Tag Archives: grocery lists

The Great Meal Kit Experiment

We have had trouble with our meals.  Well, that’s not quite true. We’ve had trouble with our grocery budget. Actually, both those things are true.

The first part of the problem is shopping. My husband works in a store that sells, among other things, groceries. And he just can’t resist meats which, while on special, are still so expensive I’m tempted to take out a meat loan to get them. Plus, he’s unable to resist the Manager’s Special, Close-Out, and Day Old tables.

That might seem like frugal shopping, but it results in a variety of bizarre foods that we would never otherwise have purchased. Vanilla butter. Bourbon-apple salsa. Snacks that taste like sesame-flavored cardboard. And the “reduced” prices don’t mean they’re cheap. You should have seen the price tags the week the store cleared out the “Imported from Italy” section. Imported pesto isn’t cheap, let me tell you.

Our next problem is waste. We waste a lot of food. Our refrigerator is so unreliable that it regularly freezes any produce we buy and turns it into unidentifiable slimy green goo. This is good neither for our budget nor for our appetites. We are reduced to buying prepared deli salads – which are hideously expensive but can be eaten the same day – or getting bags of cole slaw mix that are hideously expensive but can be eaten with my special slaw dressing (mayonnaise and pickle juice) which my husband loves. That we devour in a day or two. Frozen peas and corn and canned tomatoes are the most vegetable-like things we can keep on hand. And sometime V-8 juice.

Anyway, our food expenditures are outrageous. I’ve tried setting a budget, but my husband does the shopping and is unable to understand the concept. I’ve tried splitting the shopping with him, but every night when he gets off work he picks up a few more (or even more) items that he seems psychologically unable to resist.

So, in the hope of reducing both the amount we spend and the amount we waste, I have decided to try an experiment. Those meal kits we hear so much about on TV and online promise solutions to budget, preparation, shopping, and variety of meals. They are said to provide good nutrition, reduce waste, and be ever so yummy.

So each week for the next six weeks, I am ordering one of those yuppie, home-delivered meal kits. I am taking advantage of special promotional deals, as there is no way that paying the full price would produce any actual savings. I am not receiving any freebies or reduced prices by promising to blog about any of them.

The services I have chosen for this experiment are:

Home Chef

Blue Apron

Hello Fresh

EveryPlate

SunBasket

and Dinnerly.

Each week will receive three recipes and sets of appropriate ingredients for the making thereof. My husband is dubious of this experiment, as he claims (rightly) that the portion sizes they will deliver will not match the portion sizes of meals that he prepares. I try to point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that we can always supplement with appetizers, yogurt, pretzels, or popcorn should we feel unsatisfied.

I am trying to select a range of meals that will be filling yet different from our usual fare, involving ingredients we don’t usually have on hand and international cuisines we don’t make at home.

For the rest of the meals for the week, hubby can shop for whatever he chooses, though I fervently hope he will stick to staples like chicken, ground beef, fish, rice, beans, canned tomatoes, mushrooms, frozen vegetables, potatoes, pasta, eggs, bread, and the like. He makes an awesome frittata, an amazing shepherd’s pie, and a killer deconstructed mac-n-cheeseburger.

At the end of this experiment, I will report back on the results. My goals are variety in cuisine, reduced waste, lower grocery bills, and fewer odd ingredients that go with nothing else.

Our first delivery is arriving on our doorstep Tuesday.

Wish us luck.

My Guy’s Grocery Games*

I stared at the list. My mission: To see if anything was missing. My challenge: Deciphering what was already on the list.

“You can’t buy Google at the grocery, and even if you could we couldn’t afford it,” I said. “And what is this? Yom? Is it a Pennsylvania Dutch expression for yam?”

It was clear what was missing: legible writing.(1) I won’t say Dan’s writing is bad, but it does look like he could be a recent graduate of either a kindergarten or a medical school. Sometimes I think he channels a spirit who writes in Farsi.

