Grocery shopping with recipes in mind (and a giveaway!)

Korean grocery store/mall all in one!
Massive fruit and veggie area through and to the right;
to the left it’s a regular mall area with Korean products
They are really into cooking up samples with their products
There are five to ten chef stations where they cook food samples
including meats in various sauce, samples of something you could make at home.
Two other chef stations, must have been about seven that day,
sometimes there are at least ten!
The grocery store has a housewares section in the back;
Notice: I put a rectangle around the women’s grocery cart (right, at bottom),
she bought tons of greens and meat.
That’s what almost everyone’s cart looks like…

I love to shop for groceries. My husband and I always shopped together before we had our kid and it was just fun to take our time and buy fun things. We don’t really have a favorite or “usual” grocery store as we just go where we please (“Trader Joe’s today?” “Great!”).

But sometimes we’ll make a special trip to the Korean grocery store/mall called Assi (sort of an unfortunate name — I don’t even know how to say it!) or to the Japanese equivalent Mitsuwa. I spent most of my twenties obsessed with Mitsuwa. It feels like entering Japan, which is just plain cool. In both “grocery malls” everyone is Asian and there also are restaurants set up in a little mini-food courts with many types of Asian food (only). I like to eat and shop, what can I say!

I am learning how to shop with recipes in mind. I’m a decent cook, but I’m not the kind of person who can “wing it.” I need to sit down and plan out meals (sometimes opening a cookbook, sometimes just writing out a meal plan with my standard meals) and then look through the fridge and cupboards to see what I have on hand.

I think what is telling about the last shot (above) is that the grocery cart is full of greens and meat — whole foods. My cart has boxes and packaging in it — I aspire to a cart full of basically greens and meat. Everyone who shops at Assi has a cart like that, especially if they are on the older side. These shoppers are probably fantastic home cooks who can throw together great meals with basic ingredients. It’s no wonder than Asian people who stick to a traditional diet (non-Western foods) have lower incidences of cancer and obesity.

Additionally, I like how Assi has chef’s stations with mini-demonstrations of how to prepare food. American grocery stores have stopped offering samples and when there are samples it’s usually “little smokies” or a similar convenience food. At Assi there is real cooking at the stations (although Mitsuwa does not do that to the same degree) and there are many, many different stations.

Finally, there is a housewares section in Assi. So you can buy a pot to cook the food you are also buying at the same store. Basic but brilliant, no? We have elevated cooking to something regular people can’t do and so to get our housewares we have to go to department stores or stand alone shops like Crate and Barrel (love it though). At the grocery store, food and cooking should be connected.

In the spirit of grocery shopping with recipes in mind, I’m giving away three brand-new cloth-like reusable grocery bags. I think they are adorable! Next week I’ll randomly choose three lucky readers to receive one of the below who comment on this post with tips, thoughts, or questions about grocery shopping:

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73 thoughts on “Grocery shopping with recipes in mind (and a giveaway!)

  1. I shop at our Korean store H Mart in Atlanta, love the different veggies and I have tried many new ones in the last year – I buy them and then think of something to make 🙂

  2. Darn- I want to enter but I don't have any tips? I am lucky enough to have a nearby Amish farmer's market where I buy almost all of my meat, though. The beef is mostly grass fed, and the pork is just plain better than what I can get at the grocery store, and both are definitely local! Both stands have excellent bacon- one nice and smoky, and the other pastured pork and nitrate free.

    Sadly, the produce isn't quite as nice as the meat or baked goods, but then, none of the local grocery stores' produce please me either. Am I just too picky?

  3. I try to make sure that I shop with meals in mind, although I am completely guilty of just throwing random stuff in my cart because its something I would normally buy.

    Now one thing I try to do as much as possible is stick to the perimeter of the store. This outside circle is where all the fresh fruit/veggies, meat, dairy, eggs, etc. are.


  4. We make a menu list every week, then I go through all the recipes and make sure our pantry/freezer/fridge have all supplies we need on hand. I am not a "wing it" cook either, and thankfully my husband IS and does most of our dinners. I do use reusable shopping bags (my mom made some of them), although it drives my husband nuts – takes too much "extra" time and he doesn't like to be a bother to anyone. But I do it anyway, and he doesn't complain much.

  5. I do my grocery shopping at the Union Square market for items that I don't receive in my CSA share for the week. It's great to get outside and shop and talk to the farmers about what is in season and to round out what I already have at home.

    From time to time I also like to get items from the Amish farmers who and live nearby deliver high quality organic goods to the city.

