From local farmers’ markets to high-end health stores to big-box wholesalers, we face a plethora of options when it comes to buying groceries. Do you often ask yourself: “Should I get this here? Or should I wait until my next Costco trip?” Going to one store and buying for a whole week without the need for a return trip is ideal but let’s face it — that’s pretty unrealistic for most. Also unrealistic is jetting all over town to shop for different things at 10 different places. However, there are certain pantry and fridge wares you can buy at the places you might already be going. And some things truly are just worth the extra trip.
Along for this grocery store joyride is chef and health food guru Emilie Blanchard, owner of Tasty As Fit in Columbia, SC. A few posts after starting her Instagram account, where all her recipes could be in one place, a neighbor asked Emilie if she would help steer her family towards a healthy lifestyle by preparing a few weekly meals for them. “Through word of mouth and the power of social media, within a few short months, I was cooking for 20 families and loving every second,” Emilie says. In 2018, she took the meal prep concept to a storefront, and out of pure demand, she switched to a “grab-n-go” model this year. People pop into the store to pick up lunch, grab a smoothie or kill a sweet craving.
“Grocery shopping is a big part of my business. When I’m not at the store, I’m cooking and recipe testing at home,” Emilie says. “I am a day-by-day planner with my meals and with life. It’s hard for me to decide what I need for a whole week of groceries because my cravings and ideas are always changing. I pop into a grocery store almost every day.”
With the help of this food shopping pro, here is your ultimate guide to what to buy and where … plus some must-follow grocery store advice.
LOCAL FARMERS’ MARKETS
WHAT TO BUY: Fresh produce, eggs, meat and fish where available
The more we can get from local, independent farmers, the better. Not only are you going to snag the freshest options from places close to home, but you’re also supporting local farmers, which is always the most mindful way to buy food. “You can’t find better produce than at your local farmers’ market,” Emilie says. “We want to do everything we can to keep the local farming culture alive. Showing them support is everything to me!”
Go for fresh produce like veggies, fruit, leafy greens and more. Look for eggs here, too. In a similar vein, if you have a local butcher shop or fish market in your town, consider getting your meat and fish there. Their offerings probably come from nearer places and are fresher than what you can find at boutique gourmet stores.
SB TIP: Talk to the farmers and sellers at these markets. Ask them what’s fresh and what they love. Creating relationships with vendors will make the food that much more meaningful when it lands on your dinner plate.
WHAT TO BUY: Dairy, produce, coffee, Aldi-exclusive brands
Some of you don’t have an Aldi near you and if that’s the case, skip this, but also know that you might have one within the next few years as Aldi plans to double their footprint in the U.S. by 2022. If you do have an Aldi and you’ve been sleeping on this store, it might be time for a visit. Aldi is a no-frills, discount food market that’s all about keeping their costs down so that prices stay surprisingly low. The produce is often from local farms (check the label for origin and freshness), but the real gems here are the collections that Aldi sells exclusively. They offer a relatively small inventory of brands you might not be familiar with (Aldi actually avoids name brands), but that is definitely worth exploring. Some of their lines to check out are:
LiveGFree — gluten-free foods
Simply Nature — organic and natural line of food and beverage products made with “honest ingredients”
Specially Selected — gourmet foods
Fit & Active — healthier food items
Mama Cozzi’s — cult-favorite frozen pizza
Little Salad Bar — salad and related items like hummus and dips
Baker’s Corner — baking ingredients
Friendly Farms — milk and non-dairy products
Millville — cereal, bars and related products
Clancy’s — salty snacks
SB TIP: Go on Wednesdays. That’s when they refresh the Aldi Finds section of the store, which is filled with rotating high-quality, low-cost items. You can find anything here from kitchen supplies to KIND Bars to the fabulous Specially Selected coffee that people rave about. Don’t forget a quarter for the shopping cart, and bring your own bags.
WHAT TO BUY: Deli sandwiches, fried chicken, custom cakes from the bakery, Publix brand items
This is a one-stop-shop for everyday items and big grocery hauls. If you don’t have a Costco membership, get your paper products and kitchen supplies here, as well as oft-needed items like canned goods, cereal, pasta, sauces and more. “Publix has really started stepping up their game,” Emilie says. “They now carry my favorite dairy-free ice cream, NadaMoo! And my favorite cashew milk by Elmhurst.”
The real reasons to love Publix, however, are the in-house stations that churn out some of the best made-to-order and grab-n-go sandwiches, custom cakes for great prices and legendary fried chicken.
SB TIP: Publix is known for their BOGO sales on pantry staples. You can check the weekly selection of BOGO items HERE as you’re making your list to see what you can stock up on.
