$35/Week Shopping: Week 5

Here we are! The final week of posting (at least for a while).

If you checked out the Week 4 review, then you know I mentioned getting away from overloading with carbs from my staples: rice and bread. Due to the fact I did not purchase any meat for Week 4, I ended up going vegetable omelet crazy, using a lot of peppers and onions. After reading a bit on lower carb diets of accomplished ultra runners – I decided that if I could get more protein for cheaper I would.

The first two males - neither won the race.

The first two males – neither won the race.

Week 5 concluded with me running my first ultramarathon – the TARC Summer Classic 50K – a 3rd place overall (2nd male) finish. So, luckily for me, one can train and run an ultra on $35 per week for groceries.

My shopping in Week 5 still revolved around Super 88 Market for produce. I did not buy items that I didn’t use, however – no tomatos or cabbage, for example.

I also took a peak at the rest of the store – to find a bunch of things I have never seen in my life: pork stomach, live tilapia, quail eggs, and much more. Manager’s Specials for this week included a ton of oranges but I decided to pass – getting the usual.

I shopped around in total this week – Super 88, Star Market, Target, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s.

One big difference was a whimsical (but fruitful) return to Wegman’s. After a long run at Blue Hills Reservation, I decided to stop in at Wegman’s in Chestnut Hill. Blueberries were going for $6.99/2lb. which was as low as I’ve seen. A woman picking through the selection informed me that two weeks prior she had seen them as low as $4.99/2lb.! Wow. Oops. Wegman’s, I counted you out too early.

After picking up blueberries, I headed to the back to find $1.99/lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs. The catch is you have to buy multiple pounds – but I sprung for it. Earlier in the week, I looked at Whole Foods and cheapest chicken thighs were about $4.89/lb.

Reese's in celebration of the final week!

Reese’s in celebration of the final week!

Week 5 Haul:

Wegman’s
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs – 3.81 lb. @ $1.99/lb. – $7.58
Blueberries – 2lb. – $6.99
Bananas (not pictured) – 4 medium – $0.88

Total: $15.45 (44% of total)

Trader Joe’s
Large White Eggs – 1 dozen – $1.99

Total: $1.99 (5.6% of total)

Target
Dried Pinto Beans – 2 @ $1.77/each – $3.54

Total: $3.54 (10.1% of total)

Star Market
Dry Roasted Peanuts – 1 lb. – $2.50
Reese’s Mini (King Size) – 3 – $1.00/each – $3.00
Vermont Bread Company Whole Wheat Bread – 1 loaf – $2.99

Total: $8.49 (24.2% of total)

Super 88 Market
White Onions – 3 – $1.90
Bananas – ~3 lb. – $1.00
Potatoes – ~3 lb. – $1.00
Green Bell Pepper – 0.61 lb. @ $0.99/lb. – $1.58
Cucumber – 2 – $0.79/each – $1.58

Total: $6.08 (17.3% of total)

Grand Total: $35.55 (101.5%)

First week I went over – by $0.55. Sometimes you just have to live (see Reese’s).

I bought peanuts in an attempt to make peanut butter. First try was pretty meh. If I get anywhere I will let you know!

The final week (at least for now) of the experiment. I will be spinning up a conclusion at some point – some final thoughts, breakdowns of calories and nutrition, relationships to running performance, etc. And I will get a couple more darn recipes up.

I am also going to continue to evolve and put this framework to use – though I will go a bit lax on the cost, at least for a little while. As I mentioned, I am moving soon and preparing for future adventures and experiments. So thank you for reading, and special thank you for all the suggestions. More so than anything, it helped me transform my diet! Thanks again!

 

Week 4: Groceries In Review

Last week’s shop was a breakthrough.

It was the first time I took a lot of time to compile all the amazing suggestions and put them to good work.

The Internet, I must say, can be an awesome place. Complete strangers were nice enough to spend the time handing out amazing suggestions and advice – not only of what healthier foods can be obtained cheaply, but local shopping information as well. Seriously, Super 88 Market is now my go-to for produce.

It looks like research is backing up the need for a boost in fruits and vegetables, check out this research.

A funny thing happened this week as well – my carbs from rice, beans and whole wheat bread went down drastically. It also took me a whole week and a half to go through my peanut butter. I still have bread left over!

There are multiple reasons for this change:

1. Increase in variety from large boost in produce allowed me a lot more variety. Adding to the “quick and easy” stable was bananas and cucumbers.

