Menu Planning In Retirement

xxx

In the past, everything in our freezer, fridge, and pantry would have had a specific purpose. These days it will all get used, but there’s no rigid plan for much of the food we buy.

I have been a menu planner for a long, long time. I was never a natural at menu planning and it was was a task I got better at over a long period of time. Menu planning has saved us a lot of money over the years, but my way of doing it has changed and adapted to my/our needs through the years.

Prior to joining the navy and meeting Brett, I worked as a waitress (food and then cocktail). I made good money for the times, and my menu planning during those days consisted of deciding what I wanted to eat that day and then stopping by the store to pick it up using some of my tips from the day. If I felt like having a steak, I bought steak. If I felt like having a sandwich, I bought a sandwich or all the fixings, and so forth. I was young and had few financial responsibilities, and the idea of planning a daily menu and stocking a pantry never crossed my mind.

When Brett and I got together, we were both in the navy and had very little money left over for food once our monthly obligations were met (military pay was pitifully low then). Our dates consisted of long walks, occasionally stopping at the bowling alley on base to share a 90-cent grilled cheese sandwich and seeing a movie once a month at the base theater for $1 each. We otherwise dined together at the chow hall for free. After I left the navy and our son was born, we had $36 every two weeks in our budget for food, and I menu planned using the pantry method out of necessity. After buying formula, the rest of our groceries routinely consisted of a big box of Bisquik, a couple of smoked ham hocks, a package of chicken breasts, dried beans, pasta, a few produce items, a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of cheese, flour, and yeast. I baked bread, made soups and quiches and everything else from scratch, and we ate a lot of pancakes. Menu planning consisted of rotating through the meals we could make with what we had on hand.

As our income eased up over the years I segued into planning a more structured and varied menu. We still shopped every two weeks (based on military paydays), but I learned to go with a shopping list based on two weeks of planned (affordable) meals that offered variety. I enjoyed creating a meal plan and fitting in new recipes as well as fixing favorite dishes. I used this style of planning for the next 40 years, whether we had one child or three at home. Menus were made for two week periods, although for a while I tried making a monthly plan and shopping just once a month. I thought I would spend less that way, but eventually realized that instead of saving I was actually spending more, and stopping at the store more frequently for odds and ends I had forgotten. The two-week planning worked best for us.

Before we began traveling I told Brett I was tired of and done with planning and cooking, and I wanted to use more prepared foods, and eat more soup and sandwiches and Brett said it was fine with him. This turned out to be a great solution for life on the road because there were so many new and interesting foods to try in the countries we visited, and many prepared foods were in a different league all together than what’s available in the U.S. and were more affordable too. We often never knew what we’d find when we walked into a supermarket, and were grateful we could add items that looked delicious and were affordable. We kept to a budget, but we shopped with a very short list and chose items more randomly. The smaller refrigerators in Europe proved to be a bit of a challenge at times, but we somehow made it work.

The new normal in menu planning these days somewhat combines our initial “pantry planning” method with the more structured “menu planning” method. I create our meals these days out of what we have on hand along with adding in more prepared foods we know we will enjoy, but it’s far more random than before. I continue to do the shopping, but Brett and I work together ahead of time to make sure I purchase things he needs or would like to have or try. This new way still keeps our budget in line, but we’re buying and eating less meat than we thought we would and our meals are frankly more interesting and fun. Best of all, I’m no longer worn out, frustrated, or bored when it comes to meal planning and preparation. I have an idea at the beginning of each week of what I can and would like to fix for us based on what we have on hand, and then decide each day what that will be depending on how I feel.

Our current retirement menu planning would never have worked for us back in the day when we were raising our kids, but it’s a great fit for our lifestyle now. However, old skills are being put back into use again as I start to think about meals for when the whole family will be here for the holidays. Three are lactose intolerant, one is glucose intolerant, and one is vegan, so meals will have to be planned around those needs but not break the bank as well. It’s definitely a challenge but sort of fun too. However, I remain thankful this will only be a temporary assignment and afterwards Brett and I can return to our new normal.

Big Shopping in Tennessee

Brett and I did part of our monthly food shopping yesterday, or I should say he took me to do the shopping. I go into the store while Brett stays outside with Kai and walks him around. We’ve tried leaving him at home a couple of times but there have been less than ideal results, even when he’s left in his crate (he tears his beds to shreds). Anyway, yesterday we did our monthly stop at Costco and a bi-monthly one at Trader Joe’s.

Food shopping is once again a pleasure compared to the struggle it became in Hawaii to not go over our budget. Our current monthly food allotment is $500, $100 less per month than we budgeted in Hawaii, although so far we have been spending less. We do one Big Shop in the middle of the month, and another at the end.

