Tag Archives: Shopping

egg noodles

Ingredient Spotlight: Spelt

You may have noticed that I use spelt a lot on this blog. A lot. I’m having something of a love affair with spelt.

In the beginning days of this diet I went through a phase of experimenting with a bunch of different kinds of flours. Using all whole wheat just didn’t taste very good. I used buckwheat for quite a while, but had problems with it not rising right in certain recipes. Almond flour is great, but is also super expensive so I had to stop that. (I’ve since found that Trader Joe’s has almond meal for like a third of the price of other places, though, so I’m using it again these days!)

Then I found spelt. And I’ve never looked back.

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What I Buy at Trader Joe’s

I talk a lot on here about shopping at Trader Joe’s. That’s because so many of the ingredients I use are really expensive – unless I get them at Trader Joe’s. This is the one store that I know of that has many of the healthy, good quality ingredients that I want without requiring me to get a second mortgage to be able to buy them! For example, I save $9 – NINE DOLLARS!!! – by buying my almond meal at TJs instead of Whole Foods! 

See what I’m talking about?

Trader Joe’s claims that any of their products that has the “Trader Joe” label is guaranteed to be GMO free – another reason I like shopping there. It feels safe. And none of their products have high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils. This does NOT mean that anything they sell is something good for you to eat! You still must carefully read the ingredient labels, because they still have products with sugar, vegetable oils, and other things you should stay away from. But it does mean that you’re much more likely to find products that you can eat there than at a regular grocery store.

So I thought I’d take you on a little tour of the good deals I regularly get at Trader Joe’s – things I buy there and nowhere else because of how much money it saves me. I whipped out my phone and started snapping pictures at my last trip to Trader Joe’s, getting strange looks from people around me as I did so. See the lengths I go to for you people? You’re welcome.

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Ingredient Spotlight: Medjool Dates

I’ve been using dates as a sweetener ever since I had that delicious raw apple pie at our CSA potluck. They’ve totally transformed the way I bake. I almost always use some amount of dates to substitute for sweeteners in recipes that call for sugar now, and dates enabled me to create a completely sugar-free browned butter banana bread!

When I first started, I just used “regular” dates. I don’t know what kind they are…just that they’re not Medjool. I’d heard that Medjool dates were, like, THE dates to get, but they were so much more expensive. 


These were $4-something for 10 oz., while the Medjools were $7 for 8 oz.! I couldn’t justify that much of a difference (especially to my husband, who is already pretty much freaking out about how much I’m spending on milk and eggs these days.)You have to pick and choose where your money goes, you know? And dates are pretty low on that list, so regular dates it was. 

But THEN I was at Trader Joe’s one day, and I saw these.


And then I saw that the price was $4.50 for 16 whole ounces!! They’re actually cheaper than the “regular” kind from the grocery store, and there’s more of them! So I snatched them up, of course. I had no idea why they were supposed to be so much better than other kinds of dates, just that I’d heard that they were, so I was eager to give them a try.

They really are different! The first thing I immediately noticed is that the Medjools are WAAAYYY softer than the other kind. The others were always pretty hard, which is why I had to soak them for so long to soften them up. These are really soft – almost creamy in texture. And the flavor! They’re described as being “caramelly” in flavor with a hint of honey. They’re also somewhat sweeter than the others. I was never crazy about eating those other dates by themselves, but when I’m cutting into these I can’t resist nibbling on them. Really good. And eating one of these guys does a great job at neutralizing any munchies I have for sweets!

Medjool dates are fairly high in natural fruit sugars, but are also a good source of the essential minerals copper, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. This is why they’re a better choice for a sweetener, because there’s a lot of good nutrition there too! They have a lot of fiber, as well, and are digested slower than typical sugars, making them easier on your blood sugar.

The one thing about these compared to the others I used to get is that they don’t come pitted – at least not the ones at Trader Joe’s. (And, at that price, that’s the only place I’m getting them!) Pitting them yourself isn’t a big deal though.

