I always thought the way my mother, Anna Marie, shopped for food was ‘the norm,’ that is until I grew up and saw how the rest of the world shopped. I am a first generation Italian-American and for those of you who are the same, you know what that means: lots of food! It was very common for people in our family to have two refrigerators or two large freezers. The main fridge was kept in the kitchen with everyday food. The secondary fridge, usually in the garage or basement, was filled with frozen meats, cartons of juice, milk, cheese and bread, etc.
My mom was not a couponer by any means. This was before the big ‘Extreme Couponing’ craze. She learned how to shop from her mother, who learned how to shop from her mother, and so on and so forth. This, I believe, is a beautiful heritage that my mom has passed on to me and I hope to pass on to my children. The house was always filled with a variety of food and something was always cooking on the stove top. The reason this was possible was because of my mom’s version of ‘stockpiling.’
Instead of shopping on a day-to-day basis and being more spontaneous about dinner, my mom shopped according to the circular and would buy in bulk when there was a good sale. I would have friends come over and say, ‘wow, you always have food to feed a crowd!’-and this was true! We had an open-door policy at our house, and somehow my mom was always able to whip up dinner as if from ‘thin air.’
When I watch these over the top couponing shows I think to myself, ‘sure, it would be nice to have the time and energy to do that,’ and then reality sets in. I’m not wired that way. I don’t want to spend thirty hours a week clipping coupons, nor would I enjoy the pangs of seeing a $1000 check-out that might go down to $20, if I couponed correctly. Instead I have adopted my mother’s tried-and-true technique, and it works.
Her style of cooking I have named, ‘cupboard cooking,’ because when it was dinnertime she would cook from what was in the house. No fancy ingredients that you had to schlep to three stores to find-just good, ole fashioned Italian cooking. Between her family recipes (which of course are not written down but are more like ‘a little of this and a little of that) and my dad’s self-taught sous chef skills, we always had several courses to dinner with plenty of leftovers. The cupboard was always stocked with the basics: canned foods, spices, dried pasta, crushed tomatoes, etc. We also always had garlic, onions, and vegetables on hand. The freezer was packed to the gills with meats she bought on sale, and with that formula you cannot go wrong. There’s always something ready to be cooked for a fabulous dinner without breaking the bank.
Today I have adopted the same style of cooking and it has saved us a lot of money! We buy what’s on sale, and then we determine the meals for the week. It still boggles my mind when people tell me, ‘oh today we want lamb chops for dinner’, and they go buy it full price. That is something that, still today, would make my mom’s stomach turn. You buy on sale and you stock up! Sure, for a special occasion we may splurge-but to really save money over a long period of time you have to say ‘no’ to the full priced mayonnaise when it’s $5.20 a jar and wait for a sale. No matter if it was bathroom toiletries or cereal or snacks, we always had a cupboard full. She may not have clipped coupons, but she understood the same concept: save money and still eat well. Still today with her empty nest, my mother and my father both pride themselves on cooking for their family and always have enough food to feed the neighborhood. When I grow old and my kids are out of the house I hope they look back on their childhood with the same happiness as I do knowing that they always had filled tummies along with great family memories.
So my question to you is: what food heritage did your family pass on to you, and what shopping technique do you plan on passing on to your children? One day they will be shopping for themselves, it’s up to us to make sure it’s the right way.