2. I found some protein powder I had at work. Smoothies for days. I will be adding a recipe.

3. Heard and read that two renown ultra runners, Timothy Olson (Winner of the Western States 100) and Zach Bitter (100 mile distance record, under 12 hours!) both have relatively low carb diets. Found a couple blog posts from them to back that up. Zach, in particular, eats about 50% fat. Timothy Olson, a lot of chicken. Interestingly, both guys are from Wisconsin… hmm…

4. I cooked up a ton of vegetable omelettes. My eggs were gone rather quickly.

5. I ate out several times the past week. 3 – if you count some candy. One eat out was after a very long run. My complete lack of meat was a downer – and I went out for a burger. Will be searching for a great deal on meat for the next week.

This all happened will racking up the most training run miles I’ve ever ran – 74.1 miles. Maybe some of those famous ultra runners are on to something? I suppose it depends on the person. What do you think?

New record!

New record!

 

Looking at my list from Super 88 Market (the other stores were all staple buys):

Sriracha – 28 oz. bottle – $3.99
Great. Better deal than other places. Won’t have to buy my favorite hot sauce for a while.

Brown Onion – 1 – $1.03
Great – used a ton of onions in all my veggie omelettes among other things.

Russet Potatoes – Manager’s Special – ~3lb. – $2.00
Great. Tons of potatoes – and used them all. Made a great carb/starch alternative to all the Whole Wheat rice I had been consuming.

Bananas – Manager’s Special – 3 lb. – $1.00
Great. Used them all. Over ripe – so quickly threw them in smoothies. Perfect for that.

Green Bell Pepper – 1.20 lb. – $0.99/lb.
Great. A cheap pepper I could use in omelettes or just by itself with a little sriracha.

Tomatoes – Manager’s Special – 6 – $1.29 total
Not good. I only ate two out of six. A waste – I can’t find myself in love with tomatoes. I need to cut them up immediately, I think.

Cabbage – 1.91 lb. – $0.69/lb.
Eh. Have not eaten yet. Will force myself to try out a recipe. I do like cabbage – but not that much.

Red Cabbage – 1.59 lb. – $0.99/lb.
Eh. Same thing again with red cabbage.

Cucumber – 2 – $1/each
Great. Will buy again – used all the cucumbers – in omelettes, by themselves with olive oil, etc.

Like I mentioned in the previous post, Week 5 is the finale – at least for a while. I’m excited to post a wrap-up that includes all the buys, calories consumed, miles run, body weight over time, etc.

I will be moving at the end of August. And while my new shopping habits are somewhat entrenched, creating blog posts is time consuming. The kicker will be next shopping trip should be able to last until the end of the month (approximately two weeks). Given what I still have in the reserves, I should actually be more than stocked!

I’m also gearing up for a trail 50K this Saturday – and will be running the Vermont 50 in a month and a half’s time. I will post recipes and experiments in this period – but no weekly reports. Week 5 Review coming soon! Oh, and I still promise I’ll drop a couple new recipes. Have thoughts? Please share!

$35/Week Shopping: Week 4

First off, special thanks to Brady Carlson and New Hampshire Public Radio for the interview!

This week’s grocery shopping adventure took me to four different stores – Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Star Market, and Super 88 Market.

That sounds taxing, but spread out over the course of two days, it was convenient. In Boston, nothing is all that far from you.

The previous week was spent mostly at Whole Foods. Several people pointed out that the yield last week was a bit light – and that I could do a lot better quantity wise. Thank you everyone because this is how late last week looked:

Ouch.

Ouch.

Like I noted in the previous post, I was doing my research – taking all sorts of great suggestions from readers.

One of the suggestions was to try the Super 88 Market for cheap produce. Well – thank you! It was a jackpot. All sorts of Manager’s Specials. See the breakdown below:

Even got some more Sriracha!

Even got some more Sriracha!

Super 88 Market

Sriracha – 28 oz. bottle – $3.99
Brown Onion – 1 – $1.03
Russet Potatoes – Manager’s Special – ~3lb. – $2.00
Bananas – Manager’s Special – 3 lb. – $1.00
Green Bell Pepper – 1.20 lb. – $0.99/lb.
Tomatoes – Manager’s Special – 6 – $1.29 total
Cabbage – 1.91 lb. – $0.69/lb.
Red Cabbage – 1.59 lb. – $0.99/lb.
Cucumber – 2 – $1/each

$15.39 total (43.9% of $35)

Trader Joe’s

Bananas – 10 – $0.19/each
Blueberries – 2lb. – $6.99
White Eggs (not pictured) – Large – 1 dozen – $1.99

$10.88 total (31% of $35)

Whole Foods

365 (Whole Foods) – Creamy Peanut Butter – 36oz. jar – $5.49

$5.49 total (15.6% of $35)

Star Market

Vermont Bread Company – Whole Wheat Bread – 1 loaf – $2.99

$2.99 total (8.5% of $35)

Grand Total: $34.75 (99.2% of $35 spent)

 

Dried Beans

Dried beans seemed expensive. I couldn’t find anything that did much better than cans – but I will keep looking. Given I still have some chickpeas, I skipped beans this week.

