So the holidays are officially in full swing. And I LOVE it! I absolutely love the holiday season and look forward to it all year long. So, I am one happy girl right about now. One of the reasons I love the holidays so much is because of the food (just being honest). However, I know this aspect of the holiday season can be very stressful for people (on top of all the other stressful aspects) especially when you are trying to transition or stay committed to your real food lifestyle. With all of the parties and potlucks scattered in between the big days there is a lot of food going on. Add all those grocery bills to other holiday costs and no wonder money gets tight during this time of year! So, I totally understand the need to cut costs where you can. Because of this you may find yourself resorting to the low prices of the commissary.
The commissary here on Camp Pendleton is definitely not one of my favorite places. Actually, it is one of my least favorites. I kinda hate it. It’s usually busy, the lighting is just awful, and it is packed full of some of the worst “foods” ever made. And seeing the multiple shopping carts filled to the brim of these less than optimal food choices really just makes me sad. Even though the quality is pretty poor, yes I know, it is cheap. Cheaper than a lot of other grocery stores, and certainly cheaper than premium grocery stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts.
However, what I can say for them is that I can at least see them trying and making additions of new products that are higher quality. And that is just in the less than two years that I have been here on base. Today I will be sharing with you some tips for commissary shopping as well as products they sell so that next time you are there you can be on the look-out and try them out if you feel so inclined.
One of my biggest grocery shopping tips is to get your groceries from a handful of different places. I know, this might seem like a lot more work, but it really can help you save money while still getting the highest quality of food that you can. Another thing to keep in mind- don’t forget about your local farmers’ markets. People often think that grocery stores are so much cheaper than farmers’ markets, but it is honestly not always the case. You can get some terrific deals at farmers’ markets and the food is always going to be fresher. I usually hit the farmers’ market first and get what I can there. The market here in Oceanside (which runs from 9am-1pm on Thursdays) has a pretty good selection of produce as well as some gorgeous flowers. However, they do not have any meat or dairy vendors and very seldom have eggs (plus, the folks that do sometimes have eggs there would not give me very straight answers about them, so I do not often buy from them). If you want some great quality meat and eggs I would recommend hunting down the folks at Da-Le Ranch. They are at markets everyday except Monday and hit spots like Temecula, Escondido and Solana Beach. So a little more of a drive, but definitely worth it if you want some good meat. After I go to the farmers’ market, I get the rest of what I need from either Sprouts of Whole Foods and, yes, even the commissary. I’ll let you know what I feel good about getting from the commissary in just a bit. (Or scroll on down if you’re an eager beaver)
Another grocery shopping tip is to watch out for buzz words. Just because something has nice packaging that boasts words like “healthy,” “gluten-free,” “organic,” or “all-natural” whatever, doesn’t mean that it is a great option. These are words that almost anyone can slap on their product just to make you buy it. Don’t fall for it. In all honesty, most all-natural, healthy food doesn’t come in a package that someone can label anyway. Use your gut. You know what real food is. And if you use see something that looks good that you’d like to try out, I would recommend always checking the ingredient label. I have seen so many products that have all the nice buzzwords on the front of the package then I turn it around to find nothing but a load of crap listed under the ingredients label. Please, don’t fall for it. Plus, getting into the hang of checking ingredient labels is a pretty good habit to form anyway.
With all that said, there are a couple different things that I feel a-okay about buying at the commissary. For one, they are the same products I would end up buying at another grocery store, just for a better price. And secondly, buying these products at the commissary actually helps the commissary. If you are familiar with the term “vote with your dollar” it is something that applies here. It means that when you buy certain products you are in a way making a difference and encouraging better food choices in those establishments. Therefore, I like buying these products at the commissary because it will increase this product’s visibility and let suppliers know that consumers are interested in these types of products.
- Kerrygold Butter
I love, love, love Kerrygold. One, because I love butter and two because this butter is very well made, and tastes so much better. Kerrygold is made in Ireland and is made from all grass-fed cows. I am a huge fan of buying local, but unfortunately we do not take very good care of our animals and dairy here. Kerrygold does well in using well cared for dairy cows in order to produce their butter. The commissary carries Kerrygold for a much better price than you will find anywhere else. Seriously, like a dollar plus difference. So, I always get my butter at the commissary. And I usually stock up, too cause they don’t carry a very large supply of it and it will sometimes be sold out. Good to know I’m not the only one buying it though! The commissary also sometimes has Kerrygold’s cheeses in stock, too. Which are ah-mazing.
The commissary’s organic product section is pretty dismal. It hardly even exists. However, I usually buy my avocados at the commissary because they are on the EWG’s Clean 15 list. Which means that they are one thing you can buy non-organic and there isn’t much of a difference. This is a good list to consult for buying produce. It tells you what you definitely want to get organic and what you can get away with buying non-organic. Save yourself some money. The commissary usually has avocados for around 59-69 cents. And if you are here in Camp Pendleton, then your avocados won’t have travelled very far since Haas avocados are grown here in California. However, these are best to buy when avocados are in season.
- Dakota 100% Grass-Fed Ground Beef
For the most part STAY AWAY from the meat section at the commissary. It’s total crap. However, just recently (or at least from what I’ve noticed) they have started carrying a better selection of beef. It’s a really small section right in the top corner of the ground beef case. They have a few different brands, but the one I always get is Dakota Organic Grass-Fed ground beef. They are based out of Colorado, but source their meat from the U.S., Uruguay, and Australia. The price is usually $7.12* for one pound. However, Sprouts sometimes has grass-fed beef on sale for as low as $4.99 per pound (the usual price for their grass-fed ground beef is $7.99).** Which is a pretty good savings. This is one of the reasons I recommend shopping around at different markets. An important thing to note about grass-fed ground beef is that it can sometimes be finished with grains. If you are sensitive to grains or just prefer 100% grass-fed this is an important thing to look into. I contacted the folks at Dakota to see if their ground beef was finished with grass or grain and they assured me theirs is 100% grass-fed. Wahoo!
- Coconut Milk
At one of my very recent trips to the commissary, I was thrilled to see that they are now carrying an organic brand of coconut milk called Orchid’s. Coconut milk can sometimes be a good alternative to cow’s milk considering really good quality cow’s milk can be hard to find and also very pricey. This brand does use organic guar gum (as a stabilizer), so if you are sensitive to this ingredient this would not work for you. Finding coconut milk without guar gum is pretty difficult, but most include a bunch of other additives so in comparison this one is pretty clean. By buying this one at the commissary you will be saving between 50 cents and dollar compared to organic brands at other stores.
These are the staple items I always get at the commissary as opposed to other stores. The commissary actually does have some other good items hiding between the Doritio’s and Poptarts so if you have any you’d like to add on to this list let me know in the comments! I hope these tips help you out during the holiday season and from here on out! YAY CHRISTMAS!
*Price for Camp Pendleton’s commissary as of 12/06/15. Prices may differ at other commissaries.
**Price for Sprouts in Oceanside, California as of 12/06/15. Other locations may differ in price.