Things to steer clear of in the supermarket maze

In a previous post I gave some basic tips for not spending a fortune when buying your groceries. This post here is more of a rant on the deplorable state of our modern supermarkets that have become hustlers of over-processed convenience foods. To make matters worse, swarms of sheeple further encourage the degradation of our supermarkets.

I have wanted to write about this for some while, but I recently got the spur of energy I needed. It all started when Steph wanted to buy a hummus dip.

I was in shock at the prices being demanded for a tiny little tub of the stuff. Starting at $3 for 200g of the supermarket-branded product and much more for the other leading brands.

Having eaten the stuff when growing up at home, I was fairly certain it was mostly just blended chickpeas. Surely it couldn’t be so complicated to demand such a premium price of $15 per kilo!

After looking up a few recipes online, I found that my suspicions were completely correct! So I set out to make hummus from scratch. My homemade version had none of the added salt, sugar or preservatives of the store bought stuff, it tasted about twice as good and was as elaborate as throwing a handful of ingredients into a blender.  Done and dusted all in a matter of 5-10 minutes of work including cleaning. The whole lot cost about $1.50 to make almost twice as much!

A grazing plate I put together last Friday night, with half of the homemade hummus in the farthest black bowl. All looks quite lavish but super cheap when made at home!

It’s possible the price I paid could be driven down even further by using dried chickpeas and rehydrating (which I plan to do next time, this time I used an Aldi can of chickpeas) but I digress.

This hummus is just an analogy for the vast majority of shit you find in the modern supermarket.

The beginning of a crises happened in my mind when supermarkets discovered they could expand their bakery sections beyond the basics of a few loaves of bread to include a whole host of convenience items. Now stocking all manner of pre baked cakes, cookies and pastries.

Though this change is very real in my mind, I honestly do not know if this change occurred recently at all. It is entirely possible that my parents just never succumbed to the allure of this part of the supermarket when I was growing up.

This isn’t isolated to the bakery.

Walk through the fridge aisle and you can see all sorts of pre-prepared pastas, dips, chutneys and pastes. There is an entire aisle filled with nothing but sugary fizzy drinks. The freezer aisle is almost half pies, sausage roles, pizzas, dim sims, chicken schnitzels, even whole main meals. There is another 2 aisles dedicated to potato chips and junk foods! Do we really need 2 aisles of choices for junk food?

I have no problem with a skilfully made chutney, but that crap in the jars has far too much sugar, an always confusing addition of gelatin (seriously why), costs far too much and tastes terrible.

Even the breakfast cereal aisle is by my estimation more than half junk food!

This madness has even infiltrated the fresh food aisle. I see packs of carrots that are pre-cut and cashews that have been literally coated in sugar.

When you’re trying to save money or just eat healthier, making your way through the supermarket becomes a mental obstacle course. Just see if you can get to the end without succumbing to an unnecessary, overly processed convenience food.

It would be easier if the junk foods and overly processed crap were entirely segregated from the real food but alas, it is mixed in and amongst the stuff you really want to be buying.

Not to mention that the food brands have discovered an extremely profitable industry of disguising what is essentially sugar filled lollies as more sophisticated adult food. Take for example this abomination that I discovered recently is sometimes eaten with your cheese.

I hate to break it to you, but this is actually just a lolly. Perhaps it is all naturally coloured and flavoured, but still just a lolly. Which is fine – as long as you realise that is what you are buying, and are still willing to part with $66 per kilo for the stuff. As far as I am concerned, it belongs in the confectionery aisle next to the all natural confectionery lollies.

I don’t blame the supermarkets, they keep selling this crap because we keep buying it.

So, I of course am here to once again let you know that your trolley needn’t be filled with $66 per kilo tubs of expertly disguised lollies or 400% marked up sugar-filled dips that can be made simply and cheaply at home.

There is real food in your supermarket. It has the advantage of being some of the cheapest* and healthiest food there is. It unfortunately is making up an ever diminishing proportion of the products sold however.

So this is what real food looks like.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains, oats, beans and legumes, milk, plain yoghurt, real cheeses, meats, dried fruit and spices, breads, oils, rice, pasta. This is the stuff your trolley should be filled with to the brim. It may have a few items that are far too time-consuming or impractical to make yourself, like sundried tomatoes or chorizo.

I’ll also allow myself the occasional bar of dark chocolate or tub of ice cream as a treat**. Alternatively, basic ingredients to make your own cakes or biscuits. To give your children not just the joy of a beautifully tasty treat, but also the magic of baking, a kitchen filled with sweet aromas  and the association of hard work with reward.

If you are even more hardcore than Pat the Shuffler, you could make your own tomato puree (pasata) but at $1.35 a large bottle at ALDI with no added sugar or salt as far as I can see, I just buy that.