Bananas

Tons of bananas this week. One suggestion set me off – and I found less ripe bananas at Trader Joe’s, and over ripe bananas at a deep discount at Super 88 Market – 3 pounds for a $1. The upcoming Week 3 & 4 Recipes will focus on banana-based recipes. Well, and peanut butter too. Mmmm, peanut butter.

Preparation Time

My grandmother also made the point that I am honing in on things that require lighter preparation. And that is what works for me.

With the relatively high cost of dried pinto beans and the time it takes to prepare, making my own refried beans may not be for me.

I’m not sure I want to make my own bread either – albeit a great suggestion.

Even so, we are talking a diet that requires a lot more preparation time than Soylent. But not that much more than frozen pizzas. And not too much more time than ordering/picking up junk food every day/meal.

Owning a camping grill has been great – as I have been able to eat cooked meals on the run.

2014-07-25 15.22.11

Overall Thoughts

I feel great about this shop. There are a couple improvements to be made – I can likely avoid going to at least one store as well. But a couple tweaks and I have something that shows as a strong example of what’s possible for $35.

I thought by Week 4 I would have almost nothing in the cupboard left over, I have a few items left. My goal this week is to consume those items – and to move to a Week 5 with no leftover items.

Week 5 will likely be the final week of the $35/Week experiment. I will be moving on to preparing for ANOTHER EXPERIMENT! Stay tuned to see what’s in store.

This weekend I will be hitting the Haymarket and Russo’s over in Watertown – both highly recommended. Again, thank you all for the suggestions and feel free to leave your thoughts!

Weeks 2 & 3: Groceries In Review

Peanut Butter and Blueberries. Nom!

Peanut Butter and Blueberries. Nom!

As I gear up for what I’m looking to be a very strong Week 4 – aided by a TON of great suggestions and advice (thank you!) – it’s important to take a look at how the last couple weeks panned out.

First, let’s take a quick look at the most common suggestions and advice.

Most common suggestions / advice

1. Lentils
2. Dried beans – including making my own refried beans
3. In season produce
4. Multiple stores – try out Aldi, Super 88 Market, H Mart
5. Forget Organic – not worth the higher prices
6. Make your own bread
7. Kale
8. Spinach
9. Cabbage

 

Week 3: Whole Foods

365 (Whole Foods) – Long Grain Brown Rice – 5 lb. – $5.79
I’m pretty confident I can find brown rice for less than $1.15 per pound. Will be checking out the Super 88 Market in Allston this week.

Blueberries – 2lb. – $6.99
In-season – good. Delicious, oh so delicious. Probably could save 10 – 15% on the price though?

365 (Whole Foods) – Peanut Butter, Chunky – 40 ounce jar – $5.49
I love peanut butter. It’s addiction level. I found that this all-natural (peanuts, salt) peanut butter is not much different in price than Jif. So I’ll stick with something like this – though it may be an item I could save slightly on (10 – 15%).

Blueberries – 1 pint – $2.99
Don’t need to buy more blueberries obviously. Just had to have more, I guess!

Corn On The Cob – 5 ears – $0.40/each
I really don’t find myself eating the corn I buy. It is in season, but letting things go bad is a major enemy.

Cucumber – 2 – $0.99/each
Versatile – was able to use in things (rice and beans) as well as just with salt/olive oil. Will buy more – but will look to save a bit of money.

Russet Potatoes – 2.08lb. – $1.29/lb.
Delicious – also thinking about throwing some sweet potatoes in the mix as well. They are technically in-season though I have no idea with something as plentiful as potatoes whether it makes a huge difference. Either way, I’ll buy buying some more.

Bell & Evans Chicken Livers – 1 lb. – $3.49
Think I could do these for a lot cheaper (and still better than Tyson) – though I’ll be buying more.

365 (Whole Foods) – Whole Grain Bread – 1 loaf – $3.09

Will be looking to save a little bit of money on a loaf (somewhere in the 15 – 20% range).

Week 2: Wegman’s

Given that Wegman’s is actually rather far from my apartment, it looks like I will not be returning given the drop rate of the items:

Vermont Bread Co. Soft Whole Wheat Bread – 1 loaf – $3.49
On the expensive side – very good bread made in Vermont however. Will be trying to save a bit more on bread this upcoming week.

