Skip to content

Are Generic Products Just as Good?

August 8, 2010

If you’re like me, you clip coupons to save on commonly purchased items, and to justify buying no-so-commonly-used items. And you probably shop at discount or warehouse stores to yield even greater savings. But there’s another way savvy shoppers can save over $1,000 each year – by replacing brand names with their generic counterparts. A recent article from Yahoo.com lists 5 generic products that the author claims are just as good as brand names. They are:

  1. Cereal
  2. Prescription Drugs
  3. Over-the-Counter Medicine
  4. Basic Baking Products
  5. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

While I agree on these, there are always exceptions, so it definitely makes sense to check your labels before you assume all things are equal. For example, there’s no reason to pay over a dollar more for basic cereals like corn flakes and rice crispies just for a picture of Snap, Crackle and Pop on the box when the generic brand tastes exactly the same. However, I have yet to find a generic cereal that matches the taste of specialty cereals like Kashi. Likewise, for baking staples like flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, generic is generally just as good. But, all baking mixes are not created equal, so don’t assume a generic brand will taste the same.

A few other generic items that I would add to the list for consideration include:

  1. Cooking Oil
  2. Oatmeal and Other Hot Cereals
  3. Canned Vegetables and Fruits
  4. Dried Seasonings and Spices
  5. Rice

Know of any other generic items that are just as good as their brand name counterparts?

With some savvy shopping, however, families can save over $1,000 each year by replacing brand names with generic where it makes sense. And of course, shopping at discount stores will yield even greater savings.

Easy, Sophisticated and Kid-Friendly Brunch: Quiche Lorraine in Puff Pastry

May 16, 2010

Today I made my new favorite brunch treat, single servings of Quiche Lorraine in puff pastry. They go great with a couple of slices of bacon and a side of fruit! Or better yet, have them with a smoothie. You can also make a bunch on the weekend and store them in the refrigerator for a fast, healthy and protein-packed breakfast during the week. They were a big hit with my 4-year-old!

I got the base recipe from epicurious and of course added a few twists of my own. Not only did it taste delicious, it was extremely easy to make for such a sophisticated result – good for a casual buffet or sit down meal. I can’t wait to make this again for a big brunch! The best part is each “muffin” only has about 150 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Recipe: (9 servings)

  • 1/2 of a 17 1/4-ounce package (1 sheet) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup grated low fat cheddar
  • 1 small onion, diced and sauteed until soft
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried dill
  • 2 slices of crispy cooked bacon crumbled

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a 12 portion muffin tin. Roll puff pastry to 11-inch square. Using the opening of a glass that is a little bit wider than the widest part of the muffin tin cups, cut 9 circles and line 9 muffin cups with them. Beat eggs, milk and all seasonings in medium bowl until smooth. Fill the bottom half of each lined muffin tin with spinach, sauteed onions and bacon crumbles (make sure to be more generous with the spinach than the bacon and onion). Cover the filling with the egg mixture until each muffin tin is almost full. Top each muffin with about 1 tablespoon of the low fat cheddar cheese. Bake until filling is set, about 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

Make a Smoothie: It’s easy, good for you & delicious!

April 11, 2010

Make a smoothie. Its easy, good for you and delicious!

I love smoothies! They are like healthy milkshakes, and they are really easy to make too. My freezer is always stocked with frozen fruit, so when I get a sugar craving – or need a quick healthy snack or meal – I just whip up a smoothie. 

My standard smoothie recipe is: 

1 banana 

4 whole frozen strawberries 

1/2 cup frozen blueberries 

1/2 cup orange juice 

1/4 cup plain or vanilla Greek yogurt 

1 tbsp honey 

2 tbsp ground flax or wheat germ or both 

Enough water for your prefered consistency 

Just blend all of the ingredients in a blender until smooth and pour. The recipe makes enough for one really big (about 32 ounces) smoothie, or two to three smaller smoothies. Sometimes I mix it up depending on what type of fruit I have on hand. Canned or fresh pineapple and peaches make a nice addition or substitution. You can also use any type of yogurt, or milk if you prefer. I like Greek yogurt because it has more protein and less sugar. My son and I also find that bendy straws always make smoothies taste better:-) 

Last month’s issue of Health magazine had some great (and some interesting) sounding smoothie recipes that I’m definitely going to try. I’ll let you know which are the best. 

