Adventures in grocery land
Sunday, February 24, 2019
My wife Ruthie and I both work outside the home, but I’m a freelancer, whereas she keeps to an assigned schedule. So, I end up doing most of our grocery shopping.
Thoroughly domesticated, I also do most of the cooking. I believe I have a fairly good overall strategy, and I do make lists, but unfortunately, I’m always running out to pick up a few overlooked items. That habit results in dozens of relatively minor debit card charges that drive Ruthie crazy, cause fairly significant leaks in our modest monthly grocery budget and keep me persistently defensive about my food spending.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that food is the third-largest household expense in this country. For an average American family of four, the agency says, a budget of $142 per week is considered super-thrifty. I tell myself that despite my shortcomings, we’re still solidly on the thrifty side, conveniently overlooking the fact that we’re a family of two these days.
Even though I’m a little late with the resolution, I’m determined to do better in 2019, especially since I have the time at my age and in my semi-retired status to employ some really good and readily available suggestions. (On the other hand, I believe people would rather read about my foibles than marvel at my efficiency, so I don’t want to go too far.)
One of our main problems is that I absolutely hate to buy paper towels, bathroom tissue, cleaning products, personal toiletries and other expensive stuff that we can’t actually eat and enjoy. I leave that for my wife to do about once a month, which really isn’t fair, since those items account for so much of what she feels like she can spend on any one shopping trip.
Something I fail to do often enough is to inventory our pantry. We do a pretty good job of surveying the refrigerator-freezer for purposes of meal planning, but we’re still likely to end up with four jars of sweet pickle relish or three jars of mayonnaise at any given time, whereas one spare would be sufficient.
I do OK with keeping staples like flour, sugar and pasta on hand, but keeping track of spices and condiments and using them up in the order in which they were purchased? Utter disaster.
What about bags of plain and self-rising corn meal, hush puppy mix, stone ground grits and the like? Are the small moths fluttering around those pantry areas indicative of anything? I’ve heard it helps to keep those mixes in the freezer, but there just isn’t enough room in our side-by-side.
At heart, I’m a cheapskate, so we’re fortunate that in Greenville, both Aldi and Lidl are located in close proximity to either “neighborhood market” or “supercenter” versions of Walmart, which fosters healthy competition, particularly on milk, eggs, canned fruits, and salad ingredients. I can’t get specific preferred brands at Aldi or Lidl, so on most of my visits to the Walmart neighborhood groceries on Memorial or Fire Tower, I see some of the same people I saw a few minutes earlier at one of the nearby German-owned stores.
I’m also comfortable cruising our neighborhood Food Lion for special mark-downs and buying American cheese in blocks at its deli counter. Harris Teeter is my favorite for “buy-one-get-one” meat sales. I clearly cannot stay entirely away from any store named Piggly Wiggly. And while Publix is a little rich for my blood most of the time, I take an occasional “walk in the park” there from time to time just to see what’s new that I might want to try.
OK. The first thing I need to do is to clean out that pantry with the little flying things. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.