PGM is MIA

Where have I been?  Oh man, I’ve been feeling so bad I’ve been neglecting this blog and lots of times I go to sleep racking my brain about what I could have written that day and I finally have come to terms with why it’s been so hard.  Here it is.

The grocery shopping situation in New York is impossible!  We’ve been here almost 3 months and I still haven’t found the system that works.  First of all, we spend twice as much on food here.  TWICE!  No matter how hard I try to cut the cost, we have empty cupboards if I don’t spend twice as much. Previously we lived in Queens where stuff was slightly cheaper, and we had a car.  It’s been kind of a shock here in Manhattan.

I first tried going to Costco.  There is one 2 miles from our house.  I have to walk through a pretty seedy neighborhood the entire way so we make it a family affair so The Mr. can flex his big muscles and scare off any intruders.  It worked ok, but the kids melt down after being strapped down in the stroller, then strapped down in a shopping cart, then strapped down in a taxi.  I thought of sending The Mr. alone, but I don’t even know what kinds of foods they have, so I need to be there.  It is a $15 cab ride home, so I wanted to make it worth the trip.  A big inconvenient trip makes for bringing home a good stash, but I forgot our fridge is only a 1/2 fridge, so where do I put all that food??

Then I discovered shopping online…did I write about that here?  You order online and they bring it the next morning to your apartment.  It was expensive, but worth the cost I thought.  Until I started discovering little surprises when my shipments arrived…like I thought I ordered a big 16 oz. carton of sour cream and instead they sent over a 6 oz. container.  Didn’t I order 10 apples?  There are only 4.  The most recent order had about 8 errors like this.  Plus the produce was tiny and I figured out is was MUCH more expensive than even the NY prices at grocery stores.  So I nixed that idea.

Then there is the whole inconvenience of shopping in tiny grocery stores with 2 toddlers, no car, and a 1/2 mile walk home.  What is a girl to do?  I’ve tried it all.  The double stroller does not fit down the aisles.  So I tried putting Tornado in the single stroller and having The Wild One walk which poses two problems The Wild One is running like a crazy banshee and knocking things off shelves, and how do I carry all my groceries home with my little fan club in tow??

So THEN I decided to do it at night after The Mr. gets home and the chillins are tucked in bed.  I can’t carry very much for that far of a distance, so I bring a stroller with me and pile it up.  Exhibit A.  

Don’t I look thrilled?  haha.  Even doing it this way only gets me through a few days so I have to do it a couple times a week, which is a hassle and it cuts into our hang out time.  Even still, I have to take the subway down to Trader Joe’s so I can get other items they don’t sell here like dried fruit and other snacks for the boys.  But compared to the alternatives it is sort of the only way to do it I guess.  I think real New Yorkers just shop every night on their way home from work and pick up food for the next 24 hours, and eat out a lot.

So needless to say, I’ve been neglecting the blog since it is hard to get to the store to buy all the ingredients I need for awesome new recipes.  Plus I am worn out from just living!  We have been eating lots of pasta.  And rice.  Pretty boring stuff.  Anyway, bear with me until I get back to normal life in just 11 short days. WAHOO!  Don’t worry – I’ve been collecting lots of stuff I want to try.  Yummy recipes to come soon!  Bear with me faithful readers!

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A quick last minute dinner: Taco Salad made with 100% Whole Foods

Do you ever have those nights when you plan to make something for dinner, and you open the cupboards and realize that you didn’t buy half of the ingredients you needed from the grocery store earlier in the week?  This happens to me like once a week.  HA!  Now that we are in New York there is no such thing as a quick run to the grocery store, so I decided to improvise and it turned out so great!

I was originally going to make Mexican Tostadas Topped With Poached Egg (Recipe here).  I didn’t have: onion, avocado, olives, sour cream, salsa, and green onions.  HAHAHA.  This recipe calls for a beef mixture, but I planned on making it vegetarian anyway, so I just used the same recipe and doubled the beans while omitting the beef.

Here it is.

Black Bean Mixture (originally from For the Love of Cooking).

  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 2 15 oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

Mix it all together and let the flavors seep into each other.

I then put together toppings for a big taco salad: corn, tomatoes, a bit of cheese, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and corn chips.  I also  made some cooked carrots and squash.  My bestie told me about a cool way to make squash too – just add seasonings to it in a skillet (I only knew of steaming or roasting).  This time I added some Montreal Chicken Seasoning.  yum.

The kids went wild for this dinner.  They didn’t eat lettuce, but they honestly ate all of the rest, including the vegetables.  I was shocked.  The Wild One usually doesn’t care for beans, so I was very happy.  Nice to know there is this time saving last minute meal available, and all with stuff we had in the cupboard and fridge.

