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  • Tips for saving on only one grocery store trip per week

    Back when I was working outside of the home full-time, I still made more than one trip to the grocery store, mostly because I shop at multiple stores to get the best deals at each store. But that doesn’t work for everyone, so here are some tips for saving money while making only grocery store trip each week:

    1. Start with a good stockpile. You may need to shop at several stores for a few weeks or months, or simply going to Target or Costco to stock your pantry, but starting with a well-stocked pantry will make Tip #2 easier.
    2. Decide on which store to shop at depending on that week’s sales. If you already have a stockpile of staples, then you can go to Ralphs for the produce and meat deals and not have to pay $3 for a box of pasta. (If you don’t have a stockpile, don’t want to go out of your way to start one, and don’t want to pay full price for that box of pasta, explore the store and tinker with your weekly menu to come up with inexpensive meals based on what’s on sale.)
    3. Know which store has the lowest price on things you eat that don’t go on sale. For example, I would hit Trader Joe’s once a month to stock up on things that I can stockpile but don’t usually find cheaper than TJ’s every day low price. For example, they have organic American cheese at $3.49, which I can’t find at Ralphs or Vons, and which is more expensive at Whole Foods.
    4. Be willing to pass up some good deals. This is actually a key to maintaining your sanity and preventing burnout under any circumstances. (I’ve discussed it before in the context of The Drugstore Game.)
    5. Be willing to adapt your menu to what’s available. Plan on planning your menu and your shopping list after you see what’s on sale that week, and you should keep your eyes open as you go through the store and spot the unadvertised specials.
    6. Be willing to pay a (small) premium for your mental health. If hitting multiple grocery stores stresses you out, don’t do it! Even if it means you have pay a little extra for food each week. Unless your family is watching every penny out of sheer necessity, in which case hitting multiple stores is probably necessary and therefore less stressful anyway, your mental health is worth a few extra dollars.

    Works for Me: Freezing Bread

    My parents always froze bread when I was growing up, so I’ve always done it too. But the other day, my friend K. mentioned that she kept having to throw out stale bread and buy a fresh loaf for her son’s school sandwiches. And I realized that not everybody freezes bread to keep it fresh. But it really works.

    I’ve found that store bought sliced bread usually freezes great and it’s easy to peel off just one or two slices at a time.

    My homemade sliced bread seems to be more delicate, and I find that I have to freeze it with the slices staggered in order to guarantee easy removal. As you can see in the photo, I just slide the staggered slices into a zip top freezer bag. They never last long enough to suffer freezer burn (I make a loaf every one to two weeks, depending on how many sandwiches we eat).

    K. was worried that the bread would be frozen and/or soggy when her son went to eat his sandwich. But I assured her that bread defrosts very quickly, and would be thawed enough for her to cut the sandwich by the time she was done making his sandwich. Using an oil-based condiment such as mayonnaise (me) or butter (K.) prevents the bread from becoming soggy.

    Find more Works for Me Wednesday Tips at We Are THAT Family.

    Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal (not a recipe yet)

    We’re big fans of the steel cut oatmeal at Jamba Juice, but I’ve been convinced that I can make it at home. I did my research and found some threads that said the cooked oatmeal can be frozen in individual portions. So I used Frugal Upstate’s recipe as a launching point. It’s got great texture, but I want to work on the flavors and especially the additions. Also, the timing is waaaay off. Maybe Jenn’s slow cooker is older than mine, but my oatmeal doesn’t take more than six hours, tops. I could never do it overnight.

    So I have two tips for the time being: (1) experiment with cooking times and keep an eye on your slow cooker; and (2) if the oatmeal is sticking to the sides of the crock, stick the whole crock in the fridge – it will come off the sides much easier when it’s cold.

    I’m going to keep working on a recipe I’m proud to post, but in the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions on what toppings to use. So far, we’ve used brown sugar, raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, bananas, and nut-free homemade granola (not my personal favorite, but I can’t have nuts in the house for allergy reasons). Thanks!

    Buying Quality Food: Beyond certifications

    Last year, I read this article by Russ Parsons, a food writer for the LA Times. The idea that just because a food doesn’t have the “organic” label doesn’t mean it was grown with chemicals, hormones and/or antibiotics was novel to me, but gradually over the last year, it’s taken hold in me.

    I’ve discovered that especially at farmer’s markets, a lot of the produce that’s not certified organic is still grown without chemical fertilizer and pesticides. The farmer I’ve been buying strawberries from for the past few weeks said that he uses garlic and ladybugs to protect his crop. (And I found a tiny ladybug in the last batch of strawberries that I bought.)

    When I first started shopping regularly at farmer’s markets, my initial impression was that the produce was more expensive than the supermarket. But compared to the price of organic produce, it’s actually cheaper. So I’ve been buying almost all of my produce at the farmer’s market for the last month or so.

    And I love it.

    The strawberries don’t last as long. They’re super ripe when I buy them, so they’re extra sweet but they need to be eaten quickly. Which is not a problem with the boys and me around. I pay $5 for 3 full pints, a little less than the price of $2.69 for 16 ounces of not-so-sweet organic strawberries at Trader Joe’s.

