Grocery Shopping 101: This is How We Do It

I was asked a few days ago by one of my readers to show how I do my grocery shopping and stick to my budget. I’ll be the first to admit that one of the perils of being a food blogger is over-spending at the grocery store, especially if you’re buying out-of-the-norm or specialized ingredients for a recipe. It’s even worse if you factor in props for food photo-styling–Which, as of yet, I haven’t really done. Both because I don’t have the money (okay, well, I could justify the expense; I just prefer to spend the money on other things), and because I have the stylistic talent of an emu. And that probably explains why I just take most of my food photos on my front porch (when the weather’s decent) and don’t usually bother with too many fancy plates and whatnots (that’s probably why Tastespotting and FoodGawker are always rejecting me, but that’s another matter).

But this isn’t about food photography–I’m nowhere near qualified to write a post on that. I still have to figure out all the ins and outs of my camera, and I’ve had the thing for about 6 months now! I do feel qualified enough to write about grocery shopping, though. Most people probably could–I’ve found people tend to fall into one of two categories: The people who just throw whatever looks good into their carts and go from there, or people like myself and my friend Erin, who make lists and sometimes meal plans ahead of time. Erin’s got a edge over me though–her family used to own a grocery store, so she knows all the ins and outs of how they’re set up, where to look for the best-priced items, etc.

I generally have an idea in mind as far as menu-planning for the week goes–Primarily because I never use all the meals I think I’m going to make from the prior week. I’ve always got at least one or two dishes I keep pushing back a day or two, or in some cases, a week or two. If I find a recipe I want to try, I look over the ingredient list to see if there’s anything I don’t already have. If there is, it goes on the list. I also try to remember to write down anything I run out of, that I tend to stockpile. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you can probably guess that two of those items are powdered/confectioner’s sugar, and butter. After I made the Red Velvet and Tiramisu cupcakes last week, I ran out of powdered sugar. I didn’t realize it, though, until I decided to make a glaze for the weekend’s peanut butter muffins, and then realized I’d forgotten to add it to last Saturday’s grocery list. So, it went on this week’s list:

I also try and pick up the weekly circular for my grocery store, which, as you’ll note, is Hy-Vee:

Granted, they’re no Kroger (which will always be near and dear to my heart), but they do alright. The one here in Brookings is a decent one, and I know a few people who work there, so I wouldn’t bad-mouth it even if I hated it. I use the circulars more to check the specials on produce and meat. I very rarely buy stuff in the middle of the store–I try to keep myself to the store’s perimeter as much as possible, although Hy-Vee’s Health Market section is an exception I make, when I have the money to buy more organic or natural stuff. And that’s where the Fage is located. This week, berries galore are on sale:

So those went on the list. I plan to make some strawberry bread this weekend (at the bambino’s request), and possibly some blueberry muffins. I might just use the rest either for smoothies, or as dessert, with some cream. As for meat…For the most part, I’ve kind of been trying to wean us a bit from eating so much of it. The carnivore I married and the one I gave birth to make that a little difficult, but I have on occasion tried having “vegetarian night,” once a week. It doesn’t always work, though. But since pork is on sale:


I’ll buy some this week. And while I wish it was 99¢/lb., I’ll still be able to get two, possibly three meals out of one pork loin, depending on how I have the meat department cut it up for me. I’ll most likely buy the smallest/cheapest one I can find, and have it cut in half. Last summer, I smoked a couple pork loins on the grill, and I thought Jay had died and gone to heaven after eating them. That’s probably what I’ll do again, assuming the heat around here ever breaks long enough for me to willingly stand in front of an open flame for an hour or so!

I don’t always, but when I remember, I also pick up the monthly Health Marker circular:


And I just have to say, this pains me:

These seriously are this much of a thing now? I’m sorry, but dried out leaves will never be any real substitute for an actual potato chip, and no one ever will convince me otherwise. Moving on….There’s generally not a whole lot I pick up from the Health Market either, mainly because of price. But that’s where the bulk bins are, if I need certain nuts or flours for things I’m making, and since I can only stomach Greek yogurt anymore (and by that I just mean that I now like my yogurts to have the consistency of sour cream, and Swiss or French style yogurts are just too runny), I’ll pick up my beloved Fage there, when the budget allows.

So, once I get my list all sorted:


(It goes through several revisions) I head off to the store. How did I do this week? Here’s what I got this morning:

And the total?


Under budget! Granted, the list went over some revision while I was at the store. You’ll notice that while I had planned on getting a pork loin, the cheapest one was $13, and while I would get multiple meals out of it, I decided that for this week at least, sticking to budget was a little more important to me. Nine times out of ten, I go over-board, so I decided to err on the side of cheapness. We can still smoke those pork chops, and they’ll be fine. I also didn’t get the Kerrygold butter I was hoping for. Apparently Hy-Vee isn’t carrying it any more, which really really sucks. So instead, I thought I’d try Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter:


I was planning on using it on the strawberry bread I’ll be making later today probably. So there you have it! That’s my grocery shopping process. Please feel free to leave me any questions either in the comments or drop me an email about it. My brother-in-law is here now, and he and Jay are ready for more gator meat, so I think we’re heading back to the Arts Festival! Have a great day everyone!

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8 Replies to “Grocery Shopping 101: This is How We Do It”

  1. I went shopping today too! I usually avoid Sundays but Joe was off and I have a rule of taking no more than 2 kids to the store with me. I once went with all 3 and let’s just say all of us end up crying. Only 1 kid today and he can’t talk so I was able to stick to my list better.

    • I usually go on Saturdays, but I didn’t have my list ready yesterday. That, and I was just being lazy about it. Lex is pretty good at the store, but I can’t imagine taking more than one of him along. You’re far braver than I for even attempting it!

  2. These are great, great tips! And you know what, I don’t go out and buy photo syling props either. I use the most random things for styling photos; often times a dress that I bought at a yard sale. Hey, why waste money on fancy plates and handtowels!!

    • I’m sure I’ll have to bump us up once my son gets a little order. :) Although I do like the challenge of trying to keep us at $50 for as long as I can!

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