Say What? Affordable Organic and Healthy Food Options at Aldi

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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Pure Coconut Water

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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

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes: Chipotle Chicken Meatballs With Crunch and Easy Asian Salad

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It’s summertime! The season of barbecues, swimming, vacations, mesmerizing sunsets, boat rides and lounging at the beach. If you’re anything like me, you try to spend as much time as possible outdoors during these spectacular warmer months.

The last place that most of us want to be when it is so beautiful outside is slogging away in our kitchens preparing complicated dinners. Summer dinner prep should be simple and require minimum fuss. Some of my favorite dinners to prepare during the warmer months require almost no thought and just a few easy steps.

While I confess that most of my favorite recipes for the summer months require the use of an outdoor grill, I also have a few tasty and simple “indoor” recipes for days that we need a break from the grill.

Today, I am sharing one of my recent favorite concoctions: Chipotle Chicken Meatballs with Crunch paired with an Easy Asian Salad. These two recipes are a perfect pairing of spicy and slightly sweet. The food is incredibly quick to make, super healthy and scrumptious! Best yet, the recipes take practically no time at all to prepare – so you can get yourself back outside to enjoy the glorious warm weather!

Chipotle Chicken Meatballs With Crunch

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This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, Paleo and Low-FODMAP diet friendly.

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup and measuring spoons
  • Chopper or knife (if not buying pre-chopped celery)
  • Baking dish

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of ground chicken (14 oz. – 20 oz.)
  • 1 cup of chopped celery or red peppers (If you are following a strict Low FODMAP diet, use the red peppers instead of celery. Feel free to substitute with onions if you are not following a Low-FODMAP diet)
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons of ground chipotle seasoning (feel free to substitute chipotle for any other spicy seasonings in your pantry) Note: I like my food moderately spicy; use less or more depending on your tolerance for spiciness.
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Oil to coat the baking dish and 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the meatballs

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with the oil of your choice (I typically use avocado oil but check out this article for some other ideas: The Best Oils for High Heat Cooking).
  3. Add the ground chicken to the large mixing bowl.
  4. Pour in the 1 cup of chopped celery. (To save time, I buy pre-chopped celery at the store but you can also use a food chopper or knife to finely chop the celery.)
  5. Add the cinnamon, chipotle seasoning, black pepper and salt.
  6. Mix all of the ingredients with your hands.
  7. Form meatballs and place them in the coated baking dish. (The recipe makes 12-15 medium to large meatballs.)
  8. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the meatballs. (For extra zing, sprinkle a little extra chipotle seasoning over the meatballs.)
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove and serve … and pair it with Easy Asian Salad below.

If you are someone who is obsessed with grilling just about everything during the summer months, do not fear; instead of forming meatballs, you could always make chicken patties with this recipe and pop them on the grill!

Easy Asian Salad

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This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, Paleo and Low-FODMAP diet friendly.

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need:

  • Salad Bowl
  • Measuring Cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bag/container of mixed greens (organic preferred) Note: If you are cooking for 3 or more, double this recipe.
  • 1/4 cup of mandarin oranges (in water not syrup)
  • 1/4 cup of blanched slivered blanched almonds (purchase a bag with no added ingredients or salt; if you can’t find a bag at your regular grocery store, they also sell these online at retailers like amazon.com.)
  • 1/4 cup of chopped celery (use red peppers instead if you are following a strict Low FODMAPS diet)
  • (If you are not on a Low-FODMAP diet, add 1/4 cup of green or white onions)
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • Healthy salad dressing of your choice (I use olive oil and fresh lemon)

Instructions:

  1. Empty 1/2 bag or container of mixed greens in a salad bowl.
  2. Add the chopped celery and slivered blanched almonds to the bowl.
  3. Mix the salad
  4. Sprinkle the black pepper over the salad
  5. Drain the water from the can of mandarin oranges. Add the oranges to the top of the salad.
  6. Dress conservatively with the dressing of your choice.

Enjoy!