This is grocery shopping done responsibly and it should be the norm, not the exception. Very sadly and confusingly I typically don’t see grocery shopping done this way. I often see the balance being the other way around. Packets of treats and prepared condiments and meals outnumbering the fresh or basic ingredients in the trolleys around me. The obesity crisis in this country is clear. The always empty pockets of the forever-struggling middle class is equally clear.

This is how my grocery bill has averaged $215 per month over the last 3 months, while eating extremely lavish 3 meals a day. I even bought a couple of ALDI wines in that amount as well. Far from the deprivation or 3 times a day instant noodle habit most envisage for someone as hardcore about savings as I .

Time to stick it to the corporate advertising machine encouraging you to buy shit or part with your money for crap you can better do yourself. Leave that consumer chump behind.

As a general rule, buy basic ingredients and build some real meals from there. You’ll start piling up that extra cash pretty much immediately. Moreover, you will gain the inner pride that comes with filling your trolley with actual real food instead of shit you would be embarrassed to show a nutritionist.

Shuffling your food

Pat the Shuffler

*I understand it isn’t always the cheapest, but there are MANY cheap options and alternatives to be had while keeping it healthy and cheap.

**I thought I better qualify what I mean when I say *occasional”. I’m talking once a month here at most, that bar of dark chocolate will last over a week. The ice cream will literally last months in my freezer. I’m definitely not that pure though,  I find that junk food finds a way to seep into my life from other sources without me having to go out and buy even more of the crap is all. People at work offer it around, it’s laid out at parties and other social gatherings. Even when buying no junk food whatsoever, I think I still eat it a couple of times per week perhaps.

17 Replies to “Things to steer clear of in the supermarket maze”

  1. It is crazy how many people see these foods as normal and wouldn’t know how to cook/follow a recipe from scratch if they wanted to.
    A pet peeve of mine is those little ‘steam fresh’ vegetable bags. You just pop them in the microwave and pay $8.31/kg for the convenience! Real fresh veggies in whatever quantity you want are $1-$3/kg. Lazy tax at it’s finest.
    Corn chips and peanut butter (100% nuts only) are my weakness though. I should learn to make those two things and I’m set.

    1. I am very keen to put together my own peanut butter! The steam bags are especially curious, they would save you maybe one minute of pouring into a bowl and then cleaning up that bowl.

    1. I agree, some very salient tips. Although I can’t help but feel that you could also do better with the hummus – why not grow the chickpeas yourself? Gardening can be enjoyable and they only take a mere 100 days to bear fruit, so in just under 4 months you can hummus for les than $1!

      1. Great option, though I have a tiny balcony, so don’t really grow edible crops. I wouldn’t mind growing some herbs due to the smaller space required and higher cost of herbs. Every time I do try to grow something I fail miserably though.

    1. I do that, but Aldi generally doesn’t work under the same arrangement as other supermarkets with high priced items that go on ‘Sale’ to reasonable prices occasionally. Aldi seems to still be cheaper than the sale price of the other chain supermarkets so I just buy what I want when I need it from there. With occasional visits to ethnic grocers for other items.

  2. Another post where I am vigorously nodding my head in agreement. I just don’t get the need to spend the money that I see so many people spending in the grocery stores. It’s all in the name of ‘convenience’ really. Just like you, we make our own hummus, our own soy milk, and herb butter etc. We actually have made our own cheese too (but I do enjoy a good skillful cheese that’s been done well by professionals and it also depends on which cheese.)

    I tend to stockpile when ingredients I use are on sale as well, dollar cost averaging doesn’t apply to just stocks!

  3. I made quince from scratch 2 years ago and I’m still working through it – fruit sugar slow cooker – super easy.

    Also, don’t bother with dried chickpeas. I’ve tried multiple times and I just can’t cook them right. The price difference is miniscule so now I just buy canned ones.

    Black beans are a completely different story – $4 a kilo for dried ones that triple in volume when cooked, or $7.80 a kilo for tinned Old El Paso variety, what the heck!

    1. Funny you mention black beans. Yesterday I bought 2 cans so I could cook last night as they were on special for $3.60/kg. Got home and realised they had scanned at full price making them $7.25/kg. My own fault for not checking before I left the store like I normally would.
      Where do you buy your black beans?

    2. I don’t seem to think dried chicpeas are that hard to cook! I have used them many times and come up pretty good. Like you said the price difference really isn’t huge though, especially compared to the 65c Aldi variety and either way one of the cheapest sources of protein you can get.

  4. one short isle in the supermarket has a sign “health food”
    If that’s the case, what is the rest of the stuff they sell…
    mostly junk.