Monday, September 14, 2015

How To Grocery Shop

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A lot of people swear by "the list".  I can remember my mother saying, "If it's not on the list, then no, we don't need it."  The way you make a good grocery list is to look at your recipes and plan your meals, check the list of ingredients against what you have in your kitchen, then write down what you are lacking.  That's the basics.

This just doesn't work for me.  Believe it or not, I save more by not making a list.  I keep a short list in my head of the staples like butter, milk, and eggs that we need every week and when I run out of a certain spice or something, I'll make a note of that.  Also, I have an idea that perhaps I'd like a whole chicken, or a ham.  But that's it.

Something that really bothers me is women as a whole just don't know how to cook anymore because they don't do it on a regular basis.  Hamburger helper isn't cooking.  Boxed mac and cheese and bologna sandwiches isn't cooking.  Boxed brownie mix isn't cooking.  Canned chili and hot dogs isn't cooking.  Prego spaghetti sauce over noodles with fried ground beef isn't cooking.  I do know what it is like to work at a 40-hour-a-week job and be responsible for dinner.  On your day off make lasagna, beef stew, chili, anything you can freeze.  Yes, make all of that all at once.  Then during the week, take out what you want for dinner, add a salad, and bread and you're done.  It took me about 4 hours every Sunday afternoon to do this but it was important to me that we ate a good dinner every night. 

Cooking is having 20 pounds of flour that gets used up in a month.  Cooking is knowing what to do with 20 pounds of potatoes.  Cooking is having enough knowledge that you can walk through a store and take advantage of meat sales so you aren't confined to a list.  Cooking is having the ingenuity or resourcefulness to be able to bake a homemade cake even if you have no eggs, milk, or butter.  Cooking is knowing what dishes sage can be used on.

As housewives our job is not just to be able to feed our families on a budget.  We need to feed them well.  I won't get into the whole GMO food thing here nor whether or not you should be a carnivore or a vegetarian.  I will say, antibiotic injected food laced with hormones and sprayed with ammonia is bad.  Sometimes we can't afford organic though.  We just have to do the best we can with what we are given.

Here's loosely my walk through the store:

I take Daniel because he is great at figuring.  If he didn't come, I'd have to bring a calculator.   Not to mention I'm short and he can reach the higher shelves.  He also lugs the heavier stuff so I don't have to and that's nice. 
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Right after we grab a cart, we are in vegetable heaven.  More often than not we need onions, garlic, carrots, and celery.  About half of the time we need potatoes.  Other than that I'm looking for cheap vegetables to make meals out of.  Maybe cabbage is .50/lb and that beats ground beef pound for pound by about $3.  Potatoes are cheap and there is SO much you can do with potatoes if you know what to do with them.  (Knishes, pirogi, baked potato soup, etc)  Your goal is to try to get as many meals as you can for as cheap as you can and vegetables for dinner is one way to accomplish this.

PUMPKINS!   Pumpkins this week were $5.00 per any size!!!  Pumpkins yield a LOT of food.  There's more to pumpkins than pumpkin pie ladies.  You can make a stew inside of it; you can slice the meat of it into strips, dredge it in egg, then bread crumbs and fry it.  Virtually anything you can do with squash or zucchini you can do with a pumpkin.  Pumpkin bread, pumpkin fried and mixed with some pasta with garlic and butter, etc.  What's more, that pumpkin won't go bad nearly as quickly as a squash or zucchini.  I bought three large pumpkins and that will see us through even to the end of next summer.  I will cube the meat of it and freeze it.  (You can't can mashed pumpkin, but you can process cubes of it.)

Bananas are usually cheaper and a good banana bread may be eaten for breakfast or as a dessert.  Right now it is September and apples are cheaper than usual.  Just yesterday I made a Dutch apple bread to have on the counter to snack on.  If you buy 20-25 pounds of apples you'll have apple sauce, apple butter, and apple syrup for the year.  We sometimes have pancakes for dinner and the table looks great with a few homemade fruit syrups on it along with a bowl of powdered sugar.

