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gluten-free bread for communion

Anyone who’s lived a gluten-free lifestyle knows how hard it is to find a bread free of wheat. So, recently tasked with finding a gluten-free bread for communion, i.e., one sturdy enough to dip into liquid without dissolving, I test two recipes, comparing quality and costs with store-bought varieties. Here’s what I find.

gluten-free bread for communion

Where do you go when you need a bread you can offer the masses? When you want loaves you can break and hand out? Given that, according to a study discussed last year by Niall McCarthy at Forbes Magazine, some 3.1 million Americans follow a gluten-free diet, a number that has “tripled since 2009,” finding a bread sans gluten is a good place to start. Read More

Budget-Bottom Easy Fried Rice

This easy fried rice is part of a series of articles on cheap dinners made from pantry staples. When you’re at the end of your food budget, you’ve to work with what’s available. Enter the budget-bottom meal. Got an idea for this series? Contact me.

easy fried rice

It’s the end of the month. Your fridge pickings are sparse. But, before you bust the budget back at the store, consider this: if you’ve got carrots, an onion, an egg and leftover rice, you’ve already got the makings of a good, cheap meal. Read More

11 Kids’ Books about Food to Inspire You to the Kitchen

This roundup of 11 kids’ books about food is part of a series of articles on cooking with kids. Reading kids’ books about food with a child you love is a great way to inspire cooking projects and provide a roadmap for spending time in the kitchen together. With that in mind, here are 11 books worth exploring. If you have your own story or experience to share on the topic of cooking with kids, contact me here.

kids' books about food

As recently explored in the post, “5 Reasons to Bake Pretzels with Walter the Baker,” there are so many reasons to cook with kids, from growing life skills to educating about healthy choices. But pair this activity with books about food relating to your cooking projects, and it’s doubly valuable.

That’s because, according to Casey Byrne, Reading Recovery teacher at Glenview Elementary School in Nashville, when it comes to literacy, the more exposure you give a child to books, the better. Read More

5 Thrive Market Benefits Or, Why Try the Healthy Online Membership Grocery

This post on Thrive Market benefits is part of a series of posts examining grocery sources. Described as an online Costco meets Whole Foods, Thrive Market is a membership site that offers lower prices on recognized healthy and organic products, as well as its own Thrive Market branded line. Why try it? Here’s a look.

thrive market benefits

If Brandless is the site that does $3 product pricing by cutting out the brand name, Thrive Market is the site that gives you the brand name, but at a better cost. For those organic or healthy products you’re loyal to and can’t replace with off-brand alternatives–a particular supplement, a favorite paleo tortilla, a non-GMO candy bar–Thrive Market typically beats the costs you’ll find at your local grocer, while also giving you the convenience of online shopping.

The only catch? Like Costco, Thrive Market is a membership grocery. While it does provide a free 30-day trial, after that you pay $59.95 a year to buy at its lower costs. Are the savings worth it?

thrive market benefits

The Online Membership Grocery Focused on Health

Originally launched in 2015, Thrive Market has been called “the country’s hottest online natural and organic market” by Jeff Wells at food industry news site Food Dive and the brand that’s “on a mission to make healthy living affordable and accessible for every American family,” by Eve Turow Paul at Forbes. All its products are non-GMO, often USDA-certified organic and searchable by values such as paleo, vegan, raw or gluten-free. Shipping is free for every order over $49. And, for each paid membership, Thrive Market gives a free membership to a family in need, teacher, veteran or first responder.

Still, though, in an informal Instagram survey, the main problem people kept citing with Thrive Market is the annual membership fee. When is $59.95/year worthwhile, and how do you get past the free-shipping-minimum in a world of Amazon Prime?

Why Try Thrive Market

For some shoppers, such as Katie Archer, blogger at KatieBazzel.com, who buys enough specialty-grocery items to warrant the annual subscription cost, the membership makes sense. “I make one $50 order each month or every other month,” she says. “Some of my favorites to get are Thrive Market brand ghee, sprouted spelt flour and garbanzo bean flour–also Primal Kitchen mayo and Primal deodorant.”

