Where has Aldi been all my life?

You all know Aldi, right?  That stand alone store with the blue A logo?  We didn’t have Aldi in the small town where I grew up, and the first time I saw one was when I was married and trying to do grown-up life stuff.  I didn’t go to Aldi because I didn’t know Aldi.  I went to Kroger because it was set up the same way as the Kroger back in my hometown, which meant I knew how to find items I needed.

Of course, I got the Aldi advertisement in my Thursday mail every week, but when you have babies, grocery shopping is NOT the time for experimentation.  One week, I saw that Aldi had baby trees for $10 each, so I decided to give it a go.  It was a total failure.  I had a baby and a toddler with me and didn’t know about the cart deal, so I was stuck trying to carry baby trees and manage two tiny people.  Then, because you have to walk through the entire store to get to the checkouts, I walked past 800,000,000 things that my toddler wanted to eat. Plus, they are all stacked on the floor so my toddler could totally see the options and help himself.

So, I was carrying baby trees, managing a baby and a toddler, and also carrying boxes of snacks by the time I got to the checkout.  I didn’t know about Aldi’s payment rules, so after the clerk had run everything up, I didn’t have enough cash and had to take items off my bill, one at a time, until I had enough to pay.  Then, I didn’t have any bags, so I had to try to negotiate all my stuff, and the toddlers, through the parking lot.

When I sat down in the front seat, I was hot and sweaty and tired.  I swore that Aldi was NOT a friend of mothers and that I would NEVER EVER go there again.

Fast forward seven years.  My friend Jen blogs about Aldi regularly.  She shops there multiple times a week.  She sings the praises of Aldi – the MILK!  The MEAT!  The PEOPLE!  The DEALS!  For real, Aldi should be paying her advertising dollars because I bet she has brought in a million dollars of revenue for them.  I have been spying on these posts for a while . . . and then, I heard around the holidays that Aldi was eliminating all artificial dyes from the store-brand foods.  This was huge for me – I am constantly trying to dodge food dyes, which show up in the most curious (and unnecessary) places.  The peace of mind of knowing that everything Aldi-branded in the store would be free of dyes?  So cool!  Then, I did a little internet research, and found out that Aldi and Trader Joe’s are sister companies.  I LOVE Trader Joe’s, so I started thinking maybe I should give Aldi another chance.

However, the holidays are not a time for grocery experimentation.  I was too busy making awesome memories and delicious food and wrapping gifts to venture out of my comfort zone.  But then, Aldi struck again – I read an article that the organic and natural food offerings at Aldi are completely awesome.

This was clearly a sign.  I needed to get my bod to Aldi and check things out, now that my children are in school and I use reusable bags on the regular and I actually have quarters in my car.

What you need to know before you go:  Bring a quarter for your cart.  Bring your own bags, and plan time to bag your own groceries.  Aldi only takes cash or debit cards.  The way Aldi keeps prices low is by not stocking things on shelves – most items in the store are still in a cardboard carton that has been cut open.

The good:  I was able to find almost everything on my shopping list.  The prices on organics, natural food, and produce were beyond belief.  I can’t even process the price on organic milk – SO GREAT.  I remembered my quarter so I could use a cart, which has double baby seats in the front.  Way to go, Aldi, for making space for multiple kids.  I brought cash and my reusable bags, so I was able to checkout with my dignity intact.  The beer and wine selection was super; I just hope it tastes good.

The bad:  The organization of the store is not intuitive to me.  I spent a lot of time wandering, scanning up and down the aisles, trying to figure out where items could be found.  Aisles have random cardboard boxes of stuff in them, which makes navigating your double-wide cart around other people and carts tricky.

Overall impression:  promising, bordering on great.  While I could find almost everything I needed, it was NOT a quick stop.  I wandered a lot, and waited for people to move their carts a lot.  I am not sure Aldi will be place I go for just a few items right now, but maybe as I become more comfortable, that will change.

Your turn – what items do you love to get at Aldi?  Are there types of beer or wine or coffee or something that I should try?

 

 

 

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Obsessed: Spaghetti Squash

You’ve seen these guys at the store, right?  I am telling you, spaghetti squash is where it is at – healthy, filling, and super easy to prepare.  I have been making this dish once a week ever since Thanksgiving.  The water content and fiber are exactly what my body needed to get me through the holiday season.  It is ready in a snap.

