Saturday, March 17, 2007

Iron Chef Moms: Final Thoughts

Chance, time and energy--the tradeoff for these fabulous sale prices. The Sale Shopper spends a few extra minutes zipping in and out of at least two grocers.
Is it worth it? Only you can decide.

I personally love grocery shopping--especially at fancier stores like Fresh Market and Harris-Teeter. Fortunately, I find enough on-the-spot deals to justify my time there.
Discount grocers like Aldi guarantee you a low price, day-in, day out; but at Harris-Teeter I can sometimes afford organic meats and baby artichokes.

For this challenge, I shopped at Harris-Teeter while picking up a free Redbox movie. I also made a second trip to Kroger.
Normally I would limit myself to 2 stores with the best sales. However, the 4 for $5 strawberries made it worth a quick trip across the street to pricier Publix. My total time was roughly one hour.

Even I would have benefited from an Aldi-stocked pantry during our Iron Chef Mom Challenge.
Amy designed an online price guide to every item sold at Aldi. Skimming over her research, I saw that cottage cheese (10 for $10 at Kroger) would have been 20 cents cheaper at Aldi. Powdered milk there is the lowest price in my city. Furthermore, Aldi frozen chicken breasts and salmon would be great back-ups for times when the ads aren't enticing.

Could I have spent even less money? Yes.
My meals included fresh and frozen green vegetables because they meet our personal dietary needs. But each dinner could have been stretched by a fifty cent addition of rice, beans, pasta, or potatoes.
Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife has also put together a helpful $45 Emergency Menu for bare-bones cooking. While my $16 total may seem like a large amount to families on the edge, it's also the cost of an average fast food meal for four.

I'm proud to say I learned A LOT during this challenge. Compared to my hurried throw-it-together meals, my husband LOVED the "meat and three" style menus. I call it a success!
Still, we're curious what YOU thought. Any gentle criticism or helpful hints? Suggestions based on what you do in the kitchen? Comment away!

Click here to see ALL the posts in the Iron Chef, Aldi vs. Sale Challenge!


Tammy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed both of your posts! It challenged me to spend less at the grocery store, while still serving great meals! I have been trying to cut back on my grocery spending anyhow.

Jennifer said...

I really enjoyed the challenge. I checked out Aldi's for the first time this week. I did notice they had some great prices on things. My store is small however and I couldn't do my entire shopping there. I think it will be worth going back though, when I am out that way.

I guess like everything, you have to know your prices. Things change constantly. I think both you and Amy proved that it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to feed a family. You just have to be willing to eat what is on sale and make the best of it. With all the recipes online, surely people can find something that sounds good to eat with chicken thighs, or canned tuna. Most people aren't willing to go out of their comfort zone and try the new and cheaper things.

Thanks for the reminders that this challenge provided!


Stephanie Appleton said...

I loved this challenge! You both did a wonderful job. And the totals are so close!

Ideally, I like to look through the ads, compare with the Aldi price, then go to Aldi and then pick up the loss leaders at the other stores.

It doesn't happen often. Most weeks I get everything I can at Aldi then pick up anything else at Wal Mart, because I know on average they have the best prices. I do enjoy ad hunting and grocery shopping, but it is hard to find the time to prep for my ideal shopping. I also almost always take the kids with me . Multiple stops with four kids can be taxing on my sanity. So for those reasons, I usually just end up with Aldi and Wal Mart.

Thanks again for doing this. It has been enlightening.

Jeana said...

I loved it! The only thing I would love more would be the full seven days and all three meals, to really know how you make that $50 work, but that would require a lot of time on your part to do that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeana, it would be nice to see a full week's meals and grocery $ spent for a full week. But I understand if that would be too difficult! I was already reading both of your blogs and have learned from both of you, I loved the challenge!!


Anonymous said...

That would be hard to document, because I don't spend $50 each week--I am buying about half fresh things and half cooking from my stockpile/pantry.

In my family, we do eggs or oatmeal for breakfast; fruit, cheese, or a spoonful of peanut butter for snacks; my husband takes leftovers from lunch; dinners similar to what you saw here.

Of my $50/week budget, I spend $10 or less on paper products (mostly only diapers and toilet paper); $20 on fresh produce and meats; $10-$20 on stockpiling. I rarely buy cleaners or toiletries.

