Updated: Jan 16, 2019
My grocery trip the other day to Ralphs (a Kroger subsidiary, Publix for you readers on the east coast) was heavily loaded— not in the way where I left with a massive overflowing cart, but more in the way that I had sooo much to say and share about my investigation.
You see, I grew up going to Ralphs. My brother and I would tag along on mom's grocery trips as often as possible solely to ride in the kids carts or to blame the other for knocking over boxes in the cereal aisle. We loaded the cart up with gushers, cocoa krispies, fruit roll ups.... aaaaaall the junk. So how did I turn out the way I am? I seriously ask myself that question every day. But to make a long story short, I remember how sh!tty I felt when I ate that way, and I made a vow to myself that I will never wanted to feel that way again. And I haven't looked back every since.
I have, however, been to a Ralphs since. I go for the emergency fruit run or toilet paper & paper towel replenish. As for my other grocery staples, I like to keep it as fresh as possible: organic veggies and fruits from the farmers market, organic tempeh from Trader Joe's, fresh hummus and affordable organic nut butters from Whole Foods or I just make my own at home. So going back to Ralph's in the eye of a grocery shopper was slightly different, yet nostalgic. A one word summary of my thoughts? Surprised. Maybe the fact that I chose a Ralph's in the outskirts of Beverly Hills will bias my results, but for the most part I tried to find and review staple brands that I thought might be at a majority of stores across the country, in addition to a few fun finds that may or may not be at a store in the middle of nowhere but I had to include it nevertheless.
1. Boar's Head Roasted Garlic Hummus
This product started a major debate in my head. First of all, the name of the brand brings up disgusting images in my head and gives my chills up the spine. On a related note, yes, the brand is a deli meat & cheese company. On another related note, yes, I am also wondering what the heck they are doing in the hummus industry. Can't us plant eaters have one category to ourselves? Anyway. I digress. I had no choice but to put Boar's Head hummus in here because it was honestly the only hummus brand I'd recommend in terms of ingredients (not company morals, let's be clear here). There are a few reasons why this brand is my first choice at Ralph's: the chickpeas are steamed, which is better than roasted because more nutrients are preserved. They use sunflower oil and olive oil instead of canola oil (which most other brands do. It is super inflammatory, typically genetically modified and has little to no nutritional value). However, I must also mention that I don't like that they add citric acid and it isn't organic, so you could be ingesting trace amounts of pesticides.
2. Endangered Species Dark Chocolate
I went all in on Endangered Species in my Target blog post, but in quick summary: I absolutely love the brand and what they stand behind. While I prefer dark chocolate that is soy & sugar free, I sometimes opt for Endangered Species brand because it is ethically traded and they donate 10% of their profits to wildlife conservation efforts. I aspire to have a company that does this one day.
3. Simple Truth Berry Medley
Simple Truth is Kroger's affordable organic brand. I was really excited to find the organic berry medley in the frozen section, because I LOVE frozen fruit. I buy frozen fruit because I don't have to worry about eating it all before it goes bad, and honestly a frozen strawberry with some raw almond butter and 70% dark chocolate square is my freaking jam. I usually opt for strawberries when I feel a cold coming on because they're high in vitamin C, and I opt for some blueberries or blackberries with dark chocolate when I want a little dessert, and raspberries on the daily because they're high in fiber and nutrients, but low in calories.
Notice that I didn't list a specific product in this title? That's because I can vouch for any GoRaw brand product. I'm not sponsored or affiliated whatsoever, I just have a lot of appreciation for the brand as it was my saving grace when I first went #plantbased when I was 15. My favorite go-to products are the pumpkin seed sprouted bar and the cacao granola. Ugh, so good. Need some right meow. A bit on the nutrition for those that are interested: the granola is extremely clean and sprouted, making it more bioavailable to our body. The only sweetener is dates which I love, considering the pumpkin bar now uses agave (not a fan, it's extremely high in the glycemic index. Might as well just eat corn syrup), but the pumpkin seed bar is also sprouted, high in fiber, tastes amazing and is better for you than most protein bars out there.
5. Hilary's Root Veggie Burger
I was so excited to find these here! I first tried Hilary's veggie burgers at Expo West last year and boy they were good. The ingredients are extremely clean and also organic & non-GMO. The root veggie burger flavor only consists of millet, coconut oil, turnips, sweet potatoes, beets, salt, mustard seed, apple cider vinegar, turmeric (*a superfood spice!!!), garlic, paprika, psylium husk powder (*fiber!!), apple cider vinegar and arrowroot. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
6. Plant-Based Halo Top
I've yet to find another grocery store with more plant-based Halo Top options than Ralph's. I mean, they were stocked full. Even Whole Foods only has 1-2 flavors. Ralph's had ones I never even knew existed. For those of you reading this that have never heard of Halo Top, it's basically a low-calorie ice cream option that is actually darn good, but most of their flavors are dairy based. They dropped a line of coconut milk based flavors, which are also darn good, but I also should mention that it is still a dessert. While there is no dairy or eggs, there is still a lot of sugar just like most ice creams.
