Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Word on Variety

A continuation of the theme of "Why do people...?" instead of cook.

I think a lot of it is variety.

Think about that a little.

When I was a child, my mother cooked "American" food.  It was pretty repetitive.  Chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti, chili, burgers, scrambled eggs during lent, corned beef and cabbage, sauerkraut and kielbasa, ham and bean soup, mashed potatoes, canned vegetables.

I have friends from "elsewhere".  A lot of my Chinese friends eat mostly Chinese food.  My Indian friends make Indian food.  My Mexican friends eat Mexican food (you see where I am going here?)

As I hit adulthood and left my small town, I was able to try other cuisines.  And I liked them.

I love Indian, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Greek food.

I like variety.
I get bored with the same old flavors.

But eating different foods comes with a cost.

If you don't know how to cook it, then you are eating out.  How many people know friends who, for lunch or dinner, often say "what do you feel like, Indian or burritos?"

If you do know how to cook it, then you have time and money invested in learning how to cook the dishes (they are all very different), and in the ingredients.  Cumin is great for Middle Eastern,  Mexican, and Indian, but a lot of the other cuisines use many other spices and ingredients.

And of course you must practice.  I made a mean stir-fry in my day, but now I tend to slow cook things, and I end up overcooking the stir-fry.  Because I'm out of practice.

Mr. Money Mustache talks a lot about hedonic adaptation.  How as you get used to things - air conditioning, nice vacations, nicer cars - they become necessary and you must move the next bigger better thing - because you no longer enjoy what you used to have.

I think the same thing holds true with food.
When you get used to having someone else serve you and cook your food, you don't enjoy doing it yourself anymore.
When you get used to having *any* kind of food you want, whenever you want, cooked properly - you lose the ability to enjoy your own home cooked repetitive meal.

And of course, there is the expense - both time and money.
- money - all the different spices and ingredients for each type of cuisine
- time - if you want to have a great burrito, or salad, based on a restaurant - you have to make the chicken, the salsa, the guacamole, and then shred the cheese, wash and prep the lettuce and vegetables, etc.  There are several steps involved.

Another really good source of "frugal simple food" for me is Frugalwoods.  I recently found this blog and enjoyed reading some of their archives.  One of the things that they do is cook up a batch of beans and rice on the weekend, and they eat it every day for a week for lunch.  They also have oats for breakfast, and rotate dinners.

This is frugal and simple:
- the ingredients are cheap
- they are "used up" and not wasted because you eat them until they are gone
- it's very simple - the meals themselves are simple to make, and they are made once and reheated.

This, of course, prompted me to cook up a batch of beans and rice over the weekend.  There were definitely some comments on their blog with "I could never do that, I'd get bored".  I think, personally, you would get used to it.  Another blog that used to post their meals (I don't think they do anymore) was Path to Freedom in Pasadena.  They are urban homesteaders.  They would also make a batch of beans and rice, and eat it for lunch and dinner until it was gone, and then make something else.  Food is fuel.

There was a time, after baby #2 when I was only working part time, when that was my method.  I would cook up a batch of "something" for dinner for the week, and a separate batch of "something" for lunch for the week.  The lunches tended to be beans and rice, or spaghetti, or sandwiches.  The dinners varied by time of year.  And then Wednesday was crock pot day (which also aligned with "we are out of dinner #1" day).  It helped that it decreased the tendency to overeat at lunch, because by Thursday or Friday, you are tired of the food.

Of course times change, and I'm back full time.  I still use some of the techniques, but not as many.  The challenges I face now are:
- weight loss.  I've lost a bunch of weight, but it was never going to happen on beans and rice, or sandwiches, or spaghetti.  I cannot eat that many carbs.  So I tend to eat salad, which I can only prep a day or two in advance.  (I have 10 pounds to go, and these are the stubborn ones.)
- CSA - we get a lot of variety, and they aren't necessarily conducive to "one-pot" or "prep ahead"
- kids - I find myself packing lunches during the school year
- time (always!) - Last night we had a date night, and I didn't feel like packing lunch. So, I went to bed late, and skipped the gym.  I thought about going for a walk when I woke up at 5:30 am, but opted to prep my lunch for the day ... it took an hour.  Washing and chopping cucumbers, green onions, peppers, and tomatoes for a salad.  Washing and peeling a bunch of carrots for a snack (I eat at least 3 cups of veggies a day, and have to prep them all).  Packing lunch for the 9 year old.
- volume - I am cooking and prepping for four people (though I don't have to do lunch for my child in daycare and during most of the summer I don't have to pack lunch for my 9 year old.  And I also don't pack my husband's lunch anymore, but I *do* make sure we have lunch things available.)