After the fruits and vegetables section, we move through the "wall of deals" which I'll usually skip.  It's usually pre-canned chili and barbecue sauce or whatever.  I might make note of something there to check the price against other items of it's ilk when I get to the appropriate isle, because sometimes that French's mustard isn't as cheap as store brand mustard even when it's on sale.
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Then we come to bacon, breakfast sausage, and such.  Bacon is pretty expensive, but if I feel we can afford it I will pick up a package just to liven up a soup or to put on top of baked potatoes so I'll only use a few strips at a time.  If you'll remember they used to sell bacon by the pound.  Now I have to pay about 1.00 more for a 12-ounce package.  As for sausage sometimes I'll buy a roll and make breakfast burritos or something.  (Use 6-8 eggs per roll of sausage and add a teaspoon of canned tomatoes with chilies and a tablespoon of cheddar cheese per burrito.  Make some 6"  tortillas and you have about 20 burritos or so.)  Hot dogs are sold near here and yes, sometimes we pick up some of those to grill or to put leftover homemade chili on.  Also, hot dogs are good for cutting up into coins and putting into some leftover Boston Baked Beans.

After this comes pork and chicken.  You might be able to find ground pork here and you can make homemade sausage with it using a few seasonings.  Check the Pork section on the side bar of this blog under Recipes.  Shopping pound for pound a whole chicken is very cheap and you can do so much with it.  I can get 3-4 meals out of one chicken.  Also, ham is typically cheap.  Sometimes we'll spring for a spiral-cut one, but most of the time I get one that isn't pre-cut and doesn't have the little seasoning packet.  I can get about 5 dinners and a breakfast or two out of a ham.  When turkey is available it's usually cheaper by the pound than say, pot roast because that too yields much leftovers.  The key is to think, "how much per pound is this AND how many meals can I get out of it?"   So what if it's not Thanksgiving? 

I've usually made up two weeks worth of main dishes by this point needing nothing else, but sometimes not, so let's travel the beef case.  Beef has jumped in price and keeps jumping exponentially.  Two years ago I paid 1.99/lb for 80/20 ground beef.  Now I'm lucky if 70/30 is $3.99/lb.  I feel like an 80-year-old woman who can remember when milk was a dime only I'm 43 and only 2 years ago milk was $2.00.  Now it's almost $4.00!  Whoever said we're in a recovery doesn't do their own food shopping.

If you shop around 8:00 to 9:00 in the morning, you might find some things here that are marked down.  About anything you buy this way really should be cooked that night.  Pay attention that you aren't buying meat that is gray on the edges.  You want your beef as dark red as you can possibly get it.  I still buy ground beef, but I cook with it way less than I used to.  I'll buy 5 or 10 pounds and that won't get completely gone through for probably two months.  Beef is something fairly special in our house.  It breaks up the meal pattern.  As far as I can tell, you are not going to save any money shopping the beef case.  It's expensive and should be done rarely.  This week they had neck bones for sale and I picked up a couple packages of those so I could make beef stock.  I got a chuck roast marked down and the leftovers will be used in a nice, thick, beef stew.  The leftovers from that will be put over egg noodles.

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 After this is the case with eggs and my sticker shock continues.  We are now paying $5.00 for 18 eggs due to the Avian flu.  We buy them but they get used sparingly also.  My parents have a homestead and we do occasionally get eggs from them when we get out there to see them.  This is something recent so I've been looking into other alternatives like purchasing eggs from a farm.

Cheese is likewise more per pound than your potatoes.  We have found that even though the bagged shreds are the same price as the packages of whole cheese, you get more out of the chunks.  I do not know why this is, but I've put it to the test over and over to find that we aren't crazy.  So buy the cheese you have to grate yourself.  I do like to keep mozzarella and cheddar on hand.  We use the mozzarella on homemade calzones, pizza, etc.  and the cheddar gets used as a topping for burritos, soups, chili, potatoes, etc.  We do make a meal out of cheese probably once a month such as homemade baked mac and cheese or homemade calzones.

Next comes the yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.  A tub of plain yogurt is the main ingredient for the sauce that goes on homemade gyros.  It makes a great dip for vegetables too.  Sour cream gets bought sparingly.  When cottage cheese is on sale I'll use that instead of ricotta and I'll make manicotti or lasagna instead of calzones.