Peggy said...

Thank you both for all the time you spent on sharing your shopping and meal planning with us! Although my daughters are grown and no longer at home I have picked up some great tips for cutting my grocery shopping down alot. I also forwarded your blog to my daughters to help them with their food budget.

Anonymous said...

I've made peace with the fact that my grocery budget is never going to be as rock-bottom cheap as it might be, simply because my husband and I have decided to eat more organic and locally-produced foods.

We buy shares in a pig and cow, bringing our pasture-fed meat to under $2 a pound, which a nice price for the quality - and it lasts for us because we rarely eat meat as the centerpiece of meal. In the late spring, summer and fall much of our produce comes from a local farm market, where I also indulge in eggs, chicken, sausages and a small amount of raw dairy.

But rounding these out are my own garden, from which we eat almost every night in season (lettuce, radishes, squashes, beans, tomatoes, peppers, kholrabi, beets, herbs) and an amazing salvage/bulk combo store nearby. They carry an impressive array of organics from major producers (like the Hunts organics, Motts organic apple sauce and so on) and I can also pick up all kinds of grains, beans and baking supplies in bulk.

And then we have Trader Joe's, for good prices on hormone-free milk, cheeses and yogurts. Not local, sadly.

With all of these brought together in a balance of time/money/patience (some weeks are more balanced than others), I can usually bring our weekly expenditures for the five people in my house to approximately $75 for, say, 60-70% organic and/or local foods.

3boysmama said...

I have really enjoyed your contest. What do you do for lunch at home with the kids? Do you eat leftovers from dinner? Does it vary?

I'd like to ditto what Marsha said above. On top of that, we have a dairy allergy in the family. Soy milk, yogurt and vegan cheese add up quickly! (Whole Foods is called "whole paycheck")

I would love to know if there is anyone out there with a blog on "eating on the cheap (and healthy!) with a food allergy"

Anonymous said...

This challenge was really exciting, especially the recipes you both were whipping up for dinner. My husband also seems to appreciate when I put a little thought into what goes on the table as opposed to whatever I throw together (not that he's ever turned down a meal, mind you).

I shop mostly at Aldi but find myself at Kroger almost every week too. While I'm there, I might as well stock up on whatever great deals they have, usually in the meat and produce depts. Throw in a trip to Big Lots (which often has great food finds, like organic cereal and soup last week) and occasionally to Walmart, and I'm one busy mama. At least my DD will learn to be a bargain hunter someday. Or maybe she'll be mortified of Aldi too...hmm...

Someone who has picked up my habits is the DH himself, who often stops at Harris Teeter on his way home from work to pick up little emergency dinner ingredients for me, of course. For many months, these little escapades would balloon up to about $20 apiece and glean far more than what I needed, things like gourment potato chips, fancy salsa, or fresh sushi. But the tide seems to have turned; a few weeks ago he arrived home with BOGO free chicken breasts. Not the absolute best deal, but a heartfelt effort to be sure (he has a hard time believing that BOGOs aren't always cheaper...). But the best has to be when he rummaged through a cart full of clearance beauty items to retrieve 14 packages of bar soap that his doctor told him to use. They were at least 75% off; he was beaming with pride when he arrived home, like a cat with its prey. And I was very proud indeed.


Anonymous said...

Although we don't have an Aldi's around, I enjoyed your contest. I think the biggest problem today is stocking up and throwing things away when they go bad. I have challenged myself to steer clear of Wal-mart and make food that is in my freezer/fridge till it is all gone. I did use the potato recipe this week...and saved a few others. Thanks for the fun! You can share these with us at any point.

Shannon said...

This contest was a great inspiration and the timing couldn't have been better! It was really great to watch the two of you having fun putting together great meals and counting the pennies. I loved it!

Molly said...

Meredith, I loved this challenge! (I also enjoyed reading Amy's account also).

It takes time, but with a good strategy for your area and a good pantry, you can reduce your grocery costs.

I average about $90 a week for my family of 7. This includes all items (pets, paper, feminine and cleaning)

I enjoyed your recipes and saved a couple for future use.

Anonymous said...

