Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: groceries (page 1 of 2)

November Food Challenge Accomplishments

My November Food Challenge was so fun, I wish it lasted longer. There is a lot more I had planned, but never got too, like finding more ways to eat healthier and diving into the The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining. I never even cracked it open. Why? Because as I was organizing my existing recipes, I realized that I have more than enough delicious, easy recipes right now.  Plus, I just plain ran out of time and this wasn’t a high priority.  Realizing that you’ll never get to everything on your to do list and letting the lower priority things go takes practice and this project gives me a lot of practice.

There are a couple things I’m really happy I did accomplish during November’s food challenge:

  1. Analyzed and fixed my grocery budget (parts I, II, and III).  Ever since I cut back on meat and dairy, my weekly bills have come in an average of $20 under budget.
  2. Explored other ways and places to shop for groceries and realized that shopping online (which I was already doing) was the best option for me.
  3. Cut back on disposables, I use far fewer paper towels and switched one kid to cloth diapers this month!
  4. Revisited a couple of sane dieting methods and read up on the diabetic diet. I didn’t write about this, but I gave up sugar for most of November (something I do periodically because it makes me feel GREAT). Now, I usually drink water instead of soda when we go out to eat.
  5. Remembered a sneaky way to cook for two nights at a time and get people to eat reasonable portions.
  6. Took the time to be thankful. This was by far the blog post that made me happiest.
  7. Organized all my recipes (and shared some)!

As far as accomplishing my original goals goes, I give myself a B.

My four original goals

Original Food Month Challenge

I accomplished #1 & #4. I started work on #2 (I’m not being too hard on myself, because this is a lifelong process). For #3, I thought about eating out a bit and decided not to change anything.  We go out once a week as a family and try to stay under $25.  It’s a wonderful time for us to do something together and, while eating out less would be healthier and cheaper, this is a part of my life that I love and want to keep.

So, here’s to food and how wonderful it can make our lives.  In December, I’ll be concentrating on our monthly bills and how to reduce those.

Ditch Disposables for Lower Grocery Bills (Quick Tip)

It seemed crazy to me a month ago that I would consider replacing some of my most-used disposable items like diapers and paper towels with reusable ones. That is, until I did the math and realized that if I ditch disposables I could be saving a lot of money.

Ditch Disposables with the Itzy Ritzy Snack Bag

My Itzy Ritzy Reusable Snack Bag

Case Study: Paper Towels

I felt like most of the items we clean up with paper towels (sticky baby hands, food particles, the bathroom, etc) is really stuff that should go straight into the garbage, so it seemed unsanitary that a regular towel could do the same thing.

Many savvy people have written about the benefits of flour sack towels and I’ve always wondered if I could make the switch. The other day, I discovered that the towels Nathan’s grandma had given us for our wedding almost ten years ago are flour sack towels! I got to do a product trial without investing anything in the equipment.

I have to admit, when it comes to jobs I normally do with paper towels, they are amazing. It’s not as gross as I thought because I’ll generally use one towel per job, then rinse it out, hang it up, and wash it. They are so much more durable than paper towels and our baby loves them because they’re softer on her skin when we need to wipe her mouth and hands. If I had invested in a set of flour sack towels, they would have cost me $15 for a pack of 12. You break even after replacing just two six-packs of paper towels. After that, I’d save around $9 every 1-2 months.

Case Study: Diapers

I’ve used cloth diapers before (this is something I posted about them on an old blog), but decided to go back to disposables with our second child once a majority of my diapers started inexplicably leaking. What I just realized is that instead of spending money on diapers for my oldest daughter, who only uses them at night, I could use the 3-4 diapers that don’t leak for her. That is saving me $15-$20 a month. I plan to potty train daughter #2 in a couple months, but if I weren’t, I could reinvest in new diapers. Cloth diapers come in packs of two for $35.99 (and many times you can get them cheaper). It costs us $30 a month for disposable diapers. Having around 12 cloth diapers on hand is good practice so if I invested in 12 diapers up-front, it would only take me seven months to break even and most kids are in diapers at least two years.