Wegman’s Butter – $1.99
Butter. I like it.

Wegman’s Organic Large Eggs – 1 dozen – $3.99
Will be dropping organic for the sake of organic this week. I have had a lot of comments that organic is a bunch of marketing BS. I haven’t seen anything definitive on it however, but if there’s not a huge difference I can save some money.

Wegman’s Garbanzo Beans – 2 cans – $0.69/each
Going to all dried beans. No more cans.

Wegman’s Organic Diced Tomatoes – 1 can – $1.39
No more cans.

Old El Paso Vegetarian Refried Beans – 2 cans – $1.49/each
Will be making my own refried beans! Probably of the pinto-based variety.

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter – 40oz. jar – $6.49
Technically cheaper than the Whole Foods all-natural stuff, but not by much.

Tyson Chicken Liver – 2 20oz. containers – $2.09/each
After watching Food, Inc. I cannot buy anything with a Tyson label on it.

Peppers, Mixed – 1.67 lb. – $3.99/lb.
Very expensive! One reader commented they could find peppers for $0.99/lb. Not worth the cost – though I do enjoy them!

White Onion – 1 at 1.17lb. – $1.99/lb.
I’ll buy an onion per week – but for cheaper than $1.99/lb.

 

$35/Week Shopping: Week 3

Oh, hello there, Lifehackers!

For Week 3 of my shop, I took two separate trips to Whole Foods Market in Brighton (Boston, Massachusetts, no, not England).

While I have avoided “Whole Paycheck” up until this point, it happens to be the closest grocery store to my apartment. Less than a mile from my place, and also available via the train (not that I can’t outrun it or anything).

Week 3 Shop

Week 3 Shop

As far as Whole Foods goes, the line from the song above has summed up my previous thoughts about the place: “Damn, I’m about to check out, pay my $80 for six things and get the heck out.”

Well, I was able to pay my $35 for eight things. And that’s fine!

Shop 1:
365 (Whole Foods) – Long Grain Brown Rice – 5 lb. – $5.79
Blueberries – 2lb. – $6.99
365 (Whole Foods) – Peanut Butter, Chunky – 40 ounce jar – $5.49
Shop 1 Total: $18.27

Shop 2:
Blueberries – 1 pint – $2.99
Corn On The Cob – 5 ears – $0.40/each
Cucumber – 2 – $0.99/each
Russet Potatoes – 2.08lb. – $1.29/lb.
Bell & Evans Chicken Livers – 1 lb. – $3.49
365 (Whole Foods) – Whole Grain Bread – 1 loaf – $3.09
Shop 2 Total: $16.14

Grand Total: $34.41 (98.3% spent of $35)

While looking a bit thinner than my previous shops, I felt pretty good about this week’s grocery runs. No more Jif, and no more Tyson. The peanut butter’s only ingredients: Peanuts, Salt.

Less (no?) processed foods, more fresh fruit and vegetables.

And while I claimed I would not likely buy corn on the cob, it is in season, local and a good deal. And local, in-season corn is delicious considering I have butter and sea salt.

Blueberries

Blueberries are in season, and wow, I really like them! I ate two pounds within a couple days and had to get more. One upcoming recipe is a Peanut Butter & Blueberry sandwich. And I’m telling you right now that is amazing.

And speaking of things being in season, I found this handy list for those in Massachusetts (I’m sure it applies to New England, more or less) of fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Some Other Thoughts

A lot of people have asked me, including my grandma, whether or not I get enough calories considering all the running I’m doing. I understand your concern, grandma!

To answer: so far, so good.

Since starting this experiment on July 14th, I have run 126.7 miles. And in that time, my weight has gone from 166.5 lb. to the current 165.5 lb. So I have “lost” one pound.

In other words, I have not lost any real weight – as I normally fluctuate anywhere between around 158lb. to 168lb. depending on running schedule and tapering.

My caloric intake remains where it used to be – between ~2100 to ~3500 per day.

At one point I did think that overloading on Jif (and maybe peanut butter in general) was causing some stomach distress on long runs. Then I thought maybe it was carbs in general. Then I cut out my multi-vitamin and now realize it was probably that. Go figure!

One highlight has been running a 17 mile, 2.5 hour trail run over at Blue Hills Reservation and following it up the very next day with a 18:52 5K run (close to a personal record).

Looking Forward

Next week looks to be the first week that will mark my cupboard items being depleted. I am planning hard for it to be the best, smartest shop yet. With all the great advice I’m getting it should be possible to have a great week.

The great advice is still pouring in – through the Lifehacker article, Twitter, and the comments many of you are leaving. Thank you for that. I still have so much to consider.

