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Food Nutrition Recommendations Save Money

Top 6 Places To Buy Fruit, Vegetables & Other Produce For Cheap in Central Maryland


If your family is like ours, we eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  We especially like fresh organic fruits and produce when possible, but we also like to keep the costs under control.

Below are my top 6 recommendations for where to buy produce, plus some bonus tips on how to get great veggies for lower prices in Maryland (This advice applies to anywhere in the United States although you’ll need to follow my links to find cheap produce in your area–read further for some great kitchen gadgets to help you make the most of your produce:

1) You can subscribe to a weekly fruit and vegetable box delivery. We’ve been using Hungry Harvest to get weekly organic deliveries. The company drops the box on our porch every Friday. We can pick the items we want to have in it week by week.

This particular company says they give you cheaper prices because they deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables. We haven’t really found this to be the case for the most part for our organic box. We suspect it may be more likely that we’d get less attractive fruits if we subscribed to their non-organic offering. Sometimes we do see things in the box that are a bit undersized, but mostly it’s just the normal stuff you’d get in the supermarket. (And some things you wouldn’t find there at all.)

Hungry Harvest has a warehouse in Jessup and they employ local drivers to drop off the boxes in each neighborhood. I spoke to our driver today and she said it’s really exploding in popularity. She said she had 60 deliveries just today in Columbia alone. I know a few people who use this service and also like it. If you’re interested, please use this link to sign up-We will both get a $5 credit on our next order.

Each produce box you get comes with a gel ice pack. So if you decide to order from Hungry Harvest, be sure and save your ice packs and return them…just leave them on your porch on the drop off day and the driver will get them. They prefer them to be thawed out and dry.

vidalia onions at Costco Wholesale Warehouse2) Shop at Costco warehouse stores.  We love shopping at Costco (Read my review and list of organic foods available there).

One of the great things is that they stock lots of organic fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen.  Availability varies from store to store, but at the Costco in Columbia, MD they reliably have organic bananas, gala apples, “power greens” (Kale, spinach), and frozen organic corn as well as pineapple and various berries.

Another great thing about Costco is that it is more Earth-friendly to purchase in bulk.  I highly recommend Costco for everyone, you don’t have to purchase very much food there to make up for the membership price.   Find a Costco location near you.

Spring Onions 7 bunches for $1 at Super Best Asian Market
Green Onions
at a
Maryland
Asian
Market

3) Shop at Asian or International markets.  There are many of these in Maryland.  One of the better ones is Lotte, but also in Laurel there is the Super Best. We are always surprised at the cheaper prices at Super Best–but note that we tend to find that the items we buy there need to be consumed quickly as the cheapest items tend to be near the end of their shelf lives.

There are plenty of other Asian markets around…for example H-mart and Lotte in Ellicott City/Catonsville. And my current favorite Great Wall in Catonsville. You won’t find very much in the way of organics, but you will find a huge, unusual variety of fruits and vegetables and they’re suspiciously cheap.  For example 3 bunches of green onions for $1. If you live in Columbia, you may want to visit La Mart.  To find your nearest Asian market, just Google Asian Market in your city/state.

3) Get your fruits and vegetables wholesale by the case. Wholesale fruit markets aren’t for the faint of heart.  You need to have time and a sense of adventure to make this happen, but it definitely does pay off.  In Jessup, Maryland there are two places where consumers can go  to get wholesale produce at the central distribution point.

That’s right you can go the place supermarkets and restaurants get their fruits/vegetables and save.  Below is a video that explains what to do if you decide to go to the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market – Conowingo Drive, Jessup Maryland.  Note that when you go, you should probably expect to pay with cash and you’ll have to stop at a guard gate to explain what you’re doing there.

If you’re mainly interested in organic produce, you’ll want to visit Class Produce.  Class Produce isn’t far from the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market, but it is a bit easier to access. Class does take credit cards and my experience with the staff there is that they are very helpful and welcoming to families who want to purchase wholesale.

It is very important to note that you really need to place your order ahead of time.  Visit their website to get more information and to request a current price list.  They are located at  8477 Dorsey Run Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401 in an industrial area.   (410) 799-5000.

PRO TIP
: For the freshest perishable fruits and vegetables (ie-berries) arrange for pickup on Mondays or Tuesdays.  It seems that Class produce and other wholesale sellers get their deliveries late Sunday nights, so it’s strategic to pick up your fruits and veggies early in the week to get the freshest foods possible.

4) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or “farm share”.  Local produce is delivered to your home or central location at predetermined intervals.  This is a great way to get super-fresh food and help keep local farming viable.

A great example of a well run CSA program is Gorman Farm, which is kind of on the border of Columbia and Laurel. You have to be on the ball to get into a CSA program–there is a window of time when you can sign up each year and generally there aren’t many openings because of course the farms don’t produce an unlimited amount of fruits and vegetables each year. There are lots of these but here is a list that the Washington Post provided a few years ago.

5) Shop for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  There are a few farmer’s markets around Howard County that have fairly decent variety and prices.  Locations sometimes change but for instance the Howard County General Hospital and the Miller Library are two reliable places to find markets.  Here is a resource with an up-to-date list with hours and days (typically farmers markets take place once per week in the specified location).

PRO TIP: 
One great thing about Farmer’s markets is the ability to actually talk to the people who grew the crops.  This means that often you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of how pesticide-happy the farmer was when growing them–often you will find a farmer who is actually using organic farming methods but who hasn’t yet been certified in organics and that can lead to significant savings.

Bonus Tip: Not-So-Cheap Fruit and Vegetable Options: Grow your own.  Ok, this isn’t directly buying fruits or vegetables, and it can in fact be expensive rather than cheap, but it is fun, educational and great exercise to have a garden.

If you’re new to gardening, you might want to have a look at the home gardening programs and information provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension–it is a great resource.  If you live in outside of Maryland, check with your state’s department of agriculture for similar programs.

This year we got 3 Aerogardens hydroponic systems, so we’re growing year round now. At the moment, we are raising Italian herbs (parsley, thyme, mint, two kinds of basil…and had the cat not eaten it, we would also have chives), roma tomatoes, and chamomile. Miracle Grow is the manufacturer and they definitely do make it easy.

Unfortunately, even though the plants don’t need any herbicides or pesticides (since they’re grown indoors), the required nutrients that you add to the water isn’t organic. We aren’t that concerned about this, but I am trying to determine whether there is an organic substitute we can use. Having said that, we REALLY love the Aerogardens. My favorites are the tomatoes and basil. The basil grows like crazy!

There are different price points for getting an Aerogarden. The Aerogarden Elite takes 6 seed pods, and gets great reviews. There is also a 9-pod system that may be worth consideration, especially if space is not an issue.

