Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saavy Shopping vs. Scary Supermarkets

So before you even get to cooking you need to obviously have something to cook.  This is dedicated to my sister who has just moved out on her own.  I always looked at my mother and wondered- "How did she know what was a good sale price?"- and unfortunately there is no magic way- it's just experience.  It also has to do with where you shop and what you are shopping for.  I actually shop at a couple different places- some have better deals than others. So this is a compilation to help first timers get started.

Here are some tips off the top of my head that I have accumulated throughout the years:
  • Just because you're at a wholesale place (e.g. BJ's or Costco) you are not always getting a good deal (Best example for me is for boneless skinless chicken breasts: BJ's $2.99lb, on sale at Waldbaums or Western Beef can be as low as $1.79lb)
  • Look at the flyer before you go and have a list ready, otherwise you wind up being there forever and buying stuff you didn't originally need.
  • Check the supermarket's website- most of them you can see the flyer online (and some you can even make a list and print out! I love this feature on
  • Ask yourself- Do you really need this- or can you substitute something cheaper or don't need it at all
  • Ask yourself- Will I use this before it goes bad? Can I freeze it if I don't?
  • When on sale-buy things in bulk if you have the room- I always do this with chicken, pasta, canned tomatoes, mayo, and flour.
  • Meat is probably going to be the most expensive item you buy. (Don't forgot eggs and tofu are really cheap and also a very good source of protein as a meat replacement)
  • Even if you're not shopping try and glance at the flyers to try and get a feel for how much things cost.
  • If they don't have it- get a RAINCHECK!
  • Clip coupons and definitely get the saver shopper card thing for that particular supermarket
  • Always check the reduced produce section (not all stores have this, but I've been seeing it more frequently now) sometimes you will find awesomeeeee deals- other times it's not worth it.
  • Compare prices and ingredients of the name brands and store brands
  • Check the nutritional facts- read what you're buying- might not be as healthy or low fat as you think
  • Problem solving: Yup you are going to use math!
    • In BJ's where things come in bulk- say a 36 pack of Poland Spring water- take price of it ($4.99) and divide it by the total amount of the product (36): that means each bottle of water is costing you about 14¢ a bottle. Now that's a deal- you pay over a dollar for a bottle of water in the machine or at the deli. (BJ's is also a really good deal for cold cuts- but BJ's has a $52 annual membership FYI)
    • Also you can use this info to help compare prices at other stores.  (a personal example is face lotion for me- at BJ's 2 creams cost $21- but it's a deal because in the drug store they are close to $15 each!)
  • Technology can be a life saver! Use you phone to compare prices, or check what you need for recipes while shopping!
  • Family packs (larger packages, usually of meat) will save you money by the pound
  • Do your math and compare the fresh veggies that are on sale that week to the frozen ones- sometimes the fresh are a way better deal.
  • Always bag your meat products separate from anything else- we don't want any cross contamination.

What to actually buy?
Well I try and buy nutritional food for cheap.  Here is a list of some things I think would be essential for a first start kitchen:
  • extra virgin olive oil (this is gunna be a lil pricey, if too expensive go for regular olive oil), onions, garlic, canned beans, eggs, rice (or lentils), canned crushed tomatoes, pasta, kosher salt, pepper, a couple other spices (crushed red pepper flakes, thyme (whole not ground), rosemary, bay leaf, adobo, basil, cumin, oregano), chicken bouillon cubes, mac and cheese-yes in the box, flour, non-stick cooking spray, italian dressing, hot sauce, milk, butter (I don't use real butter-ya know the butter substitutes), cereal, mustard, ketchup, canned chicken/tuna
This list is a minimal list to get you started if you didn't have one single thing in your kitchen.  You can create a lot of simple yummy dishes with these ingredients.  As you learn to cook more things you will see other ingredients start to reappear- my fridge door is just out of control with different things lol.  Also feel free to add things you eat on the regular.

When You Get Home
Especially if you are living by yourself, you are not going to eat that full family package of chicken in one night- or even in that week- chicken will be good in the fridge for a couple days, but you want to take it out of the package, trim it up more if you want/prefer, and put each meal portion in a separate ziplock bag.  Then stack up and freeze- when you know you are going to want chicken for dinner take out before work and put on your counter for a few hours or the night before in your fridge to defrost (on the counter is obviously faster- but just make sure you don't keep it out too long).  Also take the time to cut and clean all your fresh produce so it's ready for you when you need it.  It is a time saver.  The only thing you do not want to wash until you are ready to eat are strawberries.  The moisture from when you rinse them will cause them to get moldy faster.