One thing I look forward to avoiding canned goods – and going dried. And finding some affordable kale.

And while I didn’t have any new recipes of note for last week, this week I should have two. Stay tuned – and feel free to leave comments!

$35/Week Shopping: Week 2

For my second week shopping, I took into account some things I learned the previous week. And still having a decent amount of rice – and I went for better bread while re-stocking beans, eggs. I also sprung for vegetables to mix in to meals: peppers, onions, canned tomatoes.

This week I traveled to Wegman’s, which (somewhat) recently opened in Chestnut Hill. They have a huge frozen section – which ironically, I avoided completely. That being said, I’m not sure I will go back to Wegman’s. The store’s strengths are meats and frozen which are two categories I’m not buying much.

The Haul: Week 2

The Haul: Week 2

The Haul
Vermont Bread Co. Soft Whole Wheat Bread – 1 loaf – $3.49
Wegman’s Butter – $1.99
Wegman’s Organic Large Eggs – 1 dozen – $3.99
Wegman’s Garbanzo Beans – 2 cans – $0.69/each
Wegman’s Organic Diced Tomatoes – 1 can – $1.39
Old El Paso Vegetarian Refried Beans – 2 cans – $1.49/each
Jif Creamy Peanut Butter – 40oz. jar – $6.49
Tyson Chicken Liver – 2 20oz. containers – $2.09/each
Peppers, Mixed – 1.67 lb. – $3.99/lb.
White Onion – 1 at 1.17lb. – $1.99/lb.

Total: $34.88 (99.6% of $35 spent)

Food, Inc.

A day or two after my shop, I watched Food, Inc., a documentary about how agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.”

I read Fast Food Nation about 10 years ago, so while Food, Inc. was not completely shocking - it was a staunch reminder of what really goes on in the food business. It definitely made me think a lot more about my choices and what it really means to “eat well”.

Here’s some of my initial thoughts on my purchases:

Chicken Livers

I bought these because I have found it hard to get sufficient iron as a runner on this type of diet. I am definitely happy with the concept, but after seeing Food, Inc. would like to move away from anything that has to do with Tyson. I am not going to describe some of the practices, but they are cruel to both human beings and to animals. If you have not seen the movie, give it a watch.

Peppers

Expensive. Nutritious – but not many calories. I hate to say it – a bit of a mistake for the price.

Vermont Bread Co. Whole Wheat Bread

I wanted to improve the quality of my bread – and found at Wegman’s is the brand I used to buy in Vermont.

Seems like good stuff – no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial ingredients or preservatives – plus we get to support Vermont, the greatest place on Earth.

Jif Peanut Butter

Feel a little stupid buying Jif despite it being technically the most economical choice I had. In the future, buying only peanut butter that has the ingredients Peanuts and Salt. This stuff has added sugar as well as molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides (whatever they are).

Other Thoughts

In some ways, this is an improvement over the previous week. I cut out the frozen prepared foods. No Clif Bars!

I still feel like there is a ways to go before nailing something better down. More fruits and vegetables, really. Less stuff from companies who treat the people and animals like Hell.

One idea I have for the future is to not go for everything in one shop. Multiple grocery stores, farmer’s markets, etc. if need be. I will also start composing some additional rules to how I should be shopping “well”. Stay tuned!

Week 1 Recipes: Sriracha All The Things

Sriracha tweet in BuzzFeed

Sriracha tweet in BuzzFeed

Sriracha all the things! BuzzFeed agrees!

I tried to develop three recipes this week. The first was a chickpea salad that used old butter lettuce. While it wasn’t horrible – chickpeas, old butter lettuce, Italian salad dressing, hummus and chia seeds – it really wasn’t worth breaking down and sharing.

Instead, I will share the next two recipes I developed – successfully – which happened to both use sriracha quite liberally. They are both very basic – but provide a nice base for which to work off of. I have already added different ingredients in future versions – and there is a lot you can do with them.

Maybe these recipes will even come in handy for those attending the Electronic Sriracha Festival. Um, yeah, a festival that combines EDM and sriracha. Anyway… the recipes.

Sriracha Rice & Beans

2014-07-17 12.05.39-2

Sriracha Rice & Beans

This is the first, very basic version of a cost-effective yet nutritious and energy packed meal.

Someone told me that rice and beans were the poor man’s energy food. And they are right, I was able to find some white rice leftover and work and put this recipe together for around 99 cents. It was quite delicious – and coming in at about 800 calories, could feed two.

As you will see, I made it at work with the help of only the microwave. In future version, I will chop up vegetables and add some other spices but here you get the very basic idea.

