Grocery Shopping on Your Own
by Olivia Fox
Buying Grocery Store Specials
Brand vs. Generic
OK, Kiddo, you're on your own. Here's how to get the most from your grocery dollar. Scrutinize the sale flyers. Consider stuff that's really a bargain, stuff the store loses money on. Plan for the week, twenty-one meals. Make a list. Even though your brain cells are young and resilient, you won't remember everything. Don't forget the oddball stuff, like butter for cooking. You're starting from nothing.
Produce is likely the first department you'll see. Five a day means thirty-five servings. You won't have to get everything fresh, but fresh is a big part of it. Bananas and apples are usually the better buy in fruits. In vegetables, it's carrots, cabbage, onions, hard squash in season, potatoes, yams, green beans, and broccoli. Generally darker colors mean more vitamins. Watch out for mushy patches and discoloration. If it doesn't smell good, don't buy it either.
Most likely, the meat department comes next. Chicken and turkey are usually your best values. Organ meats are a good value too. (I know you hate liver, but there it is.) Check ground beef for leanness. Think in terms of servings. How many meals can I get out of this? The closer you get to the original whole uncut thing, generally the cheaper per pound. Chicken legs are an exception. I don't know why. That's one of the mysteries of life.
Wander the aisles. Don't be suckered in by pretty labels yelling for your attention. It's what's inside that counts. Low and high shelves stock better buys. Check store brands and generics too. The closer to the source, the better. Yes, you can cook from scratch. Get that bag of flour, plain oatmeal, baking powder, oil, salt, pasta and rice. Beans are a good source of protein (combined with rice), and dried are cheapest. If you don't like the hassle, go with canned. Lentils cook up fast and are easy to digest. Most often there's tomato sauce on sale. Consider your condiments carefully the first time out, as they rack up fast. Mustard and catsup are good starters.
Frozen foods range from basic bags of veggies to exotic pre-made meals. Even though you'd much rather "nuke" something ready made, go with the basics. Bags of frozen broccoli, spinach, green beans, corn, and peas are often less here than in the produce section. Frozen orange juice is cheaper than liquid. This is another mystery that is yet to be unraveled by great minds.
Let's move onto dairy. The lower fat content milk is cheaper. Margarine costs less than butter. Cheeses can be pricey (again think servings). Unsliced is less than sliced. Processed cheese has other ingredients in it. You decide how you want to go on that one. The bigger yogurt containers are cheaper per serving, but get a flavor you'll eat. Look for "active cultures" on the container. Scope out lunchmeat labels for fat and salt content. Eggs are probably one of the cheapest complete proteins out there.
Somewhere near "dairy" you'll find bread. Note the number of slices per loaf and calculate how many loaves you'll need for the week. The closer flour is to the original form the more nutritious it is. If in doubt, read the labels. Prices vary considerably. Peanut butter and jelly is often placed near bread. Look at unit pricing. Bigger containers aren't always the cheapest per ounce.
Here are some finer points. Check the discount bin for dented cans or boxes. Remember to use your coupons before they expire. Take advantage of "buy one get one free" offers and free samples. Get what you like and eat what you get. When you go through check out, make sure your items are coming up correctly on the register. Most stores have a policy if it rings up wrong, you get it free. And free is very good.
As your head swims with sage advice, go out and conquer the grocery world!
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