WALLA WALLA TABLE - What to know before you go grocery shopping...

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Every week most of us make the trip to the store to buy groceries from the SUPERMARKET. I am intentionally putting that in all caps to make a point.

The supermarket is aptly-named and is NOT a grocery store.

What is the difference you ask?

A grocery store sells, you guessed it, groceries. A supermarket sells all kinds of things, including groceries. It is important to note this because your trip to the supermarket might include other items such as light bulbs, pet food and other things I am not even going to speculate on.

Supermarkets were designed as a convenient way for people to shop. You had your butcher, green grocer and general store all under one roof. This eliminated going all around town for your weeks groceries.

It also eliminated all of those other places where you bought things and spread the money across a smaller area, increasing profits.

As time has progressed we have seen the demise of many old institutions and with it we have lost variety and quality in our food.

We have also seen the "costs" of food go down on average since the 1960's as technology (man-made fertilizers, super herbicides and insecticides) have replaced manual labor on the farm.

Again the "costs" were intentionally put into quotes to make a point. There are hidden costs in most manufactured foods that are NOT reflected in the on-shelf pricing: the cost of taxpayer dollars to subsidize all of the corn and soybeans that are grown to make corn syrup (sugar cane is expensive to grow), and; the cost in health issues with increases in diabetes, heart disease and stroke, most of which are caused by or exacerbated by diet.

By learning to shop smarter and avoid certain foods, at least part of the time, you can easily decrease your budget while increasing your quality of food and its diversity, which in turn leads to more pleasure when you eat.

Let's face it: you could eat celery every meal and save money AND lose weight, but who wants to do that?

So, how I can feed my family on around $80 a week, you wonder? And more importantly, how can you? If you have been following along with us, our last article prepared you to stock your pantry with all of the essentials.

This week we will show you how to shop for those essentials and plan out a week's worth of meals.

My usual trip to the supermarket consists of buying "essential" items for my larder and those things I need for the week's breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.

I have a family of four, so this should easily apply to many of you. For those of you with smaller, or no families this is going to be a breeze and you should look to buying better (higher quality) items.

Again, those items that I need are BASIC ingredients for making a wide range of foods that I like to cook and eat with my family. Staples around our house are soups, stews and slow cooked items in the fall and winter.

Spring starts to see the first fresh vegetables locally, so we try to use what is fresh as often as possible. Summer is our favorite time as we usually have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables right out of our garden and really only need to buy meat and essentials.

So rather than having a "menu" for the week before I walk in, I try to plan my menu based upon what looks good and is fresh, in-market that week. Is there a sale on meat? Are the artichokes looking really wonderful? Is lettuce too expensive? Consider this and be flexible.

If you have a good repertoire of recipes in your head, or you know how to cook (I mean really cook; the hard, fast rules and how to combine liquids and solids to make something edible), then this is really easy. If you don't then try clipping our recipes and really studying them.

Here's an example of a weekly shopping list for our family:

  • Lettuce $2.49 (2 for).Try not to buy iceberg. If and when possible, try to at least buy green or red leaf. Arugula and escarole are better options and contain more essential nutrients per serving.
  • Tomatoes $5.31 (on vine).As much as I hate buying out of season, tomatoes are one of the single best sources of lycopene, which is essential for men's health. When in season, we grow our own.
  • Onions - did not need this week but is usually on our list. Yellow or brown, try to only buy local sweets when in season; the other sweets come from who knows where!
  • Garlic $.50 (1 head)
  • Potatoes $1.71. Gold, russet or whatever you use most. When in season, we grow our own.
  • Apples - did not need this week but is usually on the list. (We grow ‘em right here, why not?)
  • Fruit $1.45 (bananas)+ $2.97 (lemons)=$4.42 Focus on whatever is in season. Try not to buy grapes out of season, please. If you can, grow your own!
  • Mushrooms $2.79 (.70lbs)Cremini are my favorite. Ounce per ounce, more flavor and very versatile.
  • Rice - did not need this week but is a larder "essential." Long grain and medium arborio or carnaroli are staples.
  • Tomato product - did not need this week but is usually on the list. This would be tomato paste, tomato sauce, etc. Again, great source of lycopene and essential in many sauces and stews.
  • Meat $11.09 (bacon), $6.74 (flat iron steak), $7.97 (chicken thighs), $13.40 (ground beef)=$39.20. Or not, your choice, but plan ahead. If you can turn one cut of meat into more than one meal you are ahead. From this we made several breakfasts (and cooking additive too), carne asada tacos, fried chicken (birthday dinner), meatloaf and dog food (our dog gets a mixture of ground beef, rice and vegetables).
  • Tortillas $3.29 (flour).When you have nothing else or you need something quick, a taco or burrito is a great thing.
  • Beans $1.69 (refried, and/or dried). Good cheap way to add some calories without adding a lot of fat. Just a hint, La Costena does not have "extra" ingredients.
  • Juice $2.49 +2.00=$4.49.Try to buy 100% juice. There is no point in buying sugared water.
  • Salsa $.99. La Costena again, does not contain sweeteners and is more traditional.
  • Milk, cream $5.49 ( gal milk). Cream for cooking, milk for the kids.
  • Butter $4.49. Sweet cream non-salted butter. Do NOT buy margarine. It will kill you. Seriously, read the ingredients!
  • Eggs $4.59 x 2 dozen =$9.18 (this will last a week and a half). There are great local eggs being produced, and a farm fresh egg has MUCH more nutrients per serving and is MUCH better for you than a processed, pasteurized, factory farmed one.
  • Cheese $9.99 (Tillamook ex-sharp 2 lbs.). Need something for the tacos, kids lunches and snacks, right?
  • Chips $3.29. My kryptonite. Try to find chips with as few "extra" ingredients as possible.
  • Nuts - did not need this week but is usually on the list. A snack that is actually better for you in limited quantities!
  • Bread $2.29 (sliced sour) + $4.99 (wheat) = $7.28.We buy whole grain wheat bread for sandwiches and such, but also locally made sliced sourdough too.

Total bill this week: $105.61. This included extra groceries for a birthday celebration dinner AND will provide groceries for nearly two weeks. Which means that next week I will have to make do on less. So what are some of the menu items? We'll cover that along with some recipes next time. Stay tuned, and don't forget to send us your questions and comments to wallawallatable@gmail.com!

Damon and his wife Colby own Salumiere Cesario, an award-winning gourmet grocery in downtown Walla Walla. Send your comments and questions to: wallawallatable@gmail.com.

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