Basic Ingredients

1.5 cups of rice
.75 cups of refried beans
Liberal amount of sriracha

A couple simple steps

1. I took the leftover office rice into a tupperware container I brought to work. It needed a little bit of revitalizing so I hit it with a little water from the sink and put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

2. Apply the sriracha liberally. Heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir it up and enjoy!

Future add-in ingredients

Orange or red peppers, chopped
Onion
Chopped tomato
Garlic powder
Chia seeds
Chicken

The great thing about this recipe is it is cheap, calorie packed and fairly nutritious. It is also easy to make vegan/vegetarian. Just depends on the refried beans you have.

Sriracha Garlic Tuna Salad

Garlic Sriracha Tuna Salad

Garlic Sriracha Tuna Salad

I had to google whether sriracha and garlic went well together – and apparently they do because this one was delicious. I should have known… sriracha seems to be good on everything!

Back in the day, I worked at Ben and Bill’s “NY Style” Deli inside of a Price Chopper. This guy Charlie had been working in restaurants for years – and one tip he gave me was to go light on mayonnaise in tuna salad (or egg salad). He’s right. It really doesn’t need that much.

I used two tablespoons of mayonnaise for two cans of tuna.

It also makes sense to go light on salt and pepper initially. After you stir everything together initially, then add more if need be.

Ingredients
Tuna in Olive Oil, 2 cans
Olive Oil Mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons
Minced Garlic, 1 tablespoon
Sriracha, “liberal amount”
Salt
Pepper

Steps

1. Sprinkle some salt and pepper at the bottom of bowl.

2. Add a tablespoon of mayo per can of tuna.

3. Add in a 1/2 tablespoon of minced garlic per can of tuna.

4. Add in liberal amounts of sriracha. Stir until consistent.

6. Add in tuna – stir until consistent.

7. Sprinkle a bit more salt and pepper to your liking.

And that’s it! So, two very simple recipes that can be improved upon. Next post I will breakdown the Week 2 groceries. I believe I did a bit better – and I definitely kept these recipes in mind. Sriracha all the things!

Week 1: Groceries In Review

As I put Week 1 of my experiment to a close, it’s important to look back at the results of what I purchased for this week. In the previous post I mentioned that in this initial week’s shop I had not given it too much thought – instead just relying on old habits and instincts. As you will see it, it shows a bit!

Breakdown

Here’s my thoughts on each item:

Cage-Free Extra Large Brown Eggs – Dozen – $3.29

Used 6 eggs. Made egg sandwiches some mornings. Bread, eggs, chia seeds. A staple food of this current diet.

Whole Grain White Bread – $2.49

Used entire loaf. I plan on buying organic whole grain bread next time. Bread is another staple of my current diet.

Organic Cut and Peeled Carrots – $1.69

Used completely. Not against buying carrots again ever, but did not incorporate the carrots into recipes. They were a snack food that complimented the existing Ranch dip I had in my refrigerator. Not likely to buy.

Corn on the Cob – 2 ears – $0.49/each

Still in my cupboard. Will use, but will not buy again.

Organic Spinach Tomato Pizza – $4.49

Still in my freezer. Will not spoil anytime soon but will not be returning to frozen “almost prepped” foods.

Multigrain Breakfast Waffles – $1.99

Used completely. Will not buy again now that I have no maple syrup left. At $6 – $8, maple syrup is too expensive.

Roasted Red Hummus – $2.99

Used completely. Ate as a snack with the pita chips but also incorporated into a version of the Sriracha Rice & Beans I made. Will buy again – but not a staple.

Salted Pita Chips – $1.99

Used completely. Ate only as a snack. Pretty empty calories and felt at $2 the bag was a bit small. Will not buy again.

99% Fat-Free Beans & Rice Burritos – 2 – $2.49

Used both burritos. Good – but I will make my own. Will not buy again.

Butter Lettuce – 7oz. bag – $2.49

Still in my refrigerator. Perishable, and basically water in a solid, edible state. Will not buy again.

Chunky Salted Peanut Butter – 2 jars – $2.49/each

Used both jars. I am really stuck on peanut butter sandwiches. Perhaps I am a kindergartener again. Whatever it is, they do the trick. A staple.

Clif Bars, Assorted Flavors  - 5 – $0.99/each

Used all five bars. Will buy again – but could also go without them.

 

Conclusion

There you have it – my habits are changing. Outside of the really core staples of bread, eggs and peanut butter, I only bought two items that I may buy again. As you will see in my next shop, I did not even re-buy those items.

To come are my Week 1 recipes. I tried three things out – one is not worth posting. And the other two involve sriracha!