Pick your own strawberries - box of strawberries

Bonus #3 Also in the expensive rather than cheap column, but worth it is a trip to Larriland Farm in Northern Howard County to pick a variety of fruits and vegetables.  They have apples, peaches, broccoli, kale, spinach, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and more. Check their website to see what is ready for picking.

BTW, Larriland Farm uses “integrated pest management” which they say means that they use much less pesticides than a typical farm.  I have spoken to them about this several times and they say that they mostly only use pesticides when they have severe problems.  It may not be organic farming, but at least this sounds like a huge improvement over the norm.  You can read about how Larriland uses this system here.  There are many pick your own farms throughout the USA–here is a curated list.

BTW, here are some of the gadgets I recommend that are great to have in the kitchen when cooking with produce:

  • InstantPot – This is a digital pressure cooker/slow cooker/rice maker/yogurt maker and more. We use ours every day. Here is my full review of the Instant Pot.
  • Vitamix or Blendtec blenders – You’ll love making smoothies and vegetable soups in these professional blenders.
  • Spiralizer – This is a three-blade spiral slicer for vegetables. So many fun things you can do with this including zucchini noodles.
  • Julienne peeler – This is a great way to peel veggies.
  • Corn Stripper – Well, the name makes me laugh, but it’s a great way to get the corn off the cob.
  • Produce bags – These bags will help keep your produce fresh much longer.
  • Juicepresso – A great way to juice. Definitely an improvement over our Jack La Lane.
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Columbia Maryland Food kids activities Nutrition

Great Restaurants in Howard County for Kids

My family is always working on finding the restaurants in Howard County that offer the best experience and best quality food for our family lunch and dinner outings.

[Looking for summer camps and school’s out camp ideas?]

It’s easy to go to the usual suspect restaurants such as Friday’s and Red Robin, but there are other great restaurants that you and your kids may enjoy. Below find a few of the favorites my family enjoys.

  • Cava Grill (Columbia) – This is currently my favorite fast-casual restaurant. They offer Greek food Chipotle-style. You and your family get a healthy meal and they have great beverages such as cucumber mint or rosemary blackberry.

    If the line is long, don’t worry, it moves fairly quickly and even if you have to wait 10 minutes or so, it’s worth the wait. Kid’s meals are available. It may be a small stretch for some kids to enjoy the food here, but it’s fresh, delicious, and high quality. 

    Check out the menu and location. There are several other options in that shopping center just in case (Noodles and Company, Chipotle, Modern Market, and Jimmy Johns).
  • Chipotle (Columbia) – I always enjoy a meal at Chipotle. If your kids like Mexican food, especially burritos or quesadillas, they’ll like it here. Conveniently located right next door to Cava Grill off of Dobbin Road in Columbia.
  • Clyde’s (Columbia) – A little upscale, but a nice place to take kids. Time it right and you can do some paddle boating around the lake or go for a walk on the trail before or after your meal. If you’re there on the right nights, you may see a concert in the amphitheater. As a bonus, you can walk over to Whole Foods.

[Looking for great birthday party ideas? See my list of over 35 great places to hold a kid’s party in or near Howard County]

  • Cheesecake Factory (Columbia) – Aside from the obvious desserts, there are some healthy options here. Kids enjoy the atmosphere and love checking out the cheesecake case and whip cream dispenser behind the counter.
  • Noodles and Company (Columbia) – If you’re feeling like pasta, this is a great choice. Also in the same shopping center as Cava Grill and Chipotle.
  • Jason’s Deli (Columbia)- I like the menu at this restaurant in Columbia. There is plenty of good quality food and even a salad bar. I always enjoy going here and my kids do too. The fact that they offer free soft-serve ice cream cones is a fantastic bonus.
  • Uma Uma (Ellicott City) – We enjoy Ramen Noodle Night at home, and certainly do like to go out to a restaurant that adds an authentic experience. Really the only thing on the menu here is variations of Ramen Noodle soup, and there isn’t really a kid’s menu, AND you won’t find much in the way of your typical dessert items either, but still a great experience.

    Having said that, I’d have to warn you that this could be a bit risky with some kids. The food here is different, and your child at least needs to like soup with noodles to like this place!
  • Eggspectation  (Ellicott City) – Lots of great food here including healthy smoothies and foods. Definitely more than just breakfast though. Open for dinner. Check for a Groupon.
  • Great Sage (Clarksville) – Get your vegan on. Nice atmosphere for kids and families. Great menu. Nice staff.
  • Seasons 52 (Columbia) – Upscale. Great food quality in a cosy atmosphere. Good for older kids. Might be “too much” for younger kids. The dessert’s here are terrific. I recommend the pecan pie glass.
  • Melting Pot (Columbia) – Upscale fondue restaurant. Great for leisurely meals. Kids love cooking for themselves in the fondue pot and the dessert…well, I’m going to tell you that this is probably the best dessert of all…chocolate fondue with lots of different things to dip into it–strawberries, pound cake, marshmallows, and cheesecake to name a few. Some older kids might also like Hot Pot in Ellicott City. It’s kind of like the Melting Pot, but the meal is soup. Everyone gets their own soup and cooker.
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy (Columbia) – Upscale Italian. Nice atmosphere, decent kids menu (provided your kids like pasta). Sometimes they even have classes for kids on Saturday mornings.
  • Silver Diner (Columbia or Greenbelt) – Silver Diner has been around the Maryland-DC-VA area for decades. And lucky for us, they finally have a Columbia, MD location near the Costco and Lowe’s. Silver Dinner offers a great farm-fresh menu and has some more unusual options for kid’s meals. In my opinion, they have one of the best kid’s menus of all… and it is a fun, traditional diner atmosphere.
  • Bonus: Toby’s Dinner Theatre – This can be a great experience for kids, depending what’s playing. They change the offering regularly, so if the show isn’t specifically a kid’s show, your best bet would be to “Google” it to see what other parents are saying. The food at Toby’s is “okay” buffet food. It’s underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never felt the urge to go back for 2nds. That said, this can be fun and enriching.

Looking for great educational gifts for kids? See my list of over 70 handpicked gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah.

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Nutrition Reviews Uncategorized

Juicespresso Juicer Review

The Juicespresso Juicer is an amazing device for juicing fans. If you’re considering purchasing one, read my review.

The Juicespresso cold press masticating machines are very efficient at getting the juice out of various fruits and vegetables. You’ll be pleased that it will potentially lower your produce bill when compared to your old high-speed juicer. This juicer is compact, so it doesn’t take up much counter space (you’ll want to keep it out all the time!) and it is dishwasher safe.

