Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Great Grocery Budget Crunch: The Players

Before I let you all in on the super secret world of my shopping budget and how I get all the food to make all those yummy recipes, let me tell you the lay of the land, so to speak. Or in other words, the challenges I have to get all the stuff I need that everyone will eat, I can cook with, that is reasonably local/fresh, and under budget.

1. I live in a small community on BC's Coast that is accessible only by ferry (with your car) and float plane.

There are exactly 3 grocery stores within reasonable distance from my house. In a place this small, you have to be strategic. Shop on a Sunday afternoon and all the produce is picked over, the sale items are cleaned out. Ditto with a Friday night. Prime shopping time is Saturday at around 11 am. There isn't a lot of selection, sale items are quickly snapped up, and specialty foods are hard to find. Local produce is practically non-existent, except in the summer. Organic can be very expensive. If we want to visit Cost-co or Whole Foods, it costs us an entire day in the city, and a $60 ferry ride.

The Stores:

IGA Marketplace: farthest away, but has the biggest selection of organic, local, specialty items. Here I can find things like Thai chilies, Meyer lemons, and Green and Black's Chocolate. The produce and meat are really good, but the deli is a bit more expensive than the competition.

Claytons : locally owned. We love their bakery and buy all our bread here. They carry lactose free milk, but it's hit and miss-sometimes they run out before the next shipment and I can't get it. The meat and produce is great and they have some specialty items, but not as many as IGA. I love the deli-they have chorizo sausage, little bags of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a big selection of Summerfresh hummus.

Extra Foods : Chain owned by Loblaws/Superstore. The produce and meat is cheaper, but in my experience, is the lowest in quality compared to the other stores. In December I bought lactose free milk there every week, only to discover once I was home that the cartons were rotten. This isn't a new problem, I've had it happen before.

Also, I do not like President's Choice brand and many of the other brand names have become very expensive, almost double in some cases, or non existent. They have been replaced with the President's Choice/No name alternative, which then is the only reasonably priced choice. In a fit of frustration and feeling like I was being blackmailed into buying President's Choice/ No name brand, I walked out one week and declared I was done.

I have no problem eating no name brand items, but when they carried the brand name item for 4 years at a reasonable price and then it's suddenly double the cost with their brand placed next to it and the reasonable price, I get angry.

I only go to Extra Foods for very small, very specific items.

Canadian Tire: You'll never believe this, but they have the cheapest toilet paper and some cleaning products. How that works, I have no idea.

Shoppers Drug Mart: I know, I know. This seems like the weirdest place to get groceries, but believe it or not it's also the cheapest source for cheese, milk, eggs, and butter. Plus I can get any toiletry items we need, use the postal service, etc.

2. I have a family who is a culinary challenge

Hubs: Picky eater extraordinaire.

Has diabetes type 2, and wins the prize for the ultimate picky eater. Seriously guys, you have no idea. Generally eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, and will eat what I make if it's a) vegetarian or b) chicken and salad and c) the stars are aligned. What works one day, won't work the next. Or he might decide to eat something completely out of character and have us stumped.

Generally, none of the following:

pork, beef, bacon, ham, salmon, halibut, deep fried, sausage, lunch meat, rice, white pasta, cous cous, quinoa, barley, white flour, mashed/baked/steamed potatoes (unless it's shepherd's pie), soup, ethnic (except stir fry or Mexican), spicy, parsnips, cabbage, yams, squash, cheese (unless a tiny bit on a casserole), most fruit, salad dressings, gravy, sauces..

...and far too much to list. Add to that low sugar, low carb, low fat, and low salt.

Favorite meal: Tossed salad and grilled chicken


Kevin: Growing teenager who will eat anything that isn't nailed down and has a real foodie sensibility.

This boy loves food, and the bolder, the better. Spicy curries, strong cheeses, and garlicky pesto are among his favorites. He will try anything and everything, always ready to offer suggestions to make it better. Shuns fast food and processed, preferring instead to have high quality, home made, fresh food. Which can be expensive and time consuming.

-lactose intolerant
-sensitive to corn, soy, red food dye, and MSG
-prefers low salt, low fat, no preservatives, no processed.

Favorite meal: Spicy lamb curry with basmati rice

Me: Easily bored with my food and craves variety. Has a sweet tooth.

I just love food. All food. Whether it's a simple oatmeal cookie or some gourmet item, I enjoy cooking it, smelling it, buying it, and reading about it. There's always a new recipe to try, a product I've never seen, a flavor I've never tasted, and I want it all.

Okay, maybe not all food. I'm not a fan of fast or junk food, unless it's home made. For me, real food is king. Not stuff posing as food.

-sensitive to nuts
-allergic reactions to fresh apple, pear, peach, nectarine, kiwi, cherry, plum, apricot
-prefers low salt, natural, few preservatives, home made

Favorite meal: pizza

3. The budget

For a family of two adults and one teenager, I'm aiming to spend $800 in a month. This will include household items like toiletries, cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc. In my calculations I'll keep them separate of the food to see what goes where.

Think I can do it? Or will I crash and burn into a mess of debt and groceries? Is writing a food blog costing me more money than it should? The first shopping trip is March 5th, so stick around. This could be interesting.

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