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Budgeting Post-Baby: Grocery Shopping and Saving

June 12, 2015

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I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one area of our spending that was a little out of control was our grocery and food budget. Grocery shopping is somewhat of a hobby for me when I have the free time and I love testing and trying out new products, so although we had a budget, I rarely stuck with it each month.

We’ve waffled between various different grocery stores over the years: Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Cub Foods, etc. My husband had been trying to convince me to check out Aldi ever since he shopped there in college, but I was always more than a little hesitant.

When we re-examined our budget, we decided that spending around $300/month on groceries was a reasonable amount to spend, cutting back from the $400/month we were budgeting previously. To some that may seem high and others that may seem low, but for us it was a pretty comfortable number. We take all our lunches from home and rarely do take-out during the week, so that’s a lot of meals for $300. Side note: Dining out and entertainment are a separate item in our budget.

When my grocery budget got cut, I knew I needed to get creative. I’m not a good coupon-clipper, especially now that time is precious with a little one around the house. So a few weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and made the trek to Aldi with my hubby and baby in tow.

First Impressions 
I was really shocked by the prices. Like, seriously in awe of how cheap some of the food was. I had a few experiences with Aldi while in college, but I was blown away by how much less everything costs. One of my prior assumptions about Aldi was that everything was really poor quality, but the way they keep their prices down (like bringing food in on pallets, not hiring people to stock the shelves, making you return your own cart and bag your own groceries) is passed along in cost-savings to the consumer. It’s not a “fun” grocery shopping experience, but it certainly does make for a cheaper bill!

After browsing the store, I was also surprised by the number of healthy, high-quality products they had available. There were plenty of items branded under their “Simply Nature” line that were organic, gluten-free, non GMO, etc. Not really what I expected from a store like Aldi. Additionally, the produce was, for the most part, really great.

Things We Love at Aldi
-Veggies/Produce
-Dark chocolate
-Cereal
-Tortilla chips and crackers (especially the black bean and corn variety)
-Plan and flavored Greek yogurt (their house brand tastes just like some major national brands)
-Milk and shredded cheese
-Grains and Bread (quinoa/rice blends, bread, sandwich thins and wraps, oats)
-Baking staples like brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, etc.
-Nuts and trail mix (their walnuts and almonds are great!)
-Sparkling water (they frequently have LaCroix, my favorite)
-Canned items like beans, crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes

Things We Buy Elsewhere
-Chocolate chips (I was not impressed with the quality of their chocolate chips at all)
-Fresh berries (their fresh berries have never looked great when we’ve been there)
-Meat (we don’t buy much meat because we get beef free from Joe’s parents, but we buy our chicken, deli turkey and the like at other stores)
-Peanut butter (I prefer brands that are made with just peanuts and salt, nothing else)
-Salad dressing (Aldi only has a limited selection of basics, like ranch and honey mustard)

Things We Buy in Bulk (Costco)
-Diapers and formula
-Toilet paper
-Olive oil
-Baby wipes
-Keurig pods
-Frozen salmon and chicken breasts

Thus far, it’s been entirely possible to shop at Aldi for a majority of our grocery needs and save a bunch of money in the process. Our weekly grocery trip runs between $60 and $75 dollars each week, and any money that we don’t spend for the month can go toward fun things (like coffee!) or saving for something else.

Other Tips for Saving
-When I do go to other stores like Target for groceries, I make sure to check out my Ibotta app to see if there are any items I can get cash back on. It’s a quick and easy way to get a little more cash in your pocket.
-I also check sites like Coupons.com for any printable coupons and Target’s online coupons as well. I don’t clip a ton of coupons, but I check a couple sites that are easy to navigate.
-Meal planning is an absolute necessity in order to eat well on a budget. I find that if I don’t plan ahead I end up spending so much more at the grocery store because I just toss things in the cart without a plan.
-Make some of your snacks! My husband snacks a lot, so to save money I have been making snacks and treats for the week on Sunday afternoons. I’ll make a batch of whole wheat banana muffins, protein bites (with oats, PB, honey and protein powder), and chop up some veggies for dipping in hummus.
-Every now and again, make it a practice to eat down your freezer. If you’re anything like us, you probably have a ton of food sitting around in your freezer just waiting to be used at mealtime. Although some of our freezer meals are less than glamorous, I feel good knowing I’m not letting food go to waste and I’m saving money in the process.