I was a bit concerned about the Costco trip yesterday because we were out of several things that I knew would drive the total up, including two cans of coffee (regular and decaf), a case of oat milk, and three bottles of wine. We were also out of a couple of snack items we keep on hand: peanut butter filled pretzels that Brett enjoys, and fig bars that we all like (K loves them). I also wanted to buy a Halloween House kit for K to decorate when she’s with us today or Friday.

Our Costco swag, and . . .
. . . a case of lemon green tea. We each have one a day (and recycle the bottles).

I found four items not on my list: Pacific Foods organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup (our favorite), two bags Cretor’s Chicago mix popcorn (which I adore), almond thins with papaya and passionfruit, and box of beer batter cod for fish & chips. This is the absolute maximum of bulk shopping we can do now because we don’t have room to store any more.

The total for everything at Costco was $206.51, including tax. The same items would have cost us somewhere closer to $300 at the Kaua’i Costco, maybe more. I didn’t buy meat (we buy that at Trader Joe’s or ALDI now), bread items, desserts, pre-made casseroles, nor any giant bags of produce, all things we pretty much had to purchase at Costco on Kaua’i. The only produce we buy at Costco now are organic apples and bananas, and an occasional bag of frozen blueberries. It’s very nice to have other options these days.

Everything from Trader Joe’s.

After Costco it was on to Trader Joe’s. I accidentally left my list at home so I knew I had to be on my best behavior there. I picked up the apple cider doughnuts and pumpkin ravioli Brett had asked for, and a couple more boxes of the pumpkin pancake mix to get us through the winter. Otherwise I couldn’t remember much of anything else on the list and did my best to not go crazy. TJ’s has so many pumpkin items out right now, but I was able to pass most of them except for one box of the pumpkin sticky toffee cakes – Meiling told us they were very good. The only splurge item was a chicken pot pie. I didn’t buy much produce because we still have plenty on hand.

Total spent at Trader Joe’s was $75.89, There’s no way to compare that with costs in Hawaii because there are no Trader Joe’s there! I know though we would have paid a whole lot more for the same or similar items versus what we pay here.

Total spent for this October Big Shop trip was $282.40, which means we have $217.60 left to spend at the end of the month. I plan to go to ALDI and may visit TJ’s again, but if all goes well we’ll probably end up with somewhere around $100 left over we can put into savings. For now though our cupboards are full.

Food Shopping In San Miguel de Allende

Feeding ourselves in San Miguel de Allende is costing us a lot less than we imagined. Today, along with going out to brunch, Brett and I did our food shopping for the coming week. We stopped at three places today: the fruteria (produce store) down the hill from us; Panio, a French bakery located a short distance away; and La Comer, the big supermarket that reminds us of a cross between Target and Costco. As this was a somewhat normal week of purchases for us, I thought I’d share what we spent (in US$) and what we got.

We actually stopped at the fruteria on our way to brunch, and purchased a large honeydew melon, a bunch of five bananas, four mangoes, and two limes. Total for everything: $4.09USD.

After finishing our brunch we headed down the street a short distance to Panio, happy that our stomachs were full so that we would hopefully not be too tempted by their wares (it didn’t work). Panio is owned and run by a French-trained pasty chef, and walking into the bakery we both felt like we were back in Paris. Even though we were not hungry in the least, we left with a big bag of meringues, a big bag of butter cookies, two pain aux raisins, two pain au chocolat, and one large brownie for us to share. The total cost for all this goodness: $23.04USD (actually more than we had just spent on brunch). The pastries are for breakfast tomorrow morning and the day after, and the brownie or a few cookies will be for dessert this week. The pastries are, to put it mildly, exquisite, and we promised ourselves we will make an effort to stop at Panio every week going forward.

Then it was on to La Comer. We had a short list, but it contained two non-food items we hoped to find, a potato masher and an inexpensive pitcher. Our front balcony gets sun almost all day and I’ve been wanting to make some sun tea out there, but had nothing to brew it in. We easily found both items – a plastic Rubbermaid pitcher and a hefty masher, for approximately $5 each. Otherwise we bought a large package of sliced manchego cheese, a can of tuna, a small jar of mayonnaise, a loaf of whole grain bread, a box of herbal tea bags with lemon, two big bell peppers and two carrots (I want to make sweet & sour tofu this week), and two large boxes of Kleenex tissues. Our purchases at La Comer came to $29.79USD. The potato masher will go with us when we leave (along with our olla frijolera) but we’ll leave the pitcher behind for future guests.

A total of $56.92 bought us a whole lot of goodness today, both high quality food and two useful non-food items. We typically make a second trip for groceries on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to fill in, but have yet to spend more than $30 on any of those trips. I can’t remember the last time I spent less than $100/week on groceries, certainly never while we lived in Hawaii. Spending so little and getting so much for our money has turned into another wonderful thing about staying in San Miguel de Allende!