$35/Week Shopping: Week 1

The purpose of this initial week’s shop was to emulate my buying patterns of the previous several weeks. It is a starting point for change and refinement – and a way to record and reflect on what are my current habits.

Outside of the initial rule of under $35, this shop was not highly choreographed. In this shop, there were no specific recipes in mind. For the past month or so, I’ve been going about a pattern like this one. Obviously though, I have kept the cost to under $35. As a frame of reference, the previous three or four week’s groceries have ended up ranging from $30 to about $75 per week.

What was useful to have in mind while shopping however was my current food inventory – which I included in the $35/Week Preface. One problem I have had in the past is buying items I already had. While I have moved to more non-perishables, it used to be the kind of thing that would cost me $5 – $20 a week – with food like expensive meats not being eaten in time.

My whole shop for this week came at Trader Joe’s - in Coolidge Corner, Brookline (to be exact). If you are not familiar with Trader Joe’s (TJ’s), their FAQ sums the franchise up quite nicely:

At Trader Joe’s, you won’t find a lot of branded items. Instead, you’ll find unconventional and interesting products in the Trader Joe’s label as well as everyday basics.

When you see our name on a label, you can be assured that the product contains:

  • √ NO artificial flavors or preservatives
  • √ NO synthetic colors
  • √ NO MSG
  • √ NO genetically modified ingredients
  • √ NO partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans-fats)
  • √ NO “marketing” costs
  • √ YES tasting panel approval
  • √ YES quality ingredients
  • √ YES great price

As this experiment is cost-sensitive and health-conscious, TJ’s is a good starting point. When I moved from shopping at Shaw’s (regional grocery chain) to Trader Joe’s about two years ago, I cut my grocery bill by 25% – 30%. The criticism of Trader Joe’s is that they lack good produce and meat. Those are also what lacks a bit in this week’s haul.

The Haul

The Haul: Week 1

The Haul: Week 1

Cage-Free Extra Large Brown Eggs – Dozen – $3.29
Whole Grain White Bread – $2.49
Organic Cut and Peeled Carrots – $1.69
Corn on the Cob – 2 ears – $0.49/each
Organic Spinach Tomato Pizza – $4.49
Multigrain Breakfast Waffles – $1.99
Roasted Red Hummus – $2.99
Salted Pita Chips – $1.99
99% Fat-Free Beans & Rice Burritos – 2 – $2.49
Butter Lettuce – 7oz. bag – $2.49
Chunky Salted Peanut Butter – 2 jars – $2.49/each
Clif Bars, Assorted Flavors  - 5 – $0.99/each

Total: $34.82 (99.4% of $35 spent)

One mistake I made – after staring at the different colored labels for 30 seconds – was buying chunky instead of creamy peanut butter. One lives and learns.

 

Had to part with some Clif Bars

Parting with a few Clif Bars

Clif Bars

When I first arrived at the register, I had a dozen Clif Bars. In order to stay under $35 for this initial week, I had to pass on 7 of them. I believe this to be a good thing. I have been using them as a crutch. I am a light breakfast eater so a Clif Bar in the morning can usually do the trick. However, when you decide to skip another meal by eating 2 or 3 in a row – that’s a sheer sign of laziness.

I do believe Clif Bars to be a good food – well-balanced, packed with vitamins and nutrients, made with mostly organic ingredients, and not from animal products. I believe some flavors even qualify as vegan. At $0.99 for ~250 calories however, it would cost me around $10/day to subsist totally on Clif Bars. At a goal of $5/day, they are more of a premium item. Nonetheless, I purchased five in this shop and intend to use them as a breakfast replacement for the time being.

Reflections

While the lack of vegetables can be explained by a stockpile of frozen veggies in my freezer, I have limited fresh vegetables. I will also be sure to make some fruit purchases as well. Right now I realize I have no fruit.

The absence of meat does not bother me as much. Given that I’m getting iron, I have felt well without it. I may even pass on buying chicken and use some expiring stuffing a bit more creatively.

My staple foods have always been eggs, peanut butter and bread. Those seem to get covered almost unconsciously. In college, there were weeks I would get by on $20 on those. I went through periods where I would not buy bread – which I believe made the rest of my shopping a lot more expensive. A low carb diet would not work with my current lifestyle of distance running and frugality.

Initial Reaction to the Preface

Shortly before heading off to Trader Joe’s – I posted the link to the Preface on Hacker News. By the time I returned home – the post had over 6000 visits, a dozen blog comments, and over 50 comments on the HN forum.

I look forward to combing through the recommendations, advice and websites that so many people were kind enough to provide. My next post will be my first recipe and the results. Please feel free to leave your thoughts on my grocery haul for this week. Thanks!

