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Feb 8, 2009 01:48 PM

Dining deliciously at the dollar store – OR - Going gourmet at Grocery Outlet for $3 a day

Lost your job?

Living off that unemployment check doesn’t have to mean days of Bar S hot dogs and beans or bologna sandwiches on 99 cent generic white bread … or worse … day old white bread marked down to 50 cents.

Depression dining doesn’t have to be depressing.

Time to explore those 99 cent and dollar stores. Some even sell wine for $1 a bottle. A few years back a poster did reports about what wine was good at the local 99 cent store

In the SF Bay Area we have the Rolls Royce of discount supermarkets, a chain called Grocery Outlet.

What is so great about this store are not so much the ordinary low cost items such as cheap hot dogs that people seem to gravitate to when funds are low.

At Grocery Outlet there are lots of organic and specialty items. This week for $1.49 there were bags of hand-rolled straccetti noodles from Italy … excellent red pepper with a hot zing of chili heat or flavorful garlic and basil.

A box of Nutritious Living Antioxidant Indulgence cereal with strawberries, goji berries, dark chocolate was 99 cents.

A 12 oz bag of frozen wild Pollock fillets was 99 cents…. and so it goes.

So for the month of February, I’m putting together meals only from what I found at Grocery Outlet and keeping the budget to $3 a day.

The first link is the menu for week one that started Monday Feb 2nd.

A while back I did a similar thing … but shopping at farmers markets and looking for discounts at all types of stores

Conclusion - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day

While not all discount stores have such a fabulous selection, the point is to give what is near you a look. At worst there might be a few items to add some interest to meals.

This week one of the worse places in my area, Big Lots, had Annie’s organic green garlic salad dressing ($1), Mediterranean Market EVOO 17 oz ($3.50) and Hunt’s organic tomatoes 28 oz ($1).

At the 99 cent store there were frozen 5 oz fillets of white fish stuffed with shrimp and other 4 oz frozen fish fillets such as tuna, salmon, rockfish, etc, Hormel Naturals pepperoni, all for the price that is the name of the store.

I'm not shopping at those stores though this month, only Grocery Outlet.

Don’t get carried away though. Make sure there actually is a bargain. Some times sale items at regular markets are less, especially combined with coupons. These stores don’t accept coupons.

Always check the expiration dates.

So, this is also a … uh, scavenger … hunt … any great stores in your area? Any really good finds or tips about extreme discount stores?

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  1. I kept the meals simple.

    Something like apple cinnamon oatmeal just means a chopped up apple added to oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon. Most are self-explanatory. If there is more to it there will be a * with the ‘recipe’

    The cost per serving follows in parenthesis

    I drink a lot of coffee and make a pot in the morning. The cost per day for that pot without milk was 15 cents, with milk it was 40 cents

    The cost of olive oil, butter, salad dressing, spices, honey and condiments will be added at the end. It was too difficult to figure out on a per dish basis. I am estimating over the month I’ll have used 1 stick butter (65 cents), 4 oz honey (50 cents), 4 oz of olive oil (74 cents), ½ bottle of salad dressing (50 cents) and about 50 cents worth of various spices and mustard for a total of $1.89 over four weeks.

    Because this is only for me, to make the menus interesting, I will have some things left over for the next month. I doubt I’ll eat all the eggs, butter, oil, spices, apples, oranges, peanut butter, etc this month. That is why I did a per serving breakdown to keep track of actual costs.

    Too often when people try do something like this, they do it for one week. You can’t eat interestingly if you do it that way. People don’t shop that way. They shop over time. Over the course of weeks you can have interesting menus.

    Calories per day averaged about 1400.

    Menu week 1

    TOTAL COST FOR MONDAY FEB 2, 2009 - $2.94

    Cinnamon apple oatmeal (33 cents)
    Black coffee (15 cents)

    Ham sandwich with Alouette garlic cheese spread on Earthgrains 100 % whole grain, stone ground whole wheat bread (65 cents)
    Fresh Bosc pear (18 cents)

    Pollock ‘Vera Cruz’ style * (71 cents)
    Buttered red pepper hand-rolled straccetti noodles (37 cents)
    Yogurt with organic Smucker’s orange marmalade (37 cents)

    2 squares Lindt Excellence Madagascar 70% cocoa (18 cents)

    * Sautee ½ fresh green pepper and ½ onion, add ¼ cup tomato sauce and three chopped black olives. Top with fish fillet, cover and cook until fish is done.

