Monday, February 11, 2008

Healthy and wealthy (groceries at the mini-mart)

Buying healthy groceries at Giant Tiger sounds like an oxymoron. Not that we don't like Giant Tiger, but it isn't usually your first stop when you think "healthy eating." Before Giant Tiger sues me for saying that (whaddya mean our food isn't healthy?), I'll explain. Giant Tiger is a Canadian discount chain that doesn't specialize in groceries at all; a lot of people don't even know that they sell food. You go to Giant Tiger for flip-flops, dishcloths, and boxer shorts with Valentine hearts on them. I don't know what the American equivalent would be--smaller than W-Mart, bigger than a 7-11, more expensive than a dollar store, less expensive than a lot of other places.

The grocery department at Giant Tiger is what I think of as limited-choice; a small amount of fresh produce, a few freezer compartments and refrigerators, and several aisles of canned and boxed foods. Maybe not that different from what some smaller grocery stores used to be like!

But even at a limited-choice store, you can still make some good food choices. Not if you're expecting anything exotic or organic; the peanut butter is going to be the kind with sugar in it; but you don't have to be limited to TV dinners and packaged cookies, either. Some of the decent things we've found are: frozen fruit and vegetables, dried fruit, dairy products, eggs, whole wheat bread, Triscuits, liverwurst, canned fish, frozen perogies without too many additives, oatmeal, Muffets, unsweetened puffed wheat cereal, apples, bananas, juice, and canned beans (occasionally dried beans too).

On the wealthy/frugal side: the catch at a place like Giant Tiger is that--like any store--not everything is necessarily a good deal. The sales are good but if you don't watch out you can get caught by other things that (for some reason) are way more expensive than a regular discount supermarket would charge. So we watch the sales and go there every few weeks--spacing our GT trips between stops at other stores such as the discount supermarket, the bulk food store, and another slightly more expensive grocery store that carries organic foods and some other favourite things that we can't get at cheaper stores. From spring through fall, we also go to the farmstand for fresh things.

This is what we bought there on the weekend (with notes on planned use):

6 lb. bananas (snacks, shakes, baking)
bag dr. apricots, block pitted dates (baking--they got partly used in the Breakfast-in-a-Cookie recipe)
bag apples (lunches)
2 x 540 ml jars unsweetened applesauce (used at meals and in baking; they didn't have bigger jars so I had to buy two)
bag frozen blueberries
bag frozen strawberries

2 L apple juice
1.75 L carton orange juice

1 kg frozen peas
head lettuce
box of potato flakes (on sale, will use in the future)
1 can pasta sauce, 1 box ww pasta

4 L 2% milk (will probably last us most of the week)
package cheese strings (special treat for snacks)
250 bag cheddar cheese curds (snacks)
750 g plain yogurt, 750 g vanilla yogurt (snacks, baking, and making more yogurt)
1.89 L carton soymilk (for Mr. Fixit)
small container cream cheese spread
2 x 500 g cottage cheese (scrambling, dips, eating)
1 dozen eggs

500 g creamed honey (mostly for Mr. Fixit's toast)
can of hot chocolate mix (a compromise: the weather's been very cold)

several packages bread, bagels, burger buns
2.5 kg white flour (they didn't have anything else and I did have whole wheat at home)
1 bag quick oats
box of Muffets

2 170 g cans tuna
250 g liverwurst
175 g sandwich loaf (cold cuts) and 500 g bologna

package potato-cheese perogies
package frozen fish sticks

and several non-food items. (If you're interested, the total cost minus the non-food items was $105.04 Canadian.)

This isn't everything we're planning on eating for the week; we keep quite a few things on hand in the pantry and the freezer in case we can't get to the store at all some weeks. This week we already had the following things that we planned to eat soon:

bacon, sausage, a bit of leftover ham, 1 lb. ground meat, frozen chicken wings
canned salmon
peanut butter
lentils, canned kidney beans
grape juice
milk powder, some cheese, butter
canned tomato soup (that turned out to be not so good)
whole wheat flour and other grains (barley, rice, couscous, 10-grain cereal)
liquid honey
graham crackers
Cheerios, Shreddies
cabbage and Manwich sauce (for cabbage rolls),
squash, carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli
canned pumpkin
a frozen pizza
canned pineapple
frozen green beans, frozen fries
frozen English muffins
misc. condiments and baking supplies, drinks

(You could find most of those things at the discount store too, except for the meat, milk powder and a couple of other things like couscous.)

Breakfasts and lunches here are made out of whatever people want to eat: hot/cold cereal, eggs, muffins/toast, bagels, waffles (with frozen fruit or maybe pineapple sauce); sandwiches, macaroni, homemade lentil-barley soup, reheated leftovers.

Additional snack or breakfast possibilities using our ingredients: Chef Brockett's Peanut Butter Balls (natural peanut butter blended with a little margarine, then enough milk powder added to stiffen and raisins added in; most versions add honey but Chef Brockett left it out and they're still pretty good); applesauce and leftover sausage; cottage cheese with pineapple; hard-cooked eggs with carrot sticks; apples with peanut butter; Dad's Egg-on-English-Muffins; cheese and crackers; liverwurst on crackers

These are the menus I came up with for dinners this week. They're not terribly exciting or meant to illustrate extreme health-consciousness either. Most of our healthy efforts so far have focused on breakfasts, snacks, and desserts.

Saturday: we ate the fish sticks with couscous and peas.

Sunday: Mr. Fixit made cabbage rolls. We were going to have the perogies with them but the cabbage rolls seemed to be enough. Dessert was graham crackers layered in bowls with vanilla yogurt and frozen blueberries.

Monday: salmon loaf, squash, green beans

Tuesday: sausage baked in a casserole with barley; whatever vegetables seem to work

Wednesday: wings and fries, raw veggies and dip

Thursday: Whole wheat spaghetti with sauce; frozen pizza

Friday: Cook's Choice (that might mean leftovers or might mean using up what needs to be eaten)

More food ideas that we could make out of things we have:

Sugar-free peanut-butter-banana squares
Grape-juice gelatin (maybe done firm and cut in hearts)
Yogurt pie with frozen strawberries on top (maybe for Valentine's Day)
Chicken-broccoli pizza
Apples and leftover ham baked with eggs
Pumpkin pancakes
Anna Lou's Broccoli-Tuna Casserole from the More-with-Less Cookbook


Alisha said...

We love the Chef Brockett peanut butter balls. dd calls them "yum yums."

Erika said...

do you have exact proportions for the peaunut butter balls? my mom used to make them for us when we were kids but she lost the recipe. thanks! ~Erika

Mama Squirrel said...

You don't really need a recipe, because it depends on how many you want to make and how sweet you like them (Mr. Rogers didn't put any sweetener in them at all, but he did add a little margarine to loosen up the peanut butter). We often finish off a jar of peanut butter this way (scraping out the peanut butter with a rubber spatula, and not bothering with a measuring cup; I hate washing peanut-buttery measuring cups). Add as much honey as you like, then work in milk powder until the glop is stiff enough to work into balls. That's all, unless you want to add extras like raisins or cocoa.

But most kids' cookbooks do have a recipe for them; sometimes they call it "edible playdough." Here's a page with several links to recipes: .

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