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May 25, 2008 07:14 PM

grocery bill for health conscious consumers

We are a family of two, very health conscious, cook almost every meal from scratch and bring our own lunches (eat out 5-6 times a month). We eat almost exclusively organic and seafood. I would like to solicit some idea from fellow organic veggie eaters on how to pinch pennies in this inflationary environment.

We currently belong to 3 CSAs, Eating with the Seasons, Full Belly Farm and Frog Hollow (for fruit only). We like Eating with the Seasons because it offers choice, unlike conventional CSAs. With choice comes cost, every single item comes in a smaller quantity compared to Full Belly, which has some outstanding produce, but bunch carrots for a whole month could be overwhelming. So we always look at Full Belly's weekly delivery list first, and choose from EWS whatever FB doesn't deliver that particular week. Frog Hollow (Happy Child CSA) is the most expensive one, costing about $35 for 10lbs of fruit (avocado inclusive), we joined based on the raving reviews of their peaches on this board. So far, we don't find their fruit to be THAT extraordinary, perhaps because the peach season has not started yet. With 3 CSAs under the belt, we need very little supplement from the supermarket, except for olive oil, milk, condiments etc. at TJ's. When our subscription with Frog Hollow expires, we may find another fruit CSA with better value. Are there any other choices for fruit CSA besides Frog Hollow?

Our CSA costs come out to be around $85 a week, which I find to be as good as it gets because we eat enormous amount of veggie. Prior to joining the CSAs, our Whole Foods grocery bill was at least 50% higher. Now we never visit Whole Foods again. Our TJ cost is around $40 a week on ice cream, olive oil, milk, nuts, two buck chucks (for cooking, we don't drink) etc. Maybe there is some slack, but I feel we are doing ok.

We are murdered by our cost on seafood. We shop at Mitsuwa, which we found to carry the best quality seafood in South Bay, but at a steep price. Our seafood cost is around $65 a week, and they are not even all wild caught. I would love to know about quality fish mongers around South Bay that can cut my seafood cost. Are there seafood CSAs?

So just on food alone, without counting the bath tissue, washing powder etc., our grocery cost is already $800-850 a month, which I found to be on the higher end compared to grocery bills I saw on the internet. I would love to cut $100-150 a month without sacrificing much quality, is it doable? How?


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  1. I guess it depends on where you live, but for me, going to the farmer's market (Alemany in SF) weekly is *much* cheaper than getting a CSA box (or three, in your case)--eg I'm buying organic stonefruit for $1.50/lb and greens for $1/bunch. I buy a lot of bulk dry grains and legumes at Rainbow Grocery (also in SF). There's no way two people could eat 50+ lbs a week, etc., so I'd consider dropping the CSAs.

    Seafood is hard; I'd probably look at frozen seafood as well, and bear in mind much seafood isn't truly sustainable. Farmed tilapia or catfish are pretty economical.

    5 Replies
    1. re: xanadude

      Thanks for the feedback. I will definitely look into the seafood choices.

      But I am a little embarrassed to admit that we DO finish almost all the veggies from 2 CSAs every week (maybe 50 lbs), sometimes in 6.5 days. We get two full shares from both CSAs. Since we have nothing to eat on the 7th day of the week, we have to eat out. I know that sounds completely ridiculous, but we seem to have unreasonably big stomachs, and we haven't been putting on much weight after so much food, perhaps because it's mostly veggie and fruit.

      1. re: Riceball

        I would be, as I'm sure others would, interested in your cooking suggestions/recipes for all the produce - you obviously love it and must have some great and easy ways of cooking and serving! This time of year we all need a kick start and new ways of thinking as the abundance comes!

        1. re: OCEllen

          Howdy, we've moved the stuff on cooking/recipes to the Home Cooking board. Please continue the discussion there, so that hounds everywhere can benefit. The link is here:

        2. re: Riceball

          WE also do 3 CSAs, Frog Hollow, Two Small Farms and Marin Sun Farms. We go through 2 boxes of veggies from TSF in a week easily. I eat a ton of veggies! We are just a family of 4, and my husband often doesn't help eat the veggies because he doesn't get home until late.

