All from Costco
Aloha y'all. I live on the tiny island of Kauai, and aim to feed my family and friends entirely from Costco and my garden. I have started a blog about this (not a plug, just sharing my experience) and am wondering if anyone is doing the same. It is an interesting problem: we are only 2 people but work from home so we have 3 meals a day to fulfill. If we shopped at our grocery stores we would blow our food budget out of the water. So, I often am finding myself figuring out what to do with stale bagels, a pound of fresh figs, and a case of refried beans.
I only go once every 2 weeks because the Costco bills can be astronomical, and I am pacing myself.
Anyone else dependent upon Costco by choice?
We shop all three bulk warehouses, Costco, BJ'S, and Sams. I find it impossible to only shop at them. Bulk staples like flour, sugar, eggs, butter, tomatoes, some fruit and whatever we can use up before it goes bad we'll buy from there. There are things that you just can't get from any of the bulk places. I watch the supermarket ads like a hawk and buy specials from them, got bone in chicken breasts a few weeks ago for $.98 a pound, got a full 8 1/2 pound pork loin last week for $16.84. I break down the package of breasts into 2 breasts and freeze them, the pork loin I cut into 2 2 pound roasts and 10 1 inch thick chops. That's meat for 8 meals for about $2.00 a meal. You can't touch that at a bulk store. I usually buy pork loin at Sams and they are usually at $2.77 a pound here. If you shop smart and shop from a list, you can keep your budget under control shopping other places than the bulk warehouses.
If you can, get a chest freezer & the foodsaver machine (also available at Costco). I find that buying the meats in bulk (whole chickens & primal cuts of pork/beef) offers great savings & convenience. Takes some practice to get the butchering down to a science...but it's not too hard.
I break down the primals (15 lbs or so) into 2-person servings, pack into the vacuum bags, label & keep a log. chickens freeze whole very nicely. fish such as wild the sides of wild salmon also freeze very well.
Any breads that you will eventually toast (eg, bagels) or reheat in the oven to crisp (baguettes, croissants) also freeze well.
You can increase your thriftiness by saving chicken backs & necks for stock. The beef/pork trimmings also make good ground beef, sausage, stew meat, etc.
The vacuum bags work very well at preventing freezer burn (but I still make sure to rotate stock).
If your garden is very productive, start canning the excess. It is a very rewarding process...much more enjoyable than you'd think & kids love prepping the mass quantities of ingredients (though keep them away from the boiling/pressure cooking parts).
For your pound of figs - Alice Waters has a great recipe for fig preserves & fig newton-like cookies using the preserves.
We love Costco but are not dependent by choice or anything.
If I had a garden (and could successfully grow our own fruit and veg) I could TOTALLY do it. A big freezer and reliable food sealing solution is critical. Stale bagels are called bagel chips, honey. Slice and bake them, then use them to scoop up the dip you made with the refried beans.
Cereal turns into trail mix and cookie bars.
Lettuce gets warmed and topped with garlicky white beans and tilapia
Cucumbers turn into planks topped with ahi, sesame seed oil and love...
I really try to use everything. We both work full time outside the house and are sometimes exhausted and tempted to just call for a pizza but I can always whip up something from whatever is hanging around.
I freeze cheese (shhhh don't tell anyone, when I cook with it, it melts and it's fine)
Don't freeze soy milk, it separates and stays that way.
I shop at both Sam's Club and Costco -- mostly for sport. I also shop at a high end specialty store that you can go broke at, and at regular supermarkets if all I want is one or two of some items. The key to keeping most of your purchases from the warehouse clubs is to shop carefully and plan carefully. Storage is key. I used my can of refried beans over about eight meals -- it was fine. On the other hand, I can plow through a case of tomato sauce really quickly.
BTW, you can freeze bagels. We do when we import them from New York back here to Texas, where DH says a decent bagel just can't be found. Just slice them first and wrap well. Just about all bread freezes well, including tortillas, (which should be separated by paper first). You may need a bigger freezer.
I found that large packages of meat and fish are the best buys there. Cut and package into the sizes you need. Costco's chicken breasts and parts are packaged well and don't need rewrapping, so that is an advantage. I also like the produce section, but you need to buy selectively or you will have a lot of waste. Only buy what you really like. It may be that once in a while you have to go to a supermarket for one or two items to supplement.
