Healthy Shopping on a Ramen Noodle Budget

At the moment, our Saturdays have a particular routine to them.  We run our errands together, which usually becomes our “fun" for the weekend, since we’re doing it together and it’s free.  Well, not technically free, but money we’d be spending anyway.

Anyhoo, these errands used to take us the majority of the day because we had so many stops to check prices and we were willing to travel to get the best deal we could on the healthy food we craved.  The good thing is now that we’ve been doing this for several months, the errands don’t take us quite as long.  We pretty much know where to get which items, so we now have every-week stops along a couple of others, depending on what we’re out of at home.

Here’s what our errands consist of:
  • Library – we do this every Saturday, even if we stop by more often during the week (which we often do, because the library is awesome and only 3 minutes from our house).  We try to only check things out on this one day because then that keeps us in our routine with what’s due and our grace period and renewals and such.  We love our library employees friends, and usually spend quite a bit of time chatting with them while taking care of all our bookish business.
  • Our Local Farmer’s Stand – we’ve tried several in the area over time, but have finally hit upon one that not only sells only organic items from local farms, but also has pretty decent prices.  We’ve also built up a relationship with the owner and he’s even let us have some of the “toss” produce that he leaves out for the chicken lady (since he can’t sell it).  It’s totally worth FREE to cut off some bad spots!  This abundance of free food has even led me to create some new recipes, like my Low-Sugar Simple Strawberry Cheesecake.
  • A Hole-in-the-Wall Produce Market – this place is also a produce stand, but not so organic.  It’s a converted convenience store and family-run.  You walk into the place and they’re playing church music in the background.  We’re talking old-time church choir music, it’s so fabulous.  Anyway, this spot is great for deals on produce, so we get things that don’t really need to be organic here, like bananas for 29 cents a pound.  This place also has a spot where they bag up their about-to-go-bad produce and sell the whole bag for $1.  Like 4 giant eggplants for $1, or 5 tomatoes, or 4 artichokes (read what I did with those artichokes here).  The store has started to carry some organic items, so we try to get some from them as well, to both support the store’s efforts and to encourage them to buy more organic.  We have a nice relationship with the workers in this store, too, which makes the errand more pleasant, but also means we often get perks like free apple baskets and help tracking down more of our locally-distributed organic extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil.  Oh, and they’ve got the best water.  It’s the cheapest price (even cheaper than WalMart gallons) and the healthiest, because they use reverse-osmosis to filter it.
  • Sam’s – this is still the best place for us to get our organic greens.  We go through at least 4-5 boxes a week, so G will often run by on his way home from work (very nearby).  We are also still getting our cheese there (trying to come up with a healthier option for cheese that we can still afford) as well as these great healthy-for-a-junk-food-treat tortilla chips and pretzels that keep G going while he snacks on them throughout the school day.  Nuts are another staple from this place.  Sometimes we make a stop at Sam’s just for the samples, though.  Hey, it’s a free lunch…
  • Gordon Food Services – we were craaaazy GFS-lovers at first, because it’s basically a Sam’s without the membership fee and GFS carries all sorts of things like canned beans that you can’t find at Sam’s.  Now we just go for the samples (GFS has the BEST samples) and for one or two items, like horseradish, imported Kalamata olives, or salmon.  Oh, the salmon.  They have wild salmon that’s NOT from China that’s all frozen and bagged and they put it on sale (too often, if you look in our freezer) and then they have these coupons that give you $5 off $50 practically once a week, so when the two deals align, that makes for a very packed freezer and a wifey who is sick of salmon, but who is starting to find interesting ways to prepare it (posts to come).
  • Whole Foods – thankfully this is also located near Sam’s and GFS and its samples make our free Saturday lunch complete (remember, this is our fun for the weekend).  Besides eating free food, this store does have good sales, even though their prices normally don’t compare with our other natural markets.
  • Nutrition S’Mart – this is one of two natural markets that we do most of our shopping at.  They have a great bulk section and we know by now which items are cheaper here as opposed to the other store. 
  • Abbey’s – the "other store," or our other natural market, also has a good bulk section and best prices for some items.
  • WalMart – surprise, WalMart has started carrying some organics.  Our health insurance also puts out a card to use at this store for healthy foods that gives us big discounts.  We’ve found that organic bagged apples and potatoes are a steal here and since they have pretty decent prices on all their food, we’ll often grab some okay-to-not-be-organic produce from here to save ourselves another stop if we don’t need to.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond – this isn’t a food stop, but it’s a fairly regular stop that helps us eat healthier.  I hope to do a post soon about how to work BB&B to your advantage…
  • The Far-Away Farm Stand – to be honest, this other stand isn’t far from our house, it’s just in the opposite direction from everything else.  But we’re currently getting our eggs from it and luckily, we can buy quite a lot of eggs and have them last for a decent amount of time, which saves trips and gas until we get our own chickens, which we hope to do soon.

So it sounds like a lot of stops and it certainly can be, but like I said, we don’t stop at all of them every week.  It definitely took an investment of time initially while we were figuring out which stores were best for which items, but we just put all the prices and everything down on a little spreadsheet and then created shopping lists (currently on Cozi) for each store so we’d remember what to get where.  It was totally worth the effort.

Do you find yourself spending more for groceries than you'd like?  Have you found that couponing doesn't cut it when it comes to a healthy diet?  Try exploring the produce stands and small shops in your area to find the best, healthiest deals.  It's worth the initial time investment and can even provide some free entertainment in the process!  If you're local and want to know the locations of our produce stand and markets, just let me know!  If you have any other money-saving, healthy shopping ideas, I'd love to read those, too!

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