BAKED SPAGHETTI SQUASH (1 hour), serves 8

Ingredients:

one spaghetti squash

one jar of pasta sauce (or make your own!)

one lb of protein (I like ground beef, ground turkey, or sausage)

frozen spinach

chopped onion

two diced garlic cloves

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375.  Slice the squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out the loose seeds with a spoon.  Put a centimeter of water into the bottom of an oven-safe pan and place both halves of the squash in, face down.  Cook in the oven for 40-50 minutes.  Check on it every so often – when you poke the rounded backside of the squash with a fork and it is tender, pull it out of the oven.  Use a potholder and a fork to flip the halves out of the pan and rest them on a cutting board to cool.

On the stove, warm olive oil over low and sweat the onion and garlic until fragrant.  Then, add the protein and cook over medium until brown, seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add the frozen spinach and the pasta sauce, and lower the heat to low.

While the sauce comes together, use a spoon to remove the remaining seeds in each squash half.  Then, use a fork to gently pull the flesh of the squash out of the rind – it usually comes out pretty easily – and put into a large bowl.  Use two forks to shred the squash into “noodles”.  The more you shred it, the more it seems like real pasta.  Add the warmed sauce, and stir it up.

This dish is super healthy, filling, and kid friendly.

According to Wikipedia, one cup of spaghetti squash contains:

Spaghetti squash, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 130 kJ (31 kcal)
6.91 g
Sugars 2.76 g
Dietary fiber 1.5 g
0.57 g
0.64 g
Vitamins
Vitamin A equiv.

(1%)

6 μg

(1%)

64 μg

Thiamine (B1)
(3%)

0.037 mg

Riboflavin (B2)
(2%)

0.018 mg

Niacin (B3)
(6%)

0.95 mg

(7%)

0.36 mg

Vitamin B6
(8%)

0.101 mg

Folate (B9)
(3%)

12 μg

Vitamin C
(3%)

2.1 mg

Vitamin E
(1%)

0.13 mg

Minerals
Calcium
(2%)

23 mg

Iron
(2%)

0.31 mg

Magnesium
(3%)

12 mg

Manganese
(6%)

0.125 mg

Phosphorus
(2%)

12 mg

Potassium
(2%)

108 mg

Zinc
(2%)

 

Butternut Squash Hash with Pulled Pork and Heirloom Tomato Salad

Late summer is here, and my garden is full of amazingly good things that I can’t wait to eat!  This summer has been a rainy one, and this means that my plants have a lot to offer.

Most notably, our three butternut squash plants are going craaaazy.  We have several squashes ready to eat every few days, and we have been experimenting with new ways to prepare them.  We don’t want to limit ourselves to squash soup!

I made pulled pork in the crock pot on Friday evening, and we had a good amount of leftovers.  So, for last night’s dinner, we hit the garden to supplement our meat.

First was an amazing simple tomato salad – we simply cut up several tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled diced, fresh basil on top.

The showstopper was the butternut squash hash with pulled pork, however.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Butternut Squash Hash and Pulled Pork

Butternut Squash Hash

  • butternut squash
  • butter
  • salt and pepper

Peel the butternut squash and clean out the “guts”.  Then, coarsely grate the orange middle into shreds.  Salt the squash, then squeeze out the excess moisture using a nut milk bag (a cheesecloth would work too).  Then, saute the squash shreds in butter in a cast iron skillet until browned.  Salt and pepper to taste, then scoop out onto plates.

To serve, we formed the squash hash into small, flat circles and spooned pulled pork on top, then topped with a dollop of sour cream.  It was heaven.

Real Food Corn Cakes

It is corn season!  Our farmer’s market had the most beautiful, delicious corn for sale, and I bought a LOT.  I love using corn in my cooking, and one of my favorite breakfasts are these simple corn cakes.  

   

Real Food Corn Cakes with Blueberry Syrup

  • 1 C organic corn meal
  • 2 T raw honey
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 C organic milk
  • 1 egg
  • I ear of corn, shucked, with kernels removed
  • 2 C blueberries
  • Maple syrup

In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients but the last two.  Heat a skillet (I like cast iron) over medium low heat and melt some coconut oil to prevent sticking,  then place tablespoon sized dollops if the mix in to cook.  Flatten with the back of a spoon.  Flip when the underside is golden brown, then remove from heat when both sides are browned.