7. Don Bruno Arrabbiata
I've never heard of this brand nor seen it on a shelf before, but I was happy to find a tomato sauce that didn't have added sugar. I'm also trying to stay away from calling tomato sauces "pasta sauce" because I had a realization recently... it doesn't always have to go on pasta! I freaking love a good tomato sauce, and I don't eat pasta that often so why not put it on something nutritious that I actually would like to eat? Like, a veggie melange! So, I discovered you can just cook a bunch of chopped veggies on the stove with "pasta" sauce and it is a darn good way to eat flavorful veggies, especially because cooked tomatoes are high in antioxidants (more so than raw— fun fact!).
8. Birds Eye Superfood Blends & Birds Eye Riced Cauliflower *read before buying*
I need to preface that this is not something I recommend. I added it to this post so that I can myth bust it. It is so sad to me that companies will put products out on the market and advertise them to be "superfoods" or "healthy" when they add ingredients like sugar, yeast extract (another way of saying MSG), and non-organic natural flavors. It's call to action is "Superfood Blends - Quinoa & Spinach." Well let me tell ya, you can buy a bag of quinoa and a bag of spinach, mix them together, and have 4x the proportions for the same price, minus all the bad stuff. Bird's Eye also has another "healthy" product that almost fooled me, the Riced Cauliflower. First of all, your riced cauliflower ingredients should only have "cauliflower" in it. Nothing else. Birds Eye's Riced Cauliflower has added salt, cornstarch, guar gum... Pleaaaase read ingredient labels. Don't be fooled by big company advertising. Your body is your temple amiright?!
9. Green Giant Frozen Butternut Squash Veggie Spirals
I was pleasantly surprised to see a clean ingredient list on this one. Butternut squash spirals are a great alternative pasta noodle for those with celiac disease or gluten and wheat allergies. It's lower in calorie and higher in nutrients (vitamin E, manganese, potassium, B vitamins). It would also make a nice add on to a green salad or buddha bowl. Also because they are in the freezer section, you can take them home and pop them in your freezer and eat them when you're ready, instead of having to worry about waisting them. I get so much anxiety when I have food in the fridge because I hate waisting. It's like, all this food could have fed so many people. Did I mention I hate waisting? I'm neurotic.
10. Kroger Frozen Stir-Fry Vegetables
Part of Kroger's frozen "Stir-Fry Starters" line (who knew this existed? Not I), the Stir Fry Vegetables is merely sugar snap peas, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, onions, celery and broccoli. Frozen stir-fry veggies are a staple in my kitchen because it's so easy to throw them on a skillet with a little bit of water and coconut aminos, then serve them with some quinoa and tempeh and call yourself a d@mn chef. Isn't asian food a crowd pleaser? Especially healthy asian food? Ok, now I'm starting to sound more delusional than neurotic.
11. Simple Truth Organic Frozen Spinach
Another major staple in my kitchen, frozen spinach is key to have on hand. Whenever you feel like a dish is lacking or you haven't had enough greens for the day, you can easily pop a handful on a skillet and sauté some spinach with olive oil over low heat. What I use frozen spinach mostly for though is my green smoothie every morning. I put a big handful in my blender along with my almond milk, organic pea protein, chia seeds and other goodies, and this way I know I'm replenishing my tank after a fast (breakfast) in a nutrient dense way. When your greens are frozen, it also gives your smoothie a nice chilled texture and masks the flavor of the greens (it works with kale, chard, other greens, too). Frozen spinach, guys. Get on board. (And organic for only $1.69 ?!?! Must be the illuminati)
12. Simple Truth Frozen Organic White Quinoa
Another star ingredient list! A big batch of white quinoa with only olive oil and sea salt. For those of you that listen to my rants, I'm a firm believer in consuming olive oil (extra virgin unrefined and not heated; in other words, don't cook with it!) with every meal, along with turmeric, but that rant already happened in an earlier post. Olive oil is amazing for heart health— it's high in antioxidants, it's anti-inflammatory and protects your blood cholesterol from oxidization, among a long list of other benefits. Quinoa is also a plant-based form of complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids (this is a big win, because omnivores hold this over our plant eating heads all the time).