Culinary Confessions: What We Pay for Groceries

Culinary Confessions

This is the first post in a new occasional series we’re calling “Culinary Confessions,” a feature focused on opening the books on our eating habits and sharing our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you. We hope you enjoy!

We take great pride in our home cooking and the recipes we share through #FoodieScore. We’re also quite resilient and proud to seek the best deals we can find on food, both at grocery stores and in restaurants.

When it comes to groceries, we see no point in paying more than necessary for items in our cart. Why should we buy milk for $2.50 when we can get it for $1, or a bag of chips for $3 when we can get it for 75 cents? That mindset is the reason we buy a lot of non-name-brand products, and it’s why we shop at Aldi, which operates stores in 35 U.S. states.

We fully endorse Aldi’s model built on its own unique brands, a discount-shopper-friendly store layout and self-bagging. We rarely prefer the name brand of a product to a generic-style version, and in some cases we actually much prefer the generic! Aldi’s double-stuffed chocolate cookies, for example, have more cream and a better chocolate cookie taste than actual Oreos. And Doritos, we’re sad to say, taste no different to us than a simple bag of ‘nacho-flavored tortilla chips.’

Since switching 95 percent of our grocery shopping to Aldi—we do still relegate occasional products to other stores when necessary for a recipe ingredient—we’ve cut our grocery spending for our household by half. There are two of us, and we use about $150 of our budget each month for groceries, whereas we spent about $300 a month before making changes. We shop twice a month, planning ahead with a list to avoid forgetting items that will send us back to the store—a trap for unnecessary extra purchases that are as dangerous to your wallet as those impulse items at the checkout.

The new total is still higher than it could be. We’ve made a healthy shift in our eating, but we still allow treats in our diet, so we haven’t cut our food allowance to the bone. Still, we try to shop based on what meals we have planned, with a heavily calculated list prepped before going to the grocery store. That way we roll right down the aisles when we shop, passing by most of the impulse buy temptations. And we buy less food that gets wasted because we purchase based on what we’re already anticipating we’ll eat.

So what do we pay for common items that are part of our basic everyday diet? Take a look:

Grocery List

How much do you pay for these same items? Are you willing to pay less by sacrificing brand loyalty? If the answer is yes, you could save quite a bit of money that you can enjoy for something else, or you can bank that savings each month!

Let us know what you think of our basic strategy. And share your own food tips with us! You just might have a Culinary Confession!

5 Affordable Foods to Help Your Health

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Last year I dropped just shy of 70 pounds, simply with a better diet rich in healthy, less-processed foods and hundreds of miles of walking. No expensive weight-loss programs, gym memberships or personal health coaches were needed.

For my entire adult life, I’d had the same thought many others do around the holidays: I should resolve to lose weight next year to improve my health. Year after year, I’d plan to eat better and exercise more, but it didn’t happen until a major change in my career path and my life as a whole.

In April 2017, I started walking two or three miles every day of the week, just a brisk pace and a consistent routine. At the same time, I quit making regular visits to fast food restaurants, I started eating less overall red meat, I cut out all added sugar in my drinks (bye bye, sweet tea, concentrated fruit juices and sweet coffee, in other words), and I started allowing myself to fall in love with simple foods.

Here are five of those foods that I totally endorse for their digestive, weight management and overall health benefits, as well as their affordability. I hope they can help you reach your health goals the way they’ve enhanced my life. Best wishes to you on your journey, whether you’re making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or you’re midway through the year and find the same motivations I did to live a healthier life.

 

Oatmeal

I love to start most days with a simple bowl of whole grain oats. At my local grocery store of choice—the amazing Aldi—I can get a 42-ounce canister of dry rolled oats for about $2, which buys me at least a month’s worth of servings of a healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber, contains no sugar, doesn’t break the bank on carbs and is low in calories and fat. Through a lot of experimenting, I’ve found I prefer to cook my half-cup servings of oats in a cup of water for a minute in the microwave. The biggest health benefit comes from the simple oats, but when I want a little extra flavor I add a teaspoon of honey, a few shakes of ground cinnamon, a sprinkle of crushed almonds or a quarter cup of raisins. When I’m seeking an extra-special breakfast that stays healthy and mixes up the routine, I like to join the overnight oats trend, soaking oats in milk overnight in a mason jar in the fridge, topped with some combination of nuts or flax seed, yogurt, cocoa and sugar (I’ve only done that one once and shared it with Molly), or other toppings. My diet improvements really started and continue with oatmeal.