Case Study: Snack Bags

I’ve also bought an Itzy-Ritzy 7×7 inch snack bag. It keeps all kinds of snacks in and can be machine washed or hand washed. I use this every day with lunch and simply wash it out by hand and let it dry overnight.  At this rate, I’ll break-even after 50 days and save myself around $3 thereafter on snack bags.  Not huge savings, but the bags are sturdy, cute and I feel like I’m making a big difference for the planet.

More Ideas to Ditch Disposables

Here is a good list of common disposable items and their reusable counterparts. The book The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Less Away by Amy Korst is also a treasure trove of reuse ideas.

You Need to Shop for Groceries Online (Weekend Project)

There are a few times when I tried something and knew immediately that my life would never be the same. My local Giant was offering free grocery pick-up through Peapod over the summer and I decided to try it one day. I will never go back to regular grocery shopping again.

 How It Works (Peapod)

There are many, many places that offer similar services. I’ve done a little research and list them at the end of the post. Here, I’ll specifically talk about Peapod, which is what I use every week.

Peapod has a website where you first log-in, can link your Giant Bonus Card information and tell them to which location you live nearest. Then, you can start filling your cart.

They offer several ways to find items. There’s a search bar that works fairly well, you can browse aisles or by category, you can view all the specials, and you can view your specials (items you’ve previously bought that are on sale).

Shop for Groceries Online - Peapod

Peapod Main Screen

The items show up in your cart and you get a real-time update on how much you’re spending.

Shop for Groceries Online - Cart

Searching & Cart Updates

I do a lot of package reading and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get that information. Not so! For every item, they post the nutrition information, ingredients, and other relevant information like preparation steps.

Peapod Nutrition

Nutrition Facts

Peapod Food Details

Preparation Details

At any time, you can select a day/time for pick-up or delivery. As long as you finish before the web session ends, that spot is reserved for you. At the end you checkout, just like any other online shopping experience. For pick-up, you sign up for a day/hour and can arrive at any time during that hour to pick-up your food. For delivery, you’re given a larger timespan (maybe 2-4 hours) when the truck might come to deliver your food. I’ve only done pick-up thus far and it works out great.

I initially didn’t trust Peapod to get my order right, but they do a remarkably good job. I still double-check it, though, because once or twice they’ve forgotten a bag and just last week, I was charged for an avocado I never received. This is the first time that’s happened.

So Many Amazing Grocery Lifehacks

Let me try to elaborate on all of the ways this makes life better.

  1. Time Savings – I no longer have to spend an hour picking out things in the grocery store. I can order my items a couple days ahead and add or subtract things up until 12-18 hours before my pick-up time.
  2. Sorting by unit price – You can sort by a variety of methods, including unit price. No more staring at a wall filled with ketchup and wondering which one’s the best value.
  3. Knowing exactly how much everything costs – There’s a real-time tally of how much you’re spending and you can review taxes and fees any time. You know exactly what you’ll be spending.
  4. Easy to boot items from the cart – If you’re spending too much, it’s easy to delete items from your cart without wandering all over the store trying to put them back in the proper spot.
  5. Less impulse purchasing – No checkout aisle means no temptation to buy an impulse Toblerone.
  6. Express shop – There’s a way to scan and upload a grocery list you’ve already created. I haven’t tried it, but that’s brilliant.
  7. Start with your last list – If you buy mostly the same things every week, you can save even MORE time by starting with a previous list or adding your frequent purchases to a list.
  8. Warehouse carries more options than local stores – Peapod grabs their items from a centralized warehouse and I’ve noticed they have some items that my local store doesn’t carry.
  9. No more searching for physical items – Most importantly, I never have to wander around the store aimlessly wondering where the bread crumbs are.


Every rose has its torn.

