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Shopping Diary Challenge: What You Learned

key food, mcguinness blvd, greenpoint, brooklyn


I’m aquiver with anticipation…

Last week I offered you a challenge: To keep notes about your food shopping for an entire week. Quite a few of you signed on (yay, you!). Maybe it was the chance to win a Whole Foods gift card, or maybe you’re just curious, like me. Either way, it’s time to share.

In order to be entered in the drawing, leave a comment below telling what you learned about your shopping habits. Do you fall for fancy packaging? Spend more when you’re hungry? Take a really long time selecting the perfect mango? Drop beaucoup bucks on pedigreed pork? Inquiring minds want to know! I’d be thrilled if you go into detail, but if you only learned one simple, eye-opening thing, that’s fabulous too.

Because some of you weren’t able to start keeping notes right away, I’m going to give you a few days to report here. Leave your comments by 8PM Eastern time on Monday, June 24, to be eligible to win. I’ll use to select a winner on Monday night, which I’ll announce on Parents Need to Eat Too’s Facebook page. (If you haven’t already “liked” the page, now’s a good time to do so! And leave a comment or share one of the posts there, to be sure it’ll show up in your news feed.)

I can’t wait to hear what you’ve learned—watch for a roundup post about it, coming soon.

So… Whadja learn?

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Tanya

    I waaay overspend for a meal where I’m entertaining- even casually- as compared to making meals for the same number of people who’re immediate family.

  2. Alice

    My quirky local store has only been stocking the more expensive organic chicken at about $15.00 for 4 cutlets. That’s when I switch gears and get creative with the $6.00 pork tenderloin.

    Here’s a tip from my blog about keeping strawberries fresh.


  3. Jesse

    I spend at least $25 more when I take my children with me to the grocery store (thanks summer). They always point out things they want, and since most of the time it is actually healthy stuff, I buy it. And they eat it, which is awesome! But man, I went to pick up some eggs and yogurt this week and ended up with a papaya, flax seed encrusted bread, and a bag full of artichokes just to name a few things. I love that they get excited about the foods they see, but bringing them with me certainly is not the way for me to keep my food budget in order.

  4. Liz

    A very interesting exercise, Debbie! I’d say the very act of *doing* this made me much more mindful – did I really need to get that extra item “just because”? I found myself eating out of the pantry and freezer more than usual, rather than make yet another shopping trip! Having said that, I ended up shopping for *something* most days – whether it was for cooking at school, buying ingredients to make a favourite family dish, or for work stuff (I do a bit of small-scale catering, here and there). Theoretically I should be able to plan what I need to get week by week, and make fewer trips, however a smaller than average refrigerator and lack of storage (as well as lack of time/brain capacity for planning!) means this seldom happens! So you wanted detail? It broke down thus: Friday £80 at Sainsbury’s (a supermarket) – lots of fresh produce (a large box of gorgeous strawberries for £4 which I thought rather a bargain) plus some pantry staples and ingredients for fish pie for a client. Oh, and wine! Saturday £2.50 for a lovely loaf of artisan bread from the market, plus £6 from the Italian grocers for sausage pasta for family lunch. Monday £1.90 for some lettuce and new potatoes for salade nicoise at Marks and Spencer. Tuesday nothing! No shopping at all! Wednesday: around £40 from Ocado (internet grocery) lots of heavy stuff and household items such as kitchen roll and cleaning products, plus £9 spent at the street market on nectarines, cherry tomatoes, cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Total bargain – couldn’t have carried any more, and all for £9! Thursday: Around £3 on some cucumber, peppers and Scotch pancakes to give my children for a snack after school. So, what is that? Around £150 for my family of four. Which seems quite a lot – or does it? There *is* a lot of food left in the fridge and I shouldn’t need to do another big shop for quite a few days.

  5. Holly Wert

    Only spent $70 on regular weekly groceries because I wanted to use up some leftovers and pantry items. Spent $40 though on fast food because we went to visit family 4 hrs away and I wasn’t prepared with snacks to take with us 🙁 On the way home we also stopped at a farmers market where I spent about $30 on locally grown produce and a block of cheese. We were listening to “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” on cd in the car which probably made me more likely to buy stuff at the farmer’s market but I’m ok with that because I believe in supporting small farmers anyway. So in all spent about $100 on groceries and $40 on convenience. When we take another car trip in a few weeks I’ll be better prepared with cheaper, healthier snacks to take along.

  6. Amber

    I’ve been on the, “reducing the budget, and eating healthy”, road for about 4 years. Every since I had my first child, who has food intolerances. My 2nd has even more than the 1st. I have food allergies, so I make nearly everything we eat from scratch. I make a menu for the week and stick too it. It’s been a hard road to make myself stick to the list, but it’s the only way to not blow our budget. There are not often sales on fresh fruits and veggies, so I don’t clip coupons and I’m not good at finding sales. When I do see something I buy on sale (say diced tomatoes, or black beans) I do buy a bunch. I make stock every time I roast a chicken, with the bones and veggie scraps, I’ve saved in the freezer (about every other week). It’s not enough for the amount of broth I use to cook with, but every little bit helps. My goal is to start canning the fresh tomatoes I get from my local farmers this year! I go through an amazing amount of tomatoes!!

