Part VI: Grocery Shopping – What we buy and how much we spend
First, let me say this is taking a bit of a leap of faith to throw out real numbers on ye olde blog. I have no clue how much others spend on grocery shopping so it’s very possible I’m about to get laughed off the Internet.
I’m listing this stuff because I get asked this question ALL the time, and because I know it would have helped me when I started this change to see what is left to eat after you eliminate meat, processed food, and most dairy! Please know that I’m not listing it because I think it’s the very best way to eat or shop, or because it’s the most economical. It’s just the way the Bean Family does it in our corner of Columbus, OH. 🙂
Here are some things to know about us:
- We try to be frugal in many cases.
- We look at what is on sale at all our favorite stores every week. We definitely wait for a good price and stock up (when it comes to shelf-stable foods).
- We often buy in season, which not coincidentally, means produce costs less.
- We frequently buy in bulk and split with other families.
- We shop at a farmer’s market in the summer.
- We grow as much as we can in our teeny garden.
- We cook nearly everything from scratch.
- We absolutely pay extra to get nutritious food and don’t hesitate to do so.
- It would be less expensive to be a vegetarian who eats simple beans and lentils and whole grains, but we crave color and we spoil ourselves on lovely food like: mangoes, berries, kale, peppers, pomegranates, mushrooms, leeks, and great spices.
- We’d rather spend money on nutritious food than on doctor’s bills. Just sayin’.
Nearly everyone we talk to immediately assumes we are Whole Foods shoppers. Not so. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Whole Foods, necessarily. Most of my family is addicted to shopping there. However, if we purchased the bulk of our food there, it would cost much, much more. We spent $194.19 at Whole Foods in the entire year – mostly on produce on a great deal, their bulk food, or a meal from their awesome salad bar.
My point is, it’s absolutely possible to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a diet similar in health to ours, as evidenced by the amazing array of pricey (and often delightful) prepared food found at Whole Foods Market. But the simple ingredients we shop for can be found much more inexpensively (with comparable quality) elsewhere. Thus over a year, we spend more than four times MORE on groceries from Meijer and Trader Joe’s, and 7 times more on food from Costco.
When you see The Number, keep these things in mind:
- It doesn’t include non-edible things like diapers.
- It doesn’t include eating out, and we tend to go out 6 times/year to a place like Chipotle, and 6 times/year to a $20 a plate place. It doesn’t include food we buy on vacation.
- It does include stuff we cook for others and since we love to cook, we try to frequently have people over and bring food to people.
- It is about $50 more per month than before we made the diet change 3 years ago.
- It fluctuates from month to month, depending on what produce is in season and what we end up stocking up on that month.
- We are a family of three, with a toddler that eats about 9/10 as much as I do.
- This spending amount includes monthly increases to our food storage in our basement, which is now coming up on a year’s worth of shelf-stable foods. We estimate $50 a month goes to that, on average, so feel free to subtract that from the total if you aren’t wanting to build up a year’s worth of food in anticipation of an emergency. 😉 If you ARE interested in doing that, though… you couldn’t pick a better diet because we eat from our food storage regularly as you’ll see below.
How much we spend
What we buy and from where and how often.
You’ll notice that we focus the vast majority of our time on the produce section of stores and in fact a full half of our shopping runs, we shop solely in that section and then checkout. This list may seem exhaustive, but if you consider what so many people fill their shopping carts with (and what we used to purchase 4 years ago) quite a few things (95% of your typical supermarket ) is/are missing.
3 times a month
- Produce, produce, produce – in particular, avocados, pomegranates, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, mangoes, oranges, spinach, red bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, black grapes, peaches, nectarines, snap peas, strawberries, onions, honeydew melon, sweet potatoes, bananas, and red potatoes. Most of these are very seasonal.
- Carrot juice – as a treat for Mackenzie and Scott.
- Guacamole. It comes in a three pack and we freeze them and defrost one every time we cook dirty beans and rice, or black bean burgers. It’s one of the few “processed” things we buy, but I think the ingredient list is
- Nuts – walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, almonds. All of these are raw and bought in the baking section in 2-3 lb bags. We keep one bag of each (minus pine nuts) on hand in our basement and work through one that we keep in the fridge.
- Occasional purchases – quinoa, Larabars, and blue corn tortilla chips.
- We always stay stocked up on – olive oil, minced garlic in a tub, raisins, 5# containers of honey for my bread baking, yeast, and the best canned tomatoes ever. They have hardly any added salt, a #10 can straight from Italy, and a sweet price. I will blog about these tomatoes soon.
