Cheap Groceries in Hyde Park, and how to get them…

Over the few years that I’ve lived here now, I’ve done my best to find groceries that I can afford. I’ve developed a sort of weird database in my head about which stores sell what I want at a decent price; which things are ‘luxury’ items; when I have the two or three hour block to bus to Trader Joe’s, or how much bulk Aldi food I can fit in a backpack.

Hyde Park is a grocery nightmare, with only the luxurious Treasure Island as a full service grocery store. There’s Hyde Park Produce that comes in a close second, but I soon realized that even between those two some things are lacking. Then I’ll run up to Trader Joes, or down to Aldi. Sometimes I just get lazy and it becomes a Treasure Island week. Lately I’ve discovered that you can get bulk items on Amazon Prime.

With the opening of a new Whole Foods in Harper Court, all of this may be null and void. I wish it was a Trader Joe’s. I really do. Until then, though, I’ve figured out how to fandangle the system, such that my grocery bill is only $40-50 each week. And this is what that fandangling looks like…

  1. Buy all fresh veggies and fruits at Hyde Park Produce on 53rd and Kenwood. If they’re in season, and you’ve got time to be chopping things, Hyde Park Produce has low price produce. However, it’s not the best quality, so you want to be sure you can eat it in a week before you buy it. Heartier veggies are more reliable (like Broccoli and Carrots) than leafy things, I find (ie, spinach–especially in bags.) That said, HHP is NOT the place to buy any dry goods if you’re trying to save money. Except, apparently for jarred curry sauces. For some weird reason, those run very cheap there ($3). I occasionally treat myself to a jar of Dave’s Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce, but that’s definitely not cheap ($8), and I do it mostly just cuz it makes me feel good inside. Sometimes that’s worth it, especially when you’re trying to be very careful with money: always remember to treat yourself so you don’t accidentally splurge.
  2. Watch the Treasure Island Sale calendar very carefully. They post it here: http://tifoods.com/ Links are in the lower lefthand corner. Each sale lasts one week and begins on Wednesday. Sometimes there are excellent 10/$10 deals on canned veggies, tuna, pasta, etc. Every so often, a sale will make something an acceptable price. That’s the time to stock up. You don’t have to buy 10 to get the price, they just advertise it that way. Treasure Island stocks “Centrella” brand which runs pretty cheap. This is a good place to get rice, lentils, and other dry goods. (But don’t buy pasta here unless it’s either gourmet  or on sale. They’re robbing from you.) Since I have a soft spot for hummus, I also buy that here.
  3. Go to Trader Joe’s for coffee, international foods, pasta, or cheaper gourmet type foods. It’s kind of a hike (South Loop, Roosevelt and State), but you can buy higher quality food for less and it makes you feel better later–especially when you feel accomplished for getting out of Hyde Park for something. My favorite things to get at TJs are Butternut Squash Trianguloni (gourmet pasta, $3 a serving), Coffee (at least half the price and double the quality than what you can get at Treasure Island!), pasta ($1 a bag), cereal bars, frozen bao and potstickers, and the jarred curries that I make my rice with. You can also pick up good boxed soups there that will double as pasta sauces.
  4. Buy cheap baseline items and dress it up with more expensive sauces. One of my staple dishes is rice-lentils-splitpeas and a jar of curry sauce. You can add other vegetables too, but it’s really tasty, and it’s only about $1.50 per serving.
  5. You can order bulk items on Amazon Prime, and this is helpful if you’re a fan of things like Pastaroni or other boxed foods. Students get 1 year free, then 3 more years at half price.
  6. Aldi is a good place to look for canned tuna, cookies, chocolate–everything that usually costs a lot in nice places is a reasonable, if not very cheap, price at Aldi. It’s also a good place to buy meat if you’re on a budget. I usually refrain from buying meat because of my budget, and then use the money I save to get meaty things at restaurants. It’s better to go to Aldi if you have a car, mostly because it’s a bulk store.

That’s my two cents on how to manage grocery shopping in Hyde Park. I’d appreciate plenty of additional comments. I know there are other stores that have good food (like Open Produce) that I don’t frequent very often.

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