It’s the last week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series, and I can’t believe how fast it flew by. This week is all about the shopping experience and how and where we shop to keep the grocery budget under control.
Living in the Midwest poses a few challenges as you start thinking about grocery shopping. The first and probably most prominent challenge is that of local food availability during the winter months. These definite seasonal shifts also lead to seasonal shopping differences for our family.
For instance, in the summer months about 65% of what we eat comes directly from the farmers’ market. In the winter, the farmers’ markets are closed, and so we have to supplement that in other places, so you’ll find me purchasing organic spinach at Costco or at the supermarket rather than direct from the farmer.
Second, we do eat seasonally, purchasing food when it’s at its peak, and there are times when we might also be purchasing, say, pineapples or mangoes when they’re in season, but that are not coming from a farm or a hot house in Minnesota. Do we purchase them every week? No, but we do eat them occasionally and enjoy them when we do, and supermarkets will have the best deals on them when they’re in season as well.
The Supermarket or Grocery Store
I shop at the supermarket. Weekly. I need to go somewhere for hand soap, toilet paper and shampoo, and while I’m there, I pick up those odds and ends that I don’t purchase in bulk or aren’t available anywhere else I frequent. Bakery items, single green peppers in the winter, condiments and Greek yogurt all make the list. (Note to self: Make my own yogurt on a regular basis to support the family habit.)
I’ve already professed my love for Costco in previous posts. There are some things that you just can’t beat. One of them is massive amounts of organic produce, which is a lifesaver during the winter months when the farmers’ market isn’t open and the local eats are slim. We get creative with meal planning to make sure we’re using all of it when things are purchased in bulk, or we freeze half as soon as we get home so it can be used later. They also carry Kerrygold cheese, and I’m a big fan of the grass-fed, hormone-free goodness by dedicating a macaroni and cheese to them, but what we tend to purchase most at Costco are things like 10-pound bags of organic quinoa, produce/milk/eggs in the winter months.
Co-ops are fantastic options for purchasing locally and sustainably. Look for one that is committed to serving the community and working towards consumer education, and they can take a lot of the guesswork and research with food and do it for you. We’ve had a hard time finding a co-op that we love, and up until now we didn’t frequent one outside of the conveniently located co-op at Ole’s place of employment. There seems to be a pretentious attitude that goes into many urban co-ops, where they’ve become an area for the upper echelon of wage earners to shop and feel good about themselves rather than providing a valuable resource to the average Joe in the community.
However, I then stumbled across a smaller co-op that is actually closer to us than the more well-known co-ops in the area that seems to be exactly what we’re looking for: a co-op that offers bulk food and goods for competitive pricing with several organic and local options and a reasonable share price. I may just move in and call it home.
Farmers’ Markets and Farms
I love our farmers’ markets. Yes, plural. I frequent a few depending on what week it is, which day we choose to shop on or what we are purchasing. It’s one of the benefits when you live in the middle and have more than four all about the same distance from your house. Also included in this category can be anything you would purchase direct from the farm as well. Perhaps you’re looking to stock up on a 1/2 or 1/4 cow or pig. Going direct to a farmer will get you the best price and the best quality.
A few farmers’ market shopping tips:
- Ask the farmer what’s in season right now. Often they are the ones who picked it early that morning or loaded it on the trucks to bring to the market.
- Look for bulk purchasing offers. If a farmer has several different varieties to choose from, they’ll often have a deal if you buy a certain number of baskets or flats. Mix and match or stock up to preserve or freeze.
- Know your farmer. Find growers you trust and keep going back. Figure out what they’re using on their plants and how they’re growing.
A few disclaimers here. First, this was last summer when the market was bustling and full. Second, Ole walks really fast and the camera shakes a lot. (I’m totally blaming him here.) Third, this makes me love the video feature on my 5D even more. Finally, that’s Mr. John Bolten singing. Ole went to grad school with him, and he just set a date for his wedding. Congratulations, John and Allison! We can’t wait to see you this summer.
Our Own Backyard
We have quite a few garden areas in our yard, and each year we expand a bit more. Some of my favorite things to grow in the garden are heirloom tomatoes, green beans, winter and summer squash, cucumbers, herbs and lettuces. We also have raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb that come to grace us with their presence every year, and our compost pile happily eats away kitchen scraps and yard waste. With seeds that cost very little and the price of gardening just some time outside with the kids and some small purchases here and there, this is one of my favorite ways to stretch the budget a bit farther, and it is also a fantastic learning tool for the kids.
Our shopping habits change with the seasons as winter turns to spring and then summer brings a large harvest that turns again to winter. In the winter the majority of our shopping is done between the supermarket and warehouse stores with an occasional trip to a co-op (down near Ole’s work) thrown in once a month or so. This may change now that we found a close and convenient co-op we feel fits us better. In the summer, every week we visit the farmers’ market and the grocery store and our warehouse shopping drops to every other week or so. In between, we shift between those two poles. Some weeks become exceptions to the rule as activities, work trips and vacations dictate, but these are the ideals that we set out with each week.
Check out what others are writing this week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series and how they shop in their region:
- Aimee from Simple Bites
- Alyssa from Kingdom First Mom
- Carrie from Denver Bargains
- Jessica from LifeasMOM
- Katie from Good Life Eats
- Katie from Kitchen Stewardship
- Mandi from Life Your Way
- Tammy from Tammy’s Recipes