- Frozen food – strawberries, three berry blend, and fish (mahi mahi or tilapia, or raw shrimp).
once per week
- Produce, produce, produce. In particular, their kale is fantastic ($1.50 for a huge bunch) and they often have good sales on citrus, berries, sweet potatoes, squash (winter or summer), eggplant, corn on the cob, mushrooms, and apples. We also frequently get bags of fresh spinach here if we can’t handle the Costco massive bag of it. I also get celery, carrots, fresh herbs, broccoli, sprouts, and hot peppers here, along with any other leafies we need like arugala or chard.
- We used to buy unsweetened applesauce and cans of beans here but now we make our own for both of those!
- Orange juice, lots of pulp with calcium, if it’s on sale and I’m a smoothie-making mood. I use 50/50 with water to form a base for most of my smoothies.
twice a month
- As a treat, I love their whole wheat sourdough bread, their whole wheat cinnamon raisin english muffins, dried unsweetened mango, and as a MAJOR treat dark chocolate covered edamame.
- Hummus, original or chipotle. We finally succeeded in making homemade hummus we love last week, so store-bought hummus will quickly fall off the menu.
- Unsalted peanut butter, unless we make our own, in which case we buy their unsalted roasted peanuts!
- Raw sunflower seeds, to throw in my bread and to make our date nut pop ’ems.
- Raw pepitas for potato kale enchiladas.
- Slivered almonds and almond meal – featured in sauces in several favorite recipes. If you buy the meal, it’s less expensive than whole almonds at Costco. Slivered almonds are more expensive than whole, but worth the convenience in one recipe in particular.
- Frozen food: three pepper blend, and occasionally edamame in the pod
- Unsweetened soymilk, trader joe brand.
- Fancy cheese for Scott, the more potent the better so a small bit satisfies his cheese tooth. 😉
- Whole wheat pasta, all three shapes.
- Occasionally, woven wheat crackers. I used to buy whole wheat pita here but now I make my own instead and it tastes much much better. Win!
Once every month or two
- We stock up on dried lentils, split peas, and dried kidney beans
- They usually have a stellar deal on a few produce items each time we go.
The Cannery, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
twice a year
- We stock up on 25 lbs bags of hard winter red wheat, hard winter white wheat, white beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
Honeyville Grain Store
one order per year
- We go in with friends and take advantage of the flat rate shipping to get steel cut oats, 6 grain rolled oats, cracked wheat, and brown rice.
- We also get some rolled oats, freeze-dried apple slices, and dehydrated refried beans for food storage.
- This is where I buy my vital wheat gluten for my homemade breads.
one a month
- We hit up the Indian market down the street for dried garbanzo beans, red lentils, brown rice, fresh garlic and ginger, and fresh mint.
- We hit up the Mexican market for canned chipotle peppers and whole corn meal
- We hit up Chinese or Japanese markets for curry pastes, tofu, green onions, shallots, and great deals on leafy greens.
twice a year
- Free shipping and 15% off gets us a regular supply of date crumbles and golden flaxseed, both from Bob’s Red Mill
- Wow, this is all the produce mentioned above, ideally. It’s our first choice to buy stuff in the summer, so I’ll just list some we especially love.
- Apple cider and exotic kinds of winter squashes – turban, cinderella, sweet potato squash
- Berries and grapes
- Beets, leeks, cool kinds of carrots with lots of green top to make carrot top soup
- Butter lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, and peppers.
The following are things we keep stocked, but don’t tend to buy from a particular store:
- Frozen veggies like peas and green beans.
- Canola oil
- Eggs – we tend to go brown, free range when we can. Local in the summer when we’re at markets. I was shocked the first time I compared these to $0.99/dozen eggs from the grocery store. The yolks are so much richer in color and we can tell the difference in taste.
- Unpopped popcorn – oh how I love hot air popped popcorn!
- canned beans for when I’m too short on time to pressure cook.
- tomato paste and sauce
- canned pineapple for curries
- Vinegars – rice wine (ok actually this is definitely from an Asian store), balsamic, white wine, red wine
- a variety of exotic ingredients for Scott’s cooking that I could neither name nor cook with competently myself, like shrimp paste and tamarind paste.
True confession time. The following are things you will find in our house, but which we go through so slowly we only purchase them a few times a year or less:
- White flour
- Brown, white and powdered sugars
- Unsalted butter and (a few times a year) heavy cream for Scott’s once a month baking project.
- Really good dark chocolate bars for baking.
- Mozzarella cheese for when I crave a more traditional homemade pizza
- A pint-sized container of high quality ice cream in the freezer that Scott nurses a spoonful at a time. Hehe.
- Real sour cream, again for Scott to indulge in when we have Mexican food.
I don’t want to end the post on sour cream, so I’ll say I’d love to hear in the comments what other families spend and what things you guys consider staples that I don’t have on the list, or the other way ’round. 🙂