It's always good to be reminded of how lack of variety makes life more simple.  It's really okay to eat raw veggies and a protein for lunch every day.  It certainly also helps me lose weight - just instead of "beans and rice" for lunch, it's "vegetables and protein".

How much variety do you need in your life?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thinking Outside the Box

One of the time-sucks in my life right now is facebook (I know, I know), but I try to keep a handle on it.  Truly, a lot of my interaction with distant family and friends is there, and also that's how many of my local friends coordinate things like birthday parties, school pick up, camps, etc.

I belong to several groups on there, and one of the groups is a health and fitness support group.  It's pretty large, and it's based on the Beachbody program 21 Day Fix (which if you read back, you'll see I *love*).

There are a lot of questions from people new to the program, and a lot of questions about looking for ideas for things like road trips, plane trips, and kitchen remodeling. It's always good to get an outside opinion, or to "Think Outside the Box".  And the thing is - if you do this a lot, you get good at it - most things take practice. (Like frugality, cooking, exercise, etc.)

One of the recent questions was "my kitchen is being remodeled for 3 weeks.  It will be 3 weeks of takeout, give me takeout ideas!"  Well, you can imagine the responses - and almost *none* of them were takeout.  This is where you have to "Think Outside the Box" (or takeout bag).

What is your goal? To eat healthfully
What are your limitations?  No kitchen
What tools do you have at your disposal?  Well, depending on the situation:
- a grill
- a fridge
- a microwave
- a rice cooker
- a crockpot
- a toaster oven
- an electric skillet
- grocery stores
- a sink
- a blender

Having most of these, or even some of them, go a huge way towards 3 weeks of eating healthfully without a full kitchen, and WITHOUT takeout.

Some of the suggestions were great:
- Grocery store - get a rotisserie chicken and vegetables.  If you have a microwave (or a rice cooker with steamer insert), that's a quick and easy way for chicken and steamed vegetables.
- There's always raw veggies - you can get trays of them at the store, and same with already cut up fruit.  I'm a fan of doing it myself, but I can understand if you don't have a great sink.  When we redid our kitchen, we had a few weeks of no kitchen sink, so we did dishes in the laundry room sink (and washed veggies).  I have a vague memory of being very pregnant during this time.  Fun times.  My good friend washed her dishes in a dish tub in the bathtub when she redid her kitchen.
- Keep it simple: raw vegetables, raw fruit, steamed rice (in the rice cooker), baked meat (in the toaster oven).  Cheese, deli meat, pre-cut salads, nuts.
- Smoothies
- Pretend like you are camping.  What do I take camping?  Fruit, nuts, cheese, deli meat, oatmeal for breakfast, veggies, hummus, canned chili, hard boiled eggs (which you can buy already hard boiled now).
- Quick stir fry in an electric skillet.  Or scrambled eggs.
- Pretend like you are staying at a hotel with a microwave and a mini-fridge?  Maybe it's just me, but I don't like to eat out much on vacation, so I aim to eat several meals in the hotel, so I do some prep before hand.
- Prepared foods from the deli at your grocery store.

See that list?  No takeout on that list!  I have to admit, some of the ideas come from reading Mr. Money Mustache.  In his 2014 spending review, he reported spending $194 on restaurants and coffee shops for the YEAR, and that included cross country trips.  For a family of 3.  Well, how do you do that?  When you are traveling, you stop at grocery stores not restaurants.

The same idea goes for almost any idea or goal.  My goal: to be fit.  My ideal: to get up and go to the gym.  But I don't get to go every day (split days with the hubby).  So second best is workout DVDs at home 3x a week.  But sometimes the kids are awake and want the TV.  It's so easy to say "I can't work out today".  Today, I opened a book with workouts in it and did a 20-25 minute workout while the kiddo watched a TV show.  Just because the NORMAL way you do things, or want to do things, isn't possible - it doesn't mean you do NOTHING.

So, what other ideas would you give to someone without a kitchen?  Do you "Think Outside the Box?" on a daily basis?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Budget Update

Well, the weight loss is stalled a bit, so how is the budget?  Better, I have to say.

A month or so ago, I was getting budget fatigue, and decided to increase the budget by a $20 a week, every other week.  It's amazing what a difference $20 makes when you are used to less.  With that little extra breathing room, we are doing okay.  Here's the status.

Total spent for the year: $1877 (plus $950 for the CSA)

Total spent since I started the challenge: $1545.64.

I'm $15.58 over still, and I'm not sure why that number is what it is.  Hm.  Not feeling up to checking the spreadsheet though.

You can see in the blue the $100 weeks.

It's not only budget fatigue, it's cooking fatigue, and calorie counting fatigue, and DAMMIT WILL ANYONE COOK A MEAL OR PLAN A MEAL BESIDES ME?? Fatigue.

Ah well, I'm saving buckets of money, so that's good!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The End of the School Year is Nigh

Wow, April 19, huh?  I have had a few blogging ideas, but little blogging time.

The last month has been a flurry of school and kid things -

The school auction was early May, and I was in charge of it - so many late nights of prepping, a day of setup, a day at the auction, and a bunch of little things to wrap it up.

Art night/ open house night was last week

Spring sing was this week - and I was 5 minutes from the school (picking up my kid) when I remembered that LAST year's auction we auctioned off "reserved seats" to school functions.  Nobody remembered that in December (whoops), so I ran to the office and wrote out 5 "reserved" signs with a sharpie.  Score one for the mommy brain!

A few parents had a camping "party book" to raise funds for the school, and that was also in mid-May.  It was a GREAT time with about 7 families at a nearby campground. Right next to the beach, at the edge of a big open field for games (but we had to make sure not to set up the tents in the grass, or the sprinklers would go off), right next to a great playground.  Across the RR tracks from the playground was a brewery, didn't make it there.  Had some good burgers though.

Then there was the 3-day weekend, where we had THREE parties and our first family photo shoot.  We are firmly entrenched in the toddler birthday swing.  Amazingly, this weekend we have no parties, and I think  none next weekend either.

I've been trying to get back in the major healthy eating swing.  I hit 140.2 lbs in January, but round 3 of work layoffs + the auction + strange work stuff + kids - I found myself in the upper 140's again.  (which is at least a good 20 lbs less than last year).  But I'd love to break that 140 lb barrier.  I'm just not sure it's worth completely giving up wine and bread.

Some of the "good eats" this week have been lots and lots of veggies.  I've been following the 21-day fix again, with a change - a few days a week (Tues/Thurs/Sun) I am trying to mix it up and allow myself to go up a bracket.  The difference is probably mostly mental, but the higher bracket (which would be a maintenance bracket) allows me to have an extra carb, an extra fruit, an extra veg, and two extra tsps of fat.  Gotta make it work in the long term!

We are in a few weeks right now of NO LETTUCE from the CSA!  I've been steaming and roasting the "Normandy vegetables" from Costco (yellow carrots, baby carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower).  I made a "Greek" salad with cucumbers and peppers yesterday.  I've been eating scrambled eggs with zucchini.  Lots of experimentation this week!

Your frugal tip of the day:  My spouse and I had a DATE NIGHT last night.  Now, while it wasn't "cheap" by most people's standards, we did do things to make it more frugal.
1.  Babysitting - no cheaping out there, it was $50.  That's standard for 4 hours.
2.  Wine - I have a membership at a local winery, which includes a glass of wine for me and a guest, for free, every single day.  In the 2 months I've been a member, I've gotten a total of 3 glasses of wine.  Because I have kids.  Who can make it?
3.  Dinner and popcorn: We grabbed a quick burger.  I got mine lettuce-wrapped.  I was trying to find something "healthy", and when looking at the nutritional info, realized that a plain lettuce wrapped burger had 150 calories less than a salad (maybe even more).  This left room for the popcorn.  Total for both: $16.
4.  Parking: $3
5.  Movie: Free.  We were going to try and get discount tickets, but those are hit or miss.  My spouse traded in his "points" from being a blood donor for 2 free tickets to see The Avengers.

Now it's time for me to get ready for the gym. I did this crazy thing and decided to do a "lazy man's triathlon" - it's an Iron Man distance, but you have the month of May to finish.  Now I have 28 miles of biking and 4.4 miles of walking to finish in 2 days, because I'm generally lazy on weekends.

Here's a silly pic from the photo shoot: (wearing the kiddo's chess medals!)


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why Do People Eat Processed Food?

As a follow up case-study to "Why Do People Eat Out?", I am going to now look at "Why do People Eat Processed Food?"

I'm going to simplify the question by reviewing a couple of different types of food.

Case Study #1: Hummus
Hummus is delicious, and healthy, and relatively easy to make but even easier to buy.  I try to make hummus weekly, but I bought it weekly for YEARS.  So let's look at this, shall we?

7 ounces of store bought hummus:  $3.00
(It's probably cheaper at Costco, but even my family cannot eat that much)

To make your own:
1.  Soak and cook 1 pound of dried chickpeas: $1.00 (makes 6 cups cooked) - this is a super deal that I cannot always find.
2.  Use your food processor
2 cups of cooked chickpeas: 0.33
2 Tbsp of olive oil: 0.18
2 Tbsp of tahini: 0.38
1 clove garlic: 0.05
salt, cumin, cayenne: 0.10
juice of 1 lemon: 0.25

Total cost: $1.29 for approximately 2 cups (16 oz).  So 7 ounces would be $0.56

Total active time: 20 minutes to rinse and put beans on to soak, drain, cover, and cook in the pressure cooker.  20 minutes to make in the food processor and to wash the darned thing when you are done.

So that saves about $2.44, with 40 minutes of work.  But we'd probably go through 2 a week, so that means it's $4.88 for 50 minutes of work.  That's $7.32 an hour.  Not  much, eh?  But if you cook a pound of chickpeas, that's enough to make the hummus for 3 weeks, so there is that.

Case Study #2: Breaded Chicken Tenders
Kids love these and they are easy.  28 ounces can be had at Trader Joe's for $7.99, which comes out to $4.57 a pound.  They bake in the toaster oven in 20 minutes!!  Perfect with some steamed broccoli on a weeknight.  The key here is to not go too crazy.  If we all eat them for dinner, that's 1/2 bag.  So, we do eat these, and generally it's just the kids.  The parents eat something else.

You can make your own fairly easily with plain raw chicken breast and a batter of some sort.  It really depends on the kind of batter.  I'm just not in a place in my life where I can do the flour then egg then flour batter.  I've done skillet chicken with flour/ cornmeal mixture.  There's always a corn flake coating too.  I have a tendency to buy chicken in large portions these days though, so it's simply easier for me to throw it in the crockpot.

However, let's assume you get chicken breasts on sale at $2 a pound, and feel up to a cornmeal or flour-type crust.  For only $2.50 a pound you can save a ton of money over the store version.  Active work time: probably 30 minutes.  This lets you save $2.07 in 30 minutes, or $4.14 an hour.  Needless to say, I don't make my own here.

Case Study #3: Frozen Pizza
I LOVE making my own pizza.  But I'm going to fess up, it's a rare thing these days.  My desire to eat less bread, plus the effort involved in making my own dough and sauce...well, it just doesn't happen.

A totally processed, completely unhealthy frozen pepperoni pizza from Costco is $3.50.  This is a full meal for our family, maybe with leftovers.

A homemade, healthier pizza would be:
1. Homemade pizza crust with half whole wheat: 10 min to put together in the bread machine, 45 min to run, 30 minutes to shape and rest, 20 minutes to par-bake (can be frozen now, and the recipe makes 2x) then top, then 10 minutes to bake.  Needless to say, this is NOT a weeknight meal, unless we already  made the crust.

2. Sauce: The easiest sauce is marinara (runny), or tomato paste with herbs (not runny) or homemade pesto from the freezer

3. Cheese: gotta shred it so you aren't using cheese with wood pulp: 5 minutes

4. Vegetables: I prefer my onions and peppers sauteed to remove the liquid: to chop and cook: 20  minutes

Cooking everything from scratch simply takes a lot of time, compared to processed food.

Case Study #4: Soup
We get a lot of vegetables from the farm, and some of them are of the "what do I do with this?" variety. Which means soup.  Even though it's hot here, and we almost didn't have a winter.  I'm impressed with The Prudent Homemaker and her ability to eat soup year round in Las Vegas.

A 32-ounce carton of carrot ginger soup from Trader Joe's is something like $3-$4 (I don't remember exactly).  Other stores may carry it for more. So let's call it $3.50.

I have a great recipe for carrot ginger soup, and I use it to use up turnips (as much as half turnips).  So here's the work involved in a double batch:

1.  Chop an onion
2.  Wash, peel, chop 10 small turnips
3.  Wash, peel, chop 10 medium carrots
4.  Press 4 garlic cloves
5.  Grate 2 Tbsp fresh ginger.
6.  Saute onion, garlic, ginger in olive oil until onions are soft
7.  Add turnips, carrots, and 6 cups water or stock
8.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until carrots and turnips are soft
9.  Let cool on the stove 15 minutes
10.  Put in fridge for several hours
11.  Grate 2 more Tbsp ginger.
12.  Puree in batches in blender (5 batches).  This requires a second big pot.  One for the start, one for the finish.  Forget to salt and pepper, so do that at the end.
13.  Wash two big pots, the grater, and the blender
14.  Freeze for later

This probably takes 1 hour, and it makes two 32-ounce containers.  I think it probably costs about $2 - depends on whether you use water or stock, and if you make your own (I was out of chicken stock most recently, so used water).

That's $1 a container, or a savings of $2.50 per container, or $5 an hour.

It's actually a little depressing how little you get from this recipe.  On the other hand, it makes 8 cups, and there are a ton of veggies in each serving. So it's healthy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why Do People Eat Out?

Do you ever wonder why people eat out so much?  Apparently it's in the news now, that people (Americans) officially spend more money eating out than they do on food cooked and eaten at home. For the first time ever.  Dan over at Casual Kitchen has a good post on the topic - that people still insist that it's expensive to eat healthy, and some people insist that it's cheaper to eat out.  And it's not.

But that is not the point I was going to make today.  What point was I going to make today?  Well, we did quite a bit of eating out on our vacation recently - I'd say once per day.  (That's a lot for us.)  McD's once (I know, I know. I even packed myself a salad on McD's day, and my husband got it out of the car, it wasn't lidded correctly, and it exploded all over the ground.  Bye bye salad.)  Chipotle a couple of times.  A sandwich.  Pizza.

My family is a big fan of Mexican food (or Mexican-like food).  One thing that we love (besides burritos and quesadillas) are "bowls".  Well, I like them because they are easy.  Sort of.  And cheap.  Sort of.

You can get a "bowl" with a coupon for $5 to $9, so that's not too terrible, right?  But of course you can make it home for cheap, so why don't people?  Let me tell you why.  Here's a summary of my bowl-making efforts recently.

1.  The rice: I use a rice cooker.  Chop onions, press a garlic clove, chop a couple of carrots.  Rinse rice.  Put rice, peas, carrots, onions, garlic, some spices, some tomato paste, and water in the rice cooker.  Do it early enough because it's brown rice so it will take 90 minutes.  ~$1.75 for 5 cups

2.  The beans: Soak pinto beans all day in the pressure cooker.  Cook at pressure, let come down in pressure naturally.  $0.60 for 1 lb dried beans

3.  The guacamole/ sour cream: buy it at Trader  Joe's. $3.00

4.  The cheese: shred it yourself:  $2.00 for 1/2 lb

5.  The veggies: I used cauliflower, so I chopped, tossed with spices and oil, and roasted. $2.20

6.  The salsa: I buy this, but darn it if I'm out.  So make a quick version with canned diced tomatoes, garlic, green onion, jarred or frozen spicy peppers: $0.75

7.  The chicken: cook this up in the crockpot.  3 lbs sale chicken + homemade BBQ sauce = $5

Now, this is delicious, makes enough for 4 people to eat at least 4 meals (in my house), except for the guacamole that will brown anyway.  But there are 6 different steps up there that I had to go through to make the stuff.  That's 2 steps per meal still.  All told, this is $15.30 for about 4 meals, or $3.83 per meal (for four people).

Versus going to a restaurant: walk up to front, order, eat.  This, my friends, is why people eat out.

At times when I've been home (maternity), or working part time, it's been easier for me to spend time cooking, because I'm at home. When I'm out of the house for 50 hours a week working, it's MUCH harder.

For four of us at a restaurant, it would run $20 to $35.

