Low Carb Grocery Shopping with Dana Carpender
Folks often complain that while their low carb diet has led to weight loss and improved health, their budget is taking a beating. It’s true that meat and vegetables are more expensive than pasta and rice. I’ve long countered that there’s nothing cheap about “food” that makes you fat, tired, hungry, sick, and cranky, and that good food is an investment you can’t afford not to make. I will forever stand by that argument.
But you can be a budget-conscious shopper! Your body doesn’t care if it gets its protein from steak or from hamburger, from lobster or from canned tuna. Nor does it care if you buy name brands or house brands.
I like to save a buck as much as anyone, so I am a huge fan of “extreme value, limited assortment” grocery stores. Here in Bloomington we have two, Save-a-Lot and Aldi. For the uninitiated, these are the opposite of your huge grocery store that tries to carry everything. Instead, these stores are less than half the size of your average grocery store, and they carry only the most popular stuff. Furthermore, the majority of the stuff is available in one brand: the house brand.
They don’t have the services of a big grocery store. No cafe, flower shop, pharmacy, or magazine rack. They charge a quarter deposit for a shopping cart, which you get back when you return it, thus saving the money other stores spend on rounding up carts. You bag your own groceries, and some even make you pay for bags, though they’ll also stack boxes at the front of the store for customer use. These stores also don’t take checks, though they do take credit and debit cards, along with good old cash.
But the prices! Oh, baby, the prices.
A while back I was working on recipes calling for cottage cheese. The stuff was running $2.50 a pound at my regular grocery, but just $1.49 at my local Save-a-Lot. When avocadoes were $1.29 apiece at the big-box grocery, Aldi had them for 99c. And while the best sale I ever see on chicken leg-and-thigh quarters at the big groceries is 69c a pound, Save-a-Lot often has 10-pound sacks of them for 49c a pound, and occasionally for 39c a pound.
Not everything at limited assortment groceries is for us. Since they stock what sells best, there is a ton of junk food in these places. But who cares? We can just walk on by, and snap up the low carb bargains.
And these stores have a lot to offer in the way of good food.
Among the things I buy regularly at Save-a-Lot or Aldi include
- Sacks of onions – both yellow cooking onions and sweet red onions for salads.
- Basic produce – cauliflower, celery, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, iceberg lettuce, strawberries, cantaloupe, all that sort of thing.
- Sour cream and half-and-half (My local Aldi has quarts of half-and-half for $1.99, day in, day out.)
- Blocks of cheddar, colby-jack, and Monterey jack, packets of shredded mozzarella, grated parmesan, even crumbled feta and gorgonzola. (Again, Aldi has the best price locally; I get cheddar and Monterey Jack for $1.49/8 oz.)
- Bacon, pork sausage, liverwurst, smoked sausage, hot dogs. (Be careful; hot dogs and smoked sausage often have a lot of sugar in them.)
- Butter (Aldi currently charges just $1.89/pound for butter, beating even holiday loss leader sales at my local big groceries.)
- Mayonnaise, mustard (yellow and brown), Worcestershire. (Save-A-Lot’s Hargis House Worcestershire is indistinguishable from Lea & Perrins, at least to my palate.) They only have sugary ketchup and barbecue sauce, so steer clear.
- Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, distilled white vinegar, canola oil, olive oil.
- Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, and tomatoes with green chilies.
- Canned green beans, asparagus, and mushrooms.
- Canned tuna, clams, salmon, mackerel, sardines, chunk chicken.
- Frozen cooked, peeled shrimp, and even frozen tuna steaks and wild-caught salmon fillets.
- Those chicken leg-and-thigh quarters I mentioned, plus frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or wings, ground turkey.
- Cold cuts – remember, read the labels for added sugar.
- Coffee and tea, both regular and instant.
- Diet soda
- Fruit 2 O at Aldi, also artificially sweetened sparkling water.
- Bottled lemon and lime juice
- Salt, pepper, paprika, jarred chopped garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and other basic spices.
- Packets of artificial sweetener — saccharine, aspartame, and Splenda.
- Baking cocoa and baking chocolate
- Shelled walnuts and pecans; slivered almonds
- Natural peanut butter (Aldi only, at least around here)
- Sugar-free instant pudding mix in chocolate and vanilla.
- Pickles and olives.
- Frozen spinach, green beans, broccoli, okra, and other low-carb veggies.
- Peanuts, mixed nuts, and pork rinds.
- Aldi has their own lines of wine and beer. Their Winking Owl wine apparently is bottled by Gallo, and runs a big $3/bottle. Not my very favorite, but the shiraz is drinkable. The cabernet and merlot are too sweet for my tastes. They also have some modestly pricier wines that I like a lot, including a bordeaux and a crianza for $6/bottle. I haven’t noticed a light beer in their line, but I’ll keep hoping.
Keep an eye on the fresh meat prices at these stores; sometimes they’re good, and sometimes you’ll do better at the loss-leader sales at the big groceries. I did recently buy a whole rib-eye at Save-a-Lot for just $3.99/pound; they sliced it into steaks for no extra charge. Rib eye steaks generally run $7.99/pound at Kroger.
You could, if you had to, eat a healthy low carb diet based solely on food bought at bargain prices at extra value, limited assortment groceries. Visit one every couple of weeks or so and your bank account will thank you.
For those items you can’t find locally to you, you can find a large selection of low carb foods here at low carb store CarbSmart.com.
Everything in this recipe is available at Aldi, and all of it but the wine is available at Save-a-Lot.
Low-Carb, Keto, Gluten-Free Pizza Chicken Recipe
- 3 chicken leg-and-thigh quarters, about 2 1/2 pounds
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 4-ounce can mushrooms, drained
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed, or 1-2 t. jarred chopped garlic in oil
- 1 – 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 5 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
Strip the skin off the chicken, and cut the legs from the thighs. In a big, heavy skillet over medium heat, brown chicken in olive oil. Add the tomato sauce, mushrooms, wine, green pepper, the onion, garlic and oregano. Cover, turn the burner to its lowest setting, and forget about it for 45 minutes to an hour.
Now put the chicken on serving plates. Turn up the flame under the sauce to medium-high and let it boil down a little while you –
Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the chicken, and zap each plate in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds on 50% power, to melt the cheese. Spoon the sauce over each piece, and serve. Sprinkle a little Parmesan over your Pizza Chicken if you like.
4-5 servings. Assuming 5, each with: 409 Calories; 23g Fat; 37g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber, 8g usable carb.
Just one more point about these stores: You can save on non-food items there, too. I love Aldi’s Tandil laundry detergent, and have heard rumors that it’s actually Tide in a different bottle. I just know it gets my laundry clean, cheap. Their Shique shampoo and conditioner work fine, and I’m crazy about their Lacura anti-aging skin care line, which is terrific, and less expensive than drugstore brands. Save-a-Lot’s Glo is the best bargain dishwashing liquid I’ve tried; I think it’s as good as Dawn.
© 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the cheap author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.