To make the syrup, put blueberries in a small pot over low heat.  Add maple syrup (I just drizzle some in but I bet it is about 2 T), stir occasionally.  Warm until the berries begin to soften and burst.  Serve on top of the corn cakes!  

These are fresh and delicious! 

Sports (and Life) Hydration

I know I’m supposed to drink water.  I have great intentions to drink water.  I carry around a water bottle most of the time, but when I really think about it at the end of the day . . . I don’t drink enough water.

I KNOW.  There are so many great articles about the benefits of enough water and how your body is mostly water.  I know about the comparison to plants and how they wilt without enough water.  I know all these things.

I also know that I am more likely to drink my water if it is flavored by something.  Sometimes I cut up watermelon and throw cubes in, sometimes I make iced tea, sometimes I use lemons.  I love coconut water, but it is pretty pricey.  So, I was super excited when I found this recipe for a natural homemade electrolyte drink.  I like that this will help replenish me after a workout, and honestly, I’m more likely to drink it if it tastes like something.

Homemade Electroyte Drink (reposted from Wellness Mama)

Ingredients
  • 1 quart of liquid
  • ⅛-1/4 tsp Himalayan Sea Salt
  • ¼ to ½ tsp crushed Calcium magnesium tablets or powder (must research where to find)
  • ¼ cup or more of juice
  • 1-2 TBSP sweetener (I plan to use honey or organic sugar)
Instructions
  1. Warm your base liquid (water, coconut water or tea)
  2. Add sea salt and calcium magnesium
  3. Add juice and mix or shake well
  4. Cool and store in fridge until ready to use

Back to School Lunch Shopping

I know, back-to-school lunches?  In July?

I’m not losing my mind – my kids are on this thing called a “balanced calendar”, so they go back to school next Monday, August 3.  In exchange, we get extra school breaks throughout the year.  If you aren’t used to it, it probably seems strange, but we love it!

Anyway, after a summer of casual shopping and eating, I need to get back into my routine of shopping for school lunches.  I try to send lunches that are nutritious and balanced and filling, but also not a total pain to pack in the morning.

Are you a school lunch rookie?  Here’s a great place to start:

Lunch bag/containers:  I use all reusable bags and containers.  I can’t stand the waste of plastic baggies.  Just make sure that whatever containers you buy fit properly into the lunch bag before you purchase them.  I have made that mistake before!

Main course:  I always include some sort of main dish.  Sometimes it is leftovers from dinner the night before, but more often, I send something that has been prepped specifically for school lunches.  This week, I made a huge batch of my muffins to keep in the freezer.  When I pack lunches, I put a frozen muffin in each lunch.  It thaws all morning and is ready to eat by lunchtime!  I also frequently make big batches of soup and freeze smaller jars, which are easy to thaw and warm up in the morning, then pour into a thermos.

Dairy:  Organic string cheese or yogurt

Fruit:  I usually just send a whole piece of fruit in each lunch, like an apple or clementine.  WARNING: Bananas and stone fruit do NOT work – they just get squashed.  If you are sending anything that is easily squashed (i.e., grapes, berries) put them in a container.

Veggies:  I buy three or four bell peppers, a bag of carrots, and an English cucumber at the start of each week.  Every day, one of these is cut up and put into school lunches.  If there are any leftovers, I take them along in my briefcase to work for an on-the-go snack.

Sweet:  My kids don’t usually get dessert at lunch at home, but I am a softie when it comes to school lunch.  I always include a small treat.  I love the Trader Joe’s chocolate aisle because they sell small tubs of special treats that are perfect for school lunch.  My favorites right now are the Smashing S’mores, which are super cute and delicious.

Drink:  Water.  Always water.  My kids do not have a drinking fountain in their classroom, and they really only have two or three scheduled drink breaks during the day.  During those, I don’t think they actually get that much water because of all the other kids waiting for the fountain.  So, a Camelbak of water goes into their lunch every day, 3/4 full of ice and topped off with water.  This helps keep everything in the lunch bag cool, and is a perfect temperature by lunchtime.

Happy school year, everyone!