Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back-to-school: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Once you know your grocery stores here are some suggestions for making it on a small budget:

1. Check out the flyers before you go
Decide which store has what you need most, and decide if you will go to multiple stores. Remember that most items will go on sale every 6 weeks or so, so if you will need cheese next week and it's on sale this week, you might want to stock up.

2. Get to know your prices.
Try to walk the same route through the store each time, and get to know what prices are on items you usually buy. Just because it is marked on sale, doesn't mean it is a good price.

3. Make a flexible meal plan and list
If you are an impulse buyer, make it a strict list, but ideally you want an idea of what you will get, then you can modify it when you see what is marked down. Try for 5 planned meals, and 1-2 types of snacks each week.

4. Walk through the store first and look for sales
Do a quick walk through looking for sales, and picking up the items on your list. Then stop in a quiet corner and assess what you have. Ask yourself:
                Can I modify my meals for the week to make them cheaper with discounted/sales items?
                Do I NEED everything in my cart or can some of these wait till next time?
                Do I have some fruits/veggies to eat each day (or whatever food group you tend to forget)?
Do a second trip through the store to put back/pick up things as needed.

5. Set a budget, and keep a running tally as you shop
Round things up to the nearest $0.50 and keep track of what you have put in your cart.  I worked on a $20 budget and I think with planning most guys could make it on $30-40 even if they eat a lot, as long as they plan carefully.

6. Save 20% of your budget for non-food/pantry restocking
For me the was about $4-5 each week. This is for non-food items like toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. Or save it week to week  an use it to buy expensive foods like cheese, meat, etc.

7. Cycle your purchases
On a small budget you can't buy cheese, meat, flour, etc each week. So work on buying enough for several weeks, but only buying one of the expensive items each week. For example:
Week 1: Cheese
Week 2: Meat
Week 3: Milk

8. Watch your portion sizes
Just because you have a block of cheese, doesn't meal you need to finish it this week. Opt for cheaper snacking alternatives and use more expensive items for their flavour and nutritional value. Also, learn how much you eat of specific items like pasta by measuring it out each time you cook. For example, I use 3 handfuls of pasta or 1 1/2 mugs of pasta for myself and 4 handfuls or 2 mugs for my husband. That way you don't make too much and let it go to waste.

Back-to-school: Grocery Store who's-who

September is almost here, and so is the need to get the cupboards and fridge full without spending much.

In South-Western Ontario we have a few major grocery stores: No Frills, Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, Food Basics, Metro, Sobey's and Price Chopper. There are a few others, but I'm not as familiar with them. This is my personal assessment of their merits:

Cost (*=in expensive, ***=very expensive)
Quality of produce/variety of food
Likelihood of having discounted food (*=unlikely- ***=very likely)
No Frills
Fair. Depending o the location this store doesn't carry the biggest variety but the food quality will usually last 5-7 days if you pick carefully.
* stuff moves fast, but the sales tend to be good.
Poor quality. Unless you pick carefully your produce is unlikely to last more than a few days. However, depending on the area FB can have a great selection of international foods at very good prices
Real Canadian Superstore
Good. Usually good quality and good selection. However, they often run out of sale items so be prepared to ask for rain-checks.
** *Almost always discounted produce, bread, and dry foods available
Great. I'd say the best quality and selection in our area, but you will pay a premium for it.
*** If you're looking for a good selection of marked down food, this is your store. I often check it out before grocery shopping elsewhere because they mark stuff down steeply and early. Just get to know which day they mark stuff down. For us it is Tuesdays.
Good. Good selection and quality.
* (Exception is Metro seems to have good meat discounts, otherwise they are about the same).
Price Chopper
Poor: inexpensive but there is little selection and poorer quality so choose carefully.

Back-to-school: Grocery shopping for the week

This post should provide you with a week worth large meals. If you don't eat a lot it will provide 2 weeks of food. The key to this meal plan is that dinner leftovers double for lunches, so pack them up immediately that way they're easy to grab on the way out the door to school.

