Reflections on the food prices poll results

The food prices poll has just concluded, and the results show that 43% of the people who votes are 'very concerned' and 45% are 'a little concerned' about rising food prices. That is quite a lot indeed.

I've been thinking of ways in which our household food budget can go on a diet. Given that we are rather passionate about good food around here, there are compromises we are not willing to make. But there are lots we can do without feeling like we are depriving ourselves too.

  • Eat out less. This is an easy one really, because I feel that we can eat better food at home both taste wise and health wise. So no more eating out for eating out's sake. We don't want to give up going to really good restaurants, but we'll put them in the "entertainment" column, not within the "food" column.
  • Stop impulse buying those tempting 'gourmet' treats. This is a bit more difficult for me - I find it hard to resist that jar of extra special preserves or mustard, not to mention all those delcious looking cheeses and hams and such that are on offer at speciality markets. I feel rather guilty when looking at all those barely opened jars in the fridge though.
  • Don't buy prepackaged supermarket foods. This is also easy - most premade food is less than stellar.
  • Buy food that is as close to its original form as possible. The most food is processed, the more it costs. A box of cereal costs far more than plain oatmeal. Flavored rice mixes are way more expensive than plain rice.
  • Less meat and fish, more vegetarian proteins. I don't want to compromise on the quality of the meat we get (for instance, we like to get Poulet de Bresse or at least a St. Sever quality chicken for roasting, which is about twice the price of a regular chicken), but I'm happy with eating less of it and using more vegetable proteins like beans.
  • Buy only what we really need. This is the most important thing - too often I buy too many vegetables or something, and some of it ends up going bad and getting thrown out.

What things can you think of doing, or are doing already, to painlessly cut down on food spending?

Filed under:  politics polls finance

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When I was living in Japan, there was a grocery store right next to the train station in my neighborhood, so it was easy for me to pop into the to store on my commute home, and buy only the vegetables I wanted for dinner that night. It kept my fridge tidy, and I rarely had veggies go bad.

Then I came home to the US, and with our complete lack of public transportation, and ridiculous suburban sprawl, I found that the extra twenty minutes drive to get to a grocery on my way home from work was just too much for me, and reverted to shopping once every week or two and loading up the car with piles and piles of groceries. Needless to say, the number of times I've discovered rotten vegetables (that I completely forgot I had bought) languishing in the back of my crisper drawer has increased dramatically. I also rely more on starchy staples like rice, wheat, noodles, and canned soups/broths than on fresh bought veggies like I did in Japan, which has had an impact on my waistline as well.

I'm trying to get back in the habit of shopping frequently, if not every day, at least a few times a week, and buying smaller quantities of whatever looks freshest on any given day.

I used to shop daily on my way home too, buying what looked good in small quantities but that was when a wonderful jewel of a grocery store, now gone, was three blocks from my house. After that, I had the same problem of finding vegetables gone bad in the recesses of my fridge.

About two years ago I became fed up with how much food I waste. I started buying frozen vegetables so when I know I won't have the time/energy to buy/wash/prep/cook fresh vegetables I can still whip up a tasty nutritious and cheaper meal at home. I still buy fresh but now I try to buy them from local sources and only when in season. I have also rediscovered the cheap filling foods of my southern childhood -- collard greens, soup brimming with all sorts of vegetables, cornbread, gumbo, and hoppin' john (black-eyed peas and rice). I started making gumbo again when frozen cut okra showed up! I love okra but prearing it was a little gross.

I buy hamburger in 10lb packages, cook a bag of lentils, smush them down and cool them to mix in the hamburger. I also put in finely diced onions to distract from ever so slightly changed appearance. I used to package individual packages with sandwich bags, or foil sheets hubby brought home from work, but next time I package hamburger, I'm going to use the folded 1 gallon baggie trick.

Chicken quarters have been cheaper than buying whole chickens where I shop, so I've been buying those. I'm getting pretty decent at cutting the meat off the quarters for chicken tenders.

I buy rice in 20lb bags, and pinto beans in a larger bag. I keep those in 5 gallon plastic buckets. I recently tried a new brand of frozen veggies, La Huerta, from our local Walmart that are a lot cheaper than the other frozen veggies, and hubby and I enjoy them very much. We both love the spinach, and the corn with peppers. The broccoli is pretty good too, but hubby makes has me steam it longer because he says its tougher than fresh broccoli.

I've started making a weekly menu on Sundays, when the grocery store sale sheets are in the Sunday newspaper. I check what is on sale and make a week's worth of dinner menus around the sales; then I make a shopping list based on the menus, and while I'm making the list, I can go through the veggie bin, cupboards and freezer to make sure I get all the ingredients I need and don't buy more of something I already have.

I used to think I could make up the weekly menu in my head as I was shopping, but I would often forget an ingredient, or couldn't remember if I already had something, so I would buy it only to find one or two in the cabinet when I got home.

As a result, I only buy what I'm going to use that week and my weekly grocery bill has gone down. I'm wasting fewer veggies, because I know what I have before I shop.

And I've been baking bread more lately. My husband likes to have cinnamon-raisin toast with breakfast, so I make that in the bread machine at a fraction of the cost to buy a loaf, and I make focaccia dough in the bread machine, then bake it in the regular oven. I've also made the New York Times no-knead artisan bread and pizza dough several times - big money savings there.

Gardening can be a big help, even container gardening. Seeds and soil are inexpensive, and not have to buy even some of your herbs and produce can be nice for the budget.