  6. I try to go to different grocery stores all the time. It helps me stay out of the rut of buying the same foods over and over. If I go to different places, I'm forced to look harder for the things I typically buy and opens my eyes to new products I would not have seen otherwise.

  7. My tip is I save money by meal planning around the weekly ads. Whatever proteins, veggies and fruits that are on sale that week are on our menu. I stock up on baking products that are on sale for homemade cookies and desserts (no box mixes). While desserts aren't exactly nutritionally substantive, I feel okay giving it to my kid in moderation knowing exactly what is in it.

    I print out a list, and I never deviate from it. The junk food really is an impulse purchase for me.

  8. What a nice bag; I'd love it because I finally had two of my 10 reusable bags rip within a day or two of each other. This could replace one of them.'

    For those who don't want to be tempted at all, many cities now have delivery services where you never set foot in the store. That would never do it for me, but some swear by them.

  9. A tip for ending up with a cart full of greens and meat is to only shop around the edges of a grocery store. Along the walls are generally the produce, meat, dairy, and bakery. I'll go shopping sometimes and completely skip most of the aisles. I try to only go into the aisles if I'm low on basic staples like baking supplies, rice, or beans. Even then I adamently stick to my list. It helps to stay healthy and save money. Also, don't go shopping hungry! No good will come of it!

  10. I'm guess I'm out of the loop with this one. I live in my 21-foot RV and have a refrigerator the size of which you'd find in a Barbie house, so I'm at the grocery store at least three times a week. I also write a cooking blog about different world cuisines. It's a difficult task when I live in a community which is meat and potatoes or fast food. It pains me to watch mothers in the grocery store with young children and their carts are full of junk…chips, premade chicken nuggets, boxed juices and the like…I want to shake them and tell them to wake up because if I can cook healthy, nutritious food in an RV galley, they should be able to cook in their kitchen. I love to shop at our local Mexican market here, produce is organic and super cheap and so are the meats. I usually shop the perimeter of the store and if I need to venture down one of the aisles, I keep my eyes toward the floor…that's where the stuff is that I want usually…not the eye level stuff.

  11. I have never been to a big specialized Asian store, but there is a huge Eastern European store about an hour away from my campus (by public transport). And it's heaven. We (me, my boyfriend and our friends) end up buying a lot of fruits, veggies and dairy products because they are so tasty and much cheaper than those in city stores. I know it's risky to buy cheap meat because you never know what's in it, but as students, we need to stick to a budget. So I try to incorporate pulses as an alternative source of protein. It's usually beans or lentils. They barely require any effort to turn into delicious comfort food.

  12. Once our kiddo started eating solids, my grocery buying changed pretty dramatically: we started buying many more organic fruits and vegetables, organic milk and meats, free range eggs, etc. Although I still buy some packaged foods, many I stopped buying because the sodium content was so high I felt I couldn't share it with my toddler (e.g., I haven't bought a can of soup in probably over a year and a half; I routinely cook brown rice now instead of buying seasoned rice mixes).

  13. We started planning meals several years ago so that we'd have a lot of quick, healthy meals to go to when we had kids. Now, I can't fathom how people DON'T plan meals!

  14. I realised that difference when I was living in the States! My American friends will head for the boxes while I head for fresh food. I guess it's related to our mother's cooking. My dinner was always a minimum of a vege, meat and hot soup. My dad would be mad to see processed food on the table because it signfied a wife's laziness. Maybe I'm just too Asian, cooking is an expression of love and once you learn the tricks, I can whip up a feast under an hour!

  15. Thank you so much for the info about Assi and Mitsuwa! I travel to your area once in a while to see family, and there is a grocery (Brookhaven) by my mom that has a lot of polish and eastern european foods. Now we'll make a trek to Mitsuwa and pretend we're visiting japan! (I love that their bakery is called Pastry House Hippo.)


  16. That looks like a fun place!

    We just started ordering meat from a local farmer, and it has really changed the way we grocery shop. We spend $170 on meat, store it in the chest freezer and plan our meals around that. When we go to the store, it's mostly for veggies and dairy, so it's made grocery shopping and meal planning a bit easier. And I've been really happy with the quality… it's so nice to know I'm feeding my family local, organic meat, and because we buy it in bulk, we're not spending that much more money. We're trying to make the package (which has steaks, ground beef, pork, a couple whole chickens, chicken breasts, brats, bacon… it's a lot!) last a quarter. So that also translates to more vegetarian meals when we're stretching the meat to last longer.