Budget Challenge: Grocery Shopping on Kaua’i

Brett and I have a standing challenge whenever we go food shopping: buy what we need but try to stay under budget if possible so there’s something leftover to put into the travel savings. Between Walmart, Costco, Safeway or Big Save Market, and the weekly farmers’ market we have a wide selection of places to shop, but staying within our budget can be difficult because prices here can be high, sometimes a good deal higher, than they are in most places on the mainland. We’re very good at knowing the difference between a need and a want though, and telling ourselves “no” whenever we have to. We shop for groceries three times a month, weekly if you count our Wednesday trips to the farmers’ market, and we try very hard to not have to go to any store in-between shopping trip if at all possible. We no longer do “big shops” or stock ups because we don’t have the storage space like we did in the past nor do we like spending such vast sums.

Last week was a good week for us, shopping wise. We had budgeted $160 for the week, but spent only $128.80, and put $31.20 into our travel savings ($11.20 into the change/$1 bill jar and an additional $20 bill for good measure). Here’s how we did it:

We ALWAYS shop with a list, and by the time we make it to the store it usually looks like the one above. The circled items are the items that made the final cut; others were deemed either not necessary or not necessary now and were added to this week’s list. Two of the circled items on the Costco side did not get purchased: sparkling water and a beach towel ($9.99 at Costco). Costco had no affordable choices for sparkling water, and although we had the funds for a beach towel we decided it could wait. It will eventually need to be purchased and will go on a list in the future.

We spent exactly $41 at Walmart, and got everything on our list except for soba noodles and Yoshida (teriyaki) sauce, neither of which they had. We couldn’t find suitable substitutes there for either so decided to look for those items at Safeway, which was going to be our last stop of the day.

Our Costco list ended up being quite short, but we didn’t need much. We spent $50.10 there and now have enough dental floss for months to come (it was on sale this month). It’s sort of strange to leave Costco with so few things these days – when we lived here before any trip to Costco meant a cart filled to overflowing.

We sometimes stop at Safeway because it’s pretty much right next door to Costco and on our way home. Along with the head of lettuce and the big locally-grown tomato for our hamburgers we also found the brand of soba we like and some teriyaki sauce that worked for us. The soba cost more than it usually does at Walmart, but the teriyaki sauce was on sale and cost less so it evened out. Still, we spent $17.70 total for these four items, which is a lot and a good indicator of why we don’t regularly shop at Safeway here. Milk was also on our list but they didn’t have what we were looking for (a quart of 1%), and we decided we didn’t need it this week after all.

We budget $20 every week for the farmers’ market, and this past week spent every bit of it on a big bunch of bananas, two huge papayas, a large dragonfruit, three cucumbers, green beans, green onions, and a head of cabbage. 

We will go shopping again tomorrow, but with a smaller allotment than last week, and then go once again next week. Both shopping trips will pose additional challenges as we need to make sure we shop smartly to get ourselves through a three week stretch before our next piece of income rolls in again. That’s a long time to go without shopping, but we have plenty of protein on hand (meat, chicken, and fish) for the two of us, a good supply of other pantry staples, and along with the produce from the farmers’ market every week we should make it – fingers are crossed!

(If you have any questions about individual prices here for items we bought, let me know in the comments and I’ll look them up.)

Food Shopping on Kaua’i – 4/13/2020

What was supposed to be our first “regular” food shopping trip on the island turned out to be anything but regular. I took YaYu along with me since she’s been complaining about not having snacks as well as some of her favorite foods. We ended up buying a few things for her that weren’t on our list, but I’m hoping those will last for a while.

We began at Costco, and as well as purchasing food we also picked up two non-food items while we were there: a new beach towel ($9.99) for YaYu to use as an exercise mat (she works out daily), and a memory foam mat ($14.99) to go in the kitchen so standing isn’t so uncomfortable while we wash dishes. Total spent at Costco: $168.81 ($161.31 + $7.50 tax). 

Our second stop was Safeway, mainly because it was located next to Costco and made for an easier trip. Safeway is the most expensive grocery store on the island, but they have an incredible selection and their stores are usually well-stocked – you can pretty much always find what you need there, and there’s almost always a lower-cost store brand. Also, their sale prices can be better than in other stores. For example, we found Breyer’s ice cream on sale for $4.99/package while at Big Save it’s currently $8.99. Total spent at Safeway was $59.00 ($56.34 + $2.66 tax).

Below are the items we bought this week. I would love to know how these prices compare with what you would pay for similar items.

Dairy: We bought a half-gallon of 1% milk ($3.99), and two packages of Breyer’s ice cream, lactose-free vanilla (for YaYu) and peach cobbler.

