Say What? Affordable Organic and Healthy Food Options at Aldi

image

It seems like Aldi is kind of hip now. Last weekend, one of the largest newspapers in NYC, the New York Daily News, featured an article called, “8 reasons why you should shop at Aldi.”

While I hadn’t shopped at an Aldi store in a few months, the article convinced me that I needed to hop in my car and head back there ASAP. In fact, I literally drove to my nearest Aldi within a few hours of reading the article. And I’m glad that I did! Upon perusing the Aldi aisles, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw all of the new organic and healthy food options – at beyond amazing prices. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

The Aldi Experience

For those of you who are not familiar with Aldi, it is a “no-frills” German supermarket chain that seems to be popping up everywhere. In fact, at least 10 stores are now open within 10 miles of my home. Go back a few years, and maybe there were only two stores in my area. You can even find an Aldi in Manhattan! Beyond my immediate area, Aldi stores seem to be expanding in most U.S. states and throughout Europe.

The author of the Daily News article says it best when he described Aldi as the “Jan Brady of supermarkets.” When you first enter an Aldi store, you kind of have to get used to the “no-frills” concept of the chain. You are not going to see the beautiful produce displays and neatly stocked shelves of supermarkets like Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joes. In fact, most items are haphazardly placed in cardboard boxes or containers at Aldi.

Aldi has some interesting quirks. Shoppers must insert a quarter to gain use of an Aldi shopping cart. (You get the quarter back upon returning the shopping cart, though.) Also, the store charges for all plastic shopping bags. This policy, though, encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable shopping bags (which I remember to bring with me most of the time).

Aldi stores also carry mostly unique brands. They offer several brand lines that you can only find at Aldi stores, such as Simply Nature (natural and organic products), Fit & Active (food and beverages for healthy lifestyles), liveGfree (gluten-free line), Friendly Farms (dairy and dairy alternatives), Never Any! (meat without antibiotics, hormones or by-products), Little Salad Bar (vegetables/salad items) and more. Aldi stores also carry a limited and rotating stock of name brand items found at traditional supermarkets.

While kind of odd for a supermarket, these unique policies, unstructured looking aisles and limited brand options help Aldi keep overhead low. For example, they don’t need to hire as many employees for stocking shelves and no employees are needed for parking lot cart retrieval. The money they save on overhead translates into better prices for us consumers!

The “New” Aldi

Aldi had somewhat of an undeserved bad rap a few years ago. Back then, Aldi’s brand game wasn’t as strong and their shelves featured less healthy options. However, most notably there seemed to be somewhat of a stigma associated with shopping at Aldi a few year back. I remember shopping at an Aldi store in 2012 and overhearing a conversation between two neighbors who ran into each other unexpectedly at the store. Both ladies were acting somewhat embarrassed to be “caught” shopping at Aldi and were overtly making excuses as to why they weren’t shopping at the “regular” supermarket instead. Their exchange was almost humorous.

Back then, Aldi stores were not very crowded. Fast forward a few years later and Aldi stores are now super popular. Parking lots are jam-packed and the aisles are crammed with frugal-minded shoppers. Shopping at Aldi definitely seems more mainstream today.

Aldi’s low prices (especially when standard supermarket prices continue to rise) along with the expansion of healthy and organic food options continue to attract new shoppers and keep returning customers like me satisfied. As we all know, it’s very expensive to eat mostly organic and healthy foods – so Aldi’s incredibly low prices make healthy eating more accessible for everyone.

And there are so many great finds available at Aldi now! I am excited to share some of the organic and healthy items purchased at my recent Aldi shopping run:

Organic Arugula

image

Arugula, which is hands down my favorite kind of salad green vegetable, is only $2.49 at my Aldi store. And it’s organic! Most supermarkets seem to offer organic arugula (with the exception of rare sales) at a price point of $3.99 or greater. My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Spinach

image

Spinach is my go-to green veggie for juicing and smoothies. Organic baby spinach at Aldi is only $2.49 (compared to over $3.99 at standard supermarkets). My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Frozen Blueberries

image

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants. Frozen organic blueberries are a regular staple item in my freezer. While packages at standard supermarkets could cost you around $4.99, Aldi sells frozen organic blueberries for only $2.79. My savings: around $2.20.

Organic, Antibiotic Free Chicken Breast

image

This one is a total steal. It is hard to find affordable organic chicken at grocery stores. While some chicken will be marketed as antibiotic-free, the chicken will often not be organic. Aldi sells organic, antibiotic-free chicken breasts for an incredibly low price. The large chicken breast that I purchased (enough for two full servings) was only $5.33. I have been unable to find anything similar in standard supermarkets for under $10. My savings: approximately $5.

