Taking Down the Grocery Bill

11:49 AM


Now that austerity is my new jam, I have been looking at ways to reduce our grocery bill without sacraficing healthy foods (ideally grass-fed, local, and organic).

Looking back 4-6 years ago I was living on a non-profit salary and was much more budget conscious/eco-friendly. By that I mean I...
  • Shopped only from the farmers market in the summer and even in the winter
  • Joined a meat CSA
  • Ordered from Irv + Shelley's Fresh Picks for locally produced food delivery
  • Kept composting worms
  • Made weekly meal plans
  • Bought what was in-season + cheaper cuts of meat 
  • Brought reusable tote bags and produce bags to the market
3 years ago we lived in Ann Arbor on a tight grad student budget with only one salary. While the worms didn't make the move to Michigan, we still tried to shop at the farmers market or our local food co-op. Our other favorite grocery was Plum (great frozen yogurt - Gluten Free too). 

But something strange happened when we moved back to Chicago and bought our house. No longer living on one income I opted for ease over "voting" with my $$s for local + fresh at the farmers market.  A frequent thought process was "it would be so much easier to just order from instacart" or "While I am at Whole Foods I might as well buy everything else I need even if it is a bit more $." This also meant for meat we were no longer eating as much grass-fed and free range. 

Present day, this mindset doesn't fly with the new budget. So I have gone back to roots from 6 years ago and discovered (much to my surprise) that farmers market shopping, meal planning, and being more mindful about our food purchases is actually cheaper. 

Here is how I do it:
I regularly collect recipes that look good from pinterest, saved for later on feedly, or a screenshot from magazines (I get mags for free from the library on my ipad). Once a week (typically Friday evenings) I sit down and create a loose plan of dinners for the week. I purposely say loose because that plan will change slightly based on what is on sale at the farmers market. 
Sample Menu:
Sunday - Brown rice with herbs + grilled veggies + grilled fish
Saturday - Brown rice with herbs + veggies turned into a frittata
Monday - Pasta with pesto + grilled meat
Tuesday - Bi Bim Bop (a Korean dish that I interpret to be lots of little cooked items all put on a bed of rice) with meat marinated in a soy sauce + maple syrup mixture. 
Wednesday - Leftover grilled meat from Monday turned into tacos
Thursday - Pizza with pureed vegetable sauce + ham or thinly sliced meat
Friday - oven roasted vegetables + curry spiced meat

I grab my reusable produce bags (trying to be more eco-friendly), market tote, and head out to the farmers market + one other grocery store. My current Chicago favorite is the Logan Square Farmers Market and usually after I go to TJs or Whole Foods depending on what is on my errands route. 

My favorite tote that I bought on a fantastic trip to London. It holds a ton!
I purposely start at the farmers market to buy those in-season items. These tend to be cheaper and taste so much better. Inventory also varies (especially on meat + eggs) so starting here is good because you can get anything you "must" have at the grocery after. As I wander through the stalls I will adjust my menu on the go even writing in the details for each meal.

For meat, I have been buying cheaper cuts and asking the vendor at the market for tips. I was shocked that you can get cheap cuts that aren't all low + slow only. My two new favorite finds are pork steaks and pork cutlets. 
Sunday - Brown rice with herbs + grilled veggies + grilled fish
  • Veggies TBD based on what is in season. 
  • If herbs are fresh great. Taking inspiration from different recipes I prefer to mix lots of different flavors like mint + cilantro. In winter I might open the spice cabinet + see what I haven't used in awhile. 
Saturday - Brown rice with herbs + veggies turned into a frittata
  • Frittatas made from brown rice are FANTASTIC! They are even better when you are using leftovers. Just pour the leftover rice into a skillet with olive oil then mix 3-4 eggs and pour on top until everything is cooked + crisp. 
Monday - Pasta with pesto + grilled meat
  • You can make pesto out of anything. I look for greens and herbs that are in season (mint + kale pesto, cilantro + arugula, classic basil, etc.). For a brighter flavor add a squirt of lemon or lime.
  • Look for meat that is on sale or a cheaper cut of meat. 
Tuesday - Bi Bim Bop (a Korean dish that I interpret to be lots of little cooked items all put on a bed of rice) with meat marinated in a soy sauce + maple syrup mixture. 
  • Use your favorite marinades, but mix it up with different types of meat and cuts. 
Wednesday - Leftover grilled meat from Monday turned into tacos
Thursday - Pizza with pureed vegetable sauce + ham or thinly sliced meat
  • I love taking veggies + pureeing them in our food processor. I add garlic or if they are in season scapes, green garlic, green onion, etc. 
  • This works with any veggies. In winter I will often do it with frozen peas or corn. Adding some cheese just makes it better (pecorino, mozzarella, cheddar, goat cheese, or parm). 
  • Grilling a bit of fruit and laying that on top can be awesome too. 
Friday - oven roasted vegetables + curry spiced meat
  • Taking the same set of ingredients can get boring, but mixing up the spices + herbs will make it feel all new. Focus on one big bold spice and look for vegetables + meat to compliment it. 

Obviously there are even more ways to reduce these costs, but what I like about this is the budget conscious balance that isn't overly complex and doesn't require crazy homemaker skills. #SimpleChic Meals!

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