          Hold out for the stone fruit for Frog Hollow and then make your judgment. This is our 3rd season and to be honest I quip about quitting it every winter, but their Warren pears keep me captive. The winter produce isn't that great. Our farmer's market here is hit or miss on organic fruit, and I just don't have the time or transportation to make it to one that has a better organic selection, so the CSA works. I haven't found any other fruit CSA that does local organic fruit, especially one that ships from their own farm as Frog Hollow does in the stone fruit season.

      2. Have you tried Race Street Market for fish?

        1 Reply
        1. re: daveena

          Thanks for the suggestion, I will go check out this week.

        2. Besides farmers markets in the South Bay, how about some of the mom and pop produce places like Milk Pail and such?

          My work has CSA delivered for fruit and it's convenient but on the expensive side. I know I do better then that and I'd imagine if you scouted the farmers market and local mom and pops and kept tabs on what's seasonal and on sale, figured out a pattern, you could do better and have fewer duds. I guess the trick would be switching over.

          p.s. a second on xanadude's recommendation on really can stretch things very econmically.

          1. Your food budget does sound....high.

            I'd think half of that number would still be pretty indulgent for a lot of healthy families. Were you already spending that much with Whole Foods/TJ's?

            It sounds to me like you could cut out one CSA and still have yourself covered, but it also sounds like it's your fish that's out of control. $240 a month on fish?! TJ's has some really decent flash frozen fish, as an alternative but if you're downing $60 worth a week it makes me think you're buying really high grade stuff, or having lobster dinners, or exotic fish, but either way, it's sounding like you're consuming more then is healthy anyway.

            I think the best advice would be to stretch your food, and return to doing a bit more shopping at Whole Foods. The other option is to grow some stuff yourself if you have a big backyard.

            Also, is your diet almost entirely carb free? Rice, and noodles have served some third world nations pretty well and help to stretch meals.

            By the way, there is that Dr. Oz (or whoever originated it) theory that if you consumed a ridiculous amount of fruits and nuts you'll actually lose weight, reduce cholesterol and other benefits. I recall there was some cod liver oil or something involved though.

            6 Replies
            1. re: sugartoof

              We have completely cut out WF since our CSA substitution. TJ's inventory is very reasonably priced and we are hooked on too many of their items so we can't cut that.

              However, the seafood problem is, those flash-frozen fish tastes decisively different from the fresh fish served at Mitsuwa. If our tongues cannot tell the difference, I would be more than happy to go with TJ's stock. But since we live so close to the coast, I've always been wondering if we can find a cheap local fishing outlet that sells fresh fish from Monterey or Half Moon Bay.

              Yes, our diet is mostly carb free. We do eat little bit of rice, noodles, bread etc. every day and that's why we need lots of veggie and fruit to fill the stomach.

              Healthwise, we actually feel very good on the current diet. But we don't feel that good about the cost.

              1. re: Riceball

                I'm just wondering if your Whole Foods bill used to put you in that same $800 price range?

                It just sounds to me like you need to take the same food, and approach it as if you were cooking for a family of 4 instead. I'd imagine that bulk of veges turns it into a juggling act of using the stuff before it spoils, but not to quickly so you don't have food for the weak. Anyway, that may be easier then finding cheaper farm direct sources that aren't going to compromise quality.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Have you ever read the posted health warnings about eating fish from the Bay? It's scary stuff, mercury, PCB, selenium and other toxins are present. On occasion Bay-caught fish is probably okay but on regular basis it's seems unwise.

                    The advisory recommends that adults eat no more than two meals from the bay per month, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under 6 half that amount.

                  2. re: Riceball

                    There's not a whole lot of commercial fishing out of HMB anymore. If you drive there, you can (sometimes) but stuff off the docks or at the fishmarket; there's a phone number you can call to find out what's for sale on the docks that day.