Pantry Items: Chicken broth ($3.49); sweet chili sauce ($3.99); rice vinegar ($3.19); stirfry sauce ($5.99); fettucini ($1.50); a small container of Parmesan cheese ($2.99); 1-pound box of sugar ($3.29); 5-pound bag of sushi rice ($4.99); case of 24 packages of Sapporo Ichiban ramen ($12.99). Everything except the ramen came from Safeway. Three of the very few items Safeway was out of or low on were flour, sugar, and yeast – people are baking!! The sweet chili sauce is a dip for wonton chips, and the stirfry sauce is made locally and doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup.

YaYu Things: Besides the Sapporo Ichiban noodles (her favorite), YaYu also picked out a tub of red pepper hummus ($6.99); a 4-pack of Portuguese sausages ($9.49); a container of kimchi ($6.99); and a bag of dried mango ($12.49) when we were at Costco.

Snack Items: A big bag of Kettle Himalayan salt potato chips ($5.99); a bag of wonton chips  ($9.99); roasted cashews ($15.49); a bag of manapua (steamed char siu pork buns) ($13.99); and a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake ($5.99). The potato chips and cashews are pretty much for Brett, the wonton chips are (mostly) mine, the manapua are for Brett and me, and coconut cake is for Brett’s birthday next week. Everything but the cake should last for two to three weeks. The manapua are made in Honolulu, and the “One Ton” wonton chips are made in Hilo, on the Big Island.

Beverages: One case of Diet Coke (my vice) ($11.29 + $1.44 deposit); Fever Tree ginger beer ($15.99 + $4 deposit) for Brett and YaYu; a bottle of pinot noir for Brett ($10.99), and Kirkland Pinot Grigio ($5.99) for me. We had bought the Kirkland pinot grigio in the box but discovered it takes up too much room in our small fridge so I switched back to regular bottles.

Produce: two jumbo yellow onions ($2.96), and a half-price container of celery sticks ($1.99). We don’t use much celery, so the sticks were a better value than buying a regular bundle of celery.

The refrigerator is still stuffed, so I have made a command decision that other than picking up our CSA bag next week there will be no food purchases (and we may go without the CSA bag as well). I had intended to buy a Costco meatloaf and mashed potatoes to have this week, but it is going to have to wait until there is more room in the fridge and I can justify spending the $$ on it. I feel like I really need to get a handle on our food spending here as it’s currently so out of whack. We did so well with our budget in Japan but are struggling with it here and now. I know we’ll get there, but for now it’s very frustrating.

Food Shopping in Japan, Week 9: What We Bought, What We Spent

Can you guess what these are?

This week’s food shopping was a little different in that Brett and I did it yesterday (Sunday) instead of today (Monday). We’ll be over at our son’s all day tomorrow helping out with the grandkids, and knew we weren’t going to feel like shopping afterward, so decided to stop and do it on our way home from a day out visiting temples. Of course, what we didn’t count on was being exhausted as we were following our outing! A big difference we noticed was how crowded the store was on Sunday compared to Monday. Also, the shelves are still empty of all paper goods, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.

The total for our Tokyu shop this week was ¥6350/$59.72. We also stopped in at Kaldi for a couple of things and spent an additional ¥1238/$11.64, for a total of ¥7588/$71.36 bit. Everything we bought fit into two shopping bags this week, and my hero, Brett, carried everything home. The dollar has improved slightly against the yen compared to last week, so what we paid in U.S. dollars was a little less.

Here’s what we bought yesterday:

Dairy: Just the usual: Nonfat milk, nonfat yogurt, and a 10-pack of store brand Yakult. There were no changes in their prices from when we first bought them. Brand-name Yakult was back in stock, but a 5-pack cost more than the 10-pack of the store brand (¥200 vs ¥148).

Meat: A package of sliced pork for stir fry (¥256/$2.41), ground beef for tacos (¥399/$3.75)), and three chicken tenders (¥273/$2.57) for chicken and vegetable soup with dumplings were our meat purchases this week. 

Produce: Lots of produce again this week! We got a giant stalk of celery (¥178/$1.67), cherry tomatoes (¥322/$3.03), two cucumbers (¥57/54¢ each), five bananas (back to ¥198/$1.86), two kiwi fruit (still ¥198 each), a head of broccoli (¥158/$1.49), two boxes of strawberries (expensive – ¥498/$4.68 each – but they have been missed), four tiny green peppers (¥98/92¢), and red (¥178 also ) and yellow (¥198/$1.86) peppers for the stir fry, and an avocado (¥158 also).

Pantry items: We needed rice, and Tokyu had these small bags that were less expensive than the rice we bought at Seiyu when we arrived. The bags came in four varieties grown in four different places in Japan with four different prices,. We chose the least expensive (¥590/$5.47) since we know absolutely nothing about Japanese rice. The other pantry item was CookDo sauce for stirfried pork and peppers.

