Provisions

Check out those rock-bottom cheese prices at Aldi!

Hey, there’s a quiz at the end!

New year, new me, right?  I get very comfortable in my habits, and sometimes I have to rock the boat a little.

I still remember that magical day in 2002 when I discovered a Trader Joe’s had opened nearby.  Since then, my joke has been: if Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell it, we don’t need it.  Our TJ’s is one of the smallest US stores, and I’m not complaining.  When I was buying for a family of six, it was like a surgical strike – I could get in and out with an entire heaping cart in 30 minutes.  There’s only three of us these days, me and the teenage boys (plus some hangers-on; whose kids are those?) so I still buy a lot of groceries, because teenagers.

For someone who loves to cook and eat as much as I do, I loathe grocery shopping.  I’d rather clean the boys’ bathroom, seriously.  I find buying in volume a chore; don’t even get me started on big box stores.  You’d think I’d like the idea of cramming more into fewer trips but I’ve been to Costco twice and the second time I am ashamed to say I threw an actual tantrum and we had to leave immediately.  I find it utterly overwhelming.  Also I don’t want a three-pack of giant jars of Jiff, where the hell am I supposed to put that stuff?  Do people convert their garages or spare bedrooms into pantries?  Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.

I love the idea (delusion?) of the French way – stop at the boulangerie on the way home for a baguette, then the farmer’s market for some fresh lettuces picked by nuns at dawn, and a lamb chop from the butcher, etc.  Do people really shop like that– at multiple places each day?  I am gobsmacked.  Someday I’m going to be like that.  Or: I’m going to be the person in Whole Foods buying petite but hideously expensive cheeses and a hot-food takeout for one (total with kombucha: $37.72).   Then I think back with some amusement to the year in my early twenties when my fridge contained nothing but coffee, prosecco and takeout Chinese from the joint around the corner.  Those were the days, I tell you.

So this weekend I threw a kid in the car and we ventured up the pike to Aldi.  I’ve certainly heard about Aldi: the great prices, the crapshoot shopping experience, the carts you have to pay a quarter to unlock.  After one too many conversations with Anita and “best of Aldi” articles online, I took the bait.  It occurred to me driving to the store that maaaaaybe a grocery run early on Super Bowl Sunday might be a mistake, but I figured if it was a nightmare we’d laugh and leave.

Man, it was fabulous.  I’m sure the individual stores are different; ours is I think a converted former grocery store, with wide aisles and nothing towering over you alarmingly.  They had enough variety that I could get some version of most of our staples, but not so much that it turns into a three-hour slog and I emerge, dazed, into the sunlight with all sorts of goodies and no actual meal components. Even their much-maligned produce aisle wasn’t bad (Hass avocados: $.49, some delicious-looking organic berries for 2.99.)  The prices are almost shockingly low.  I’d say a half to two-thirds less than a regular grocery.  And because it’s not my usual TJ’s I actually bought some not-usual items to try.

I understand why my mom served us a steady rotation of the same meals growing up, and there’s comfort in that, but it’s also kind of boring.  I can’t say we’re wildly imaginative gourmands over here, and my weeknight cooking often consists of pulling together components that I slow-cooked or roasted the previous weekend.  But it’s fun to mix some new items in there too.

Your turn: what does your grocery shopping look like?  Are you one of those folks who finds comfort in food tucked away in back pantries and larders and chest freezers?  Does your fridge contain less than 10 ingredients?  Do you cook: always, seldom, never? Do you shop for groceries twice a week or once a month?  Do you toss money at the Whole Foods gods, or are you an extreme coupon ninja?  Are big box grocery stores even a thing outside the US? Tell me all about it.  Food (and cooking it, and shopping for it) is symbolic of, and influenced by, all sorts of areas in our lives, and I’m curious.

 

31 Comments

  1. I love grocery shopping! I’d do it for a living if I could. I’ve looked into the companies that hire grocery shoppers but then I wouldn’t be working for myself.. I don’t do any of the cooking but I love the hunting/gathering!

    • I’m laughing at this. Yeah, I’m pretty sure InstaCart in the US hires people to do the grocery runs. That job is my idea of hell. Move in with me.

  2. I love quizzes.

    The Aldi near me has weird and suspect baked goods. That was as far as I got. (I live in NW Indiana.) But .49 avocados might get me back in there.

    I only find comfort food around if I forget about it. Most of the time I think about it until it’s gone, although during the deep freeze the other day I forgot about the ice cream (until yesterday). Jeni’s ice cream. You need some.

    I always buy the same things, and yes I cook, such as it is. I ‘m single, no kids, so sometimes I make, say, a pasta/sausage/spinach/chickpea thing and eat it for every meal until it’s gone, because I can. For breakfast, too.