Thirty-Five Dollars A Week: Preface

I composed the tweet above while in the euphoria of a post-run peanut butter sandwich. The cost of my grocery run earlier in the week was right around $35. Enjoying my peanut butter on whole wheat bread while pondering that relatively small amount of money made me wonder.

That’s a great idea, and I am doing just that – writing a blog series about eating on $35 per week.

The $35/Week series is about eating on a $35/week budget. I hope through my efforts to show that eating well does not have to come with a high cost. I also hope to sharpen my self-discipline and learn a bunch of things – about food, recipes, creativity and about myself.

Another facet I am exploring through this blog is the food industry and American culture – as it relates to food.

Food is one of the few true necessities in life, yet affordable and healthy alternatives to junk food and eating out are often overlooked in mainstream thought – at least in my age and demographic. Being a single 30 year old urban professional male means a lot of conspicuous food consumption is being marketed to me every day. I also live in Boston, MA, a city with an immense restaurant, pizza place and bar culture.

My intention here is simply carve out some time and space to explore food from a practical standpoint – both nutritionally and financially.

To properly preface this series and how I will spend my $35/week, there are a few things that should be laid out.

Personal Considerations

1. I have no dietary restrictions. I am not allergic to gluten, dairy, shellfish, nuts, etc.

2. I have moved towards a more animal-free diet. This is for numerous reasons but one is simply cost consideration. Meat is expensive. That being said, I am neither vegan nor vegetarian.

3. I am a fairly serious runner – averaging 35 – 50 miles per week. This is a major difference between me and most people. If I was not so physically active I am positive I could get by on maybe $25 a week. That being said, even trying to keep very lean – I’m still consuming 1800 – 4500 calories per day.

4. Not included in my budget is $25/month for supplements. I am spending that mostly on multi-vitamins. Most other supplements are running-based: Tailwind, GU, gels. Whey Protein is occasionally part of the mix as well.

5. I am single – and the only one in my household. 85% of the time I am the only one consuming the food I buy. 15% is reserved for guests – so that is to be reflected in the cost and buying considerations as well.

6. I will likely eat out on average once per week. That will not be included in the cost. If I do eat out during the week – it will be noted.

7. I will prefer organic or all-natural to conventional (or unnatural – ha). My decision on which to choose will depend on cost considerations but I will likely spend up to 20% more to buy organic.

8. The goal is to eat with health in mind. If I wanted to eat ramen every meal I could spend much less than $35. That is not the point here.

9. I will accept and use free food. This does not mean I will take on a bunch of potential client lunches to eat for free nor does it mean you will find me dumpster diving. No, you will not find me hoarding samples at Trader Joe’s. But if there is leftover food in my office for the taking, for example, I may incorporate it. I would guess free food will account for about 2-3% of my intake weekly.

Current Inventory

It is to be noted that I am starting with the big advantage of existing food. The following is a list of food items I currently have in my cupboard, refrigerator and freezer:

Cupboard

Cuban Style Black Beans – 1 can
Tomato Soup – 2 cans
Refried Beans – 1 can
Fat-Free Refried Beans – 2 cans
Tuna in Olive Oil – 3 cans
Organic Pinto Beans – 1 can
Organic Garbanzo Beans – 1 can
Vegan Mac and Cheese – 1 box
All Natural Whole Wheat Bread – 1/2 loaf
Converted Rice – 1/2 pound
Egg Noodles – 2 cups
Tomato Basil Marinara – 1 jar
Stove Top Stuffing – 1 box

Freezer

Chicken Shu Mai – 1 box
Frozen Broccoli – 2 medium bags
Frozen Meatballs – ~2 cups
Frozen Peas – 2 medium bags
Frozen Hash Browns – ~8 ounces
Frozen Mixed Vegetables – 2 bags
Frozen Corn – 1 medium bag

Refrigerator

Lettuce – 1 medium bag
Chopped Onion – 1 cup
Cream Cheese – ~1 cup
Margarine – ~1 cup
Olive Oil Mayo – 1 jar
Ranch Dressing Dip – ~1 cup
Italian Dressing – 1/2 bottle
Organic Chia Seeds – ~6 ounces

Miscellaneous

Condiments – Ketchup, Mustard
Various Salad Dressings
Maple Syrup – 1 jar
Olive Oil – 1/3rd bottle
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce – 1/2 bottle
Sriracha – 1 bottle

Keeping my existing inventory in mind, I will be shopping at Trader Joe’s today for my initial week’s grocery – and of course, spending $35 or less. I would love to get your initial reactions from hearing about my experiment. Please leave comments!