  17. Did you know that you don't have to put veggies, fruits etc. in the little plastic bags in the produce section? Your limes, potatoes, cilantro bunch etc. can all just rest in the cart. For some reason I had thought that the bags were required until I saw someone not use them. It may be 'gross' for squeamish people who don't want the cashier touching their food…but think about how many people have already touched the food as it travels from farm to store. Just wash them!

  18. Those stores look cool! I have a very small Indian store near me that I can get some good deals on (i.e. spices, fresh ginger, & cilantro) but that's about it. And then there's a mega Chinese store not too far away, but it seems… Chinese. As in I wonder about the quality. I try to avoid food imported from China rather than go out of my way to buy it 🙂

    I did participate in a local, organic CSA this year, which was pretty cool. The biggest challenge was meal planning. I would pick up my box, with lots of fresh veggies that needed to be tended to, and have no idea what to do with it – or not have the accompaning ingredients for a dish. Even so, I think I may join again next year. Hopefully, I'll get more recipes in my repetoire so that I'm prepared 🙂 And I did find myself going to the grocery store a lot less…

  19. THANKS for all of the comments!! I love how much time you all put into your food choices!! You are helping move us forward in good health and nutrition!

  20. Waaay up towards the top, Meaghan asked about cancer rates in Asian cultures. You're right, Asian people tend to have lower rates of some cancers, higher rates of others. Some Asian cuisine is high in pickled and preserved foods – kimchi, Japanese pickles, etc. And just like in communities of Jewish people who eat a lot of traditionally preserved meats and other foods, there's a higher rate of stomach cancer in these cultures than in others. It's the nitrates, I think.

    As for the grocery shopping, I -love- to shop. When I was a stay-at-home mom with a more flexible schedule, my husband and I would make a family thing out of it, taking our young son out with us. Now that we -both- work, and our boy is in school (4th grade, how time flies…) I often go alone or with my son only. I like to plan ahead, and go to a local produce market for most of my stuff (lots of local produce, and what's non-local is almost exclusively US-grown; maybe only about 5% of their products are "from away", as they say up here in New Hampshire and southern Maine.) For my meats, I go to a local butcher shop that has a lot of all-natural meats – that's where the bulk of my budget is blown, but we don't eat a -ton- of meat, and I always make it stretch. Like others I've mentioned, I find it helps to make a plan ahead of time, and I enlist the entire household in making a list of staples that we're low on that we need.

  21. I live alone, just moved into an apartment a few months ago and I like the idea of shopping with meals in mind, however if I'm trying something new its hard to just buy ingredients for that ONE meal. And some of them I might never use again, I can't justify spending a lot of money for one thing. So I have to buy common ingredients and see if I can change it up in cooking. Right now I'm on a mushroom binge, love them but still trying to figure out new ways to cook them with what I already have stocked in my small kitchen. 🙂

  22. We have a local Assi also and LOVE it! Our boys think shopping there is an adventure and their food court is a dream! My husband grew up all over asia and this is the best place for him to find his memories of childhood food.

    Our favorite place to shop isn't a store but our CSA. We get a huge variety of awesome organic veggies and can even buy organic meat shares at different times of the year. They also operate a bakery which makes organic bread, cookies and biscotti with only real ingredients as well as a raw milk and cheese dairy. They are fully biodynamic and even use animal power for some of the heavy work. We pay much less overall than we would trying to buy the same things at a conventional grocery store and and it wouldn't be fresh from the ground on the day we pick it up. The best part of all is that we know every one of the wonderful people and animals who grow our food.

    For anyone who has ever considered joining a CSA I would say go for it! It has been a wonderful experience and I know our diet is healthier for it. Our boys have a close connection to where our food comes from. Although they were both pretty adventurous eaters this had introduced us to veggies that we had never heard of and have never seen anywhere else that have become some of our favorites.

    If you have a stocked kitchen and a little curiosity (not to mention a willingness to eat a few experiments that may go a little awry) it is not too difficult to put meals together – even for a family with 2 working parents and kids with busy schedules. It can even be fun.

  23. I've slowly been getting into cooking more from scratch. I'm convinced that this is the answer to being over weight. If I make it, I know what went into it and I know how much of it I am eating. I know exactly how much sugar and salt is in each serving. It does take time, and it does take energy, but once you get use to it, it gets easier with the practice. I made tomato soup from fresh tomatoes last week, and it was much more lovely than the Campbells. I shan't be looking back.


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