If you’re like me, feeding your family healthy food while maintaining a reasonable grocery budget is a big family priority. And yet, it’s the one task that often causes me the most angst. What to make, how far to plan ahead (or “Oh no! I haven’t planned anything!”), making sure my boys (who are 2, 6 and 34) get enough healthy variety and perhaps the most stressful where to shop for good value and great deals. Coronado offers four grocery store options: Albertson’s, Boney’s Bayside Market, Vons and for military families, the Commissary. I’ve often wondered where the best place to shop in terms of quality, selection and value (ideally without having to go to multiple stores), so I set out with my trusty sidekick and 2-year-old eater of food (well, sometimes) to settle the dilemma once and for all.
I decided to compare 10 (or so) of the most popular grocery staples that, I think it’s safe to say, most families shop for: meat, produce, dairy, snacks and cereal. These are certainly regular items on our list.
The first stop on my research trip was Albertson’s. Let me just say I really like Albertson’s for many reason, namely two: they open early (6 am!) and they have REALLY nice carts. The wheels don’t wobble and squeak, and cause you to steer down the aisle all cock-eyed, there is lots of room up front for your kiddo and I don’t feel like I’m putting my groceries in a germy mess. But aside from that, they have a nice selection with a lot of variety. Their produce section is gorgeous, in my opinion, and they have lots of stuff my two year old LOVES, like broccoflower (kidding). Albertson’s has a great meat selection with a lot of organic options. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I loved their mix-and-match craft beer section. I was a little disappointed when I first learned that Albertson’s doesn’t offer a store card, but that quickly vanished when I got hooked on their Monopoly game (currently finished for the year).
After Albertson’s, my trusty sidekick and I ventured over to Boney’s. Boney’s Bayside Market reminds me of a family run, small town grocer, probably because it is! I love Boney’s. They should put couches in there because I want to just hang out there. The store is beautiful and they offer such a nice mix of grocery staples as well as bulk food bins, vitamins and supplements and eco-friendly household goods. It’s like Coronado’s own version of Whole Foods. My only lament about Boney’s is that it’s a big pricey for this military family’s budget, but if you play your cards right, you can catch great weekly specials on produce, meat and a few other items like milk and cheese. I do have a give a shout out to their meat selection. Their meat counter is amazing and features Wagyu New York Strip, thick sliced Boney’s bacon, organic free range chicken and grass fed beef. I do also really enjoy the soups and sandwiches from the deli. Perfect for those nights when I haven’t planned dinner!
Next up was Von’s. I am originally from the East coast and grew up with Safeway, so when we moved to California two years ago, I was a little excited to see a West coast version, with some of the same brands I grew up on. The Vons in Coronado is much smaller than some of the other Vons stores in San Diego, but it still offers a full selection of grocery items which enables it to be a one stop shop for residents and tourists. They do offer a store savings card the Vons Club Card and something that is totally amazing grocery delivery. I have never taken advantage of this magical service, but mark my words – I will. I usually have kids in tow when I shop, so the thought of propping my feet up while I’m sipping my craft beer clicking away ordering groceries sounds like the best thing ever.
Our last stop (disclosure: we broke the research trips up into a couple of days since naptime rules the day at our house) was the Commissary at North Island. I have a love/hate relationship with the commissary. Overall, the commissary seems to have the best prices on groceries, specifically middle aisle items, or what my 6 year old calls “ingredients,” but I don’t think it offers the best quality or selection of produce and their meat selection can be hit or miss. It also doesn’t open until 10:00, which strikes me as odd since when you consider that with everything else with the military, the day is half over by then. The commissary is where my family does the bulk of our shopping, so I’ve all but memorized the layout of the store and can get in and out without incident, even with kids.
So, when it comes down to it, I compared prices and quality on our family’s top grocery items.
Meat: I’m married to a midwesterner – so we usually have meat on the menu every night. I looked at ground beef, chicken breasts and then either roasts/steaks/bacon – whatever seemed to jump out at me. Here’s what I found:
Ground Beef: Commissary: $1.01/lb , Albertson’s: $4.39/lb (store brand), Von’s: $.79/lb
Chicken: Commissary: $2.75/lb (Tyson), Boney’s: $11.99/lb (Smart Chicken, organic, free range), Albertson’s: $4.99/lb (Foster Farms), Vons: $2.99/lb (Eating Right)
Boney’s also offers Ribeye steaks for $16.99/lb, Filet for $29.99/lb and thick sliced bacon (Boney’s brand) for $7.07/lb. Albertson’s offers ground bison for $8.99/lb and Vons also offers lamb and veal.
It’s almost impossible to compare the meat selections at each store because there is such a difference in brands and quality that is offered, and it depends on what you’re looking for. The commissary simply doesn’t offer the organic options that the other three stores do, but that said, their meat selection is more affordable. You can find good deals on the weekly specials at the other three stores and of course, stock up when things are on sale.
