Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To Grocery Shop or not to Grocery Shop...

That is the question! Today is that day. The culinary equivalent of running out of underwear. You've already dug to the back of the drawer and worn even the old, polka dot pair that never quite fit right. You can either do laundry or go commando. What's it going to be? Yes, I'll admit, I've been putting the trip to the store off this week, but I've reached the end of the line. I've already eaten my cupboard bare. I've gone through my recipes that I can make in a pinch when I've not been to the store: pasta primavera with white beans and prosciutto, chicken andouille sausages (good protein that keeps awhile in the fridge) grilled and served over wild rice and sauted chard, everything but the kitchen sink crock pot veggie soup. And I'm officially out of everything! My fridge and cupboard are bare. So left with the options of starving or shopping, you know what I'll choose...

Today I'll brave the Whole Foods parking lot and stock my house with beautiful foods that should last me another long week. I also have to restock my cupboard, so it will be a bigger trip! Here are some grocery store shopping tips.

Grocery Store Shopping Tips

1. Always Have a List
- I don't care if the dog ate your phone charger (as mind did yesterday) or you claim you don't have a second to spare, always make a list! Scrawl it on a coffee shop napkin or type it on your blackberry, and if you're lucky, email it your boyfriend so he can wander the grocery aisles in confusion wondering what a shallot is. Here's why it's the number one most important thing you can do with regards to your diet.

Eating healthy - and saving money - is all about planning ahead. Ideally, you'll know what dinners you'll be cooking this week before you go to the store. This will save you time because you don't have to rush around your kitchen like a maniac trying to decide what you can make. Instead you can waltz in like a Domestic Diva and calmly put together a lovely meal. Also, it saves you money. With a list you won't forget key ingredients, sending you hurtling back to the store at the last minute, and if you stick to it, you won't be indulging in impulse buys. The things you know will give you a coronary, but look so tempting when you're wandering the aisles aimlessly with no rudder (a/k/a your list).

2. Plan Meals - Here are a few tips for planning your meals, and thus, your list.

Fish is amazing for you, but if you only want to make one trip to the store a week, best to prioritize seafood based meals for early in the week. So plan to eat your salmon/halibut/tilapia the first three days. If you're purchasing live shellfish (mussels, clams, oysters), best to have those the first night.

Later in the week, you can plan your poultry and meat based dishes, since they will stay fresher longer. So have your turkey meatloaf/grilled chicken/beef stew later in the week.

And for the last few days when you're stretching, I recommend keeping cupboard and freezer staples on hand: prosciutto, organic chicken sausages, frozen shrimp, tofu, beans. You can make a huge variety of dishes with these protein-filled foods, and save money by not having to rush back to the store.

3. Don't Go Hungry - Don't brave the grocery store when you're hungry, especially if you're prone to impulse buys. You will be more likely to stray from your list and buy less healthy fare. Also, you're more likely to buy more than you need, upping your grocery bill. If necessary, eat a protein bar or a handful of nuts so you're not tempted to eat the cookie display case!

4. Eat Seasonally - Farmer's markets and LOVE delivery are great options, but if you don't have the time, eating seasonally will save you at the store, too. Items that are prolific at a certain time of year, will be less expensive to buy, and vice versa. Tomatoes out of season suck and cost much more (go for cherry tomatoes out of season if you're buying). So look for what's on sale, or priced low in your produce section.

5. Look for Sales - I don't recommend compromising on the foods you want just for a sale, but if an item you like to buy is reduced, stock up on extra this week and store it in your cupboard.

6. Buy Cooking Olive Oil - I always recommend you have one fantastic, pricier extra virgin olive oil that you reserve for drizzling and salad dressings. One bottle should last two to three months. Then, you can economize by buying a less expensive olive oil for cooking. I also love grapeseed oil for higher temperature tasks.

7. Economize on Proteins (the right way) - Most likely the heftiest portion of your grocery bill will be devoted to buying proteins. Here are some ideas to get the most bang for your buck.

Fish: Every healthy diet should include a lot of fish, but fresh fish can be very expensive. Do not compromise on quality of freshness to save money, but do look for fish that is on special, or less than normal. Here are some good, lower cost options:

-Tilapia - Farm raised and very inexpensive.
-Dover or Petrale Sole - One of my favorite fish, wonderful pan fried with lemon.
-Black Cod - This is a wonderfully rich fish, maybe most well known at Japanese restaurant. It's high in omegas, not overfished, and typically reasonably priced. Great with lemon/ginger/soy sauce marinade in the broiler, or I love it diced and thrown into risotto.
-Red Snapper - Often looks great, and also less expensive.
-Black Mussels - This puppies are fantastic! They are typically only $4 or $5 a pound. They are farm raised - and actually improve the quality of the water where they're farmed because they filter it. And they are super easy to cook. You can throw them into pasta sauces and toss with noodles, add them to stews, paella, or just steam them with shallots and white wine and serve with roasted potatoes. When buying, don't let them be wrapped in a plastic bag as it suffocates them. Instead, opt for a mesh bag or just paper. When you get home, make sure to open them up to give them air.
-Clams - Same as mussels, also very versatile.
-Frozen Shrimp - I always keep a bag of this in my freezer. Great in a pinch, can be defrosted quickly and thrown into stir fry or risotto.
-Avoid farmed salmon
-Also, only eat high food-chain fish (tuna, swordfish, etc.) occasionally unless you want to end up like Jeremy Piven. As a bonus, these fish are more expensive to buy, so it helps your pocket book to avoid them, too!

Meat - This can also run up your bill, but I don't recommend cutting corners on health. Meat is the single most important category of food where you should be buying organic, or at the very least all natural/hormone free. However, here are some ideas.

-Whole Chicken - Roasting a whole chicken on a Sunday is a lovely way to make dinner (I love the Barefoot Contessa's recipe). Compared to the price of just buying chicken breast, the cost is reasonable. And as an added bonus, you can save the carcass and make chicken stock! That saves you money and will do more to improve the taste of your risottos and soups than anything else. For a shortcut to making chicken stock my momma taught me, throw the carcass in a crock pot with whatever else you have (celery, carrot, onion). Then strain it and freeze.
-Ground turkey - Great in pasta sauce or made into meatloaf. Also, organic ground beef has the same properties.
-Organic Stew Beef - Not very expensive, and makes wonderful braised stews.

Now that I've procrastinated enough, time for me to get my act together, walk my puppy and go to the grocery store. Given the state of my cupboards, I may have to violate Rule 3 and go hungry...

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