Four ways to improve your grocery shopping

 

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An oldie but goodie: My haul during one grocery trip in which Cherry Coke Zero was on sale.

I take grocery shopping seriously. I’d often join my mom when I was a kid, following her around Kroger, grabbing things on lower shelves, checking out the latest Little Critter book in the magazine aisle.

Then, I became a grown up. I had to buy my own food. I learned a valuable lesson during my first trip to Kroger on my own during my first summer internship away from home: Food is expensive. I lived on chicken and potatoes that summer, mainly because they were filling and relatively inexpensive.

It’s been *gulp* 12 years since my first solo grocery shopping trip, and I’ve honed my habits like an athlete. By doing so, I’ve been able to save a lot of money for the Thompson Wolf Pack (aka me, Rob and Roscoe).

And the truth is, I love to shop for groceries. I like surveying the selection of food, imagining all the things I will cook and how we won’t have to eat out and, therefore, will save money. And for someone who loves food as much as I do, being in a store full of it is heaven. And I think I’ve turned it into a personal challenge in which I have to figure out which items to get at which stores for the best value.

Sift through your cookbooks and Pinterest boards

Before you get your grocery list together, you need to decide exactly what you want to cook. Yep, I’m talking meal planning. DON’T PANIC. It’s really not as hard as you think.

Take some time the day before your grocery trip to sift through your favorite recipes or look on the internet for something new. Don’t forget to take your own schedule into account when you’re planning your meals for the week. If you have plans most nights of the week, forgo tedious recipes for simple ones that you can make ahead of time and/or quickly. Hint: breakfast for dinner aka brinner aka some bacon and fried eggs is always a good option.

Bring a list or GTFO

Forgetting my grocery list is amongst the worst things in life, right up there with making a sandwich with the end pieces of bread or your DVR clipping off the end of your show. A list keeps you on task. It’s like a set of rules when you go to the grocery store. True story: I’ve been known to turn around and go home if I pull into a grocery store parking lot and realize that I’ve forgotten my list.

I picked up this little tip from The Kitchn blog: I created a template of the basic groceries I get (not name brands just types of products). I organized the items on the list by where they are in the store (yes, I know the layout that well). But I also leave some blank spaces.

A list centers me. It’s easy to get distracted by everything going on in a grocery store, especially as they keep getting bigger and bigger to load in more merchandise that has nothing to do with eating.

Order of operation is key

Remember when you had to learn which order to solve math equations – everything in the parenthesis first, exponents, etc.? Well, there’s a rigid order I follow when it comes to which stores I visit first. I always start with the basics, so Aldi is my first stop. I tend to do the bulk of my shopping there (my love for this store runs deep, y’all), but it’s a good first stop because it’s the cheapest place to get staples like flour, sugar and canned goods. But as much as I love Aldi, I know I can’t get everything there, especially personal hygiene stuff I like, certain cleaning supplies and good coffee (no offense, Aldi). That’s when I head to other grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s, Lucky’s, Paul’s Fruit Market and Kroger to fill in the blanks. And we’re also dipping our toes into farmers’ market season, so keep that in mind, too.

Over time, you’ll eventually learn what you like from particular stores and whether or not you’re willing to make a special trip to get it. For example, the Italian sausage from Lucky’s is HEAVENLY, but I only stop there if I have other items to make the best use of my time and gas money.

(Blogger’s Note: For those who follow me on Twitter, you know a post about grocery shopping across Louisville is coming. I just needed to crank this one out first.)

Decide what’s important to you

Some of you might be giving me some mean side-eye right now. Lists? Planning? Multiple stores? I get it, y’all. Time is a limited resource. We’re all super busy. Take a moment and decide what matters to you and your household when it comes to groceries. Is saving money the priority? Buying local? Organic only? A combination of all three? None of the above? Once you have your grocery priorities in check, it will be easier for you to develop your own game plan.

 

Local grocery will close unless new owners swoop in

The Root Cellar started in this converted garage in Old Louisville. It eventually closed and operated solely in its Germantown location.
The Root Cellar started in this converted garage in Old Louisville. It eventually closed and operated solely in its Germantown location.

Some sad news from a great local grocer: The Root Cellar will close at the end of the year unless new owners take over the business.

I’ve been a fan of The Root Cellar since it opened in Old Louisville in 2011. The small space was packed with local produce, meat and dairy products. At its peak, owner Ron Smith added a second location in Germantown in 2012 and even created a Kickstarter project to fund a mobile Root Cellar to bring produce to underserved areas in Louisville. Eventually, Ron closed the Old Louisville store and operated The Root Cellar out of the Germantown location.

