High-End Groceries at Low-End Prices

Join the True Food Movement and Stay on Budget

I'm a foodie in the True Food movement.  I believe we should eat organic, sustainable and humanely raised food.  I'm also a busy blogger, full-time Mom, and I own a real business with 18 employees.  I don't have a lot of time to go traipsing around to CSA pickups and quaint local organic farm stands, which means I make some compromises here and there. I can tell you how to eat healthy food that won't break the bank. My local wholesome grocery store is Whole Foods.  Most of the clients at my Pilates studio (and these are relatively affluent people) refer to the store as Whole Paycheck.  Yes, it's pricey, but I've learned some tricks that have dropped my grocery bill by about 25%; all you really need to do is pay attention when you shop. Buy in season.  Seasonal fruits and veggies are cheaper because they're more plentiful.  If you buy what's in season, you'll get better deals. Yes, this means your menu will shift as the calendar changes with more root vegetables in the winter and more salads in the summer.  It's actually nice to move with the rhythms of the planet and I really look forward to those local blueberries when they finally hit my shelves in July! Consider frozen. Frozen veggies, which are a lot cheaper, are preserved "at the moment of freshness." That means they are usually harvested and processed on the same day so much of the nutrients are still intact.  I use them to supplement my fruit and vegetable selections in the winter. (I'm in the Northeast, I've got seasonal limitations.)  Yes, I know there are some green issues here, but it's a compromise.  During the growing season, I try to buy as fresh as possible. Always buy the "dirty dozen" organically if you can. Organic produce costs more, but not all of what you buy in this section needs to be organically grown. There is a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that readily absorb the chemicals that are sprayed on them.  Try as hard as you can not to buy the "conventionally" raised offerings.  You'll keep pounds of chemicals out of your body. Buy the meat that's on sale. My local store always has some kind of chicken (almost always a chicken breast) and some kind of other meat on sale, often for as much as 40% off.  This one switch can significantly reduce much of your grocery bill.  Instead of staring at the meat case looking for inspiration, we look for what's on sale and get inspired to cook a dish around that. Buy meat from the "get rid of section." If meat is near it's sell-by date, the store will frequently put it in a separate display and mark down the price significantly.  If you're able to cook it the same day, you can score some major deals.  Ask your butcher and they'll tell you what's available or point you to the proper area of the store. Try the store brands. The store brands (at Whole Foods, it's their 365 brand) are frequently just as good, and sometimes even better than the nationally known earthy-crunchy brands.  You may need to experiment, and you might find a few items that are awful, but for the most part you'll be able to significantly reduce your food bill without sacrificing the flavor. That's all it takes.  Someday I'll convince my husband that a fruit and veggie CSA is the way to go (he hates beets) and I'll have enough time to drive 2 hours out of my way to participate in the great meat CSA I found north of Boston. But until then, I'll merge my economic and greenie principles and eat well and on budget from my local grocery store. What do you do to save money?  I'd love to hear more tips. Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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13 Responses to High-End Groceries at Low-End Prices

  1. Ron Miller March 31, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    We belong to a CSA in the summer and it is no more of hassle to do a pick up there once a week, then it is to go to the supermarket. Whole Foods produce has nothing on stuff that was grown locally and just picked. If it has to be trucked in from across the country (or in many cases outside of the country), there is no way to preserve that freshness, organic or not. I also find you can get a lot of the same foods you get at Whole Foods at Trader Joe’s for a lot less. Finally, for off season when the CSA is closed if you have a green grocer, it’s a worthwhile trip to get your fresh produce there.

    In my view, Whole Foods has its place, but for the most part it’s over priced and over rated.


  2. Lisa Johnson March 31, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Thanks for the comment Ron. I’m also a fan of the local farmer’s market when they’re in season. A great way to support local farms and get the retail money directly into their hands. CSA accomplish that as well. :-)

  3. Ron Miller March 31, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    We also have a local farmer’s market every Saturday morning in the summer, which used to be a fun way to get local produce, but we get so much food from the CSA that it makes little sense to go to the Farmer’s Market too, no matter how much we enjoyed the process. :-)

  4. Jennifer March 31, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    I agree with you- you really can get excellent food at lower prices if you do the things you mentioned. We did a CSA last summer, and while I loved it we wasted so much. We are very lucky that our local grocery store, Wegmans, supports local farmers. We can get locally grown produce there along with our farmers markets. I think the Whole Foods Whole Wheat pasta is by far the best of the whole wheat ones, and lower priced than so many other brands!
    I love your blog, so glad I found it after Fitbloggin!

  5. Lisa Johnson March 31, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    Thanks Jennifer, excellent input :-)

  6. Jess April 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Really great article! Whole Foods really can be quite expensive, I personally prefer Trader Joe’s for the basics; it’s really cheap and quite a good selection. Then I’ll go to Whole Foods when I want to “treat” myself to the finer side of healthy dining. Good ideas to test out there too. I’ll have to see if I can shop cheaper there from now on. :)

  7. Lisa Johnson April 3, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    Jess, that’s exactly why I wrote this post. Glad it gave you a little creative inspiration. I’m lucky that I have a Trader Joe’s close to me as well, but I find the organic meat selection and policies are better at Whole Foods so I shop there mostly. I supplement with TJs … :-)

  8. Susan Navarre April 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    I just shop from the big, bad supermarket, delivered by Peapod. Save lots of $$ by cooking vegetarian. Our more healthful money saver: in the fall, we go apple picking and get a lot of apples: we eat them daily, and cook lots of pies and cobblers. Nothing like walking among the trees and choosing a whole variety of ultra-fresh fruit!

  9. Lisa Johnson April 10, 2010 at 1:34 am #

    Good suggestions Susan, do you buy any organic? To me saving money is one thing, but keeping chemicals out of my son’s body is more important. I’ve got an article about which are the best fruits & vegs to buy if you want to start there. It’s called the Dirty Dozen, I have a print out in my purse. http://www.lisajohnsonfitness.com/the-dirty-dozen-of-fruits-veggies/

  10. Amy September 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I would also add- shop in their bulk department. I get all my beans, rice, oatmeal, flax seeds and more there. Not only is buying beans in bulk healthier than canned beans (no salt added), I find that you get so much more for your money.

    Also a lot of people don’t realize that you can save money on products at Whole foods by using coupons. Brands like Newmans own, Stonyfield, Larabar, Silk, and others have coupons available. All you have to do is go to their website and sign up using your email and they willl email you coupons. In addition, whole foods has a monthly coupon book in their stores. Yes, I use coupons at Whole foods!

    Lastly, as a vegetarian, I live at the Copley farmers market. I am there once a week and there is one farm there that sells 3 greens for 5.00. Seriously, you cannot beat that- you can get a huge head of kale, chard and spinach for 5.00.

  11. Lisa Johnson September 4, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Good point Amy, thanks for adding it … L–

  12. Leah McGrath, RD LDN August 10, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    The majority of our communities could not afford to shop at a Whole Foods. Your ideas apply to supermarkets as well. Most supermarkets (our at least) have a large selection of organic products including frozen and produce and we feature our store brand of certified organic products. We also have bulk foods in larger stores, offer coupons and savings, have family pack and discounted meats including “natural” meats and organic chicken…

  13. Lisa Johnson August 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Leah, yes, definitely Whole Foods is pricier than the “regular” grocery store and is a good target for people to go to. I just happen to be closer to a Whole Foods so that’s what I wrote from. :-)

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