    My grocery store is in walking distance, so I go once a week or so. I can only buy as much as I can carry, so no Costco-sized tubs of anything. I’m pretty sure I would have a breakdown in a Costco.

    No one walks here, so I feel like a vagrant carrying my canvas totes, but I pretend I’m French, or that I live somewhere civilized where pedestrians don’t seem threatening. (Again, I live in Indiana) I have a grocery list on my phone and I put and x by the stuff I need.

    I despise coupons. Does the boulangerie accept coupons.? I think not. 🙂 But I buy the same things all the time, and they don’t have coupons for what I buy (usually the outer parameter meat/fish/fruit/veg/hideously expensive cheese that is mine, all mine)

    • Your walking comment cracks me up. So true, so sadly true. I love to walk. It would be a struggle not to be able to. And when my kids are off at camp I totally do a one-pot casserole thingy or something similar that I eat for four days straight. Works for me. I did NOT look at the baked “goods” at Aldi but now I will, my curiosity is piqued!

  3. We have an Aldi, Walmart and a Giant Eagle near by. Our Aldi is tiny and only good for the staples (milk, peanut butter, eggs, etc). Our Wal-Mart is huge and good for the chai tea that I drink. But most of my grocery shopping is done at Giant Eagle because it’s closer. I really don’t like grocery shopping. I just want to be in and out and it better be less than 30 minutes. There are 3 people and 2 dogs living in my house. With a remodeled kitchen, there is less food waste and less grocery shopping.

  4. I’m a working single mom of a teen boy. I love to cook but my son doesn’t like to eat many foods. This makes meal planning and shopping challenging and dull. I tell him, ‘You win some, you lose some,” when it comes to dinner menus. Lately the wins for both of us have been tacos, soups and breakfast for dinner.

    I love to grocery shop when I don’t have to worry about what the kid will eat and I have a bit of time to linger over my choices. In any given week, I might hit the regular grocery store (Vons or Ralphs) plus T.J.’s or Whole Foods, with a big shop at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday morning.

    I lure myself out of bed early on Sunday with the promise of a gorgeously fresh, eclectic breakfast of bean and cheese pupusas with cabbage, fresh shucked oysters, citrus samples and a double espresso (not in that order) while I wheel my granny cart through the year-round bounty of my home state. I try to make it fun for myself, and I succeed most of the time.

    A tip: I have found a good way to get an 11th grader to appreciate your shopping and cooking – travel for work and make him have to fend for himself completely for a week. Miraculously my efforts on the home front after that have been warmly embraced.

    • I hear you on the teens. They’re like garbage disposals but only with foods they like, and nothing irritates me like spending a bunch of time/money on some fabulous thing they won’t eat. I definitely do a lot of “compromise” meals over here where we are getting slightly different versions of dinner. So freaking jealous of the farmer’s market shop. We have one nearby and I’d love to wander around there, carefree, buying only to please myself. And yeah: in general our produce game is weak. The few times I’ve been to CA I am amazed by what’s available.

  5. I am not the best grocery shopper, I loathe it and every time once a month when, I get to check out and see my total , I feel like I didn’t get enough food to match what I spent!

    • Yeah I try not to think about the total, I always think, I could have bought a nice pair of shoes with that. Or perfume. 😀

  6. I do it the “French way” as you call it. I live in the city so during my break from the job I take a walk and shop fruit and vegetables at an open market, meat or fish at the butcher’s or the fish market, bread at the bakery…it’s an opportunity for a small chat with the people because we know each other for years. I do my shopping three times a week and it doesn’t take longer than half an hour but I cook only for myself and sometimes for my daughter too.

    • This sounds like HEAVEN. I think I’d like grocery shopping if it looked like this! And I only call it the French way because 1) movies and 2) the two Paris apartments I’ve been in had micro-kitchens and small fridges, although the apartments themselves were spacious.

  7. for the past few years i’ve been the 3-ish times a week shopper. While we have big supermarkets fairly close, I tend to shop at our local Marks & Spencer and the farm shop. Both have a decent but not huge selection, but it’s high quality. I cook most nights, though with my son in the last year of secondary, Friday or Saturday night is eating out night now. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I had significant disposable income rather than just being comfortable, and it was available here, I’d still cook, but would likely do an equal number of meals from places similar to Whole Foods (though we don’t yet have one here).

    Having had a couple of years of serious poverty, when I shopped mostly at Tesco and bought their own label stuff (horrible place to shop — gives you the sense that there’s this belief that if you’re poor, you should have a miserable food shopping experience as well), I decided that food shopping should almost always have some element of pleasure in it (ie, at the very least be in a pleasant environment).