On Saturday, Ron posted on The Root Cellar’s Facebook page that he will close the store at the end of the year if he can’t find someone to invest in the business. Here’s the post:

As many of you may already know, I have been trying to find some way to keep The Root Cellar around. I have discussed various ideas with some potential investors, but I have not fully committed to the process of selling the business. Well, now I have. I can no longer sustain the financial or physical burden of operating this store. I regret to have to tell you all, that I will be closing the store at the end of this year, unless a buyer or investor is found to take over the daily operation of the store. Any reasonable offer or investment scheme will be considered. I will be open regular hours through this winter and I look forward to serving each and every one of you. Thank you so much for your continued commitment to the store, the farmers and me. If you would like to meet to discuss purchasing the store, please email me at ron@louisvillerootcellar.com.

This makes me all kinds of sad. Ron is a great guy who always had the community’s interests at heart. He wanted to make fresh, local produce available to everyone, no matter what neighborhood you live in. I loved shopping at The Root Cellar when I lived in Old Louisville. It was good to know exactly which farm my eggs came from, to have a variety of seasonal produce around which to plan a meal, and to chat with an owner who loved food and agriculture even more than I do.

I’m not at Oprah-level baller status (yet), but I’m sure there’s someone out there who would be interested in taking over The Root Cellar. Ron included his contact info in his Facebook post, so get in touch with him if you want to invest. I’d sure hate to see The Root Cellar go.

Don’t sleep on Aldi for your holiday baking needs

Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.
Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.

Three years ago, I started a Christmas tradition by accident.

It was a bittersweet holiday season. I had just started a new day job, but the first paycheck hadn’t come in yet. I was also freshly married, so my family tripled in size. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to do something nice for my relatives.

That November and December, I baked and baked and baked. Batches upon batches of sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies and double-chocolate cookies filled my freezer. Cookie sheets and parchment paper were my faithful companions, along with a dog eager to catch batter that flew out of the mixing bowl. And bless my poor oven’s heart — that thing really earned its keep that winter.

Fortunately, the cookies were a hit. And to keep up with my annual holiday baking, I’ve turned to one of my favorite retailers — Aldi.

I’ve shouted my love of this bargain grocery store on the blog before. This year, I realized Aldi is the perfect place to stock up on baking essentials at low prices. The center aisle at the Dixie Highway location was filled with Christmas goodies and odds and ends, like a bag of teeny Andes Mints for cookies or a whole pumpkin pie kit.

Here’s a look at some of the baking goodies I snagged on my last visit:

  • Molasses for my gingerbread men*: $1.99
  • A four-pound bag of sugar: $1.39
  • A bag of pecans for my shortbread cookies: $2.99
  • A tube of Betty Crocker icing for aforementioned gingerbread men: $1.99

Now that I have all of my ingredients, it’s time to get back to baking. If you’re interested in hitting up Aldi’s baking supplies, Aldi is located at 3442 Preston Hwy., 5109 Dixie Hwy. and 4301 Bardstown Rd. in Louisville. There are also southern Indiana locations at 3131 E. 10th St. in Jeffersonville and 3118 Grant Line Rd. in New Albany.

Just remember to bring your quarter.

*Gingerbread people? I’ve watched all of Transparent on Amazon Prime, so I want to use the preferred gender identity of my cookies.

A 5-minute survey helps save money on Kroger gas

Kroger sign at North High Street and West Nort...
Kroger sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Blogger’s note: I don’t have the actual survey on this blog. You can find the survey printed occasionally at the bottom of your Kroger receipt. I’m just sharing the info that it’s worth taking the survey to get fuel points. For more information from Kroger, click here.)

The Hubs and I have been on our grown-up game. We’ve spent the past several months developing a budget for our household, which means a heck of a lot of staring at receipts. And I’ve discovered gold in these slips of paper.

At the bottom of most receipts, there’s a web address that customers can visit to fill out a survey about their experience. Most retailers, such as Target and Dollar General, will enter you for the chance to win a gift card to the store. But Kroger, dears, offers something a little more tangible — fuel points.

Kroger Plus Card members get 50 fuel points for filling out the survey at the bottom of the Kroger receipt. These fuel points translate into discounts on Kroger gas. You also get fuel points every time you make a Kroger purchase, so filling out the survey gives you a double helping of discounts on gas.