 

 

It’s a Bit Nutty What’s In Most Nut Butters

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Yesterday while food shopping at my favorite grocery store, I spent at least 15 minutes reading label after label of the various nut butters stocked on the shelves. (I know; I totally need to get a life!) I thought it would be quick and easy to find some new and nutritious nut butters to add to my regular dietary line-up. After all, I was shopping in the “healthy” foods section of the store.

Boy, was I wrong, though! What I found instead was some sneaky and unhealthy ingredients being added to these “healthy” nut butters.

A Good Nut Butter is Hard to Find

Nut butters are one of my favorite sources of protein from a non-animal source. Because I am an omnivore, I like to diversify my protein sources as much as possible. While I avoid peanut butter (for reasons I describe below), a broad selection of other nut butter options are readily available in most supermarkets and health food stores these days.

My typical poison, or so to speak, when it comes to nut butters is almond butter. I always have almond butter stocked up and ready to eat in my kitchen. It’s a great go-to afternoon snack on its own, fabulous in smoothies and just delightful paired with fruit.

I have been purchasing the same brand of almond butter for several years: Woodstock Natural Almond Butter. It’s one of the few almond butters available in regular supermarkets without any troubling added ingredients. On the plus side, this brand is 100% natural (almonds are literally the only ingredient). The down side is that it is a bit pricey (close to $13 a pop). In fact, the only other nut butters without additives I found at the well-stocked supermarket last night were even more expensive ($15 and up!).

Additives We Just Don’t Need

Why Added Sugar?

Almost nothing annoys me more than when manufacturers add sugar to products that really don’t need sugar. Most of the cheaper nut butter jars and even some more expensive options at the supermarket I shopped at last night contained added sugar. And I studied all of the different varieties (e.g., almond, cashew, hazelnut, brazil, walnut) on the shelves. Seeing cane sugar pop up time and time again in many nut butters just left me shaking my head and wondering why extra sugar is needed in nut butters at all? We all get enough sugar in our diets; so, the last thing we need is sugar in hidden sources.

Palm: The Unnecessary Nut Butter Oil

Another troubling additive that I found in a lot of nut butters is palm oil. It turns out, palm oil is one controversial oil. It is not only super high in saturated fat; the palm oil industry is linked to some pretty serious environmental issues.

Palm oil is derived from the palm oil fruit, which is grown on trees in palm oil plantations (typically in Indonesia and Malaysia). Since palm oil is used in many food and products beyond nut butters, the demand for palm oil continue to grow. As a result, farmers are clearing out rainforests and other forest lands to expand palm oil plantations. This expansive deforestation has been linked to reduced biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions – which of course is linked to climate change.

Regardless of the environmental implications, palm oil is absolutely unnecessary in nut butters. The 100% natural, one ingredient nut butters taste amazing without this oil; so why add it in the first place?

Skipping the Peanut Butter All Together

One “nut” butter I will never drop in my shopping cart is peanut butter. (I put nut in quotations because the peanut is not technically a nut; it is a legume.) Even though peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple growing up, I’ve since learned that peanut butter consumption can be harmful to our health.

Peanuts contain toxic molds, too much Omega 6 fats which can cause inflammation and often have high levels of pesticides. Some even have trans fats due to added vegetable oil. See the articles below for more information about the dangers of regular peanut butter consumption:

Hidden Dangers of Peanut Butter

Reasons You Should Not Eat Peanut Butter

Why I Gave Up Peanut Butter?

Finding Healthy Nut Butters Online

If, like me, you run into trouble finding a good selection of natural and healthy nut butters at your regular grocery stores, online stores are another option. In fact, sometimes you can snag even better prices online on amazon.com, vitacost.com or via Thrive Market. Here are a few excellent online options:

A Final Option: Make Nut Butter Yourself

One last option is to make your own nut butters at home. I have yet to make nut butter but plan to give it the old college try in the future. If you want to try to make your own nut butters, check out sites like Pinterest and YouTube for some guidance from experts!