Granola Grocery Shopping On A Budget

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a tight-wad.  Sometimes I look back on things and think, “Wow, was it really important that I saved that $15 and opted out of lunch with my friends?” Or something to that effect.  Anyway, there is of course a healthy balance, but I am pretty frugal.  So naturally I don’t like to spend a lot at the grocery store.  It’s no secret that eating healthy costs a bit more than it otherwise would.  It used to make me so mad as a college student that my options for spending a dollar on lunch were either one orange, or a couple tacos at taco bell.  It’s a major issue that has a long way to go before it gets better, and unfortunately we just have to kind of swallow the cost.  When I got on this health kick, I had to decide what I thought was most important.  Did an extra $20 mean that much more to me that I would give up our current and future health?  In my case, no.  And you have to weigh the cost yourself.  I’m not here to talk anyone into anything, or to judge, or scold.  I am merely offering what has worked for ME, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  You have to do what works for YOU and your unique situation.  When you are ready, you will know.

Anyway, I am not sure what others spend per week, but my plan has changed over the past few months.  When we lived in NY we spent about $80 per week, but we only had 2 adults (and The Mr. ate on the company a lot), a toddler, and a nursing baby.  But NOW, I feel like I live with three teenage boys.  We eat a LOT of food.  I mean, a LOT.  Sometimes I will go to the store, and by the next night I feel like all the food in our house is gone.  Our current food budget hovers between $350 and $400 for a family of 4.  Honestly, I don’t know if that is good, bad, or average, but that’s what we spend.  It gives me enough room to buy mostly whole ingredients, lots of organic, and tons of produce, and not feel guilty about it.  There are times when I pay more, if we have company, parties, special occasions, etc. I’m still trying to adjust the budget and the process I use, but so far, these are my philosophies.

+ Eat in Season:  In the past I would flip through cookbooks trying to decide what sounded good to me, and then make a list and go shopping.  After shopping at farmers markets and Bountiful Baskets this year, I discovered that produce in season tastes significantly better than off-season…and it’s cheaper!

+ Shop the sales:  Before making a menu, I look at the grocery store circulars or online to see what specials they are running, and then try to look up recipes that have those as the main ingredients.  This is a big time money saver.

+ Go vegetarian:  We try to eat meat only once a week or less.  So far, it’s been working great.  The hardest part is finding menu ideas, but once you get going it gets easier.  This week we’ve had 5 dinners all with vegetables as the main course.  I’m learning so much about foods I’ve never even touched in the past, and discovering a whole new world of flavor.

+ Shop the Perimeter:  Not only are the healthier foods in the perimeter grocery stores, but it saves money too.  Produce, Grains, Dairy, etc. – It’s mostly food in its natural form.  I do venture into the middle to get some things like peanut butter or maple syrup, but for the most part, the processed stuff I loved in the past I am learning to make from scratch.

+ Use What is In the House:  There is nothing I hate more than throwing food away.  Not only do I feel bad about wasting it, the cheapskate in me is crying that it wasted my money.  At least once a day I am looking through the fridge and the pantry seeing what is about to go bad.  Once a week or so we have a random last-minute dinner that was made from something about to spoil.  Tonight it was breakfast burritos with veggies, because my peppers and potatoes and tomatoes were all about to bite the dust.  I’ve found that if I always have a few items on hand, I can whip up several last-minute things (see below).  I also take an inventory before shopping, in case I have something I need to use up, and then try to incorporate that into a menu that week.

+  Keep several items on hand:  I usually try to keep the following items in the house for last-minute meals.

  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • limes and lemons
  • a variety grains
  • rice
  • tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • pasta
  • coconut milk
  • a large variety of spices and herbs
  • oils and butter
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • frozen veggies

Most basic recipes won’t ask for more than that, and if they do, you can usually find a way to manipulate it.

Only plan 4 meals:  This is my best kept secret.  We always have leftovers, and we eat it the next night.  Even eating this way, one of my planned meals usually ends up spilling over to the next week, because I didn’t end up making it.

+ Rice and Beans go a ridiculously long way:  I make rice and beans once a week as a rule.  It goes a long way, and we usually have leftovers for the next 2-3 days.

That’s pretty much it.  I try not to go back to the store the rest of the week, and in the event that I ran out of food or had one of those crazy hectic days (anyone?) I use my list of emergency meals:

  • pancakes or waffles
  • burritos (you can always put something into a burrito).
  • spaghetti
  • grilled cheese
  • stir fry (from frozen veggies)

That’s it for my tips in frugal healthy grocery shopping.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful weekend!