Kroger ClickList will change the way you grocery shop

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Thank you, Lisa. You made my week.

Remember how I gushed that Kroger ClickList inspired me to get back on here?

Let’s get back to that real quick, Q&A style.

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What’s Kroger ClickList?

Short answer: Game changer.

Long answer: It’s the grocery store’s online ordering and pickup service. You order groceries online, and go pick them up at select Kroger stores.

How does it work?

Easy peasy, that’s how. After you sign up online, you grocery shop on Kroger’s ClickList website. You can shop by category if you want to browse, or you can search for specific products if you know exactly what you want. You can also see what’s on sale that week and apply digital coupons. As you select the items that you want, the site creates a running list.

At some point, you have to select a pick-up date and time to get your groceries. You can schedule your pickup for up to a week in advance. The times are separated into hour-long blocks during which you can pick up your stuff.

When it’s time for pickup, you find the designated ClickList parking spaces (I felt very much like a VIP) and call the number that’s on the parking space sign. A couple of Kroger employees will come out, and run through your order to let you know if they were out of a product and had to make substitutions. You give them your card, they give it a swipe, and BOOM, they’re loading your groceries into you car.

No stalking fellow shoppers for a parking space. No maneuvering a cart through throngs of people on a crowded Saturday. No standing in line. No fumbling with coupons.

Like I said, easy peasy.

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Are there drawbacks?

Well, Mx. Rain on My Parade, I guess there are a few.

  • You have to use your debit or credit card — no cash or check. And ClickList doesn’t accept WIC and SNAP for payment, either.
  • There’s a service charge of about $6. Kroger waives the fee the first few times you use it.
  • You rely on someone else to pick your produce, which is a trust fall you might not be willing to make with an unknown Kroger employee.
  • You can’t make an order and pick it up the same day — you have to order at least a day in advance. In the age of Amazon Prime same-day delivery, this jarred my I-need-it-right-now-dammit-this-is-America mindset.
  • And speaking of produce, you have to be VERY specific with how much you want. You can add special instructions with each product you select for your list — this is where you’d say that you want six bananas or three pounds of onions. Just make sure that your instructions are crystal clear. For example, I ordered shallots, and put “two” in the instructions. When I got home, I had two pounds of shallots (by the way, anybody need a shallot?). And one of my friends (hey, Katie!) had to make a return trip to Kroger when she got home and discovered that they had given her 40 limes.
  • ClickList spots can take up valuable space if you’re at a Kroger with a small parking lot. We can all agree that Louisville Kroger parking lots are already THE WORST.

 

You’ve found a lot of stuff to not like about ClickList. Why are you so in love with it, again?

Why you gotta be so negative?

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*cues another bulleted list*

  • It’s convenient. Listen, I love grocery shopping as much as the next food-loving gal. But some days, I just don’t have time to grocery shop. Kroger ClickList helps me save a lot of time when I know it’s going to be a busy week.
  • THEY PUT THE GROCERIES IN YOUR CAR FOR YOU. Yes, I realize I have to bring them in when I get home, BUT STILL.
  • This can be a big help to folks who can’t make it around the store easily.
  • I didn’t stray from my grocery list. There weren’t any flashy displays or ice cream aisles to distract me while I shopped. I went down my grocery list, selected what I wanted and avoided a lot of temptation.
  • It was easier to stay on budget. It’s hard to keep a running tally of what you’ll spend while you’re shopping in the store. With ClickList, I see right away how much the groceries will cost, and I can make adjustments or switch out products if I need to.
  • THEY PUT THE GROCERIES IN YOUR CAR FOR YOU.

 

Is Kroger paying you to say all this?

NOPE. I just like the service. It could use some improvements, especially when it comes to taking WIC and SNAP, but I see this as a great tool for busy folks, people with disabilities, older adults and anybody who just doesn’t feel like fooling with Kroger.

Has anybody else adopted Kroger ClickList as their preferred way to grocery shop? Take it to the comments.

 

 

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.

 

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?

I will do anything to save money, but I won’t bake bread or roll sushi

I’m up for just about any recipe. But there are a few dishes I’d rather buy than make myself.

Sometimes, plain ol’ convenience wins out over the reward of creating something in your own kitchen. Time is in short supply these days (damn sequester), and I can’t always make everything lovingly from scratch. Instead, I shelve my ambitions and pick something off my shelf that only needs to be opened, eaten and enjoyed.

Here are a few foods that I would rather buy than make. Feel free to chime in.

  • Bread. I don’t have a bread maker. I also don’t have the patience for dealing with a live, active culture like yeast. Why go through the trouble of cutting butter into flour, and kneading, and waiting, and baking, when I can just grab a slice from the 89-cent loaf I scored because of a Kroger manager’s special? This category also includes dinner rolls, biscuits and pita bread.
  • Tahini - Sesame seeds paste
    Tahini – Sesame seeds paste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Hummus. I blame the tahini, a key hummus ingredient, for my aversion to making this dip on my own. I hate buying a condiment that only has one special purpose in the world. Can I put tahini on chicken, fish and steak? My fear is that the tahini will fester in the back of my cabinet between batches of hummus.

