Monday, October 20, 2008

Green & frugal grocery shopping

Okay, so I've learned a thing or two in the past year or so as I've tried to green up my grocery shopping, buying sustainable, local food that reduces packaging waste, plastic, etc. Maybe you knew all of this, but here are some of the tips that I'm using:

- Eliminate cooking spray. I have a little silicone brush that I use instead - I just pour a dab of oil (very little) and then brush it around. This means that that nasty aerosol can doesn't go into the garbage, I don't get additives in my oil, I spend less. I have one of those Misto sprayers but mine always sprays in a stream and it is kind of a pain to use, so I like the brush method better.

- Bulk bins are your friend, and they're even better if you bring in reusable containers. I can buy organic oats for $1.33/pound, and there's no packaging if I bring my own bag. Even if I don't bring my own bag, and opt for (gasp!) a plastic sack, it's a lot LESS plastic than the plastic lid on the oatmeal container. Whatever container you use, it tends to be cheaper in bulk...especially because you can buy the quantity you need. (E.g. I used to buy a bag of pine nuts, but some would spoil before I could use them. Now, if I need a 1/4 cup, I buy a 1/4 cup.)

- Bulk spices are mega cheap compared to bottled ones. I reuse my old bottles, and refill them from the bins, and keep my old bottles out of the recycling bin (reduce, REUSE, recycle).

- Seasonal local produce is often the cheapest thing in the grocery store - it's not trendy/elitist at all. To the contrary, it really is eating like our grandparents did. For example? Local, organic, Cameo apples were $1.99/pound, and same for local organic Bartlett pears. They were the two cheapest fruits available to me in the store today (organic fruits, anyway - I no longer look at conventional prices because it's depressing!).

- Cooking from scratch tends to be greener AND cheaper. Yes, it takes more time, and not everyone can do this. But it's greener because there's less packaging involved, it's usually healthier because there are no preservatives etc, and it's cheaper because you're not paying for labor.

- Meat is expensive. Period. I'm learning ways to reduce meat intake, which is better for the environment as a whole, as well as better for my body. I'm not going vegetarian any time in the foreseeable future, but I'm learning to use a little. More veggies and less meat in the stirfry; moo shu pork instead of pork roast; eggs instead of meat in an entree; lentils with just a bit of sausage.

- Read labels for locations. When two products look exactly the same, I read where they're from. If I have a choice of made in the US vs. someplace far away, I choose the US product. (Funny, that sounds patriotic. Hmmm!)

- It's cheap and easy to make granola, and to make bread (with a bread machine). Save on packaging and processing and make your own!

- I shop first, and then make dinner menus second. Unfortunately, this usually takes two grocery trips: one for the main items, and then one for the fill-in-the-gaps items for the recipes. This allows me to buy seasonal (greener) local food but not break the budget. The second grocery trip is usually just for a few items.

- Repeat items. On the week that apples are in season, we get apples in our lunch every day. We eat a lot of strawberries in season. We're about to enter squash season, and we'll eat a lot of it, prepared in different ways. We get a ton of diversity throughout the year, but not necessarily within the seasons. Insalata caprese is an end of summer dish; leeks are a winter dish. If broccoli is on sale, we eat broccoli all week. This is a major change for our family - we've eaten according to our whims in the past.

- Buying larger, not individual, size portions. With yogurt, I think that this cuts the cost and the plastic packaging substantially, for example.

More to follow - gotta cook dinner!

Edited to add: I'd really like to hear your green, frugal, healthy food ideas. My grocery bill is still higher than I'd wish, and I know I still have a lot to learn.

Tips from another:


Anonymous said...

Think about flexiterian. Just aim for meat for more special occassions or fewer times per week. It's spendy, it should be special, right?

I have a few basic recipies that can work with a variety of seasonal produce: pasta toppers, stir fry sauces, curry sauces, casseroles, or burritos/enchilada filling.

I reuse some of those plastic bulk bags for the dog on walks (and other trash). The dog eats any leftovers I'm not going to eat (or didn't like the first time) to supplement his diet.

Leave some of the vegetable plant roots in for the winter to help hold the soil. It wouldn't take much of a cold frame to keep something like spinach growing year round. I do two things: simple clear plastic sheeting stapled to leftover wood tomatoes stakes (rocks/dirt to weight down the edges, some velcro tape) or clear juice containers with the bottoms cut off. I also don't sweat getting a few small plastic containers at the grocery. I use them for starting seeds indoors.

Keep it up!

Sue said...

Kristina, when you bring your own containers for the bulk bin, how do they charge you? They usually know how to figure the tare weight of their own containers to subtract, but I've always wondered how they do it if you bring your own.

We need to lower our food bills also, but I don't like compromising on the quality of our food. My biggest dilemma is the lunches I'm bringing to work. I've been buying the Eating Right frozen dinners from Safeway. They're often on sale at 5/$10, or $2 apiece. I can't afford to make my own hot lunch for $2 a day, so they're cheap. The meals are "healthy" in that they try to be higher in fiber, whole grains, lower fat, but they still have 800 ingredients a piece. And they're all 5-7 points on Weight Watchers, so it's easy to figure. But they're in those disposable plastic containers, not to mention I'm heating my food in plastic which I'm trying not to do at home. They're more convenient than making my own lunch. And then it comes back to the $2 lunch factor. Ack! I could go in circles on this one.