budget

ALDITextSeveral years ago, my friend Lisa was raving about ALDI. But I was skeptical and stubborn. I had my routine and knew my neighborhood grocery store inside and out.

Luckily she persisted. One day she took me to ALDI, showed me the ropes, and pointed out all her favorite items. Then I was hooked.

Now I rave about ALDI too (and was thrilled when they invited me to be a part of their ALDI Advisory Council, along with several other registered dietitians). And now I take friends on my own version of an ALDI tour.

When I talk about ALDI on this blog or my Facebook page, I usually hear from someone who was just like me–not convinced ALDI is right for them, unfamiliar with the system, and unsure of what to buy. So since I can’t take all of you on my ALDI guided tour (though I wish I could!) here’s the next best thing:

What To Know Before You Go

    • ALDI takes a no-frills approach. Food is stocked on the shelves in boxes and on pallets.
    • ALDI stores are smaller than typical supermarkets. While a supermarket stocks about 30,000 items, ALDI carries about 1,400. Regular grocery stores have 30-plus aisles, ALDI has just 4-5 aisles. This means a streamlined shopping experience. I’m usually in and out in 20 minutes!
    • ALDI carries mostly ALDI-exclusive brands, though you will find some brand name products there too.

What To Bring

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom NutritionPut your quarter in, get a cart. Get your quarter back when you return your cart. There are always kind souls in the parking lot giving other shoppers their carts (and sometimes refusing the quarter).

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom NutritionALDI only accepts cash, debit cards, and EBT cards. They don’t take checks or credit cards (that saves you money!).

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom NutritionYou’ll bag your own groceries on a counter near the checkout lanes. Forgot your reusable bags?  You can grab an empty box from the shelves or buy bags from the cashier.

My Favorite Things To Buy

This list is by no means comprehensive. Every week, I discover new things or my local ALDI adds something great. Availability of items also varies from week to week and store to store. But even if a product isn’t in stock, other new things probably are. That’s part of the fun!

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom Nutrition1. Organic Milk: We drink a lot of milk, so this savings really adds up for us.

2. Kefir: Though they mostly carry their own ALDI-exclusive brands, they usually have some name-brand items as well. I like picking up Lifeway Kefir as a treat for my boys.

3. Speciality Cheeses: Different varieties of goat cheese, blocks of parmesan, tubs of crumbled blue cheese, balls of mozzarella–all for less than you’ll see elsewhere.

4. Veggies: Some of the produce is already packaged up, but that suits us just fine. This is where I get broccoli, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts to roast or shred into salads.

5. Fresh Pineapple: They also have great prices on melons, berries, and other fruit (including organic apples and bananas).

6. Artisan Lettuce: Three different varieties of lettuce that look beautiful chopped and tossed together. Though this lettuce isn’t organic, they do carry bagged organic mixed greens, arugula, kale, and baby spinach.

7. Citrus: I always stock up on limes and lemons for cooking (and oranges right now for snacking!).

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom Nutrition8.  Nuts: I get bagged nuts for baking and snacking. They usually have a nice variety, including walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, and mixed nuts.

9. Dates: I love using unsweetened dates in smoothies and cookie bars.

10. Whole Wheat Flour: I practically danced in the aisles when this product arrived at my ALDI.

11. Spices: This is where I stock up on the spices I use the most, like garlic powder, oregano, and cumin for making things like homemade salad dressing, taco seasoning, and BBQ sauce.

12. Pure Vanilla Extract: WAY cheaper than the grocery store.

13. Coconut Oil: And it’s organic! I use this to make stove-top popcorn. I also buy olive oil at ALDI.

How to Shop at ALDI by Real Mom Nutrition14. Woven Wheat Crackers: We are hooked on these. Three ingredients. A dead ringer for Triscuits.

15. 100% Pure Maple Syrup: We always have a bottle of this in our fridge for homemade waffles and pancakes.

