Kitchn Love Letters

The “Graduation Grocery” Everyone Should Add to Their Shopping List

published May 16, 2023
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Produce section in grocery store wide angle
Credit: Bill Oxford/Getty Images/iStockphoto

You’ve seen them before, stacked up in a colorful array of baby carrots, celery sticks, broccoli florets, and other crunchy veggies: the produce-section vegetable tray, all ready and waiting for you to rip off the plastic cover and present in its pseudo-caterer-style, black platter.

It’s the perfect thing to grab at the last minute, it’s easy, and it’s a go-to appetizer or snack to serve guests — especially at a graduation party. Whether you’re watching someone walk across the stage or just watching the sunset on a summer evening, veggie trays are a smart buy.

Credit: Jessica Fisher

What’s So Great About a Veggie Tray?

My favorite time to buy this is right around a special occasion when the store has loaded up on trays. Not only will you often find vegetable trays on sale, but, more often than not, they’re sold on clearance because the retailers overbought and need to move it quickly. They don’t typically sell past the marked date, so the product is on the clock, so to speak, but to your benefit.

This happens more times than I can count: I find veggie trays that are close to the date on their label, but still look shiny and fresh with no signs of going bad anytime soon — and at 50- to 75-percent off their listed price. On a recent trip, I spotted large trays for $4.41 (originally $9.99) and small trays for as low as $1.65 (discounted from $4.99). I can’t buy the individual vegetables that inexpensively!

Credit: Jessica Fisher

What’s the Best Way to Use a Vegetable Tray?

But wait, there’s more! The humble veggie tray — especially the one you find on clearance near graduation and other holidays — is more than just the sum of its parts. This package of cleaned and prepped veggies is not the unitasker you may once have thought it to be. You don’t have to serve a veggie tray as a veggie tray. There are lots of other ways to repurpose the vegetable tray contents besides serving as veggies and dip.

  • Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, boil some pasta, and use the dressing and all in a refreshing-but-hearty pasta salad. This ranch pasta salad recipe is a great starting point.
  • Cut all the veg on the bias and add some shrimp for an easy shrimp stir-fry.
  • Roast in the oven or air fryer and tuck the veggies into an omelet.
  • Chop the celery and carrots along with an onion for mirepoix. Use it this week or freeze it for later. The other veggies, such as grape tomatoes, peppers, or broccoli will enhance the sauce or soup you make.
  • Shred the carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower and make broccoli slaw.
  • Make the ultimate chopped salad, adding a can of beans and some cubed cheese.

Find it in stores: Kroger Veggie Tray, starting at $4.41 for 38 ounces at Kroger (on clearance from $9.99)

What produce finds are you stocking up on right now? Tell us about it in the comments below.