Beverages: I got three bottles of 16 Tea (still ¥88/82¢ each), and Brett got himself a bottle of ginger ale (also ¥88). If the ginger ale and one of the tea bottles look like their missing something, it’s because we were so parched when we got home we both opened up our bottles before we even entered the apartment!

Miscellaneous: Band-aids (¥318/$2.99) and dishwashing soap (¥128/$1.20) – we were almost out of both.

Kaldi Coffee Farm: We enjoyed the sakura mochi ice cream so much that we bought four more (still ¥150/$1.39 each), and I also grabbed a bag of frozen blueberries (¥590/$5.55). The entire bag was only slightly more than a tiny box of fresh blueberries at Tokyu (¥547/$5.15) that had only around 30 blueberries in it and contain at least five times as many berries. We also meant to pick up a bottle of maple syrup but forgot so we’ll get that next week.

We didn’t even look at prepared foods this week as a) we have a ton of leftovers right now in the refrigerator that have to be eaten, and b) we are going to have sushi later this week from one of the sushi stores down the street from us. They both have an amazing selection, so we plan to get a nice variety and will also count it as our dining out for the week.

This week I have a mystery for you! Can you guess what the three items at the top of the post are? Here’s a clue (maybe unhelpful): although one is pink, one is white, and one has a grilled top they are all the same. 

Only four more weeks of food shopping left in Japan – the time is flying by.

Food Shopping in Japan, Week 8: What We Bought, What We Spent

Sign of the times: a big bottle of hand sanitizer to use before entering Tokyu.

Today’s weekly food shopping experience was one I hope not to repeat. No, the store wasn’t weird or anything, and prices were OK, but because Brett was over at our son’s I did the shopping on my own . . . and it was HEAVY! Carrying all of it home, up the stairs, and getting it put away on my own about did me in! I thought my arms were going to fall off, plus it was warmer than expected so I was perspiring heavily and my glasses kept slipping off my nose the whole way home. I’m sure I was quite the sight.

Of course, I have no one but myself to blame. I didn’t need nor buy much at Tokyu this week and spent ¥5673/$55.18. However, Kaldi Coffee Farm had a few more jars of the Smuckers peanut butter back in stock, “on sale” for ¥537/$5.24 per jar, so I bought five of those, as well as a few other things that were back in the store. The total spent at Kaldi was ¥4374/$$42.68. Prices for everything were more today because the dollar has been falling against the yen this past week, and if it continues to drop life is going to have to get leaner for us in our few remaining weeks in Japan.

Here’s what I bought (and lugged home) today:

Dairy: I bought our usual 1-liter carton of nonfat milk, a half dozen eggs, one nonfat plain yogurt, but also got a package of grated cheese, and two 10-packs of store-brand Yakult. The grated cheese was ¥368/$3.58, but was the largest amount for the lowest price. The Yakult-drink was ¥148/$1.44, making the two ten-packs less than one brand name Yakult 10-pack (the choice was also made easier because there was no regular Yakult available). I sure hope it tastes as good.

Meat: The only meat purchased this week was three packages of sliced ham, for the slow cooker ham and cheese casserole. It was on sale for ¥188/$1.83 each. Each package contains six slices of ham.

Produce: I bought five bananas, two apples, two kiwi fruit, an orange (for another olive oil orange cake), a bag of shredded cabbage for coleslaw, two potatoes (for curry), one BIG carrot (for curry), and two cucumbers. The kiwi fruit was expensive (¥198/$1.93 each) which is why I only bought two. They had some for ¥88 each but they were all as hard as rocks and would be very sour so I passed. The cabbage was also ¥198, but everything else was the same as last week.

Bread: We usually never buy bread, but I needed sliced country-style bread for the ham and cheese casserole, and slider-sized buns for barbecue pulled pork. I didn’t notice until I got home, but the buns have a small amount of margarine inside (!!), but since I have no idea how to return them we’ll open them up and take out the margarine before adding the pork! The loaf of bread was ¥228/$2.23 (on sale) and the buns were ¥148/$1.48 per package.

Prepared foods: I bought two packages of (expensive) katsudon (pork cutlet with onion and egg over rice) for ¥498/$4.84. We have both been craving it and will reheat for dinner. For my lunch today I picked up a package of three garlic chicken wings and a small container of potato salad for ¥436/$4.24.

Miscellaneous: I am now hooked on 16 Tea, so picked up two bottles (four servings). At Tokyu it’s just ¥88/85¢ per bottle; at a convenience store a bottle costs ¥140/$1.36.

Kaldi Coffee Farm: I was so happy to find a few more jars of the Smuckers natural peanut butter (no added sweetener) even if the price is exorbitant – we love peanut butter! The flour tortillas (¥300/$2.92 per package) are less than the price of one package at Tokyu (¥687/$6.68). Some of the cheese will be used for the ham and cheese casserole, and we’ll have some with our wine this weekend. I also bought Kaldi’s highly-rated sakura mochi ice cream (two for ¥300) for a sweet treat. 

