Cost Comparison: A Week’s Worth of Zero Waste Meals from the Grocery Store v. the Farmer’s Market

Hey Zero Waste fam,

Hope everyone is having a beautiful start to the summer! I’ve had this post in the works for you for a few months now, and I’m so glad to finally share it.

A few months ago, a wise coworker (and fellow zero waste blogger) here at GG suggested I conduct this experiment. I would say the results would surprise you, but really the only part I found surprising were the actual totals ($$$). So let’s dive in!

I think anyone that has shopped at a farmers market knows this form of shopping has a slightly higher price tag than shopping at the grocery store, especially when opting for organic.  And although this is the case, I still try (but often fail) to frequent the farmers market, because I know the money spent there goes directly to the farmer and supports local, sustainable agricultural practices. However, as I’m a mere millennial living in Los Angeles with student loans, bills, etc., shopping exclusively at the farmers market is simply not in my economics at the moment. And frankly, wouldn’t completely satisfy the ingredients needed for many of the meals I cook.

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Now, I recognize shopping at the farmers market means you’re also purchasing what’s “in season”, and although it’s sometimes hard to tell the seasons in SoCal, there are still “seasons” for much of the produce grown here, and this too is a more sustainable way of purchasing your produce. If something is “in season”, it’s more likely to have been produced locally, is fresher and more nutritious, and therefore less likely to be covered in wax, have been frozen, or some other practice that preserves most conventional produce.

ANYWAY… when forming this experiment, I tried to plan meals with ingredients I knew would be easy to find at both the grocery store and the farmers market; this meant the meals had to be mostly, if not all, produce. Challenge accepted.

To note, for both weeks there were some ingredients I already had in my pantry or freezer, and because very small amounts of these ingredients were used, I didn’t include the cost (i.e. ¼ cup frozen peas, coconut oil, spices, etc.).

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Grocery Store Meals - This week’s groceries added up to a grand total of $42.66.

My meals this week consisted of the following:

Breakfast

  • Eggs & avocado toast
  • Bananas/apples & peanut butter
  • Buddha bowl (sweet potatoes, kale, egg, avocado, and sauerkraut)

Lunch

  • Spaghetti (GF noodles, tomato sauce, kale, garlic)
  • Dinner leftovers – curry or minestrone soup

Dinner

  • Cauliflower-crust pizza (cauliflower, garlic, red onion, mozzarella, tomato sauce, kale, egg)
  • Curry (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, coconut milk, red onion, garlic, ginger, peas, rice, chickpeas, spices)
  • Minestrone soup (sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, kidney beans, GF noodles, veggie stock)

Farmers Market Meals - This week’s groceries added up to a grand total of $80.90.

My meals this week consisted of the following:

Breakfast

  • Eggs & avocado toast
  • Apples
  • Almonds

Lunch

  • Salad (ingredients: kale, romaine, beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, red onion, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, lemon, tahini)

Dinner

  • Minestrone soup (as described above)

What I Learned

1. For literally half the cost, I was able to buy a much wider variety of groceries from the store than from the farmers market (25 ingredients bought from the grocery store vs. 18 ingredients from the farmers market).

2. Although produce from the farmers market isn’t adorned with a PLU sticker and you don’t receive a receipt for your purchases, shopping at the grocery store really doesn’t stick you with THAT much more waste if you’re careful what you buy & refuse your receipt at the register.

3. Planning a week’s worth of meals in advance is tricky, especially when it hurts your heart to waste food. I generally only plan my meals for a few days at a time, because I know nothing will be wasted this way.. but when you’re a busy lady and only have time to make it to one farmers market in the week due to their specific hours, it can seem a little overwhelming.. especially as you’re walking down 3rd Street Promenade with 4 bulging bags at your sides as you make your way back to the office during your lunch hour.

4. I will never again complain for the price hikes of avocados at the grocery store when organic farmers market avocados are $4 a pop!

5. Eating the same meals every day is boring.

In hindsight, I probably should’ve completed my farmer’s market week of groceries before the grocery store week, knowing the farmers market would have less variety and that I should make both weeks a more apples-to-apples comparison. However, had this been the case, it looks to me like the cost disparity would’ve been even greater.

So there you have it folks, a cost comparison of a week’s worth of zero waste meals from the grocery store vs. the farmers market. My best of luck to you as you navigate your way through preventing food waste, while keeping with your budget and supporting local agriculture. Hope this post was informative (and not at all discouraging)!

Always,

Madisen

Madisen Gittlin