My Favorite Packaged Foods

by Sally on 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 choosing packaged foods, I always read labels, looking for a simple ingredient list and a food that’s naturally nutrient-rich (not something heavily processed that’s been pumped with vitamins and minerals). Because I have a food budget, price is also important. So while I know that the natural foods markets are teeming with terrific packaged options, everything on this list can be found at a regular grocery store or Target at a pretty reasonable price (with the exception of the “Splurge Snack”).

smuckers-creamy_300 Peanut Butter: Smucker’s Natural

Just peanuts and salt and a thick, grainy, satisfying texture.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Breakfast Sausage: Applegate Chicken & Apple

The ingredients are chicken, dried apples, water, honey, and spices. No antibiotics. And my fourth grader can now make eggs and sausage for himself and his little brother in the morning all by himself. Hallelujah!

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Frozen French Fries: Cascadian Farm Shoe String French Fries

They’ve got the look of fast food fries but are made with organic potatoes and have hardly any added sodium–so you can sprinkle on however much (or little) salt you want.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Crackers: Triscuits

Just three ingredients—wheat, oil, and salt. I like that these crackers, unlike some others, have no added sugar.

Honorable Mention: Wasa crispbreads, which are hearty and satisfying, and delicious with a smear of natural peanut butter or a slice of melted cheese.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Cereal: Barbara’s Puffins

Just 5 grams of sugar per serving (that’s a bit more than 1 teaspoon) but sweet enough to feel fun to my kids.

Honorable Mentions: Read “My 5 Favorite Boxed Cereals

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Splurge Snack: Simply Balanced freeze-dried fruit (at Target)

Contains only fruit and tastes like a special treat. This is what I buy my kids at Target when I’ve been dragging them around on way too many errands.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Energy Bar: KIND bars

Short ingredient lists, and big chewy pieces of nuts, dried fruit, and seeds.Honorable Mention: Larabars, because I love the super-simple ingredient lists and (in some cases) no added sugar.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Boxed Mac-n-Cheese: Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat

Filling whole wheat pasta and no neon colors.

Honorable Mention: Annie’s Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.

Want more ideas? Prevention Magazine recently released its “100 Cleanest Packaged Food Awards” for 2014. A few of these brands–including  Smucker’s, Cascadian Farms, and Applegate–made that list too.

What are YOUR favorite packaged foods?

Disclosure: I’m happy to be working with Applegate this year as a member of their Advisory Board, because it’s a brand I buy and respect. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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Fear & Loathing on Facebook

by Sally on 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 drugstore sunscreen, you may as well be giving them cigarettes for dinner.

My Facebook news feed has become a very scary place, filled with dire and sometimes conflicting warnings about the poisonous food we’re feeding ourselves and our kids.

But it’s not just the usual suspects–like soda, fast food, and candy–that are being targeted. When I posted this photo of my son with a giant bag of frozen mango I got at Aldi (for the bargain-basement price of $3.29!), one reader immediately asked “Is it organic?” (No it’s not, I replied.) Another accused me of buying a bag full of GMOs. “This isn’t nutrition, sorry,” she said. So now food doesn’t have any nutritional value unless it’s organic?

Frankly, I’m worried about the climate of fear I’m seeing on Facebook about food, a place where eating fruits and vegetables isn’t enough unless they’re local and organic–or better yet, grown in  your own backyard (because we all have the time and acreage for that). A place where food is routinely labeled as “toxic” or “poison”. A place where you can instantly feel bad about your choices because even though you’re trying really hard, it’s not hard enough. (I know that some children have serious food allergies and intolerances that make certain foods dangerous for them. I empathize with parents who have reason to fear the food their kid gets at school and camp and church. That’s not what I’m  talking about.)

I’ve long considered my eating habits and my family’s eating habits works of progress, but I generally feel pretty confident in my choices. I’m concerned about synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. I’m increasingly concerned about genetically modified organisms and support labeling. I shop at the farmer’s market when I can. I buy some organics when I can–and try not to feel inferior when I can’t afford it (read “Organic Mom“). But when our budget is feeling tight, I also have to reign in some of my food spending. And I know some people just don’t have the access to or budget for local meat or organic farmer’s market fruit.

I’m also okay with my kids having processed junk food on occasion when they’re out and about (read: “My Kid Likes Junk Food and That’s Okay“). I advocate for improving the snack culture for kids because the junk food is excessive (and I don’t think it’s healthy to associate achieving in sports or gathering in a group with eating junk). But I don’t think Fruit Roll-Ups themselves are “poisonous”–otherwise, I wouldn’t let my kids have those foods occasionally at a party or a friend’s house (read: “The Mom I Can’t Be“).

These are my choices. They may not be yours. But we both love our kids and are trying. I’m continually learning–and tinkering with the way I feed myself and my kids as I learn more (read: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes“). But I’m tired of the one-upping. I’m tired of the fear mongering.

I just want to enjoy my toxic mango smoothie without being judged. Is that too much to ask?


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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Aldi Haul: My Best Finds This Week

October 14, 2012

I’ve already waxed poetic about Aldi (read: Ode to Aldi). So I won’t go on and on about how much I love the discount grocery chain. But I couldn’t help but share these especially good deals (and a few new finds) from this week’s shopping trip: 16-ounce bag of frozen fruit for morning smoothies Aldi […]

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Ode to Aldi

September 5, 2012

I’m pretty frugal. I coupon. I’ve even been known to hoard groceries when I come across a really good deal. So naturally, I love Aldi. I love their no-frills approach. They don’t need fancy lighting and free samples. They’re not going to give your kid a balloon at checkout. They’re not even going to bag […]

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