  • Curry. My curry will never, ever be as good as the most mediocre curry in the most mediocre restaurant. I prefer not to try rather than have my hopes dashed.
  • Salsa. I had a bad experience with homemade salsa. It involved two friends, some vegetables from the Trader Joe’s in Washington, D.C., and a Magic Bullet blender. Unfortunately, it did not involve any spices. That soupy mess has scarred me for at least another decade.
  • CrackersThe Kitchn, one of my favorite food blogs, is always trying to tell me I can make my own crackers at home (here are 10 recipes). I’m sorry, but eff that. I turn to a box of crackers when I’m feeling all sort of feelings that only Golden Girls and cuddling with my dog can make better. Making my favorite feel-better snack from scratch takes away some of the comfort. It adds work. I can’t do it.
  • DKD sushiSushi. Don’t even get me started. Jiro has spent his whole life becoming the master of raw fish and rice. I’m not going to even try.

What foods do you refuse to make?

Tardy to the ramen noodle party

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Chicken ramen with bok choy.

Brace yourself for a surprising confession.

I ate ramen noodles for the first time two weeks ago.

It seems criminal that it took me nearly three decades to eat this budget-friendly dish. The only time I was close to ramen as a child was when my mom only fixed ramen for my dad, who slurped up the noodles with baked chicken legs. It seemed like a “grown-up food,” so I stuck with my spaghetti. Then I went to college, where the halls of my all-girls dorm were thick with the smell of spice, salt and chicken, the hallmarks of a bowl of ramen. The smell was so pervasive that it dissuaded me from ever bringing those noodles into my life, budget be damned.

As with most of my food awakenings, Rob is the one who opened my eyes to the possibilities behind the red and yellow square packages. He grew up eating ramen noodles because “they were cheap, they were good and they were easy to make.” A couple of weeks ago, he came in with a Kroger bag full of ramen packages. I’m pretty sure his eyes twinkled.

It was time to give these noodles a whirl. He expertly boiled water and dropped the brick of wavy noodles into the pot. After pouring away most of the water, he sprinkled a chicken flavor packet into the now-flaccid noodles while simultaneously tossing them with a fork to ensure even flavor distribution. It was like watching Iron Chef. And the secret ingredient is … RAMEN.

I steamed some leftover bok choy to accompany the ramen (you know, to make it healthy) and helped myself to a bowl. My mind was blown. The ramen was so salty and spicy that I’m pretty sure I met my sodium intake for the day. The bok choy added some crunch to this tender noodle dish. My mind raced with all the vegetable additions I could make in the future.

Days after my awakening, a six-pack of chicken-flavored ramen sits patiently in the cabinet. But I won’t let almost 30 years pass before I eat ramen again.

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?

[My Favorite Things] Cherry Coke Zero

I have an addiction. Don't judge me.

How do I even begin to describe my love of Cherry Coke Zero?

Should I start at the beginning, the first time I discovered this glorious, calorie-free concoction perched on a shelf, chilling away in a 20-ounce bottle, waiting for me to release it from the frozen confines of the Walgreens grocery aisle and into the cup holder of my Corolla?

Or do I start at the end, with the above picture, the result of a months-long addiction to fake sugary sweetness that can only be treated with MORE aforementioned fake sugary sweetness, especially when it  is on sale at my friendly neighborhood Kroger?

It wasn’t always like this. I was a Diet Coke fan for years. A cold, caffeinated beverage without the calories? Yes, please. Back then, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that something else, something even more delicious, was out there.

My infatuation with Diet Coke began to wane last year. The drink had gone from refreshing to flat. I needed something to wake up my taste buds, minus the guilt of the calories.

Then I found Coke Zero, endorsed by friends, but not as readily available as my old stand-by soft drink. I tasted Coke Zero, poured from a restaurant fountain spigot into an eager paper cup, and it set my mouth on fire — in a good way. There was just so much more flavor than its diet cousin. The fizz tickled my throat and left behind a lingering sweetness that confirmed that I was on to something.

Then I saw that bottle in Walgreens, the word “cherry” splashed across a Coke Zero label for which my eyes had learned to automatically search. Once it hit the lips, Cherry Coke Zero had me, for lack of a better word, sprung. I wanted it. I needed it. And it’s hard to come by, a slight obstacle that only added to the beverage’s allure.

I scoured Kroger after Kroger to find my own supply of Cherry Coke Zero, which I how I ended up lugging three cases into my home after a three for $11 deal I happened upon one week.

Having my own Cherry Coke Zero instead of just keeping my fingers crossed that it will be available in vending machines and restaurants has only made my infatuation worse. Just a couple of weeks ago, I may (or may not!) have bought FOUR cases during another Kroger sale. I blocked several shoppers in the soft drink aisle as I stuffed the cartons of Cherry Coke Zero into my tiny cart.

Is all this embarassing to admit, all this admiration for an inanimate object, a beverage no less?

Yes.

Is it worth it, for just one can of Cherry Coke Zero?

