How to buy Canned Foods

A primer, for our own Wendy Bluebird 🙂

This won’t be as indepth as I’d like because I’m trying to get it done in a limited amount of time. Eventually, I will rework it and then I’ll post it on the main FA site. Until then, this is the info off of the top of my head.

When buying canned goods, especially for the purposes of stocking up, it’s important to buy them in the most plain or simple version possible. The same as when you buy fresh or frozen foods, the plainest version is usually the least expensive. This is true of canned fruits, veggies and meats.

Lets take Tuna Fish for example. 6-ounce cans of water-packed chunk tuna cost between 50¢ & 75¢ each. Each 6-ounce can supplies about 4-ounces of cooked meat, so it takes 3 cans to make the equivalent of 1-pound of fresh tuna. If you look at the tuna section it quickly becomes apparent that basic tuna is not your only choice. You can also buy albacore for $1 to $1.50 per 6-ounce can, and even seasoned albacore tuna fillets in little foil pouches for $3 each. All of the packages weight about the same and all provide an equivalent amount of food. The cheapest is 50¢ and the most expensive is $3. That’s a pretty wide spread. Which is most versatile? Which can make casseroles, patties, loaves, salads and soup? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the pre-flavored $3 fillets. Their extra flavoring makes them less versatile. That leaves albacore and chunk tuna. Of those two which has less mercury? Which has a fuller, more robust flavor? Another hing–It’s not the albacore.

The least expensive, most widely available type of tuna is the best buy. It’s not only the cheapest, but also the most versatile, has the fullest flavor and contains a fraction of the mercury of it’s more expensive cousin, the albacore. When stocking up on tuna, I choose the cheap stuff. No added flavorings, I add those myself, giving me more flexibility in menu planning.

Now lets look at some other canned meats. Canned chicken or chicken breast–it has added salt, but otherwise is it’s most basic form. Pouches of seasoned breast cutlets are fancy, but not worth stocking up on. Canned turkey is available like canned chicken and can be used in any recipe calling for chicken. Canned ham, either 1-pound Durkee hams, or Hormel canned ham in 5 or 10-ounce cans. These have added gelatin and a little added sugar but for the most part taste like normal ham. Items like Deviled Ham should be avoided. They cost twice as much while providing far less protein and less solid meat. Canned ham can go into stir-fries, soups, casseroles or be sliced and fried by itself. It also makes divine ham-salad sandwiches. Deviled ham only makes sandwiches. Corned beef, in 12-ounce cans, is more useful than corned beef hash. Canned beef chunks in gravy is more versatile than beef stew.

Vegetables are also best purchased in their plainest form. I look for reduced sodium or no-salt-added canned veggies because they taste better, fresher, than their salty counterparts. Tomato products are especially better tasting when not canned with salt. No-salt-added canned tomatoes are especially useful because they may replace fresh chopped tomatoes in almost any application, especially salads. The tomatoes must be well drained, but they taste much better than hard, orange, winter tomatoes from the supermarket. And they’re infinitely cheaper than hydroponic tomatoes. I’ve even used them on sandwhiches in a pinch. 4 to 6 small tomato chunks, evenly distributed on a slice of bread, serve the purpose of fresh sliced tomatoes admirably.

Some veggies like beets, spinach, greens and oriental vegetables, are hard to find with no-added-salt. In this case I buy the regular version and add as little salt as possible to the finished dish. If you like lists I consider the following veggies especially useful in canned form. Don’t feel like you have to buy all of these. It just gives you something to think about.

  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green Beans
  • Green Chile Peppers
  • Greens of all kinds–Collards, Kale, Mixed, Mustard, Spinach & Turnip Greens
  • Classic Mixed Veggies
  • Mushrooms–stems & pieces
  • Oriental Mixed Veggies (La Choy)
  • Peas or Peas & Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin (plain, not pie mix)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, Tomato Sauce, Spaghetti Sauce

These veggies have a few qualities in common. For the most part they are economically priced. Most of them are family friendly. Some–like greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots & chile peppers–runneth over with vitamins. Others like classic mixed veggies and mushrooms, are incredibly versatile, going into everything from pot pie, soups and stews to fresh salads adn skillet meals.

Next is fruits. I prefer to buy fruit canned in fruit juice. It costs a little bit more than fruit canned in heavy syrup, but we have dietary limitation in my family so sugar-free or low-sugar fruit is a necessity. The most economical and widely available include the following.

