Grocery Geek: Basics for the Pantry?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We participate in other affiliate programs as well. For more details, please see our disclosure policy.

Grocery shopping can be costly, even when you are careful about your spending. I’m crunching numbers this week.

I really thought that this week I could limit my grocery shopping to pantry staples. I probably could have, but I didn’t. Apparently, better planning is in order. It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading a delicious cookbook and yearning to make the recipes that I’m reading about.

I made at least three stops over the course of the week, including picking up our produce box. Here’s how it shook down:


I spent $100 at Costco picking up “basics” like 2 gallons of milk, 4 loaves of bread, 2 dozen tortillas, 4 pounds of bacon, 18 eggs, 6+ pounds of cheese, 2+ pounds lunch meat, and crackers. $100? Yeah, surprised me, too. But, some of the cheese, like the romano, will last us for months.

I was unpleasantly surprised that Costco changed their packaging — and their price — on turkey deli meat. It’s almost twice what it cost before. So, we’ll be finding an alternative protein to put into sandwiches from now on.

Abundant Harvest Organics

I successfully processed all 30 pounds of last week’s apples into applesauce and have it stashed in the freezer. This week’s delivery brought apples, carrots, collard greens, arugula, green garlic, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, lemongrass, parsnips, potatoes, tangelos, lemons, and romanesco cauliflower. Total spent was about $38.

To save some cash this month and give myself a change to catch up on some new and unusual ingredients, I set our produce box to vacation for next week.


I cruised by Sprouts to get more Cuties (aka California Clementines). Last week’s boxes were so good. Unfortunately, these were not up to par. Tasted like what happens when you drink orange juice after you brushed your teeth. I know, I could take them back. But, we’re eating them, nonetheless, hoping we’ll strike gold.

Bell peppers were 3/$1, sour cream was a $1 and the clearance bread was $0.99/package. So, after $12 worth of clementines, my bill was $16 and some change.

Total spent this week = $154, bringing my monthly total to just over $711.

Compared to the USDA estimate that I should be spending well over $1000 per month to feed my family of 8, it’s not bad, but not that great, either. Last year my average grocery spending for our family of 8 to eat (plus buy toiletries) was a tad under $800 a month. This seems huge to me, about $200 more than it was two years ago. However, prices have increased dramatically over that time; my kids have grown dramatically in that time. And we’re trying to increase the quality of the foods we eat.

Currently, my freezer is getting nicely restocked. We’ve barely made a dent in the stash from my recent freezer cooking day. That plus the applesauce and squash that I’ve been processing and freezing, will carry us well into the coming months. However, I do see us needing flour, sugar, and butter in the next week or two. While I would like to stay out of the stores next week, those are staples that I just really can’t do without.

That said, I would like to get it back toward $650 to 700 over the course of the year. Last month I spentΒ $446.33 during the pantry challenge. So, there’s a chance that even if I spend the full $800 this month, we’ll still be on track. And it’s certainly less than what the government says I should be spending.

Do you have a trick for curbing your spending?

Subscribe to Good Cheap Eats
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. Thanks again for keeping it real. I find feeding my family health, nutritious, mostly organic food is expensive, even though we always cook at home and rely on very few processed foods (except potato chips and pretzels sometimes).

    I can’t find produce as cheaply as you, but I have a plan for the summer. I plan to both have a garden in our community garden (our rental yard is too small for a garden) and get a CSA share. We will have an abundance of organic produce this summer, so I plan to freeze and process a lot of it to help us get through the expensive winter months when there aren’t cheap alternatives. I don’t know if it will work, but it is my plan. πŸ™‚

    • @Melissa@Mom’s Plans, I think that sounds like a great plan. We are eating corn and beans from August’s produce box. And I just realized that I could process my excess of spinach, turnips, and parsnips for the freezer and not feel the pressure to use them right now.

      Also, the grower gave us a great idea on freezing lemon slices. Put them in muffin tins with water and freeze. Pop them out and store in a bag. All through summer we can have lemon ice in our water without buying lemons out of season. πŸ˜‰

      • @Jessica,
        Thanks for sharing the extra tips. Would you mind sharing your recipe where you covertly placed the turnips, or is that a recipe that will make its way into the cookbook? I got some suggestions to just serve them as a side dish, but I don’t know if my kids are ready for that yet. πŸ™‚

        • @Melissa@Mom’s Plans, totally bombed as a side dish. I’m just adding them to soups or mashed potatoes. I looked up in my Ball Book of Food Preserving and saw that you can blanch them for 2 minutes, cool, package, and freeze. This way I don’t have to sneak them into soups and mashed potatoes this week. I can spread it out. Bwahaha.

  2. We spend about the same for our fam of 8 (sometimes 9). The winter months kill me, even with canning our summer/fall abundance. I just need more garden space, which we can’t have where we live.

