Grocery “Reveal”

Grocery Categories 2015

Every year I tally up the actual foods we bought during the year, and not just what they cost. I had a look over 2015 and thought about what we can do differently.

If anyone asked me, I would say we are vegetarians at home, and  we do almost all our cooking from scratch. And that our only packaged foods are cereal, crackers, pasta, bread, coffee and tea. However, The Analysis shows otherwise! No, we haven’t been sneaking meat back in. But we buy way more packaged foods than I thought. On the other hand: fruit, vegetables, beans and grains are mostly cheap, and take up a small percentage of the budget, even though we eat tonnes of them.

Here’s how our grocery buying looked this year (for two adults, east coast Canada):

Grocery Spending 2015
Prepared Foods  $  1,457.54 25.7%
Dairy & Eggs  $  1,146.89 20.2%
Fruit  $     802.20 14.2%
Vegetables  $     691.81 12.2%
Grains & Bread  $     489.43 8.6%
Personal Care  $     337.55 5.9%
Cats (food and litter)  $     259.43 4.6%
Paper & Cleaning  $     218.86 3.9%
Condiments & Spreads  $     216.13 3.8%
Baking & Seasonings  $        49.16 0.9%
Total  $  5,669.00 100%

A few words about how we actually plan and make meals. For breakfast, I choose from oatmeal with nuts and raisins, bagels or toast with peanut butter, cereal or granola. For lunch I usually have a giant salad on weekdays, and eggs or grilled sandwiches on the weekends. For dinners we usually make veggie chili, curry, stir fries, soups or stews and often have them with bread or crackers. For snacks I have yogurt with berries, and lots of fruit.

This year I went off track in a few ways. First of all, due to a promotion at our local supermarket, I became addicted to Clif bars and ate one every day for a while! I realized I could have zapped this habit if I took the time to make my own “power bars” to snack on, but this didn’t happen. Instead, I switched to Simply bars, which have 3g of sugar instead of 21g in the Clif bars. Either way, they cost over $1 each. Then, I found myself craving granola, all brands of which are very expensive, not to mention sugary. I stopped buying it because of the cost, but I could easily have made my own from ingredients I already had in the cupboards. Finally, we spent loads of money on yogurt and pricey Greek yogurt. I did make my own yogurt in years past, but found it very inconsistent from batch to batch. I neither want to give up yogurt, nor make my own 🙂 But it looks like a compromise is called for. So my conclusion is that some things really are worth the time and effort to make.

As mentioned in previous posts, I made a few mistakes. I thought I would love chia and I bought a giant pack at Costco. I will use it eventually…one tablespoon at a time, which will take me a couple of years! The glitch was, I thought I would like overnight oats with chia. After tasting them, I went, “What am I doing eating cold oatmeal in the morning when hot only takes 5 minutes?!” I now throw in some chia seeds when I cook oatmeal. I also bought a large jar of miso for a recipe. I must force myself to start making miso soup. It also works to add a tablespoon of miso to give a depth of flavour (umami-style) to things like spaghetti sauce. I bought raw cashews a couple of times to add to stir fries. They are perfect, but unbelievably expensive. I will shop around, and substitute almonds if I have to. I also bought a giant package of tabbouleh, a salad I am very fond of, but this one had a pickled, vinegary taste. Sacrilege!

I recognized two products where the local version is eye-wateringly more expensive than the supermarket chains. I drink espresso on the weekends. The local roaster sells theirs for $16 for a 340g pack. It is to-die-for. The grocery store sells their own brand for $5.59 for the same size. It is not awesome. It is just drinkable. But since it costs almost 3x less, I limit my consumption of the good stuff. Maybe it helps me appreciate it more? I bought handcrafted bar soap at the farmer’s market for an average of $5.25 a bar. Our regular soap was $1.46. Buying soap at the farmer’s market all year would cost me $68 more. Hmm, is it worth it? To the vendor, to keep local businesses afloat, yes. But I couldn’t do this for every product and will have to choose.

To turn the table, there are a few things I enjoyed so much, I wish I had bought more of them!

  • One fresh pineapple. I kept waiting for sales.
  • Four heads of broccoli. I love broccoli. I want more of it!
  • Samosas. Huge, meal-sized locally-made samosas are only $2.
  • Rye bread. Perfect for toast with a mid-day meal, or grilled cheese.

Likewise, these items were worth every penny:

  • Lemon curd. Lasts longer than homemade and goes with everything!
  • Chutney. I alternate chutney and red pepper jelly on my avocado sandwiches…and need it for the samosas.
  • Edamame. Reasonable priced but uncommon enough to feel like a splurge.