    TOTAL COST FOR TUESDAY FEB 3, 2009 - $2.96

    Cinnamon pecan oatmeal (20 cents)
    Coffee with milk (40 cents)

    Pepper & egg ‘sub’ * (66 cents)
    Pear crisp ** (24 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    Discover Cuisine chipotle chicken and Mexican style rice (99 cents)
    Orange sprinkled with chili (17 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    10 Orobello’s Finest organic flatbread square crackers with Arrowhead Mills organic creamy Valencia peanut butter (30 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    * Organic egg scrambled with fresh fried green pepper on a Alvarado St Bakery 100 % whole grain organic hot dog bun

    ** Sliced bosc pear drizzled with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon and microwaved. Add topping of oatmeal mixed with butter, cinnamon and honey. Brown in toaster oven.

    TOTAL COST FOR WEDNESDAY FEB 4, 2009 - $2.91

    Strawberries, goji berries, dark chocolate cereal with 1.2 cup milk (30 cents)
    Black Coffee (15 cents)

    Go Appetit creamy mango spice soup (50 cents)
    1/2 peanut butter sandwich (28 cents)

    4Real spaghetti rings (99 cents)
    Green salad with olives, green pepper, garlic jack, pepperoni, ranch dressing (37 cents)
    Baked cinnamon apple (12 cents)

    5 organic crackers with Alouette garlic cheese spread (20 cents)

    TOTAL COST FOR THURSDAY FEB 5, 2009 - $3.01

    Cinnamon and honey oatmeal (11 cents)
    Black coffee (15 cents)

    Pepperoni pizza bagel (77 cents)
    Green salad with black olives and ranch dressing (17 cents)

    Wild Pacific salmon fillet (70 cents)
    Buttered garlic and basil hand-rolled straccetti noodles (37 cents)
    Fresh cauliflower (25 cents)
    Edame (22 cents)
    Hot gingered pears topped with yogurt (18 cents)

    Lindt Excellence 85% cocoa extra dark chocolate square (9 cents)

    TOTAL COST FOR FRIDAY FEB 6, 2009 - $2.98

    Orange marmalade oatmeal (23 cents)
    Coffee with milk (40 cents)

    Pear and Alouette garlic cheese omelet (62 cents)
    Green salad with olives and ranch dressing (17 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    Discover Cuisine sweet pepper beef and broccoli with white rice (99 cents)
    Edame (22 cents)
    Orange with ginger and honey (17 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    Lindt Excellence 85% cocoa extra dark chocolate square (9 cents)
    Lindt Excellence Madagascar 70% cocoa chocolate square (9 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    TOTAL COST FOR SATURDAY FEB 6, 2009 - $2.96

    Saturday brunch
    Scrambled egg and ham with sweet potato home fries (56 cents)
    Coffee with milk (40 cents)

    Grilled Sonoma Jack garlic cheese sandwich (36 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    4Real beef ravioli (99 cents)
    Green salad with olives, pepperoni and ranch dressing (31 cents)
    Yogurt with honey (25 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    Lindt Excellence Madagascar 70% cocoa chocolate square (9 cents)
    Coffee with milk

    TOTAL COST FOR SUNDAY FEB 6, 2009 - $3.25

    Bagel with cream cheese (45 cents)
    Black coffee (15 cents)

    Miller’s Grillers hot dog on Alvarado St Bakery 100 % whole grain organic hot dog bun (93 cents)

    Banquet fried chicken dinner with corn and mashed potatoes (1.29)
    Green salad with ranch dressing (10 cents)
    Spiced sautéed apple (12 cents)

    5 organic crackers with Sonoma Jack garlic cheese (20 cents)


    This might look like I made my goal of $3 a day, but it doesn’t include the 50 cents per week of condiments, spices, oils

    This was actually more difficult than I thought it would be and I made some mistakes that will be corrected over the next weeks now that I have some experience with the meal plan.