                    Costco would be worth checking out for fresh farmed fish, especially for the quantities you're buying. 99 Ranch (asian market) is also worth a try.

                    Squid is also worth considering as a relatively cheap seafood protein source.

                1. If you are up for a little food-slumming you might stop by Grocery Outlet. It would be more for canned goods and cleaning supplies. It is more of a treasure hunt.

                  However, they have item like Imagine organic broths for 99 cents, lots of organic boxed tomato sauce, tomatoes, vegetables, soups. I'm blanking on the name right now but I bought some excellent crushed tomatoes for 50 cents for a box that would normally sell for $2.

                  They also have organic cereals, maple syrup, Aidell's organic sausages (sometimes), occasionally Niman ranch products (never did see the Niman Ranch chipotle bacon that was reported).

                  It is a matter of looking. They also have some organic wines and lots of non organic wines ... currently there are Target 4 liter wine cubes for $3.99 ... at a buck a liter that beats 2 buck Chuck. They also sometimes have those natural cleaning products ... the name of which also escapes me.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: rworange

                    I was finishing up project late last night and not focusing. I know you asked about veggies and seafood, but if you can save say $20 a week on staples, then that's almost your goal.

                    I do have some ideas though on veggies / fish that I'll address later.

                    I wasn't putting down Grocery Outlet either but it might seem food-slumming to someone who is shopping at Whole Foods or using Frog Hollow (btw I don't think they are all that or the best peaches out there ... but their Warren pears in the fall are magnificant).

                    OK, back to Grocery Outlet. The natural cleaning prodcuts they sell from time to time are the Method line. The great crushed tomatoes were Pacific brand. They sell many of the organic line you see at Whole Foods like Woodstock Farms, Amy's, etc.

                    When I'm in Whole Foods I have a smug self-satisfied inner smile knowing I'm paying 1/2 to 1/4 the price of the same items at GO.

                    I don't know what brand ice cream you buy. If it is Strauss you are out of luck, but they usually have Haagen Daz for $1.49 a pint and one sorbet of HD was 50 cents. They do carry various organic ice creams from time to time though. They had Breyers organic quarts for $2.49 for a while and some other brands. Some GO's have Judy's organic eggs ... $2.29 for 18.

                    There was an organic all-juice pomegranite juice line GO was selling for $1.99 that the supermarkets were selling for $5.99 ... I see no reason to throw away $4 for the exact same juice ... nice healthy blends too ... pomegranate blueberry and cherry.

                    They were selling Corte California Olive oil (an interesting story) for $7.99 for a big bottle. I have been really, really ... really happy with this one. However, olive oil there is more miss than hit.

                    Back to fish/veggies. I agree with others that a good farmers market can be a saving over CSA's, you get to choose what you want instead of the luck of the draw and if you go at the end of the day there are bargains ... especially if you are buying in bulk.

                    Are you opposed to freezing or canning your own?

                    You could take advantage of seasonal organic u-picks. You could make occasional trips up to Half Moon Bay and buy fish off the boats and freeze.

                    This time of year, for example, you can drive up the coast and make a stop at Swanton Berry farm on the way to HMB and do a upick of their organic strawberries. If you are not opposed to canning or freezing, you can make easy jam and freeze berries for use in smoothies or other recipes.

                    You don't mention dairy, so I'm not sure if you eat cheese, but in Pescadero there is Harley's goat farm which has wonderful cheeses. The little goats are right outside the door. They have some cheese products that last a while like jars of goat cheese in olive oil.

                    Speaking of dairy ... if you use it ... you might consider for cooking purposes organic dry powdered milk. It is difficult to tell the difference in something like a baked good, if you make those.

