How This California Cookbook Author and TV Host Feeds Herself and Her Extended Family for $500 a Week
Stephanie Harris-Uyidi doesn't skimp on groceries. In part, that's becaue she's a cookbook author and the host of a cooking and travel show, The Posh Pescatarian: Appetite for Adventure!, and she's constantly testing recipes for work.
But it's also because she's learned over time to proioritize quality food over other indulgences. "Aside from essentials like the mortgage and electricity expenses, food and ingredients are the major expenses," she says. "It used to be clothing but that has changed through the years."
Harris-Uyidi lives in coastal Southern California with her husband. She doesn't have kids, but does have a big family, including 10 nieces and nepews. She spends about $500 per week on groceries, a figure that ticked up during the pandemic as she packaged up freezer meals to take to her essential-worker family members.
"My sister is a physician and works long stressful hours," explains Harris-Uyidi. "It's a real treat for her and I enjoy doing it. That's a long way of saying I spend a lot on groceries lately!"
Here's how she spends her sizable budget toward wholesome seafood-centric meals for her own household and loved ones' homes, too.
Embrace the Pescatsarian Lifestyle
Harris-Uyidi became a pescatarian more than 17 years ago. At that time, she was living in Los Angeles, with wide access to ethnic food markets where fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are abundant and inexpensive. "This allowed me to spend a bit more on seafood and spices during the early days," she says. "I soon learned to explore new types of seafood, beyond shrimp and salmon."
She encourages anyone transitioning to the pescatarian lifestyle to be open to trying all types of seafood — tinned fish, frozen seafood, and unusual cuts — for cost savings as well as exploration. "For example, tinned fish used to carry the stigma of being a cheap emergency kit staple — think old-school sardines in cottonseed oil," she says."Things have changed over the years and tinned fish is an excellent, high-quality option."
Consider Grocery Shopping an 'Experience,' Not a Chore
Like many people in the pandemic, Harris-Uyidi shifted to buying some of her groceries online. These days, she says she's "obsessed" with Instacart, noting she has the paid subscription and uses it several times weekly.
But there's no substitute for the experience of food shopping in person. "I enjoy shopping at ethnic markets and treat them like a mini-food tour," she says, "I love talking to the clerks and my fellow shoppers — we share recipe ideas and ask each other questions like, 'What are you going to do with that?' or 'How do you cook with that?' It's so much fun."
Here's what her typical grocery list looks like:
- frozen seafood
- tinned fish
- legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
- veggie burgers
- fresh and canned fruit
- fresh and canned vegetables
- tortillas, pita, croissants
- dairy products (cheese, sour cream yogurt)
She also grows and catches her own food when possible, noting the instinct and know-how runs in the family. "I come from a farm-to-table family and grew up growing and catching my own food," she says. "My grandparents had a full-fledged farm and even had a fishpond on their property, and my parents currently have a small organic farm and grow avocados, herbs, citrus fruit, root vegetables, and greens of all kinds."
Build Meals Around Foundational Ingredients
Harris-Uyidi says strategic meal planning is "one of my favorite things to do," and she makes it part of her regular routine. "It's the foundation of my hospping list — 10 or 15 minutes of scouting sales, taking inventory of your fridge, and jotting down meal ideas can be an effective way to budget and efficiently grocery shop," she says. "To keep it simple and healthy, make sure each meal includes one source of protein, at least one vegetable — bonus points for adding veggies to breakfast — and a whole-grain or nutrient-rich starch, with fruit for a snack or dessert."
She suggests signing up to receive weekly specials by mail or email if your local grocery store offers it. "Every week, peruse the flier for deals on produce, meats, fish, whole grains, and dairy and pantry staples, and plan your next few meals using those foods," she says.
Consider a couple of her go-to receipe staples: black beans and smoked fish. "Both of these ingredients can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner," she says. Here are some ways she'd do it:
- smoked trout egg bites
- black bean veggie burrito
- smoked trout quesadillas
- setting up a "taco bar" or "salad bar" and allowing family "to choose their adventure" based on what she has on hand
Be a Strategic Shopper for Healthy Foods
When it comes to cost savings, she suggests sticking with store brands, which can save an average of 15 to 30 percent compared to name brands without sacrifice. "Just be sure to check the ingredient label before buying to make sure the quality is similar," she says.
She also suggests buying in bulk and sourcing ingredients from ethnic markets, which often have great deals on fruits, veggies, grains, and smoked fish.
Further, she recommends paying attention to the large bins of produce that greet you at the grocery store: "They're often filled with in-season fruits and veggies that retailers are looking to unload for a deep discount."
Farmers' markets can be a great way to get superfresh, in-season produce for less, because they cut out the middlemen, "who can take up to $0.92 of every food dollar spent," she explains. "On the contrary, farmers' markets take only $0.06 from every dollar a farmer earns, allowing them to sell you their produce for less and actually make more money."
Last, save money — and boost flavor — by make your own snack packs for convenience instead of buying prepackaged ones, she suggests.
"Fancy salad dressings, gourmet granola and 100-calorie snack packs — these convenience foods add up quickly," she says. "Making your own staples is an easy way not only to save money but also to eat healthier versions of your favorite convenience foods, since they won't contain preservatives and you can control the amount of added salt and sugar. Experiment with making homemade versions — after a couple tries, it'll be hard to go back!"