 

Eggs

Eggs are such a versatile dietary component, and I’ve come to rely on them throughout the day. Whether it’s a quick scrambled egg for breakfast, a boiled egg on wheat toast at lunch or a poached egg on a plate of smashed avocado, the options and benefits are both endless. AND I can get a dozen eggs at my local grocery store for as low as 26 cents some weeks! Eggs do contain a major portion of your recommended cholesterol, but they’re also protein rich, while not delivering significant portions of fat, sodium or carbs to your diet.

 

Spinach

The whole bag of flat-leaf spinach I regularly purchase contains 50 TOTAL calories and ZERO fats and sugars! That’s a major victory, at just $2 a bag for three or more servings. Spinach is a great base for a fresh salad, but I love it even more when it’s seasoned with a little salt and pepper and cooked—wilted with just a water base—alongside a juicy grilled chicken breast. Each serving provides the benefits of fiber, potassium and even a little protein.

 

Tuna

Many American restaurant menus have a salmon option, but fewer seem to offer a tuna dish. Of course there are options to buy more expensive fresh-caught tuna, but on the regular we can get a package of light tuna in water—no oils, please—for 64 cents at the grocer. Each package recommends two servings, but I often eat both at once, which means I still only consume 100 calories, while eating nearly no fat, no carbs whatsoever, just 8 percent of my recommended daily sodium (not bad for canned meat) and 11 grams of protein. Tuna goes great with some saltines or wheat crackers, on wheat toast with a sprinkle of pepper, or cooked alongside some fresh spinach.

 

Greek Yogurt

Count me among the many eaters scared of Greek yogurt for many years. Then I found the flavored 100-calorie, 55-cent cups at Aldi and made a new close friend. I love the simple strawberry, blackberry, blueberry and peach flavors, and each cup gives me 12 grams of protein, NO fat, just a few carbs and only nine grams of sugar. (You have to remember there are sugars in food, and all sugar is not bad. The enemy is dumping that granulated stuff into your drinks and dishes.) Yogurt is great by itself for a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but it also goes great in a jar of overnight oats, or alongside other breakfast, lunch or dinner items. Like everything on this list, it’s incredibly versatile, affordable and beneficial to your health!

 

To be clear, these aren’t the only foods I eat, but they start my grocery list each trip, and I build my entire diet around them. You can have that cheeseburger or that slice of pie—and I still do—but like we’ve always heard, eat those kinds of foods in moderation.

I realized late in 2017 that I have a much easier resolution to make now, heading into the new year. Instead of “lose weight,” I can just say “keep the weight off.” Instead of “get healthy,” I get to target “stay healthy.”

I’d love to hear your story and any go-to foods that help you. Just share below, comment on one of our social media channels, or email me.

Foodie Travels: Causeway Café, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

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Tucked into the coastal North Carolina community of Wrightsville Beach, there’s a little diner called the Causeway Café, known for more than 30 years for its delicious breakfast and lunch plates.

The café opened in 1987, not long before my family started visiting Wrightsville and nearby Wilmington each year for our summer vacations.

I can remember going into the Causeway with Mom and Dad and enjoying pancakes and waffles topped with fruits formed in the shapes of smiley faces. And the restaurant still serves up great and creative dishes for all ages.

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Each beach community seems to have its local breakfast/brunch destination. Most such places are home to both locals and tourists, and that’s what you’ll find at the Causeway Café. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where, in the summer, you might see folks riding their bicycles or their convertibles up to the restaurant, and you’re guaranteed to see diners in sandals, swim shorts and comfy T-shirts inside.

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On the menu, you’ll find a wide variety of pancakes, waffles, omelets and eggs, as well as sandwiches, salads, wraps and seafood selections. It’s the kind of place that pleasantly blurs breakfast and lunch to suit your mood for the day. That’s probably one of the many reasons the Causeway’s still going strong after all these years. That and the homey atmosphere.

So when you’re cruising around Wilmington or over to the coast for a day at the beach, remember the Causeway Café for a good breakfast, brunch or lunch to fuel your adventure or relaxation.

Causeway Cafe, 114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

 

Nutritious & Flavorful Two-Ingredient Pancakes

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These are the most flavorful pancakes I’ve ever eaten. That includes homemade and restaurant varieties…and I’ve enjoyed more than my share of “flapjacks.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for simple, flourless pancakes lately. We’re not really the most healthy-recipe conscious household, but I was intrigued by this two-ingredient option.

It’s so simple that there’s not really a recipe. You mash up a banana, and you whisk it well into two eggs. Then you pour it into a skillet and resume the normal pancake-making process.

That’s it.

