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

Healthy food

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: Best We Ate in 2017

Best We Ate 2017

2017 has taken us to more than half of America’s 50 states with more than 8,000 miles on the road, which means we’ve enjoyed a lengthy list of amazing #FoodieScore Travels experiences. In this second annual “Best We Ate” edition, we’ll share a few of our favorite food finds from this year. We must tell you that many of these picks were tough, and several categories were almost impossible to select! We’ve noted a few runners up where possible, and you’ll have to stick with #FoodieScore throughout the new year to learn about the rest.

BEST MEAL

Cattlemen's Steakhouse

Matthew – Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City, Okla. – This 100-year-old steakhouse is commonly ranked among America’s best, and we now know why. The steaks are flavorful, juicy and come from beef in the adjacent National Stockyards. But this great meal doesn’t end with the meat. The fresh salad with a special house-made dressing, the soft and savory dinner rolls, a filling and delightfully topped baked potato, a creamy baked macaroni and cheese, and the fresh and fruity blackberry cobbler all played a role in this being the greatest meal I ate in 2017. Perhaps the greatest course of all: The check didn’t break the bank after dinner! HONORABLE MENTION: Dinner, The Dillard House, Dillard, Ga.

Tuna Tacos

Molly – Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – Every time I tried to decide on the best meal of 2017 – which was a Herculean mental effort, mind you – I couldn’t get Webb Custom Kitchen out of my head. Not least in my mind were the incredible array of options from the beginning of a meal – the Duck Cigars I picked as my favorite appetizer of the year – to the end – the multi-layer chocolate mousse cake that melted in our mouths. But first in my mind was a dish with such delicious, fresh flavor and texture that it truly made Webb Custom Kitchen rocket to the top of my list: the Raw Ahi Tuna Tacos. I’m a fish taco person anyway, but rarely eat anything that isn’t fully cooked. Yet the sound and description of these on the menu made me take a chance, and I am so glad I did. The rich tuna flavor, the firm, steak-like texture and the fresh toppings all nestled in a soft, light flour tortilla = fish taco perfection. So much so that I have wanted to get them again ever since.

BEST BURGER

Kim's Kitchen

Matthew – Kim’s Kitchen, Stanley, N.C. – I grew up eating Kim’s Kitchen cheeseburgers and even had them delivered to other cities and states in which I lived, so I was saddened in 2013 when Kim’s closed. Fast forward to April 2017. That’s when Kim’s reopened under its longtime management, and the cheeseburger I loved so much in my youth returned. You won’t find a better burger with fresher meat, meltier cheese and a softer, hearty bun than Kim’s, and I didn’t all year. HONORABLE MENTION: Smoke Stack, Montana Ale Works, Bozeman, Montana

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Molly – Breaded Burger, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – A breaded burger might sound like an odd option for best burger of the year, and we certainly did have some amazing options for this title. But something about this homemade, hometown burger just really hit the spot for me. The soft, slightly crispy breading as you take a bite of the burger is just pure Southern comfort. Kitchens across the South in America in former generations made plenty of unique burger creations during the Depression era, in order to save on and stretch the hamburger meat. The method of adding bread to it is one my great-grandmother, Banny, passed down to my mother, who passed it down to me. Banny’s method is a bit different than Snappy Lunch’s, but both result in a simply delicious burger. Maybe that’s why it made my Best Burger of 2017.

BEST SANDWICH

Snappy Lunch

Matthew – Pork Chop Sandwich, Snappy Lunch, Mt. Airy, N.C. – Being the unofficial “state sandwich” carries a lot of pressure! The famed Pork Chop Sandwich at Snappy Lunch in Mt. Airy absolutely lives up to the heralded billing. It all starts with a milky-sweet fried pork chop that’s topped with a flavor explosion of zingy chili and cool coleslaw. Just as the restaurant name says, you’ll get it snappy, and you’ll get it cheap.

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Molly – Half and Half, Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C. – I hadn’t been to Shake Shop in years, though it is a famous institution in my hometown of Cherryville. When we went this year, which was Matthew’s first visit!, I got one of my classic picks: a half and half. The sandwich carries different names everywhere you go, but the description is simple: a long, hoagie-style bun with a cheeseburger on one side and a ham sandwich on the other. For me, you can’t get much more satisfaction than going back and forth between a melty, salty ham and cheese sandwich, to a hearty, cheese-covered burger, both topped with slaw and tomato, of course. And Shake Shop does both sides right.