    The big score while shopping this week was the fruit, bag of fresh sweet potatoes and the frozen fish. However, to make the menus more vaired than salmon, pollock, salmon, pollock, I included some frozen entrees. They were interesting, but played hell on the budget. Who would think a 99 cent entrée would be pricy.

    Grocery outlet is having a meat sale next week so that will allow some variety with the fish. Since I have a good chunk of the groceries for the month, I now have the luxury of only buying super bargains over the next few weeks.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      GROCERIES USED FOR WEEK 1 (Many will be part of menus for the next three weeks

      If anyone has any interesting menu ideas using these ingredients, I welcome them.

      I'm thinking maybe pollock a l'orange and salmon tossed with red chili noodles and olive oil.

      1.89 Earthgrains 100 % whole grain, stone ground whole wheat bread 1 lb 8 oz
      1.99 Soli’s NY style plain bagels 6
      1.99 Alvarado St Bakery 100 % whole grain organic hot dog buns 6

      99 cents Nutritious Living Antioxidant Indulgence cereal with Strawberries, goji berries, dark chocolate 10 oz
      2.49 Mom’s Best Oatmeal 38 oz

      1.69 Alpine Lace Reduced fat smoked provolone 6 slices
      99 cents Alouette Garlic cheese supreme 6.5 oz
      99 cents Philly Cream cheese 8 oz
      99 cents Sonoma Snacks Garlic jack cheese cubes 8 oz

      99 cents Lindt ExcellenceMadagascar 70% cocoa 10 squares 3.5 oz
      99 cents Lindt Excellence 85% cocoa extra dark 10 squares 3.5 oz

      3.99 Mountain High Heritage blend coffee 32 oz

      1.49 Roegelein Cooked ham (9 slices) 12 oz
      99 cents Gallo Pepperoni 54 slices 3 oz

      99 cents Orobello’s Finest Organic flatbread squares 17 oz

      1.29 Banquet Fried chicken dinner with corn and mashed potatoes 9 oz
      99 cents Discover Cuisine Chipotle chicken and Mexican style rice 12 oz
      99 cents Discover Cuisine Sweet pepper beef and broccoli with white rice12 oz
      99 cents 4Real Spaghetti rings 8 oz
      99 cents 4Real Beef ravioli 8 oz

      2.79 Judy’s organic eggs 18 eggs

      3.49 Aquastart Wild salmon steaks 1.25 lbs
      99 cents Harbor seafood Wild Pollock 5 fillets 12 oz

      1.99 Gala apples (16) 3 lbs
      1.99 Mandarin oranges (12) 3 lb
      1.99 Bosc pears (11)

      2.99 Miller’s grillers 5 extra large hot dogs 12 oz

      1.99 Smucker’s Organic orange marmalade 12 oz

      1.99 Milk 1/2 gal

      2.59 SNC Nut Company Shelled pecans 6 oz

      79 cents Sun Valley Black olives 3 olives 6 oz

      1.49 Simply Enjoy Garlic and basil noodles with wheat germ straccetti hand-rolled noodles from Italy 8.8 oz
      1.49 Simply Enjoy Red pepper noodles with wheat germ straccetti hand-rolled noodles from Italy 8.8 oz

      2.99 Arrowhead Mills Organic creamy Valencia peanut butter 1.6 lb

      79 cents Del Monte Traditional spaghetti sauce 26 1/2 oz

      50 cents Go Appetit Natural creamy mango spice soup

      99 cents bag of lettuce 1 lb
      99 cents head fresh cauliflower
      34 cents fresh bell pepper
      1.59 Onions 3 lbs (6)
      2.49 Sweet potatoes 3 lbs
      1.29 Frozen edame pods 1lb

      99 cents Dannon All natural lowfat yogurt 32 oz

      2.59 Challenge butter 1 lb

      25 cents Busy Bee Honey 2 oz

      79 cents Deli Market Yellow mustard 29 oz

      2.99 Crisco Light olive oil 16.9 oz

      99 cents Wishbone Salad Spritzers Ranch dressing 7 oz

      59 cents Julia’s spices cinnamon 1 1/4 oz
      69 cents Julia’s spices Ground ginger 1 oz

      1. re: rworange

        Bravo! You never cease to amaze and inspire rworange!

