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May 28, 2008 10:07 AM

Food shopping bargains: Tips and suggestions?

Hey, hounds. How do you fight the rising cost of food these days and still eat well?

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  1. Buy as few processed foods as you can, buy in bulk on the things you use a lot that won't spoil, shop at Russo's and the farmers markets for produce instead of the regular supermarkets, stuff like that.

    And if you live and work in the city, ditch your car and join Zipcar and get a T pass. The money you save in gas, insurance, maintenance, car payments and aggravation will more than pay for an upgrade in your dining.

      1. re: Luther

        Second Market Basket, and also BJ's/Costco when possible. Trader Joe's will save you a few bucks on their better things.

        I don't know about all of them, but our local Shaws prices seem out of control on the non-sale items.

        1. re: Luther

          Third for Market Basket although the one on Somerville Avenue is a true test of one's patience.

        2. For most fruits, I find they are much cheaper at Chinese markets (88, KamMan, Chinatown - plus more variety). Veggies are generally cheaper too, though I sometimes find the quality to be mixed for veggies used more in Western cuisine (i.e., squash, broccoli, bell peppers).

          Otherwise, I almost always buy what's on sale that week and plan my meals around those items. I also clip coupons (always have), but I find myself pulling them out more to take advantage of the savings. I haven't needed to dip into more processed foods than usual with this, and find I eat quite well (I dogged 2 lbs of steamer clams that were on sale last week!)

          11 Replies
          1. re: kobuta

            Pork and chicken are cheaper at Hi-Lo and 88, some beef parts too.

            Although I am a fan of their stuff, I'm not sure there are any big bargains being handed out at Russo's.

            1. re: Wursthof

              Thanks for the tips. Already subscribe to most (KamMan, Chinatown for veggies; Russo's is a trek, though). I do look at the marked down produce in my local Stop and Shop, and have gotten some pretty good deals . . ., and occasionally the marked down meat or poultry.

              Any thoughts on generic products? I've found from experience that some things are okay generic label, but others are not. BJs is also on my list.

              I buy whole chix, too, and cut them up, put backbone and wing tips in a "body bag" for the freezer and soup later.

              Don't use a lot of coupons, as they seem to be for things I don't generally use.

              1. re: keencook1

                First, ditch S&S, probably the most expensive mega-mart to shop at. Costco, offers excellent quality brands as well as their own much lower than most mega-marts and CVS'. Look for sale items and stock up the pantry and freezer. Also, if you use Costco's free AMEX card and get the exec membership you get a total of 5% cash back from both cards, also you get 3% off gas purchased anywhere. Now that's money.

                1. re: keencook1

                  I also save chicken bones for soup. I recently started to do the same for shrimp shells, but they're a little bit harder to keep. One thing I also do is boil water to store in the fridge, rather than buy bottled water. Tastes just as good, and less waste for our planet.

                  I agree with your experience on generics. I buy generic milk and cream which tastes the same. I've also tried S&S canned/frozen veggies for certain recipes. I used to love Shaw's brand cheese popcorn, but can't find it anymore.

                  One other thought on meals - if you like ramen, opt for fresh ramen packs at Kotobukiya or other Japanese food stores. While significantly more than your 10 cents Maruchan brand, they taste 10x better and actually make a solid meal when you add fresh veggies and other toppings. Dried/fried instant noodles leave me hungry after about an hour; but not so with fresh ramen, and they still come out to only a few dollars per meal.

                  1. re: kobuta

                    Isn't boiling the water itself a waste? It does take a good bit of energy to take things up to 212F. Is there something unsafe about your tap water? Generally, the strict requirements for tap water in most municipal systems is far above what's required for bottled water..

                    1. re: grant.cook

                      Maybe, but it's just an extra safety measure, and I find it tastes better. I do not like the taste of water straight from the tap. I figure the energy for the heating of the water is far less than all the plastics created and needs to be recycled/or goes to a landfill.

                        1. re: kobuta

                          What about filters like the Brita pitcher, or a faucet filter? Unless you're worried about organisms and parasites in your local water, I would think that a water filter like those would be better at cleaning up the metals, chemicals and sediment that can make your water taste bad.

                          1. re: sfumato

                            I've tried filters and it still tastes funky. Don't know why, but somehow boiling it makes it much better. *shrugs* Unless it's the dog days of summer, I also don't like ice-cold water - I prefer tepid, so this is also where boiling water helps. I can keep some in the fridge, and some out.

                  2. re: Wursthof

                    At Russo's, my experience is that you pay less than you would at Shaw's or Stop and Shop, much less Whole Foods, and you get equivalent or better product. And many things are considerably cheaper: local eggs for under $2 a dozen, Lyle's Golden Syrup (which I like on my morning yogurt and fruit) for about $2.50 less per bottle than Shaw's, decent local-roast coffee for $5.99 a pound, single-stem flowers for $1-3 a stem that last longer than anything you'd get at Kabloom or the like (I usually keep an Asiatic lily or Gerber daisy here on my desk during the winter), 10-pound bag of onions for $3, etc.

