I shop at Aldi.

Okay, I’ve met a lot of people who would deem themselves knowledgable critics. They will give me plenty of reasons why they are not going to shop at Aldi. I’ve heard it all. “They can lie on their nutrition labels.” “I just can’t trust their meat.” “If it’s so cheap there has to be something wrong with it.” Well, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of laws in place about lying on nutrition labels. Their meat isn’t bad. Again, they couldn’t sell it if it was. I will say, their meat and produce don’t always have as much of a life as they would if they were from a leading grocery store, but I just buy what I need. What I can’t use I freeze.

The thing about Aldi is they know exactly how they can lower prices without sacrificing the food itself.

Limited Selection

This part isn’t always the most fun, but I just try to remember that if they had everything I needed, including a fresh cut of salmon and the specialty vinaigrette for the salad to go with it, the prices would not be what I want them to be and, well, we wouldn’t have an Aldi anymore. I will say, when I made my trip to Aldi the other day I was a little surprised that I couldn’t find corn starch. But since I had my grocery list laid out and I was already making a trip to another grocery store to get the things I knew I wouldn’t find at Aldi, I just moved it from one list to the other and went on with my day. You might be thinking that it’s not worth the extra trip to Aldi, and you’ll probably lose time because you have to go to two different grocery stores. I’d like to say that’s not the case. The amount of time it takes me to stop at a second grocery store on the way home is probably made up in the amount of time I save by speeding through Aldi and grabbing the one brand (see below) that they have of each thing I need and heading back out the door. After shopping there consistently for about a year now, I know where everything is. It makes my shopping trips pretty quick. Once you start shopping at Aldi more often you’ll get an idea of what they do and don’t have and make arrangements based on that.

One Brand

Aldi has it figured out. The people that shop there do so because they want cheap prices. So they sell one brand of everything for cheap. Less food on the shelves = less money they have to spend. In my opinion, it makes shopping easier too. They already did all of the price-checking for me. No more standing in front of the peanut butter and comparing prices per ounce to figure out which one is the best deal. I just grab and go. One thing I’ve learned is that a lot of the brands that they have are actually made by the same majo companies that you see at other grocery stores. They just repackage them and change the name. Their Fit & Active brand, which is their more organic option, is made by the same people as a brand sold at a natural foods store. So there you go. One brand, but a good brand, at a low price. Every now and then you see name brand Pop Tarts and things, but they are more expensive. Just go with the off-brand. Trust me, the quality is still there.

Bring Your Own Bag, Return Your Own Cart.

If you think about it, stores spend a lot of money on shopping bags. In order to lower the price of their food, Aldi does not hand out bags. Instead, you can bring your own bags or buy either their reusable or disposable bags. If I forget my bags I grab some empty food boxes from the aisles and use those. It seems even easier to me than carrying bags of food.
Other grocery stores also have to pay their employees to carry carts back inside from the cart returns. Aldi has a cart-return policy. When you get there you place a quarter in your cart which releases the cart. When you replace your cart you get that quarter back. Simple as that. It lowers the store’s expenses, which lowers the cost of your food.

Faster Checkouts

The faster the checkout, the less employees the company needs to be working at a given time. Aldi has multiple extra-large barcodes on their products. At the register, the cashiers don’t have to turn over the items to scan them, so the checkout is faster. They also do not take checks or credit cards. Cash, debit cards, and food stamps only. Just punch in your pin or hand them some cash and go on your way. No signing, no writing out a check. Quick and easy. Debit cards are cheaper for them than credit cards, and checks can bounce causing additional fees. They really seemed to think of everything.

There’s more on the list. They cut down on shelving by having self-displaying packaging to save on labor and costs. They carry a select amount of produce at a time. They have shorter store hours (they’re only open until 8 most days of the week. That’s a test for me. I prefer to grocery shop after 10 pm). Everything they do is to make things cheaper and easier for their customers.

So, here’s to you, Aldi. I can make a very reasonable grocery budget and still have delicious things for dinner every night.

To all you skeptics, I hope you’ll check it out now. Or at least check out Aldi’s website. They have a lot of information there as well.

Freeze those meals for Later

Here it goes, guys. Today I’m going to make a bunch of meals and freeze them so I can pull them out on busy days.

I started last night. I planned my menu and made my shopping list. I separated my shopping list based on stores. First, I checked weekly ads to see if there were any discounts. I found that Rainbow has a deal on ground beef.  1.68/lb. So I put that down on the rainbow list. I was really excited, because the recipes that I picked for this time have mostly ingredients that I know they carry at Aldi. If you haven’t heard of Aldi, or are skeptical, you should really check it out. I’ll post about Aldi another time. Cub didn’t seem to have any good sales this week, and I don’t have any other grocery stores nearby, so I limited my shopping to these two stores.

