Well we’ve made it to week 2 of our attempt to cut our grocery budget and I’ve learned some important things! One of the big lessons this week was that I had to rethink the way I choose food when I shop. As you know from my ridiculously large collection of cookbooks, I love recipes and I love creating meal plans based around recipes. Sure I’ve gotten rather good at keeping within my (previously larger) budget because I learned tricks and tips like combining ingredients or cooking styles for one week, checking the circulars, etc., but I really let my mood dictate my shopping choices.
This is going to have to change.
I thought long and hard about my blown budget at Whole Foods last week (I still maintain that I didn’t do badly considering it was all organic!) and I wanted to share one tip that I learned from that fateful day: when you have a limited budget you need to make every calorie count. That’s not to say that you need to focus on calorie-rich foods like Doritos and white bread, but rather that we should be focusing on nutrient-rich foods like greens, lentils, and berries (if they are organic and deeply discounted). Lots of grocery stores have devised ways of helping consumers to know which choices might be best nutritionally but one I particularly like is the ANDI system, featured at Whole Foods. The ANDI system shows the nutrient density of a food on a scale of 1-1000 and, thanks to Whole Foods, you need look no further than the tag hanging in front of each vegetable, or cradled lovingly on the bulk bins.
So how does that translate into shopping choices? Well, for me, it meant that I chose to buy collard greens instead of swiss chard and lentils instead of chickpeas. That’s not to say that I won’t ever buy chickpeas again! I love my chickpeas…Instead, it just means that when you are really limiting your budget you need to try and get as many nutrients as you can for your buck. Make collard wraps instead of wheat wraps, lentil burgers instead of falafel, and if you have to choose between sunflower seeds and almonds choose the lovely little seeds of death (they always get caught in my throat!). Don’t get stuck on any system, including the ANDI system, to make all of your choices (I still disagree with them on quinoa’s rating, for example) but using it as a guide definitely changed my way of thinking about food.
To see someone really utilizing this system well I highly recommend http://daily.sightline.org/2011/02/10/productive-produce/. They look at the ANDI scores of food and then break each choice down by price-per-cup. This is a super easy way to try and make more healthful choices while counting your pennies. Check it out!