I was using a Jack LaLane juicer that I purchased from Costco a few years ago, and was surprised by some of the differences. The two biggest being how effective the Juicespresso was at extracting juices compared to the Jack LaLane juicer, and two, one of the Juicespresso’s biggest bragging points: It’s so quick and easy to clean, it makes juicing much more convenient and fun.

Juicespresso machines run quietly and do a solid job of “squishing” the liquids out of fruits and vegetables. You’ll have to precut any item that won’t fit through the chute, which isn’t very large. You’ll definitely find some bits of fruit and vegetables in your juice as well. I think of this more as a plus, but some may not like that.

The resulting juice can be used right away or kept in the refrigerator for up to two or three days. This means that you may be able to get away with making juice twice a week, rather that once or twice a day. This is a time saver compared to the Jack LaLane because the juice from that device seemed to start to break down very quickly, so it needed to be used immediately.

Juicespresso is constructed with BPA-free plastic and comes with a seven year warranty.

Alternatives to Juicespresso

If the price tag for the Juicespresso juicers is too steep for you, consider purchasing a refurbished Omega Juicer on Amazon (About $190). The refurbished models are typical very difficult to tell from new and they great warranties, etc. not to mention you’ll save big compared to new Omega or Juicespresso Juicers.

 

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Blenders Nutrition Reviews

Vitamix 5200 Review

vitamix 5200 blender

Read My Review of the Vitamix 5200 Blender

Vitamix blenders are famous for being long-lasting smoothie-blending work-horses. They are the high-end benchmark that other blenders must compete with to win market-share. This is a review of my experience with the Vitamix 5200.

I purchased my Vitamix about 6 months ago. I got it as a refurbished unit on Amazon.com. I went for a refurbished blender because the  savings were huge and the warranty coverage was still very strong. I am glad I did because I was able to afford more blender than I would have if I purchased it new from Amazon or Costco–the two places that seemed to have the best prices.

You can get refurbished units in black, white or red on Amazon. I paid about  $300 for the refurbished black version of the blender. You will find that red and white are somewhat more expensive than the black ones. I am not sure why. If you search on Amazon, you will be able to see and compare new units as well as other models. BTW, here you can view the current price of a new Vitamix 5200 on Amazon.

Vitamix 5300

Vitamix 5300I urge you to also consider the Vitamix 5300 refurb (black)–it has a wider, shorter jar and uses somewhat better technology than the 5200. In fact, if I was in the market for a Vitamix right now, I would most certainly pay the extra money for this model over the 5200. More on other Vitamix models later.

The 5200 blender came in a less-fancy box than I would have gotten from purchasing it full-retail price, however I think this is where the discernible differences stopped. The box came with the blender base, a BPA-free blending jar, tamping rod, lid and a very nice color, spiral bound recipe book. The warranty is 5 years as opposed to 7 years on a new unit. I was willing to take the risk with the shorter warranty, especially because I have two friends who’ve had their blenders for years and have never had a problem.

Why I Chose a Vitamix

I have been through several blenders in the last fifteen years or so. For many years I had the difficult-to-clean, standard, wedding gift blender from Cuisinart.  This blender struggled with frozen fruits and simply couldn’t handle other kinds of concoctions such as nut butters–but the worst thing about it was having to take it apart to clean it. This made it a bit of a pain to use and so it only saw action on special occasions.  That unit was replaced by what I like to call “blender on a stick”–this type of blender was handheld, easy to clean but also rather limited. The one we have, the Cuisinart Smart Stick, cost about $40 so it wasn’t a huge investment, and all-in-all was a good until for what it could do.

I have only recently started to explore professional level blenders. My wife and I started to realize that we wanted to do much more with our blender and decided it was worth it to purchase a high-end blending machine. Alas, we did not initially select the Vitamix. We purchased a BlendTec Classic blender first. There was alot to be said for that blender, but it kept breaking on us, so eventually we returned it and went with the Vitamix. (Read more about that experience here.) I also have some experience with the Omni V line of professional blenders.

Using the Vitamix 5200

There is alot to love about the Vitamix blender. It is very capable and since it allows you to dial the appropriate speed for the job at hand, it gives you flexibility and control. The machine is very easy to clean. Simply add water and a drop or two of dishsoap and blend it clean. No need to take it apart and it only needs “extra” cleaning sometimes, for example if you used (or made!) peanut butter, it tends to stick to the sides.

My biggest complaint about the blender is that it can be difficult to get the mixture from the very bottom of the blender beneath the blades. The Omnimix (about $300) and Blendtec blenders both come standard with a wider jar which makes it easier–the above mentioned Vitamix 5300 also has a wider jar and is superior to the other brands, in my opinion. In the case of the Blendtec, there are only two blades, as opposed to four or six, which makes it even easier to scrape out the contents of the bottom of the blender jar as needed.

Note that there are other jars available for the Vitamix that appear to be easier to scrape clean, however as far as the default jar, this is an issue. Although the above-mentioned Vitamix 5300 does indeed have a wider jar, you cannot purchase that jar separately and use it on your Vitamix 6200 or other lower models. This is because the 5300 has a more powerful motor and is better able to spin the larger blade on the 5300.

 

What Can You Make With A Vitamix Blender?

We use our blender two or three times per day. We really couldn’t do without it. We use it to make smoothies, banana-based ice cream, sauces, hot soups, nut butters and more. At slow speeds it can double as a food processor. It is amazing how smooth it can make a mixture. Frozen fruits are no problem and neither are nuts, vegetables or whole fruits. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to make a hot, delicious tortilla soup with this machine. You can even use it to grind up chicken bones and meat to make a nice additive for food for your dog (look for recipes online to be sure you’re giving your pet the best, safest foods).
 
I would definitely recommend the Vitamix blenders to anyone–singles or families. Having a blender like this lead to some definite shifts in lifestyle in my family–we are eating (and drinking) incrementally better than we were before we had it. It makes you want to blend, and the results are very enjoyable.
Categories
Blenders Featured Food Nutrition Review Reviews

Blendtec Blender Review-The Blendtec 570 from Costco

BlendTec 570 TB621 Blender from Costco

Summary: This is a review of the Blendtec blender sold in Costco (TB621 USCOST) currently being sold for $319.  Although we loved this machine when it was working, we managed to break ours 3 times in two months through just normal use. On the third time, it broke we just returned it.

Read on for information about alternatives to this blender and why we were so sad to see it go!

If you’re considering a Blendtec Blender, you may want to avoid this blender and instead go for a different Total Blender model instead (Available on Amazon new or refurbished  – Refurbished units tend to be almost as good as new, and obviously cheaper!) or the 475 (refurbished).