  • Unsweetened applesauce (large jar)
  • Fruit Cocktail
  • Mandarin Oranges (light syrup)
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Tropical Mixed Fruit (light syrup)

Canned fruits can be made into pies, cobblers, gelatin salads, fruit salads, served as a snack with yogurt or cottage cheese, packed into small resealable bowls for packed lunches, used as a topping for ice cream, blended into smoothies, or served plain as a snack or dessert. If you serve fruit at breakfast, it looks most attractive when placed in small custard cups or bowls of a similar size. Fancy or attractive food is more likely to be eaten by persnickety children.

Some canned foods are almost always bad buys. Most canned pastas are a waste of money. conventional dry pasta is so cheap compared to canned that when you really think about it, it makes me wonder why I’ve ever bought it in the past. Ready to serve canned soups are usually way overpriced when compared to homemade or even condensed soup. Store-brand condensed soups can sometimes be reasonably priced, and I admit to liking their ease of preparation. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and canned Tomato soup is one of the most popular lunches at our house. Chicken noodle soup and Vegetable soup are also popular, but I usually save them for winter illnesses when they taste especially good to anyone with the flu. Plus, if Momma is sick too, they dont’ require much work to prepare, meaning Momma can go back to bed sooner.

Homemade soups, such as lentil, ham and bean, beef & veggie, chicken & veggie, cream of broccoli, cream of potato, clam chowder etc. etc. can all be made at home for a fraction of the cost of canned. The trick is to freeze your own soup in plastic 2-cup containers. Label it clearly and only freeze soups you really like and are willing to eat again. Make a different soup each week and freeze 6 containers of it. In a month you’ll have a wide variety of your own frozen soups to nuke and eat at a moment’s notice.

That’s all I can think of for the moment, if anyone has questions, I’m happy to answer as best I can.





Filed under Budget, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods, Provident Living

32 responses to “How to buy Canned Foods

  1. Are canned meats like chicken, beef, corned beef, etc. cheaper than buying it fresh? I know tuna and salmon are cheaper. What about the other stuff? I am going to have to try canned greens one of these days. I love them fresh or frozen, but I still haven’t tried the canned varieties. Thanks for your posts lately. Lots of food for thought! 🙂

    • I want to add something regrading canned vegetables. You probably have seen some no name low priced canned veggies. I worked at GTE with some ladies that had worked in a cannery before that job. They all warned me, never buy the cut rate canned vegetables. Since then I am willing to pay a little more for a well known company with premium quality veggies.

  2. Just another thought: you didn’t touch on canned beans. Is it ever cheaper to buy beans canned then dried?

  3. Fern

    Melinda, canned beans won’t ever be less expensive that making your own from dry. HOWEVER – if you are in an emergency situation, power is off or water is off for whatever reason (hurricane, earthquake, tornado knocks out services), canned beans will be what you’ll need. No water needed for soaking/cooking, no power needed, either. I measured the water it took for me to cook 1 lb of beans once – it took a gallon, between soaking and cooking, and that did NOT include washing the pot.

  4. Leta

    This is a good entry. I’m going to have my husband read it, since he is the one who usually purchases canned goods for us (through his work- it’s cheaper that way).

    My own little tip is this: when buying canned salmon, look for the words “wild”, “Pacific”, “Alaskan”, or “red”.
    All these words mean the same thing: the salmon was caught, not farmed, along the west coast.

    (All farmed salmon is of the inferior pink Atlantic variety. Also, salmon farms are really tough on the sea’s ecosystem, even more so than commerical fishing.)

    Where I live, pink salmon comes in 8 or 10 ounce cans, and costs about $1.75 per can. On the other hand, red salmon comes in big tall 24 ounce cans, and costs about $4. So while you’re paying more, you are getting more, and the nutritional quality (Omega 3) and taste of the fish is SO.MUCH.BETTER.

    We are pescatarians, and we make and freeze salmon patties and then eat them like hamburgers or “Crabby Patties”, or with greens and balsamic reduction, and it also makes excellent salmon loaf. We even put it on pizza and in quesadillas.

  5. Lee

    I so agree with your post on canned goods. I do find that the exception is that I do buy vegetable soup (store brand at our local discount grocery) to save for emergency illness or that wild unexpected problem night. I have a couple cans of beans always for the same reason, though 99 per cent of our beans are from dried. If you have freezer space, what works for us w/ that is to precook them and freeze in the portions of beans we use.

    We are vegetarian, BTW.


