How we frugally shop for groceries with 0 food waste (and without eating beans!)

How we frugally shop for groceries with 0 food waste (and without eating beans!)

Eating frugally for those of us who hate beans

I’m fortunate that we are a 2 person household with no picky eaters (except for my aversion to beans and rice). We can adjust what we cook and what we eat based on what’s on sale when/where we do our twice a month grocery run. We also only buy certain foods when it is in season and at its cheapest and freshest. That means lots of fresh veggies and salads during spring/summer, stone fruits, melons, and berries in the summer, and lots of root vegetables, stews, baking, pasta, and curries in winter.

Our total monthly grocery and household bill for 2016-2017 ranges from $240-$310 per month for two adults. Although I have plans to be more precise each year, my adhd gets the best of me and I always forget to separate out our miscellaneous household purchases. This means that the $240-$310 also includes things like coffee from TJ’s, giant jugs of whiskey and gin from Costco, grains for our 3-8 chickens, dish soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, and shampoo. Our actual food costs are lower than the amount stated.

We don’t eat out (except for the super awesome jumbo combo pizza from Costco) so that total includes every bit of food we eat and drink for the month. Mom and I take turns cooking. She’s in charge of Chinese or Asian dishes while I’m the baker and Western cook in our family.

We supplement our meals with herbs that I grow in our indoor/patio garden. Fresh herbs and spices can make anything tasty, but spending $3 on a tiny bunch of herbs is not frugal! Herbs like rosemary, mint, and thyme can be grown from cuttings and overwinter well indoors. Basil, cilantro, and parsley will need to be seeded and replanted every year, but we let a couple plants grow old and bolt to seed every summer so we never have to buy seeds.

We also raise our own chickens so on most days breakfast comes from the eggs laid by our 3 silkie hens. Occasionally we have a meal from the young chickens that we hatch from Trader Joe’s eggs. We butcher at around 4 months old and while these chickens are not ‘meat breeds’, we do end up with a 1.5-1.75 lb. chicken which is enough meat for dinner for 2 adults plus chicken stock from the bones. It’s a bit of extra work, but we like knowing that these chickens were raised humanely and had a good life with plenty of fresh food and sunshine and playing with their flock. There’s just something awfully wrong with factory raised chickens, both in terms of taste and animal welfare, so we only eat chickens that we raise ourselves.

We’re also not the type who can eat beans and rice day in and day out. Well, my mother is, but I think beans taste like a mouthful of dirt. The only beans I like are adzuki beans or mung beans in desserts and chickpeas. None of these are very frugal options in our area, so they’re not a staple in our diet.

We try to make sure that we have one meal with meat every day. Unfortunately we are weak compared to most frugal families as we succumb to the allure of a ribeye steak or filet mignon every week. Since we’re from a coastal area in Asia, we also love things like lobster and scallops. And if it’s Alaskan king salmon season–yikes! We usually end up with a grocery bill over $300 during late summer and early fall. If we end up with a higher grocery bill one month, we’ll adjust accordingly the next month and switch to a cheaper cut like pork shoulder or beef flank instead.

While I’m a big fan of bargain hunting, it’s just not worth it when it comes to animal proteins. You really do get what you pay for and I don’t want to risk a bout of food poisoning just to save a couple dollars. As you can see, we have to save money elsewhere by bargain shopping and being on the alert for clearance sales.

How we buy fruit, vegetables, and pantry items for pounds/dollar

By keeping an eye out for super deals from our local ethnic markets and farmers’ markets, we can buy enough fresh fruit and vegetables for a month for $10-$25! Here’s how we get our fresh fruit and vegetables super cheap:

  • Ethnic markets, especially Asian and Mexican markets have super deals on produce. This is usually stock that may not look pretty enough for regular grocery stores, but it’s perfectly fine as long as you know what to look out for (look for crisp vegetables, stems on fruit, and avoid anything soggy or mushy or bruised)
  • Farmers’ markets offer the freshest seasonal produce, but they’re awfully expensive compared to regular grocery store prices. We wait until the farmers’ market is about to close. At that point, a lot of vendors are willing to unload their merchandise for a couple of dollars. We’re talking pounds and pounds of fruit for just $1-$2.
  • Keep an eye out for clearance sections in your regular grocery store. About two years ago, we noticed that one of our local grocery stores would heavily mark down things like 32 oz. tubs of yogurt to $1 when it’s within a month of the expiration date. They also had a 90% off clearance section for things like organic pasta sauce, quinoa, and flour even though the items were 8+ months from expiring. Maybe the packaging was damaged or they ran out of shelf space? Shrug. I never noticed anything wrong with the clearance items. We’ve never paid full price for these items since our discovery.