  7. rachel

    I keep on track budget-wise much better when I actually look at my grocery list and follow it. But to do that, I need to plan my meals first and then write up my grocery list. That way I can avoid aisles and products I don’t need by telling myself to stay on track! Also, I learned that I’m a sucker for Chobani on sale. I can’t pass it up. 🙂

  8. Deborah

    I spent just over $150 this week on grocery items, which seems a bit lower than usual since I already had some things stocked up at home.

    However, we spent $27 this week on ice creams. And, most shockingly, $262 on meals out. This is an anomaly but we had a family meal out on Father’s Day with my husband’s extended family (we split the bill, so we were feeding others outside our immediate family as well), but lunch out is where things really add up. Normally we’re a lot more disciplined about lunch, and there aren’t usually so many ice cream trips! Now that we’ve discovered the kids enjoy the ice cream sandwiches we can get at our food coop ($4.34 for a box of six), I’ll try to steer them in that direction rather than always getting a scoop from our fancy local shop ($3 a pop). It is the end of the school year, though, and things just feel celebratory…

    As I’m typing this, I came to the realization that getting a handle on food spending isn’t so very different from getting a handle on unnecessary/excessive eating. Once you decide to rein it in, and find a pattern that works for you, it’s easy to maintain it. But when there are too many occasions (or perceived “occasions”), that’s where things can quickly and easily go off the rails!

    1. Deborah

      (As I *was* typing this)

  9. Lucy

    Monday: $57 at grocery store (mostly pantry staples and paper goods)
    Tuesday: $12 for CSA box
    Th: $3, butcher, milk
    Friday: $7, ice cream parlor
    Sat: $7, farmers’ market: eggs, radishes, chard, tomatoes
    $7, butcher, chicken and strawberries
    $3, grocery store, Nutella for Fathers’ Day present

    Under the weekly budget, but more trips to the store than I’d like.

    2 adults and one child. Nothing organic, but by virtue of living in an agricultural community, most is locally grown.

    I learned I need to get more creative about grilling vegetarian things. It’s been so hot that it’s nice to keep the stove off, but the extra meat adds up.

  10. Nicolette

    I learned that not making a list and venturing into Trader Joe’s is a bad idea. Although it is tempting to veer from the list, being strict does pay off. Also going to the store on a full belly helps things too.

  11. Carrie

    Evidently, I fall for sales, even if they aren’t a good deal. I picked up 2 Newman’s lemonades for $3.00 because the story I was at usually sells them for over $3. But I discovered that at the next supermarket over they’re only 2.19, regular price. I completely overpaid because I got excited over the SALE sign and didn’t properly comparison shop. I also picked up a package of ground turkey marked SALE, assuming the marked price would be higher than what it rang up for. Nope. The marked price was the sale price. Which placed it as over $1 a lb more expensive than any other ground turkey offered. At least I caught my mistake on that one at the register.

    I don’t mind spending for things I love (organic strawberries I’m looking at you) but I hate overspending because I’ve been careless or got taken for a sucker.

  12. sara

    I always try to shop by myself. My husband and kids choose many unnecessary or unhealthy products. When I go alone I focus, shop quicker and get much better foods!

  13. Paula Hartson

    The biggest thing I learned is that planning is the key. I was way overspending on food plus we were eating out several times a week. Just like watching what I eat, writing it down was what worked. I also learned that during this time of year I am more likely to load my cart with all the pretty produce.

  14. christi in ma

    I learned that I do a stock up shopping about once a month of basics (which happened this week) and then smaller weekly produce/meat on sale/ingredient for a new recipe. Although yesterday found me at 4 stores trying to find two unsliced loaves of Italian bread.

    Plus my DH picks up a “mystery ingredient” or two at the farmer’s market in the city for me to use for dinner which is always fun.

  15. Loren

    I learned that I am sucker for anything fresh, local, and in season. While this is just the type of food I want myself and my family to eat, I bought more than we could possibly go through while it was still good. We bought pounds of strawberries, for example, and loved them, but they were moldy before we had the chance to finish them. I learned that I need to buy smaller quantities more frequently.

  16. Jenn

    In the past week all we’ve purchased is dairy products and some vegetables. I’ve learned that a thoughtfully stocked pantry doesn’t have to be huge, nor does our family of 3 need an additional freezer.

  17. Abigail

    we spent $130 this week on groceries plus $12 to pick strawberries last weekend. Seems lower than usual for our family of five in NYC (which includes one baby only starting solids now and one 5-year old who eats as much as his mom!) but we spent last weekend and this coming weekend away from home with family so spent very little.

  18. Reynaul

    I learned that this time of year my food spending can get way out there! The winter time I can usually keep to my food budget, meal plan, and the once a week shop, I guess mainly because it’s cold and I don’t want to make too many trips with my under year old. If I am out of something, we just deal with it unless it’s something really needed. Once it gets warm though and the farmer’s markets really get going, I can get pretty bad. I make a meal plan but usually don’t stick to it. I end up wanting something else, some recipe I saw that day on a blog or pinterest that looks awesome. Last week, I made a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s shop, then I get a CSA box every other week, stopped at The Fresh Market for some fish that I really wanted one night and I hit up the farmer’s market. This time of year everything looks so great that I can’t help myself! I have always been a sucker for Whole Foods and TJ anyway, and the products suck me in every time. That said though, we are usually pretty good about eating the stuff up for the most part. This was a good experiment though!