Just get a paring knife and make a slit down the middle. They’re so soft that this will be really easy.

medjool dates

Then pull out the seed. It’s tucked inside the large inner cavity and is loose – it comes right out.

medjool dates

Collect them all in a bowl or something as you go. You’ll still want to soak these if you’re going to puree them for a recipe, but it won’t take long at all. Probably 10 minutes, if that.

medjool dates

The seeds are funny. They look like little bugs. They remind me of the Cicada shells I used to see when I lived in Arkansas. Super creepy when you think of it that way.


But, hey, don’t let a creepy-looking seed stop you! It’s just a SEED after all. Not, like, some mutant bug that’s going to kill you in your sleep or anything. Right? (Please…tell me I’m right.)

So, these are now my dates of choice. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, this is a great source! I’m steadily getting a whole list of “good quality ingredients that are stupidly cheaper at Trader Joe’s than anywhere else.” I think they’re starting to recognize me there.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, and the only Medjool dates you can find are ridiculously expensive, then just get the regular ones. These aren’t essential or anything. They’re absolutely better, but not enough better to justify a huge expense when other things are more important money-wise. But if you can find them at an affordable price, they’re definitely better and definitely worth it!


cacao nibs

Ingredient Spotlight: Cacao Nibs

I thought I’d make a few posts about some new ingredients that I’ve found particularly useful. Things you might not think of on your own, but that I’ve really enjoyed. And for the first one I’m going to talk about cacao nibs!

You may have never heard of cacao nibs before. I’ve never seen them in my regular grocery store, so they aren’t so common. You can find them in health food stores, and I got these at Whole Foods.

 cacao nibsq

Plain and simple, cacao nibs are unprocessed chocolate. It’s cacao beans that have been roasted and prepped right up to the point in which they’re used to make chocolate, but instead they’re chopped up and sold as is.

Cacao nibs are really high in magnesium – an important mineral most of us are deficient in. There are 272 mg of magnesium per 100 grams of cacao nibs! And they have higher levels of antioxidants than blueberries! They’re also good sources of tryptophan (which elevates mood), chromium (which stabilizes blood sugar and controls appetite), theobromine (which boosts energy), flavanols (antioxidants which improve circulation), and monounsaturated fats (which raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels.) 

They’re not super sweet, so I don’t necessarily like them on their own, but they have a super-duper crunch and chocolate flavor that goes REALLY well with other things!

cacao nibs

Paired with something else that’s sweet, these add really great texture. And I’m all about the texture! In particular, I’ve liked these on top of spelt cakes or banana bread covered with Homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter.

cacao nibs

Stick some banana slices on there too, and between the crunch of the nibs and the sweet creaminess of the Chocolate Peanut Butter and the bananas it’s heavenly!

I’ve also liked them on top of homemade ice cream. We recently made a batch with fresh strawberries for strawberry ice cream, and these were really good on top! Nice crunch with a hint of chocolate, but not overwhelming.

cacao nibs

They’re also good in Magic Milkshakes, and added into different baked goods.

Now, I’m NOT saying these are the same thing as eating a handful of chocolate chips. They’re not! They’re not at all as sweet. But pair them with other foods that could use a chocolatey crunch, and they’re great! I find that they provide that something extra that I’m sometimes craving, and help fight back urges to eat things I shouldn’t.

What other uses for cacao nibs can you think of?

Affordable Almond Flour!

When I first started this diet, I used almond flour a lot, and that’s reflected in my early recipes. I used it a lot because most of my recipe ideas were coming from Paleo diet blogs, and the Paleo diet doesn’t allow any grains.

However, at $11/pound, it just wasn’t practical to use almond flour very often, so I gradually dropped away from using it. It’s just SO expensive! I mean, when you’re trying to eat Real Food, you kind of have to pick and choose where your budget goes. And it’s much more important to me to spend money on buying good quality milk and butter than almond flour. So almond flour in recipes basically got ditched.

But then I found this at Trader Joe’s!

almond meal


It’s not quite the same as flour – it’s almond meal, which is coarser than almond flour. But I can still use it for most things, and it was only $3.99/pound! This is a HUGE difference from what I was paying for a bag of Bob’s Red Mill.