I know this is a ploy by an Evil Corporate Empire to get me to shop at their store. And I have had some legitimate beef with Kroger’s prices. HOWEVA, if I have to shop there for certain items, why not take an extra five minutes to get a discount on gas?

Six ways to save yourself this Thanksgiving

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...
English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Do you need some helping getting dinner together tomorrow?

I’m fresh out of miracles. Instead, I have a good dose of keepin’ it real.

We are delusional in the weeks before Thanksgiving. We convince ourselves that we can cook a 20-pound turkey because Alton Brown says it’s easy. We fill our grocery cart with pounds and pounds of potatoes because boxed mashed potatoes will just not do. We buy a rolling pin and a pastry blender because this will be the year we finally make that pie crust from scratch. And we sincerely believe that from our kitchens will emerge a display of culinary prowess that would make Martha Stewart throw her panties at our feet in adoration.

That fantasy is a few turkey trots away from our realities. For 364 days of the year, dinner is something simple enough to fix after an eight-hour workday, be it pasta with a homemade mushroom cream sauce, scrambled eggs or a bowl of cereal. Why do we think we can pull off a full Thanksgiving spread?

We can’t. No one can achieve the high expectation we set for ourselves. And that’s why you made it to the blog today, because the turkey is still frozen, the mountain of potatoes haven’t been peeled and the butter just won’t blend with the flour for that pie crust.

I can’t save your disaster. But I have some tips to save your sanity.

  • Stick with what you know. Do you have a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe? Do your friends rave about your fried corn? That’s what you need to cook for Thanksgiving. Everyone has a recipe that they have mastered over the years and made their own. Now is the time to whip it out of your recipe box (or iPad).
  • Just make a salad. I can’t think of one Thanksgiving meal that included a salad. It’s not that my family is full of salad-haters; everyone’s just too busy with mashed potatoes and the like to put together some fresh greens. Buy a bag of pre-washed lettuce, toss it with sliced apples, dried cranberries, feta cheese, almond slivers, and a raspberry vinaigrette, and veg heads will be grateful.
  • Think outside the casserole dish. There are lots of other items you can bring to the celebration besides food that your family and friends will appreciate. Run to your nearest dollar store and get some paper plates, napkins and cups.
  • Never underestimate the power of a beverage. Be the cool cousin and bring a few bottles of wine. Is your family more conservative? Stop by a gas station and get some two-liters (bonus points if you get Coke Zero).
  • Break it and bake it. Grab a pack of the ready-to-bake Nestlé Tollhouse cookie dough. No mixing and barely any work — you just separate the squares of dough, put on a baking sheet, and let cook in the oven. Dessert in less than an hour. What’s not to love?
  • Be honest about your shortcomings. Just come right out and say you’re frazzled and can’t fulfill your culinary commitment. So what if the crust never came together? Your family and friends will love you anyway. That’s what Thanksgiving is about.

Bits and Pieces: Food prices, Comfy Cow and other Louisville food news from the web, 10.22.12

Events

  • Adath Jeshurun synagogue will host a broadcast of Live from 92Y’s look at Julia Child at 100 on Oct. 28. Appetizers prepared by Sullivan University chefs will be served at 7 p.m., and the broadcast starts at 7:30. Admission is $10. (Consuming Louisville)

News

  • Kentucky food prices increased in the third quarter of this year, the first increase since the second quarter of 2011. (Business First of Louisville)

Etc.

Bacon, lime and other popcorn innovations – which would you choose?

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Take a look at the creation I spotted at my friendly neighborhood Kroger.
Bacon has entered the popcorn arena.
By chance, I discovered lime popcorn earlier that same day. A coworker let me try some. It was like the popcorn had a baby with a margarita. DELISH.
I’m used to what I call “normal” popcorn flavors such as cheddar or kettle corn (my personal fav). Buy discovering lime AND bacon popcorn in just one day was too much for my mind to absorb.
What other flavors of popcorn are good additions to the movie-snack line up?

[Review] Middle-class dreams of healthy eating come true with Green BEAN Delivery

My bounty from Green BEAN Delivery.

(Blogger’s note: For one week, Green BEAN Delivery is offering Ashlee Eats readers 50 percent off the price of a produce bin for new and reactivating customers. Just type in ACLapc in the promo code area. The deal doesn’t include grocery add-ins.)

I keep my life goals realistic. So realistic, in fact, that I don’t even call them “goals.”

I have “Middle-Class Dreams.”

My top Middle-Class Dream? To be the weekly recipient of a CSA bin.