I promised some photos of the Tokyu store, so took a few pictures of their seafood section today. First, it’s HUGE, probably ten times the size of the typical seafood section in an American supermarket, and the largest department in the entire Tokyu store. Besides shelves and coolers that wrap around the back of the store, there are also two big islands out on the floor for more, things like clams, prawns, octopus, squid and so forth. Every variety of seafood (and freshwater fish) you can imagine can be found here. Fish and other seafood are a huge part of the Japanese diet though, so it makes sense that a store would carry such a big variety. It’s not inexpensive though and even though we like fish, the only thing we’ve ever purchased is frozen shrimp.

So, another ¥10,000 and some change spent this week, our entire budget amount. I think we are now completely stocked up until we leave though, and hopefully, our weekly shops will be less going forward. We may go over to Hardy Barracks once more to see if they’ve gotten in any more Diet Coke, but until the Easter Brunch at the New Sanno Hotel that will be our last trip to any one of the military bases or facilities in the area.

Food Shopping in Japan Week 7; What We Bought, What We Spent

The “pantry” in our kitchen (one shelf on a table) doesn’t have much room for extras.

Our refrigerator is also quite small. It is currently completely full – I don’t think I could fit a sheet of paper in there.

We are currently trying to stock up some, although as the pictures above indicate, we don’t have a whole lot of extra room to store things. And, we’re only here for around six more weeks, so don’t want to buy more than we can finish. This past weekend we bought some extras at the Hardy Barracks mini-mart, mainly frozen foods and bread. Those items should help keep our regular grocery shopping costs down going forward.

We spent more than intended today at Tokyu though: ¥9,126. Our regular groceries weren’t too bad, but we were there when a few paper goods – toilet paper, tissue, and paper towels – were being put out. We got one of each, including the last small package of toilet paper. We have enough supplies now to last us until we leave. We also found three new special spring flavors of KitKats so had to get those. We spent ¥2,293 at Kaldi Coffee Farm yesterday so our weekly total is ¥11,419/$106, ¥1,419/$13.17 over our weekly budget. We will have to cut back next week, but should be fine because we currently have a LOT of food in the apartment, enough for at least three weeks.

We noticed today that the shelves of instant noodles in Tokyu looked rather picked over and empty. Some of those products come from China and South Korea, so there’s possibly a supply chain issue because of the virus. Otherwise, all food items were well-stocked in the store.

Here’s what we bought his week (apologies for the quality of the photos, but it was rainy and gloomy outside and the inside lighting wasn’t much better):

Dairy: We bought the usual: nonfat milk, nonfat yogurt, half-dozen eggs, and Yakult, which had doubled in price from what we have been paying, ¥398 vs. ¥200. Not sure if that’s because of a supply problem or if we had previously been buying it on sale.

Meat: We bought two packages of ground pork, two packages of firm tofu, and two packages of surumi (imitation crab, or k-rab, as Brett calls it). One package of the pork is for next week, and the tofu is for next week as well. The surumi is for the California roll salad this week. As always, we chose the least expensive packages available.

Produce: We got lots of produce this week: four apples for ¥158/$1.47 each, two kiwi fruit, a head of lettuce for just ¥73/68¢, five bananas, eggplants for mabo nasu, green onions, yellow onions, two avocados (also ¥158 each), and three cucumbers (¥98 for three). Fruit in Japan is always ridiculously expensive.

Prepared foods: Tokyu didn’t have any gyūdon in the prepared food section, so we bought two Korean beef kalbi bowls. For ¥464/$4.29 we bought a small piece of pork cutlet with sesame-soy glaze and four korokke (potato croquettes) for lunch for the two of us today. By the way, I had thought about making the gyūdon from scratch, but the beef cost more than the two bowls we bought, and I would have needed a couple more ingredients as well so decided against that idea.

Pantry items: Just two packages of CookDo this week, for mabo nasu and mabo dofu, which will be on the menu next week. We forgot to get a tube of wasabi paste, so we will have to stop somewhere for that this week (it’s used in the California Roll Salad dressing).

Paper products: About 10 packages of each of these products were being put out while we were there. Brett got the last 4-pack of single-ply “Herb Garden” printed toilet paper, and also grabbed some store-brand tissues and paper towels. The total for the paper products was ¥848/$7.43. The toilet paper alone was ¥268; last week we got a 12-pack of double-ply for ¥398. We also got a package of trash bags.

Miscellaneous: I got two bottles of “16 Tea,” an herbal blend of 16 ingredients (with no caffeine) that I enjoy now and again. We also found three new springtime KitKat flavors: Easter (banana), sakura mochi, and sakura sake. The last two flavors were not cheap (¥348 each) but very unique so we snapped them up. We’re now up to 25 different flavors!