As you’ll read below, there is alot to like about Blendtec:

  • It is a popular brand of professional and prosumer blender
  • It’s somewhat cheaper than its nearest competitor, Vitamix
  • The blade configuration is great — makes scraping the bottom of the container very easy
  • Customer service is very good
  • Long warranties on its containers and base


We Went With Blendtec

In spite of the problems I’ll describe below, we really loved having the blender. Most of the time it did its job–and did it stunningly well. You’ll want to check Amazon for deals on refurbished BlendTec blenders (subject to availability). (In case you opt for a Vitamix, there are also factory reconditioned Vitamixes to be had on Amazon as well). Although I wouldn’t recommend the model we got, I am mostly convinced that Blendtec is a venerable blender company. They seem to have some quality issues with these Blenders. I suspect if you go with a different model, you will have better luck.

There is alot to like about Blendtec, and they definitely are the blender of choice in professional settings, so I would say that instead, you may want to consider the similar Blendtec Total Blender instead.

Below is the whole of my family’s experience using the Blendtec including the times it failed.

Comparing Vitamix and Other Blenders to the Blendtec

Before the purchase we looked at the other options both from Blendtec and other blender makers. We also considered:

Having said that though, there were three factors that made us go for the Blendtec:

  • Price–in general the Vitamixes were between somewhat more expensive to way more expensive depending on the one you’re talking about–we were specifically comparing the Vitamix 5200 (Refurbished).  This was an issue for us because we never had a high-end blender before and wanted to make sure we were really going to use it (spoiler alert–we use it constantly) before going for the best one made.
  • Size –the  height of the VitaMix vs. the BlendTec blenders.  You might not notice it as much in the store but the older VitaMix blenders are H-U-G-E. (There is a newer model which is shorter and wider…and highly recommended–here is a link to the refurbished 5300)Yes, you can purchase a smaller jar separately and that makes it more likely it will fit under your counter and in your sink/dishwasher, but once again, we were kind of interested in getting into the market on the cheaper side, so we weren’t really big on immediately spending money on a new jar after having made the investment in an expensive blender we weren’t sure we’d use that often. (Another spoiler alert–we liked the Blendtec so much and used it so often (2-3 times/day) that we did buy a second kind of blender container to do nut butters–the “twister jar”)
  • Technology–as far as creating awesome blenders that blend things as advertised, both companies do that well. On the other hand, if you want fancier settings, you’ll probably go with the Blendtec line. Vitamix is known for old fashioned knobs and dials. The Blendtec blenders have modern buttons and digital displays.
  • Power–the Blendtec has a three horsepower motor, while the Vitamix blenders have two horsepower motors. We thought this could make a difference, but really, now that I’ve had both, I would say it really doesn’t matter.

If you read reviews and discussions about Blentec vs. Vitamix you’ll find many similarities.  One important similarity is that both have long warranties of seven or eight years.  As I’ll explain later, I already tried out the warranty on the Blendtec and had pretty good results. The warranties cover the motor as well as the blending jars.  Really you should expect your blender to last for many many years.  Both have the ability to blend a variety of things and do so at very high speeds.  Both have accessories available, especially in the form of different kinds of jars.  One difference is that the Vitamix has sharp blades, while the Blendtec blades are dull and resemble the wings of a jet.  Both work very well.

Another difference is that  the Vitamix lid has a tamping rod–in fact I’d say that the tamping rod is one of the hallmarks of the Vitamix blenders  The Blendtec doesn’t have this–the Blendtec salespeople would say that just don’t need it because their jars are shaped better to make it not necessary…I can tell you that sometimes it would have been nice to have one, but most of the time you don’t need it.

The times we did need something to push food into the blades were mainly related to frozen fruits–particularly strawberries that would get stuck and there was nothing you could do but open the blender and try to move the offending item away from the blade so that it could once again spin through the mix–something that isn’t easy to do when you have a blender full of smoothie.

BlendTec blade
BlendTec’s Blade. It’s one piece and
it isn’t sharp. Very impressive.

As it turns out, the shape of the jars and blades is really important for several reasons. It clearly makes a different to the performance of the blender. This is why both Blendtec and Vitamix sell more than one type of blending container. But there is something else that you should know–now that I have used both blenders I can tell you that the WildSide jar from Blendtec is WAYYYYY easier to get stuff from the bottom of than the Vitamix.

The WildSide jar is wide, plus there are only two blades to get around.  It can be very difficult to get thick mixtures from beneath the blades of the Vitamix–and this leads to waste. The problem is that the Vitamix blenders have four relatively sharp blades instead of two (see the illustration, it is really just a dull, but effective, one piece blade) and the Vitamix default jar is more narrow at the bottom. This allows for things to get “stuck” beneath the mixing blades. When this happens, I sometimes wish for a BlendTec again, but I have a very long rubber spatula that helps.

A couple of more things to compare: The manual that came with the Blendtec is not even close to what came with the Vitamix. Vitamix wins hands-down on this front. They give you a full color, spiral bound, thick recipe book that really makes you want to use that machine. Blendtec does give you a few recipes and you won’t wonder how to work the machine itself (it’s mostly self-explanatory anyway), but the Blendtec folks are skimping on the recipe-book compared to Vitamix.

Having said that, you can get great recipes from their website, and there are certainly plenty of recipes all over the internet meant specifically for Blendtec blenders. I still subscribe to the Blendtec email list–I find tempting recipes in my inbox every week.

One more point worth mentioning is the noise level. Let me put it this way: whether you purchase a Blendtec or a Vitamix, you will NOT be able to keep your blending a secret. Both blenders are loud, in fact, really l o u d in my opinion. Blending isn’t a delicate operation. There is going to be noise. The results are worth it.

Make delicious smoothies with your blendtec blender

Using the Blendtec  Blender

When we got our blender home we immediately started making all sorts of great foods, especially healthy smoothies.  We used it 50 times in a few days (there is a counter that tells you how much you use it). We were truly amazed out how smooth the smoothies were and how it could turn any fruit, grain, nut, meat or vegetable, frozen or fresh into something smooth. Our kids loved all the great smoothies we were turning out. We stocked up on plenty of organic frozen fruits and berries at Costco including: frozen cherries, frozen blueberries, antioxidant mix with various berries, pineapple (not organic), and strawberries (also not organic).  We also got a container of baby spinach and other nutritious non-frozen vegetables and fruits.

Smoothies weren’t the only thing we made.  We also tried other things such as hummus and soups.  The soup setting on the blender relies on friction to heat the soup.  This is a great way to make a delicious soup and will compete with our beloved Instant pot pressure cooker.  We also made pancakes, dips, guacamole, and breads.