Madison

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Eating With and Without Rules

June 5, 2014

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I’ve mentioned this before, but Instagram has quickly become my favorite form of social media. I share a lot of food photos on Instagram, and some of those photos include meat now and again. And, as you can probably guess, it means quite a few people have questions about if I’m still a vegetarian or not. The short answer? No.

It’s been quite a while since I talked specifically about my food choices, and truth be told I’ve been on a bit of a food journey over the past few months.

Over Christmas and the entire month of December I decided to give paleo-style eating a try. I heard great things about paleo from a number of people and wanted to see what all the hype was about. As you can imagine, it was a huge shift for me having been a vegetarian for the last 3 years. After about a month of eating paleo, I realized that it wasn’t an eating style that suited me at all. I loved the focus on whole foods, but I really missed my grains and their filling nature.

What really sent me fleeing from paleo was the fact that I actually gained weight during that month and I felt sluggish. I’m not saying this to bash paleo in any way, since I have had friends who love it and thrive eating that way, but for me and my body it wasn’t a good fit. This experiment further emphasized what I’ve always believed: A one-size-fits-all style of eating just doesn’t exist.

After my experiment with paleo I was at a loss as to what was next. Go back to vegetarian? Eat completely without rules and restrictions? While I don’t really like food labels, I did crave some type of structure in my diet so going without any guidelines seemed strange, too.

I decided to go back to eating vegetarian 85-90% of the time and allowing myself meat when my body craved it or it was the healthiest choice available. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in an airport or restaurant and been stuck eating a baked potato or something similar in the name of being a vegetarian when, in reality, getting a grilled chicken breast would have been the more nutritionally-sound choice. It didn’t make sense to me to make an inferior food choice in the name of following a set of self-imposed rules.

The past few months of eating with a more relaxed yet mindful approach have been wonderful! I don’t eat much meat during the week, but occasionally I’ll have a hamburger on the grill or a little shaved turkey with my lunch. As always, the meat is more of an afterthought and the veggies are front and center on the plate. It’s freeing to be able to make the choice to include meat now and again without having to eat it all the time. The more I play around with what I eat, I have realized that all-or-nothing rarely works.

How do you approach your eating style? I’m curious if others of you steer clear of hard and fast food rules, too?
Madison

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Eating Repetitively

May 12, 2014

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Today I’m going to get a little bit personal. I guess talking about miscarriage and body image is very personal, but I find talking about what I eat to be every bit as personal. I don’t know why but I always feel so vulnerable talking about what I eat with other people. Anyone else feel the same way? Food is just so incredibly personal sometimes.

If you know me in real life chances are you also know that I tend to be pretty repetitive in the way I eat throughout the week. I know, I know. Variety and color on your plate is the key to eating well, but I’ve always found that eating the same foods day-in and day-out with just a little bit of variety helps keep my on track. Sound boring? Hear me out.

When I began to log my foods on My Fitness Pal for The May Challenge, I noticed a trend. The days I feel my best, most balanced and well-rounded my eating goes a little something like this:

BREAKFAST
1/2 cup oat bran made with water, cinnamon and stevia
1-2 tablespoons creamy natural peanut butter or almond butter
Coffee with a splash of whole milk
Vitamins + water

MID MORNING
Cup of decaf coffee
48 oz water

LUNCH
1/2 cup oat bran made with water, cinnamon and stevia
1 serving of fruit (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or a banana)
1-2 tablespoons creamy natural peanut butter or almond butter
1 teaspoon chia seeds

AFTERNOON
Some type of afternoon snack, usually plain whole milk yogurt with some walnuts and flax or a serving of fruit with walnuts, etc.
24 oz water

DINNER
Veggies, veggies, veggies! I may eat a whole head of roasted broccoli with hummus and whole wheat toast or a large bowl of zucchini pasta with black beans and marinara, or a sweet potato with hummus and kale. Sometimes I’ll have a really large salad with lots of veggies. Volume is key for me at night, since I’m hungry after my workout. Most nights I would estimate I get 4 to 5 servings of veggies at dinner.

DESSERT
I may have a piece of dark chocolate or a tiny bite of something sweet with decaf coffee, plus more water!

For some people I guess this type of repetition probably sounds incredibly dull, but I find that when I stick to more of a routine I’m satisfied without eating too much. Of course I don’t eat like this every day, but when I’m looking to re-calibrate and feel good, I always go back to this little routine. I think because I am around food every day, it’s easier for me to not think about the food I’m actually eating.

Do you have a routine in the way you eat or a fall-back eating style? Or are you all about variety? I’m always curious about what works best for people when it comes to healthy eating.