How we maintain a zero food waste household and never, ever waste any food

Despite bulk buying a lot of fresh produce, nothing goes to waste in our household. Ripe fruit gets turned into jams, preserves, sorbets, or pies. Scraps or anything that’s ‘too ripe’ for our tastes goes to the chickens as well as things like eggshells and mussel shells. Meat or vegetable scraps that the chickens won’t touch goes to feed the mealworms and crickets which ultimately get fed to the chickens.

What about the stuff that we can’t feed to the chooks? We either freeze it or preserve it. We also organize our fridge in a first in first out order so we never have to worry about finding spoiled food at the back of the fridge.

  • Yogurt – Yogurt is one of those foods that can be kept in the fridge for another month after the expiration date. It can also be frozen and thawed without any effect on texture or mouthfeel. On the other hand, DO NOT freeze/thaw sour cream or low-fat cream cheese. The results are not pretty…
  • Milk – Also freezes and thaws nicely. Just give the thawed milk a stir to redistribute the cream.
  • Butter – Our local grocery store marks down their butter about 2x each year. We stock up and buy 10-15 pounds each time. Butter freezes and thaws well.
  • Cheese – Dry and aged cheeses can be kept in the fridge for a long time. They can also be frozen without too much change in texture.
  • Onions, sweet potatoes, ginger, garlic, root vegetables – Can be stored for an additional 1-3 months if kept in a cool and dry cupboard. Ginger and garlic can be frozen, just remember to peel and/or slice them. We also make a garlic and ginger paste with oil and salt that we keep in the fridge. It’s convenient for Asian and Indian dishes and it keeps for a couple of months. Make sure to add enough salt to keep mold and bacteria from growing!
  • Vegetables like zucchini, spinach, kale, broccoli – We keep about 3-4 days worth of veg in the fridge and then wash and freeze the rest. The thawed vegetables won’t be good for salads, but you can still use them forĀ  soups, stir-fry dishes, and things like spinach pie.
  • Cabbage, Napa cabbage – We buy about 6-8 heads at a time and keep them in the fridge. The trick is to eat the outer leaves in rotation so none of the heads begin to mold or dry out. We also make our own kimchi and sauerkraut.
  • Cucumbers – Pickle the excess.

Some vegetable scraps can be planted again. While you won’t be able to get an exact replica of the parent plant, you can eat the regrowth.

  • Get double the amount of scallions for the price of one! Leave about 1″-2″ of the white ends of your scallions. Keep the root ends in a glass of water on your windowsill. Within a week you’ll get new growth. We usually get 1-2 extra cuttings before the plant dies.
  • Don’t throw away the dry and tough ends of sweet potatoes! Plant them in soil and eat the greens like kale or spinach. They’re great in a stir-fry or soup. Don’t do this with potatoes as they’re nightshades. Sweet potatoes only! If you live in a place with a warm winter, leave the plants in the ground and you should have sweet potatoes next spring!
  • Are your potatoes turning green and sprouting? Don’t throw away the chunks that you’ve cut out. Plant them and you might get some potatoes. We only have a patio garden, so the best result we’ve gotten is a bunch of baby potatoes in a pot. I’m sure if you have a garden with the right soil and environment that you can get grocery store sized potatoes.
  • Start an herb garden with cuttings – Leave a couple leaves on your sprigs and keep them in a glass of water on your windowsill. Plant the herbs after you see root growth. You should never have to buy that herb again. This works for most herbs except dill, sage, parsley, and coriander which grow from seed.

In the future when we buy a house and have a our own garden, we can be self-sustaining when it comes to chickens, eggs, and certain produce. Until that day comes, we do have to spend a bit more on fresh fruit and vegetables and unfortunately we will have to support the egg industry.

