Grocery Challenge – Halfway Through and My Thoughts and Tips

This entry is part of a series, AllYou 2010 Grocery Challenge»

I really wasn’t sure if we would be able to make this far. We spent almost our entire budget in one day last week and this week. I was positive we’d forgotten something.

Something I’m learning with this challenge – I do not need to worry so much when I’m going to be doing the grocery shopping again in about three or four days. I would feel differently if we didn’t have so much food in the pantry and freezer that we can make all sorts of meals — being out of one or two ingredients, while inconvenient, is not the end of the world.

Now, while my husband and I are living the life of unemployed college students, we don’t have much. But we do have enough to eat well and eat healthy; we actually spend more than $50 per week on groceries usually. And yes, we do spend more time in the kitchen because we enjoy cooking and baking — but that’s not true every day. Some days, we don’t want to do anything in the kitchen, not even the dishes!

I hear of a lot of people saying they can’t eat well with less than $x per week, that they have to buy processed food, that fresh produce is too expensive. It doesn’t have to be that way, but you have to be willing to try.

Here’s my advice:

  • Watch where you shop. If you don’t you WILL pay too much.
  • Be willing to experiment and cook from scratch. If you aren’t, processed, unhealthy foods often seem cheaper and/or easier.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day: It takes time to build up a thorough pantry. It also takes time to figure out what you really want to have on-hand all the time. If I had to make a list, it’d probably wind up being equally divided between spices, flours and baking ingredients, protein, dairy and veggies. When you don’t have much in the way of ingredients in the pantry, getting started is a monumental challenge — and very expensive — so take it slow.
  • Be willing to buy frozen or canned at some points during the year. Sometimes, especially in the winter, fresh produce IS too expensive or too expensive for the quality available.
  • Always remember to keep frozen and canned veggies in mind. They’re picked when ripe and in season then preserved for later. In areas with bad tomatoes, canned is much better – there’s a reason many recipes call for canned tomatoes because you can get reliably ripe and good ones canned.
  • And the corollary: Watch for what’s in season and try to buy that instead. In the winter, enjoy root vegetables and winter squash along with pomegranates and citrus, for example. What is in season will taste the best.
  • Learn to cook, at least the basics, because knowing is half the battle. If you know how to cook, you can take basic ingredients and transform them into a good meal easily and quickly.
  • Learn to make a few dishes really well. These will save your ass when you’re too tired and too lazy to do anything. Always have those ingredients on hand. It could be as simple as roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots – 5 minutes of prep, 1 hr of cooking, 2 (or more) meals if you’re single or married w/o kids.
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