I Gave Up Grocery Shopping

I don’t really like grocery shopping. It always seems to take longer than it should, cost more than it should and they don’t always have what I want. Not to mention all the things I forget to put on the list or have on the list but forget anyhow. Ugh! There are real, whole food choices, but many stores are limited in their selection.

I don’t like to grocery shop, but I do like to save money when I can. Buying lower quality does not save money, so how can I? I’ve looked into a variety of ways. Previously, I posted about a local bulk buying club I planned to check out. That didn’t turn out quite like I expected. The person running the club was a very busy person and by the time she added me to her email list (this literally took months), I had found alternatives I liked better. Besides, before I could even place an order, her son called and left a message. He wanted my help on a nutrition project he was working on. I thought, not sure why he called me, but ok, I’m all for helping in educational pursuits. Turns out his project was to sell me nutritional supplements. He’s not getting a passing grade on that project. I have no plans to pursue that club any further. The prices on some items were slightly better than what I have since found, but not that much.

I have looked at warehouse club stores. LOTS of food, some choices that are “real food”, hit-or-miss if they have it when you want it.

Delivered to your door fresh, local, organic produce – Part 1. I tried this a couple of years ago for a few months. Produce was delivered in a recycled cardboard box during the night and there when we woke up. It started off ok, but after a while I started getting a few bad items. The company had issues and went out of business and they referred us to another similar company. We were a bit gun-shy after the previous experience and never signed up again.

Delivered to your door fresh, local, organic produce – Part 2. We didn’t sign up that is, until a month ago. I have a trusted friend who has been a customer of the company to which I was referred for a year now. She has never had any trouble. The farm we volunteer at helps supply the company and I KNOW the farm’s food is awesome. Then I got a coupon, so I went for it.

Green B.E.A.N. Delivery offers different sizes of produce bins you can have delivered to your door every week or every other week. They come during the day in insulated plastic bins with freezer packs to keep everything fresh. Besides the produce, they offer a huge variety of other foods, such as milk, cheese, grains & flour, nuts, dried fruit, eggs and meat. Most of it is local and organic or sustainably grown/raised. Almost everything on my list. You have a few days each week to add or adjust what will be delivered to you. It’s no wonder their customer base has grown x10 in recent years! Plus, if you need to skip a week because you will be out of town, no problem. If you decide it isn’t working out for your family (not likely though), no problem. The prices are great and they have weekly sales. It is a doable option on a frugal budget. Locals: If you want to try it out, I have coupons I’m willing to share. 🙂

Amazon Subscribe & Save. We buy very few packaged products: a few canned items such as tuna, pumpkin and tomatoes and a few boxed items, such as crackers. At the suggestion of another wonderful friend, I have found many of these items are cheaper on Amazon with their Subscribe and Save program. You purchase multiple packs – I hesitate to say bulk, because it’s not quite as much as that term connotes – and sign up to receive this quantity every so often, every 2 months for example. You can cancel or adjust the subscription at any time. I received a 15% discount on an already competitive price, making this delivered option cheaper than the store.

Farmer’s markets and CSAs. I have blogged about these several times before. Wonderful options and opportunities to know your farmer! This year, we will be growing some of our own food.

I still go to the grocery store for a few specific items that I have found cheaper there, especially when they are on sale. But I’m thankful I no longer have to scour ads, walk the aisles, frustrate myself with forgotten items…. I’m also very thankful for friends who share what they know!

For those who have asked, a couple of resources:

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We prefer to buy our meat, fresh produce and a few other things locally as much as possible. We have even found places to purchase some of those things in bulk at a discount.

However, I have been working to find a way to reduce our “shelf stable” food expense. I have looked at Whole Foods, Meijer, Amazon subscribe & save, Costco and a buying club. Costco had good prices on things, but the time my very sweet friend generously took time to give me a tour, they didn’t have a huge number of things that I buy. I thank you, my friend, for the great tour! I guess it is hit or miss what Costco might have in a given month, though. Plus, there might be the temptation to buy a bulk amount of processed food.

