Food Cost Saving Rant and some advice to local Seattleites

Today I read an article about how eating at restaurants is cheaper than cooking at home. I decided to keep an open mind and I read the article and looked at their price breakdown. Here’s the article:

First off, I’m pretty sure they’re not including tax and tip in the restaurant pricing. Secondly, they’re showing you the cost breakdown for cooking at home for 1 person and not taking into account the fact that you’re buying a whole big bag of “x” and not just 1 portion of it. For example 1 bunch of asparagus is quoted as being $3.99 but who gets a whole “bunch” or bag of anything as a restaurant portion. I agree, restaurants tend to over serve their food but still, I’ve never been served pounds of asparagus or a whole large bag of carrots on my plate as a side dish ANYWHERE.

Anyways, I could go on about how crappy this article is, but that’s would be pointless. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that I’m ridiculously good at saving money on groceries when I have to. I could save more if I was into couponing but I’m not. Instead, I know where to shop for what – which is not to say I don’t also go to places like Trader Joes for the nicer stuff and spend a few extra pennies. If you shop only organic, I’m afraid this advice won’t help you but if you’re living in Seattle and barely able to pay your bills and need to find a way to save money, I’m going to show you where to shop for a few key things that could make a big difference. Learning to cook at home, is a great way to lower your bills but you have to know where to shop.

1) Cash and Carry: This is a great place to grab all kinds of things (usually in bulk) if you don’t have a costco card. I’ve never seen small bags of anything here, so be careful that you don’t end up buying more than you can use which might negate the money you save per pound. I usually stick to things like onions (which I use pounds of every week) or I’ll get meats or veg if I’m having company over or if I’m hosting a party where I’m serving lots of people.

2) Costco: I love love love costco. If you’re lucky enough to have a membership it can be an awesome way to save money. It can also be an awesome way to absolutely not save money. Like with Cash and Carry (or Samsclub or any other bulk place) you have to shop smart. I use whole chickens every week, and I get my chicken at Costco. Their fresh whole chicken flies off the shelves and I’ve always been happy with the quality… at least for the price. Chicken sells for less than $1.00/lb every time I’ve been there, no coupon needed. Downside: you have to buy chickens in two packs so make sure you have some freezer space. Also, it takes about 2.5 to 3 days in the fridge to thaw your chicken once it is fully frozen so plan accordingly. Don’t defrost it in the microwave, leave the chicken in its bag and place it in a large container in the sink or bath tub and let slow trickling water run over it for a few hours if you find you need to defrost faster than you planned for. To anyone who thinks they’re wasting money on the carcass, you’ve probably not had the opportunity to try home made chicken stock. There’s a recipe . Use it – is it your new best friend. Roasted bones usually make a more robust stock, if you’ve not roasted the whole chicken… just take the chicken carcass toss a little salt and pepper and olive oil and throw it in a roasting pan. Roast at 375 for about 1/2 hour and then use for stock *or if you’re Asian like me, nibble on the bones a bit before using for stock*

Pork sirloin is also around $2.00/lb. This is a great deal when you do healthy cooking. The meat is tender and very lean which means there is no waste when you use this product, which it makes it well worth the cost. Downside, it comes in a vacupack of about 10lbs of pork. There are 4 separate 2.5lb sections and it freezes really well as is, but make sure you have freezer space. The sirloins are cut as whole roasts, but it is perfect for someone who prefers to cut the meat to whatever recipe they need it for.

If you have a cool dark place to store things, costco is also great for: onions, garlic, potatoes, etc. Because I usually only cook for 2, I don’t get my veggies or salads at costco. I find I want more variety and I get sick of the same salad day after day. If you do have a large family, veg at costco can be a great deal. I NEVER buy prepared foods at costco, or anywhere else for that matter. I’m sure its a great deal, but I prefer to control what goes into my foods. If this appeals to you, I know they have some very tantalizing things.

3) The International District is Your Best New Friend: Before I ever knew about Costco or Cash and Carry, my family shopped here to save money. There was a period when we were almost dirt poor. My overworked mom used to dig through the couch for change so she could feed us before the next paycheck came. Because of her knowledge about where to shop, we always had food, usually had meat, and always had fresh vegetables. I bet most poor families can’t say the same. I was lucky, and now I want to pass on the love to other people that may be struggling financially.