Do you have a favorite smoothie recipe?

Good Time on a Budget: The Dollar Store

March 21, 2010

As I previously posted, this year my goal is to pay off debt. One of my strategies is to not spend on impulse buys and things I want, but don’t need. But let’s face it, sometimes it is just fun to go shopping. I’ve found a way to satisfy both my shopping urges and my need to save. The Dollar Store.

Now, not all dollar stores are created equal, but when you find a good one, you can score big on things like seasonal and holiday items, greeting cards and many other things. About once a month, I take my 4-year-old son to our local dollar store – Dollar Tree –  if he’s been good and  let him pick out any 5 things he wants. To him is is a HUGE treat, and for me it is fun to watch him go through all of the items and choose his  top 5. He talks about all of his cool finds for days after, and I usually find some pretty cool things too.

Most recently, I found a Bjork CD. While Bjork may not be for everyone, there are usually CDs from several music genres all for $1. Here are some of my favorite things that you can find at most dollar stores.

  • CDs & DVDs, especially for kids’ music and cartoons
  • Toys – puzzles, coloring books, etc.
  • Holiday and seasonal items
  • Cards and stationary
  • Cleaning supplies – like sponges, mops and brooms
  • Office supplies
  • Party supplies – balloons, favors, decorations and wrapping
  • Arts and crafts supplies

You can also get good deals on canned goods, dried food items and spices.

If you’ve ever had that anxious feeling when you push your cart up to the check out counter wondering how much your total will be, you should be pleasently surprised by how little you spend and how much you get. For less than the cost of 2 movie tickets and some popcorn, you can have an hour of fun with your kids digging through all sorts of treasures and leave with some great finds!

What are your tips for having a good time on a budget? What’s the best thing you’ve ever found at a dollar store?

Enlightened Banana Nut Bread with Chocolate Chips and Flax

March 7, 2010

Healthy Banana Nut Bread with Chocolate Chips and Flax

Healthy Banana Nut Bread

I came across a great blog today, Enlightened Cooking, while I was surfing for a healthy banana bread recipe to make with my son. It’s full of healthy recipes that all sound delicious from Camilla Saulsbury, a freelance food writer, recipe developer and cooking instructor extraordinaire.  All of her recipes include the nutritional information as well, which I love! This is a site I’ll definitely turn to again.

The banana bread turned out delicious! I followed Camilla’s instructions with a few modifications. I replaced half of the brown sugar with a brown sugar substitute and added a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ, a pinch of ground cloves, 1 cup of chocolate chips and about a half-a-cup of walnuts. This recipe is a keeper!

 

Here’s my version:

2 cups white whole wheat flour (e.g., King Arthur brand)
3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (flax meal)
2 tablespoons wheat germ
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch of ground cloves
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar substitute, e.g Splenda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 and 2/3 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9×5-inch Pyrex baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, flax, wheat germ, baking soda, salt, ground cloves and cinnamon.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixer set at medium speed until well blended. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the banana, yogurt, and vanilla until just blended. Stir in the flour mixture, chocolate chips and walnuts by hand until just blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake 55-60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Invert onto wire rack, turn upright, and cool completely. Enjoy!

Please let me know how your’s turns out.

Praline Crusted Cheesecake Bites

January 2, 2010

Praline Crusted Cheesecake Bites

My sister and I made some delicious mini cheesecake bites for a small New Year’s gathering at my home yesterday. They were the perfect finish to our meal because they were small so guests could eat a few, they were in liners so were easy finger food, and they were SUPER easy to make!

We got the base recipe for the cheesecake bites from my favorite recipe Website, AllRecipies.com. I like it because you can make modifications to any of the recipes to personalize them, there are great reviews, and you can save any recipe you want to a recipe box, so you can always refer back to it. You can even plan your weekly meals there and print a shopping list of all of the ingredients to make your grocery shopping easier.