Uh, Oh, Something’s Not Right

We’re not sure what went wrong, but after a few weeks of use our blender started vibrating severely.  We called Blendtec’s support line and they helped us determine that something had gone wrong with the jar’s bearings.  They gave us some advice on how to care for the jar so this wouldn’t happen and then mailed us a brand new jar for free.  We honestly aren’t sure if there was something we did wrong to break the first jar or if it was defective, but the kind woman who was helping me get the replacement gave me a few tips:

1) Don’t press down hard on the top of the jar while the blender is working–this will stress the seal and could lead to a breakdown like the one we had.  This is harder than it sounds because for some reason, the natural thing to do is to put pressure on the top of the jar while it’s blending. (On the Vitamix this doesn’t seem to be an issue as just the act of using the tamping rod is going to push down on your blender).

2) Load liquids at the bottom of the jar (first), then put in veggies and finally put frozen things at the top.  This reduces the possibility of the blades getting stuck on fruit that might have frozen together while you were loading the rest of things into the jar.

The replacement jar arrived and we were back in business.  We happily blended away for the next few days when suddenly we realized that the small screen that counts blend time in seconds and tells you how many times the blender has been used, stopped working.  So, I was back on the phone with BlendTec and they apologized and sent me a new base.  It arrived in about a week and I just used the free shipping label to send back the original base.  I was hopeful that I would not have any more problems. Unfortunately I was wrong.

I hate to keep you in suspense, so I’ll tell you now what went wrong, even though it’s a bit out of order:  We were using the soup cycle one day and started smelling a strong burning smell.  Something went wrong with the base again.  I decided I wasn’t going to call Blendtec again, so instead I just returned the whole thing for a refund at Costco.  They gave me no trouble about it and issued me a store credit.  I will use that for groceries and plan to buy a refurbished Vitamix  on Amazon instead.

Since I still want you to know about the rest of my experience with this blender, I urge you to read on anyway in case.  Again, I think there was alot to like about the Blendtec blender, so perhaps if you’re considering one you’ll take your chances with the 570 or you may have better luck with another Blendtec model.

Some More Things We Loved About Our Blendtec

Cleaning the blender is a breeze–way easier than one of those lower priced models that you have to take apart to wash.  With the  BlendTec blenders, all you have to do is to wash out the jar.  The quickest way to do that is to add water and a squirt of dish soap and do a quick blend.  Then rinse that out and blend again with just some water.

Since we were so happy with our blender and used it so much we decided to purchase an additional jar that works better with dry ingredients.  We already had the Wildside+ jar–the one that came with the blender, but it does have some limitations–the one in question here has to do with turning out nut butters such as homemade peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter. The Wildside+ jar that comes with the blender definitely will have some trouble making nut butters.  You may not have had any idea how taxing it is for a blender to make this kind of thing, but I can tell you it really is.  You will find that the WildSide+ jar will stall trying to deal with the thick goo.

On the other hand, the Twister jar (and mini Twister jar) makes churning out peanut butter much easier.  This jar is shaped a bit different and its lid basically has two scrapers attached to it that run the whole length of the jar. While you’re making nut butters you twist the lid by hand to keep everything moving in the jar.  It works well.  It is also great for making frozen yogurt and improves the process of making hummus, but that works pretty well in the WildSide+ jar anyway.

There are two versions of the Twister Jar–the regular size and the mini.  We opted for the Mini because it was cheaper and we felt that it would be easier to store. Plus we didn’t think we’d ever want to make large quantities of nut butters that would be enabled by the full size jar.

As it turns out, we probably could find some use for the larger jar, but we were mostly happy with the small one.  The only issue I noticed is that when you’re making frozen yogurt with it, you need to be careful not to overload it, because it can potentially make a mess if it overflows–has happened to us a couple of times now.

By the way, there are a couple of other jars that I am aware of–there is the Fourside jar, which is also a general purpose jar but smaller than the WildSide+ jar and then there are couple of jars that are compatible with the VitaMix line.  Because of the reasons I stated above, I could imagine actually purchasing a BlendTec container for my Vitamix–remember the blades are part of the container with these blenders.  It is worth noting that the blending jars that are sold separately come with a 3 year warranty.

This is Just Cool

For some fun, have a look at the BlendTec YouTube channel–particularly at the “Will It Blend” video series.  The mini-show features a man and a blender that is used to blend anything from a garden rake or office supplies to an iPhone 6.  You’ll be amazed.

Which blender do you own?  Leave comments below.

Categories
Featured Food Nutrition Recommendations Review Reviews Save Money

Why We Shop At Costco – Costco Review Part 1

Organic Blue Agave from Costco
Costco sells two 36 ounce bottles of Organic Blue Agave
for $9.89

Easy Ways to Save Money: Shop at Costco

This is part 1 of my review of Costco. [Don’t miss Part 2 here]

I know this may seem a little off-topic for this blog, but I think there are still many families who haven’t discovered the joys of shopping at bulk food warehouse stores.

Many people are turned off by the membership fees or think they just don’t need a huge box of this or that.  I submit that if you have a family of 3 or more, you should definitely look more closely–even couples can offset the membership fees with a few purchases.

The cost savings on many items is drastic and although the selection can be limited, there are other factors that offset this such as higher quality of available items and even environmental benefits of buying bulk.

Example of cost savings.  Today I purchased 40 Duracell AA batteries for about $13.   On Amazon.com, they offer a 48 pack of Duracell batteries  for much more.

In a typical grocery store, you cannot buy this quantity of batteries at all.  Instead you’d buy maybe 12 batteries per package at most and they might cost you $11.  It is a huge difference.

Many folks might say, “yeah, but what am I going to do with all those batteries?” but in this case, Duracell guarantees their batteries to be usable for 10 years…so as long as you have a safe place to store them, this is a fantastic deal.

Membership at the Costco Warehouse

I really like Costco.  Generally speaking the shopping experience is good, although I admit that sometimes it is so crowded that you feel like you could be mowed down at any moment by a wave of oversize shopping carts.

I have the executive membership that is currently priced at $110.  One of the benefits of the executive membership is that you get 2% cash back on your purchases.  So that means that if you buy $5500 worth of products there, you will make your money back on the membership purchase.

That might seem like alot ,but over a year’s time it could easily add up–especially if you purchase any of the many non-food items such as electronics, appliances, home and garden, furniture and much more (especially if you count what you can buy on costco.com).  There is also a regular membership that costs about half as much.

With your membership you get two membership cards, meant for two people who live together from the same family.  You need to present the card whenever you pay and when you enter the store. (You might be able to get away with going in on a membership with a friend who doesn’t live with you, but it is against their policy and only one of you will get their monthly coupon mailings.)

