Explore Your Local Grocery Stores

Okay, so as much I love being environmentally friendly and supporting local business, I also have to look out for myself once and a while. One of the ways I do this is via my grocery shopping. I generally shop at No Frills and Food Basics to meet my budgetary needs. No Frills is the spot when there is bonus PC points to be earned. Food Basics is closer and has a better selection of international food so I typically go there. Chinatown is of course my stop for produce.

It’s not all about the savings and points, however. I find my No Frills offers an excellent selection of asian cuisine, but lacks frozen whole foods (fish fillets, shrimp, more). No Frills, for whatever reason, carries carrots in 3 formats (individual, bagged chilled, bagged shelf..Why? Give me Canadian carrots I can bag myself). Food Basics has excellent food from the further edges of Europe, along with amazing bulkier sales. A lot of the domestic brands have much to be desired though, and I’m not a big fan of their house brands.

It’s worth while to investigate all of your local grocery stores, and see who offers what. I’m going to checkout the metro nearby my house next week as a potential butcher, should I have guests over and want to make something more unique. If you put in a little extra legwork and shop flyers, you’ll save a lot of money over your lifetime.

To me, saving money and preventing food waste is worth it.

-Mike

Bulk Buying vs Minimal Inventory

A lot of people like to buy in bulk when things are on sale. I’m not entirely onboard with that idea in most cases. After buying my initial base inventory (see previous post) after moving I try to not exceed $100 a month for groceries. This makes bulk buying tricky.

I want to keep as much of my money in investments at all time, not held up in 300 bars of soap. Sales are usually cyclical, and certain things go on sale every 3 months or so. Chances are you can get any food item on sale, so I wouldn’t bulk buy food. Certain things I’ll buy in a larger format, on sale. These items include:

  • Toilet Paper – it never goes bad, and you never want to run out
  • Dental Floss – buy as many yard pack as you can
  • Beer – as much as I dislike the beer store, this keeps my bar bill down

Other than that, I think if you buy as little as possible, more money stays in your pocket. This kind of scrutiny of deals also helps you be a more informed shopper when you start looking at dollar per ml/g/oz of different items to ensure a deal really is a deal.

I find not having bulk, your daily items are replenished more frequently, keeping them fresher. I like fresh and I like money. This buying strategy is easier as a single person, followed by couples, but there are cost advantages for families as well.

-Mike

Staple Groceries

I’ve talked before about the benefits of shopping at discount grocers, making things from scratch, and buying more raw ingredients. Today, I’m going to talk about the food items I need on hand at all times (and why). There will be some overlap, but this is much deeper dive into keeping a cheap, delicious, and healthy source of food available at your fingertips.

I grew up in a household that ate a lot of pasta, so that’s huge for me. Other than that though, my mother and father would cook up all source of hearty Canadian meals. During my travels around the world, and travels around the various restaurants of Toronto, I’ve added all sorts of cuisines to my recipe book; this list reflects that as well.

Happy cooking!

-Mike

Dry Goods

  • Basmati Rice: Everyday, tasty rice
  • Short Grain White Rice: Useful for asian cooking, sushi, and more
  • Dried Penne: Great for red sauces, holds onto meat well
  • Dried Spaghetti: Excellent for red and white sauces
  • Unbleached Flour: Make pizza dough, bake stuff, whatever
  • White Cane Sugar: Baking, pizza dough, coffee, etc
  • Brown Sugar: Useful for baking and cooking, making sauces and richer dishes
  • Black Beans: Beans and Rice (Gallo Pinto) was a favourite from costa rica. Soups and cold salads also benefit.
  • Chickpeas: Great for cold salads, substitute for dried pasta, and more

Spices

  • Iodized Table Salt: Add to boiling water to prevent spillover
  • Sea Salt: Tastes better than standard salt, and comes in various sizes for unique flavours. Sprinkle by hand.
  • Black Peppercorns: Buy a pepper mill that will last you forever. You can get varying grinds, and can use different peppercorns for different dishes. 
  • Bay Leaves: For making pork and chicken stock
  • Chili Powder: I like spicy and it’s useful for making sauces for stir-fry and more

Liquids

  • White Vinegar: Useful for cleaning and so much more
  • Balsamic Vinegar: Oil and balsamic dressing is the healthiest dressing for salad available)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Use for mayo, and cooking
  • Red Wine Vinegar: Excellent for general cooking needs
  • Olive Oil: Healthy, Flexible cooking oil. Keep a small bottle of high quality, and a big bottle of standard extra-virgin olive oil(EVO) on hand.
  • Vegetable Oil: Milder oil for asian meals, frying, and more
  • Coconut Oil: Good for baking, asian food
  • Red Wine: Cooking and consumption. Drink responsibly 🙂
  • White Wine: Cooking and consumption. Drink responsibly 🙂
  • Lemon Juice: Cooking essential
  • Worcestershire sauce: Useful for cooking and essential for making caesars

  • Soy Sauce: Essential for asian cooking and rice dishes.