Now, back to the cheesecakes bites. Using the basics from the AllRecipes.com recipe, I modified it as follows:

Ingredients:

  • 12 graham cracker squares (6 of the big rectangles)
  • ¼ cup of candied pecans (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoons of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  • Garnish, i.e., butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, chocolate covered espresso bean, etc.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. To make crust, process the graham crackers and pecans (optional) in a food processor until crumbs. Add melted butter until crumbs are moist (see below for alternate crust suggestion).
  3. Line mini muffin tins with 48 paper baking cups and press a tablespoon of crust mixture into the bottom of each liner.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs, lemon juice, orange zest, vanilla and sugar. Beat until smooth and thoroughly combined.
  5. Fill each baking cup 3/4 full with cream cheese mixture.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 13-15 minutes. Cool on a rack. Top with garnish of your choice. Get creative.

Alternate Crust: If you don’t want to make the graham cracker crust, place a candied pecan or two in the bottom of the mini muffin liners and pour cheesecake filling over it. Cheesecake bites are also delicious this way!

If you make this recipe, please let me know how they turn out. I’d love to see a picture!

2010 New Year’s Resolution: Debt Reduction

January 1, 2010

This year, I am putting my budget on a diet. Forget me! It’s my credit card statements that seem to keep growing bigger and bigger every month and its time to take some drastic measures.

By clipping coupons, cutting back on my Starbucks habit and dining in more (along with a few other non-life-altering measures) I have determined that between me and my husband, we should be able to allocate $1,000 each month to paying off debt.

I have four credit cards with varying limits and balances. In total, I have $19,000 in credit card debt – shudder… It is time to cut the spending and get out of debt! Now, I am by no means a financial expert – clearly, look at how much debt I have – but I’ve come up with a method to keep me motivated to budget and save so I can make regular payments to each credit card. As one who likes instant gratification, I created a spreadsheet and plugged in some numbers for 2010. This allows me to see how much I will have reduced my debt by this time next year if I stick to my payoff schedule.

Payoff_Schedule

As you can see in the spreadsheet, I decided to initially allocate the largest portion of my payments to my cards with the lowest balances so I can pay them off faster. With this method, I’ll clear my first card by March and my second by July. By this time next year, I’ll have reduced my overall credit card debt by 61%. Now THAT’S motivation!

Of course, all of this is dependant on me not adding to the existing balances!

I’ll be reporting back each month on my progress and whether or not I am keeping up with my payment schedule to help me stay in check! If you like my method for motivation and want to reduce some of your own debt, please feel free to use my template. Whether you have $1,000 or $100 each month to pay off debt, every bit helps.

What’s your resolution and how will you keep yourself motivated?

My 2010 New Year’s Resolution: Debt Reduction

This year, I am putting my budget on a diet. Forget me! It’s my credit card statements that seem to keep growing bigger and bigger every month and its time to take some drastic measures.

By clipping coupons, cutting back on my Starbucks habit and dining in more (along with a few other non-life-altering measures) I have determined that between me and my husband, we should be able to allocate $1,000 each month to paying off debt.

I have four credit cards with varying limits and balances. In total, I have $19,000 in credit card debt – shudder… It is time to cut the spending and get out of debt! Now, I am by no means a financial expert – clearly, look at how much debt I have – but I’ve come up with a method to keep me motivated to budget and save so I can make regular payments to each credit card. As one who likes instant gratification, I created an Excel spreadsheet and plugged in some numbers for 2010. This allows me to see how much I will have reduced my debt by this time next year if I stick to a payoff schedule.

As you can see in the spreadsheet, I decided to initially allocate the largest portion of my payments to my cards with the lowest balances, so I can pay them off faster. With this method, I’ll clear my first card by March and my second by July. By this time next year, I’ll have reduced my overall credit card debt by 61%. Now THAT’S motivation!

Of course, all of this is dependant on me not adding to the existing balances!

I’ll be reporting back each month on my progress and whether or not I am keeping up with my payment schedule to help me stay in check! If you like my method for motivation and want to reduce some of your own debt, please feel free to use my template. Whether you have $1,000 or $100 each month to pay off debt, every bit helps.

What’s your resolution and how will you keep yourself motivated?