I have found a bulk buying club in our area, just a few minutes from my home in fact. Orders are placed with UNFI (which is where I believe Whole Foods orders from) every 4 weeks and delivered a week after being placed. Many of the prices on the list from UNFI are less than prices at Whole Foods and Amazon, plus the buying club will give an 8% discount on non-sale items. UNFI offers monthly sales also and it looks like a typical sale price is 15% off. Costs for the club besides the food are minimal — sales tax on non-food items, which you would have to pay anyway and there is a $2/order fuel charge. I’m sure I spend that much in gas driving to WF on the other side of town. While it would require purchasing by the case for packaged foods or 1-50# packages for bulk items, the orders can be split through the club or with someone you know. Because the delivery site doesn’t have facilities for splitting sacks of flour and such, only packaged items can be case split through the club and only if someone else wants some. However, if you have friends who also like what you do, you can split with them. Remember it is only cheaper if you will use your purchase before it goes bad. Splitting and/or proper long-term storage can help make it worthwhile. Another benefit: you can shop from home in your pjs, someone else collects it all in one place for you. There are so many reasons and tips to buying bulk. But rather than list them here myself, Frugally Sustainable has a great free downloadable Bulk Buying Guide for subscribing to their blog. Check it out. Their blog is full of other great ideas and encouragement as well.

I plan to begin purchasing from the club the foods I normally get from the WF bulk bins. Not all at once, but an item or a few each month. This includes (all organic) whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, oat flour, rolled oats, steel cut oats, raisins, dates, various nuts, dry beans, brown rice and so on. These usually come in a few sizes, and generally the larger the sack, the better the price per lb. Though these can’t be split through the club, if you are interested in splitting (and a local reader), let me know. We purchase very few packaged foods, but we will likely get Wild Planet tuna and sardines, canned tomatoes, canned beans, crackers and maybe a few other such things as well.

If you are interested in more information, I’d be happy to send you a list of which products/prices are available. I can also give you contact information for the buying club. I’ve not yet bought through the club, but will be placing an order near the end of February. If you just want to wait to find out how it works out for me before you give it a try, I’ll try to post an update after I get my order.

Maybe we will give delivered local, organic produce another try..? But that’s a story and a post for another day.

Free Menu Plan is Here

So many of you have asked for it. You’ve said real food is too difficult without it. So, as promised, it is finally here! A menu plan, and it’s free.

Features:

  • A low-cook Sunday to give you a break or a chance to prepare for the busy week ahead.
  • A variety of lean proteins, 100% whole grains and fresh produce. See About and the Challenges for more information on what does or doesn’t count as real food.
  • Makes use of leftovers.
  • Recipes for 2 adults and 2 kids. Make a little extra and save yourself cooking a future meal.

Speaking of preparing ahead:

  • Items that can be made ahead and frozen include egg muffins, pancakes, banana muffins, spaghetti sauce, pizza dough and chicken stock. Make a double batch or just a little extra and freeze to use another time. These can also be made ahead and refrigerated for this week.
  • Items that can be made ahead and refrigerated include tuna salad, egg salad, hummus, rice and chopped vegetables. Do this on a day that’s not so busy, if you have one of those. 🙂
  • Remember to take your meat out of the freezer in time for it to thaw. This is mostly a reminder to myself. 🙂

If you still find this to be an overwhelming task:

  • Choose one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner from the menu and make those this week. Doesn’t even have to be all on the same day.
  • Limit options by cooking more of an item on the menu so that it will last for 2-3 meals. You will still be eating real healthy food, just with less variety for now.
  • Don’t forget a few grab and go real food snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables, popcorn with a small amount of real butter or only sea salt, some of those extra yummy muffins or granola, cheese and 100% whole grain crackers, mixed nuts and dried fruit, real fruit leather strips or Larabar.

Any step in the right direction is progress. Make a little progress but don’t defeat yourself.
I really hope to hear from you on how this works out for you. I plan to post a couple of menu plans each season and want them to be helpful for everyone so that all my readers can eat real healthy food. Or give those already eating mostly real food a few new ideas.

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Menu Plan Monday

The Oats Have It

We all know that we should consume our grains as whole grains. We’ve been hearing that for years. While finding whole grain products, even 100% whole grain, is fairly easy these days, for most of us, whole grain is equivalent with whole wheat. Some people say wheat is what is making people fat. In the book Wheat Belly:…by William Davis, he notices that the wheat we eat these days is not the wheat our ancestors ate. He also decides it is the consuming of this wheat that is making people fat. While I believe it is moderation that is key to keeping us healthy, I do believe we, as a population, have come to rely too heavily on wheat as our whole grain. Not to mention all the extra ingredients added to those whole wheat products.

So what do we do? That’s what is available at the store. One thing I have done over the last six months is to put more oats into our diets.