WHAT TO BUY: Kroger-brand organics, specialty refrigerated items, cases of wine (15% discount)
First things first, don’t go to Kroger without a Kroger Plus card (or the phone number connected to your account!). The daily and weekly coupons (and the digital ones found on the app) will lead you to shop here most effectively. Kroger and all of its affiliated store names (Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, etc.) make up the country’s largest grocery store chain. Kroger is cheaper than Publix, so if you’re looking to save on basic name-brand items, opt for Kroger. Their Simple Truth organic line has great options for generic, healthy items. Highly sought-after brands like Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs, Califa Farms dairy-free creamers, and Siggi’s yogurt are well-priced at Kroger, too, especially since buying these in bulk takes up a ton of fridge space. They also have a new 15% discount on cases of wine.
SB TIP: You don’t have to buy all 10 items if there is a 10 for $10 deal. You will get the deal price no matter how many you buy (same for 5 for $5). On Fridays, Kroger stores also offer a digital freebie that can be added to your loyalty card and redeemed within two weeks. In the recent past, Free Friday Download coupons have been good for bread, yogurt, pet food, candy and more.
WHAT TO BUY: Household baking and paper products, healthy snacks, drinks, meat
Big-box wholesalers are a no-brainer if you shop for more than four people or you cook often — even if for one or two people! If you love having things like Vitamin Water Zero, coconut water or sparkling water on hand, this is a cost-effective way to stock up. The same goes for household items like paper towels, toilet paper and detergent. Rotisserie chicken and meat for a larger group (or to freeze!) is a great steal here, too. Shoppers can save $2-$3 on a rotisserie chicken compared to a chain grocery store, and a lot more on steaks and other meat.
“If you do happen to enjoy healthy cooking and baking as I do, Costco is such a gem!” Emilie adds. “They have massive bags of almond flour, containers of Medjool dates, raw honey, pure maple syrup, hemp seeds, Banza pasta, Siete grain-free chips, large bags of nuts, etc. for such great prices.” Costco makes it easier to cook healthily without breaking the bank at a gourmet store every week.
SB TIP: We have a bunch of tips for shopping Costco effectively in our article “Costco Hacks You Might Not Know About!”
WHAT TO BUY: Meat, fish, bread
“If I am in a time crunch and I can only go to one place, Whole Foods typically has everything I need for the type of cooking I do,” Emilie says. If you’re not gluten-free like Emilie, the bakery at Whole Foods is a great place to snag bread, cupcakes, cakes and cookies that they bake fresh on-site daily. The prices are comparable to the premade stuff, but they never use any refined sugar, artificial flavors or bleached flour in the bakery. Organic meat is also always a good bet at Whole Foods. Talk to the people at the meat or fish counter to see what’s freshest. Other items at Whole Foods tend to be cheaper elsewhere, especially the middle-shelved processed items. But do look for the yellow sale tags, because some specialty brands (like Bubbies mochi!) are often deeply discounted.
SB TIP: Connect your Amazon Prime account and scan your code (on the Amazon app) at checkout. You will be shocked at how much you can save over time!
WHAT TO BUY: Fresh flowers, wine, cheese, specialty items, interesting frozen foods
Y’all know we love Joe, but there are certain things we can’t buy here. What TO buy? First and foremost: cheese. The selection here is fabulous, and the prices are unbeatable. If you’re building a cheese board, there are other great accouterments here, too, like nuts. Nuts can be expensive, but Trader Joe’s prices are fair for the quantities. “I love Trader Joe’s for fun snacks and specialty frozen finds — cauliflower gnocchi anyone!?” Emilie says. Specialty items, frozen meals or sides, and interesting sauces are also great to shop at Trader Joe’s. And, of course, wine.
TIPS AND BEST PRACTICES
- Never go to the grocery store starving.
- Always make a list! “If I don’t, I always end up with a handful of things I don’t need, and without the one thing I did need!” Emilie says.
- Buy organic produce when possible.
- Shop produce first. This will help you avoid the middle aisles that tend to have more processed options.
- “Shop seasonally when it comes to produce! That will help get you the most bang for your buck,” Emilie reminds us. Google what’s currently fresh in your area if you’re unsure.
- When it comes to produce, the average shopper’s biggest problem is waste. Only buy what you will truly eat! Looking at or feeling pressured to eat the produce you over-bought will leave you feeling sad.
- If you have a Dollar Tree near you, they have a whole spice section and everything is $1. Household products like tin foil, plastic wrap, wax paper and zip-lock baggies are also all $1 here. The Dollar Tree should not be overlooked when it comes to kitchen staples.
Cheers to happy grocery shopping, successful cooking and delicious outcomes! And thanks, Emilie, for your expertise.
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