fighting the lack of good ideas

store brands are sometimes better

I shop at various grocery stores, and the cashiers generally look at my purchases a little askance: clementines, milk, ice cream, pot pies, beer, Ensure – they seem to get confused when I checkout with my selections.

I was raised with a thrifty mindset, but am not afraid to spend money for better quality.

For years I’ve preferred store brand cereals – corn flakes, raisin bran, cocoa puffs, cocoa crispies, rice crispies, and chex are all indistinguishable to me when comparing store brand and name brand. Some I can distinguish and just like the store brand more. Cheerios is the only notable difference – fake cheerios are NOT the same as the ones from General Mills.

Trader Joe’s raisin bran, for example, is cheaper than the name brand, has fewer calories, and (I think) tastes better than those from Post or Kellogg.

I don’t go out of my way to buy organic foods to make a statement. Many times I think they taste worse, or the relative percentage change in quality does not match the price percentage shift. Trader Joe’s raisin bran happens to be organic – but the fact that it tastes good and is inexpensive is more important.

I’ve been bitten several times by trying store brand macaroni and cheese. I picked-up a batch from Lowes Foods recently, and am hoping they’re not hideous like the ones from Winn Dixie were. But if they’re decent, then I have a source for less expensive than Kraft mac and cheese. My favorite is Prince brand, but those aren’t purchaseable in NC – and therefore I tend to stock-up periodically when I go home to NY.

Also, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the high quality of the canned strawberries I can get at my local dollar store. Yes. A dollar store. Most of the food they sell is high enough in sodium to make road ice quiver. But the canned strawberries at my local Dollar Tree near NC55 and NC54 are downright tasty – 90 calories per serving, with only three servings per can. That lines-up with my home-made applesauce for caloric value, and makes a nice shift.

They’re also not those supersized strawberries you find in most produce departments of grocery stores; the ones at Dollar Tree are about 1/2″ in diameter rather than 2″. The smaller size makes for what seems to be a more strawberryish strawberry than the giant ones from the supermarket.

Such experimenting has made me want to do more, and so now when I go shopping I try to compare not merely price or calories – but the taste quality. It leads to a lot of sampling, but being able to shave 10-50% off my grocery bill is a nice [eventual] payoff.

eating at home has other benefits

Not merely saving money, but it’s also healthier.

I’ve been eating dominantly at home – either mine or friends’ places – and have noticed that not only is each meal less expensive, but I can eat better food, too.

Don’t get me wrong, those McDonald’s breakfast burritos are awesome. They’re also 300 calories a pop – and two come in the value meal, along with a hashbrown (another awesome-tasting item) which packs another 150 calories.

750 calories to start the day wouldn’t be so bad – if I had a job which involved more movement than typing.

Compare that to 320 calories total for home-made applesauce comprising ~4 cooked-down apples. Or ~250 for a large bowl of raisin bran and skim milk.

For dinner, I could go to Outback and order the Alice Springs Chicken (my favorite!) and spend about $20. Or I could make mashed potatoes and have a filet mignon for about $12. And a six-ounce filet only has about 350 calories in it. A bunch are from fat, but nonetheless – cheaper, fewer calories, and a higher quality of meat.

I’m not paranoid about how much I intake, but certainly eating for less money, while getting better quality, and consuming fewer calories can’t be all bad.