No flours or oils or other ingredients. Simple pancakes. (Though I will say that I started with a small banana and found I needed an additional small banana to get the right “batter” consistency, so watch for that.)

You might say, “Are these going to taste too much like bananas?” That was my concern, too, but I found they were not overly banana at all. Just enough, and just the right moist texture.

I was also worried this would turn out like some kind of horrible banana scrambled egg, omelet or frittata dish. Not in the least. Wowed by the results, I topped a short stack with a few blueberries and a little syrup, and I had a delicious breakfast. For people on the go, I could see topping a pancake with a little peanut butter, rolling it up and taking care of breakfast on a busy morning.

A lot of recipes sell “simple” and “healthy,” and many don’t deliver. This one does. For their simplicity, their nutrition and their delightful flavor and texture, I highly recommend trying banana pancakes.

Pasta Mama: Creative, Flavorful, Simple

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If I tell you I’m going to make you pasta and scrambled eggs for dinner, what’s your reaction? Does it sound more appetizing if I tell you I’m going to mix the eggs into the pasta? Maybe it further helps if I tell you several Asian pasta dishes include eggs that are scrambled in somehow?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. When I first heard about Pasta Mama seven or eight years ago on one of my favorite Food Network Shows “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I turned up my nose, too. It didn’t exactly sound like a delicious meal. But I’ve always enjoyed trying new things that involve ingredients I enjoy, so I gave it a whirl, as Kevin McAllister said of a frozen macaroni and cheese dinner while grocery shopping in the 1990 movie Home Alone. And the Pasta Mama blew me away with its simplicity and flavor.

Some people aren’t big fans of marinara sauce, so they prefer an alfredo or other topping for their pasta. This offers another cheap, flavorful option with the eggs and spices, and if you already have spices and dry pasta in your kitchen or pantry, it won’t cost you much at all to make (also considering eggs are pretty cheap). And if you cook the eggs and pasta just right, it’s not too dry or too wet.

Pasta Mama at its best is a very simple and light dish, so don’t plan on feeling extremely full afterward. In fact, it’s a dish you might have as a small meal as part of a plan to eat more than three meals a day, or you might even try it for a simple and quick breakfast. You can use that leftover cooked, plain pasta to get a head start, but even if you have to cook your pasta first, this dish won’t take you more than a half hour to prepare.

The following recipe is a modified take on a suggestion from Food.com.

Ingredients

10 ounces dry pasta

3 eggs, beaten

2 minced garlic cloves

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

 

Directions

1. Cook your pasta in a pot until it has the softness/firmness you prefer. (If you already have leftover cooked pasta, just heat it enough to knock the chill off before you take the next step in the recipe.)

2. In a skillet on medium heat, saute all of your spices with the butter or oil.

3. After your spices have sauteed, add the pasta and water and stir together.

4. Pour in your already-beaten eggs and combine until the eggs fully cook and mix with the pasta.

5. While your dish is still in the skillet, sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. You can, of course, add as much cheese as you want.

6. Plate and serve. As with anything, your yield depends on how much pasta you actually use, how much each diner eats and the age of your diners. If you feed this to kids, it will probably go farther with each individual eater.

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Molly’s Take: I wasn’t terribly afraid of the egg and pasta combo here, since I love Asian rice and noodles and those often include eggs of some kind. I also am a person who really can’t stand marinara sauce in most settings, so I was excited about the prospect of an alfredo alternative. The Pasta Mama delivered. Its simple flavor, perfectly seasoned with herbs and spices, was light and tasty. As Matthew said, it isn’t incredibly filling or heavy, but I could easily see adding some type of fish like salmon or shrimp to the dish. However, the Pasta Mama stands alone in its simplicity and flavorful taste. Definitely give it a try.

Matthew’s Take: Of course, I really love this dish, or I wouldn’t be sharing it with you. My favorite way to eat pasta has always been with some kind of tomato-based sauce and beef meatballs or a cheese-based sauce with chicken. This is a completely different dish and one I’ve never had in a restaurant. I’ve never seen it on a menu in a restaurant, despite seeing it recommended on a food show by a professional chef who ate it at a restaurant. Maybe it has a low profile because it would take most people by surprise. I know it did me. Other than not being heavy enough to fill me for a long period of time, Pasta Mama is surprisingly satisfying. The garlic butter and cheese help provide their own deal of flavor, but it’s the eggs that offer the most boost to the texture and taste. You may be skeptical, but I encourage you to give it a try. Creative cooking can be exciting because it can break our normal routine in the kitchen and at the table. And this is a way to be creative and make an economical meal in a half hour or less. I give it an A for taste and an A+ for both cost and ease.