Pros of oats: awesome source of fiber, increase metabolism, reduce cholesterol, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, boost immune response, good source of selenium which is necessary for some antioxidant actions, protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women, reduces risk of Type 2 diabetes, reduce risk of childhood asthma, contain a legume like protein equal in quality to soy, meat, milk and egg, able to be eaten by many with celiac disease, if a product contains oats they are most likely whole grain

Cons of oats: “extravagant ability” to increase blood sugar levels, contain purines though they are plant based, I am not a doctor so those with blood sugar issues or kidney issues should decide with their doctor if oats are a good choice for them

How to enjoy oats: (besides the packet of instant)

Steel cut oatmeal — my picky kid’s favorite breakfast. Great texture, minimally processed. This one takes a while to make, but so worth it. We like it with maple syrup, cinnamon, raisins and nuts. Certain foods like cinnamon and nuts help control insulin levels.

Overnight oatmeal — soak oats overnight and you have a great quick breakfast

Biscuits — though the original recipe for these calls for whole wheat flour, they are at least as delicious with oat flour. My kids love these for breakfast, snack, lunch…

Honey granola or Chocolate nut granola — great with milk for breakfast or as a yummy snack anytime

Banana muffins, blueberry muffins (recipe to come), pumpkin muffins, fresh apple cake, carrot cake muffins — replacing some of the wheat flour with oat flour makes a tender, moist pastry

Meatloaf and casseroles — use rolled oats instead of bread or cracker crumbs

Add some oats to your diet not only for variety and all the health benefits they provide, but also because they are delicious!

Week 12: NO Sweeteners

Ok, so this last week was a tough week, especially at breakfast time. We were not to have any of the refined sweeteners we couldn’t have a couple of weeks ago as well as any honey or maple syrup. To be honest, this was a difficult week for me as a shopper, a cook and an eater. I’ve learned in the past how important it is to read labels, but this was the week that really put home that I don’t always think as hard about what is in the food others prepare.

I took my girls shopping at the grocery store Monday to be sure we had food for this challenge. Since most bread products with yeast will likely have sugar, or at least honey, I knew that was out. But tortillas don’t need to rise, so I looked through the selection of 4 or 5 brands offered only to find every single one of them had sugar. Then I looked at several other options only to discover sugar everywhere. I finally settled on a package of organic brown rice cakes — the only ingredient was organic brown rice. Fortunately, the kids loved them. They said they taste like popcorn and I agree. We finally left the store with little more than those rice cakes and fresh produce. Oh, and a couple containers of plain yogurt.

As I said, coming up with breakfast was a bit of a challenge. My youngest’s favorite Multigrain Cheerios were a no-no this week, along with pancakes with syrup, yogurt with honey, muffins made with honey or syrup… We ended up having eggs with veggies and fruit on the side on a couple of days, a simple smoothie of bananas, plain yogurt and milk with a side of fruit and homemade biscuits on a few days. Lunch was a little easier, we had leftover salad of corn, black beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic and cilantro on one day. Sardines, Sunbutter, fresh fruit & veggies and rice cakes were included in our mid day meals. One day, while shopping for clothes for the girls, we stopped in at the food court (I know, I know!) for lunch. Pizza? No, sauce and crust probably have sugar. Sandwiches? No, sugar in the bread. Japanese stir fry? OK! As we sat there eating, I was reminded that the teriyaki sauce probably had sugar. Darn! Well, we did try, but that is when it really hit me that I don’t always think to such great detail about what is in food someone else prepared. I need to think more beyond the main ingredients and think about sauces, dressings and dips. I can’t just think “whole grain bread”, I need to know what is in it besides whole grains. Dinners were the usual, except that I usually make my own salad dressings with a little honey to balance the flavor. We had one especially good meal of whole grain pasta topped with a cherry tomato sauce made from tomatoes we picked that afternoon at Carriage House. Sweet as candy! On the side, we had yellow and purple beans we also picked that day.

These last two weeks of challenges (has it been that long already?) will really help reinforce the habit of thinking about the foods prepared by others, of reading labels and asking questions with something other than my daughter’s peanut allergy in mind. This week our challenge is to eat no artificial ingredients. The final week will be to eat no packaged goods with more than 5 ingredients. Once these weeks are over, I will go back to some of these challenges, try to improve, come up with more related recipes and find some more fun food facts.

There is a tour of our beloved Carriage House Farm coming in October! If you would like, you can sign up to be a part of this fun OEFFA event.

As I said, this week was definitely a challenge, especially for me with my sweet tooth. How would you have to change your meals if you couldn’t eat any sweeteners?