I’ve just outlined all my mistakes and treats and things I should correct. But mostly our meal planning, grocery buying, and cooking are going fine, and even mostly frugal. And the grocery costs above included some entertaining, shared snacks for work, Halloween candy given out, donations to the food bank, and so on. The full list is here (kindly overlook the quantity of candy consumed): Grocery Tally 2015

I’d love to hear how your Year in Food went, and which items were most and least worth the money for you!



  1. jamielredmond

    I need to work more on our food spending next year.

    I’ve had a food ‘budget’ for years, but don’t stick to it strictly. I meal plan and make shopping lists, but always end up doing something like splurging on fresh grapes (or those special cherries just before Christmas!) Or an unexpected opportunity to go to Costco will undo my good work.

    My husband started a new job on return from our trip and we are now on a fixed income, with no overtime or extra work to smooth over my lax food spending….It is one of my goals for 2016, to keep within the food budget. I’m nervous about the bad habits I’ve developed over the last 13 years and my tendency to prepare an extreme amount of food when we have guests, as well as those splurges. I have lots of bad habits to overcome in this area!

    • There are worse areas to overspend than good food! I would rather give up other things. I hope the coming year won’t be too tough. At least food prep allow for lots of improvising and creativity!

  2. Margie in Toronto

    From Margie in Toronto – What I’m planning to do this year is keep a tally of food bought as groceries, food eaten out and non-food items such as paper products & hygiene items. I don’t think I’ll break them down as much as you have but it would be interesting. I am a meat eater – but – I eat far less than I used to as it is very expensive. I eat a lot more veg and fruit these days as I am trying to lose more weight but that has really become far more expensive with the drop in value of the loonie so I try to make sure not to waste anything – lots of soups get made these days. I’ve cut way back on carbs so I buy the really good bread but a lot less of it – good bread is so worth it. I bought treats for Christmas, mince pies, shortbread and Quality street but again, due to my weight loss goal I don’t normally buy any of this sort of thing at the grocery store anymore – I will have a treat if I want it when I eat out but even then I often share so I’ve traded off those costs for the extra fruit & veg.

    • Hi Margie, Eating less meat is only cheaper if it is replaced by beans, lentils and money-stretching meals like soup. Sometimes we spend a lot on “deluxe” veggie items! Like you, I have eaten fewer sweets this year at home and in the office (where I tend to eat mindlessly) and tried to have a treat or dessert while out instead.

  3. This is so inspiring! You list-level is fabulous. I could not possibly reach there but since we do count (and share) all household costs, it should not be impossible to add them up too. Very thoughtprovoking indeed.

  4. Fiona

    Wow…Dar, I think that is so very frugal! I opened the spreadsheet and I’m absolutely intrigued at what seems to me to be very frugal amounts. Do you receive home-grown goods on top of the ‘bought’ list? The thought sprang to mind when I saw ‘3 lemons’…I think we went through at least 30 lemons this year, but they all came from our neighbour’s tree. The other thing that amazes me is that growing more fruit / veg (very possible in our climate here) might actually be more worthwhile in dollar terms than I first thought. We do have fruit trees planted but it will be a while till maturity.

    We don’t track our food budget beyond having a ‘goal’ budget each week. As Jamie says above, we’ve had access to ‘bonuses’ from work over many years and so when we go over, we just aim to do better the next week. 2016 will be the first year in a decade that we’ve had a totally fixed household budget (due to both my husband and I being on fixed wages, no bonuses or commissions.) 2016 might finally be our year to track! Well done on your amazing organisation and obviously very healthy lifestyle with food.

    • Thanks. I only included things I paid for. However I did only use 3 lemons (none of them grown and gifted around here, LOL!) I received salad greens, green beans, beets, turnips, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, pickles, salsa and maple syrup, all from my brother. Lots of tea biscuits and cookies from my mom (not to mention a weekly dinner). And great quantities of Quality Street from my sister! Our income is always fixed because we are both on salary – my only extra is negotiated annual increases (in the 2% range) and yearly tax refunds!

  5. EcoCatLady

    Well, I’m FAR too lazy to keep track of everything like you do, but I have to say 2015 was an adventurous year for me in terms of food. With my step mother’s encouragement (she’s an allergist) I’ve been slowly experimenting with re-integrating some of the many foods that I have been avoiding for years. Apparently there is some new research that indicates that I may not be allergic to as many things as I’ve been told, but it’s sort of a challenge to test it out in a safe way. Anyhow, I’ve succeeded in adding back lettuce (only iceberg – but it’s better than nothing) bread, turkey and pork. I’m sure as a vegetarian you’re horrified that I’d want to re-incorporate meat into my diet, but since I’m allergic to almost all nuts and seeds, it’s made a huge difference to be able to eat some meat again.

