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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Frugal Kitchens 101: Shopping the Outer Perimeter

Hopefully by now you have had a chance to view the video by Natalie on Eating Healthy on a Budget. Her first suggestion is to buy the raw ingredients and cook them at home and her sixth suggestion was to eat foods that are in season. That brings us to today's Frugal Kitchens 101 topic of shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store. The outer perimeter is generally where fresh produce, breads/bakery products, meats, fresh fish, poultry, dairy and freezer items are found. I would estimate a good 80% of my food dollar is spent on items in the outer perimeter when I shop in a grocery store with about 75% of that being items in the produce and dairy sections. In general you best value for your food dollar lies in the outer perimeter but there are ways to save even more when shopping the outer perimeter.

Certain food items in the outer perimeter are seldom what I would consider frugal food choices. Eliminating or substituting these foods will save a considerable amount of money with very little effort. Following is a list of ten foods along with my comments that should be eliminated from your groceries.

  1. pre-cut bagged lettuces - In general these tend to be more expensive per gram or ounce than regular lettuces. They have been handled more and have a higher surface area making them perfect for contamination (eg. E. coli) and they may have have been sprayed with sulfiting agents to prevent browning that can cause allergic reactions for some. Replace these with whole leaf or head lettuce. The two exceptions to this are spinach and mesclun or spring mix, so buy these when they are on sale.
  2. baby/cocktail carrots - These are the cute little carrots sold in plastic bags that have become very popular for vegetable trays and as a side when cooked. They often go on sale for about 99¢ for a 12 oz (8¢ per ounce) package making them appear to be a good bargain but they are not. They are put through a machine to be formed then put into a vat of water with chlorine as a preservative. The carrots used have been bred to have a deeper orange colour as well as a sweeter flavour. Consider that whole carrots are often on sale in 5 lb bags for $1.50 (2¢ per ounce) or less saving not only 6¢ per ounce but avoiding any chlorine residue.
  3. bean or other sprouts - Bean and other sprouts in the grocery stores have already started losing some of their nutritional value by the time you get them on the table. They are pricey at upwards of $1.50 per lb and are not always available. Instead buy a bag of dried mung beans and sprout them yourself. A bag of dried mung beans (450 g) will yield 4 - 5 times the amount of beans sprouts for the same price you pay for fresh bean sprouts in the store.
  4. pre-made salads or pre-chopped/prepared anything - You will seldom find anything in this respect that is cheaper than if you cut it up yourself. In most cases these foods will be more than double the cost.
  5. orange juice from concentrate - It is always cheaper to buy the frozen concentrate and add your own water. For example in this week's flyer Minute Maid orange juice is $2.97 for 2.84 L but I can make the same amount from frozen concentrate for $1.29. Right there is a savings of $1.77!
  6. flavoured yogurt/individual yogurts - Sorry but these tend to be over priced and laden with sweeteners as well as having environmentally unfriendly packaging. Make your own yogurt with very little effort. Use it plain for eating or baking or stir in low sugar jams or fresh fruit to kick the sugar habit to the curb. The exception to this is buying one single serving plain yogurt with active bacteria for a starter.
  7. processed cheese slices - These cheese slices contain additional oil to get them to the desired consistency. At the same time they come in individually wrapped slices wrapped again in more plastic. A better choice it to buy better quality cheese and use less of it. You get more flavour for less cost as well as eliminating the excess packaging so it is a win win situation!
  8. pre-made refrigerator snacks (Lunchables, Dunkables etc.) - Honestly these are some of the worst things out there in my opinion. They are laden with salt, sugar and over processed and over priced junk food pure and simple. Trust me on this one Little Jimmy does not need to dip a sugar laden cookie into more sugar laden icing! Instead buy a box of cracker, a cube of cheese and some polish sausage and make your own. Get some divided re-usable containers with lids to make homemade, healthy versions then make them fun for your kids by cutting real cheese or vegetables into fun shapes using cookie cutters.
  9. most breads and bakery products - These tend to have a lot of sugars, salt, fats and preservatives to make them last a week or more. Anything with bleached flour that has been whitened with chloride oxide is a health risk. The chloride oxide combines with the proteins forming alloxon a chemical shown to cause diabetes under laboratory conditions. At our current prices unbleached flour is 8¢ per cup making the average white bread I make cost about 79¢ per loaf when the electricity is considered (more on that later). Now that doesn't sound like a lot of savings but consider what you aren't getting! Cookies, cakes and other bakery items are always cheaper made at home. Pick up a used breadmachine or KitchenAid® standmixer and you will avoid the bread/bakery aisle all together.
  10. lunchmeats - These are on my list of foods to eliminate because they are generally over priced for what you get and there is the concern with contamination (Listeria). Cheaper and safer alternatives are to cook an extra roast then slice for lunchmeat. The same thing can be done with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, turkey breast, corned beef, ham and roast pork. Cook, cool and slice then freeze into sizes you will use within a week and freeze. Thaw as needed.
Following these 10 tips not only will you be saving money you will be eating healthier substitutes. If you grocery shop weekly and save an minimum average of $10 per week it doesn't seem like a lot. However over the course of one year you will have saved $520!

7 food lovers commented:

Evan Johnson said...

Great article on ways to save when shopping for food. I never really thought about the "outer perimeter."

I saw an article somewhere, I can't find it now, but it showed pictures of families from around the world and they were posing with their groceries for one week.

I was amazing to see the difference between the cultures. They also listed what the cost was for each families groceries.

No surprise but Americans spent the most, some families of six + people in third world countries spent around $10 U.S. per week!

- Evan

Lainie Petersen said...

These are wonderful tips, and I love how you point out the misleading math used by some retailers.

I have a tip of my own but didn't want to step on your toes by posting it in the comments. If it is okay with you, however, I'd be glad to share it in another comment!


Garden Gnome said...

Hi Evan, shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store is one excellent way of saving food dollars. It is interesting to see how other cultures deal with food. For example in Great Britain refrigerators are under the counter models rather than the large ones common in North America. In many countries people shop daily in outdoor markets rather than buying a lot of groceries at one time. So there are a lot of cultural differences, all very interesting.

Garden Gnome said...

Thanks Jillybean. I hope these tips help you save a few dollars.

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Lainie, you are welcome. I hope you find the tips useful. Please feel free to share your tip :)

tahtimbo said...

Thank you for those tips. I didn't know about the bleached flour...I will be checking the packaging in the future. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving:)
I also wanted to let you know that you have just received a most prestigious award. You can swing by my site to pick it up...the red carpet is rolled out and Ross the Intern is waiting to interview you.

Kim said...

I love your frugal gourmet posts. They're so helpful. I was happy to see that I actually do most of the things you suggest, but baking bread isn't one of them. I'm just not much of a baker, even with a bread machine, but I think I'll start doing it more.