Below is my full, 2-part review of Costco. I will try to include as many of the aspects of the store as I can, starting with their Visa Credit Card.

The Costco Visa Credit Card

As of June 2016, Costco no longer takes American Express, they have switched over to Visa which means you can use any Visa credit card at their stores. You can also use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to make purchases there. However, if you’re a long-term Costco member, you should definitely consider getting yourself a Costco Visa from Citi. It is a fantastic deal, especially if you are careful to pay it off each month before interest kicks in.

The card gives you additional cash back on Costco purchases (see below) plus has other great features and benefits.

The cash back comes in the form of a check that can only be redeemed at Costco (for products or cash), but if you’re an avid Costco shopper, then it’s all the better. At this writing the interest rate is about 15.5%. You can apply online.

The features you get with the card beyond the cash back make it even more worthwhile. Here are a few of the reasons I think this is such a great card:

  • As mentioned above, you get 4% cash back on gasoline purchases from any gas station (There is a limit of I think $7,000 worth of gas, and then it goes down to 1% cash back).
  • You get 3% cash back on qualified travel and restaurant purchases.
  • You get 2% cash back on all purchases from Costco
  • You get 1% cash back on everything else

Cash back comes in the form of a voucher that is emailed to you or mailed on paper that can be used to make purchases at Costco or redeemed for cash. This really works fine for my family and I since we shop there so often. But there are also other benefits, all of which have various caveats, that make me think they may or may not work for real-life situations, but anyway, they exist, so here are some of them:

  • Travel insurance / Trip cancellation insurance
  • Rental car insurance
  • Extended warranties that include thefts and other losses

I am pretty sure this is one of the best credit card deals you can get at the moment. I highly recommend checking into it.

The “Green” of Costco – Organic and Environmentally Friendly Offerings

As I mentioned earlier there are a few reasons why shopping at Costco is good for the environment.  First of all, buying bulk items typically means reduced amounts of packaging.  Although this hasn’t held true for some items, usually you are buying much bigger amounts of an item so less packing material is needed.

Secondly, Costco offers quite a large variety of natural, fair trade and organic items.  A good example is their house brand of chocolate chips which they sell for the price of $6.99 for 3.5 pounds.  These chocolate chips contain fair trade cocoa and do not have any  preservatives.   They are delicious and much better quality than the comparable Nestle chips. (Although Costco also sells Nestle as well)

Rice Milk From Costco - Kirkland Signature Ricemilk
Cost of Organic Rice Milk At Costco

Here is another example of the savings you can garner by shopping at Costco:  If you purchase Organic Rice Milk at a regular grocery store, you might pay about 8-15 cents per ounce.     As you can see below, you will pay less than 4 cents per ounce ($1.14/quart – – on quart = 32 ounces) at Costco.  Yes, you do have to buy 12 quarts at a time, but with something like rice milk, you can definitely store it very easily and it lasts a long time.    I should mention that Kirkland is the house brand of Costco.  Most of the time Kirkland products are of very good quality and typically much cheaper than their name brand counterparts.

Kashi Cereal at Costco

As I stated, there are many organic foods at Costco.  I am excited to see Costco adding more and more of these kinds of items because when they do, their buying power has strong effects in the consumer ecosystem.  They purchase huge amounts of these things from suppliers and that helps stabilize the market and reduce the prices for everyone.

There are plenty of examples of the organic items you’ll find in a Costco store. (BTW, if you live in central Maryland, see my blog post about other ways of getting lower cost organic fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices) I have put prices down for some of them to give you something to compare to other stores–be aware that sometimes these things come and go, plus prices do change and vary around the country, so YMMV.  Here is my current list of organic foods available at Costco–unfortunately this list isn’t complete:

– Eggs (they recently stopped packaging their organic eggs in styrofoam (doh!), excellent)
– Whole and 2% Milk
– Several cuts of chicken/whole frozen chickens
– Ground beef
– Coffee
– Butter (2 lbs for $7.69)
– Olive Oil
– Croutons (2lbs/ 32 oz for $6.49)
– Rice Milk
– Soy Milk
– Frozen Blueberries
– Quinoa
– Spinach
– Kale
– Mixed Greens (Kale & Spinach)
– Bananas
– Frozen Corn
– Frozen Mixed Vegetables – (The flash frozen vegetables are great to have around for soups and quick sides.  The quality has been very good.)
– Stoneyfield Yogurt
– Sugar
– Blue Agave ($9.89 for two 36 ounce bottles)
– Frozen Mango
– Bread (two pack)
– Tortilla Chips
– Brown rice
– Edamame
– Mary’s Gone Crackers Gluten free crackers
– 18 Rabbits Granola
– Rickland Organic Trail Mix
– Next Organics Drak Chocolate Covered Banana Coconut
– Late July MultiGrain Snack Chips
– Tasy Brand Organic Wild Berry Fruit Snacks
– Hanover Organic Ancient Grain Pretzels
– Tazo Organic Iced Green Tea
– Horizon Organic Vanilla Milk
– Apple & Eve Organics Orange Carrot Juice
– Mayorga Organic Cafe Cubano Coffee
– Carrington Farms Organic Coconut Oil
– Minsley Cooked Organic Brown Rice Bowls
– Della Organic Belends Quinoa and Rice Blend
– Gluten free Organic Black Bean Spaghetti
– Organic Pasta
– Classico Organic Pasta Sauce
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Paste (12 – 6 oz cans- $5.99)
– Kirkland Signature Organic canned Diced Tomatoes
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce
– Pasta Prima Organic Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
– Sambazon Organic Acai Juice
– Better than Bullion Reduced Sodium Beef Base
– Black Chia seeds (2 pounds for $9.89)
– Several Breakfast cereals
– Carrots
– Peanut Butter
– Nutiva Gluten Free Coconut Flour

Sometimes Things at Costco Come and Go

Just to say a bit more about a couple of things that have come and gone:  One of my favorites that they took away without warning was the organic oatmeal…they have plenty of genetically modified Quaker oats though.

So if I was going to make any complaints about Costco, one of the top ones is that you cannot count on a product to be there for “good”.  Certainly there are some reliable offerings in general, but I would say that you can mainly only count on staple foods, as I have seen all sorts of random things get removed from the lineup or replaced by a different brand over the years.

They also tend to have “road shows.” These are also temporary items brought in by Costco or 3rd party vendors that are only there for a few days, and then they are gone. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will ever be back again.

Things like suits, high-end purses, coats, bedding, jewelry, folding ladders, and a variety of food items are only there temporarily. They do have some “regular” road shows too, such as their seafood roadshow, which seems to turn up at our local store approximately once a month with items they don’t regularly sell. Also in this category to some extent are things like blenders (Vitamix and Blendtec brands) that tend to be consistently sold in the stores, but seem to run out regularly and then are restocked after a company demonstrator comes in for a few days.

