The Shopping Challenge

by Laura on February 14, 2010

in Blog

In the past year or so, I have carefully honed my grocery shopping to an art form. With the majority of our shopping being done at Whole Foods, our weekly shopping bill was getting out of hand. I was spending too much to not make a change. I must admit that the cost of shopping at Whole Foods wasn’t only because of the price of the food there, a big part of the problem was that I didn’t plan. I would walk into the store, wander through the aisles and pick up what might be good to have for the week: several different vegetables and fruits for the week, some yogurt, and so on. I occasionally came with a small piece of paper noting staple items I was running low on, but more often than not, I stood in front of the ketchup, flour or coffee wondering if I was out or not. As a result, I was buying items I didn’t necessarily need, and even worse, buying items that would eventually spoil because they weren’t used.

Today, my shopping is more carefully planned. Each week, I spend about 45 minutes preparing a menu for the coming week, noting items needed to make the meals. I then spend the time perusing the cupboards and refrigerator noting items that need to be purchased.  Not only does this list save me money, but it cuts down on excessive wandering around the store and trips back for forgotten items. It also cuts down on the anxiety I used to feel when it came time to prepare dinner. The way I used to tackle dinner was to make the decision of what I was to prepare at 4 p.m. and hope that I had all the ingredients on hand.

Compared to my old shopping days, I’m more efficient, much calmer, and I have a few more dollars in my pocket. I’m comfortable with where I’m at, but I’m about to shatter all of that.

Last week was one of those weeks that I had to head to Safeway to pickup a few essentials including tissue, cat food and Borax. I have successfully weaned myself from doing any food shopping here, but I got to thinking, “What would happen if I shopped Safeway as opposed to Whole Foods? If I came armed with the same list, would I have a hard time finding substitutes for those packed items I’ve become so accustomed to from Whole Foods – the 365 yogurt, or my bulk food rice; quinoa, and granola? How would I feel as I walked up to the meat counter in search of meat from animals not administered antibiotics or all natural, free range, poultry? Would I have enough organic choices in the produce department? And, would the quality of these offerings compare to what we were used to from Whole Foods?

I suppose I’ll save a few dollars, which is always a good thing, but will my family notice the difference? Aside from the different labels found on the milk, cereal and other packaged items, will my family even care? Will I care?

This coming weekend, I’m going to jump head first into the experiment. And, it won’t stop with a conventional supermarket. The following weekend, I’ll shop at the local independent supermarket, and the week after that, it will be Trader Joe’s, then Costco, and finally, the farmer’s market. I will note pricing, availability of foods we eat, convenience of shopping at these different venues — including whether I have to supplement elsewhere, and the family’s overall satisfaction with the choices.

I look at this experiment with mild excitement, and a lot of trepidation. I’ve honed my shopping experience to an art.

I’ve cut costs and still feel confident of the quality of food I purchase, and I’m just not ready to mix things up a bit. Change is hard. Change is disruptive. But at the same time, change is good. And, perhaps what I find out on our shopping adventure is that a simple change in the way and where I shop for food will be more beneficial to my family, or not.

As we talk about reconnecting with the foods we eat, reconnecting with the farmers who produce our foods, and buying locally, perhaps this experiment will provide me with a way to do that more frequently. Perhaps this experiment will tell me that it is way too expensive and too time consuming to purchase all my foods from local sources. Who knows what the experiment will reveal, but it is time we gave it a try.

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