Organic Baby Carrots

image

Baby carrots are fabulous in the juicer, in smoothies and are the perfect afternoon or anytime snack. Aldi sells a 16 ounce bag of organic carrots for $1.89. Compare this to $2.49 at a nearby standard supermarket, and I saved 60 cents by shopping at Aldi. Below is a juice that I made with these carrots:

image

Pure Coconut Water

image

Stores like Whole Foods sell pure coconut water for about $3.99 a pop. (Pure coconut waters need to be refrigerated and aren’t as widely available compared to the shelf stable coconut waters.) Trader Joes offers a great deal for pure coconut water for $2.99 a bottle; however, Aldi offers even a better deal at $2.29 per bottle! That is a saving of at least 70 cents per bottle. Needless to say, I stocked up on these coconut waters during my last Aldi shopping trip.

Unsweetened Almond Milk

image

I love almond milk. The unsweetened almond milk varieties are a must for my smoothies and protein shakes. I can’t believe that unsweetened almond milk is only $2.29 at Aldi! The brand I typically buy at other supermarkets is at least $3.29. My savings: $1 or more. Note: They also sell coconut milk at Aldi, but I didn’t see any unsweetened varieties available.

Other Sweet Deals at Aldi

  • Slivered Almonds $2.99 – These almonds are usually very expensive at standard supermarkets. I am talking at least $5.99 at other stores. I use these almonds in many recipes including my carrot slaw and Asian salad recipes.
  • Bag of Lemons $3.29 – I use lemons often in hot water and to dress my salads. Lemons can be pricey at regular supermarkets. This Aldi bag featured a whole lot of lemons at a great price!
  • (Whole) Pineapple $1.99 – Wow! The cheapest price I have found outside of Aldi for a whole pineapple is $2.99.
  • 24 Pack of Spring Water $2.49 – I love the taste of Aldi spring water and the water comes in BPA free plastic containers. As an added bonus, the water bottles are made of recycled plastic.

A Word of Caution

While I have focused on the healthy food and beverage items that I have purchased, keep in mind that Aldi also carries a lot of junk and heavily processed foods also at great prices. Just like any supermarket, these not-so-healthy foods are definitely abundant at Aldi. I encourage all shoppers to carefully read labels of products before purchasing them. I tend to stick to certain Aldi brands, such as Simply Nature, Friendly Farms (for unsweetened almond milk only), Little Salad Bar, etc. to ensure that I am selecting only healthy and/or organic items.

Keeping Aldi in Mind for Future Shopping Sprees

While I can’t rely on Aldi for everything on my shopping list, it is a fantastic spot to save money on the healthy items above and more. I’m definitely going to try to shop there more often! Aldi is also a great store to shop at for large parties or holiday meals – which can often set you back hundreds of dollars at other stores. You can definitely save a bank load of money on key staples and ingredients at Aldi compared to traditional supermarkets.

image

Some of the fabulous organic and healthy food finds that I picked up at Aldi.

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Less Reliant on Microwave Cooking

microwave-29056_1280

A few weeks ago my microwave oven stopped working. I was attempting to heat turkey meatballs quickly between meetings while working from home when my microwave flatlined. Basically, it was completely dead; the time started blinking and the buttons refused to work.

I must admit that I began to panic a bit when my microwave stopped working. Would I have to (gasp!) use my oven to reheat my food? How long would that even take? With limited time for breaks due to my hectic work schedule, I had definitely become reliant on my microwave over the years to reheat or cook food in a pinch. In fact, probably too reliant!

The broken down microwave didn’t cause a total disaster. In reality, the meatballs only took a few minutes to heat up in the oven. And they tasted a million times better than they would have in the microwave. Most importantly, I still had plenty of time to prep for my next work meeting.

While my food was heating up in the oven, though, I began to ponder if it was necessarily a bad thing that my microwave oven seemingly went kaput. After all, as an otherwise healthy person, I knew that I used my microwave way too often. I began to think for a moment that maybe I wouldn’t even replace my defective microwave at all. I even daydreamed about what I would do with the extra counter space – as my microwave took up prime real estate in my tiny NYC area kitchen.

My daydream was short-lived, though. Later that evening, I noticed a small piece of paper towel wedged in the microwave oven door. I swiftly removed the paper towel piece …and my microwave came back to life again.

While my microwave is now in working order, I have decided that I am going to make a concerted effort to try to use it less often.

The 1980s: Where it all Began for my Family

I remember my family’s first microwave oven. My parents purchased it in the early 80s on the way home from a visit with family in New York. It was an enormous contraption that was so big that it wouldn’t even fit on the countertop. At probably two to three times the size of a microwave today, my parents had to buy a large stand to hold the darn thing.