  6. Hi Maggie,

    Thank you SO much for doing this : )

    I can already see its going to help, and i’m looking forward to reading it over more carefully later today.

    You are so sweet Maggie, taking the requests of the clueless to heart here : )

    Hope your week is nice and peaceful : ) Wendy

  7. Darcy

    I am going to try freezing a new batch of soup each week so that I can have good soup whenever I need it. What a good idea.

  8. Teri Pittman

    Just to let you know. We love doing salmon patties. Lately, we’ve been buying ham at .99 a pound. My husband has been dicing it up and using it with potatoes to make ham patties. They taste every bit as good as salmon patties and it really stretches how long that ham lasts.

  9. Lori

    Here is an AWESOME Split Pea soup recipe – I don’t like pea soup, but made like this, the whole family goes coo-coo for it!

  10. Lori

    Miss Maggie – I need to ask you a question regarding OFE, but I cannot figure out how to do that. Could you shoot me a blank email at so that I can respond with my question. Thanks!

  11. lewella

    I don’t agree with you about the tuna issue. Albcore tuna is much more flavorful then chuck, which to me, tastes like cat food. Also, I never make my beans from dried. Yes, it saves money but canned saves time, which to me is just as precious.

  12. Roxanna Meiske

    Lewella, I have to disagree with you. Maggie is right about the tuna. And may I ask when did you eat cat food? I agree, it smells the same, but it I can not say it tastes the same. I for one have not eatten cat food, do not ever want to eat cat food, but I do eat a lot of tuna. Love tuna in this house…Maggie is right as far as I am concerned. Albcore is not worth the extra cost.

  13. Laura

    I agree with Lewella I much prefer the taste of Albacore tuna. To me it is worth the extra cost so I skimp in other areas that do not matter as much. I also think its extremely rude of Roxanna to have asked when Lewella ate cat food!

  14. I suspect Roxanna was being facetious. 🙂

    Wendy, my pleasure. 🙂

    Lori, you’ve got mail. 🙂

  15. Canned beans are good when saving time is more of a priority than saving money.

    They are also appropriate for emergency storage when access to water may be limited.

    I find dried beans plenty convenient and cheap besides. I cook them, 2 pounds at a time, in a crock-pot set on high, overnight. They do not require soaking when cooked this way. Leftovers may be frozen in 2 or 3-cup portions and used in place of canned beans.

    As for tuna, Albacore tuna does contain more Omega 3’s than chunk, however it has higher mercury levels too. If canned chunk tuna doesn’t taste good to you, but you’re concerned about mercury levels, then try it in the foil pouches. It has better texture and some would say, better flavor. In store-brands a 7-ounce pouch of Chunk Tuna costs about the same as a 6-ounce can of Albacore, which only gives you 4-ounces of solid fish.

  16. lewella

    It’s a matter of personal preference, Roxanne, nothing more. To me, it tastes bad and is not worth the cost. As for the beans, I don’t have the storage space for freezing them.

  17. lewella

    Also, ( forgot to mention) I buy distilled water since my tap water has radium in it. So I also factor in the cost of extra water when I cook. Another point (again, for me) in favor of canned beans.

  18. Thank you for sharing Lewella. I like to have a lot of different opinions and options on my blog and I just wanted you to know that I’m thankful that you’re adding to the variety. 🙂 🙂

  19. Chad

    When is the best time to buy different food for food storage? I’m especially interested in canned goods. Thanks

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  28. When I lived near canning facories in Washington state, I was working for GTE. Some ladies on our crew had previously worked in a cannery. They said, never buy the discount low priced vegetables. I wonder why they felt that way. Never bothered to ask them, but assumed they knew something we are not aware of. From experience name brands have a much better quality in my opinion.

  29. I hate handling raw chicken, so i keep canned chicken stocked in my pantry. It’s perfect in soups, salads, tacos, fajitas – anything that works well with shredded chicken, which is what it becomes, despite being called “chunk chicken.” I often sautee it in a little olive oil and spices to improve its flavor. While not unpleasant, right out of the can, the flavor can be distinct, so I season it as if I was using raw chicken breast. Go light on any added salt because even the white chicken breast I buy is a little salthy. While fresh is always better, the convenience is worth the higher price. I invest in the best canned breast meat, but purchase it at a wholesale club for additional savings. For me, canned chicken is major time saver, less expensive, and safer than chicken. Worth the extravagance!

  30. Pingback: beans in a can | Diary of a Crazed Cook

  31. Pingback: fish in a tin | Diary of a Crazed Cook

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