    A few years ago, for family reasons, we spent 6 weeks in NYC. I think I cooked dinner 3 times during that period. Was in the local Union Market almost every day. The prices were a bit eye-watering, but we ate well — and healthily — and it was so wonderful to have someone else do most of the cooking for a period. plus, the place was just gorgeous, with the piled fruit and veg, and the imaginative ready cooked stuff behind the glass counter.

    I would love to have a larder (hoping to do that in the future). currently, however, I have two brexit boxes with dry goods, etc, and have brexit-related stuff in the freezer as well.

    • Oh, well, in the US there is definitely a judgy thing of if you’re poor, nothing pleasurable should be allowed. I guess it’s the flip side of “endless opportunities?” Yeah whatever. That judgy thing makes my blood boil. Anyhoo I was laughing through this until I got to “brexit box.” BREXIT BOX. Jeebus, I would totally be doing the same thing. WTH is going to happen with that, I wonder.

  8. oh how i wish there was a Trader Joes or Aldi’s or Whole Foods near me! I don’t enjoy food shopping and do it only once a week because I work full time. I shop extraordinarily early on Sat or Sun morning to avoid the crowds at my local (but overpriced) supermarket. As of late I make the occasional longer trip to Walmart because the prices are much lower. Again, I leave the house at 6am to avoid traffic and crowds. Used to be five of us but with two away at university that leaves just three. Come August it will be just be me and the mister at home so the shopping will be less and easier. Cooking wise these days it’s pretty much make your own during the week due to everyone’s schedule but on weekends I try to cook or my son will cook for us (because he is the chef in our house! 🙂 )

    • Will it be hard to scale down your cooking for two? I’m curious as to how that goes after years of cooking for more. I wasn’t great with that before having my son and a little worried how it will go once he’s gone!

      • Honestly, M, I am rather looking forward to only having to cook for two 🙂
        I don’t anticipate it will be hard as I did it before the three arrived. Plus, the food bill will be less!

  9. I’m not a fan of food shopping. though I love to eat. I live alone so it’s no use over buying. I tend to buy on a eat it in a couple of days. I’m in the UK. There’s a Tesco and Aldi right next to each other within walking distance from my house. Tesco not a great shopping experience but ok for topping up. Also a Morrisons and Asda a five minute drive away.

  10. March,
    I’m laughing so hard.
    Read “fresh lettuces picked by nuns at dawn” as FRENCH LETTERS!!!!
    OMG! So funny, can’t even breathe here. Typing through tears. SO FUNNY!
    Portia xx

    • Portia — You PERV. XO. PS and now with the flooding! Between that and the heat wave, Oz is having a winter, eh?

      • Yeah, we are pretty extreme down here. Kind of used to it really. Poor people who are dealing with floods, so hard.

  11. I am a terrible shopper. I go to one store or another probably every other day because I can’t manage to plan more than one or two meals at a time. I do cook lots of new recipes all of the time – I’m not a natural cook, so I need recipes – and my family including teenage boy will eat whatever I put in front of them. Trader Joe’s: 1x per week. Whole Foods – once a quarter, for that random product I need for my paleo/keto diet that I can’t find anywhere else. Costco – once a quarter for paper products, chicken and pork for the freezer and stuff for work. The rest of the time I alternate between local stores depending on what’s on my list or how much time I have. My Target also has a decent food selection including fresh and with Cartwheel and my red card I save quite a bit.

  12. I live alone and love grocery shopping, but don’t have a store within reasonable walking distance. My allies are Fresh Direct online and Prime’s Whole Foods 2 hour delivery service. Both work well for me since I also enjoy online shopping and can add to my virtual Fresh Direct list/cart as needed, even at 2 or 3 in the morning. When my “cart” is full enough for my needs, I then press the ‘send’ button and select my delivery time. The customer service is quite good, in the 5 years I have been using Fresh, I have only had 2 orders go awry and the meat and produce have never been suspect or bad. For about 2 years I was also using a local, all organic CSA that delivered but they were never able to get their collective acts together and tried to rely on being earnest young hippies to cover their incompetence and lousy, slap dash customer service.

    I am lactose intolerant, so what Fresh Direct lacks along those lines, Whole Foods Amazon fills in.

    There are a few Aldi stores here but when I’ve gone in to shop, they look dirty, much of what is on the shelves is not food that I would eat (lots of snack type stuff, cereals and pastas) and they are not well stocked as in many empty spaces on their shelves, especially dairy. I find that in stores like that, it is often a tendency to buy just because something is weird, cheap or both. For me, if I am not in the actual presence of grocery items, that seems to quell any tendency for emotional or impulse buys.

    When the weather is warmer, I do go downtown to visit several farmer’s markets or else shop at Mom’s Organic or Trader Joes’s, but it’s not a regular thing and it’s more for the social aspect of getting out, walking and people watching than pantry stocking.