Thrive Market’s own website explains the annual fee means “we don’t have to mark up our products like other retailers and can pass along those savings to our members.” Doing the math on how the lower prices add up, the company says, “As a result, the average member makes back their $59.95 annual membership fee (that’s just $5/month) in savings in just [two] orders. ”

Personal Experience

I’ve been a member of Thrive Market since its early days, ordering irregularly, on those occasions when I want to stock up on a favorite cereal before the baby comes or when I’m tired of paying full price for my favorite chips. As a veteran buyer from this company, I like:

  • Online Convenience. Nashville has at least three natural grocery stores where I can buy healthy products I’m loyal to via a quick drive, but buying at Thrive Market saves me the hassle of another retail run. For people in more rural areas, however, this is an even bigger benefit. For Jenny Trowbridge, for example, whose “closest health store is 25 minutes away,” Thrive Market makes it possible to get staples like coconut oil, gluten-free oats, coconut milk, almond flour crackers and other ingredients she regularly uses, all sent straight to her door. “If I know I’ll be out of something soon, I’ll just order from Thrive and then I don’t have to drive to get what I need,” she says.
  • Lower Prices. Nothing keeps me coming back like saving money, and Thrive Market legitimately offers lower prices on a handful of products I regularly buy. As long as I can think ahead to place an online order, I get what I need at a cheaper cost.
  • Brand Recognition. While I buy as many off-brand organic items as possible, there are some products you just can’t replace. When I like a chocolate bar or cracker enough to make a special grocery run, I can usually find the same item on Thrive Market, for a lower price, with the convenience of online ordering.
  • Specialty Diet Support. If you’re doing Whole30, eating paleo, unable to have gluten or facing some other requirement of a specialty diet, Thrive Market makes it easy to find products you can eat. Simply search by “value” to see what caters to your needs.
  • Healthy Treats. Eating whole foods or away from grains or any other healthy designation doesn’t mean you don’t want a treat here and there. I look at Thrive Market as a place to find healthy “guilty pleasures,” from my favorite chocolate bar sweetened with coconut sugar to an expensive cereal with a short ingredient list.

hu kitchen chocolate bar from thrive market

Thrive Market Benefits: 5 Products I’ve Bought More Than Once + a Few Others

It made a big splash when it first launched, but the biggest reason Thrive Market has stuck around is its value. Built on the same premise as membership retailer Costco, Thrive Market connects consumers with lower prices on quality products. Here are five products I keep coming back for, plus a few others I want to try.

  1. Siete Chips: If paying $6 for a bag of tortilla chips seems crazy, you probably haven’t tried Siete brand chips. Made of cassava and avocado oil, these light and crunchy chips are free of corn, gluten, dairy and soy. Price comparison: At Thrive Market, you’ll find Siete chips for $4.39 a bag, compared to $5 or $6 elsewhere.
  2. HU Chocolate: Made of organic cacao and sweetened with coconut sugar, these chocolate bars are the definition of a sweet treat. Especially delightful are the nut butter varieties, such as the almond butter with puffed quinoa. Price comparison: You can find a six-pack of Hu bars for about $45 on Amazon ($7.50 each), compared to $5.45 on Thrive Market.
  3. Simple Mills Crackers: You don’t have to be gluten-free to love these addictive crackers from Simple Mills, available in farmhouse cheddar, sundried tomato and basil and sea salt varieties. They’re light, crisp and filled with recognizable ingredients such as nuts and seeds. Price comparison: Our local natural foods store sells a box of these crackers for a solid $5, compared to Thrive Market’s everyday $4.19 price.
  4. One Degree Cereal: Simple ingredients combined with the nostalgia of mainstream cereal have made One Degree cereals a long-time favorite, not to mention, for me, a top-five craving in pregnancy. Price comparison: Thrive Market sells One Degree cereal for roughly $1 cheaper per box
  5. Purely Elizabeth Granola: The first time I tried this ancient grain granola, it was an impulse buy from the specialty food section at Home Goods. In a lot of cases, granola is just granola—not with this brand. Sweetened with coconut sugar and baked with coconut oil, it’s a salty-sweet combo I could eat every day. Price comparison: I’ve seen this granola priced as high as $10 a bag on Amazon and at roughly $7 at a local grocer. Thrive Market sells it for $5.95.

Products I want to try in my next order include energy- and immunity-boosting mushroom drinks from Four Sigmatic; einkorn flour, offered $1.50 cheaper than our local source (for more on this ingredient, check out this book); and, sometime when I’m up for a splurge, this pecan butter with cashews, to spread on everything.

The Verdict

So is Thrive Market worth the membership fee? When does it make sense, and when does it not?

On Instagram, one shopper said she finds herself spending more money when she shops online–if that sounds like you, a Thrive Market membership might not be the best way to cut costs. Likewise, budget shoppers who stay away from specialty items and only splurge on the expensive, healthy chips once or twice a year won’t get the most cost savings from Thrive Market. This membership site doesn’t sell produce, so you can’t use it to skip the store altogether, and it does require a few days to deliver, so it’s not a last-minute splurge site.