They also sell “earth friendly” products of other sorts.  For example, they offer products from the Honest Company including vegan shampoo and diapers/wipes.  They also offer environmentally friendly Costco-brand environmentally friendly dish soap and laundry detergent.

Sheet Cakes and Desserts

costco sheet cake selection

As someone who thinks most supermarket cakes taste disgusting, I do think that Costco’s sheet cakes are definitely better tasting than most and at $18 for a half sheet cake that feeds 48 people, it is a good deal.

We have purchased several cakes for birthday parties at Costco and that have always been tasty (Having said that, they still use quite a bit of sugar and have some chemicals that everyone should do without).   They always have “stock” sheet cakes available that are quite nice or you can order a custom decorated cake by filling out a form.

There are two basic kinds of cake – chocolate and white.  The white cakes are filled with 2 pounds of vanilla mousse and iced with white butter cream.  The chocolate cakes are filled with 2 pounds of chocolate mousse and iced with chocolate buttercream.   They request that you give them 1 day’s notice for customized cakes.

Costco Cake Order Form

I have created a fillable form to make ordering cakes at Coscto easier.  Click here to download the form. (If it opens up in Google’s web viewer, you need to click the download icon to get to the fill-outable/printable form. Once you fill in the details simply print the page.) This definitely helps to eliminate errors because of handwriting issues!

There are also several other types of pre-made party desserts you can purchase at Costco.  For example, there are many types of non-sheet cakes you can get–they have some really delicious choices including a red velvet cake, coffee cakes, an amazing chocolate cake, cupcakes, and apple strudel.  Availability tends to shift, but you can bet there are plenty of outrageously delicious options.  You can also find some amazing frozen party desserts, such as filled pastries, mochi and ice cream bars.

There is more to read–Don’t miss part 2 of my Costco review here.



Categories
Food Nutrition Recommendations Save Money

What’s For Breakfast? Healthy ideas for breakfast for kids of busy families

Say no to donuts for breakfast
Say NO to donuts and pastries for breakfast.
Such a bad idea–especially for kids.

Recently I have noticed that one of the parents in my daughter’s school is giving her child donuts and/or pre-made and packaged waffles/pancakes for breakfast every day.

It can be difficult for families to eat right and to give their kids healthy choices for breakfast.  It is very hard, especially when time is short in the mornings, but this child is going to be at risk for diabetes and isn’t getting the best “brain food” for the morning.  She is already starting to look chubby and that’s very sad to see.  I can only imagine what the rest of her meals could be like.

I don’t really know the parent of the above child, and I don’t know what I’d say to them if I had the chance.  I would like to suggest some alternatives that would be healthier and still be attractive for the child to eat.

Certainly after months of being fed sugar snacks for breakfast, it is going to be difficult to get the girl to eat something else. but perhaps with some coaxing and some information about nutrition, she might be willing to make some changes.  At this point I have a feeling it is going to take some creativity.

I think almost anything would be better than the above-mentioned plain old chocolate donuts (they look like they’re from Dunkin’ Donuts).  Probably even processed cereal like Apple Jacks or Cap’n Crunch would be an improvement from a donut.  But, there are much better choices. I think this parent probably holds the same belief as many others–if it is on the store shelf, you can buy it and eat it and all will be fine–everyone does it so it must be okay.  The same goes double if a restaurant sells it.

Here are some ideas that would be better and in the case of the above child, would probably be easily accepted into the breakfast rotation:

Hand Mixer

– Smoothies – The homemade kind.  You can pack alot of nutrition into a smoothie and kids will think it is on par with dessert.  The key is to use true, wholesome ingredients.  A typical smoothie  make for my kids would include: frozen blueberries or pineapple (from Costco), organic oatmeal, spinach (yes, that’s right!), a banana and/or strawberries for sweetness, flax meal or maybe oat bran.

I used to use a Smart Stick to mix these together and cleanup is therefore was very quick and easy. I now own a BlendTec 570 Blender which makes much smoother smoothies and is equally easy to clean.  While drinking your breakfast can be really effective, many will find that they need to chew something to feel like they are full.  I suggest a piece of toast, bagel or muffin to go with it.

PRO TIP: Orange juice you buy in the grocery store is most likely NOT what you think it is.  (Unless you saw someone squeeze it out of an orange)  Store-bought orange juice isn’t so wholesome and although it tastes good, the tastes are almost always added in artificially even though the package labeling leads you to believe otherwise.

For a full explanation of what you’re really buying when you purchase orange juice, see this article.  I would also add that orange juice comes with quite a bit of it’s own sugar, so keep that in mind if OJ is part of your morning.

– Muffins – The homemade kind. Muffins made with the right ingredients can be nutritious and delicious. Zucchini Oatmeal muffins are a favorite around our home.  There are so many others that don’t have lots of sugar, but have lots of nutrition. Muffins can be made on the weekend and hopefully the child will participate so they’ll know what they are eating and learn to enjoy it.  Kids will think they’re getting a pastry but really it will be a healthy part of a morning start.

PRO TIP: Most muffins freeze well for future use.

– Make your own cereal – My wife has taken it upon herself to mix up a batch of cereal once or twice a week.  She’s basically making muesli but the process involves roasting a combination of oatmeal, nuts, etc.  There are lots of great recipes out there, and since you can control what’s going into it, you’ll know what you’re eating and save a ton of money on premade cereals.  The added bonus is that if you get the kids involved in making the cereal, they are more likely to enjoy eating it.

– Refrigerator Oatmeal – There are lots of great recipes for “overnight oatmeal”  See this link for oatmeal ideas.

– Breakfast Popsicle – Every kid likes Popsicle. Suppose they were the healthy kind? See here for a great breakfast Popsicle recipe!

Other healthy ideas from a vegan friend of mine.  To quote her directly “Fresh fruit and veggies are good.  Wasa crackers (or other whole grain crackers) with avocado slices, hummus, or another fave dip are also good.  Yogurt, of course!  Add granola or other ingredients for a heartier dish.  Pita pocket with hummus and veggies.  Air-popped popcorn.  Dried fruit + nuts.  Whole grain crackers with vegan cream cheese.  “Ants on a log”–celery with nut butter or cream cheese and raisins.  Fig bars.”