Milk is next and it's getting expensive.  Maybe it's time you bought a box of the powdered stuff.  Put it in a glass jar, then add your water, close it up and shake it really well.  Refrigerate it and use it to cook with.  (For gravy add a tablespoon of butter to the pan with your drippings.)  If you buy the powdered stuff you probably will only need half of what you'd normally use if you don't buy the boxed cereals and make something like oatmeal instead.

Here is where Daniel gets excited.  We get to skip the chip aisle, the cookie aisle, and the frozen dinner aisle.  This excites him because we save a lot of money skipping these aisles.  Frozen bagged vegetables can be cheaper than fresh but watch what you are buying.  Don't buy the kind where you throw the whole thing in the microwave and steam.  Get the store brand plain-Jane bag of green beans or corn.

Soaps and hygiene aisles are next and we usually buy this type of stuff from Dollar General or Walmart.  Let's talk a minute about soap.  Laundry soap can take a big chunk of your budget. Here's a link to a homemade laundry soap that will cost you just pennies per load.  If you can't afford dryer sheets take a washcloth, dip it in water with a little hair conditioner in it, wring it out well, and put it in the dryer at the same time as your wet clothes.

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Sadly the baking aisle is deserted until Christmas rolls around.  Here you'll want to pick up a big bag of flour so you can make your homemade breads, pancakes, tortillas, as a thickener for gravies, and whatnot.  Also you'll want a bag of sugar and a can of vegetable shortening.  If I'm out I'll pick up a bag of powdered sugar and a bag of light brown sugar.  Don't forget cornmeal and masa harina.  With these you'll make tortillas, cornbread, etc.  I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pan before I set the pizza on it to be baked.  Don't forget baking powder, baking soda, corn starch, and vanilla.

This brings us to the Mexican aisle.  Here you'll find canned tomatoes and sauce, rice, beans, and maybe pasta.  I can't recall.  Until your pantry is stuffed so full you can't put another thing in there, buy dried beans.  Every week pick up two packages of dried split peas, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, etc.  Also every week make at least one meal out of them.  Maybe start with homemade refried beans on homemade tortillas or black bean soup.  Buy some pasta as it is usually reasonably priced.  Plan on making a pasta salad to go with your homemade chicken salad sandwiches (leftover from that whole bird you picked up.)  Rice is likewise something you should always have on hand and in fairly large quantities.  Take care you cook with it and use it up otherwise one day you might find critters have inhabited it.

Spices are something you cannot skimp on.  Your spice rack should be varied and overflowing.  Check your recipe box and make sure you have all the spices you need for anything you'd want to cook.  This includes cilantro, cinnamon, marjoram, turmeric and all those things you might not have even heard of.  Educate yourself on what spices go with what.  In the side bar of this blog you'll find under Recipes a section called Spices and Seasonings.  Click that and you'll see what spice goes with what food along with some recipes for taco seasoning and such.

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The last aisle we hit is the canned goods aisle.  We keep a few cans of cream of soups and some canned vegetables.  There is a recipe for homemade cream of soups in the Soups section of this blog.  We don't typically pick much up in this aisle.

At the check out think about perhaps getting some of your things bagged in paper bags.  They can be used at the very least to drain your fried things on.

That's it.  This doesn't cover if I'm out of olive oil or need cat food but this is my basic food shop.  My guess is once you learn to cook with less meat and start having more main attractions featuring vegetables, pasta, and rice you'll start seeing a cheaper grocery bill.  Learn to cook.  Learn to use your rice.  Spend some time and practice making bread.  Your first loaves may not be perfect, but the leftover bread will be good for bread crumbs and bread pudding.  Make your chosen recipes a couple of times before you consider a recipe "not good".  The ones I've listed in my Recipe section I have used over and over.  If something doesn't come out right, try again and take care with your ingredients.  Slow down and measure correctly.  Slow down and knead that dough 15 minutes, not 10.  Humidity will affect candy making.  Elevation will affect cook times.  Have some patience and take care in the kitchen.  Allot yourself more than enough time to make the meal so you don't stress.

I'll make a post tomorrow on meal planning and show you how to stretch your groceries to the max. 

1 comment:

  1. This is so specific and very practical. What an excellent guide. Thank you for the inspiration!