Dairy: Milk does a body good and we drink a lot of it. We eat a lot of eggs too and probably go through about 845,372 cheese sticks per week in my family, so I compared these dairy items. We don’t typically buy organic milk on a regular basis, but for the purposes of this article I compared prices on Organic Valley and Horizon half gallons.
Milk: Commissary $3.79 (OV) / $3.99 (Horizon), Boney’s: $4.79 (OV and Horizon), Albertson’s:$5.49 (Horizon), Von’s: $5.59 Horizon.
This was a no brainer. The commissary has the best price on organic milk.
Eggs: Commissary: $2.19/dozen (Eggland’s Best), Boney’s: $2.99/dozen (Hilliker’s), Albertson’s: $3.99/dozen (store brand), Von’s: $4.69/dozen (Eggland’s Best).
Egg prices seemed to vary due to the differing brands, so it’s a toss up. Each store offers their own organic, cage free, free range options as well, which means an increase in price as well.
Cheese Sticks: Commissary: $5.34/24 (Frigo), Boney’s: $3.99/10 (Organic Valley), Albertson’s: $5.99/12 (Precious), Von’s: $5.99/6 (Organic Valley)
The commissary has the best price on cheese sticks if you are not looking for an organic option.
Produce: I consider myself pretty lucky that my kids are, for the most part, good eaters, with the exception of my two year old at dinner. They both like fruits and veggies and on occasion, I can even get my first grader to eat a salad. We are also big smoothie drinkers, so it’s a great opportunity for me to sneak in some greens, especially when I know dinner is probably going to be a flop for our toddler. I compared the following top produce items in our house: spinach, bananas, and avocados.
Spinach: Commissary: $.99/bunch, Boney’s: $.87/bunch: Albertson’s: $1.59/bunch: Von’s: $1.69/bunch
Bananas: Commissary: $.59/lb, Boney’s: $.65/lb, Albertson’s: $.69/lb, Von’s: $.69/lb
Avocados: Commissary: $.59/each, Boney’s: $1.67 each (XL Hass), Albertson’s: $1.99 each (large Hass), Von’s: 2/$3 (small organic Hass)
The produce prices at Boney’s really surprised me, as I expected it to be much more expensive. On some items, Boney’s beat the commissary prices! And typcially, the produce quality at Boney’s is exceptional. We eat a lot of avocados and the ones at the commissary are oftentimes too mushy to even use. I’ve found that to be true for many other produce items at the commissary as well, they simply don’t keep long. We buy a lot of produce and it’s important for it to be able to stick around for awhile. You’re not saving any money if you just end up having to throw it away at home. While it requires an extra grocery stop, I declare Boney’s at the produce winner.
Cereal: I really don’t prefer cereal as a breakfast for my kids, because I think they need a little more in their bellies to start the day other than something that will only keep them full for an hour or so. But, it’s easy and sometimes on a school day morning when nothing is going right, Cheerios it is! We don’t really buy that much cereal, but I was having fun looking at all the different brands, and fantasizing about serving my boys fancy organic options. As any mom will tell you, the cereal aisle is like the gauntlet and I usually try to avoid it when I’m grocery shopping with children, which is all the time. Brightly colored expensive boxes of refined sugar, what kid wouldn’t love that! Especially since there are 500 kinds to choose from. What is it with cereal anyway?
I looked at Barbara’s, Mom’s Best, Kashi and Cheerios, because they are the official car snack of toddlers everywhere. Of course, each store carried different brands from the next, and the one brand in common among all four was Kashi.
Kashi Go Lean: Commissary: $3.24, Boney’s: $3.99, Albertson’s: $4.79, Von’s: $3.99
Commissary wins again.
Snacks: “MOMcanIhaveasnack?” All. Day. Long. I probably spend 95% of my life in the kitchen preparing meals, cleaning up from meals and thinking about the next meal. And in between I’m handing out snacks like a card dealer in a Vegas casino. It never ends! What’s the one thing I can always count on my two year old eating? Goldfish. But to make me feel better about myself, I looked at Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies instead. (Perhaps it’s to make up for the cereal guilt.) Of course the commissary doesn’t carry these, or at least I can’t ever find them. Which is why I buy Goldfish. In the economy size carton. But the other three do.
Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies: Boney’s: $3.89 (multiple flavors), Albertson’s: $5.59, Von’s: $3.99.
Von’s is the victor this time.
So there you have it. My top grocery items compared and contrasted from our various shopping options in Coronado. Each location definitely has its pros and cons, but it’s nice to know that in our tiny little slice of paradise, we have choices, and good ones, depending on where we sit with our budget and what we might have a hankering for. In a perfect world, I’d shop at the commissary for all my middle aisle “ingredients,” Boney’s for meat and produce and Albertson’s for beer.
Just thinking about that makes me tired. I think we’ll go out to eat tonight.
Did I miss something? What items are always on your grocery list? Tell us in the comments.
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