Grocery Shopping Q & A

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Hi, I'm Tina!

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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Thanks so much for all of your grocery shopping questions! I responded to them in this post, and I hope you find my answers helpful. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. I’m a dork and love meal planning/saving money at the grocery store, so I’m more than happy to help in any way that I can!

How many stores do you usually go to every week?

It depends on the week, but most of the time, it ends up being two different stores. I really try to visit just one, but I almost always end up hitting a second one (typically mid-week). I do the bulk of my shopping at Stop & Shop because it has the best prices and selection, but then I usually end up going to Whole Foods or Fresh Market to buy our meat (and usually a few random things that I either couldn’t find at Stop & Shop or we’ve run out of).

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Paleo seems to focus a lot on grass-fed meat and the diet that the animals are raised on. Is that something that you’ve focused on when you shop? And, if so, do you have any tips for finding quality meat on a budget?

I’m not doing the Paleo Challenge anymore, but we try to buy grass-fed meat as much as possible. Stop & Shop doesn’t have the best selection, so I’ll usually end up going to Whole Foods or Fresh Market to buy it. It’s pretty expensive, so we don’t always buy grass-fed, but more often than not, we do. Most weeks, the cost of our meat purchases account for half (or more) of our total grocery budget.

As for tips for finding quality meat on a budget, I need them myself! Besides planning my meals around what meat is on sale, I don’t do too much. I’ll typically try to stretch meat into multiple meals by adding lots of veggies to my dishes or pairing it with a couple of different side dishes. We also eat a lot of eggs and buy fish at least once a week for dinner as cheaper protein sources. Mal and I have talked about buying direct from a farm (half of a cow or something like that), but we don’t really have the space to store it. If you guys have ideas, please share!

Do you have rules about the quality of food you eat? For example, do you buy only organic meat or only organic veggies?

No, we don’t have any specific rules. We try to buy organic as much as possible (meat, dairy, produce), but not always. It depends on what it is and what our shopping budget looks like for the week. Basically, we just try to balance our purchases as best we can. For example, one week, we might buy grass-fed beef and organic produce, but not organic dairy. The next week, we might buy wild-caught fish and organic dairy, but not organic produce and meat. I do, however, keep the Dirty Dozen in mind when I’m shopping for produce.

Have you adjusted your budget now that you are buying more uncommon items such as almond butter, coconut oil, etc.? 

Yes, but we buy less of other things now, so it kind of evens out. I’ve always bought expensive nut butters (oh, how I love them so!), but for things like coconut oil and coconut flour, which are typically more expensive in-store, I buy them online in bulk to save money. For example, I recently bought a ridiculous amount (104 ounces) of coconut oil on Amazon. It was SO much cheaper than what I would have paid at Whole Foods, and now I have enough coconut oil to last me the rest of my life. The area where we’ve adjusted our budget most is on our meat purchases.

Do you buy certain pantry staples online to reduce costs?

I tend to find pretty good deals at Stop & Shop on pantry staples, so I don’t usually shop online. I just stock up on my favorite items whenever they go on sale. However, for certain items that don’t go on sale very often, I’ll shop at different stores to get the best deals. For example, I buy almond flour/meal at Trader Joe’s (it’s just $3.99 a bag) and almond butter at Target (the Archer’s Farm brand is only $5.99 per jar).

How do you feel about buying in bulk?

I buy in bulk when I can (I love the Whole Foods bins for nuts, rice, and rolled oats), but, as far as shopping at a wholesale club, like BJ’s or Costco, Mal and I didn’t find it to be especially cost-effective for us. We ended up buying all sorts of stuff and spending more money than we normally would, but then we had nothing to eat. I know it’s great for some people, especially if you have a family, but Mal and I didn’t think it saved us money in the long run. We tend to buy in bulk and stock up when our favorite products go on sale at the grocery store, like when canned tuna is $0.89 a can or Teddie Peanut Butter drops below $3.99 a jar.

How do you use everything you buy?

Yep! It’s funny because our fridge is PACKED after we go grocery shopping and then it’s totally EMPTY by the end of the week. Hardly anything gets thrown away in our house. Maybe it’s from my upbringing, but I can’t stand to see  food go to waste, so I do everything in my power to prevent it. I’d say once a month or less, we’ll throw out food that went bed and it kills me to do every time.

My problem is that I may have decided on having a particular thing for dinner, but come that day I may change my mind if I don’t feel like eating it. Does that ever happen to you? Do you just suck it up and eat what you planned for anyway or would you make an extra trip to satisfy your craving?

Sometimes, we’ll swap around the meals we’ve planned for the week if we’re just not feeling something for dinner. So, for example, if fish is on the menu for Monday night, but we’re not in the mood for it, I’ll make another recipe and save the fish recipe for the following night. When I plan my meals for the week, they’re not set in stone, so we just switch it up. I do, however, pay attention to “sell by” dates to make sure we use the meats/fish when they are at their freshest. Sometimes, those dates will dictate which night we eat which meal.

Do you meal plan lunches ever into your grocery lists?

Mal and I pretty much eat leftovers for lunch (we make extras at dinner and then pack them up), but we often buy deli meat so Mal can make sandwiches to take to school. I work from home, so I just wing it with the leftovers for lunch.

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How do you decide what you’ll eat all week? Do you have any pattern or reasons behind what gets ”˜picked’ for meals on a certain week?

Here’s a post about how I pick and choose my meals for the week.

I spend a lot of money buying chips and easy snacks for my family to grab on the run. How do you get around this if at all? Or do you make every snack?

Good question! I guess we don’t buy a lot of snack food. Here are some of the foods we often eat as snacks to give you some ideas: nuts, trail mix, Greek yogurt, bananas (and other fresh fruit), smoothies and protein shakes, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, coconut butter, Sweet Potato Wedges, canned tuna, sliced deli turkey, and raw veggies.

How do you find and organize coupons, and then use them for planning your week and shopping?

I have a little plastic organizer that I divided by category and keep my coupons in there. As far as finding them, check out this post for a list!

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Do you count cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc. into your grocery budget?

No, I don’t. I don’t typically buy these things at the grocery store since they tend to be more expensive. I find the best deals at Target for these things.

How stocked does your freezer tend to be?

Our freezer is practically empty. Mal and I aren’t big on the taste of defrosted foods, but we’re trying to be more flexible as a way to save some money. Usually, we have a few bags of frozen fruit and veggies, some frozen bananas, and maybe some veggie or salmon burgers, but other than that, we don’t have much frozen food in the house.

Do buy special (i.e. more nutritious) food for Murphy or do you stick with brands available in a typical grocery store?

We feed Murphy a grain-free, holistic food called Taste of the Wild, which isn’t available at our local grocery stores, so we buy it at a specialty pet shop.

Awhile back, I wrote a 5-part series about how I meal plan and save money at the grocery store. Be sure to check it out!

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