Struggling to Eat Well
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
It is a shock every time I go to the grocery lately - the cost of everything seems to
go up each time I walk along the aisles. The ease of grocery pickup and delivery during the heart of the pandemic has given way, at least for me, to anxiety over how much my weekly food budget is increasing. The very worst unease is reserved for meat and seafood—things I could have easily afforded a year ago now seem beyond reach. When did that NY Strip steak rise to over $15.00/pound? I can't seem to even find boneless chicken thighs or prepared wings.
I do have one redeeming skill in these
economic times: I can cook. And I love to cook. This ability to eat well during tough times is not just for a few people who are handy in the kitchen, however. If you can master just a few cooking techniques, you can cut your food budget in half. That's right—in half. And if you get a lot of takeout, you can cut your budget even more. These techniques are not unattainable and lofty—if you can spend a couple of hours menu planning and shopping each week, and you have a good sharp knife, a cutting board, a nonstick fry pan and a pot big enough to cook pasta, you have everything you need. Not only will your meals be cheaper, they will also be tastier and healthier as well.
My cooking companion is my college-age daughter, who keeps me up to date on trends and keeps me from slipping into a Jones generation stereotype. From her I learned some basic truths—the TikTok generation loves to cook as well, and they are the ones most struggling with inflation. (Not to mention climate change and rising home prices, but I digress.) Everyone out there who eats needs to get by on less right now in order to keep within last year's budget. So, to begin, let's rethink where we are shopping and what labels we are buying.
Discount Groceries: Aldi and Walmart and Sam's Club, oh my
One of the simplest ways to save money is to start shopping in a discount grocery store. I like Aldi, because I find the quality is solid and prices just can't be beat. (Note: if it's your first time there, bring a quarter for the shopping cart.) I also do a lot of shopping at Walmart—they have a first-rate app that allows you to arrange to pick up your groceries without additional cost. Walmart has a store label that will really help with costs, and while the quality if not as good as Aldi, I am happy enough with their store label on most things. If you need spices, please consider going to a place that sells bulk foods—in many places, this is a little natural food coop. Also, don't forget little ethnic groceries, especially Asian groceries. I am absolutely amazed each time I shop at my local Asian grocery on how much I save on common items such as fresh herbs, ground pork and seafood and dumpling wrappers.
I recently did a price comparison between Aldi and Publix (popular non-discount grocery in Florida) for 10 common grocery items:
1) a gallon of whole milk, a dozen eggs,
2) 12 ounces American cheese slices
3) 1 pound 85% lean ground beef
4) 2 pounds basmati rice
5) 1 pound penne pasta
6) 1 pound fresh green beans
7) a bunch of celery
8) 1 pound plain butter
9) 3 pounds of Gala apples
10) 1 dozen eggs.
My Aldi total was approximately $28.00, while my Publix total was over $45.00. I used the Publix store brand for most of the items—if I had purchased name brands, the total at Publix would easily have been double what I paid at Aldi. I purchased the same items at Walmart for a total of approximately $30.00. The big picture is that you can easily save 50% on your food costs if you choose items available at stores like Aldi and Walmart. But the real secret is not simply planning and shopping well, but also making these items into great tasting food at home. So, stay tuned—we are going to get in the kitchen next time. Hope you find some delicious nibbles and that inflation doesn't bite too hard this week.