Food

During the summer, many families will see their grocery bills increase a bit. With kids home all day every day, that means providing meals that they normally would’ve eaten at school. Plus snacks. And BOY, can kids snack!

But while we’re balancing our own food budgets, it’s easy to forget about the kids who face a much bigger problem: Getting meals at all. There are many, many kids who rely upon school breakfast and lunch to get quality meals. So what do they do during the summer?

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According to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center, the number of children participating in the USDA’s Summer Nutrition Programs increased last year, but the need for access while school is out of session remains high. Last year, only one in seven children who needed summer meals actually received them. That means the other six likely suffered without regular meals — much less healthy meals.

That’s a scary situation to face, whether you’re the child who spends his days hungry or the parent struggling to provide. Thankfully, there is help to be found.

The Walmart Foundation has kicked off a summer initiative to help children and their families get nutritious meals and learn healthy eating habits. The program includes $15 million in grants, which will will provide meals and nutrition education to 1.4 million children and families in more than 1,500 communities. The six nonprofits that will receive grant funding are:

These organizations do everything from providing mobile medical programs that offer nutrition education to directly providing healthy meals and snacks to low-income children nationwide.

But even if you’re not struggling to provide meals for your family, there’s still something you can do. As parents, we are our kids’ first role models, and they will often grow up to emulate what they’ve learned at home. This is especially true when it comes to eating habits. If they learn the importance of healthy meals and celebrating them as a family, that’s a lesson they will carry with them throughout their lives.

In this spirit, Walmart has issues a five-week Eat Healthy Together Challenge. The idea is to encourage families to eat healthy meals together at least three times a week. To reward you for doing so, each week, a random participant will win a $25 Walmart gift card. So how can you join in? Simple.

  1. Follow @WalmartHealthy on Twitter
  2. Post photos or updates on Twitter of your family eating healthy meals together, and include these hashtags: #EatHealthyTogether #Contest.
  3. Check out @WalmartHealthy each Monday for the announcement of the winning Challenge

The photo at the top of this post is my contribution. My hubby made a healthy breakfast for the whole family, and it was delicious!

The winner will be chosen from all those who use the hashtag, and the challenge continues through Monday, August 4. Entries need to be received by 10:00 a.m. ET on Mondays to be considered for the contest each week. Be sure to read the contest rules. You can also learn more about meal planning and creating healthy meals as a family at the challenge website.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than five minutes knows that cooking is not exactly my favorite activity. For me, it’s sort of a necessary evil. I hate to use that word, but more often than not, I’m cooking because I have to feed my family rather than because I enjoy it. I keep promising myself that I’ll start cooking from scratch and making meal plans and find a local CSA to order from, but none of that has happened. Still, I am very concerned about feeding my family organic, whole foods when I can, and for that reason, I am absolutely in love with Amy’s Kitchen.

If you’re not aware of this company, you definitely want to get acquainted. They make organic frozen meals that defy every expectation of frozen food. No joke.

When Walmart offered me an opportunity to fly out to California to Amy’s headquarters to meet the owners and learn the story behind the food, Baby Juliza and I couldn’t pack our bags fast enough.

I, along with Denise Sawyer of WholesomeMommy.com and Caryn Bailey of RockinMama.net, started the trip with an afternoon in San Francisco, taking in the sights and sounds of a local farmer’s market and eating fresh local food right on the bay. We even got a chance to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for a quick photo opp.

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The cultural experience of the Bay Area is unique, to say the least. It was amazing to be in a place where organic is relatively easy to find, and good food is a way of life rather than a treat to enjoy once in a while. It’s easy to see how Amy’s could have been born in such a place.

Still, I was not quite prepared for how much I would fall in love with this company. Or how much Amy’s owner and founder Andy Berliner would fall in love with baby Juliza.

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But I digress…

Andy and his wife Rachel started Amy’s in 1987 — the same year their daughter Amy, the company’s namesake, was born.

Baby Juliza and I with Rachel and Amy Berliner.

Baby Juliza and I with Rachel and Amy Berliner.

As new parents, Andy and Rachel found themselves wanting to eat good, organic food, but not really having the time to prepare it. After trying some frozen meals that were less than stellar (ie. horrible), they thought someone had to be making organic frozen meals that actually tasted good. No one was, so they did it themselves. It really was that simple.

But how, exactly, do you change the perception that frozen meals are convenient, but don’t taste so great? Well, by making meals from great recipes, just as we would at home. Every single recipe Amy’s makes was developed with care, and Rachel is the company’s official taster.

 

Amy Berliner describing the company's origin and mission.

Amy Berliner describing the company’s origin and mission.

Rachel Berliner and Denise sharing their passion for wholesome food.

Rachel Berliner and Denise sharing their passion for wholesome food.

When the other moms and I met them, within minutes, it was obvious how much they really care about what they’re doing. The family is involved in every decision, from sourcing the best organic ingredients to making sure that the recipes maintain integrity at every level of development and production to designing the packaging. Rachel even picks flowers from her own garden to use in the product photography.

After breakfast, the ladies and I donned our white coats and hairnets to take a walk through the company’s plant. But first, we stopped for a selfie with Amy, looking all lunch lady glam.

