A year ago, I decided to go supermarket free. I was tired of giving money to Coles and Woolworths. They’re basically a duopoly, I think they’re unethical in the way they treat their suppliers, and they have far too much market share. I don’t like the way you’re manipulated by their store designs so that you spend $50 every time you go in, even if you’ve only just gone in for milk.
So I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and stop buying from them. How has my supermarket free year worked out?
I’m happy to say that it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it might be, and I’ll never go back! My husband was fairly easy to convince from the outset, although my kids were a little more tricky to win over. Going cold turkey was the easiest way to handle it, and they’ve gradually got used to the ‘new normal’.
When we were first thinking of going supermarket free, lots of my friends predicted that we wouldn’t be able to do it. But it really hasn’t been that hard. Here’s how we’ve done it.
Where to buy fruit and vegetables
We’re lucky to have a good local greengrocer. They don’t sell any organics, but we don’t eat exclusively organic anyway. I do try to avoid the Dirty Dozen, and buy these organic though.
We have a great farmers market out at St Andrews, but it’s not always easy to get there when the kids have Saturday morning activities. When we can, we get out there and stock up. Then we come home and chop and freeze any excess.
There’s another local farmers market in Eltham, which is easier to get to for us because it’s on a Sunday. So we go there and buy lovely produce in season.
Friends with farms and big backyards share stuff with us when they’ve got bumper crops, and we turn things into chutneys and jams and give them some back.
And the best thing is that the fruit and veg we buy from these places lasts longer because it’s fresh. It hasn’t been kept in cold storage for weeks or even months.
If you don’t have a good local greengrocer, have a look at someone like Aussie Farmers Direct or if you’re looking for organic, try an organic box delivery service or your local farmers market.
I’ve always been pretty keen on making my kids eat fruit and veg instead of packaged snacks, and if you don’t go to the supermarket, packaged snacks are much harder to find. So keeping lots of fruit and snacking type veg on hand gives the kids something healthy to munch when they’re feeling peckish. Changing your habits is a big part of eating healthier.
Where to buy meat
We have a great local butcher who sells free range and organic meat, so we often shop there. Their meat is properly free range, and I’ve checked all their suppliers to make sure.
I’ve also bought organic meat, especially chicken, online from Cherry Tree Organics.
I’ve bought free range meat from our local farmers market in Eltham, and one of the local suppliers has actually opened a butcher in Eltham, too.
I get bones and make stock, so I don’t have to buy that, either.
My dad used to supply us with a bit of fish, but we’re not getting so much off him at the moment. Fortunately, we have a reasonably good fishmonger locally, too.
Where to buy dairy and eggs
We get our dairy products and eggs from Aussie Farmers Direct, who deliver to our door twice a week. Our milk is biodynamic (and I swear it’s the best milk I’ve ever tasted) and our eggs are certified organic and free range. We get cheese and yoghurt, too, although for good cheese we sometimes treat ourselves to something from Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder or Jones the Grocer.
If we run out of milk or yoghurt, we either go without until our next delivery, or I nip down to our local deli that has a good range of organic and independent dairy products.
Where to buy bread
We don’t eat an awful lot of bread, but I usually keep a couple of loaves in the freezer. We buy them at the farmers market, at a local bakery that does sourdough bread, or we sometimes make our own bread in the breadmaker.
What to do about breakfast cereals when you’re supermarket free
This is one huge advantage to going supermarket free. I hate packaged cereals. They’re overprocessed and packed with sugar. So that was one thing I was glad to ditch. My kids weren’t quite so happy about it, but after some inevitable whining, they soon got used to it. Instead, we eat oats. Oats in porridge, oats in bircher muesli, toasted into yoghurt toppings, and oats blitzed into smoothies.
We eat eggs. Boiled with soldiers, fried, omelettes, scrambled, with avocado and fetta, with bacon and sausage, in a sandwich on the go.
We have smoothies. Oats, chia seeds, coconut milk, cows milk, fruit, nuts, LSA, protein powders, cacao powder. We’ve all got really good at throwing together a smoothie that will keep us going til lunchtime, even my youngest. My husband makes sure we’ve got chopped bananas and frozen fruit in the freezer, and I keep small portions of frozen coconut milk in the freezer to chuck in, too.
Occasionally, we make pancakes or pikelets and make extras so that we can reheat them and eat them during the week.
We eat leftovers for breakfast. Yes, sometimes it’s pizza (although that’s pretty rare). But often it’s roasted veggies from the weekend, topped with an egg or mixed into an omelette. It might be mashed potato mixed up into bubble and squeak, or mixed into a hash with some leftover meat. When it’s good leftovers, it’s curry and dahl – my favourite weird breakfast foods. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers for breakfast, and they’re a damn sight better for you than packaged cereals.
What about personal products?
Obviously, I buy all my personal products through Hello Charlie. It is my business, after all! It’s been years since I’ve bought shampoo, shower gel, makeup, skincare, even personal care products at a supermarket or chemist, because I’m lucky enough to be able to get all these things at work.
But it’s not that hard – there’s plenty of places like Hello Charlie where you can buy products online. You can also go to your local healthfood shop or organic store, or even a locally owned chemist (I count the likes of Priceline and Chemist Warehouse direct as ‘supermarkets’).