Kaldi Coffee Farm: We bought their last two jars of natural peanut butter, some Boursin pepper cheese and camembert from France (both on sale), and a package of cough drops for Brett. Three days ago they had caseloads of the peanut butter but it was all gone yesterday except for the two jars I found hidden on the back of the shelf behind some other brand. Hmmmmm.

Next week I will have some pictures of some of what’s inside the Tokyu store, but in the meantime, I made sweet and sour pork on Saturday evening using a CookDo sauce and took some pictures to show why I love using CookDo (outside of the fact that it tastes really, really, good):

Even though I can’t read most of the writing, there’s always a clear picture on the front of what the finished product looks like so I can get an idea of the ingredients and what size I need to prep them. Inside the box is a pouch of sauce.

On the back of the box are more clear illustrations indicating how to prepare the dish. Weights (metric) are given for how much of each ingredient is recommended.

The first step is to prep and then stir fry the ingredients. For the sweet and sour, that’s cubed pork, green pepper, carrots, and onion.

After ingredients are cooked how you like them (we like the vegetables crisp-tender versus soft), add the sauce from the pouch and stir about one minute to heat through and coat all the ingredients. That’s all – it’s ready to serve. The total time from start to finish is less than 10 minutes (not counting prepping the ingredients).

Serve the finished recipe over steamed rice.

One package of CookDo makes three servings, so there are leftovers for someone the next day. CookDo is not particularly inexpensive in the U.S., but I bought it occasionally as special treat for our family because the girls love it. The most commonly found varieties in the U.S. are mabo dofu (tofu and ground meat) and mabo nasu (eggplant and ground meat), both in a miso-flavored sauce, but at a Japanese-centric market more varieties are usually available.

Food Shopping in Japan Week 6: What We Bought, What We Spent

I did not think we were going to get out of the Tokyu market today for less than ¥9000. Everything seemed to be so expensive, so we were very surprised by our total: ¥6,988/$62.53, much better than expected, and that’s with getting everything on our list and a few extras too. We still have to purchase kaarage later this week and that will add to our weekly total, but I currently have no idea how much that will be. We still should come in under our weekly ¥10,000 limit.

Here’s what we bought earlier today:

Dairy: We bought the same as last week: nonfat milk, nonfat yogurt, Yakult, and a half dozen eggs. The eggs were ¥18 less than the ones I bought last week, and by buying a 10-pack of Yakult I saved a whopping ¥1.

Meat: Meat at Tokyu is expense; there’s no way around it. However, the quality is very high. The frozen uncooked shrimp were ¥498/$4.46 for around a half a pound. There was a less expensive package but the shrimp were very small so we passed. The two different cuts of pork (one package of thin slices for yakisoba and two packages of cubes for sweet and sour pork) were ¥751. So, in the end we spent ¥1249/$11.22 total for a little more than a pound of meat, quite a lot in my opinion (and I chose the least expensive packages). Back in the U.S. I would have cut my own cubes of pork, or the thin slices, from a larger piece like a chop or a tenderloin, but those cuts aren’t available here (if you can find them you’ll pay a small fortune).

Produce: Once again, except for the strawberries and bananas, prices were low or low-ish. We paid ¥598 for the package of berries, but every one of them is ripe. The packages available for ¥498 had bigger but fewer berries, and all included two or three berries that were less than ripe. Bananas had gone up in price this week as well – we paid ¥20 more than we did last week for the same number of bananas. The cucumbers, broccoli, tiny green peppers, and tomato were the same price as last week. The little bag of finely shredded cabbage is to go with the tonkatsu we’re having this week and cost ¥100. I’ve got a sharp knife here but I still can’t shred that finely.

Prepared foods: This was another area we were sure was going to make a big dent in our budget. The two pork cutlets (tonkatsu) were ¥398/$3.57 each, and we also bought shumai, mini spring rolls, and gyoza for our dim sum dinner, and a package of potato salad to have with our karaage. The tonkatsu and other fried and grilled foods used to be in a self-serve area, where you reached into a case and chose the number of items you wanted using tongs. This week that the area is gone, and while everything is still available, it’s all now individually packaged – another sign of the impact the coronavirus is having.

Pantry items: We picked up three things in this category: two packages of egg noodles for yakisoba (¥80/72¢ each), beni shoga (pickled red ginger slices) for yakisoba (store brand for ¥100/90¢), and CookDo sauce for chili shrimp. I also like to add a little bit of beni shoga to fried rice.

Paper goods: We bought one 12-pack of store-brand double-ply toilet paper for ¥398/$3.57.

