Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Usually they're from outside the U.S., but here's longtime SE'r Gator Pam with a window onto her world of grocery shopping in Florida. —The Mgmt.

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

I have never been a daily, fresh-to-the-market shopper. I would love to be, but using EBT for most of one's groceries tends to cause one to peruse the weekly ads and menu plan around them.

I'll tell you, the day Sam's Club started accepting EBT last year was a day of great rejoicing in my house.

My husband, who I call Hyperception on various forums, so will continue to do so here, gets paid every other week. So shopping tends to be a semimonthly occurrence, with stops more often for perishables such as milk and eggs.

Hyperception and I shop together. We focus on four stores on our semimonthly trips: a local family run grocery which specializes in local products called Wards; Sam's Club; Publix; and the new Walmart SuperCenter. We start every trip by perusing the weekly ads and comparing prices on specials that seem to be offered at more than one store that week. Keeping a portable price log helps too, so we can verify if a special at one store is actually cheaper than the regular going price at another. Those "10 for $10" specials some grocery chains tend to not really be all that, much of the time. We find many of those items sell regularly for around 79¢...

Once we have our list together, we grab our fabric grocery bags, our insulated thermal bags, and a cooler with several ice packs and hit the streets. One nice thing about living in a college town compared to the city: free parking at all stores and easy access to our van to pack things in to the cooler between stops.

Wards is our first stop. It is also our main produce stop; locally grown produce at reasonable prices is their main draw. Their fresh butcher counter is a huge plus as well, when we need to restock the freezer. They have a decent bulk area for the usual: herbs, spices, beans, grains, etc. And their selections of brews from around the world and micro-breweries is top-notched, on the rare occasion we do splurge.

Next we hit Sam's Club, and we actually bring in the thermal bags as we shop to put the frozen and cold in. Since Sam's doesn't have a weekly flyer that we know of, we take our time perusing the whole store to see what may strike our fancy or something they may have gotten in since our last visit which may just be less expensive than in the markets. Sam's tends to be our main source for frozen vegetables, meats, cheeses (I can not find Black Diamond Grand Reserve aged four years White Cheddar elsewhere for the life of me), and eggs, as well as paper goods and laundry products.

After the Sam's purchases are repacked in to the cooler, we head to Publix. We do shop their weekly ad closely; some of their BOGO offers are not bad. But Publix is mostly for staples for us; this is where the price log comes in handy.

After all that, we head to the Walmart SuperCenter. Not my favorite place to shop, and generally used again for staples such as Thomas' English Muffins, which sell for $1.97 at Wal-mart compared to nearly $3.00 at Publix.

Throughout the week we will make runs to CVS for milk, or to Wards or Publix for things we may run out of or may have forgotten. We do supplement this big trip with the occasional stop at Mother Earth, our local health food store for supplements and the rare splurge. Wal-mart will also see sporadic visits late at night when a craving for ice cream or something hits and all other places are closed.

Our shopping trips do usually take about three to four hours, so when we come home all meats that are not already frozen are put in to the refrigerator, an inventory of what we bought recorded as they are put away. That night I'll look at what we have and make a menu plan for the next two weeks accordingly, then the next day I will repackage the meats in to recipe sizes to be frozen to meet my menu plan. I will admit I don't always stick to plan; the nights we have certain meals may be moved around depending on schedule and just what strikes us. And we do enjoy eating out when we can.

But basically for us, sales and menu planning around them is the way to go.

Gator Pam

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