  3. I haven’t done so well with my grocery budget this month. Considering it’s only the 18th and I have $54 left I’ll be going over my planned spending. Not to mention the unplanned $40 debit card purchase I made at Whole Foods yesterday. *sigh(

    Again, my husband and I talked about what I bought time month and decided the budget we set wasn’t reasonable. I was so inspired by the low amount I spent in January my February budget was $100 less than usual. Except I forgot we’ve eaten most of my freezer stash of vegetables. And we needed a few basic yet expensive items (Olive oil, honey, etc.).

    I’m also working on a plan to have a stockpile several months extra food at all times. Things we normally consume so they won’t just sit in the basement untouched. Of course, it’s around $100 worth of stuff so I can’t go out and buy it all at once. It needs to be built more slowly but that still means I need to add a bit to the grocery budget until we reach our goal.

  4. Do you grate your own cheese? I bought a block of white cheddar last week and I have this box grater that I was tempted to throw out of the window. Please tell me there is an easier way? πŸ™‚

    • Do you have a food processor with the grater attachment. You can grate a whole block of cheese in a minute or two. Then I put it all in a giant ziploc and depending on how much it is or the meals planned, I sometimes put half in the freezer. Hope this helps!

    • @Amanda, I was just going to say what Tami said. Now, that I am working on eliminating hormones from our dairy, I rarely find rbst-free cheese already shredded. So, I shred my own. I use a box grater for very small jobs, but I bust out the food processor once a week and tackle those two loafs and slice some and shred the rest. We go through it so quickly, I rarely freeze it, but you definitely could.

  5. Sprouts in the los angeles area has a 3 day sale this weekend with cheese 1.99 per pound as well as chicken breasts on sale among other things. I know they package their own cheese so it molds faster but it would be inexpensive to grate some and freeze it.

  6. Deborah Jennings says:

    It seems that all food items are going up in our area. It’s a good thing we started stocking up early!

    Do you have a trick for curbing your spending?
    One thing is to never be hungry while grocery shopping. Another one is to shop alone.

  7. Dont forget about dehydrating your lemons, produce, greens & other vegetables too. I got a fairly inexpensive dehydrator for Christmas and have been dehydrating everything in sight. Im loving it.

    Yes, I have to be very very careful at Costco. I can spend $300 in a minute if Im not careful. Most of the time if Im just going in for one or two things, I deliberately dont get a basket since I can be wooed into buying anything & everything there… sigh.. πŸ˜‰

  8. Is that USDA estimate supposed to be for toiletries or just food? Geezalou, they have high averages. I guess I’m more thrifty than I thought, since my monthly food-only average is 65% of what they say it should be, and it certainly isn’t because food prices are so low around here. Your post inspired me to go check my spending, since I’ve been feeling like I’m spending a lot on food lately. Special seafood purchases for the kid for Valentines cranked it up a bit. It turns out I am $150 less than this point in the year last year, so I was all proud of myself. However, it’s only $20/month less than the monthly average for the past two years. That was depressing, since I want it more like $40/month. I guess I have to wait a few more months to see if I am actually reducing the overall spending. I think I am, as the splurges have been planned rather than a whim. Except for that Valentine seafood, a little fresh produce, and a couple work-related meals dining out (for which I always have leftovers to make another meal), we’ re still eating from the pantry/freezer. Well, plus that cheesecake that was on sale when I went to get the seafood. Ahem. Must Stay Out Of Store.

    If I ever find beef at a reasonable price, though, I’ll blow the grocery budget for the month! I’m getting a little tired of poultry and pork.

    • @Sandi, those estimates are on food costs for all meals and snacks eaten at home. You’re supposed to adjust it lower by 10% if you have a larger family. But, still, their numbers are HIGH. But, they are also nationwide averages of what food costs in the US. So, your area may be different.

      I also don’t know what they think people should eat. If it’s chicken nuggets, well, then, that throws it off, doesn’t it?

      • @Jessica, I wonder if those estimates include soda, coffee, and even beverages like alcohol. I feel super frugral when looking at the USDA chart but coffee, beer, and wine could add as much as $75 per month. And we don’t drink soda or juice. Plus there really are a lot of people who don’t shop according to sales or menu plan which boggles me.

        I was going to comment on this above but it’s easier here. In terms of freezing greens I don’t think you need to process them. I just wash, spin them dry, and stuff them in a bag. Mostly chard and kale which we get in abundance from our CSA at the end of the season. We’re working our way through several bags of chard from August and September and they’re fine. I even put it on pizza!

  9. I am not thrilled with lunchmeat in general, cost certainly being one of the reasons. I was getting by filling sandwiches with PB&J, tuna, cheese & relish, or egg salad, but my oldest boy asks for a “main dish” in his sandwich. I’ve started cooking chicken pieces in the crockpot each week and using that meat for sandwiches.