“Google” turned out to be “goodie,” which is shorthand for anything on the quick sale bake table.(2)

“Yom” was really “UPM,” which is shorthand for “useless people meals.” These are frozen meals that we can nuke when both of us are too useless to do real cooking.(3) Dan buys whatever ones are on sale, so UPMs are also meal surprises, sort of like tomato surprises, only in a bag or a paper tray instead of a tomato. I always cross my fingers and hope for Stouffer’s mac-n-cheese, but it’s usually On-Cor salisbury steak(4) or the frozen burritos that impoverished college students subsist on.

After we settled on a revised list, I made the mistake of saying, “Try to keep it under $75.” Dan burst into hysterical laughter.

“You’re mocking me. I can tell,” I said, glaring. “I can tell by the mocking.”(5)

“Honey, everything on the list so far adds up to way more than $75.”

“I know. It’s a ritual phrase. I have to say it. Just like when you come back with $200 worth of groceries, you have to say, ‘OK, what do you want me to take back?'”

————–

On occasion I make the shopping trek with Dan,(6) which you would think would cut down on the cost, but doesn’t. We divide up the list. One of us starts at the back of the store and the other at the front. We keep each other posted with our cell phones. We meet somewhere near the middle, usually by the beer and wine, where we linger for a time in happy contemplation.

It’s not the stupidest shopping system ever.(7) We used to divide up the aisles into evens and odds, until we realized that meant both of us would have to navigate the entire length of the store, which is gargantuan, there and back again. The frozen food alone takes up four aisles and the pet food, two.

————–

Once our cart is as loaded as we will be later, it’s time to have fun with the cashiers. Once I bought an eggplant. The cashier held it up, pointed at it, and asked, “What is this?”

“It’s an eggplant,” I said. She rang it up.

I turned to Dan. “She believed me!” I exclaimed. “I could have told her anything! I could have said it was an avocado or a rutabaga or something really cheap!”(8)

I close my eyes when the total comes up and hand over a check for the automatic printing machine. I hope Dan makes sure the totals match, but by this time I am in complete denial. I keep muttering, “$75. Come on, $75.” It’s never $75, even if we only popped in for milk and bread.

I wonder if Guy Fieri and his wife have this much fun at the grocery?

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*Guy Fieri has a TV game show on the Food Network called “Guy’s Grocery Games.” People run around in a supermarket and then cook. Guy is evil and springs surprises on them. He’s not as evil as Alton Brown on “Cutthroat Kitchen,” but entertaining nonetheless.
(1) Also fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and toilet paper.
(2) I’ve asked Dan to buy only one goodie at a time, and that only once or twice a month. This time he came home with scones, sticky cinnamon rolls, and a whole carrot cake. He said he had to fight an old lady for the cake.
(3) This happens lots. We also have Useless People tableware, which I’m sure you’ll guess is not made from any kind of ceramic or metal or glass.
(4) Which I bet really pisses off the people of Salisbury.
(5) My other possible response is, “Laugh while you can, monkey boy!” Bonus points for getting that reference.
(6) I have a bad back, so I get to use one of the store’s scooters with the basket on the front. They don’t hold much, but they’re as much fun as a go-kart or maybe a bumper car. They zoom along and have a really annoying “audible signal” for backing up. Some day I shall achieve my goal of knocking over a display of canned chunky soup and a heap of cantaloupes, then escaping, merrily beeping in reverse, savoring the yelps of people fearing for their toes and the plaintive announcements of “Cleanup on aisle six. And twelve. And four.” (I would circle back for more canned goods.)
(7) The stupidest shopping system ever is the one my sister uses. She purchases items in the order they appear on her shopping list (which is not written with the contents of the aisles in mind). Her path through the store is reminiscent of a drunken chicken on a scavenger hunt for a magic bean somewhere in the barnyard. Of course I would never really make that comparison about my sister. She doesn’t drink.
(8) Young clerks are fun too. Once in a drugstore I asked, “If I were talcum powder, where would I be?” and received a blank stare. “I don’t know what that is. What’s it used for?” the clerk asked. I thought about telling her, “I put it under my boobs when I sweat and get heat rash” (i.e., the truth). But I restrained myself and said, “You know? Like Johnson’s baby powder.”