Week 11 Challenge: Eat Local Foods

Way back in Week 3, I talked about choosing local when we did our local meat challenge. This week, we are trying to make all foods (or at least more of them) local. We have been working on finding more local foods. So far we have been enjoying the following:

Carriage House Farm, no grocery store is closer. Volunteering in their garden has gotten us quite a variety of super yummy food including pak choy, lettuce, mizuna, swiss chard, radishes, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, basil, dill, cucumbers and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting. They also produce honey that I can buy at the local hardware store, but have to go to the Farmer’s market or Whole Foods for their corn meal and whole wheat flour (which I do). Planning to try the black beans soon. They use organic sustainable farming methods.

Gravel Knolls Farm, just 10 minutes from Hubby’s work. Belonging to this CSA, we have gotten a lot of yummy veggies including garlic, onions, lettuce, swiss chard, zucchini, yellow and other squashes, lima beans, carrots, corn, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, okra, a variety of herbs and more. They also have free range chicken and eggs, which we regularly purchase. I have a few chickens in the freezer now for use in future months. They use organic, sustainable farming methods.

Webers Farm, 10 minutes from home. Hands down, the very best sweet corn I have ever had. We have purchased from here in the past and are happy to see the red barn open again this year. At last week’s visit they had onions, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers and corn. They are a low spray farm.

Grassland Graze, 15-20 minutes from Hubby’s work. Awesome grass-fed beef. I just bought 50 lbs for 7% discount. Should last us several months.

Meadow Maid organic raw milk cheeses, about 175 miles from home — found at the Farmer’s Market at Hubby’s work. We have also tried Blue Jacket grilling cheese, about 100 miles from home. Both are very good.

Snowville Creamery, about 180 miles from home. HTST, non-homogenized milk. Our new everyday milk.

Mrs. Miller’s Noodles, about 200 miles away in Ohio Amish country. Recently found these at the local farmer’s market at Hubby’s work. We tried the whole grain spelt noodles topped with sauteed onion, garlic, zucchini, globe squash, tomatoes and herbs. Apparently, I didn’t make enough because everyone wanted more. 🙂

What do we eat that isn’t local?

Several fruits including citrus, bananas, berries, kiwi, pineapple, coconut, olives. We can get melons around here and some berries, no problem. But the Ohio River Valley doesn’t have the climate to grow tropical fruits.

Canned beans or tomatoes. Of course making beans from dried is cheaper and fresh is better, but sometimes there just isn’t time.

SunButter. For us, there is no other alternative for peanut butter besides just not having it.

We don’t eat pork often, but I would like to find a local source. Gravel Knoll has it some years, but they weren’t able to this year.

Some cheeses and yogurt. Some things you just can’t get local (like parmigiano-reggiano). I would like someday to try making my own cheese and yogurt. A project for less busy days.

Other grain products incl rice, bread, crackers, flours, oats, other pastas. Given enough time, I believe I could make my own bread and crackers. I’ve been using an organic whole grain pancake mix too. I could probably make my own though (with no sugar). But making everything from scratch and still live life? That would be quite a chore. I don’t think I could do that.

Other condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise. Say that last one quietly please. I have been staying away when it isn’t allowed for a particular week’s challenge and have tried other options to create that creaminess, such as avocado and hard boiled egg yolk. I’ve heard ground cashews could work too. There really isn’t much that can replace mayo, though. It will likely stay in our diets as an occasional thing.

I’ve recently found a local maple syrup producer. Clough Valley is just on the other side of town, about 30 miles from home. Looking forward to trying their syrup.

Restaurants. Sadly, we don’t eat out for entertainment. It’s mostly for convenience. Chipotle tries to use local foods when they can and I understand City Barbeque near us uses local chicken. But we don’t have the time to go to a restaurant that takes reservations. If you do and would like to find a place that serves local foods, check out Eat Local Cincy.

Those above are just a few local sources that we have tried, but I’m sure there are others. If you know of any, please tell me about it.

Findley Market — a friend has said he will give me a tour of the best local organic producers at this HUGE farmers’ market. Looking forward to it!

CORV

Locally Harvested for You

Green Bean Delivery

Our Allergy Home

We have been managing my daughter’s food allergy for almost 8 years. You can read our story on The Willing Cook.

While reading there, please look around that great site. You will find help and encouragement if you have food allergies to manage in your house. Even if you don’t have food allergies, you can find some great recipes, information on what to do if you have dinner guests with allergies or some general encouragement when you are facing a challenge.

Thank you Willing Cook for your work to help others and for letting me share my story.