You betcha.

Guilt-free waffle fries, more counterspace and other things I want for Christmas

 

In no particular order, here is a sampling of what I would like this year for Christmas:

  • For Chick-fil-a to adopt more progressive social views so I won’t have a moral dilemma every time I want some waffle fries.
  • Delivery service from Annie Café. Yes, I live within spitting distance, but sometimes laziness sets in when I get a hankering for ginger chicken.
  • Time to reorganize all the recipes I’ve torn out from magazines.
  • MORE COUNTERSPACE.
  • Nutella in bigger, redesigned jars optimal for dipping pretzels and animal crackers. I’m sick of getting hazelnut spread on my wrists when I near the end of the jar.
  • And speaking of pretzels, a steady supply of chocolate-covered pretzels at my desk would be great. The salty/sweet combo is magical.
  • To receive the same (alleged) multi-million-dollar deal from Weight Watchers that Jessica Simpson will (allegedly) receive after she has a baby. I’m already down with PointsPlus, Weight Watchers. I’ll take the cash.
  • For people to truly like the homemade baked goodies I’m doling out for the holidays.
  • A new lunch bag. Something like this will do.
  • More respect for the tiny carts at Kroger. Quit leaving them out to freeze, Angry Teenage Cart-Gatherer.
  • More coupons for real food — the kind that doesn’t come in cardboard boxes.
  • Cherry Coke Zero at every fountain.
  • The realization of the great app that will be Menu and Hours.
  • More butter for Norway. Those people have suffered enough.
  • To not gain winter weight from all the cookies, doughnuts, cakes and lunch specials I’ve been exposed to in my new office.
  • World peace.

My Favorite Things: The tiny carts at Kroger

(Blogger’s note: Every once in a while, I come across something so awesome that I must shout it from the blogosphere. If Oprah can have her favorite things, why can’t I?

“My Favorite Things” is an occasional feature in which I gush about a product, store, gadget or other food-related item that has made my life a little sweeter.)

Oh, tiny cart. So petite, yet efficient.

I fell in love with Kroger’s tiny carts when I started living on my own and grocery shopping for one. I ust had to play a game of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to figure that out.

Kroger’s hand baskets are suitable until you decide that you HAVE to buy the 12-pack of Diet Coke. Then you end up with a Grand Canyon-sized dent in your arm. The regular-sized carts are hard to manuever, and lend themselves to some unneccessary purchases (why, yes, I WILL buy the three boxes of Raisin Bran Crunch that’s on sale — I have the room in my big girl cart!).

The tiny carts, however, are the Mini Coopers of consumerism. These tiny wonders are the perfect size for singles buying food just for themselves. They hug the curves as you round the corners of the aisle. And they’re just so darn cute.

These carts are usually stranded on the grassy knolls of parking lots or abandoned on the fringes near the streets. Cart collectors don’t make much of an effort to get these little guys back in the store because they don’t neatly fit into a row with their big brothers, the behemoths designed to haul both children and groceries. But if you’re single, or just need to pick up a few items, it’s worth a trip to the back of a parking lot to use one of these carts.

Here’s what I learned about food and money during year of living modestly as a VISTA

I didn't have a lot of this during the past year. Photo courtesy of AMagill via Flickr.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I earned a “modest living allowance” while I completed my term of service.

Translate that as you wish.

I was recently hired by the organization where I served as a VISTA for the past year. But the new habits I developed to save money have become a permanent part of my life, even though I make a slightly higher income.

I started this blog as a way to explore how to spend money on good food when I didn’t have much in my wallet. I’ve learned a lot and had fun doing so. But a few food lessons stick out.

  1. There is a huge difference between a need and a want. I need food. That’s a given. But do I need to spend $20 on an entree? Do I need name-brand shredded cheese? Do I need a new slow cooker? Not necessarily. I learned be more thoughtful and strategic in identifying my needs versus my wants and to find an appropriate balance.
  2. Buy more basic ingredients. A stocked pantry full of basics and motivation to cook have helped me survive between visits to the grocery store. For example, I wanted some cornbread to go with some beans I had bubbling in the Crock Pot, but I didn’t have any cornbread mix. I did, however, have a carton of cornmeal, milk, flour, an egg and the Internet. Twenty minutes later, homemade cornbread muffins without having to go out of my wallet. My new favorite staple? Oatmeal.
  3. Cut back on the packaged food. It’s tempting to buy bags of potato chips, granola bars and individual applesauce cups. But convenience items like these get expensive.
  4. Eat more produce. It’s cheap. It’s good for you. Nothing to dislike here. And trips to the farmers’ market are fun.
  5. Cook more. I learned to cook seven years ago when I had my first internship and discovered how expensive eating out is. I revisited my beloved cookbooks (along with plenty of food blogs) and went back to the kitchen to save money.
  6. Shop around. I read Sunday ads religiously to find the best deals around town. If Aldi doesn’t have something at the right price, there’s Kroger. Or Walmart. Or ValuMarket. Be willing to be patient when shopping to find the best deals.

How do you save money on food?