Where to buy cleaning products
I do get a lot of my cleaning products at Hello Charlie, too. I love Ecostore, Abode and Ecover and use them all at home. But I bought Enjo products years ago, and am still using them. I do have a cleaner who comes once a fortnight, but she uses Enjo stuff, too. This really cuts down on how many cleaning products I need.
What about toilet paper?
I found a local supplier of cleaning products who sells toilet paper that’s made from bamboo, straw, and sugarcane pulp and they deliver Australia wide. I may have slightly overestimated last year when I was ordering, because we’ve only just run out of my initial purchase! (Good thing we have a big garage for storage!).
Although I don’t use paper towels or serviettes at home (we use reusable versions instead) you can probably buy these at a similar supplier.
Where you do buy basic groceries?
Basic groceries for things like flour, tea, sugar, rice, oats, dried fruit, nuts, beans, and tinned stuff we tend to buy in bulk online and have it delivered. Honest to Goodness has a good range of stuff, as does The Source Bulk Foods and we also do trips to Asian grocery stores and Mediterranean grocery stores to stock up on stuff like spices, noodles, pasta and things like pickles in jars.
We buy honey locally, make most of our own jam (which is really not as hard as you’d think – my husband is a dab hand at it now!) and buy it at farmers markets and craft markets. We make biscuits and cakes, and we don’t do it that often, so it’s helped my family to cut back on sugar, too.
What about treats?
We do the occasional trip to our local IGA, and there’s a small supermarket/deli in the next suburb that I’ll sometimes make a trip to for things like chips and crackers if we really fancy some. They also sell frozen berries and stuff like frozen peas and corn that we usually keep in the freezer, as well as puff and filo pastry that we’re not very good at making! We also get things like vegemite and ground coffee beans from the little locally owned supermarket/deli.
I make popcorn in the popcorn maker, and flavour it up. We buy raw nuts in bulk and roast them off with sweet and savoury flavourings.
I buy dark chocolate in bulk from a shop that I discovered a while ago. Whereas my husband will sit and eat a whole block of Cadbury’s if we’ve got it in the house, he doesn’t do that with dark chocolate. The kids have got used to dark chocolate, and it means they still get treats. Plus I can bake it into things like choc chip cookies, which everyone loves.
We buy cakes at cake stalls and freeze them. I love doing this. You’re helping local community groups, and you get a great variety of stuff to try at home.
My husband misses things like HP Sauce (he is English, after all) and Worcestershire sauce, but there are independent supermarkets around where you can get this kind of stuff. We do a couple of visits a year to Leo’s in Kew or Heidelberg for stuff that you really need to buy in a supermarket, like matches, olive oil and tomato sauce.
Think about where you buy your alcohol
BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Vintage Cellars, 1st Choice and Liquorland are all owned by the supermarkets (Woolworths and Wesfarmers), so we won’t shop there either. We’re very fortunate to have an excellent local bottle shop called Nillumbik Cellars (who ship Australia wide) and their service is brilliant. They’ve got an amazing range of stuff, and they always, always carry my purchases out to the car for me.
Changing your thinking and your habits to go supermarket free
One of the best (and according to my kids, worst) things about being supermarket free is that you don’t get a lot of packaged foods. So if your weekly grocery shop includes jars of pasta sauce, muesli bars, chips, crackers, juices and soft drinks, avoiding the supermarkets gets a lot more difficult.
It’s meant that we have to cook most things from scratch. But even that’s not as difficult as it sounds. We’ll often spend a couple of hours at the weekend cooking in batches, but it’s certainly not every weekend. I work full time, my husband works full time, he does voluntary work as a director on a board, and between them, our children have activities every day except Sunday. So it’s not like either of us have a lot of spare time up our sleeve. Somehow, though, we cook dinner every night and don’t resort to packaged food from the supermarket.
When you can’t (or won’t) run down to the supermarket for things you’ve forgotten, you have to get more creative with what you’ve got in the cupboard or fridge. You get better at combining what’s already there, and learning what substitutes well. You have to get better at planning ahead, and you waste less food.
Admittedly, some things are more expensive. But we tend not to overbuy, and it’s not often that we buy stuff that we don’t need just because it’s on special. I reckon we spend about the same, and we definitely eat better.
Buying in bulk means that we don’t have to go shopping every week (except for fruit and veg), so it saves time, too.
Shopping locally means being part of your community
I think my favourite part of not going to the supermarket is that I’ve got to know my local shopkeepers. I’m on first name terms at the greengrocers, which also means that I get all the best and freshest fruit and veg. They tell me if my husband has already been in that day, because they know my whole family. My butcher cuts meat for me just how I want it, and saves me bones for stocks and for my big dog. Which reminds me, I buy pet food and cat litter from my lovely local pet shop, too.
The guy at my local independent coffee shop knows what coffee I want without asking me, and my local bottle shop will get specialty beer in for my beer loving English husband.
I actually know these people in my community, and it’s a pleasure to go and spend my money there, knowing it’s going to be put back into the community and support local families, rather than paying out to shareholders and squeezing farmers.
When I first started talking about going supermarket free, I was amazed at how many other people were doing it, too. It turns out there’s a whole movement out there. If you’re sick of Coles and Woolworths, ditch them. Have a look at the Supermarket Free website for even more ideas on how you can go supermarket free, too!
Have I inspired you to go supermarket free? Share your thoughts and questions!
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