Gabi's (Self-Professed) Guide to the Grocery
I suppose not many people consider the beauty that is the supermarket or the glory that is grocery shopping. It isn’t fabulous by any stretch of the imagination and it’s definitely not a red carpet worthy event. With phosphorescent lighting dancing sheepishly across cartons of milk and dewey produce, it’s often viewed as over crowded and just another item to tick off on our long list of to-dos. We’ve even begun to enlist ghost shoppers in our absence simply to avoid these kinds of spaces. Yet there remains a small number of us who actually appreciate going to the grocery store and I am a proud member of that community.
I have absolutely no rules when it comes to grocery shopping. This “no rule shopping” is definitely where my problem with budgeting stems from. When I see a bag of grapes they must find their way into my shopping cart. I’ve even adopted an extremely awkward, over the shoulder glance that is a hybrid of me pretending to be tasting the grapes and me feigning nonchalance as I attempt to eat as many will fit in the palm of my hand without appearing too suspicious. The only occasion for which I could think of a valid excuse not to buy grapes would be in the middle of December where at this time they cost $4.99/lb.
Without fail, my shopping cart or hand basket (rarely hand basket) will be brimming with produce. Seasonality, a standard by which I strive for dictates mostly what fruits and veggies take priority promptly followed up by the staples. When I’m grocery shopping it’s easy to get carried away so knowing what your staples are ahead of time can help curb the extraneous produce picking. My staples are usually a few fruits, think apples, bananas and blueberries and then the go-to stir fry ready veggies like eggplant, zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes. If those are laying dormant in and around my fridge I’m usually in a very relaxed state of mind. If I’m being particular about what defines my staples, I’ll also include a bundle of salad greens like spinach, kale or cabbage, preferably in some sort of mix.
Holy Cow! (And Eggs Too?)
Next we mozy through to the dairy isle. The poor increasingly nut-product populated refrigerated section that houses my most favorite refrigerator staple; half & half. I don’t want any of that coconut creamer bullshit. When I am in the thick of it, battling my way through hungry civilians, all of whom are grocery shopping for the week just like me, I want the full monte. I want the full fat, full cream glory that if I’m being bougie I’ll splurge and buy from the glass bottle. If I’m hauling ass to Berkeley Bowl at quarter to eight on a Sunday evening, when I wake up the following Monday, I would like to be greeted with la creme de la creme…not a phony “milk” substitute. I even wrote a short poem about how much I admire half & half;
I love how just a little bit of creamer can uncurl and make room for itself simply upon impact.
In this isle I’ll also reach for kefir. Proper kefir will never be from a plant source but always from a cow. I’m not a dietician so I can’t fully speak for the nutritional difference between the two but from my personal gut-health journey cow’s milk kefir has made a world of difference. If you’re struggling with some digestive distress I’d highly encourage you to take a peek into the world of kefir (and fermented goodies) and perhaps add it to your grocery shopping list as well. Eggs are always available in my home. You’ll see them scrambled, soft boiled, poached, sunny-side up and most notably hard boiled with way too much salt sprinkled over them. A life without jammy eggs is not a life I want to be a part of.
Meet your Meat.
I’ve come to a place in my life where I certainly do my best to buy organic meat when I’m grocery shopping. It’s not always necessary, that I am aware of (some inorganic farms may have more sustainable practices) and as I start cooking more the purchasing of my meat is often directed towards a specific recipe. Tailoring my meat consumption to particular recipes helps reduce our meat intake while also making us more conscious consumers. This ensures I’m buying my meat, poultry and fish from the counter, a task that encourages me to ask questions about the sustainability of the animal as well as where exactly it’s being sourced from. I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these fields, there is still much to be learned from in terms of what to look for in particular cut of meat. I don’t have access to daily farmers markets and depending on the budget Berkeley Bowl isn’t always feasible.
My best advice for buying meat when you are grocery shopping, should you choose to consume it would be this; if you can afford it, try and buy organic. Taking it a step further, if you shop somewhere with a meat and seafood counter, engage the butchers in a conversation about what farms they like, what’s wild, fresh and sustainable. Learning about where your meat is coming from is a far better alternative than denouncing the system all together and blindly choosing a random piece or organic sirloin (in my opinion)
Buy The Damn Chips.
Planning Takes Patience.
When it comes to grocery shopping planning ahead will never be a pointless endeavor. I wish there was a template I followed perfectly every time I went to the shops, but the fact of the matter remains; running out of kitchen ingredients doesn’t always follow a schedule. Not every market has every item and not every sunday evening is free to do meal prep. Berkeley Bowl is quite a trek from my house so more often it’s thrown out in favor of the more proximal Trader Joes. But Trader Joes doesn’t have ziplock baggies and almost all of their produce comes in plastic, and Safeway always houses the Halo Top I’m craving but their prices are weirdly expensive. When it comes to adulting, the secrets I’ve been let in on so far have been this; have patience in the process. As unaligned as it may seem to apply this principle to the food shop, being patient and ingenious with a can of tinned beans can actually reap delicious rewards! Taking a little bit of extra time to plan dinners ahead of time can be a great way to flex a creative and budgeting muscle, and slowing down to smell the melons can make you breathe a little easier and maybe even allow you to enjoy your summer salads that much more.
The Take Home Tips.
So here are a few tips to help kick-start a budget friendly shopping experience.
- Identify your staple produce — plan out enough for 1 serving per week. Planning this out ahead of time can help ease the anxiety of so many options as well as account for the bulk of your grocery bill.
- Pick 2 or 3 manageable recipes to follow each week, buying every ingredient if you don’t already have it so that you can start forming your pantry! (Rice wine vinegar…really? Buy it! You’ll probably run into this ingredient again, and it won’t go bad sitting on the shelf.
- Every OTHER grocery shop, treat yourself to a cool bottle of wine or funky case of beer. Pacing yourself through alcohol can help save you a few bucks as well as making it something to look forward too. This same philosophy can also be applied to desserts and other little “extravagant” things.
- Make a list. Stick to the list. Try your hardest not to deviate from the list. Allow for exceptions like seasonality — if those peaches look particularly delicious, pick a few and enjoy every bite.
- This is a given…do NOT shop when you’re hungry.