As I said in another post, I really enjoyed reading both yours and Amy's posts. I would love it if others could do this to help expand this area. I grew up eating very cheap, usually we would get free food from Salvation Army. Even though we ate cheap, my mother did not know how to budget and I did not take the time to learn until just a few years ago. I still fail in a lot of areas but I am getting better and better. Now, I would love to chat with Molly above about feeding a family of 7 on $90 a week. That is amazing!!!

Mrs. Damian Garcia

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I find I save a lot at our more upscale stores when I purchase what they have as loss leaders.

I always buy meat when it is on sale and put it in the freezer if needed. I "shop" the freezer for meat, then.

Also, my sister's son-in-law is a butcher in a grocery store. She told me to get to the store fairly early (but not TOO early) to purchase the meat they've marked down. It's always fresh. I've found great deals but since I live in the country, I only do that when I'm going to be in town, anyway.

I purchase some items through a co-op but I'm not as involved as I used to be. I found my grocery budget went UP because we'd all be purchasing things we may not ordinarily to round out a case.

Instead, when I need something (like my favorite organic pasta sauce, affordable only through the co-op), I just add my order to my friend's and save money that way.

amelia said...

I learned so much from both of you! It challenged me to think a little harder about how I purchase groceries and prepare meals. We don't have an Aldi in town, or any discount grocery for that matter. I've always thought the sales (Publix, Winn Dixe & SweetBay) weren't any better than our Super Wal-Mart prices. This week I compared the loss leaders at those stores to Super Wal-Mart, and sure enough, Wal-Mart was cheaper on every item except the meat, which we don't eat a lot of anyway. What I learned though, is since Wal-Mart doesn't publish a grocery flier, I can check the other store fliers to see the seasonal produce that will be on sale at Wal-Mart and begin to plan my meals that way. So, I guess I'm stuck with Wal-Mart, but I still learned so much!

Christi said...

I really enjoyed this "series"! Well done to both of you!

Nico said...

I really enjoyed this challenge, and it really got me thinking about my grocery budget. Great job to both of you, and thanks for the motivation!

Anonymous said...

Loved the series and found it quite inspiring.

You might be interesed in reading this article "For those who love to save, It's always cherry picking season." Two university marketing professors did some great research. My computer does not like to copy and paste, but you can find the article at

And now more trivia...Aldi's is very much like the grocery stores I encountered in Rome. You put in money to get your basket (and then get it back when you return it), the checkers get to sit down (a reasonable and human system, I think), and the customer takes his own sacks.


Celeste said...

I usually shop Walmart since Aldi is 25 miles away. Not cost feasible for me to drive there.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned getting the organic Hunts spaghettti sauce at the dollar store. Here in S. Calif. I just found it at our Big Lots for 70 cents. Watch though as one type expires May 07 and another one not till 08. Just wanted to pass along the hint in case someone was going to Big Lots.

Anonymous said...

You both did a Phenominal job!!! I so enjoy all the helpful hints and tips on both your sites!!! yeah for both of you shopping so wisely and saving Darling hubby some big bucks!

My Opinion would be comming from a mom of 4 where my time is quite limited homeschooling 2 children and carring for a toddler (He is an active little guy! LOL!!) and a 6 month old.

The trips to several stores for savings with gas prices would not be profiatble for us nor would i have the time to do so. But if you have a huge pantry and frezzer (I don't have either) the sales could be worth it along with coupons for that given week.

I don't know if Amy only made a trip once to Aldis...if she did and gas was calculated into everything aswell as time perhaps Aldis may have been a better deal.

But in the end it was awfully close and not everyone has an Aldis around so it's good to know that you both came so close, thats great! This is just from a mom who's time is quite limited so for our family situation a one stop store is better for us.

I did notice however that some Aldis prices weren't as good as some of walmarts "Great Value" prices. I am debating whether great value could be cheaper. At our super walmart it's a one stop deal, I can pick up baby items, diapers, even clothes, school supplies all in one trip. Aldis is what you see is what you get a 3o mintute shop but walmart they are a bit enticing...and I feel like im there much longer and find it hard to keep track of everything there isn't any temptations to buy what you don't really need at Aldis- I like that alot!!!

Hmmmm maybe that could be the next challenge! LOL!!

Great job ladies!!! =)

Babybear Scraps said...

This was fascinating. I'm so glad you posted that about me page or I would not have discovered that you did this.