  1. Costs extra – It used to be free to pick-up groceries, but they started charging $2.95 in September. For deliveries, the fee is currently $7.95. To me, $3 is a nominal fee to pay for regaining so much of my time and the savings from some of the lifehacks above more than make up for the cost.
  2. Bags – You can’t use your canvas bags and Peapod seems to be trying to break the record for just how many bags they can waste in one shopping trip. Many, many items come by themselves in a bag. We try to mitigate this by giving the bags right back for reuse.
  3. Some things/sizes aren’t available (e.g. large crunchy JIF peanut butter) – There is a way to request items, though.
  4. If you shop too late, there may not be pick-up/delivery times available – If you try to shop the day-of or later the day before, the pick-up slots might be gone
  5. Out of stock items – When the exact item you ordered is out of stock, they tell you, but you don’t get it, which is a real bummer when you need that item for a recipe. When you shop yourself, you can pick out another brand.
  6. Refunds – If there is a problem with your order, you can’t just go inside the Giant and get a refund right away, you have to contact Peapod and deal with emails sometimes for days to get it right.
  7. Coupons – You can use coupons. You turn them into your truck driver or pick-up rep, but then you have to wait 1-2 weeks to see a credit on your account. One time I had my husband pick-up and the rep told him they don’t take coupons. I think that guy was new.
  8. Disorganization – In September, our Giant store got a new driver that doesn’t organize the bags properly. Since I am usually the first customer to pick-up on Saturdays, I have to wait around an extra 10-20 minutes for the poor people at Giant to sift through everything. I wish they would fix this.

 Where Else Can You Shop for Groceries Online?

I did a little research to find out who else is offering pick-up or delivery. Here’s what I found:

  1. Giant/Peapod – As detailed above, they do pick-up and delivery.  They’re running a referral program right now, so contact me via comments or at for $20 off.
  2. Safeway – Delivery within a one-hour window and your first delivery is free. The regular delivery price fluctuates based on fuel prices, but the base cost is currently $9.95 if you spend over $150.
  3. Harris Tetter Express Lane –  Harris Tetter lets you shop online and pick-up gorceries for $4.95 per trip, or you can buy a one-month or annual pass.
  4. Target – Target has free store pick-up for all of their items, including some groceries. You don’t get to choose when it’s available, though and it appears that only non-perishable items are available. They’ll contact you when your order is ready.
  5. Relay Foods – Relay Foods boasts local, organic, and everyday items.  They have a decent amount of options. You can pick-up for free the next day at a centralized location or have food delivered for a fee.  The food looks delicious, but prices are Whole Foods-worthy!
  6. Instacart – In Washington DC, some parts of Northern VA and other large cities across the country, Instacart delivers from Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Costco with varying fees and some items are marked up.
  7. Washington’s Green Grocer – This works like a CSA that delivers boxes of produce right to your door. You can choose strictly local or strictly organic boxes of produce that range from $27-$46. They also deliver meat, dairy, and baked goodies, but only to the Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, and some Virginia areas.
  8. Hello Fresh – Hello Fresh is not a full grocery shopping experience. Instead, they have a bunch of recipes you can make in 30 minutes or less. You pick the ones you want and they deliver the ingredients to you. Meals start at $9.

Coming Soon

  1. Amazon Fresh – Not yet in the DC area, but I am anxiously awaiting Amazon Fresh. If they can do for groceries what they do for everything else, I may never shop anywhere else.
  2. Google Shopping Express – Also not available in the DC area yet, but Google Shopping says they’ll pick-up items from a variety of stores and deliver them right to your door.

Five Reasons to Try a CSA (Quick Tip)


There’s a really easy way to force yourself to try new, healthy foods and eat locally all summer long. Try a CSA! CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”. You pay a flat rate per season to get a box delivered each week filled with seasonal produce from local farms.

Many CSAs deliver to a centralized location (like your office or a community building) and some will even deliver straight to your door. The food is delicious, fresh, and worth every penny.

I’ve participated in three CSAs and they’re each a little different. Most are around $25 a box per week for a small share, which typically provides almost enough vegetables for two people for a week. Some include fruit, eggs, or cheese, but others are just vegetables. My office, Opower, which is located in Arlington, VA participates in the Earth Spring Farm CSA. You can find one close to you here.

