One of the surprising questions I get often is my love for Whole Foods. I write about the good ol' WF frequently in my blog posts, and I often cite to ingredients that may not be universally available, but are often found at Whole Foods. So I suppose today's Ask Veg Baker, J.D. question is sort of a hybrid question (or "compound question," for my legal readers out there): why do I have my love affair with Whole Foods, and do I have any tips for people who'd like to shop there on a frequent basis without spending ridiculous amounts of money?
Basically, I enjoy shopping at Whole Foods because the items on the shelves mirror many of my food morals. I like that I can buy my groceries with zero worries that something has high fructose corn syrup or artificial trans fat, because those items simply won't make the cut. It is much easier to be a budding vegan who is still trying to make her way in the world when there is a place that features many different kinds of products to keep my creative cooking juices flowing. I also appreciate the emphasis on local support, not just in the produce department, but with the prepared foods that are sold and donating bag discounts to help local charities, "one dime at a time."
Affording Whole Foods, on the other hand, is a whole other proposition. Yes, this beloved institution did not earn the nickname "Whole Paycheck" for being economical. However, I do all of the family grocery shopping at Whole Foods. This is certainly not because of our super wealth; if you took a peek at what my student loan statement, you would know that is true. Rather, I can buy roughly $50-$70 worth of groceries to feed us for 10-12 days as well as personal items, which, especially living in the city, I think is fairly reasonable. At least, I think it is probably reasonable, because if you remember from my previous week of posts on thriftiness, you will recall a certain Mr. Greg who is not so keen on the wasting of money, and he fully supports my shopping at the WF.
How in the heck does this happen? There are a few easy points to remember, and I think you will see your WF bill go way down.
1) Do not be rushed when you go to Whole Foods. This is not a store where it is safe to mindlessly throw items in the cart; this will come back to haunt you. Often times, I have found if I go slowly down the aisles, I can find the same item for much cheaper. Case in point? Once I needed tomato paste. I found a 6 ounce can of tomato paste for $5.69. This is truly ridiculous. I stopped, took a breath, and scanned the whole aisle. One shelf over, I found another brand of tomato paste, in a 6 ounce can - for ninety-nine cents. Slow shopping is your friend. (And, the more you do it and the more often you go, the faster you eventually get...the shelves don't change all that much!)
2) Only buy sale produce. After surveilling the produce department on a few visits, I realized something important - the sale produce is always what is in season. The other stuff is so expensive because supply is low (and frankly, if the produce is out of season, it won't taste as good anyway). Not only has this cut down on my grocery bill, but our dinners taste better because the food is in season, and I've branched out and tried other veggies I wouldn't have otherwise purchased.
3) Keep an open mind - and open eyes - when going down the aisles. Sometimes, my beloved WF will put the exact same item in two completely different parts of the store and price them differently. For example, you can buy awesome Whole Foods guacamole in the produce department...or pick up the exact same container in the chips aisle, for about $1.50 cheaper. Greg has also noticed that sometimes food in the bulk bin is also in the specialty bars, like make your own trail mix, but the costs can vary. So last weekend, I needed chopped peanuts; by buying the peanuts in the bulk area instead of the trail mix bar, I save $1/pound.
4) Bring your own bags. Hopefully this will start to be second nature; it's good for mother earth, and frankly, I find it is easier to carry stuff home in my own bags than paper bags. Plus, you save a dime per bag; it might not be much, but it adds up!
5) Love and embrace the 365 brand. It is truly great stuff, and the prices are more than reasonable.
And finally, although I love Whole Foods, I think it is also worth mentioning that if you have a small natural foods store in your neck of the woods, check it out; its prices may be competitive. I lived in Springfield, IL, for a year before starting law school, and there was an absolutely wonderful place, Food Fantasies, where I did all of my shopping, and the prices were great. It never hurts to check it out!
So, in honor of my Whole Foods thrifty strategies, I present a recipe that I found in Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates. I noticed that organic winter squashes were on sale for 99 cents/pound, so I did what I often do: I bought the sale item (here, a butternut squash), I took it home, and I tried to figure out how to make it. This recipe was definitely a winner and has made it into the repertoire; even Greg, who does not like squashes, gets a big smile when butternut squash arrives from the store.
Roasted Winter Squash (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates)
Serves: 4 side dishes or 2 main portions
(Sometimes, Greg and I eat this for dinner, with a simple pasta, like pasta with caramelized onions, on the side)
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash (the original recipe also recommends pie pumpkin)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to coat squash
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
Salt and pepper
1) Peel the squash and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh into cubes and put in bowl.
2) In the bowl, add the "extra" olive oil, to coat (approximately 2-3 teaspoons). Add a dash of salt. Mix until the squash is coated.
3) Dump squash onto a baking sheet; roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for 25-40 minutes. The flesh of the squash should still have some firmness, but the squash will be soft when you bite into it.
4) While the squash is roasting, heat 1/3 c. of olive oil on the stove. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the red wine vinegar and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove the sauce from heat and add a dash of salt and pepper.
5) When squash is cooked, remove from oven and dress with the sauce.