Brief Rundown
This is only from my knowledge and personal experience (I live in Queens, NYC and shop at about 4 to 5 different places- Waldbaums, Western Beef, BJ's, H-Mart, sometimes Stop and Shop, Keyfood and Associated Supermarket- obviously not all at once or in one week, but I bounce around)

  • The Deli
    • If you buy cold cuts (deli meats) at a supermarket they are usually going to cost around $9.99lb (except BJ's- they usually are $6.99lb).  I know it's expensive, and I don't always make the trip to BJ's to save at the Deli- because I waste it in gas, but think about how much you are saving versus if you bought a sandwich for only one meal- even Subway is $5.49 for a footlong after tax-and that's not even quality deli meat.  My favorites at the deli are pepper turkey, honey turkey, and buffalo chicken- going to a good deli provides you with a nice array of choices so you can always try something new.  If you don't know what something tastes like- just ask! Most deli's will be happy to let you try something.
  • Produce Dept
    • Stock up on what's on sale.  I usually don't like to go to Waldbaums for produce because the Asian markets (like H-Mart) have the best produce for low prices- if you have some sort of Asian market by you I suggest you take full advantage.  The quality and price you just cant beat.  Also, trust your gut- you might be intimidated to go into a place like this- but you know what broccoli and zucchini and carrots look like right? Right! so go be adventurous, it might be not as scary as you think- and if it's too much for you to handle- you can always just walk out.
    • Again, check the reduce produce section if they have one- if you don't know you can ask
    • Organic vs Non-organic: this is something you're gunna have to research yourself- I really don't care too much about organic- I care about price and organic is always more expensive.
    • Onions and garlic are always one of the best deals in the produce dept- they are cheap and you use them a lot!
    • Farmer's Markets: I have never been to one yet- but I plan on going at the end of this month and I'll let you know how that works out. 

  • Fruit- I don't buy too much fruit but:
    • Bananas should definitely be under a $1 a pound.
    • Strawberries should be $2 (1lb container) or less.
    • Apples can vary- I would say $1.40/lb is a median price. 
    • Oranges and grapefruits are usually sold each-not by the pound- grapefruits for $1 each are the usual sale price.  I don't buy oranges often. 
    • Grapes should be under $2/lb
    • Lemons: 3 for $1 is pretty good (usually on sale for this price)
    • Limes: 5 for $1 is a usual sale price 
  • Veggies: everything under $1/lb I say!
    • If it's $1/lb or less it's a good deal- for broccoli, string beans, and zucchini
    • Peppers: Rarely you will find colored peppers that cheap.  Green peppers supposedly have the least flavor and are usually the cheapest- so if you find other colors under $2/lb you're doing pretty good. Green for $1.88/lb or less is good.
    • Mushrooms can be tricky, because there are a lot of different types- 10oz is the usual package size and for cremini (baby portabellos-little brown ones) $1.60 or under for 10oz package is acceptable. 
    • Lettuce: a package of 3 romaine hearts shouldn't cost you more than $2.99 for the package of 3.  You can get a loose green leaf or red leaf lettuce for about $1/lb- loose romaine can go by the pound or by each- 99¢/lb is good.  And if you buy Iceberg lettuce (ugh, which I wouldn't except for tacos) I wouldn't pay more than $1.25 a head, if that.
    • Celery: Buy the full celery-not just the hearts because hearts only cost more and it's really the same thing. 
    • Carrots run relatively cheap- about $1/lb (the small cello package carrots- carrots in a bag- are usually a pound each)
    • Onions: At BJ's I get a 10lb bag of onions for $5 or $6 bucks I think which is a pretty good price- make sure the onions are not soft and not moldy or have bugs on them- gross.
    • Garlic: buy tight heads- if they have a purple tint or hue- don't worry it's fine- don't buy garlic with the green shoot/root growing out of it
    • Potatoes: price varies depending on the potato- I buy potatoes by the bag so I'm pretty sure a 5lb bag of Russet Idaho potatoes should be around $2.99

Also buy in season.  I have a widget on my page to help with that.  Usually when produce is in season it goes on sale.  I can't list everything, but check out the widget or just Google it- didn't I say technology is a wonderful thing!

I would say this post is long enough already- so if you have any other questions you can always email me:

And remember- it's just a supermarket- I actually love food shopping, sometimes I need to remind myself I have other things to do.  I love the colors, smells, knowledge of different products available, and ideas that pop into my head for cooking.  Embrace the fact that you have endless possibilities and choices, don't be frightened or turned off by it. Happy shopping!

1 comment:

Fierce Dee said...

Bri - this was awesome! I'm loving your blog <3

We have some great supermarkets on 63rd Drive (right down the street from where I live) and it's actually known in the neighborhood as supermarket/vegetable store row. There are so many that they keep competing on the prices so everything is extremely cheap. Almost guarantee you that some of the things you mentioned are even cheaper (strawberries - $1.79!)

Another tip is to share a BJ/Costco account - split it and just go shopping together - being green by carpooling and saving money.

Woo! Go us!

Also, I'm starting to love cooking as well - not to the point where you have but I'm getting there!!!

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