Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rethinking My Grocery Shopping Strategy

 (that's Grandma's beloved Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook on the right)

As grocery prices soar in my area, I have been thinking about how my shopping strategy has changed over the last several years.  I still use some of my tried and true methods (tweaking them a little bit), but I have also rethought and changed others. A year ago I was a die hard coupon-er. I had my coupon binder with me at all times. I would spend a couple hours a week clipping and sorting coupons. I scoured grocery adds for match ups, religiously. If there was a fabulous deal I would  scrounge for extra coupons, and buy a bazillion items (maybe not a bazillion, but  close).  I bought tons of cereal, granola bars, fruit snacks, pudding cups, yogurt, anything I could get cheap or free. Several months later half of those items were still on the shelve uneaten, and rapidly approaching their expiration date ( crunchy fruit snacks and soggy granola bars, anyone?). I was getting great deals, but most of what I bought was highly processed, sugar laden, and not uber healthy, but cheap!

Then at Christmas time Dear Daughter's gall bladder went kabloohey.  We live in a small enough city that I knew the doctor, physicians assistant, and several nurses working in the Emergency Room the day I took her in for medical care. During the numerous hours spent at the hospital during her diagnosis and surgery (28 in all. I didn't ever leave the hospital.) I had the opportunity to visit with my medical friends. They mentioned that during the week previous to Dear Daughters hospital stay until New Year's Day six adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21 had  their gall bladders removed.  Most attributed the rise in  gall bladder surgery to the high fat, highly processed diet that most Americans (especially teenagers) eat. That disturbed me a little bit (okay, A LOT!). I felt enormous guilt that I was somewhat responsible for the demise of her gall bladder ( I wasn't really. The pathology report informed us that her gall bladder had a structural abnormality, and would have died eventually).

I did some long hard thinking about our  families diet, and started making some changes. Of course, all of my changes still had to fit into my grocery budget (which has taken a hit, as we are trying to pay off debt incurred over 2010).  Increasing food prices have also made it a little harder to keep healthy eating on a budget. It has been challenging sometimes, but I do LOVE  a challenge.  Here are my new and improved shopping methods for eating a healthier diet, and still stay within budget:
  1. I still clip coupons, but only for basic staples and non food items. I do still match sales to coupons for food basics: cheese, butter, dairy, cereal (less sugary varieties), pasta, meat, and produce, and non food items things like razors, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, laundry soap, lotions, and toothpaste.
  2. I participate in Bountiful Baskets, which is a produce co op. For a weekly contribution ($16.50) I receive two small laundry baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Because the co op purchases produce in large quantities from local farms and orchards, they get wholesale prices. Bountiful Baskets is a non for profit, so they pass the savings unto the participants. If Bountiful Basket doesn't deliver in your area, check out local co op or farmer's markets in your area.
  3. In the summer I grow a garden, eat out of it, and can or freeze the extra. I also glean the neighbors fruit trees or buy fruit from local orchards to can and make jam and jellies. If space is limited you can still grow a few veggies in five gallon buckets or pots.
  4. Read the grocery sales ads every week. Take advantage of loss leader items by stocking up to get you by until the next sale. 
  5. Read the labels!  I have really started looking at what is added into the food we buy. The less ingredients in the list the better it is going to be for you.
  6. Buy non perishable staples in bulk. My local grocery store has a great bulk foods section. Whole wheat pasta, dried beans, dried peas, dried fruit, oatmeal, rice, nuts, and spices are all available. I store them in recycled plastic containers or glass jars in my pantry.
  7. Stock up on perishable items on sale. Cheese (grated), butter, milk, and meat all freeze beautifully. Sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs (unless you scramble them and use them for cooking) do not freeze well, but will last at least a month if refrigerated properly. I plan my meals around these items.
  8. Make your own convenience items. This way I can control the ingredients, and making them yourself is much, much cheaper. The internet is loaded with sites for making your own mixes. Double a batch of waffles, french toast, or pancakes and freeze them for later. Doubling a batch of soup or casserole and freeze half for later. Pudding, applesauce,or canned fruit placed  into small reusable containers for lunches is far cheaper than their prepackaged counterparts.
  9. Be you own bakery. I try to have a baking day each week, or if  I am uber busy and a baked item is on the menu I double the batch. Home baked products freeze well, because they are not loaded with preservatives. I sometimes individually package muffins, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and quick breads before I freeze them, so they are easy to throw into lunch boxes in the morning. 
  10. If you don't own one, invest in a good basic cookbook (investment purchase) and use it. May I be so bold as to recommend; The Taste Of Home Cook Book or The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Both have step by step instructions for basic cooking skills. Cooking magazines are also a great resource, and many can be checked out of the library, or split the subscription cost with a friend and share (Cook's Illustrated, The Taste of Home, and Taste of Home Healthy Cooking are several favorites). 
  11. Take stock of what's on hand and plan a menu (always include leftover night). I have found that this one little step makes it easier to avoid eating out. I also don't waste nearly as much food, because it has been incorporated into the week's menus.
  12. Use meat as a condiment, and use other sources of cheaper and healthier protein. Cheese, eggs, yogurt, lentils, dried beans and peas, are great sources of protein. 
  13. Increase your fruit and veggie intake. Five a day keeps the doctor away! If you have some non veggie eaters in your house, hide the veggies in the food you cook. Mash cooked cauliflower right along the potatoes for mashed potatoes, Shred carrots and zucchini into muffins and quick bread. I have added cooked leftover carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and celery into spaghetti sauce. I puree the sauce and veggies in the food processor before I heat it up. What they don't know; won't kill them!
Of course, all of these steps won't work for everyone (we all have different lifestyles), but it works for my family.  Since I have really started paying attention, and choosing healthier options, I have noticed that my family has not gotten sick, as often as they use to. We feel better and have more energy!

