Fancy Groceries on a Budget

Happy Wednesday! I posted the following information on Carrots ‘n Cake a few months ago, but I thought I’d share it with you again. After seeing the movie Food, Inc.  I’ve been motivated to continue “voting at the supermarket check-out” because the purchases we make really do have an impact on what companies produce and what stores decide to sell (i.e. Wal-Mart now stocks organic!). Read on for some tips about making environmentally and socially conscious choices without going broke!

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1) Produce

Buying in-season: Produce tastes a lot better and is much less expensive if you buy it in-season. If you live in California – lucky you! You’ll be able to get tasty strawberries and lettuce almost any month of the year. However, if you live in the Midwest or Northeast, try buying frozen fruits and veggies during the winter. Frozen foods are flash-frozen immediately after harvesting so that their nutrients stay intact. You could even try freezing your own summer fruits. Buy summer produce (berries, peach slices, peas) at its peak, wash and dry thoroughly, spread on cookie sheets, and pop in the freezer until frozen. Once the produce is frozen solid, place it in air tight zip-loc baggies. Double bag to prevent freezer burn! This is a cheap way to enjoy fresh fruits and veggies throughout the year.

If you’re wondering what is in-season and when – check out this website!

Fruit Carts: These tips might not apply to all areas, but if you reside in NYC (or any big city) it might be worth a try. I’ve noticed that fruit vendors sell quality produce for a lot less than chain grocery stores. For example, I can usually get 5 bananas for $1 from a street cart vs. 3 bananas for $1 (or 89 cents/Lb) at the local supermarket.

Chinatown: Another budget trick I’ve caught on to is purchasing produce from small shops/carts in Chinatown. Back in June I was able to get 2 Lbs of cherries for $4!! Meanwhile the grocery stores were selling (non-organic) cherries for upwards of $7 for 1 Lb. I suspect that street cart produce is cheaper because the middle-man is cut out, but always inspect quality before you purchase!

Farmer’s Market: Head to the market a few hours before closing. Farmers will be more likely to give you a deal to avoid packing up and carting home unsold merchandise.

-Buy during peak season. Produce is more expensive at the very beginning and end of its harvest season.

-Be flexible. You might have your heart set on cherry pie, but perhaps you’ll be able to get blueberries for a better deal.

2) Pantry Staples

Whole Foods: I love Whole Foods, but the store is often called “Whole Paycheck” for a reason. I definitely think that quality food is worth more, but it doesn’t have to drain your bank account. I’ve noticed that many things at Whole Foods are reasonably priced – you just have to do some research. I’ve found that Kashi cereal, luna bars, clif bars, and lara bars are cheaper at Whole Foods than almost anywhere else in NYC. Also, the 365 Whole Foods store brand can be a good deal. 365 brand frozen fruit, peanut butter, olive oil, and cereal are very competitively priced. The store has recently begun producing a bi-monthly newsletter called the Whole Deal. This flyer provides tons of coupons, budget recipes, and money-saving advice. You can read all of the information online, but you’ll have to pick up an in-store copy for the coupons.

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Coupons: Check out the following websites for coupons on pantry staples like cereal, cookies, pasta, etc.

SmartSource

Mambo Sprouts

3) Dairy & Meat

Dairy and meat often take the biggest bite out of the grocery budget. You could try switching to a mostly-vegetarian diet (beans cost less than steak!), but that might not be practical all of the time. When choosing meat, purchase cuts that are less expensive. Bonus: Cheaper cuts are often leaner! Pay special attention to how you prepare your meat – leaner cuts need extra marinade time and/or slower cooking in order to make them tender.

Get Rich Slowly has an informative article on purchasing and preparing inexpensive cuts of beef.

When purchasing yogurt, the larger container is a better deal than individual cups. For example, at my local Whole Foods a 6oz cup of yogurt is around $0.99 (16 cents per ounce). Alternatively, you can purchase a 32 oz container for $3.99 (12 cents per ounce). BONUS: Stoneyfield usually offers $.50 cent off coupons for their larger yogurt containers. Check out this link  for coupons.

Trader Joe’s has a great store-brand Greek yogurt that is much cheaper than the brand names.

And don’t forget about sales! In the last few weeks, my local supermarket has had specials on organic Wallaby, organic Stonyfield Farm Oikos, and Chobani greek yogurts. Finally, have you thought about making your own yogurt? It takes some hands-on effort, but I can make 7 small cups of yogurt for less than $1. Read how I did it here.

Bon Appetit!

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6 Responses

  1. Great tips Megan! Don’t forget buying in bulk is almost always cheaper than buying small pre-packaged foods (you hinted at this with the large containers of yogurt, but it applies to staples too!)

    Jesse

  2. Thanks for the great tips!! I LOVE the fruit stands in the city – as long as I can take the time to find the best fruit, it’s so worth it!

  3. Hi, I’m new to your blog, but I’m glad I stumbled upon it! I’m a new runner, and nutrition has been my biggest obstacle. You have some awesome recipes and tips on here; I can’t wait to read more! :)

  4. Jesse – yes, buying in bulk is great! Often times stores will give you a discount for buying whole boxes of energy bars, cereal, crates of yogurt, etc. If they don’t have to un-pack the boxes and stock the shelves, it saves them money, and therefore you get a discount!

  5. Great post and great tips! Love the idea of freezing summer fruits for year-round enjoyment. There’s nothing more depressing than how whack produce tastes out of season in the midwest!

  6. I was just thinking that I need to get my butt over to Chicago’s Chinatown to stock up on more “exotic” fruit and veggies! Thanks for the reminder!

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