16. Cereal: ALDI has a few kinds of organic and natural cereals. I love this Shredded Wheat, which has just one ingredient.

17. Choceur Dark Chocolate: German-made dark chocolate! My husband takes half a small bar in his lunch every day.

18. Whole Wheat Pasta: It’s made with 100% whole wheat.

19. Organic Chicken Broth: Comes in regular and low-sodium versions.

20. Oats: I keep at least two tubs in my pantry for making granola, my favorite peanut butter cookies, and of course morning oatmeal!

If you’re not an ALDI fan yet, I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think! (Go here to find out if there’s a store near you.)

If you’re already an ALDI fan, what are YOUR favorite things to buy there?

Disclosure: I am a member of the ALDI Advisory Council, which means I am paid to work on occasional projects for them. However, I was not asked to write this blog post, nor was I paid for writing it. I just wanted to share the information!

{ 54 comments }

My 10 Favorite Kitchen Tricks

by Sally on November 19, 2014

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- from Real Mom Nutrition

As a home cook, I’m a little bit lazy and a whole lot frugal. If there is a way to save money or time, I will try it. Not every effort is successful, but once in a while I stumble upon a kitchen trick that’s a real keeper. Here are my ten favorite:

1. Do-It-Yourself Chocolate Peanut Butter

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom NutritionI like Nutella and Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter as much as the next person. But sometimes it’s not wise for me to have a whole jar of it in my house (for obvious reasons such as lack of self-control). So occasionally I make small batches of a cheaper, quick-and-dirty version using peanut butter: Place a few squares of chocolate (or handful of chips) in some peanut butter, microwave for 30 seconds or until melted, stir, and spread on whatever you want. Use the ratio of chocolate-to-peanut butter that suits your tastes.

2. Chopping & Freezing Onions

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I love adding the flavor of onion to dishes, but my kids don’t like big chunks of onion in their food. So I use my mini-chopper (this is the one I’ve had for years) to create very finely diced onions–almost creating an onion “paste”. Sometimes I process several onions at once, especially if I have too many and don’t want them to go to waste. Then I transfer the diced onion to freezer bags, and press flat. Then, when I have a recipe that calls for sautéing chopped onion, I just grab a bag, break off a chunk of frozen onion, and throw it into the pan.

3. Letting Dough Rise in the Microwave

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Having trouble getting dough to rise? Place a glass measuring cup of water in your microwave (yes, that’s my microwave, not a wall oven) and heat it on HIGH for several minutes until it boils. Turn off the microwave, place your covered bowl of dough inside the microwave (keep the hot water in too), and shut the door. The warm, steamy air will allow your dough to rise faster.

 4. Soaking Dates in Milk for Smoothies

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Dates are an easy way to sweeten a smoothie, but they can be hard to pulverize in a standard blender. I got this trick from a Real Mom Nutrition reader after posting a recipe for this yummy Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake.  She suggested soaking the dates in a dish of milk kept in the refrigerator, which softens them up so they blend quickly and smoothly. Now I do this too and it works great!

 5. De-Stemming Kale Quickly

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To quickly pull the leaves away from the tough center stem, hold the kale leaf in one hand and slide your other hand along the stem. Then make this easy Sweet Tart Kale Salad.

6. Soaking Apple Slices in OJ & Lemon

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I saw this trick on Pinterest and it’s one of my favorite lunchbox hacks ever. Slice an apple, pour the juice from one lemon and one orange (or OJ if that’s what you have) over the slices and refrigerate. Pull out slices to pack in lunch boxes (they won’t brown) or eat them straight from the juice. Many people already do this with lemon, but the orange adds sweetness and balances out the sour of the lemon. My kids go nuts for these.

7. Making Bacon in the Oven

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I’ll never go back to making bacon on the stove after discovering this method. The bacon cooks so evenly, with barely attention from me (and with no grease spatters all over the stovetop). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place bacon slices on foil, bringing the foil edges up and over the edge of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until desired doneness. Some readers also suggested putting a baking rack on the pan and laying the bacon on the rack, so the fat drips down and away from the bacon.