    Occasionally, supermarkets will have small avocados on sale for 50 cents, but the usual sale price is 99 cents or $1. Well, the regular price at the farmer’s market is $1, and they keep for two or three times as long.

    Peaches grown organically but without the official certification are just $2 per pound, a price that’s comparable to Trader Joe’s if memory serves. Even if they’re a bit more expensive, the higher quality and the fact that I’m supporting a local farmer make them worthwhile.

    This article at Mark Bittman’s blog suggests that I’m on the right track. The article mentions some pig farmers who aren’t interested in obtaining the organic certification in part because it would double the price of their pork. But the lack of certification doesn’t mean their product isn’t high quality.

    It’s important to me to feed my family – especially my children – organic or at least hormone and antibiotic-free dairy, meat and produce. But now I know not to be so hung up on labels.

    Preparing for Kindergarten Part One: Lunches

    I have no idea how many parts this series will be, and I certainly have no concrete plans for when posts will go up. But I do know that preparing for kindergarten is always on my mind – it’s our biggest milestone yet, and so I’m more than a little anxious about it. (My son, on the other hand, is quite blasé about it – of course.)

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about is lunch. I know public school lunches are cheap, but I’d rather pack my children their own lunch, with higher quality ingredients.

    I pack lunch for preschool every day, so the actual act of packing isn’t a big deal at all. I’m more concerned about what will go in it, because with preschool, I have the option of putting in food that needs to be warmed up. I won’t have that option when the boys are in kindergarten.

    Fortunately, in the last month or so, both boys have started eating cold cuts. So cold cut sandwiches are now an option that I am grateful to have. I would have loved the PB&J option, but we don’t keep any nut products in the house because of food allergies. I’ve thought about buying Uncrustables when they’re on sale and keeping them in the freezer, but I have this fear that they’ll end up being given to the wrong child in an absentminded moment.

    I’ve got Price Protectr tracking the price of a Ms. Bento thermal lunch jar*for me (see Lunch in a Box for more info on thermal jars). I’m intrigued by these because they keep food warm, and it would be a way for me to pack pasta, pizza rolls or chicken nuggets for lunch.

    But that brings to another concern – whether little hands can open the containers I pack the food in. I have a variety of bento boxes that I currently use, but at preschool, the teachers transfer all of the food onto a paper plate, which the children must throw away when they are done. But starting in August, I plan to practice packing kindergarten-appropriate lunches and asking the teachers to serve them as is, without transferring the food to a paper plate. It’ll be a trial and error experiment to see which bento boxes work best for us as we transition to a whole new phase of life.

    *affiliate link

    Afternoon Coffee: It’s Still Mega Swag Bucks Friday

    Search & WinSwag Bucks celebrated its second birthday yesterday with lots of Swag Codes, and I don’t think they were fully prepared for all of the traffic they got because the site went down quite a bit yesterday, at least early on. If you had trouble registering yesterday, it should be much easier today – and, the bonus code I posted yesterday is good through March 6. So if you sign up using my referral link, you’ll get 60 bonus Swag Bucks to get you started (and I’ll get bonus bucks too, so thank you!).

    One of the things they didn’t mention yesterday was whether Mega Swag Bucks Friday would continue – and it turns out it is! Swag Bucks promises to give out 400,000 Swag Bucks every Friday, up to 1,000 Swag Bucks per search.

    Amazon currently has the Motorola DROIDphone for just $49.99 with a Verizon Wireless plan. I’ve avoided getting a smart phone for a while now because I haven’t wanted to spend the money. But now I actually need a new phone because the camera on my current phone is dead and I keep missing opportunities to take cute photos of the boys. The data plan that goes with the DROID starts at $29.99 per month, so now I just have to decide if I’ll get my money’s worth out of $30 per month. At least the phone will be free with my Swag Bucks if I buy it through Amazon!

    I highly recommend this sardine and avocado sandwich recipe at Cheap Healthy Good. I know it sounds odd, but it’s a great combination. I made a few modifications, such as using olive oil and an orange champagne vinegar, and serving it on artisan bread, but any version of this would probably be delicious.

    Speaking of artisan bread, I’ve been making small loaves in my toaster oven – partly out of necessity because my oven died, but also because I’ve been trying to make only what we’ll eat that night unless I want leftovers. The funny thing is that the loaves come out in all kinds of funny shapes – I think it’s maybe because this week’s dough was on the wet side, but I think it’s also because of how little dough I’m using.

    And speaking of dough, making artisan bread every day has meant I’m using way more flour than I used to and I keep running out. I discovered that 5 pound bags of Gold Medal flour are on sale this week at Vons/Pavilions (Safeway for non-locals) for just $1.69 per bag. That’s the lowest price I’ve seen since the holiday baking season, and of course, I didn’t stock up that much then since I hadn’t started baking bread every day yet.

    Finally, a quick update on the oven situation: I’ve decided that I’m going to try to make do with my current toaster oven for a while, and see how it goes. Someone had recommended looking for the part we need, but honestly, the oven is so old that even if we could find it, I’d be really skeptical of it. I don’t think they’ve made ovens like this for decades at this point.