For the longest time, the microwave oven remained pretty much idle. It was rarely used – almost as if we were slighly skeptical of it at first. Then, seemingly overnight, it became the most popular appliance in our kitchen.

By the mid to late 1980s, microwave cooking became a hot trend. All of the ladies in the neighborhood, like my mother, had cupboards filled with microwave cookbooks and recipes. There were even cake mix kits that allowed you to make entire cakes in the microwave. (They tasted pretty dreadful, had a sponge-like consistency and didn’t last too long on the store shelves, though.) During this time, grocery stores started carrying TV dinners galore, microwave popcorn, soup that could be microwaved and so much more.

Almost everyone had a microwave. And it also became the go-to appliance for reheating food for families – moving ahead of even the regular oven.

Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, word seemed to spread that microwave cooking was probably not the safest method of cooking. I remember being told repeatedly by my mother to step back from the microwave while it was in use. The words “radiation” and “potentially dangerous” became synonymous with microwave oven use. However, that didn’t stop most people from using microwaves.

Fast forward 30+ years, microwave ovens are now much smaller and sleeker than the 1980s models, and most of us still use them at least once everyday. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t use a microwave for at least some form of cooking/reheating.

In fact, I have only met one person in my adult life who didn’t own a microwave. A former boyfriend lived life microwave free and cooked all of his meals strictly on the stove or in the oven. He would even buy TV dinners, transfer them to oven-safe dishes and heat them in the oven. I used to think it was kind of unusual that he didn’t own a microwave (and had no desire to ever own one), but now I think he was kind of on to something!

How Does a Microwave Oven Work?

A microwave oven heats food through microwave radiation. Rather, than boring you lovely readers with my attempt at scientific speak, I found a few articles that explain the science behind microwave ovens succinctly:

How Do Microwaves Work?

Explain that Stuff – How Microwave Ovens Work

What are the Dangers?

Well, the good news is that most experts agree now that the radiation that emanates from microwave ovens is not as dangerous as originally thought. Back in the day, it was widely believed that microwave ovens could cause cancer through excessive radiation exposure. No studies related to modern microwave oven models seem to suggest that this is a valid worry, though. Many experts still recommend standing a few feet away from a microwave that is in use, as a small amount of radiation exposure is possible.

All of the news about microwave oven use is not positive, though. Research indicates that microwave ovens can alter the nutrients of food, heating food in some plastic containers could be dangerous as toxins from plastic could leach on to food during the heating process and microwave ovens heat larger food items inconsistently which could result in some food borne illnesses. And that’s just the beginning. For more details about potential microwave oven dangers, check out the articles below:

The Hidden Hazards of Microwave Cooking

Why You Should Never Microwave Your Food

Tips for Using the Microwave Less

As I previously exclaimed, I am now committed to using my microwave less often based on the articles above and my own belief that microwave cooking is probably not the healthiest heating/cooking option. I have done a pretty good job so far of weaning myself off regular microwave use. It can be done! Below are tips that may help if you too are ready to give your microwave a bit of the cold shoulder treatment:

  1. Plan your meals and snacks for the day: The simple task of planning your meals will help you avoid using your microwave so often. For example, I will often have a sweet potato with lunch or dinner. I’ll now factor into my schedule that I need to place the potato in the oven about 45 minutes before I plan to eat. This planning also helps to curb mindless eating throughout the day or in the evenings.
  2. Consider buying an inexpensive electric kettle for heating liquids. This was the best $22 I’ve spent in a long time! Instead of plopping a mug in the microwave and having some of the liquid explode all over the place (not to mention having to use a towel or oven mitt to handle the scorching hot mug!), I now heat liquid in my stainless steel electric kettle. The kettle only takes about 2-3 minutes to heat liquid and shuts off when it is done. I no longer have to worry about being burned by a hot microwaved mug when making tea again. Here is an electric kettle for only $20 and change at Amazon!
  3. Use small/medium glass storage containers for leftovers. Transfer your restaurant or home cooked meal leftovers into versatile glass storage containers. These glass containers make reheating food in the oven super easy. Just make sure that your glass containers are safe for the oven. Here are affordable Pyrex glass storage containers for under $20! (If you must use your microwave, these glass containers are also a much safer alternative than most plastic containers.)
  4. Keep more raw foods and snacks handy. One way to use the microwave less is to keep your fridge or pantry stocked with fruits, salad ingredients, nuts, nut butters and snacking vegetables. I always keep some protein handy that I can to salads. If I make grilled chicken or meatballs for dinner, I will often refrigerate the leftovers and add them cold to my salad. These meals are quick, easy and don’t have me going anywhere near my microwave oven.