Community Supported Agriculture, aka CSA, is a way to buy local, seasonal and/or organic food directly from your friendly neighborhood farmer. Here are the basics of the idea, courtesy of localharvest.org:

A farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

Sounds nice, right? But the price point of the CSAs I have come in contact with have kept me from signing up. So I was thrilled when Green BEAN Delivery contacted me to review their program because of my appreciation of CSA and similar programs and my love of free stuff.

Green BEAN (not a CSA, buy similar) serves Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio participants with bins of (mostly) organic produce, much of which is from local farms, and natural food. It’s easy to get started with the program. You pick which size bin you would like to receive (ranging from a $35 small bin to a $49 large bin) and the frequency you would like to receive your bin. You can also select certain natural food brands to add to your bin.

For my review, I signed up for the small produce bin that the Green BEAN website said is “perfect for 2-3 people.” The picture at the top of the page is everything that came in the bin, and here’s the list:

  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • 1 bunch of carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • 24 oz. klamath pearl potatoes
  • 1 lb. green beans (the only non-organic item)
  • 4 bosc pears
  • 4 gala apples
  • 3 navel oranges
  • 3 tangerines
  • 1 head of bibb lettuce

The produce comes in an insulated bin complete with a cold pack, so everything arrived looking fresh out of the farmer’s market. Just opening the lid was like walking down the first aisle of the supermarket.

As soon as I washed and stored all the food, I peeled right into one of the deep-orange tangerines. It was juicy and tangy, a nice preview for the rest of the produce I would eat.

I spent the next week experimenting with all fresh food that packed the shelves of my fridge. Much like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get in the CSA bin each week, so a little research and flexibility are key.

After a call to my mom, I threw the green beans in a slow cooker with some bacon, onion, salt and pepper for a delicious side dish:

I also referred to my favorite cookbook and a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens to create this dish of herb-roasted root vegetables that used the potatoes, carrots, red onion and a few sweet potatoes already in my house:

My husband and I ate the rest of the items in the bin straight out of the refrigerator in salads or just by themselves. Each piece of fruit or hunk of vegetable tasted better than the previous. Everything was fresh and fragrant, crisp and cool. Not a brown spot in the bunch.

The small bin is a great size for an adult couple and could last two weeks if you supplement your produce with other groceries. I also ate more fruits and vegetables during my time with the bin because I couldn’t escape all of the produce in my face.

The small $35 bin received on a bi-weekly basis is an expense I’m willing to work into my family’s grocery budget in exchange for healthier, fresher, more seasonal eating. There is enough variety and surprise in your selection to keep things interesting. I could easily seeing myself getting the majority of my produce from Green BEAN and The Root Cellar, another excellent resource for local, seasonal food.

The only thing left of my Green BEAN bin is the broccoli, and I don’t want my glimpse at achieving a Middle-Class Dream fade to black.

 

Visit The Root Cellar for some great fresh, local groceries

Don't let the garage-like appearance deceive you. There's awesomeness inside.

I’ve only been out of Old Louisville for a couple of weeks, but there’s a lot I miss already.

Pizza night with my roommates. Burger Boy right down the street. The beautiful scenery that made my walks with Roscoe pleasant.

But a relatively new local produce market will keep me coming back to my old neighborhood.

The Root Cellar opened this May at the corner of Third and Hill streets in what appears to be a former garage or gas station. The business’ aim is simple – provide only locally raised food to a section of Louisville missing a retail outlet for fresh, local produce.

Here’s a blurb from The Root Cellar’s website:

The idea for The Root Cellar was born out of a desire to be part of the local food chain in an environmentally positive and socially conscientious way … The neighborhood of Old Louisville has been in need of a small, Mom and Pop retail store for many years.  The people have longed for just such an new idea in retailing that The Root Cellar provides.  We also are anxious to reach out to the other surrounding neighborhoods like California, Park Hill, Algonquin, Smoketown, Shelby Park, Limerick and Germantown, as well as, serve the University of Louisville and its unique blend of faculty, staff and students.

The Root Cellar provides a generous variety of local food that extends beyond fruits and vegetables. On a couple of recent visits, the shelves and refrigerators have been stocked with items such as milk, honey, bison meat and yogurt. I am a big fan of the eggs that The Root Cellar offers.

It’s wonderful to have this market in this part of town. I hope that kids and adults without regular exposure to the joys of local eating will benefit from The Root Cellar’s presence. Find out more about The Root Cellar on Facebook and Twitter.