 

a clear dot
Categories
Childrens' Birthday Parties Food kids activities Nutrition Party Favors For Kids

What To Give Out as Party Favors at a Kids Birthday Party

kids birthday party typical party favors

There are plenty of parents who will join me in my unhappy feelings about the gift bags that kids are given at their friends’ birthday parties.   Of course we’re happy to share the joy of a family celebrating their child and the accomplishment of getting a year older.  And it isn’t that I am ungrateful for all the effort that the parents have gone to in order to have the party to begin with–I am.  I have done it enough to know what a pain it really is…but I have to speak up about the gift bags full of party favors that the kids get to take home with them from your typical party.

JUNK is the word that comes to mind.  Junk food and junk toys. Frustratingly useless stuff that should never even be manufactured is thrown into fancy paper or plastic bags and given out to the kids.

Lets talk about the junk food first.  I realize that many parents don’t give a thought about the ingredients in the cakes they buy at the grocery store, but wherever it came from, unless specified otherwise, you can be sure it is full of sugar (and worrisome chemicals–I won’t even get into the dyes used in some icings.).

It’s a cake, it should have sugar, right?  Well that’s true, but stores go way overboard, especially with the icings–it is really an unhealthy amount for an average sized piece.  And usually that cake is eaten at the end of the party.  So first the kids eat some sugary cake and then they are handed a bag full of candy with more sugar.

Aside from the behavior aspects of so much sugar, I just want to request that parents stop diabeating (to use a word from Urban Dictionary) our kids.  Diabetes is at an all time high, and it is so sad to see obese children–in many cases, it could have easily been prevented with healthier diets and exercise. What is given out at parties just goes to make giving out harmful foods normal, when it could just as easily go the other way.

With a little bit of creativity (and perhaps a homemade cake made from scratch) children’s exposure to sugar and chemicals in the name of a happy birthday could be greatly reduced.  BTW, if you actually stop and think about the taste of some of these cakes that everyone seems to think are so delicious, they really just taste like chemicals. Try it yourself the next time you get a chance to taste a grocery store cake. It’s not good.

party giveaway options

All kids look forward to and even expect to get party favors.  But can’t we change the tradition to omit the sweets?  My kids know that they can have something from that bag on the way home, but if I have anything to do with it, they never see the rest of the candy again…straight into the trash when they’re not looking.

Happily I can report that many times they don’t even want to try those candies.  So what a waste of money and effort for the gift bag giver, right?  It definitely doesn’t help that my kids usually are not happy with the limitations placed on their newly acquired desserts…making me the bad guy.  Lollipops, Swedish Fish, candy rings…nothing but sugar and chemicals…they weren’t necessary to begin with.  Lets find better things to include in those bags!

Then there are the toys.  I think most of the stuff comes either from the dollar store or maybe Oriental Trading Company.  Usually they break easily or never really did what it was supposed to do to begin with…the only useful thing I usually find in those same gift bags are pencils…but oddly, at least going back a few years, the pencils were being given out at party after party for my two and three year-olds…and since these were normal-adult sized pencils, they weren’t really something that my kids could make the best use of.  (I am happy to report I have a lifetime supply of colorful pencils stored away.)

Ok, so I hate to make a complaint without providing some ideas for solving the problem.  First, I think it is useful to point out that the parents probably wind up spending at least 3 or 4 dollars per gift bag.  That money could surely be spent in better ways–maybe on just one useful thing that goes with the theme of the party.

For example for a pool party, you might give away goggles, diving toys or maybe those pool noodles.  Maybe for a dinosaur themed party you could give away a book about dinosaurs or dino action figures.  For some parties, the gifts might be something from the party itself–for instance if you have a craft party, the craft the kids create would be the thing they take home or maybe they get a pack of sculpting clay.

How about a paint-it-yourself birdhouse?  Maybe even include some bird seed.  Another dea is to give away plants or crafts (or both) — for instance tree in a box – This option was very popular at my child’s 7th birthday party.  You can even get Giant Sequoia seeds.

Another idea is to go to Ikea and purchase live bamboo plants and if you want to get fancy but some of the 75 cent vases to go with them. Kids are surprised and really enjoy taking care of them and they’re really difficult to kill. This year we purchased a cactus plant for each kid who came to the party. They loved it! By the way, I saw the sale depicted below at Ikea on a recent trip (September 2019)…

Plants for Kid's Birthday Party Favors

If it’s in the budget, you could hire a caricature artist for the party. The party favor could be a caricature of each of the guests. This is truly fun for the kids, and in the best circumstances will be keepsake that the child will treasure.

Here are some possible suggestions for party favors instead of candy that wouldn’t be expensive, but at least go a bit beyond the usual junk:

  1. 10-pack of scjence safety goggles-These are a no-brainer for science parties…but wouldn’t be a bad addition to any gift bag.
  2. Bamboo Plants – Every kid loves plants. Bamboo is cool to look at and difficult to kill…making this a fantastic party favor.
  3. Tickle Plant Seeds
  4. Binoculars
  5. Straw Hats
  6. Playdough
  7. Balloon Racers
  8. Balloon Helicopters
  9. Water Toys
  10. Goggles – Swim parties or any summer parties would benefit from this.
  11. Flip-Flop Keychains
  12. Maracas
    Egg Shakers
  13. LED Rubberband Helicopters
  14. Rocket Copters
  15. Parachute Cord Bracelets
  16. LED Finger Lights
  17. Fishnet Gloves
  18. Glow Sticks
  19. Putty Balls
  20. Flashlights
  21. Glow Stick Eyeglasses
  22. Bubbles
  23. Neon Compasses or Square Compasses
  24. Echo Microphones
  25. LED Balloons
  26. Puzzle Balls
  27. Playing Cards / Uno Cards
  28. Mechanical Pencils (I know what I said about pencils above, but mechanical pencils have a special effect on many kids–for whatever reason they think they’re exciting and want to use them. Since you can get a 24 pack for less than 10 dollars, it can be a good deal for a worthwhile party favor!)
  29. Little Stampers

For other ideas, see my list of birthday party places in Howard, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County. I suggest party favors that go well with the party venue.

We’ve also recently been to a dolphin themed birthday where the hosts gave each child a hula hoop with an inflatable dolphin hanging in the middle.  At “Five Below” you can get a hula hoop for about $2.

Pineapple party favors - Creative ideas for what to give out at kids birthday parties.

There are lots of other clever ideas. For example, we recently went to a pool party where the hosts gave pineapples to each guest. The pineapples were decorated with sunglasses and Hawaiian Leis. This fantastic because aside from the novelty it gives kids a reminder that fruits can be fun and interesting.

Aside from things like that, I would recommend that parents try to stay away from giving any food at all in the party favor bags if you can.

And here are a few other resources:

This website has some homemade favor ideas.

Here are some ideas for places to have a birthday party. And if you’re looking for great gift ideas for brainy kids, I’ve got that too! You may also want to check out my Costco Review as well as my review of Lifetime Fitness.