Here are the price limits that trigger the buy response in my frugal (cheapskate) heart

While it looks like a hassle to wait for clearance sales and to coordinate what we have in stock in our pantry, it’s actually pretty easy. We do all of our grocery and household shopping at Costco, Savemart, Trader Joe’s, Walmart (for ibotta rebates), 99c Only, and our local Chinese, Mexican, and Korean markets. Fortunately, the grocery stores in our area are all located in clusters so we can visit 3-4 stores in a 2 hour trip.

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Bananas – $1/3 lbs. @ local ethnic market or $0 ($0.25 ibotta rebate pays for 2 bananas and puts a couple cents in your pocket!)
  • Tomato – $1/3 lbs. @ local ethnic market or $0 ($0.25 ibotta rebate pays for 1 tomato and puts a couple cents in your pocket!)
  • Avocados (large) – $1/2 lbs. @ local ethnic market or $0 ($0.25 ibotta rebate)
  • Cabbage – $1/3 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Napa Cabbage – $1/2 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Kale – $1/2 bunches @ local ethnic market
  • Spinach – $1/3 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Onions – $1/8 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Apricots, peaches, nectarines – $1/3 lbs. @ local farmer’s market during the summer (We wait until the market is about to close. The vendors will practically give away their fruit!)
  • Ginger – $1/2 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Sweet Potatoes (the Japanese purple kind, not the yucky orange ones!) – $1/2 lbs. @ local ethnic market
  • Bell Peppers – $1/4 peppers @ local ethnic market or 99c store
  • Fancy Schmancy Salad Lettuce – $1.00/4 heads @ 99c store.
  • Baby Asparagus – $1.00/lb @ 99c store
  • Frozen Mixed Veggies (Green Beans, Peas, Carrots) – $3/4 lbs.
  • Oranges – $1/8 lbs. @ local ethnic market or 99c store
  • Artichokes – $1/6 artichokes
  • Celery – $1/3 stalks @ local ethnic market
  • Broccoli – $1/3 heads @ local ethnic market
  • Cucumbers – $1/6 lbs @ local ethnic market
  • Zucchini – $1/4 lbs @ local ethnic market
  • Key limes – $1/4 lbs @ local ethnic market

Pantry

  • White Sandwich Bread (1 loaf) – $0.63 (after $0.25 ibotta rebate). We usually bake our own bread, but sometimes I just want a grilled cheese with squishy white bread and processed American cheese!
  • Starkist/Chicken of the Sea Tuna (5 oz. can) – $0.77
  • Eagle Brand Condensed Milk (10 oz. can) – $1.25
  • Coconut Cream (14 oz. can) – $1.00 @ 99c store
  • Carnation Evaporated Milk (12 oz. can) – $1.00 @ 99c store
  • Dried Cranberries (64 oz.) – $4.50 @ Costco
  • Almond Butter (12 oz. jar) – $4
  • Pasta Sauce (25 oz. jar) – $0.80
  • Dried Pasta – $0.50/lb ($0.50 ibotta rebate)
  • Yeast – $2.50/lb @ Costco
  • Quinoa – $1.00/lb
  • Wasabi Almonds (16 oz.) – $5.99 @ Walgreens

Dairy & Meat

  • Jarlsberg Cheese – $5.50/lb @ Costco
  • Tillamook Cheddar Cheese – $2.50/lb
  • Butter – $2.50/lb
  • Yogurt (32 oz. tub) – $1
  • Almond/Coconut Milk (1/2 gallon) – $1.99 (after $1.00 ibotta rebate)
  • Sliced Sandwich Meat (Ham/Turkey, 8 oz.) – $1.00 @ 99c store
  • Tillamook Ice Cream (1.75 qt) – $3.99
  • Eggs – $2.99-$3.99/5 dozen @ Costco
  • Whole Milk (1 gallon) – $2.49 (after Checkout 51 rebate)
  • Frozen Pizza (Jumbo) – $9.99 @ Costco (We get the pizza from the food court, split them into 2-3 slice portions, and freeze them. This gives us about 6 portions. Reheat the pizza on a pizza stone or a cast iron griddle and they’ll be just as crispy as fresh pizza.)

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