    Prices have definitely gone up. Food is not cheap.

  10. We live in SC and I have started keeping a price book. Grapes were on sale last month for $1.38 lb. This month, they are on sale for $1.48 lb. B/S chicken tenders were $2.28 lb last month and are $2.98 lb this month (on sale). It is crazy!
    I work outside the home at the local hospital so I buy my groceries every Saturday morning EARLY so I can get the marked-down meat. Today I spent $110 to feed our family of 5 (hub, me, 22yo daughter, 18 yo daughter and 11 yo son), so basically 4 adults and a walking stomach. I bought 6 lbs of ground round for $2.08lb and 2 pkgs B/S chicken thighs for $2.28lb and that was all the meat I bought! Other than cat litter and toilet tissue, everything else was a food item. We made our own pop tarts today (Delish!!!!!) and we are soaking beans to have tomorrow night for dinner.
    I do not know how to cut any more from our food budget b/c we all take our lunches already to work/school and we only eat out one meal a week. It is becoming a huge challenge for sure. I look forward to having a garden this year and growing my own produce to supplement the food budget.

  11. Maybe you could make an additional whole chicken or two and cut thin slices for sandwich meat.

    I’m wondering about the government chart you linked. I clicked on it and don’t see where it says what we should be spending. There were just a bunch of years and months and those just led to listing the year and month again. How do I use this?

    • @Stacy, those years and months are links to that time period’s food cost report. If you click on the *month for each year, that is considered the average for that calendar year. However, December 2011 is the most recent data.

      When you click on a report, it will show you monthly and weekly costs for four different spending levels, organized according to age and sex groups. Then you add up your family (either monthly or weekly). Check the footnote at the bottom of the chart to adjust for a family larger than 4.

      Hope that helps!

      • @Jessica, OK, thanks. I was just being lame–I didn’t realize it was a file that was downloading. So we’re sort of between thrifty and low cost. Makes me think we should be spending less. I try to be very careful within reason, but our natural and organic foods add up, even if I’m choosy about which to get.

        • @Stacy, I wouldn’t worry about it if you are getting great quality and not spending money you don’t have.

        • @Stacy, Stacy, we’re between the thrifty and low cosr, too. We know we could spend a lot less if we needed to, but we have consciously decided to spend our budget.
          So you’re in good company. πŸ™‚

  12. What will you do with the cauliflower you got?

    My hubby has gotten into juicing…and so the spinach, chard, all get juiced. Our tangelos were tart so I juiced them and there must have been a couple of sweet ones in the mix because the juice was much better than the fruit! Great idea on blanching those turnips. I zested and juiced the lemons and froze the zest and lemon juice already.

    I’m hoping to keep the budget down this week…there isn’t much on sale to stock up on and we’re eating mostly out of the freezer this week. So just milk, and a few other necessitates.

  13. We go through a lot of cheese and I’ve thought about buying the bulk blocks. I know I can shred it and freeze it. But what about slicing it? I don’t worry too much about thawing shredded cheese. But doesn’t that thawed sliced cheese have a strange taste or consistancy? Isn’t it better fresh? I guess my basic question is this: can I freeze cheese slices? What’s the best way?


    • The biggest problem with freezing blocks or slices is that the cheese typically crumbles after thawing. It’s not generally recommended.

  14. Last month I noticed the same thing about Costco’s turkey lunch meat here in CO. So disappointing. I noticed in your picture that you had bought the old version and I was so jealous. But now yours is gone too. Sorry. No way am I paying $6/lb. I found their whole oven roasted turkey breast for $3.89/lb. and am slicing it myself. I’m perfectly happy to do that to save over $2/lb.

    • @Mary Lou, they actually had two kinds of turkey that weren’t the “old kind,” a Columbus brand in the black box and a Kirkland brand in a black box. Both were a lot more money than the old flat package I used to get. Bummer!

  15. On the bright side of the Costco brand of turkey lunch meat doesn’t have the nitrates and nitrites like the other brand they carried here in Seattle.

    • I’m not so sure about that. Maybe the Seattle market gets something different? Ours has all that junk in it. πŸ™

  16. I really think you are doing well. I’m pretty happy when I get away with $200 a week for the five of us. I live in one of the most expensive places in the country and the food prices here are ridiculous to say the least. I do my best to combine coupons & sales but it is tough. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Real food costs more. If you fed your kids chips and kool-aid then your grocery bill would certainly go down but your medical bills would probably go up! πŸ™‚

    • Jessica says:

      Ha! Well, I think that’s the part that can be confusing. I don’t want to slam the chips and Kool-Aid, but I do want us to eat better than we do. And so, the journey is to figure out how to do it without spending an arm and a leg.

Share Your Thoughts