Sauces

  • Ketchup: French’s made from Leamington tomatoes in Canada.
  • Yellow Mustard: Make this from dry mustard powder
  • Mayonnaise: Make this from scratch, use apple cider vinegar for Japanese style mayo
  • BBQ Sauce: Make your own from scratch to taste. 

Canned Goods

  • Skipjack Tuna: Sustainable tuna, easy tuna with mayo meal

Produce

  • Tomatoes: Salad, Sandwich topping, etc
  • Lettuce: Salad is a super fast and healthy meal
  • Onions: Cooking staple
  • Garlic: Cooking staple. Also used to make aioli and garlic olive oil
  • Potatoes: Versatile food, keeps very well, calorie dense, cheap

Cold

  • Eggs: Simple breakfast, cooking staple

 

Chinatown: Produce Paradise

I. Love. Chinatown. Everything from the shopping to the food is excellent. My favourite thing about Chinatown, is it’s cheap fruit and vegetable markets. Chinatown is the BEST place to buy fruits and vegetables in the city without relying on farmer’s markets. Do yourself a favour and try shopping here once, you’ll leave with bags of vegetables for less than $20. I’m always satisfied with my hauls.

A hidden benefit of shopping here, besides the price, is how local all of the produce is. Part of the reason the prices are so low here, is that all of the markets share a distribution system. Two or 3 stores can be serviced by one truck, which keeps transport costs low. One truck heads to the produce distribution centre and drops it all at a central location downtown.

These stores try to buy as much Ontario produce as possible, as a benefit to their bottom line. This means fresher local produce, grown in some of the best soil in the world. I regularly buy onions, carrots, potatoes and more from that were grown in my hometown. At typical grocers in the suburbs, you get California carrots, despite there being a a huge carrot farm 1k down the road. This to me, is absolutely insane and such a massive waste of resources. Buying local benefits the economy, and the buyer.

– Mike

The Art of Grocery Shopping: Get back to basics

I love food. It holds a place near and dear to my heart. However, as it happens, food costs money. In the city it seems to cost even more money. As an active person I need more of it. Before you know it, you’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on it. However, I didn’t get started down this path to save money. I started looking at ways to make the dishes I love, from scratch. To my surprise, they were better (and cheaper)! If you change the way you cook, it will change the way you buy food (and what you pay!)

Although buying food is unavoidable, you can definitely tighten the belt on your bill and still enjoy what you want. As far as what you’re buying, here are some strategies:

  • Buy base level items (flour, stocks, tomato paste, oil, rice, lemon juice, spices, soy sauce, hot sauce, etc). These items last forever, and whipping up simple sauces, breads, and side dishes produces way better food than $5 pre-made junk). Protip: Marinate chicken or pork in Sriracha and Soy Sauce; it’s delicious.
  • Frozen vegetables are less expensive and last longer than their fresh counterparts.
  • Don’t buy bottled water. Personally, I keep a number of flip-top bottles in my fridge so I can have cold tap water as soon as I walk through the door. This alone has saved me hundreds of dollars.
  • Don’t give up the foods you love, find ways to make them better. If you like steak, skip the porterhouse. Choose a cheaper cut and spend more time preparing it. Flank steak with chimichurri is a great choice.
  • Using dry goods and soaking them is better than buying canned. Save leftover pasta sauce jars to soak beans and chick peas in. If you buy a bunch of the same sauce, poke holes in one lid to strain. This is better for the environment and your wallet.

Those were just some examples of things you can do to change your habits for the better. I can’t list ‘everything’ you can do, but I can give you the strategy. Take the foods you like, and learn to make them better. Find out how to make amazing dressings, sauces, doughs, pastas, salads, and more. From scratch really is better. It will change the way you eat and look at food in the store.

– Mike