I would love to hear from you, Dear Bloggy Friends, How do you check your grocery budget in check and  still eat healthy?


  1. great post! we've been working really hard towards a healthier diet while on a budget, and do many of the things you do. unfortunately i broke my hand yesterday, and see a lot of easy convenience foods in our near future while i recuperate-i may even give in and buy paper plates (shudder). it's only temporary though!

  2. I have noticed myself doing the same thing with coupon shopping. I am passing on the prepackaged goods. We didn't take in a lot before but more than ever I pullout the canned pears or peaches. BB has made my bottled vegi's last lots longer. In fact I may have to pass a bit on the BB and use some of our stock before this falls canning season. I'm not sure how you manage a whole day of baking but I am giving this a try. I usually get one thing made and have to quit to run boys here and there. I did finally invest in a Bosch. I figure it will pay for itself in 10 months based on the amt of bread we consume each week. Plus, let's face it, the boys would rather snack on bread and jam than jello anyway! lol.

    In addition to all this we are eating smaller portions. Hubby and I often serve ourselves on the little plates the boys use as well. Smaller meat/starch portions, larger vegi portions. We'll see if it makes a difference in our budget.

  3. I hear you about prices! Even at my beloved Aldi I'm noticing the prices creep up too. We're eating less meat, more home made everything, less packaged stuff all the time. I tell the boys to fill up on the veggies before I give them seconds on anything else. And this year I'm planning to increase the size of my garden by at least a third.

  4. We have cut our food bill by not eating processed food. We don't even eat pasta and cereal anymore. Now we have brown rice or oatmeal. We are eating LOTS of fruits and veggies. We froze blueberries, peaches, and collard greens last year that were given to us by others with extra in their gardens. We all feel healthier this year! The food tastes better, too.

  5. Definitely smaller portions and trying to eat more salads. And looking for creative ways to fix veggies. I love the look of bulk foods stored in glass jars and I'll bet your pantry is organized and wonderful. Pictures? =D

  6. I quit using coupons for convenience food too, because they would expire before we ate them. I threw away tons of expired stuff that was stale. That ended my convenience food purchasing - it was a waste. I am trying to make everything fresh without preservatives like you find in convenience foods.

    That is just crazy about the rise in gall bladder operations.

    I love your list. I just signed up for organic milk delivery in bottles. Plus butter and cheese, fruits and vegetables. I'm excited to try this out and NOT go to the grocery store. I have lots of long term food storage, grind my own wheat, make my own bread, plus have a freezer full of meat. I think it may be a while before I have to go to the store. I hope that by paying a little more for delivery service - I may save more by not going to the store at all. I'll have to see how it goes. This week will be my first delivery. I'm re-thinking the hormones injected in cows for milk and wanted to go pure organic for healthy children and me. I hope it works out and we like it.

  7. Great post. Every week things are going up by .10-.20 cents. It is making me rethink every food choice. The hard one is the school snacks. They are crazy expensive to start with.

    I never was taught to bake or cook really, so I have to follow recipes to the letter. I wish I could be creative like you but would end up wasting food when things did not turn out.

    One of the best money saving skills that can be taught to the future generation is cooking and baking. There are children who have never had a home cooked meal, it is all prepackaged convenience "food".

    I LOVE your blog!

  8. Great Post!

    I found when I use coupons I buy stuff I wouldn't normally buy. I do not buy or eat anything processed. I grow a garden every year and bottle lots of tomatoes. I have found that the key to saving money and eating healthy is cooking at home. Tacos are always the backup plan but I rotate about 30 favorite recipes. I try to add lots of fruits and veggies. Oh and one more thing...teach your kids how to cook and bake from scratch. It's great to have teenagers that can help out and healthy eating needs to be taught.

  9. SUCH a great post, TWM! envious of your BBs! cooking from scratch is how I make the budget work when going healthier, but I've been eating fairly unhealthy lately...eating at my folks a lot & then craving carbs a few days afterwards. Need to restrict myself to only fruits/veggies between meals. That would up my daily count!

  10. Great post. I too have been trying to adjust how my family eats. We have all become overweight and my dear husband's blood pressure is very high. I will have to check out our local farmers market for my fresh produce this spring and summer as buying fresh produce seems to be very expensive at our local stores.

  11. Great ideas! I used to be a huge couponer, too, but have found if you just make everything from scratch you can eat healthier and for about the same price!

  12. I love this post, thanks for sharing!



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