That said, the shoppers Thrive Market does make sense for are:

  • Specialty item lovers. If buying Siete chips is a weekly occurrence in your household, you’ll save money by buying them through Thrive Market. Anyone who shops a natural grocery store more than a traditional one will easily lower their costs by planning ahead to order on Thrive Market. The deciding factor: Estimate how often you’re buying specialty items offered at cheaper costs on Thrive. If it’s often enough to warrant $60 savings, you know the membership is worth it for you.
  • Anyone on an alternative diet. Let’s say you have Celiac, for example. You know the higher costs associated with buying breads, crackers, flours, etc., sans gluten. Thrive Market makes it easier to buy the bulk of what you need for an alternative diet, more affordably, online. The deciding factor: If you already know you’ll be buying alternative flours for the next year, not to mention crackers or chips, there’s a good chance cutting costs through Thrive Market makes sense.
  • Healthy eaters in remote areas. Remote is relative (so is healthy), but if you live far enough from a natural grocer to make buying buckwheat flour or sprouted tortillas difficult–and if you want to buy buckwheat flour or sprouted tortillas–Thrive Market is the solution. The deciding factor: If geography already forces you to shop for healthy groceries online, Thrive Market will likely save you money. Generally speaking, this company offers better prices on natural and organic products than any other sources online.

simple mills crackers from thrive market

A Few Extra Tips for Shopping at Thrive Market + a Discount Link

Before you pull the trigger on a Thrive Market order:

  • If you’re new, use this referral link to get 25% of your order. After you try it out, if you end up buying a membership later, I’ll get a credit.
  • If you aren’t new, still look for coupon codes when you complete your shopping cart, and save a few extra bucks.
  • Check out the Thrive Market branded line, which, product to product, is usually priced the same or just a little more expensive than other store brands. I can personally vouch for the Vanilla Mint chapstick, getting me through winter over here.

If you’re already a loyal Thrive Market member, I’d love to hear what keeps you coming back, too. Email me via the contact page (link in top header), and I’ll add try to add any helpful feedback to this post.

This post contains affiliate link and a referral link, for which I may earn affiliate income on products purchased. This post is not sponsored, and all opinions expressed are my own.

5 Reasons to Bake Pretzels with Walter the Baker

This post on five reasons to bake pretzels with Walter the Baker is part of a series of articles on cooking with kids. Cooking with kids forges bonds, grows skills and makes the world of food more fun–but, for many busy parents, knowing how and when to include kids in the kitchen isn’t obvious. // Do you have a story or suggestion from your own experience to share? Contact me here.

baking pretzels from Walter the Baker

Cooking with kids is a hot topic today. It discourages picky palates, according to registered dietician and freelance nutrition journalist Janet Helm, who says “children are much more likely to try something new if they’ve had a hand at preparing it.” Getting kids in the kitchen can grow math and vocabulary skills, according to children’s health and development site KidsHealth. Even British celebrity chef and restaurateur Jaime Oliver, advocated for it, in his 2010-11 ABC TV series, Food Revolution, while he tried to reform American school lunch programs and change kids’ eating habits.

But, as with many good ideas, the biggest challenge is knowing where to start. So here’s a suggestion: Bake pretzels with Walter the Baker.

Why set aside an hour or so to try this baking project? Here are five reasons.

baking with kids, baking pretzels from walter the baker baking pretzels from walter the baker

1. It’s Based on a Beloved Book

First published twenty years ago, Walter the Baker is a vividly illustrated children’s book about a baker faced with a unique challenge. His only hope of avoiding banishment is designing a new kind of baked bread: a roll through which “the rising sun shines three times.”

Over the last two decades, this fictional pretzel history, based on a story Carle’s grandmother used to tell, has sold over 41 million copies and been translated into 62 languages. It’s one of more than 70 children’s books created by Carle, an acclaimed author and illustrator whose resumé also includes being a graphic designer for The New York Times and an art director for an international ad agency. Bottom line: If your child already loves The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, Carle’s Walter the Baker is an easy sell. Read it and bake pretzels to turn your cooking project into a literary one, too.

2. There’s a Short Ingredient List

You can start cooking with your kids as early as two years old, according to The American Institute for Cancer Research, but, let’s be honest, if you’re working with children that young, the simpler the process, the better. Bottom line: Check your pantry. Homemade baked pretzels require only a few basic ingredients such as warm water, yeast, salt, sugar, butter, flour and baking soda–you probably already have them on hand.

baking pretzels with walter the baker

3. The Recipe Includes Kid-Friendly Steps

Including kids in the cooking process means finding age-appropriate steps they can handle, according to Katie Reece, RD, who started cooking with her 19-month-old son, Ryan, when he was only around a year of age. “He’s never really wanted to play by himself while I’m in the kitchen, so I’ve had to look for ways for him to get involved,” she says. “We got him a learning tower for his one-year birthday, which allows him to have a safe way to be up at the counter. Sometimes I put water in bowls and give him measuring spoons and cups to try to scoop the water, to distract him while I cook.” Bottom line: your kids have several opportunities to help when baking pretzels, such as sprinkling yeast, sprinkling flour, stirring dough, playing with dough and kneading.

baking pretzels from walter the baker
baking pretzels with Walter the Baker

4. It Involves Kneading

An easy and fun activity for kids of all ages is kneading. Just ask Nicole Spiridakis, author of the cookbook Flourless and blogger at Cucina Nicolina, whose “kids have been in the kitchen since they were infants … I think I started actually cooking with my oldest when she was about two or a little younger,” she says. “Now she’s four and I do help her to cut things, but she definitely pours and stirs and whisks. We make bread and it’s a great kid activity–all that kneading!” Bottom line: kneading works for kids because it’s fun and it’s scalable to your child’s capability, whether that means simply pounding and slapping the dough as a toddler or forming pretzels as a school-aged child. 