Five Reasons to Try a CSA

  1. Healthy Foods – CSAs are big boxes of local vegetables and fruit (although some CSAs also allow you to buy extra items like eggs and honey). There’s no better way to force yourself to eat a lot of vegetables than to have them show up automatically.
  2. Variety – Each week, you get a mix of different vegetables. If you’ve never bought into a CSA, I guarantee you’ll learn about some foods you’ve never even heard of before. For me it was things like mizuna lettuce and shallots. Along with a variety of vegetables comes a variety of healthy vitamins too.
  3. Convenience – Instead of going to the farmer’s market every week, the farmer’s market comes to you. That saves a lot of time.
  4. New Recipes – Finding new ways to eat everything in the CSA has turned into a competitive game (against ourselves), which is great because we get to try new recipes as well as new ways to cook ingredients we already use. is my go-to site for new recipes. You can type in one or more ingredients like “kale potatoes” and it will return recipes you can make with those items.Try a CSA -
    Each recipe is rated by users and includes comments from people who have tried and modified it. It’s an excellent community. Similar sites include and
  5. Gifts – Inevitably, there are weeks when you’re out of town and can’t use the CSA, so I give my box to a friend. It turns out people LOVE getting fresh produce and sometimes will even surprise me with a delicious treat they made with something from the box.

I’m a big fan of my CSA. Why not try one next year? Visit to find one near you.


Grocery Budget Part III: Choose Guidelines & Form New Habits

In Part I of my Grocery Budget Series, I laid out how I gathered data for a grocery budget analysis. In Part II, I talked about a simple system to analyze and come up with possible solutions for problem areas. In this, the third and final part, I’ll talk about how to implement your good ideas and turn them into habits.

 Creating Guidelines

Go back to the various brainstorming lists you developed and pick 1-2 things you can change right now to improve your spending habits from each problem category (if you can’t find any, keep brainstorming and involve your friends and family).

Write them down. These are your new guidelines. The guidelines I developed for myself were:

  1. Reduce dairy to one small glass of milk a day and cheese used in some recipes.
  2. Limit meat purchases to $20/week.
  3. Salvage our old cloth diapers and use them for nights for my older daughter.
  4. Buy some flour sack towels and quit using paper towels.
  5. Stop buying desserts. We don’t need them.
  6. Develop a collection of meals with few ingredients and with prep time less than 30 minutes.

The ideal number of guidelines is probably around three.  Three is the magic number for most lists and is small enough that you’ll be able to accomplish everything.  So, prioritize and start with three.  Keep the others in your back pocket and do those once you’ve made the first three habits.  I’m starting with these:

  1. Reduce dairy to one small glass of milk a day and cheese used in some recipes.
  2. Limit meat purchases to $20/week.
  3. Stop buying desserts. We don’t need them.

 Form New Habits

Now that you’ve got your guidelines, you need to incorporate them into your spending routines. At Opower, we use behavioral science to get people to save energy.  Here, you can use a little behavioral science to remind yourself to do these things at the appropriate time.

Your tricks will be very personalized, but here are some examples to get you started.  This is largely a creative exercise for you to figure out how to remind yourself of your guidelines at the right time.

Reduce Dairy

My main problem is that I drink a LOT of milk.  To remind myself only to drink it with dinner, I’ll write a note on the cap so I’ll see it before I get anything to drink.

Form New Habits

Spend Less Than $20 on Meat

Every week, I write a grocery list using the same pad of paper. I decided to write a reminder at the top of every sheet in that pad to remind me to stick within my budget.

Stop Buying Desserts

I did the same thing for desserts, but went a step further.  I put a reminder on my calendar during my regular grocery shopping hour that reminds me not to buy sugar.  The reminder pops up on my phone just at the right time.

How Long Does It Take to Form New Habits?

Habit formation happens at different rates for different people.  On average, it takes people around two months to form a new habit, sometimes far longer.  You’ll know you can take away the habit-forming trick when the habit become second-nature.  For instance, when you no longer reach for the milk at lunch at all.  That’s when you know you’ve made something more automatic.  At that point, you can focus your energy on forming (or breaking) another habit.

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