So, that’s why I’m starting to use almond flour in my recipes again. I like the texture almond flour gives baked goods, and it’s also a good idea to decrease grain consumption when possible. I might even go back and try some of my recipes with some almond flour subbed in for the spelt (I’m especially thinking of the banana bread, since I eat so much of it.) If you are unwilling/unable to buy almond flour, though, don’t worry. Usually it can be replaced with another flour, and I’ll try to make a note of that in the recipes.

But if you have a Trader Joe’s near you, then just go buy yourself some cheap almond meal!



This Year’s Stocking Stuffers

I’m not a huge Disney fan. At all. I’ve never been to Disneyworld and have no desire to go. But there’s one thing Disney does that I’ve taken to heart, and that’s their marketing strategy. You know, the whole “The vault is opening on this movie for only the next month, so hurry and get it now!” thing. (Where exactly is this famed vault, is what I want to know….) Creating this false sense of scarcity and rarity makes people see these movies as special things that must be gotten while they can!

A smart parent will know how to take this strategy and turn it to her advantage. Like with treats. How do you get a kid to think that something that they like but is healthy is a treat? Make it a “special occasion only” treat, or say, “Okay, but only two!” as though you’re reluctantly giving in to their request, and suddenly that bag of pistachios is as coveted as jelly beans.

You don’t believe me? Try it. I swear, it works.

So, it’s in the spirit of this strategy that I’ve selected this year’s stocking stuffers. Other years, I’ve had a thing of stuffing stockings with goodies I don’t always let the kids have. We have chocolate oranges and peppermint bark and Kinderchocolate (it’s a German thing). And I’ve always figured that it’s sweets, but it’s a special time of year so I didn’t obsess over it.

Now that I have a whole new outlook about sugar, however, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I feel like I might as well just pour poison down their throats as to give them all that sugar, and I just can’t do it!

But, since there are things that they like that are healthy, and that they view as “treats” thanks to my Disney-esque treatment of them, I can use those instead! Here are some of the things that are making their way into stockings this year.

honey mints

These honey mints are something I’ve talked about before on here. They have just honey, peppermint extract, and unsweetened chocolate as ingredients, so as candies go they’re not bad at all. I keep a bag on hand so that when I’m having a sweet urge I can eat one and calm it down. Just one goes a long way with me, and so a bag lasts a really long time. I’ve let my kids have some occasionally, but they’re generally “Mommy’s emergency candy” (the kids actually call it that too) so I don’t let them have it too often. But it’s their lucky year! Because each child is getting an ENTIRE BAG of these things in their stocking. They’re going to be over the moon about it.


This might not seem like much, but my kids are crazy about pistachios. Like, really really crazy about them. I usually restrict how many they can eat only because they’re pretty expensive, but because I restrict them, the prospect of an entire bag – each – all to themselves is going to seem like a huge indulgence to them!


My husband often has Altoids, but doles them out pretty frugally, and not very often at all, when my kids ask if they can have one. So I’m giving each of them a mint of Altoids Smalls all to themselves!


These are just for my son, as my daughter doesn’t like them. But my son is crazy about them, so he’s getting a whole bag!

peppermint bark

And…since it IS Christmas, after all, I’ll give each of them a couple pieces of Peppermint Bark. A few pieces won’t kill them if they’re eating mostly non-sugar options, so I’m treating them to some.

Besides these things, I’ll probably also get them each a pack of gum. They’re in the same category as Altoids for being “things that we only get occasionally.”

What are some things that your family sees as “treats” but are actually healthy? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Flaxseed bread

My New Bread

One of the biggest problems after starting this diet was bread. I’d already been buying organic whole wheat bread, but even that has some refined grains, as well as sweeteners, and it wasn’t okay for me to eat anymore. I tried a truly whole wheat bread, but it was so dense and heavy that I couldn’t tolerate it, much less the rest of my family! I probably could have tried making my own bread, but – honestly? – that’s just WAY more work than I’m willing to do. So, I just kind of gave up and decided to stick to my puffed spelt cakes.

But, then I found this bread. And it was at my local regular grocery store, of all places!


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