                    Mariquita Farms which once sold at Ferry Plaza has seasonal u-pick tomato weekends along with a few other veggies like peppers.Tomatoes are 50 cents a pound. They decided that the farmers market was too much a hassle and they are just now selling to restaurants like Chez Panisse. Here's their website with the list of restaurants the supply. Check for upcoming upicks

                    Here's a link to last year's u-pick tomato report with links to previous years

                    If you are interested in canning ... you could make tomato sauce or soups. You could make huge batches of casseroles and freeze them. That would also solve your problem of running out of food by the end of the week. You would have some reserves in the pantry or freezer.

                    Also, the suggestion of doing a little planting if you have a yard is a good one. The little walkway on the side of my house has lemon and orange trees. Citrus doesn't need much love because I do nothing to them and have unlimited fruit.

                    I don't find your fish budget hard to believe given that you eat a lot of it. In San Jose, you might check out L & F seafood which is a Portuguese market. Their big thing is drying fish ... about a eight varieties ... however they buy from local fishermen and they also have a fresh fish counter. Someone put it down on another food forum for being too 'ethinic', so you might keep in mind it isn't for everyone.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Mariquita also sells through a CSA (Two Small Farms).

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Unfortunately their site says they are already booked for this year, but will put people on a waiting list.

                        I didn't mention this because Mariquita only does this in SF, and the OP is in the South Bay so gas used driving up there would cancel any savings ... but maybe for someone else interested ... they have something called Mysterious Market Thursdays.

                        From the above link with more info

                        "What: Guerilla vegetable deliveries: Not a CSA, we have one of those. More like a taco truck-meets-the farmers market"

                        Basically they drop off boxes to SF restaurants like Greens, Incanto, Globe or whoever they choose that week. Send them an email to reserve and leave your cell phone number. They tell you where and it is a cash only transaction.

                        1. re: rworange

                          It's a lot of veggies -- you probably get about $40-50 value for your $25 as they use this as a way to sell some of the stuff they have lots and lots of. The variety is always good and often there are a few usual things (for example, lovage one time or agretti).

                      2. re: rworange

                        Thanks for the detailed reply again. We are not loyal WF fan, and by switching to CSAs from WF, we are already saving 50% on veggie cost. When my Frog Hollow CSA runs out, I will go to local farmer's market for fruit. Maybe I should hold out till their stone fruit season first (they don't come down to South Bay for farmer's market), but so far I find their fruit to be overpriced at $3.5 per lb. The Upicks is a great idea, we are on the waiting list of Two Small Farms CSA, so if we get on, we will drop one of the current CSAs.

                        Gardening is a great suggestion, I am trying to research on how to grow herbs in my backyard. Not a born green thumb, but hey, whatever can save $$$ is a good enough motivation.

                        We are not brand conscious, we just want to find the most reasonably priced healthy food, because frankly, food is much cheaper than medicine and hospitalization cost. My father spends easily over $250 on medicine a month even though he is covered by Medicare.

                        1. re: Riceball

                          Growing herbs is easy -- most herbs are essentially weeds. They're easy to grow in containers, too. In fact, some herbs (like mint) are best grown in containers because they can be invasive. Tomatoes and squash are also easy to grow. At the price of organic zucchini these days, you really can't afford not to grow it.

                          One other suggestion: check the free listings on craigslist and freecycle for people who are giving away excess produce or cuttings from their trees or gardens.

                      3. re: rworange

                        Thanks for the suggestion on Grocery Outlet, I just found one that is within 5 miles radius of my home. I will go check it out today.

                        1. re: Riceball

                          Great. Always check the expiration date, but there are lots of reasons why something is marked down, sometimes there is an overstock or a product is being discontinued, etc, etc.

                          There's usually a monthly Grocery Outlet thread on the board with people reporting their finds and whether they are good or not. Here's the May thread

                          A few stores still have the nice smoked Alaskan wild salmon that is boxed in a pouch. It is found, if any, near the canned fish. It is $4.99 for 8oz ... selling for $15.99 elsewhere. It is not is the same class as something like Captn Mike's Holey Smoke ... however it is superior to any of TJ's smoked salmon or anything else I've found in an average market.

                          And keep in mind the stock is different weekly. There are some reoccuring items, but never count on them.