This Food Editor Shops at the Farmers' Market First to Feed Her Family of 5 — Here's How

The California culinary pro fills in her grocery list only after scoring farm-fresh staples.

Nadia Hubbi in the kitchen behind the counter
Photo: Courtesy of Nadia Hubbi

In addition to working as a food editor and sharing Middle Eastern recipes on her blog, Sweet Pillar Food, Nadia Hubbi is a wife and mom to an 8-year-old daughter and 4- and 3-year-old sons.

As a mom, she focuses on buying foods her picky kids will eat, she says. As a food professional, she prioritizes fresh, high-quality foods and plant-based ingredients. Here's how this Orange County, Calif., home cook sources groceries to her standards without overbuying or overspending.

Farmers' Market First

Every week, Hubbi makes a farmers' market stop for produce. Ultimately, she finds that farmers' markets offer not only the freshest ingredients but sometimes the most affordable, too.

"I go through onions and garlic like no other, and the price difference between a traditional supermarket and a farmers' market or [international] supermarket is substantial," she says.

She explains that she can buy produce for an entire week for less than $50 at her international farmers' market, whereas similar ingredients could cost close to $200 at a traditional supermarket.

"Just this morning I bought basil at $0.25 a bunch, whereas at a mainstream supermarket it's somewhere around $1.99," she says. "If I'm trying to make a pesto and I require a lot of basil, that is a significant savings."

Rounding Out the List

She also goes to the grocer Sprouts for bulk items like steel-cut oats and walnuts; plus Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or Target for specific snack items as well as protein like salmon or chicken.

On occasion, she'll also hit a traditional supermarket, such as Ralphs, for items she can't find elsewhere — and she enjoys the shopping time. "I actually enjoy going through the grocery store," she says. "It's a place where I get inspired, so I haven't gotten on board with online grocery shopping yet."

She makes a point to keep a running list to manage the family inventory and ensure that she always has what she needs. "Whenever I notice something in my kitchen runs out — for example, dill weed in my spice drawer — use the Notes app on my phone and immediately enter it so I remember when I'm at the store," she says.

Splurge-Worthy Priorities

Hubbi says she won't compromise when it comes to buying grass-fed meat and free-range eggs. "As a family, we cut back on eating red meat significantly," she says. "We gave it up completely at one point but then got sucked back into eating it. So, when we do eat meat, I make sure it's the best quality."

For convenience, she buys Saffron Road frozen entrees ("especially the Thai basil noodles and biryani one — so good!") because she knows the brand uses grass-fed and antibiotic-free meat.

While she says she once favored shopping in bulk because she thought it made her a "smarter" shopper, she's since changed her approach. "I realized a lot of it was just too much for my family, and there ended up being a lot of waste," she says.

"Nowadays, even if the smaller box is more expensive overall, I still buy it versus buying the bigger size. My fridge and pantry are fairly empty as a result so I can actually see what's in the back of the fridge and use everything I buy. There is a lot less waste," she says.

Cost-Saving Staples

Hubbi cites sardines among the affordable staples she likes to keep in her kitchen. "I know it might be too fishy for some, like my husband, but sardines are so delicious and so inexpensive," she says. "I get them from Costco, and they're so good with a generous squeeze of lime and cilantro. My picky kids even like them, so when my husband is out of town, that's what we eat!"

She also makes great use of onions, an affordable and versatile staple. "I absolutely love caramelized onions," she explains. "I'll caramelize like nine onions at once with good quality olive oil; they reduce so it ends up being a reasonable amount."

She uses caramelized onions on top of a lentil and bulgar Middle Eastern dish called mujaddara. She uses raw purple onion or roasted onion in salads. Or, she'll shred onions and mix them with ground beef and finely chopped parsley, salt, and pepper to make kebab.

Hubbi also says she's been making a "conscious effort" these days to eat more legumes, such as lentils and bulgar. "Lentils are so good for you," she says. And they're affordable, too.

"So, usually on a Monday morning, I'll boil lentils with some salt and a diced onion and set it aside. Throughout the week, I toss it in whatever I'm eating or mash it on lavash bread with tahini sauce and cabbage," she says. "It's an easy, great way to eat healthy, and it fills me up so quickly that I end up not snacking."

Chicken is another affordable, versatile, go-to staple in Hubbi's household. "I usually boil a chicken early in the week with carrots, onions, bay leaf, cardamom pods, salt, and pepper, and I can repurpose that all week," she says.

She'll shred the chicken and make chicken wraps, then dice the rest for a chicken salad for the kids' lunch the following day. She uses the broth for soup one day and to cook rice and veggies in another. "That's four days out of the week that we're set for by simply boiling a chicken," she says.

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