A new Aldi grocery store recently opened near my house. Winnie's dad has been curious about it, having heard some good reviews. I was skeptical, but with my office closed today for the holiday, I made a special trip to see if it lived up to the hype. For me, and how I shop, it did not. I will not be going back.
For the first year or so after Winnie's dad and I moved in together, we usually went to the grocery store together. Inevitably, we would come home with significantly more than was on my list and would spend more money than necessary. You probably know what I mean. He'd see some chips he'd want to try, or some snack that "looks good" and put them in the cart. Or instead of the simple grilled chicken I planned to make for dinner one night, he'd see a "special" on filet mignon. If I had asked him before we left what he wanted me to put on our list, he would not mention any of these things. Maybe this also happens to those of you who take your kid(s) to the store. I finally got to the point where I could not take it anymore. And so, I started going to the store alone, on Sunday.
Sunday is a tough day to grocery shop--unless you go during a Steelers game, when the store is a ghost town! It seems that everyone else, along with their extended family, is at the store with you; none of them appear to know basic grocery store etiquette (keep right, watch where you are going, don't let your child push the cart if he or she can't steer it without running into fellow shoppers or their carts, keep your cell phone conversations short and QUIET...). The lines are often long and the shelves might be a bit bare. In spite of the potential headaches, Sunday shopping just works for me.
Even though Pittsburgh is lucky enough to have a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe's, two great Giant Eagle Market District stores, and several other grocery chains, I go to Wal-mart. My mom became a Wal-mart Supercenter convert a few years ago and she kept telling me to give it a try. I resisted for a while, figuring that money we saved on gas by shopping at Giant Eagle outweighed the higher grocery costs. But, when I realized that some of the items that appear on my shopping list week in and week out were often a whole dollar less expensive at Wal-mart, I was on board.
For example, I buy Minute Maid Low Acid orange juice and a twelve pack of some sort of soda every week. At their regular price, each is at least $1.00 more at Giant Eagle. That's over $100 a year for just two items. These items are often still more expensive at Giant Eagle on sale than the regular price at Wal-mart. I could go on and on about the items that I've found to be significantly less expensive at Wal-mart. Winnie's dad and I both pack our lunch for work everyday, and I cook dinner an average of 4 nights each week. These small price differences make a big impact on our food/dining budget. So, that's why I'm willing to drive an extra few miles out to Robinson Township to do so. Sure, Target, Ikea, and Chipotle are out there too, but I hop on the Parkway for the Wal-mart. Really. The down-side to the savings is that sometimes Wal-mart doesn't carry an item on my list or has run out of it and hasn't restocked by the time I get there. And yes, some of my fellow Wal-mart shoppers could learn a thing or two about what is not appropriate to wear in public. But, that just makes my afternoon more entertaining!
Soon after Winnie's dad and I moved to Pittsburgh, I began writing out a weekly dinner menu and putting it on our refrigerator. I started this after too many early morning "what's for dinner" questions from Winnie's dad. I am not a morning person. When he asked me that question before I had my coffee too many mornings in a row, my sanity required that I put an end to it. Winnie's dad wasn't trying to be difficult, he was just curious. He wanted to plan his daytime eating based on what I was planning for dinner. And so, telling him that I didn't know what we were having for dinner wasn't working for him, and his questions weren't working for me. And thus, my weekly menus were born. The fact that I was eventually given some really cute paper to put those menus on was just an added bonus. Someday, I'll tell you about my dream of owning a stationery store.
My menu planning happens on Sunday mornings, with a large cup of coffee, a stack of cookbooks, my calendar, and paper. First, I figure out what nights I won't be home due to my various non-work commitments and I mark those down on the menu. I then add a few items to my grocery list so that Winnie's dad has some dinner options for those nights: pot pies, pizzas, etc. Then, I start flipping through my cookbooks for recipes that sound good, or for favorites that we haven't had in a while. I find the recipes and add the ingredients to my list. When my lists are complete, I leave the cookbooks for that week out on my kitchen counter, with the pages marked and ready to go. Sometimes Winnie's dad gets home early enough to start dinner. With the menu on the refrigerator and the cookbooks out, he's all set. (I'm count myself lucky to have married a man who can cook and who does his own laundry, too!) I try to plan meals with longer prep times for Sundays since I have extra time and easy/quick meals for Monday through Thursday. I typically do not plan meals for Fridays and Saturdays, since we often go out or have leftovers.
So, my menu will usually contain five main courses and accompanying side dishes. Depending on the prep time for the main course, our sides might be just a simple salad, rice, or a frozen vegetable. In keeping with my resolution for 2011, each week's menu will now contain a slow cooker recipe. When the menu is done and all the ingredients for the week are on my shopping list, I add in our standard weekly needs: OJ, eggs, coffee, cream, bananas, lunch meat and cheese for Winnie's dad, microwave meals for my lunches, paper products, pharmacy items and the like. Oh, and I can't forget treats and food for Winnie!
Now, back to my trip to Aldi. Our cleaning lady has raved about Aldi's produce the last three times she has been at our house. Several other people have mentioned Aldi's produce, and their otherwise low prices. This morning I made my grocery list and menu for the week and decided I would stop at Aldi first to give it a chance. My list and my menu were not extraordinary nor were they complicated, at least for me. We don't have any special dietary considerations, and I don't buy many "organic" items, so any old grocery store should, in theory, work.
12/31 to 1/8 Menu:
Friday/New Year's Eve: surf and turf (a crab cake and small steak for each of us), roasted potatoes, wilted romaine salad with homemade hot bacon vinaigrette dressing
Saturday/New Year's Day: slow cooker pork roast, roasted carrots and fennel, mashed potatoes
Sunday: Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Goat Cheese and Almonds, green salad
Monday: Taco Soup (with chicken sausage) and corn bread
Tuesday: I have a meeting so Brian is on his own. Though I have to make some of the food for the meeting and I have decided to bring a date-nut cheese ball, cranberry/chili sauce meatballs, and an apple tart.
Wednesday: Apple and cheddar frittata, salad
Thursday: Thai Ginger Chicken Burgers, edaname
Now that I see it typed out, maybe our menu does seem a little fancy (it does include two "holiday" meals), but the ingredients are relatively simple. I planned to do this week's shopping at Giant Eagle to use the 5% food perks I had accumulated with our gas purchases at Giant Eagle's gas station. So, I headed to Aldi, knowing that even if it the trip was a modest success, there would be several items that I would have to get elsewhere. Even though prices were somewhat lower on some items, and significantly lower on a few produce items, I was only able to find about one-quarter of the items on my list. The savings weren't worth it to me. I don't mind having to stop at a second grocery store to pick up a few items that will fit in a shopping basket, but when I have to make a second stop, and use a shopping cart, that is where I draw the line. So, I left Aldi without purchasing a single thing. Thanks for nothing, Aldi. Maybe it can work for you, and I hope you give it a try. But, for me, that was the first and last trip I make to Aldi.
Time to go mix up the crab cakes and marinate our steaks for dinner. I'll see you in 2011, with my slow cooker ready for a year of use! What about you--have you made a resolution? If so, feel free to share it in the comments, since "they" say the best way to stick to a resolution is to tell other people about it.
Cheers to the new year!