Madison

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May Food and Fitness Goals

May 7, 2014

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This month I’m taking part in The May Challenge over at Dani’s blog, Thyme is Honey. I don’t usually sign up for many health or fitness challenges, but I liked that you got to set your own goals for this challenge. Participating in the challenge got me thinking of other goals I have for the month. It seems so much more manageable to set monthly mini goals rather than large goals at the beginning of the year that you forget about a few weeks later.

Here are my goals for the month of May

1. Drink at least 80 oz of water each day
2. Lose those last 3 pounds my body has been hanging on to recently. (Update: Down 1 pound, 2 to go!)
3. Exercise 45 minutes 5x a week
4. Make a vitamin and supplement plan and stick to it
5. Log food and water intake in My Fitness Pal each day (for The May Challenge)
6. Participate in my friend Robin’s (free!) Pilates Summer Series. Robin is a Pilates instructor and did a series on her blog a few months back called the 28 Days of Pilates. It was amazing! The videos are all super short, just 5 to 10 minutes in length, and can be done at home with no special equipment. I’m so excited to participate in her next series. It’s not too late to sign up! You can get registered (once again, for free!) HERE.

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As part of The May Challenge, I created an easy lunch salad recipe that can be made at the beginning of the week and packaged into lunch containers for easy meals on the go. This recipe is incredibly quick to put together and really saves my butt when I don’t have anything in the fridge to put in our lunch containers. Head on over to Dani’s website for the recipe!

What are your goals for the month of May? Are you big into participating in online fitness challenges?

Madison

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Chicago Part 1 (and a little blogging break)

March 16, 2014

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Hello, hello! I took a little blogging break, did you notice? It wasn’t really a planned blogging break, but it seems that life turned into a perfect storm of events, getting sick, being incredibly busy at work, and feeling a little creatively burnt out, mandating a break from structure and the constant push to churn out great recipes and content week after week.

One of the questions I get most frequently is where I find the time to maintain a blog while also having a full-time job as a food editor and a thousand other things on my plate. Most of the time it feels effortless because I’m bursting with ideas I want to share beyond the scope of the recipes I develop at work. But sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

Sometimes all the great ideas I have floating around in my head end up getting poured into what I’m working on at work and I’m left out of ideas and inspiration for a time. Perhaps it also has something to do with March gloom, when winter seems like it will never end and we’ll be stuck eating root veggies forever. Are you with me, friends?

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I always find that taking a little trip and trying some new foods refreshes my creativity. My work trip to Chicago couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m spending a long weekend with my co-workers in Chicago at the yearly International Association of Culinary Professionals meeting (IACP) and we’ve being eating our way through the city. We are half way through our trip so I thought I would do a little recap of where we’ve been and eaten thus far.

1. Chicago French Market 
The minute after we landed and dropped our bags off at the hotel we headed to Chicago French Market for lunch. It’s a great indoor market that has a bunch of food stalls where you can order a quick bite to eat. There’s also a small seating area to eat after you get your food. It was a fun place to go with a group because we were each able to order what sounded good to us and try a bunch of different foods.

2. Phoenix Restaurant, Chinatown 
My co-worker, Mary, lived in Chicago for five years so she led the charge on where we should eat on our trip. I’m certain I would never have ventured to Phoenix in Chinatown without Mary’s guidance. There’s certainly nothing impressive about the building or atmosphere, but the food was great! My favorite was the Moo-Shoo Vegetable, my standard order at any Chinese restaurant.

3. Eataly Chicago 
I’ve been to Eataly in NYC a number of times but the Eataly in Chicago is certainly worth a visit, too. It’s a huge, two-story building filled with everything Italian you could hope for. It also left me with a strong desire to return to Italy. Did I mention they have a Nutella bar?

4. Hot Chocolate
We didn’t actually go to Hot Chocolate, which I’ve heard is wonderful, but we did have the pleasure of taking an afternoon class about savory sweets with the chef of Hot Chocolate, Mindy Segal. She made us an apple pie with a smoked bacon fat crust and a chocolate cake that dreams are made of. If this is any indication of how good her restaurant is, I would highly recommend going. An added bonus: Mindy sent us home with a recipe for the chocolate cake. You better believe I’ll be re-creating it soon!

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5. Lyfe Kitchen 
Lyfe Kitchen has five locations around the country but this is their only location in the Midwest. I loved the health-forward, casual approach to their menu, and it totally catered to all types of eaters including vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free eaters as well as meat-eaters. Plus, the entire menu lists calorie counts so you know what you’re putting into your body, and everything is under 600 calories max!

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