Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tip of the Day... from shopping to taking family pix

My tip today has to do with grocery shopping.  Although some of you may love cruising up and down aisles in the limo-sized police car carts, bumping into anyone who may be standing in an 8-foot radius, taking out the corner displays of every aisle as you try to turn, and smiling at all of the passers-by admiring the melting ice cream cone dripping down your little drivers' faces, I do not. 

Now don't get me wrong.  The invention of the make-believe-police-cars-hooked-to-a-cart were an ingenious idea.  To actually have a little horn to beep and a steering wheel to spin keeps my kids occupied for at least half of my grocery shopping experience.  I guess I'd just rather be raising chickens, or maybe cleaning marker off my walls.

Because the grocery shopping experience is not at the top of my list, I do it only once a month.  Granted, I do have to run into a store an extra time during the month to restock my milk and lettuce supply, but I've pretty much got the once-a-month thing down to a science.

By shopping only once a month, I save a bundle of money.  How many times do you run into a store for just one thing, and end up spending $50 to $100 more than you planned?  Stores are so clever in where they put up their displays and sale items.  Sometimes, it's just more than a value-seeking homemaker can resist.  Thus, by only going into a store once a month, you avoid all temptation to go over budget.

Most money you spend grocery shopping should be spent on the items bought around the perimeter of the store.  Every grocery store I've been in has fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy products, and breads around the outside of the store.  These items are the healthiest and best value for your money.  As you go in and out of aisles, you come across the processed and snack items.  Not to say that these do not have a place in a pantry.  One of my children in particular would starve if I didn't visit and stock up in the cold cereal aisle. But, even though dinner may take a little longer to make by using the fresh ingredients found around the perimeter of the store, it will be healthier for your family, and will have cost less.

When shopping once a month, you have to think about how to make food last until the next month.  If I'm not watching my kids like a hawk when I get home from my big monthly shopping spree, they will have opened all of the fruit snacks, cookies, lunch meat, and candy for the whole month.  By putting things out of sight and reach of my little snackers, I can bring things out one at a time and keep them fresher, (because the container has remained sealed), and it encourages the kids to snack on fruit or other perishables that they can more easily reach. 

Preservation is also an important thing to think about when shopping once a month.  Produce is probably the trickiest thing to keep on hand for the month.  By placing paper towels in with your lettuce, it prolongs freshness by soaking up excess moisture which causes the lettuce to spoil.  Apples put off a gas that tends to make your other fruits ripen and spoil faster.  By keeping your apples separated from your bananas, tomatoes, etc., they last longer.  I freeze a number of things to guarantee their freshness when I need them.  Lunch meat, bread, cheese I cook with, dried fruit, and snack cakes are just a few of the things that come out almost as good as when I put them in.  The only thing I've found with doing this is some of the items need to be used faster if they were once frozen, such as lunch meat. 

I have an extra refrigerator in our shed where I put many items in that I won't be using right away.  Common sense tells us that every time the refrigerator door is opened,  cold air comes out and warm air goes in.  Research has shown that this deteriorates cold foods faster.  By storing extra gallons of milk in my extra fridge, they will last more than  a week past the due date.  Fruits and vegetables also benefit by preventing frequent temperature changes.

If nothing else, the time I save by only entering a grocery store once a month makes this plan worth it to me.  By the time you get all of the kids out of car seats and booster seats, decide on the police car cart or the fire truck cart, run back out to the parking lot to get the cart the kids want, buckle them in a cart, make a side run to the bakery for a cookie,  come back to the front of the store to start shopping, get to the back of the store and your kids decide they have to go to the bathroom, make a run for the restroom at the front of the store, come back out of the bathroom to find someone has stolen your cart, and then start over, it's time to pick the other kids up from school.  

Shopping once a month may seem intimidating at first.  For the first several months, my husband would walk into the pantry and mention, "Hmmm, it must be the end of the month."  When going to check out, you may see baggers running to hide just so they don't have to bag up all of your groceries.  As you're pushing one overflowing cart and two store employees are following you to your car with equally full carts, it may be a little embarrassing.  But in the end, think of this: they won't remember you because you won't be back for another month!


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