing, dehydrating or canning them all. That was kind of a bummer but lesson learned and they didn’t go to waste. Plus now I’ll have more space to store empty jars throughout the winter.


To the left I have another heavy duty shelf tucked in the corner where I keep a some empty jars, all my snap lids and rings, a smaller water bath canner, and all my kitchen gadgets that go along with preserving (apple peeler, cherry pitters, mandolin slicer, canning utensils, etc.).

Beside that is my awesome potato bin! It has a little shelf on top where I keep squash/sweet potatoes and plenty of space underneath to store my carrot bin and some jars. It has 3 large, well ventilated potato compartments with plywood lids which is super neat. Lastly, I have a couple baskets hanging around where I store my onions and garlic.

I store my carrots by layering them in damp sand in a large Rubbermaid tote with the lid sitting loosely on top for some air flow. They’re starting to sprout a bit now but that’s okay. It’s better that they’re alive and sprouting than dead and rotting!  My cold air intake (bottom left) keeps this side of the room a degree or two colder. Storing my carrots near that, plus them sitting on the cold concrete floor, helps a bit.

So there you have it, our makeshift root cellar! I hope you enjoyed the tour and maybe got some inspiration for your own food storage. Have questions or tips to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments.