You Better Shop Around

With the price of groceries these days, you better shop around! I can’t type that without hearing backup singers bahdododoing in my head. But I digress. Food prices are erratic right now. Gone are the days you can count on any specific store having the lowest price. A combination of supply chain issues, product shortages, and inflation have led to unpredictable shopping in 2023.


I recently ran out of Pickapeppa Sauce. When I pulled it up on the Walmart site, it was $10 (marked down from $13.95) for a 5 oz bottle. A search on Amazon found the same item for $7.89. Both of those seemed high so I looked at Kroger through Instacart. Kroger was the cheapest by far at $4.99.

Today, I need cranberry juice. I want the kind that’s nothing but 100% cranberry without any added grape or apple juice. A 32 oz bottle is $7.18 at Walmart, $6.39 at Kroger, and $9.99 at The Fresh Market and Natural Grocers. The choice between $7.18 and $6.39 is less than a dollar. That difference may not change my mind about where to purchase it. On the other hand, $2.81 seems like a pretty big difference.

But the math isn’t that simple. I often have 30 items to purchase at one time. If the price of each one is as erratic as these two examples, I can end up spending $30 – $60 more per shopping trip than if I shop at 3 or 4 different stores.

To comparison shop, I also have to factor in the amount of time I spend reviewing prices. Admittedly, online shopping reduces the amount of time this takes, but I can easily eat a dollar in time trying to save a dollar in cash.

For years, I had the luxury of ignoring grocery prices for the most part. And I got used to the fact that gluten-free items would be expensive in comparison to their gluten-containing counterparts. Now, I find myself questioning every purchase. Do I REALLY need those crackers? Do I NEED French bread from the store or do I have time to bake this week?

Last weekend, I hosted a birthday party. After searching four stores for two slabs of ribs, I checked a local barbecue restaurant. It was cheaper to buy the ribs there already smoked than to buy them uncooked from Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, or Kroger. I could save cash and cooking time by purchasing from the restaurant. That made my decision easy.

If you have a limited amount of time to research prices online, you may want to consider a price comparison app. I haven’t used any of these so I can’t recommend one, but online reviews and a look at their description can help you determine which app may fit your shopping style.

The other thing I do is limit shopping. I do this by:

  • growing vegetables and herbs
  • using as much of a food as possible (leaves, stems, trimmings)
  • eating and repurposing leftovers
  • minimizing spoilage
  • eating what I have instead of what I want
  • trading food from the garden with neighbors
  • keeping basics on hand
  • doing pantry challenges

While I can limit shopping, I am not fully self-sufficient so I will continue to purchase from grocery stores, Amazon, discount, and big box stores.

As long as prices continue to fluctuate drastically, you better shop around.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What is Your Food Language

What is your food language? Do you think each of us has a primary food language in the same way we have a primary love language? Why not? Anthropologists study the way language and food intersect, positing that food and its uses provide setting and structure for language.

I feel like we could develop a questionnaire that could indicate a primary food language. Perhaps we would use that language to guide our choice of dining companions. Perhaps we would use it to encourage healthier diets for our children. Perhaps we could use it to improve compliance with medically beneficial eating plans or prevent/treat eating disorders.

If we were going to design such a test, what would we look for?

Mind you, I’m not going to be incredibly scientific or statistical about this. It’s more a flight of fancy, and since that seems to be where my mind is determined to go this morning, I’m going to run with it. If I don’t, I’ll just be fighting myself (some people call that writer’s block).

So, back to our questionnaire. How about some questions like these, followed by multiple choice answers?

In what way do you associate food with conversation?

How often are you able to feel the hunger in your body?

How do you feel most often when you prepare a meal?

How do you feel most often when you order a meal from a restaurant?

If you reach for a snack between meals, what is the reason?

What foods do you choose when no one is watching?

How does the quantity of food you consume change when you’re alone?

In what way do your feelings change after a meal?

How does the temperature of food affect its appeal?

How does the texture of food affect its appeal?

What words would you use to describe a meal you enjoyed?

What words would you use to describe a meal you did not enjoy?

What sort of lighting enhances the flavor of a meal?

What sort of sound enhances the flavor of a meal?

How do you pair flavors?

How often do you think of food when it is not mealtime?

How do you feel when the pantry is full?

How do you feel when the pantry is empty?

How often do you buy kitchen tools you do not use?

These questions may be a good beginning or others might serve better. And multiple choice answers must be carefully chosen to give us an accurate picture of what they indicate. One way to hone the questions and answers is through research.

Research studies often begin with curious flights of fancy. Mine could lead to identifying food languages. Yours could lead to something even more significant. Even if you’re not a researcher, there are ways to contribute ideas to the research community. Colleges and universities, medical schools, and nonprofits in your community are great places to find opportunities.

And if you’d rather do than imagine, you can volunteer to be a research subject. In college, I participated in an exercise study measuring the effectiveness of isokinetic workouts. A few years ago, I participated in a study surveying attitudes toward cybersecurity.  

Whether or not today’s flight of fancy leads you toward research participation, hopefully it will encourage you to explore your internal food dialogue. You may discover you have a well-defined food language just waiting to be discovered.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Hosting Thanksgiving is Easy

Hosting Thanksgiving is easy when you set intentions. Are the holidays really right around the corner? They must be because I’m sitting here planning my Thanksgiving menu. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an all out Thanksgiving production and I’m wondering just how big it should be?

I know the point of the holiday is not the food, but I always look forward to a table full of freshly made dishes that I prepare only once a year. There’s no crossover between my Thanksgiving and Christmas menus because we celebrate Christmas with breakfast rather than dinner. Just thinking about that makes me want a steamy hot biscuit with strawberry jelly, but that’s beside the point.
Or maybe it’s not. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that we long for most – my Aunt Opal’s cherry pie, my grandmother’s beef and noodles, my mother’s cinnamon rolls made from canned biscuits. For you it may be the chicken soup your mom fixed when you were under the weather, or the grilled cheese sandwich she grilled with butter and served with tomato soup.

Obviously, it’s cliché to say that food tastes better when it’s made with love, but any dining experience is enhanced when the food is made by someone who cares how we feel; someone who shows up for Thanksgiving with a pie because they like to spend time with us; someone who hopes to bring us comfort. Offering and sharing food is one of the ways we express love beginning the first moment we hold our babies close to feed them.

There’s a scene in the movie “The Blind Side” that shows the Tuohy family focused on football and TV rather than each other on Thanksgiving Day until they realize their house guest Michael Oher is sitting at their dining table by himself. Seeing him there as alone at their table as he is in life, they are moved to gather around and share the meal with him. This sharing enriches the family and the bond they are forming with Michael. It’s a great illustration that we inherently understand breaking bread is an action affirming trust, confidence, comfort, and acceptance within a group.

For the host, a holiday meal, or any family gathering, is a delicate balancing act. If you go all out cooking for days making everything from scratch and no one seems to notice, it can be disheartening. If you go to a restaurant because you’d rather focus on the family than the food, you risk the ridicule of someone who thinks you’re being lazy or don’t care about family traditions. Which brings me back to the decision at hand. How large should I make this Thanksgiving’s production?

No matter what I’m deciding, I like to start by settling on some intentions. I’ve done this enough to recognize that my intentions will automatically reflect my priorities, so setting intentions and determining priorities are a simultaneous process (there’s a time saver right there). Setting intentions rather than goals gives me a path to feel successful even if the soufflé collapses and the pie crust is soggy.

So, what are my intentions for Thanksgiving?

I’m going to start with being kind to myself. That looks like not doing too much. It’s not unusual for me to work so hard to provide for other people that I feel worn out, so I have to be deliberate in my intent to prevent over-doing. Luckily, my sister has offered to bring dessert and rather than ask for pie, I asked for pie and cake. My daughter-in-law’s parents will also be joining us. Her mom offered to bring two vegetables. Instead of trying to make it easier for her by limiting it to one, I happily accepted the offer.

Next, I intend to make a workable timeline so I’m not rushing and flustered at the end. If I’m in a panic to get things done, I’ll be irritable and unable to enjoy my guests. Today I’ll review my menu and determine what can be done in advance and when I will do it. For the past two months, my now 4-month-old grandson has spent two to three days a week with me. When he’s here my work time is limited because he needs lots of tummy tickling. He’ll be here this week and next week, so a timeline is even more critical than in past years.

I intend to scale the menu to fit the time available. If that means there’s no pecan pie or fewer leftovers, then so be it. It won’t be the end of the world, and it won’t cause me to feel as though I’ve let anyone down.

I intend to tailor the menu to my guests’ dietary needs. There are only 8 of us this year, so I’ve had a chance to poll everyone to make sure each person will have plenty of options on the table. I have a friend who keeps a set of index cards noting the dietary restrictions and food dislikes of her close friends and family. As her guest, this makes a gathering easy to enjoy and I appreciate the thoughtfulness.

I intend to make everything from scratch. I am not suggesting that you should do this. For me, it means the food is more delicious and automatically free of preservatives, coloring, stabilizers, and artificial flavors. It also means I can control the amount of sodium and fat and be confident that everything is gluten-free.
I intend to make the table-setting beautiful, but simple. Using my grandmother’s tablecloth, real china, and beautiful serving pieces means candles or a simple bouquet will be all I need to add. Even though I can’t put china in the dishwasher, I like to use it for holidays plus I intend to let my kids wash the dishes. On years when I’ve had 25 guests, I’ve been known to sit the china atop folding tables covered in brown kraft paper scattered with crayons. Hey, I like weird juxtaposition and I have a lot of china.

I intend to be present in the moment once the guests arrive. Enjoying the company is more important than the food, the table, or the mess I just left in the kitchen. My dining room is separate from the kitchen so no one has to look at cluttered countertops while we’re eating.

I intend to make time for yoga and rest on Friday before driving to share leftovers with extended family.

I intend to make a list of things for which I’m grateful. It’s been a difficult and emotionally exhausting year. Remembering that even such a year has brought many things for which I’m thankful is a great way to refocus my energy on the positive.

With these intentions, I feel confident I’ll have a great Thanksgiving. My food may not be perfect. My front porch may not get swept. There may be a drop of dough on top of the stove or flour on the floor. None of that will matter. I will be able to let it go and focus on gratitude.

If you’re feeling dread or pressure about hosting Thanksgiving, consider setting intentions to make it easier. I can tell you from experience, it makes a huge difference for me.

Travel Tip #6 – Go Ahead…Take Candy From Strangers!

So how many of you tell your children to never take candy, or food, from strangers? I’ve said the same thing…many times. The thing is, when I’ve said it, I wasn’t really thinking about the food. I was concerned about some deviant using food as a bribe to get my child to do something he wouldn’t otherwise do. Now that we’re all adults, I say, “Going on a trip? Forget that old rule. Take food from strangers”!

Cherry Candy

I realize some of you are thinking I’ve lost my mind, so give me a moment to explain. I am not encouraging you to eat off a stranger’s plate, drink out of the same glass, or consume any item you do not feel complies with your necessary medical restrictions. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the opportunities travel offers for a change in menu.

When traveling to a foreign country, you may have no choice but to vary from your eating norm. If this is the case, there are many treats in store. First there are local people who may want you to sample their dishes. While they may be strangers, please consider the offer. This is the absolute best way to experience local food.

Next are the grocery stores or markets. Shopping in a different environment with unfamiliar products can be an adventure in itself. I often browse the aisles taking in the packaging and shelf arrangement as if perusing an art display. I spend a moment contrasting the number of items that look familiar from the number that seem different. I watch the shoppers. I try to grab a sense of their lives and develop a list of questions I may want to research about local eating habits or food culture.

In Australia, I find the packaged foods more familiar than foreign. Many of the brands are the same as those at home and the boxes vary only slightly. In the Netherlands, I am struck by the abundance of dark, heavy breads and the frequency with which our hosts offer us a stop for food. In New Zealand, I find the roadside fruit and vegetable markets a delight!

Bakeries and restaurants offer yet another view of both food and culture. There is nothing more beautiful than the fruit tarts displayed in the window of a bakery along Champs-Elysées in Paris. Sometimes I browse the shelves of a bakery even though I recognize I probably won’t be able to eat any of the products.  I love to see the offerings, take in the aroma of freshly baked bread, and bask in the warmth of the room. When I can do this with a cup of rich, dark coffee in hand, I am happy to wait for my gluten-free snack.

After browsing, you’ll be ready to consume. Here’s another opportunity to engage a stranger.  Ask some locals to tell you what or where to eat, then trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular person’s advice, ask someone else. If two or three people mention the same hole-in-the-wall, it’s probably good.

Pork Loin
Stuffed Pork

When traveling closer to home, the same rules apply. Keep in mind that any time you enjoy a meal at a new restaurant in your city, you are accepting food from strangers so there’s no reason to be hesitant to try something new in a neighboring borough. I ate some of the best hummus I’ve ever tasted at a cigarette/gift store/restaurant with a sliding cage door in Memphis. My son recommends tacos served on the porch of a make-shift operation at a man’s house in Little Rock. A friend’s favorite barbecue sandwich ever was sold out of a Hot Springs man’s back door. People drive for an hour or more for a weekly fish fry on the grounds of a Stuttgart farm. None of these locations employ advertising other than word of mouth and none are to be missed.

Search online, look at reviews, and get an eating plan together, but don’t be afraid to ditch the plan on the advice of someone you just met. When you’re wiling to embrace the food offered by a stranger, you increase your chances of being pleasantly surprised.

Have any surprisingly good dining experiences you want to share? We’d love to hear them.

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