5. Kids Like Pretzels

Everybody knows the best part of helping in the kitchen is getting to taste the end product, and pretzels (twisted, boiled bread with salt on top) are a great reward. The bottom line: pretzels may not expand your child’s palate beyond something he or she would already eat, but, as such, they will plant seeds of cooking being fun, laying a foundation of interest in future food.

why bake pretzels with walter the baker

To any parent reluctant to sacrifice fast recipe prep with the slower, often frustrating work of including a small child, it’s worth remembering that “there are good reasons to encourage kids in the kitchen at any age,” according to KJ Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey of The New York Times. “With young children, that early investment pays off — eventually.” As you take the time to help your child grow more comfortable in the kitchen, you make food more approachable, empower them with confidence and open up a place to talk about healthy ingredients and why they matter. Perhaps best of all, Dell-Antonia and Laskey also point out the inevitable consequence of working together with a child on something new: “For better or worse, you will get to know your children, and they you, more deeply when you cook with them.”

Notes on this post:

This post includes Amazon affiliate links, which yield a small commission on any products purchased through them.

The pretzel recipe pictured in this post comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction. We watched her how-to video, pulled out ingredients and read through Carle’s story one more time while the dough rested. Did the experience develop new skills or expand my toddler’s palate? I can’t say. But within an hour of starting, side by side at the table, biting into soft pretzels, I told him these are our pretzels, the ones we made, and he looked back at me, pretzel in hand, with a smile.

How to Bake Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

Everybody knows there’s more to fries than white potatoes–but, swap in sweet potatoes, and achieving a solid crisp factor at home is a challenge. Is starch the secret? A good, long soak pre-bake? If you’ve ever wondered how to bake crispy sweet potato fries at home, this post is for you.

how to bake crispy sweet potatoes at home

It starts with an Instagram message. My blog friend Katie wants to know how to bake crispy sweet potato fries and wonders if I have any tips. Making sweet potato fries, yes. Making crispy sweet potato fries? Read More

Blueberry Buckle Doughnuts, Doughnut Cookies or, Doughkies

This article on blueberry buckle doughnuts (or doughnuts meet cookies, i.e., doughkies) is the third post in a series of make-ahead mornings, batch breakfasts designed to save you time. Also in this series: breakfast panna cotta and a closer look at smoothie packs.

blueberry buckle doughkies

Built like a doughnut, baked like a muffin and crunchy enough that their bite can be heard across the room, these doughnut hybrids are like doughnut meets cookie: doughkies?Read More

Smoothie Packs: Empty Hype or Savvy Hack?

This article on smoothie packs is the second post in a series of make-ahead morning recipes, batch breakfasts designed to save you time. Also in this series: breakfast panna cotta.

green smoothie packs

They’re tasty, healthy and an easy way to get your greens–but, let’s face it, even smoothies are a chore when you’re tired, stressed or in a rush. Who can’t relate to blogger and cookbook author Kathryne Taylor, who said in Women’s Health Magazine, “I need my breakfasts to be easy enough to fumble together in the morning, because I don’t have the energy to pull out a variety of smoothie ingredients before I’ve had coffee”?Read More

fast homemade pizza and sauce

There’s no denying the magic of make-ahead meals, but, still, who doesn’t love a last-minute recipe? This fast homemade pizza only takes about a half hour to make–and the sauce, another half hour before or as you prep. Best of all, you may have all the ingredients on hand for this addictive, delicious dinner.

fast pizza and sauce

With reviews like “I have been making pizza for twelve years and…am considering replacing all of them with this one” and “this was the easiest pizza dough I’ve ever made,” the Super Quick Pizza Dough Recipe from Serious Eats is an easy sell. A few features: There’s no making the dough in the morning to prepare for dinner. You don’t have to knead the dough, let it rise and knead the dough again. The recipe calls for a total four ingredients, and you might already have them in your pantry. On top of that, of its 77 posted reviews, this is a pizza crust that gets an average of 4.5 stars–despite minimal instructions that don’t tell you how long or at what temperature it should be baked. In other words, it could be the definition of foolproof.Read More