BEST APPETIZER

Garage on Beck

Matthew – Mormon Funeral Potatoes, Garage on Beck, Salt Lake City, Utah – Outside of Utah, you won’t find many Mormon Funeral Potatoes, so you have to make such an experience count. Garage on Beck’s dish is like a crispy jalapeno hash brown hushpuppy. They’re so expansive you could make them your meal. Accent on COULD. Don’t miss everything else Garage on Beck has to offer, including the funky ambiance that’s part biker bar and part outdoor brunch.

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Molly – Duck Cigars, Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C. – What a delightful, egg-roll experience Webb Custom Kitchen’s Duck Cigars are. Not only are they perfectly fried in a crispy spring roll shell and perfectly filled with a surprisingly delicious duck confit, they are accompanied by three impeccable sauces, including a house-made soy sauce. Try them all, repeatedly, and you won’t regret it!

BEST SWEET TREAT

Lulu's

Matthew – Cinnamon Roll, Lulu’s Bakery & Cafe, San Antonio, Texas – This cinnamon roll is 3 pounds. Do I need to tell you more? If so, it’s made of fresh-baked bread, delicious cinnamon spices and a rich icing that remarkably stay fresh for almost a week. We know because we ate a few bites with our meal and then took the rest on the road. After enjoying bites in San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City, I think we finished it all somewhere near Little Rock, Ark. It was delicious to the last ounce. HONORABLE MENTION: Pie Flight, Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina

donuuuuuttttssssssssss

Molly – Reese’s Donut, Wake N Bake Donuts, Wilmington, N.C. – Luck was with us in Wilmington as we strolled down a quiet street, just happening to pass a donut shop we hadn’t previously heard of. This is highly unusual for us well-researched foodies, but Wake N Bake was a highly unusual, phenomenal find. The donuts in the window lured us in and let me just say, we were glad to be caught by this donut shop! My favorite was the Reese’s donut, with a creamy, whipped peanut butter filling, chocolate icing, and a Reese’s cup on top. (Top left in the photo above.) There was no wrong way to eat this Reese’s. HONORABLE MENTION: Key Lime Cheesecake, Mayworth Public House, Cramerton, North Carolina 

BEST BREAKFAST

HenDough

Matthew – HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C. – Get it all, and savor every bite! But certainly don’t miss the fried chicken biscuit, the biscuit with cheese and local bacon and eggs, the doughnuts, the smoked gouda macaroni and cheese, the sweet potato salad, or the locally made Dynamite Roasting coffee. HenDough also gets points for atmosphere, with its seating inside and outside of a house converted into a restaurant. HONORABLE MENTION: Breakfast Menu, Causeway Cafe, Wilmington, N.C.

BLET

Molly – BLET (Bacon, Lettuce, Egg & Tomato), Brunch, Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack, Belmont, N.C. – What a Southern combination Peace-N-Hominy has put together in this BLET! The bacon is thick and crispy; the tomato is fresh and the lettuce has that fresh crunch; the egg is fried (or cooked any way you want it) to perfection; the bread is so buttery-toasted; and the cheese is – this is where the OMG comes in – pimento cheese. This sandwich is everything you need and nothing more. HONORABLE MENTION: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit, Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, North Carolina

BEST SOUL FOOD

Shirley Mae's

Matthew – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – You’re family when you eat at Shirley Mae’s, even on your first visit. Isn’t that the definition of soul food? This place serves up the best pinto beans Molly has ever eaten. The fried chicken wings are meaty and crispy. The macaroni and cheese is creamy and filling. And don’t get me started on the hot-water cornbread wrapped and kept warm by a foil blanket in its own little cup. You’ll wish Shirley Mae’s was in your town, and you’re in luck, if you live in Louisville.

Molly – Shirley Mae’s Cafe, Louisville, Ky. – The best soul food places serve Kool-Aid. Shirley Mae’s is one of the best, and I got grape. How good and how pleasant it is for food to be accompanied by Kool-Aid! Not only that, Shirley Mae’s gave me one of my favorite food items period on our 6,000+ mile road trip this summer: the pinto beans. Flavored with real pork, these pintos were the star of my meal, which also included delicious fried tilapia. Don’t miss this place if you ever go through Louisville!