Okay, so I’ve mapped out how to spend less on my food, by looking for sales and getting as much as I can from Aldi. It turns out that I spent about $100. Now, being that my kitchen is only 6 months old, I do not have every staples that, say, a mother of 4 would have. This time I had to buy things like lemon juice and ground ginger. This means I may be spending more on my grocery trips than you may need to. I also had a very empty fridge, so the veggies and things that I usually have plenty of (celery, onions, peppers, carrots) had to go on my shopping list.
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Shopping mistakes

I eyeballed a lot of things, because I didn’t want to take the time to figure things out. For example, I bought two bags of onions, but I didn’t even use one, but I didn’t double-check the amount of chicken needed for recipes, so I bought too much. Take the time to figure out exactly how much you will need. It’ll save a lot of hassle.

I could have planned my meals based on sales, to optimize my savings.

I should have shopped the day before. Since I bought bags of chicken breasts, and I have an ancient microwave, I wasted a lot of time waiting for chicken to defrost. My marinades would have been much easier if I didn’t have to keep myself busy with other things while my microwave worked at a snail’s pace.

The Menu

Completed today:

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Orange Teriyaki Chicken
Hawaiian Chicken
Kabobs
Taco Meat
Ground Beef

On the list for this weekend:
Manicotti
BBQ Chicken
Hamburgers
Twice-baked Potatoes
Chicken Enchiladas

Let’s Get Cooking

The first thing I did is chop up some veggies. I chopped up four onions and put them in a bowl to use in a lot of my recipes. I chopped up some green peppers, carrots and celery too.
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While my husband, Loren, kindly started browning a couple pounds of beef with some onions mixed in so i have ground beef frozen and ready to go, I made broccoli cheese soup. That’s where my celery, carrots, and peppers came in. I got that started, but there was a lot of wait time. So by the time my husband was done browning meat, I was ready for another project. We got started with the orange teriyaki chicken. That was really easy. We mixed it all right into a bag. Thanks to another blogger (see shout outs below) I knew just what to do. I took the pitcher from my blender, took the blade out, and stuck the baggie in there. No messes, quick and easy. It took less than ten minutes, and we had it in the freezer.
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Once the ground beef cooled, we put it in freezer bags and got started on the taco meat. Same beginning, except we added green pepper. Then I just used taco seasoning from Aldi. You can do your own taco meat recipe if you’d like, however you normally make it. I thought about adding black beans next time for more ease on serving day.
For the hawaiian chicken, we did mix it in a bowl because it was such a big recipe. I knew I wanted it to freeze in one bag since I’d make it all in the crock pot at once, but I didn’t have a bag big enough. I ended up using one of the chicken breast bags. It worked out pretty well. The recipe itself was just as easy as the teriyaki. I’m starting to love these marinades and crock pot recipes. Throw it all in and you’re done! The Hawaiian chicken will all mend together (there is pineapple and mandarin oranges in it) and we’ll eat it over rice.
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My husband had to head to work, so I dropped him off and came back home to clean up the rest before going to work myself. In the process I snipped up 4 or 5 chicken breasts with a scissors and added some italian dressing. It took me about 3 minutes. I’ll use that for kabobs by adding pieces of pineapple, green peppers, and onion.

Freezing the Food

Freezing is really easy. Divide it into the serving sizes you would like. Depending on the recipe, I divided it into what we needed for a meal together, single meals to take to work, or the entire recipe. The Hawaiian chicken was a crock pot recipe, so I left it whole. But that one feeds 8-10 people, so when we’re done eating it I’ll re-freeze it into smaller amounts. The soup went into single servings (I used pyrex bowls with covers), and the meat was divided into 1 lb. increments for future cooking).
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Once it’s divided into the appropriate baggies and is cooled down, get all of the air out. Flatten it and lay it flat in a cake pan in the freezer. This way it holds form while it’s freezing. Once it’s frozen you can remove the cake pan from the freezer. I label it with the type of food, the date, and, if needed, the cooking directions.

Sadly, I didn’t get all of my recipes done today, but I got a good start! I still have quite a few recipes left, but I’m estimating I’ve got about 17 meals in my freezer already!  And I was only cooking for two hours! I’ll be sure to write about my next day of cooking, when I can finish everything.

I need to give a shout out to my helpers!

This blog is what finally got me off my butt and started. If you like what I’ve posted, check hers out! http://www.aturtleslifeforme.com/2011/06/freezer-meals-on-cheap.html

I also got a few of my recipes from a book I just bought (also thanks to the blog above). If you want the recipes for the Hawaiian chicken, Orange teriyaki chicken, manicotti, and broccoli cheese soup, this is where you should look!

Don’t Panic – Dinner’s in the Freezer by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell, & Bonnie Garcia