Groceries on the Cheap

Screenshot 2018-01-15 20.47.10We’re vegetarian at my house. So that I managed one month to spend over $2,400 in groceries is astonishing. But honestly, wander through your local Whole Foods and you’ll see how expensive all those prepared veggie entrees can be. And don’t go near the food bar because one serving could set you back 20 bucks.

With a little effort and a lot of meal planning, I’m on track to spend under $700 in groceries this month (for three of us). That’s still way too much, I now realize, but I’m just getting the hang of this.

What’s working:

  • find a local grocer that’s got great, fresh, local, and inexpensive produce, possibly a big market that caters to people of many ethnic heritages; then make that your go-to place;
  • plan meals, not necessarily each particular meal but a handful to shop for at a time, and then put the meal list on you fridge door to remind you of what you have on hand to cook;
  • skip the cheese unless it’s super special like the occasional block you get from an import store that specializes in you favorite foods;
  • stock up on beans, especially dried lentils of various sorts and black-eyed peas that cook in less than an hour, and also find cans of other beans for about 99 cents a can;
  • get a block or more of tofu, which should never cost more than two bucks, three if organic;
  • keep some frozen veggies in the freezer;
  • get key flavorings that serve lots of purposes: I always have on hand olive oil (pomace for cooking, extra virgin for dressings), vinegars, soy sauce, lemons, limes, cumin, oregano, garlic, and basic herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, basil — but don’t buy these from Whole Foods or they’ll cost a small fortune;
  • know some basic flavor combos: cumin+lime for Mexican, curry paste+coconut milk+lime for Thai, garlic+ginger+soy for Chinese, oregano+garlic+lemon for Greek, cumin+chili powder+cayenne for Tex Mex, etc., then you can use the same basic items in the fridge with dramatically different results;
  • remember rice is your friend, accompanying all kinds of soups, stews, and stir fries;
  • buy in season, e.g., winter is the worst time to buy fresh tomatoes — they’re terrible and cost too much;
  • learn to love and prepare big squashes, like butternut, and never buy them already cleaned and chopped for you; they’re great chopped and roasted with other root veggies like beets and a splash of olive oil and vinegar;
  • for the stuff you can’t get at that international market with all the great produce, like my Peet’s coffee, make very occasional trips to regular grocery stores for the things you can only get there, and go to some big box store to get things like toilet paper and paper towels.

Any further tips? Feel free to comment.


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