        Beginning my own scavenger hunt this week :)

    2. When we lived in the Dogpatch (SF), there was the Bargain Bank at the end of Minnesota. Organic California oils (grapeseed, olive), wines, Hello Kitty cookies, Weleda & California Baby skincare... It appears that the Polk Street location been renamed Spencer & Daniel's and the dogpatch one possibly gone (after leaving the neighborhood it finally cleaned up?).

      There used to be a good Deals store on Lincoln/Western Chicago; the other ones I have been to on the east coast have been rather gross.

      The farmer's markets seem to be the best places to find bargains in NJ.

      1. Nice work ... but will this ween us off "lattes"?

        2 Replies
          1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

            Well, there WERe six packets of latte mix for 99 cents, but I was guessing it was along the lines of something you'd buy at 7-11.

            If I didn't need the caf-fiend, I could have cut my $2 lb coffee cost by half since there were 1 lb bags of whole organic decaf coffee beans for 99 cents.

          2. Krys, it's not clear which is more impressive - your ability to source such great bargains or your ability to keep track of exactly how much everything costs. Do I sense a book in the works?

            One thought, inspired by a recent interview on NPR where Mark Bittman was pimping "Food Matters" - an occasional vegetarian dinner can dramatically reduce the overall grocery bill. Legumes are dirt cheap, filling, and incredibly healthy. And if you have a pressure cooker, they're quick, too.

            3 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              After spending my life keeping diet diaries, I've got the part down about recording meals, calories and portion sizes. All I needed for this was to add a price breakdown which was easy enough.

              Part of this was trying to get back to portion control ... though in NO way meant to be a diet ... I just needed to get back to being aware of what I was putting in my mouth.

              When I do something like this I don't cheat because it is too difficult to keep track of. Also, I don't want to tell people you can eat good food and be satisfied and then sneak off and add food not listed.

              Using whole bread is filling. Also, cutting the sugar makes me feel full. The little snack here and there is good.

              I miss wine though. No bargains this month. There are three liter bottles of Almaden burgandy for $3.99, but a bottle of wine won't remain good over a month (even cheapo wine). The only boxed wine is out of my price range for this ... an Argentine wine selling for $9.99 a box. Will keep hoping some of those boxed wines for $5 or under come in. If not ... luck of what is available this month.

              Unfortunately, fresh produce is not Grocery Outlet's strength. I lucked out on the sweet potatoes, but they are more expensive at about 80 cents a pound than at other discount markets or corner markets where they are about 50 cents a pound. The cauliflower was a fluke ... and it was also amazing quality

              1. re: rworange

                The Berkeley store had blueberries for 1.50. You could add them to cereal or yogurt. Also, the bagged onions were a good deal. With the chicken stock you could make soup.

                1. re: rworange

                  I've actually had better than average luck in the produce department at the Oakland location recently. My last visit there were bags of deeply discounted produce, most in good shape. I got 5 pink grapefruits for a buck (still a little expensive for your purposes, but a good deal nonetheless) and 7 or 8 yellow onions for 49 cents.

              2. What kind of coffee do you use?

                1 Reply
                1. re: WCchopper

                  Mountain High Heritage blend coffee

                  It's ok. About as good as what you'd get at a fast food restaurant. In the same league as any canned coffee like Maxwell House.

                  My S/O is from Central America and grew up with powdered Nescafe. The guy is the only one in his family who is a chowhound except for the coffee thing. When I first gave him Graffeo, the look on his face was like I tried to kill him. None of the other local coffee roasters fared any better.

                  So I buy the can of $3.99 coffee of the month for him which makes him happy. Most have been ok, about the same as any canned coffee. There was only one I thought was undrinkable, but I'm blanking on it right now.