8. Assembling Freezer Smoothie Packets

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To streamline the morning routine, I sometimes package up ready-to-go smoothie packets for the freezer full of fruit, greens, and extras like flaxseed. In the morning, just pull out a packet, dump it in the blender, and add cold water or milk. This is an especially handy way to preserve greens that are getting past their prime.

9. Using Uncooked Lasagna Noodles

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Lasagna is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods, but I hate the extra time-sucking step of pre-boiling the noodles. So instead of buying the special no-boil noodles, I use my regular whole wheat lasagna noodles (this is a favorite brand) and simply skip the step of pre-boiling them. The key is using a healthy amount of sauce (in addition to sauce between the layers, be sure the entire surface is covered as well), and bake the lasagna tightly covered with foil.

10. Subbing Flaxseed For Egg

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

If you don’t have an egg for a recipe (or don’t want to use eggs at all), use flaxseed instead. Combine one tablespoon ground flaxseed and three tablespoons water, stir and let sit for five minute. Then add to recipes as usual. I’ve done this for pancakes and cookies.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you use any of these shortcuts? What are YOUR best kitchen tricks?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!

{ 39 comments }

My Favorite Packaged Foods

March 10, 2014

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious decision to make more food from scratch. But I still buy packaged food (read “From-Scratch Cooking Confession: I Can’t Keep Up!“). Several readers asked me for more details on the kinds of packaged products I buy, so I wanted to share some of my favorites. When […]

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Fear & Loathing on Facebook

May 22, 2013

Here’s what I’ve been learning lately on Facebook: Packaged bread is poison so you should make your own. But wheat is also poison, so don’t bother. You should never, ever, ever drink milk. Unless it’s raw, then maybe it’s okay. Never mind, it’s bad. If you’re feeding your kids non-organic fruit while slathering them with […]

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The Fabulous Food Stamp Diet!

December 5, 2012

Forget South Beach. Or The Abs Diet. Or the Raw Food Detox Diet. The quickest way to zip up those skinny jeans is to go on food stamps! At least that’s what Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros thinks. In a discussion about Newark mayor Cory Booker’s move to eat on a budget equivalent to food stamps (aka […]

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Lessons Learned From The Pantry Challenge

November 20, 2012

Much to my family’s relief, the Autumn Pantry Challenge is over. Though we struggled through last year’s challenge (I got crabby and actually gained weight), it was a lot easier this time around. I chalk that up to a more realistic weekly budget ($50) and an especially large stockpile of food to start. I went […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #3 Meal Plan & Home Stretch!

November 12, 2012

Should beer and wine count toward the weekly Pantry Challenge grocery budget? Not surprisingly, my husband–who is no fan of the Pantry Challenge–emphatically says no. If he’s right and it doesn’t, I stayed close to my $50 goal last week. I even hosted a neighborhood party–and I tried to use what I had on hand […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #2 Meal Plan

November 5, 2012

The good news is that I stuck to my meal plan pretty closely last week (read: Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan). The bad news is that we had two last-minute events that busted my budget. One was an out-of-town trip that involved pizza delivery. Another was hosting a night time Nerf […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan

October 28, 2012

It’s the first day of the Autumn Pantry Challenge! Today, I made trips to Aldi and my neighborhood supermarket and spent only $32 on groceries for the week (my weekly budget is $50 or less). Week One Meal Plan Sunday: Beef Barley Soup, Homemade Oatmeal Yogurt Rolls, Salads Monday: Leftovers Tuesday: Cod from freezer, Whole […]

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Join My Pantry Challenge!

October 23, 2012

I have a tendency to stockpile food (read: Hello, My Name is Sally. And I Hoard Groceries.). I can’t pass up a good deal, and there’s something comforting about having three extra canisters of oats on hand just in case. But at some point, my basement shelves runneth over. And my wallet feels especially empty. I […]

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