I shop at Costco often but find that many of the products, while cheaper in large lots, are usually brand names and therefore not necessarily cheaper than generic brands elsewhere.
I am be believer in using my chest freezer. In fact mine is currently totally full with lunches for school this term.
Good luck and lets us know how it goes.
I gotta second the suggestion for getting thee a Foodsaver. Imagine freezing things and not having them get freezer burn, or buying a big block o' cheese, dividing it into manageable chunks, and never having them go bad. It's a real lifesaver for a small household. Tip for cheese: I prefer to wrap in wax paper or parchment paper before Foodsavering. There's no end to stuff you can save this way, even some veg and fruit benefits from it.
I live in NYC and I shop in BJ's and the regular supermarkets and like you, I'm on a budget. I found that buying more basic, less processed items gave me more for my money.
- instead of buying tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and marinara sauce, I buy only the large cans of crushed tomatoes and make that into what I need. If I want spaghetti sauce, I simmer the tomatoes with herbs and spices, and toss it with the pasta. To make lasagna or baked ziti I use it as is.
- I also buy large bricks of ungrated cheese, grate it myself and freeze it in ziplock bags. It's much cheaper than buying the preshredded stuff.
- Regarding meat, I only buy Kosher, so I'm not sure if this will help, but here's what I do. When the butcher has ground beef, chicken, or turkey on sale, I buy in bulk (it's cheaper that way) and spend a few hours preparing and freezing. I'll make burgers with spinach added in, kofta kabobs, and then separate whatever's left into 1lb packages. It also helps to buy cheaper cuts and make recipes that utilize these types of meat.
- Find a way to use what's cheap. With your figs, I would slice an X into the top, separate a little bit, fill a mascarpone and honey mixture and top with chopped nuts. That's dessert, and it's using what you've got in a cost effective way.
- See what's locally available and I don't mean only purchasing. If a friend or neighbor grows a vegetable that you don't, offer to buy some or trade something that you grow.
On Oahu here. Costco forms the base of my shopping pyramid, even though I am single. I keep a lot of stuff in my freezer as a result, and being in Hawaii keep stuff in the refrigerator that I wouldn't if i lived in a dryer cooler place. Beyond that I try to do the farmer's markets and keep an eye open for sale items when i go shopping.
I think that if you read the weekly ads in Garden Island, you can find some pretty reasonably priced items around the island. I bought chix thighs the other week for $.99/lb...and you can buy cheap items like long rice and make chicken long rice. The majority of key asian ingredients are not found at costco. On the flip side, you can get canned tuna and spam for a pretty good deal, and I saw that 12 cans of chix stock was $8.99 when I was there yesterday. Living solely dependent on Costco items is definitely doable, but in my opinion, not necessarily vital for economic survival...
And...give your stale bagels to the chickens! Or...make croutons!
I do not share America's fascination with Costco for a couple of reasons.
1) Very little of the food is local or even in season. That means it has been trucked in from somewhere, probably hundreds of miles away (or in your case, flown in from thousnads of miles away.)
2) You have little idea when it arrived, and how long it has been sitting there.
3) Ditto with the processed foods: if they are not brand names, how can you be sure what is in them, and given the length of time they traveled, what conditions they were exposed to?
4) Buying at Costco defeats local markets/farmers and as a result, your choices become narrow.
5) A lot of it simply doesn't taste all that good. Of course, if you need a cake for a graduation party, or beer or a big box of Grape Nuts, it's a place to go.
Also remember that the more full your freezer gets, the more electricity you need to run it.
In reply to Brendastarlet:
1. Costco's produce is consistently better - often much better - than any of the local markets.
2.Same as #1.
3. Costco's processed foods are consistently better at a better price than any of the local markets. Their processed sliced turkey at $4.00/lb, for instance, is half the price of the local markets sliced turkey and much better quality.
4. Like most people, I'm interested in the best quality at the best price. That's Costco. Local markets haven't earned my loyalty and don't offer better shopping. Local farmers -- there is no such thing in big city markets - it's almost all institutionally produced.
5.Costco's taste quality beats the local markets time after time.
6. Fuller freezer means a higher electric bill? I think not.
None of your assertions against Costco jibe with my experience.
Yeah, actually the fuller the freezer the less electricity it takes to run it because the already frozen foods help to keep eachother frozen.
Also, I'm curious how you know that brand name products' ingredients are so much better than the generic and why generics' ingredients are more of a mystery?