                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                      I completely agree with the Russo's rec. Of course, not everything is a bargain, but the prices in general are quite good, and it is easy to splurge on specialty produce such as poblano peppers and a wide variety of greens. Even the salad bar and prepared foods aren't bad, and they usually have a special sandwich or hot meal that is a great deal. I also really appreciate the local connection.

                      I also love Market Basket, especially the Somerville location, for general shopping, and it's hard to beat MacKinnon's in Somerville for meat prices.

                      For a little bit of a splurge for not too much money, the burgers, either pre-formed or bulk, at Savenor's for $3.99/lb. are quite tasty if you like a fine grind of beef. Beats Whole Foods.

                2. I second the Russos suggestion- I think their in-season produce is usually a good deal, and it's important to me that they focus on getting food from local suppliers whenever possible. We buy whatever is in season, go for cheaper cuts of meat (and we don't eat meat often), and preserve all our extras (freezing, canning). We also cook larger meals and use the leftovers for lunches- both of us very rarely eat lunch out. We also take advantage of deals like Restaurant Week if we want to eat out just for the sake of a nice meal (specific date-oriented celebrations aside).

                  We belong to a CSA, too- cuts way back on the price of produce during the harvesting seasons, and it's organic to boot.

                  There are some great responses to a similar question in this thread, too:

                  1. Haymarket, every Friday or Saturday. Some people complain that the food from Haymarket spoils quickly (and some of it does), but I've bought fruits and veggies there many times that lasted as long as anything from Shaws, Trader Joe's, Market Basket, etc. There's also a good deal on cheese and Middle Eastern groceries from the indoor shops. With validated $1 parking in the nearby garage, its easy to see why the place is mobbed every week.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: smooncakes

                      Ooooh, tell me more about this $1 parking. Who validates the parking stub, a vendor? Which garage do you use?

                      1. re: sliver

                        As far as I can tell, none of the outdoor vendors validate, but the indoor ones do, and have been uniformly generous about it (no 'hey, why don't you buy something first' attitudes). The garage is the big one just around the corner from the market, think the entrance is on New Sudbury St. With validation parking is $1 for 2 hours. The produce prices cannot be beat, even at Super 88 or Market Basket.

                        1. re: smooncakes

                          Much of Haymarket's produce is brought in on Thursday afternoon and is left to sit in the sun or cold. I'm talking lettuce in crates, which isn't good, but also watermelons, which is fine. Some things are bargains and some vendors let you pick your own - the newer ones, particularly the Asian vendors. I never trust the stuff they give you when they fill up a bag from the back and it usually is spoiled by the next day.

                          Any merchant who is a member of the North End Business Alliance has a stamp. All of the ones along that street have stamps, though some are reluctant and others tend to be so low on ink that the impression is barely there. A simple thing is to buy a slice of pizza at Haymarket Pizza - cheese slice $1.25, ask for it heated - and they'll validate. They used to validate for everyone but, let's face it, costs are way up and people used to stand in line to get validated without paying a measly $1 for a slice (the price was $1 for years).

                          The garage is the Parcel 7 garage opposite Maria's and Pace's, not the one next to the Marketplace or the huge Government Center garage.

                          BTW, the land in front is supposed to be where they'll put a museum of Boston.

                          Also, the falafel place is good (International Falafel?) and one of the halal butcher / grocers - forget his name, but he's very nice - has a very good fish counter.

                      2. re: smooncakes

                        I go to Haymarket, and it really cuts down my food bill. You have to be very careful, but I've perfected my search there to an art (once had one of the food hawkers tell me, hey, you've walked by here eight times.. but I by that time he came down to a couple dollars for a whole case of plums). Used to have a dehydrator - now I use the oven on the lowest setting (have to really be careful I don't end up cooking the fruit).

                        But, smooncakes - want to thank you - I had NO idea about the $1 parking!! I turned down using my son's car because of the parking. I'll wait to use it (cost of gas) I think, until the summer produce comes in - but then, it'll be worth it.

                        Had to add this edit: I also invested in two great suitcases on wheels I found at Marshall's (I've gone back to college, too, so the smaller one doubles as a wheelie backpack). Ditched my car over a year ago when the repairs were kililng me. If I need to load up on groceries, I bring the larger one - this is so much better than any wheeled basket sold for grocery items - even good if it starts to rain.

                        Using my bigger suitcase, I once dragged home more than 50 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts when I found them marked down to the unbelievable price of .99 a lb. Yeah, I'm crazy, and no, I never found them for that price again - if I bought them the day before, it would have cost me twice as much. I really stocked up that day - and they made some mean chicken cutlets...