Is it Tuesday already? Time for tip number three in the series, 13 Slick and Savvy Tips for Feeding Your Family Healthier Food. Today we’re going to talk about ways to make the most of your grocery store. I’m one of the odd ones who absolutely loves grocery shopping. I go at least every other day and I am quite loyal to the ones who make my life so much easier. Many cities have at least one market that feels more like a boutique for cupboard staples than the cold, cement floor, and dusty shelves experience we’re used to. I shop mainly at Market of Choice in Eugene. They are locally-owned, they offer local produce and meat choices, and they have an amazing deli (which they call The Kitchen) full of great options for a quick dinner or fabulous party. In preparation for this post I asked a few people why they shop where they shop. Most everyone told me they use “their” grocery store based on price, location, and habit. Let’s talk about the price issue. There is a perception in our area that Market of Choice is more expensive than the national chains. However, I’ve comparison shopped for years and have found that for many of the items that are offered both by both (think Tillamook cheese, organic canned tomatoes), Market of Choice is priced the same and sometimes even lower than Albertsons, for example. There are items that are higher priced at Market of Choice. Last week, I shelled-out $16 for a teensy little bottle of truffle oil that I’m sure I couldn’t find at any other grocer. And, I’m willing to spend a buck or two more for a deli potato salad made fresh with organic, local ingredients than the one dumped out of a tub with a shelf-life longer than my cat’s. On my skinny-wallet weeks I can still shop at Market of Choice, but I steer clear of my weakness areas and stay in my budget. To me shopping locally, giving local farmers and other community food purveyors, and having a true organic-local choice is worth the extra that I may spend here and there. Especially, when the “extra” spending is usually about the same as a one or two latte’s. To really use your grocer to help you get better food to the table, you have to choose a grocer that cares to do so.
Here are some great ways to use your grocer to save time, money, and put a better meal on the table:
Save time by using the deli, and meat department. On days when I simply can’t be bothered with dinner prep I can buy Chicken Cordon Bleu from the meat department, an organic salad from the kitchen, a nice baguette from the bakery, and lovely bottle of wine. Make one (or more) nights a week, “Grocer Night” and plan to let your store do all the prep work for you. All you have to do is bake the chicken (or other meat dish), put the salad in a lovely bowl, have the kids set the table and the hubs cork the wine, and enjoy an almost prep-free dinner!
Have the butcher prep the meat. If I’m making anything that requires extra chopping, trimming, pounding or filleting of the meat I head to the meat counter first. I often ask them to cube up my stew meat, remove the skin from the fish, cut the exact size roast I want, etc. While I’m shopping they’re doing the work that would take me an extra 20 minutes at home. They know me and my tastes now and often give me tips and inside info (like when they tenderloin will be on sale next).
Have the bakery slice the bread. If you’re serving a baguette or want to buy a whole loaf of country bread for sandwiches ask the bakery to slice it for you while you shop.
Shop the sales. This is a biggie! Every grocery store has loss-leaders – items that they price ridiculously low to get you in the store. Buy them and freeze them or stock your cupboards. I often plan my weekly menu with the weekly specials flier in front of me so I’m sure to get the best prices.
Use the kitchen/deli for more than just salads and lunch meat. I spoke with Bonnie Willis of Market of Choice and asked her about the ways they can help us customers serve the best food. She told me that they really have a mission to experience a connection with their customer and provide value. She suggests using the kitchen to chat it up with the market chef to get ideas for great recipes or menus. I thought that was a great idea for the times that I have “kitchen-block” and am running the risk of serving roast chicken for the 3rd time in a week. What about using the kitchen for “appetizer night” and browsing the case for a few great appetizers? Add some sliced cheese and apples and spend your evening laughing with your family over some great flavors. Or have a few friends over for lunch and let the market do the work. According to Bonnie, they’ll even make your favorite recipes if you let them know ahead of time.
Get to know your local farmers, ranchers, and food makers. Ask the produce guy/gal about the farm that supplies the apples. Have the butcher tell you his opinion of one ranch vs. another. These people are in touch with your food and where it comes from. Let them be your advocate by showing them that it’s important to you and learn a little more about what’s on your plate at the same time.
Why not make a point of shopping somewhere new this week? Or, take a few minutes to ask your favorite grocer how you can better use them to save time and money. They love to talk to their favorite people on earth… US! And, if they don’t take your reusable bags elsewhere.