Including lots of fresh produce in your daily diet is essential if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fruits and vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition, providing everything from protein and essential minerals, to iron, calcium, and manganese. They’re also responsible for providing your body with a variety of phytochemicals that work to stave off disease, and can even help fight off serious illnesses such as cancer.

The key is to consume a variety of colors and textures to ensure that you’re taking advantage of all the health benefits Mother Nature has to offer. But stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables can get expensive if you’re relying on the produce department at your grocery store. Luckily, it’s easy to save money on your produce without having to sacrifice variety or quality.

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Follow these six effective money saving options that at least some of which are sure to work out well for you:

1. Grow Greens on Your Windowsills

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Tim Patterson/Flickr

One of the best ways to save money on fresh produce is to grow your own. You don’t need to plot a large garden in the backyard in order to gain some greens for your salads, side dishes, and smoothies. Instead, hang small floating shelves in front of the interior of your windows and place a few half-gallon pots on them. After filling the pots with your favorite soil, you can plant all kinds of goods like chard, basil, kale, romaine, and parsley seeds. Just about all greens do well in windowsills.

You can wait for them to grow mature leaves before using them, or cut the baby leaves off as they grow for a huge hit of nutrition. Either way, it’s important to feed your greens with a gentle fertilizer so they flourish without having to spend time outside. Grow your greens in windows that get direct sunlight during the day for best results.

2. Buy Stuff in Bulk When Possible

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Some stores are willing to sell their produce in bulk for a discount – you just have to talk to the produce manager to strike a good deal. Give your favorite store a call, or simply walk on in and ask for the manager. If you plan on buying in bulk on an ongoing basis, make your intentions clear. Willingness to buy regularly may yield you an even bigger discount, and the store might even be willing to order special types of produce if you want something they don’t normally carry.

3. Go for the Really Ripe Stuff!

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Have you ever noticed deals on produce at the store that look a little riper than they usually do? It’s more than likely because the store is trying to get rid of it all before it gets really ripe and they have to throw it away. But if you’re ready to eat delicious melons, citrus, or bananas, that really ripe fruit can come in handy.

So don’t be afraid to ask the produce department if they have any “overripe” fruit that they’re willing to sell at a discount. Chances are that you’ll be able to score a huge discount on anything that they’re ready to throw away. Take it home, peel or prepare it, freeze it, and you’re set for days worth of fresh smoothies and snacks.

4. Start a Neighborhood Exchange

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Robert Couse Baker/Flickr

If you’re like most busy people, you probably don’t have the time to grow a big garden full of your favorite foods. But with just a little time and effort, you can grow a couple of fun crops in the yard, like tomatoes and green beans. To get your hands on other great produce without spending any money, start a neighborhood exchange where you and other neighbors who grow food can get together trade with each other – it’s rewarding to give away some tomatoes in exchange for eggplant.

This will give you an opportunity to get rid of produce you have too much of, pick up produce you want to enjoy, and get to know those who live in your area to form a stronger community bond. It’s a win-win situation! You can even hold meetings to plan out who will grow what for the season so you can make sure that a variety of produce is able to be shared.

5. Join a Buyer’s Club

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Joy/Flickr

A produce buyer’s club is a group of people who get together to place large orders of produce and split the cost to save money over buying produce at market-value through your grocery store. If you’re lucky, you will find a couple of health minded buyers clubs that focus on buying both fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.

Some clubs require membership fees to cover the costs of shipping, meeting venues, and administration work. Others simply allow members to decide how much they want to invest in each order that is made through the club. Before signing any contracts or investing any money in a club, make sure that you have a complete understanding of how everything works. It’s best to start with a trial membership so you can learn the ins-and-outs before you make any long term commitments.

6. Get to Sprouting

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Sprouts are super cheap and really easy to grow in your home, and they complement a variety of foods such as soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and even casseroles. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals that are easy for your body to absorb, and they are even a great source of protein if you eat enough of them. All you have to do is soak your favorite sprouting seeds, then drain them and let them grow for a few days, being sure to rinse them once or twice a day. You can use a special sprouter to make the process easy.

The vast variety of sprouting seeds available ensures that you never get bored with them, even if you grow them on a daily basis. Alfalfa seeds tend to be the easiest to sprout, but none are very complicated. Try broccoli, mung bean, and even chickpea sprouts right in the comfort of your kitchen.

You’ll find that by implementing just a few of these tips and tricks, it is easier than ever to maintain a fresh and healthy diet full of beautiful produce.

Lead Image Source: Rick/Flickr