  19. Beth Thorman

    I found that I’m more conscious of what I’m buying when I know I’m writing it down. I started thinking that “if I still want it next week, I’ll buy it then”. I do impulse buy, but usually fruit or something that I didn’t know was on sale. I also shop weekends only, unless I’ve been out of town.

  20. Emely

    Planning is the key 🙂 I shop more when I am hungry and don´t have a list.

  21. You happened to issue this challenge on an interesting grocery week for me: one that fell immediately after a week of unhealthy vacation eating and one that didn’t have any big recipe development assignments lined up. Basically I was able to eat what I wanted/needed this week, which was ALL TEH VEGETABLES.
    Almost half of what I spent on groceries this past week ($60) went to produce, including the $7 pint of strawberries. That honestly doesn’t seem like a crazy amount, considering what I’d spend at the USQ greenmarket back in the day, and we’re still eating both the fresh and cooked leftover produce I bought a week later.
    But the embarrassing truth was that I spent just as much on meals out last week as I did on food to cook at home – this shouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s the only way I get to see friends, but it really does add up. Yikes.

  22. Mary Beth Hunt

    I’m a semi-retired mom but still cook for my husband and college-age son. I am VERY picky about our food and now have the skill, time and knowledge to pick better food. This means sometimes I drive to 2-3 different stores on my shopping day.
    That being said, I’m not sure the college boy appreciates that I went to a special store for those organic carrots.
    Am I doing this to please myself? or him? or do I BELIEVE those carrots are REALLY BETTER?!
    I need to do some more thinking about my shopping habits!

  23. Hilary

    What I learned:

    1. I have a shopping addiction. Right now, food is filling (fueling?) that addiction.

    2. I need to keep a better shopping list

    3. I’m a sucker for fresh fruits and vegetables. I had to stop myself from buying more.

    4. I will always pay more for organic. I usually abide by the clean 15 to save some money.

  24. Nicole O.

    For the last 3 weeks we’ve been living off of our pantry items save for produce and dairy.
    After a recent shopping trip when I literally couldn’t fit the items into the pantry (a full-sized closet fit with shelves). I decided that there had to be some major waste going on. So first we ate EVERYTHING out of our fridge. All those little jars of stuff that accumulate in the doors. Then I excavated the pantry and started with the oldest stuff first. All the dried beans, tins of sardines, tuna etc.
    I could probably do this for the next 2 months.
    I’m vowing to keep less food. I’ll still keep a stocked pantry but there’s stocked and then there’s just plain crazy.

  25. jan

    i spend the bulk of my grocery bill on fresh fruit and vegetables. my kids routinely ask for a fruit salad or fresh veggies with a little homemade ranch dip as a snack (insert big smile here) and i always want to have plenty on hand.

  26. Kristin

    I’m such an impulse buyer and we spent way too much on eating out this week! It’s hard for me to argue with spending a lot on veggies and fruits, though. But tracking made me realize how much more I should track because we are spending a ton on food in this family.

  27. Paula Cohen-Martin

    Here’s what I’ve learned: I need to shop when I’m exhausted.
    Here’s why: When I’ve shopped after a good night’s sleep and I’m full of energy I like to THINK that I’m going to cook fabulous meals every night.

    I purchase cabbage for stuffed cabbage, saffron because I KNOW I’ll be making paella, all sorts of unusual fruits and vegetables that will make incredible meals. Then I pack them into my frig and the inevitable exhaustion of parenting and teaching art sets in. And let ’em all those wonderful items rot while I cook up a batch of frozen Trader Joe’s chicken breasts. Lesson learned. Until the next good night’s sleep, that is.

  28. Claire

    If I don’t make a list, I never fail to forget SOMETHING! You always see me with a list when I go shopping.

  29. Pamela

    I just joined a food coop and so I think I’m in a little bit of an “OHHHHH but it is sooooo much cheaper here. . . ” phase, and I find that I am buying more than I really need. I have had to train myself that my son and I really don’t need *that* much food and to just plan for the week and buy that even if it is “good food at low prices.”

  30. maxie

    I wasn’t going to enter this, mainly because I’m pretty reliable with my food shopping. We get a weekly box of organic fruit/veggies; approx bi-monthly I hit Costco for meat & cheese (don’t buy any other food there except for Coach’s Oats); and then weekly or bi-weekly Trader Joe for flowers,coffee and a couple of other staples, and the supermarket for anything else we might need.

    However, I discovered I’m a hoarder when it comes to those great loss leader prices! Do I really need 6-10 cans of beans or tomatoes for 2 people? They go back on sale for $1 before I can use them up. The only place I have a real problem is Trader Joe’s–if I go in and hurry to get just what I need, I’m ok. If I look around, I come home with a lot of stuff we don’t need (almond danish almost every time)!

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