BEST MEXICAN FOOD

Chico's Tacos

Matthew – Chico’s Tacos, El Paso, Texas – We enjoy an array of Mexican food each year. It’s one of our favorite cuisines, so you’d think this would be a difficult choice. It’s not. Chico’s was by far the most authentic Mexican food experience I’ve ever had, not because of the type of food but because of the delivery and the clientele. Sitting just a couple of miles from the Mexico border, Chico’s serves up a boat of rolled-corn, beef-filled, taquito-style tacos that you won’t find at any other taco shop. They’re cheap, so eat up! HONORABLE MENTION: Lunch Buffet, El Pinto, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Molly – Puffy Tacos, Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio, Texas – Ray’s Drive Inn’s Puffy Tacos are the stuff of legend – literally, they are credited with inventing the “Puffy Taco.” What is it? A soft, puffy (because the word just fits), fluffy, thick taco filled with the absolute freshest ingredients – lettuce, tomato, and any meat you want, including fish, beef, carne guisada, or chicken, just to name a few. To give you a good idea of what they’re like, here’s an analogy: these Puffy Tacos are to Taco Bell chalupas as a rack of Memphis’ restaurant Charlie Rendezvous’ Ribs are to a McDonald’s McRib. It’s the original, high-end, mouthwatering version that you’ve got to have, even if you can’t have it all the time. (Although, if we lived in San Antonio, I would!)

BEST ITALIAN FOOD

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Matthew – Cristina Pizza, Moon Pie Pizza, Pasta & Bakery, Dillard, Ga. – We don’t eat pizza out very often, so when we do it’s a testament to how promising a pizzeria’s menu looks. Similarly, there are few pizza shops we reference in our household as memorable, because we hold a great pizza in high regard more than just something to be scarfed down like a Ninja Turtle would. (To be inclusive and to show you we’re not crazy here, we hold great pasta and stromboli in high regard as well, so Italian isn’t just pizza to us, but it’s a big part of the Southern food experience when it comes to Italian cuisine. Molly actually worked as a server at an Italian restaurant in Cherryville, N.C., for a while, and pizza wasn’t close to her favorite menu item there.) So it means something big to us when we enjoy a pizza enough to include it in this list. Moon Pie’s pizza dough was soft yet crackly from the oven, the cheese was ooey gooey perfect, and the prosciutto, spinach, mushrooms and truffle oil on top were both fresh and completely complementary. Delizioso!

we have the meats

Molly – Meat Lover Pizza, Portofino, Gastonia, N.C. – Portofino’s has been a favorite Italian spot of mine for years, less due to its proximity in nearby Gastonia, and more due to the satisfaction its rich, authentic dishes bring during every meal there. I have never been disappointed at Portofino’s and their pizza is truly to die for, hearty and full-flavored. This year, we got, for the first time, the Meat Lover Pizza. Matthew doesn’t typically love all-meat pizzas, but with the inclusion of Italian meatballs, he was all for it. If you’re near Gastonia and in need of a pizza, skip all the national chain spots and go straight here. I know you won’t be disappointed either!

BEST BARBECUE

Arthur Bryant's

Matthew – Burnt Ends, Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, Kansas City, Mo. – I’ve eaten a lot of barbecue throughout the Southern United States (and I ate more great barbecue in 2017 than any year ever before), but I’ve never had barbecue like this, quite literally. Kansas City is known for its burnt ends the way Texas is known for its brisket and the Carolinas are known for pulled pork. Arthur Bryant’s offered a delicious first experience with burnt ends, which were almost like a combination rib-brisket bite, covered in a barbecue sauce that was more tomatoey than I’ve ever had. And my plate of burnt ends came with pieces of plain white sandwich bread (just the way I like getting my barbecue) and a load of hand-cut fries. It was a true #FoodieScore! HONORABLE MENTION: Pulled Pork Plate, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Charleston, South Carolina

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Molly – BBQ Chicken with White Sauce, Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham, Ala. – Oh, white barbecue sauce, how I love you! Could any barbecue sauce be more perfect than one with a mayonnaise base? My answer to that is now a definitive no. There are many sauces in the world, but Saw’s BBQ’s white sauce is the quintessential, unique sauce for me, and it goes perfectly on a roast chicken sandwich with a pickle, which is how I first tried it at Saw’s in Alabama. If you’ve never heard of it, or simply haven’t tried it, maybe this year is your time to be adventurous! If you can’t make it to Alabama, you can order white sauce in a bottle, as I did this year for Matthew, so we could include it on our own dishes at home. I can’t wait!