Miscellaneous: Brett got himself a can of Kirin beer (¥188/$1.69) to have this Friday instead of wine, a Japanese lip balm for ¥80/72¢, and we got a bag of special Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Day) snacks (also ¥188) for K. The characters on the package (Apanman and Meronpan’na) are current favorites of hers. Hina Matsuri will be on March 3.

Would anyone be interested in seeing pictures from inside the store? I’d love to hear from you and some feedback about these food posts and what might make them more interesting. I’ve personally always been fascinated with others’ food shopping posts and pictures, but then again I love to peek into shopping carts and see what other people buy!

Food Shopping in Japan Week 5: What We Bought, What We Spent

We stopped at a snack store across the street from Tokyu on the way home in the evening to get Brett some crackers, and found a new flavor of KitKats: nuts & cranberry covered in ruby chocolate. Total spent: ¥600/$5.46.

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to post about our food shopping trip this week, but we decided to shake things up a bit and do our shopping at the Tokyu store, the other nearby grocery store. We wanted to see how prices there compared with Seiyu’s and if it was really all that much more expensive. We shopped at Tokyu almost the whole time we were here last year, only discovering Seiyu a couple of weeks before we left.

We were frankly getting a bit tired of Seiyu. Its floor area is smaller than the Tokyu store, so products were spread out over three floors: paper goods and cleaning/laundry supplies on the second floor, prepared foods, wines and snacks (i.e. KitKats) on the first floor, and groceries in the basement (department store basements are often grocery stores here). We always had to plan in advance what we were going to pick up first and then figure out whether we needed to use the stairs, escalator, or elevator to get from floor to floor. Shopping on different floors also required us to walk through areas of the store where we didn’t need or care to go (i.e clothing, cosmetics, etc. – Seiyu is owned by Walmart). At Tokyu, everything is on one floor and it’s strictly groceries. It’s also a newer store and brighter than Seiyu, which to be honest is getting a bit shabby in places. Tokyu also carries a larger variety of foods. However, Seiyu is less expensive and their quality is good.

Brett and I typically shop together but yesterday K was home sick from school and we were asked if we could come over and watch her for the day. Brett initially went over to our son’s on his own so I could do the shopping, then I joined him once that was done and things were put away. I bought everything on our list except for three items, which I forgot in my hurry to get done. We stopped in for those items on our way home this evening.

Here’s what we bought:

Dairy: I got the usual: milk, yogurt, Yakult and eggs. However, I was able to get both nonfat milk and nonfat yogurt, neither of which is available at Seiyu (both were store brands). Eggs were the same price, but the milk, yogurt, and Yakult cost ¥94/86¢ more at Tokyu than at Seiyu.

Meat: Meat purchases this week were sliced pork for a CookDo stirfry, and two packages of chicken tenders to use for Thai red curry chicken. Meat is definitely more expensive at Tokyu. The total for these three packages was ¥967/$8.80, around ¥150 over what they would have cost at Seiyu.Produce: With a couple of exceptions, produce at Tokyu cost less and was better looking too. I bought a tomato, four Fuji apples, half cabbage, three cucumbers, cilantro, a package of five bananas, and a package of strawberries. The strawberries and bananas were more than they are at Seiyu (¥498/$4.53 for one package of strawberries versus ¥377, and ¥178/$1.62 for the bananas versus ¥89/81¢, although there were five bananas in the package versus four).

Pantry items: I bought one package of CookDo sauce for a cabbage and pork stir fry for ¥178/$1.62, which is just ¥10 more than the regular price at Seiyu. The little bottle of sesame dressing (¥132/$1.20) will be used for coleslaw later this week. At Seiyu I would have had to buy a full-size bottle of dressing that we probably wouldn’t have finished before we left.

Prepared foods: Tokyu has an amazing prepared food section compared to Seiyu, especially their sushi, and their prices are more reasonable. The quality seems a little higher as well. Along with two packages of sushi I also bought one small package with three shumai and one of five gyoza for my lunch today (¥386/$3.50).

Miscellaneous: I picked up one package of “thick” matcha KitKats. They’re ¥50 more per package at Tokyu. Along with the cranberry ones above, we currently have 19 different flavors.

Second trip items: Brett and I picked up a bottle of fabric softener, an avocado, and a package of inarizushi. The total for all three items was ¥808/$7.35. The price per avocado was nearly double what we paid at Seiyu.

So, how did our total at Tokyu compare with Seiyu? I spent ¥5,996 on my initial shopping trip, then ¥808 on our second stop, and ¥600 yen at the snack shop for a total of ¥7,404/$67.39, still well under our ¥10,000 limit. Our total was around ¥600 (about $5.50) over what we typically spent for the same items at Seiyu, so not as much as we imagined it would be. We also had a much nicer shopping experience overall so we’ll probably be going back to Tokyu, but will continue to be careful about what we buy.