    I do think that my allergies are a mixed blessing of sorts. There are days when I’d give just about anything to be free of them, but it does make me much less prone to falling into the prepared foods trap. Though, I’ve gotta say, it’s getting more and more difficult to find real, single ingredient foods these days! Seriously, I bought a whole raw chicken to roast for Christmas, and ended up having an allergic reaction – then I looked closer at the package and saw that it was “augmented” with “up to 15% vegetable broth!” Sigh.

    Anyhow, congratulations on sticking to your budget. I think I may have spent more money than that just on feeding my cats! 🙂

    • Hi Cat, Happy to hear you may be able to eat more of a variety. I have no issues with other people eating meat, and as you know, we will have some if offered outside the home. Interesting perspective that you have an excuse to eat clean!

  6. Juhli

    Wow, that is an amazing level of analysis! I don’t know if I could live with that little broccoli though.

    I can see how helpful it would be but am going to stick to my groceries, alcohol, toiletries, household goods general category and simply try to limit my expenditures a bit more. We do track eating out separately.

    In 2015 I did stop stocking up on things beyond a very clear limit which in many cases is 0 to 1 back up item. Our dog get her own budget category because of her chronic illness which incurs a fair amount of ongoing vet costs so I know exactly how much she costs each year lol. She pays me in kisses, snuggles and joy of being alive.

    • Because we try to stick to a meal plan, I only bought broccoli when I specifically chose a recipe with broccoli in it. Obviously not often enough! I actually think we could stock up a little more (currently none). I am fortunate I don’t have pet health costs. Glad your princess-pup is pampered!

  7. I love this. I am a Rye bread fan, so I concur with your observation to buy more in 2016.

  8. my year in food consisted of me breaking my rule of not buying more than one unusual food item with each shopping trip. Now, I’m going to put myself on a pantry clearing challenge for the new year.

  9. Dar, here is a great salad dressing to use up your miso – you probably have the other ingredients for your stir frys:
    I am considering buying the 7-in-1 Instant Pot cooker (slow cook, pressure cook, rice cooker, and yogurt maker all in 1). It might help you with your yogurt!

    • Thanks, Jamie, that sounds really good. Hoping it will look OK with black miso paste 🙂 I have and use a yogurt maker. The yogurt looks perfect when it is done, but it turns thin when it is stirred, even gently. Maybe I could try spooning the yogurt into individual cups and letting it set?

  10. Happy New Year Dar! I am amazed at how exacting you are–your food totals are so precise! Yogurt is really simple to make so hopefully you will give it another shot–heat up the milk, cool it down, add a little yogurt, keep warm for 8 to 10 hours, and “ta da” lots of yogurt for the price of a gallon of milk!

  11. Goodness, you’re precise! And consistently persistent in tracking things.

    My two pence worth: if you enjoyed the pineapple, but more. Even if they are a little pricey, compared to the muesli / energy bars, they are worth it.

    I make my own yoghurt. It is no fail, no variation. Spectacular. In fact my eldest son and Mr S don’t like bought yoghurt any more. We prefer the thick, Greek style variety with a bit of a tang. Not sweetened, sugary kinds. The brand is Easiyo. From NZ. Don’t know if you can get it in Canada. But it is so easy. Just powder and add water then put in the thermos that comes with the brand. I’ve left it for between 8 and 24 hours. leave it longer for a more tangy taste. And even better it lasts longer in the fridge than shop bought as it doesn’t have all manner of additives. And I can keep a sachet in the pantry until I need yoghurt so have much less wastage. And did I say it is yummier and thicker than any shop bought!?!

    • Oh. Just looked at Easiyo’s site and because of high tariffs, they don’t export to Canada. That’s a shame because it is the best. Try their unsweetened Greek and you’d never go back to any other. Not to mention the ease of making it.

      I will make you some when you visit.

      Or you can buy a kit in the UK and trial it when visiting Rom’s family. And then moan about not getting the best NZ dairy products in Canada because of import duties. (I thought we had free-ish trade???)

  12. Waaaaah? Only one pineapple this year? Only four heads of broccoli? I love both dearly! Pineapple is my favourite fruit and broccoli is something I buy at least once a month! Mmmm. Broccoli!

    As for me, in general, I just took a look at my annual spending and I eat out WAY too much and buy WAY too much fast food. Mostly drinks, coffees, and snacks. Gulp. It’s awful. I’m hoping to cut that out for 2016. I’m also hoping to implement more vegetarian options.

    • I know. I am seriously pineapple and broccoli deprived. I may have to over-compensate this year. We ate out a lot this year but bought all our snacks at the grocery store 🙂

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