    Since I have been eating keto style for the past year and some months, and it’s just me and the cats (and Chewy.com delivers THEIR groceries), I eat simply and just don’t buy a lot at one time. I track my macros and tend to eat one meal a day. Since I get bored easily and can’t abide leftovers, I cook and buy in small lots (and detest bulk cooking and freezing) so I am not faced with a week of crustless quiche or a 7 pound roast chicken.

    On Sunday I made an Indian spinach soup with coconut milk which served me for 2 meals with a side of Paleo Thinz crackers. I also made a “loaded” tuna salad, good for another 2 meals. After being in a relationship for 20 years with a woman who had the metabolism of a race horse and cooking elaborate, gargantuan meals almost every night with and for her, it took some adjustments to be shopping and cooking for one. I finally “got” it and now enjoy looking for delightful things to cook for myself that don’t feed a family of 6 for 2 weeks on end.

  13. March,
    I’m a stay at home mom to a college girl. Our college son has moved out (and boy did our grocery bill drop). But he’s still local, so he and I go Costco shopping together every couple weeks. He’s the cook for his apartment of roommates. 🙂 I split my shopping between Costco, a regular grocery store (maybe once every 10 days), and Whole Foods (maybe twice per month). I’ll browse through Trader Joe’s a few times per year, but even though it’s close by, I’m not drawn to it. There was a time years ago when both my kids were on special elimination diets because of potential food allergies, and I used it all the time. So maybe there are residual negative feelings about it because of that. ?? I don’t mind grocery shopping. As for meals, I have a medium amount of homemade meals that I rotate through cooking all year round. I rely on convenience foods a couple times a week because I’m worn out. I generally make breakfast, lunch and dinner all the time, so I skip a couple of dinners per week, and lunch is usually just sandwiches or something equally easy. I think our household is run in a June Cleaver retro way, and my family members are very spoiled. 😉

  14. LOL! like a lima bean (which I grow myself because Weird)!! Grocery shopping is very therapeutic for me – but it is only because it’s an excuse to get the hell out of this little burg. In fact, we’re expecting an apocalyptic ice storm late this evening, so I’m hieing off to Kroger, to look at…..whuuuut? I dunno. Probably some marked-down chrysanthemums and tulips and maybe pick up an avocado. Because we live at the back of beyond – and I have to cook it if I wanna eat it – annnnd I am mildly Prepper-ish, we are always stocked to within an inch of that fridge and freezer.

    Aldi is a crapshoot for me – I don’t like the lighting and their canned goods suck and it always feels…weird – but omg. GREAT chocolate (Thanks, Germany!!) and shredded Gruyere cheese (so I don’t have to shred it myself – it freezes GREAT when shredded). And they often have fabbo beauty dupes! And fabbo candle dupes!

    xoxoxo

  15. Unfortunately, I am thousands of KM from the nearest Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and over a hundred from the closest Costco, so I shop at the local Canadian chains ( Sobeys and Superstore). I adore cooking, and love the shopping part of the process too. My pantry is stuffed to the gills ( 9 different types of noodles anyone?), and planning my meals is a hobby.
    The restaurants here are abysmal, so I learned how to cook in self defence.

  16. I am German, so i do some of my shopping at Aldi, but mostly go to Lidl, because its more convenient on the way from work. When i work the late shift i sometimes can manage to go to our small farmers market. The only thing i miss from my former town Ulm is the BIG farmers market near the Ulmer Münster. This was really nice to shop.
    As i am cooking often and from scratch, i shop at least 2 times per week for fresh veggies etc.. And i have a big pantry too.

  17. I’d drown myself in the Seine if I had to grocery shop every day. It’s a 50 mile round trip to any kind of store for me, so I am a big Wal-mart Super Store fangurl; one-stop shopping is bliss. And now that they have pickup service, I don’t even have to go inside the store. Grocery shop online anytime of day, then go get it on the day and time of my choosing.

    When I lived near one, I adored Costco for paper goods and such; this chick needs to know she will never run out of toilet paper and paper towels. Also, beverages, bulk rice, cleaning supplies, all those sorts of non-perishables.

  18. My husband refuses to shop anywhere but Costco :-(. So I am forced to deal with the limited selection of what they stock and the massive quantities. Left to my own devices, I would shop every other day at a small grocery store and a neighbourhood farmer’s market. I dislike cooking and eating.

  19. I despise grocery shopping! No patience whatsoever! I eat super clean for nutrition mainly, so grocery shopping is not exciting for me and only out of necessity. Big box stores give me anxiety and terrify me! My ideal shopping experience is me and only a few people in the store, and immediate checkout. In and out fast! I do love good food, just don’t enjoy going out to find it.
    Unlike perfume shopping! I could do all day! xx

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