1.  Cajun Pasta Salad (original recipe)
2. Pita Pizzas
3. Pasta & Poor-mans garlic bread
4. Hot Dogs & Veggies
5. Pizza Soup (original recipe)
6. Grilled cheese & Veggies
7. Leftovers
*I've linked to the original recipes, my modifications are below
Cheapest: Oatmeal
*Interesting: Peanut butter toast, fruit, and yogurt

Shopping List:
Anticipated Cost
1 large green pepper
1 medium red pepper (buy whatever colour peppers are cheapest)
1 large onion (red, white, or yellow whatever is cheapest)
1 bulb garlic

*7 bananas (or other fruit on sale)-$2.50
$4 of other veggies & fruit that can be eaten raw

500g block of cheese (cheddar or mozzarella whichever you prefer for the pizzas & grilled cheese)
1 bag of smoked sausages (usually about 900g or 8 sausages)

*1-2 tubs or one 12-16 package of yogurt - $4

1 bag Greek Pocketless Pita (or any pita or even tortillas if they are cheaper will work)
1 bag hot dog buns (6 or more)
1 loaf bread

Dry Goods
1 bag (900g) pasta - any shape (tube or spiral shapes work well)
1 can Pasta Sauce
1 can mushrooms
2 cans diced or whole tomatoes (without spices)

*1 jar peanut butter-$4
1 kg bag quick cooking(3-5 min) oats
Red wine vinegar (or use any vinegar you have)
Yellow mustard

Bulk Store Items
1-2 cubes beef bullion/beef broth mix                          
1/2 tsp Paprika
2 tbsp Basil
2 tbsp Parsley
1-2 tbsp cinnamon (if you're having oatmeal for breakfast)

Expected Pantry Items

Peanut butter



Bullion/Broth powder



Estimated total if you own none of the ingredients and have oatmeal for breakfast is $44. If you have a stocked pantry, your cost should be less than $40. This amount of food will feed one very hungry guy for a week with some leftovers.

Useful hints:
Buy your spices at the bulk store
Yogurt can usually be found for $1 for 4 little cartons (but you will have to buy the package of 12-16)
Cheese goes on sale for $1 per 100g grams regularly (so $5 for 500g is a good price)
Freeze leftover soup in ziplock freezer bags or plastic container if you wont use it within 5 days.
Assemble, but don't cook extra pizza. Cover in cling wrap and freeze. Bake at 400F for about 10 min or microwave until cheese melts when you want to eat them.


Quick oatmeal:
Measure the recommended amount of oats into a bowl. Add the recommended amount of boiling water and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Let stand for a few min. If it doesn't reach the consistency you like, microwave for 1 min.

1.  Cajun Pasta Salad
·         Slice 2-3 sausage into 0.5 cm diameter rounds
·         Dice onion into 1 cm pieces (save 1/2 for pizza soup)
·         Dice peppers into 1 cm pieces (save 1/2 cup for pizza soup and Pita Pizzas)
·         Mince 1-2 cloves garlic
1.       Boil a pot of water, and add about 1/3-1/2 the bag or pasta cook for 9-10 min or until just tender.
2.       Fry the sausage to heat and brown
3.       Drain the pasta, and combine with veggies and sausage in a bowl (not the garlic).
4.       In a mug mix 1/3 cup oil, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 tbsp mustard, the garlic, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp paprika, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Pour over pasta salad and serve.

2. Pita Pizzas
·         Slice 1 sausage
·         Grate about 1/2 cup cheese
1.       Place pitas on a baking tray
2.       Spread 1 tbsp of pasta sauce onto each pita
3.       Sprinkle with cheese
4.       Top with sausage & chopped  1/4 cup chopped peppers from the Cajun Pasta Salad
5.       Broil for 2 min or until cheese melts

3. Pasta & Poor-mans garlic bread
1.       Boil water and cook pasta until just tender
2.       Drain pasta and spoon on as much sauce as you prefer
3.       Toast 2 hot do buns
4.       Rub toast buns with a peeled garlic clove, cover with sliced cheese and broil until melted

4. Hot Dogs & Veggies
·         Heat 2 sausages in the microwave or in boiling water, serve on 2 buns with some fresh fruit and veggies

5. Pizza Soup
·         Slice remaining sausages from the weeks' meals
1.       Fry in a large pot leftover onions, drained mushrooms, and leftover peppers until soft but not brown.
2.       Add 2 cans of tomatoes,1 beef bullion cub/1-2 tsb beef broth powder, 1 cup hot water, sausage, 1/2 tsp basil. Bring to a boil.
3.       Spoon into bowls, grate a little cheese over each bowl and place under the broiler to melt.
4.       Serve with Poor-man's garlic bread if desired.

6. Grilled cheese & Veggies
·         Melt slices of cheese onto toast and eat with veggies and fruit

7. Leftovers (finish whatever is left before your next grocery trip)