COLUMNISTS

Has grocery shopping changed for me in the last year? Yes. Dramatically

Erica Van Buren
Fort Myers News-Press
Erica Van Buren is a reporter with The Fort Myers News-Press and Naples Daily News.

NOTE TO READERS: Reporter Erica Van Buren, like so many of us, has been challenged when it comes to shopping for her groceries. Prices are up. Supplies are down. For Van Buren it has meant a new strategy for buying food, which she shares with you in this column.

The days of getting what I need from one grocery store are long gone.  

Back in the day I used to stroll up and down the aisles at Publix, steering a shopping cart with my left hand and gripping my shopping list in the other. Tossing this and that into the cart, feeling free to try different things. 

More:Love mac & cheese? 5 things to know about Cape Coral's new fast-casual restaurant

Today, I shop differently. I traded in the shopping cart for one of those hand held baskets. I’m not as carefree while I’m strategically maneuvering up and down the aisles at Publix. Honestly, my grocery shopping doesn’t start at Publix now. Now, I start at Trader Joe’s

The reason I switched from the shopping cart to the basket, and from one store to two? An 18-count of eggs can cost $6.99. To adapt to inflation and food shortages, I have to do my shopping at Trader Joe’s, Publix and sometimes Aldi. 

Every time I go in, I’m pleasantly surprised by the fragrant flowers and herbs at the entrance. I stop and inhale the basil for instance.

The list I have for Trader Joe's in Fort Myers at 4983 S. Cleveland Ave., is simple and sweet. Every time I go in, I’m pleasantly surprised by the fragrant flowers and herbs at the entrance. I stop and smell the basil for instance. For a split second I think about adding the fresh herb to the basket. I snap out of it and remind myself that it’s not on the list. 

I have a few favorite staple items. At the top of the list is chicken fried rice with vegetables. Who knew frozen fried rice purchased at a grocery store could be so good? Next I grab a package of hash browns, which happen to be a popular Trader Joe’s item.

A few of my favorite foods from Trader Joe's. Chicken fried rice, brussel sprouts, carton of eggs, hash browns, frozen tropical fruit, extra fine french green beans and two-pack of frozen tilapia and a six-pack of chicken wings.

I remember one time I noticed the store was out of hash browns. I spotted a guy stocking nearby. I, with a fast pace, headed in his direction. As I approached he turned to me with a friendly smile and greeted me, “How can I help you?” I replied, “I noticed you’re out of hash browns. Do you have any in the back?” He replied, “No, I don’t. Early in the morning or late in the evening is the best time to come for hash browns.” 

I remember feeling defeated that day.

More:Sanibel Island restaurant reopens Friday after Hurricane Ian damaged it

Next, I grab a frozen two-pack of tilapia, a bag of frozen tropical fruit (for smoothies), a bag of Brussels sprouts and extra fine french green beans. Next on the list is protein. I grab a carton of a dozen large eggs. At Trader Joe’s they cost $4. I make room in the basket for a 6-pack of chicken wings which run about $7. 

Depending on what I have planned for my husband and me each week, I spend on average about $25 to $40 on groceries at Trader Joe’s. Next stop is Publix.

Off to Publix

The list I have for the Publix on Summerlin Road in Fort Myers is short. Ten items or less. More than likely less. 

I opt for a basket instead of a shopping cart and head for the buy one, get one (BOGO) bin that’s at the front. At first glance nothing in the bin is on my list. 

At this point I’m looking for specifics. My staples are Activia yogurt, which promotes gut health, Publix sweetened original almond milk (for my smoothies), a four-pack of vanilla flavored Starbucks frappuccinos, Oscar Mayer maple bacon (if it’s on sale). If it's not on sale, I grab the Publix brand, and a two pound pack of ground beef.  

Depending on what I have planned for meals every two weeks, I spend on average about $25 to $40 on groceries at Publix. 

I’ve been known to shop at the Aldi in Fort Myers on Colonial every now and again. Just depends on what I have a taste for.

My hope is that I can return to the good old days when I could shop at one store. Perhaps that time has come and gone.  

Three things I keep in mind while shopping:

  • Never grocery shop hungry
  • Consider trying the store brand
  • If the basket is too full I’m probably over my budget

Share your grocery shopping experience with Erica

What about you? How are you handling rising food prices and shortages? Have you made shopping changes? Do you have tips to share with others? Send me an email and I may use your info in future coverage.

Erica Van Buren is the underserved communities reporter for The News-Press and Naples Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at EVanBuren@gannett.com or on Twitter: @EricaVanBuren32