By cooking, I save $16 to $31 PER MEAL.  A no-brainer, right?  Except for a few notes:
1.  I'm pretty good at this frugal cooking and shopping thing, so those prices are near rock-bottom.
2.  Active, hands-on cooking time there is probably about 3 hours all told.  Most people look at that and say "shoot, I'm going to Chipotle!"  And really, you have way more variety there with different ingredients, different salsas.  But variety comes with a price.

You could say I'm "earning" money by cooking:
Cost to eat out four meals: $100
Cost for my four meals: $16
Saved: $84
Work hours: 3
Money earned per hour by cooking: $28

That makes me feel a *little* better when at the end of a long weekend of cooking.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A tale of two stores

Well, it's spring break week here in FHS land.  We took a short trip and did a couple of days of camping in the desert.  It was HOT.  Abnormally so - in the 90s when about 80 is the normal high.  That made the trip...er...interesting.  Goodness, for many reasons I hope we can get an end to this drought.  It's pretty awful in many ways.  Of course, toddler started coming down with a cold on the drive out there, and colds really transfer easily in dry weather.  So yep, hubs and I are struck with it now.

From the couple nights of hot, sweaty, dusty camping we moved on to a nice resort with a suite with a full kitchen, pool, and water slide.  During this trip I didn't do so well tracking the grocery budget.  We took food with us, which I counted in prior weeks.  We did one grocery shop, and I counted that.  But the stops for water and to refill the ice in the ice chest?  I'm afraid at the end of the year, they end up in miscellaneous.  We also ate out a few times too.

So now that we are back and off a half day from work, I did some grocery shopping.  A quick trip to Costco for eggs and bread (Ha!  Easter weekend - the lines were 10 people deep, it was NOT quick).

But that's not what the story is about, nope.  This is about two other stores, on opposite ends of the grocery spectrum:
1.  Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck)
2.  The 99c only store

I went to Whole Foods because we were out of tahini, and I make my own hummus.  The 365 brand is high quality and a good price ($6).  But you know me and that darned hot bar...

I went to 99c only store because I had a coupon for "Buy 5 get one free" that expired today, and because the last time I went, I got strawberries and they were pretty good.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  Am I comparing apples and oranges?  Yes true.  The hot bar isn't cheap, it's not supposed to be cheap, and the 99c store doesn't have an equivalent (which is probably a GOOD thing).  I can resist the bags of chips at the 99c store.  Whole Foods has a lot of very high quality, local and organic produce.

I live in an area where sustainable, local, organic - they are very popular and very prized and very supported.  Many people here can afford to shop this way.  Many who perhaps cannot do anyway - they make room in the budget for good food.  However on the other end of the spectrum, there are large numbers of people who could never afford to shop there.  The 99c only store is actually relatively new here.

I tend to fall in the middle.  I belong to a local, organic CSA.  The produce is delicious. We've been members since 2001.  The few times I've priced it out, it is superior in price (and much better in quality) than the regular grocery store.  When I can get free range meat - going in on a pig with a friend, buying part of a cow from a friend who bought too much, or catching a good sale at WF or another local store on free range chicken, I pounce on it.  I tend to pay $6-$8 a pound on pork or beef this way and $2 a pound on chicken.

But shopping this way is either incredibly expensive or incredibly time consuming.  If I wanted all organic and local, I could simply shop at the farmer's market.  I am agreeing then to spend my Saturday mornings shopping, and it would probably cost about $200 to $250 a week (most of that for the meat/eggs).  You can certainly bring the price down by buying direct from farmers, but then you are doing a LOT more leg work to get the items.

Therefore, I'd say about half of my food is local and organic, and the other half is not.  I *try* to buy organic for the "dirty dozen", but let's face it - even that can be a trial sometimes.  The convenient store doesn't always have organic and local.

So here's what I got today at these two stores:

First, Whole Foods:  Cost: $16.95  (there's a fourth samosa there that was already eaten).  Items: four samosas from the hot bar, one bottle sparkling water, one jar tahini


Next: 99c Only store: Cost: $4.89 (after $1 off coupon): 10 lb potatoes, 1 lb strawberries, 3 lb bananas, 1 head cauliflower, 2 lb carrots, 1 pkg mushrooms.  No, not organic - but then, I personally think that more produce is better - and if it means you can afford more produce...

So, the 99c store - this is helping me stick to an $80 budget, and it also leaves room for the WF hot bar.