  • Lam’s Seafood: What to buy? Meat and seafood. The meat and seafood flies off the shelves here. Its almost as if all the Asians in the area know to buy their meat here. The truth is that they probably do, and there’s a reason: it is fresh and really really inexpensive. I once asked a guy behind the counter, “what is the freshest shrimp you have (they usually carry at least 5 varieties of fresh shrimp)?” his answer, “they’re all fresh today, but I think this one came in about 5 minutes ago”. It is also cheaper than just about anywhere. Shrimp is always less than $10/lb and most of  the shrimp is in the $4-7 range. You do get them shells on, but hey, its worth it. Make some fish stock with those shells. Their daily prices rival or are lower than places like costco. Flank steak is about $5.00/lb (costco is closer to $7 or $8/lb) and they have multiple butchers there all the time. Whole chickens are around $1.00/lb (they’re not quite as plump as at american markets since asians like their chickens more natural looking, but they still taste great). *On site parking*
  • Rising Sun Produce: What to buy? Vegetables. This is a veggie stand type place. Don’t come here with a definite idea of what you want, some items will be great deals, and other items will be duds. You can almost always expect to find onions, ginger, sweet potatoes, etc at good deals and in decent condition. The other stuff is a bit more hit and miss. By this I mean that it is almost always cheaper than American markets, but sometimes the quality is a little off. If you don’t find what your looking for here, drive down King street and Jackson street and check out the other Veg stands. They’re all cheap. I once found red bell peppers at 10 peppers for $1.00. No, that’s not a typo. If you frequent these places and plan your menus off what’s in season you can usually save a good amount of cash. Some of the other veggie places are cheaper, but I know rising sun takes credit and debit cards. I’m not sure about all of them. *Street Parking*
  • How How’s Market: What to buy? Vegetables and noodles. The veg here is sometimes a tad more expensive than Rising Sun but it is usually in overall better condition. Also, they have on-site parking and take cards.
  • Viet Wah: What to buy? Dried goods, sauces, bulk rice. They also have some fun stuff in the asian dessert and cookie isle. Their fish and meats are cheap, but Lam’s seafood has better deals on those. *On-site parking*
  • Seattle Deli: What to buy? Bánh mì thịt nướng aka super tasty vietnamese grilled pork sandwich. They have the fixings and are less than $3.00 a sandwich. This is the place to go for an asian snack or grab and go food. I hit this place up in a pinch when I don’t have time to cook. There are a million little shops like this throughout the I-district but this is the best one. The cooks here know their stuff and the flavors are true to Vietnamese tradition. *onsite and street parking*

12 thoughts on “Food Cost Saving Rant and some advice to local Seattleites

  1. Another suggestion

    For really cheap non perishable goods there are at least two grocery outlet stores in the Seattle Area that I know of. It’s definitely better to get fresh ingrediants but if you’re a lazy ass like myself sometimes having stuff in the pantry that doesn’t go bad is a good thing.

    Also, there are farmer’s markets in most major neighborhoods around here that open up usually in the late spring and their are a few that are open year round. Local, often organic, produce, eggs, sometimes meats and dairy, as well as baked goods, flowers, honey, and preserves at prices that are not too terrible. It helps to take a stroll through to see who has the best prices sometimes though.

    • Re: Another suggestion

      Do you remember the names of the outlets? I’d be helpful to have the info here so people can look them up and google directions.

      As to farmer’s markets. I can’t say enough good things about them overall. When I have a little extra cash, I love to shop local and even organic. They are more expensive than the veg stands in the International Dist. but it when you have a few extra pennies to rub together it is worth it to support local food.

      • Re: Another suggestion

        they’re actually just called Grocery Outlet. I know there is one in the Central District and one Aurora (and 130th I want to say? Somewhere around there.)

        Another tip for farmer’s markets, if you’re buying a lot of something (say $100 worth of raspberries) talk to the venders, they’ll often cut you a deal. Not so useful for most people but just something to keep in mind if one were to need a large amount of something for making jams or such. It depends on the person of course but sometimes it helps to just walk up and say “I’m looking to buy a large cash amount of this one thing you sell. Can you get me a deal for bulk?” It’s worked pretty well for me in the past.

      • Re: Another suggestion

        I used to go to the one in south Tacoma with and we affectionately(maybe) called it ‘Where Mutants Shop’. I’d never seen Ocean Spray Cranberry-Currant juice before that, and I might never again.

        I miss those outings. We found such nifty foodstuffs, and the people-watching was entertaining as hell. (I’m sure we were watched with amusement too.)

      • Re: Another suggestion

        I always amused my mother by calling it the Used Food Store. Not because anything is used but because the name Grocery Outlet always sounded like some sort of second hand shop for food.

  2. The “cheaper to eat in a restaurant” argument makes me f-ing crazy. It is such a dangerous fallacy, foul with the stench of corporations trying to decieve the poor. I’m really relieved to see that most of the people commenting on the article see right through it. Sadly, I’ve still heard people make this argument for years.

    The other element to all of this is that you can get vastly healthier food than you’d find in a restaurant for cheaper than you’d find in a restaurant. The notion that cooking real food is somehow too hard, or too expensive, is a significant part of the health issues facing our nation, most of which hit the poor harder than everyone else.

    I think you hit on the best pieces of information here, but I’ll think on other “eat healthy for cheap” input to add. I’m tempted to pull together a handful of cheap and healthy recipes that absolutely anybody can cook – beans & rice with veggies, marinated & broiled chicken breasts, soup.

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