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While I’ve never been in a food production plant before, my expectation was that it would have a cold, industrial feel. Well, the only thing industrial about the Amy’s kitchen is the size of the pots and containers. While machines do some of the heavy lifting, there are quite literally dozens of hands working on every product on every line. Even their onions are chopped by hand, and there is a team that inspects thousands of olives to make sure that no pits get into their products. There are teams assigned to make the sauces in huge pots that are watched over with care. Their food bowls are hand assembled, and even their burritos are rolled by hand.

I got to try my hand at rolling a few burritos, and lets just say I need a lot more practice.

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Amy’s really feels like a huge kitchen with tons of helpers rather than a faceless factory.

That is completely by design. The Berliners want to make sure that the values that the company started with — quality food and handmade goodness — are kept up no matter how big they get. The company, even with more than 1000 employees, operates much like a family. The fact that baby Juliza was more than welcome to attend once they learned I am breastfeeding told me a lot about that family atmosphere, but seeing it in person solidified that idea.

As we walked through the plant with Andy and Amy, it’s clear that they know their employees by name. Three of the company’s first four employees still work there, and there are many who’ve worked for Amy’s for 15+ years. Plus, all employees can get on-site healthcare for themselves and their families for — get this — $5. Just $5, and they can see a doctor and nurse who are both bilingual and work for Amy’s full time. I was floored by this revelation.

The best part? All of those values show in the finished product.

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We ate lunch at Amy’s, and the entire menu was made up of their food. If I didn’t know it, I never would’ve guessed that these could be the same meals that I could get in Walmart‘s freezer section.

My family had eaten Amy’s pizzas, and my husband had tried some of their burritos, but that was it. However, Amy’s sent us some food to try before I headed out to California, and my family devoured it. Their meals come out of the microwave smelling like something I made on my own stove, with all the herbs, spices and flavors fully present and accounted for.

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For lunch, we tried a bunch of the dishes that we had not received prior to the trip, and on serving trays, they could easily be mistaken for restaurant food. Or even better, for homemade food. I am a notoriously picky eater, and I hate trying new things. Seriously. However, everything looked and smelled SO GOOD that I couldn’t help but try a little bit of everything. And I kid you not when I say there’s not a single thing I ate that day that I did not fully enjoy. It was all delicious!

My only “complaint” — if you can even call it that — is that Amy’s meals, with the exception of their pizzas, come in single servings. Which means that it takes a while to warm meals for the whole family.

When I brought this up, Rachel shared that they are planning to offer some recipes in family-size portions. I genuinely can’t wait! The idea that I can give my family healthy, organic food that rivals anything homemade in a fraction of the time makes me want to do cartwheels!

But in even bigger news, Amy’s is planning to open their first fast food restaurant near their headquarters. So local residents will be able to enjoy delicious, homemade food literally any time. I pray the restaurant takes off and expands, because it would be amazing to pull away from a drive-thru with food I can be proud to feed my family rather than food that makes me feel like a horrible parent.

Our time spent at Amy’s headquarters was an amazing learning experience, and that was enough to cement my respect and admiration.But after lunch, we got to visit two organic farms: One a community farm to which Amy’s contributes that is smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, and the other a large farm that provides produce for the company.

The community farm actually serves as a teaching tool for local kids. They get to put their hands in the dirt and learn all about growing organically.

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The latter, Bloomfield Organics, is run by Mike Collins, a farmer who has been working the soil for nearly 40 years and who, quite frankly, just knows his stuff. I can’t tell you how awesome it was, with baby Juliza in tow, to eat fruit and veggies straight out of the ground. Farmer Mike quite literally pulled leaves off plants as we walked by and give them to use to smell and taste. It was an experience I will never forget. I can’t imagine any of that happening at a conventional, industrial farm.

More than anything else, our farm visits brought the idea of what Amy’s is doing full circle. They’re taking the concept of farm to table and scaling it up so that everyone — even picky eaters like me who also don’t like to cook — can enjoy great, wholesome, organic food. I hope Walmart will soon expand to carry even more Amy’s products and that they will continue to support companies that prove organic is not only desirable, but doable and affordable.

I am now an Amy’s fangirl for life. And their Spinach and Margherita pizzas? If I had a lifetime supply, I could never have too much. I’m just saying…

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links may have been used.

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Occasionally, I’ll see a commercial for a product that intrigues me, but sets my spidey senses tingling. After all, the entire point of a commercial is to make a product appealing, right? When I saw the commercial for Yonanas months ago, I thought it was innovative, but I was skeptical about any machine being able to turn bananas into something resembling ice cream. So when Walmart offered me an opportunity to review Yonanas, I was crazy excited. More than I have probably been about a review in a while, in fact. And with good reason: It promised to deliver delicious frozen treats using nothing but fruit. Really.  Let me tell you firsthand: Yonanas does not disappoint!

In case you haven’t heard of it, the Yonanas frozen treat maker is a small, self-contained appliance that converts frozen fruit to the consistency of ice cream in just minutes. The key is the fruit. Bananas are the base for all of the included recipes, and you can’t use just any bananas. They need to be overripe and cheetah spotted. The machine comes with a convenient card that shows the optimal state  for your bananas.

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Personally, I cannot stand eating overripe bananas as is. There’s something about soft, mushy banana that just makes my palate revolt. So we usually put them in smoothies or use them to make banana fritters, which are sort of similar to banana pancakes. We always buy a lot of bananas, and they go past the stage at which I’d eat them within a few days, so I’m glad to have a new use for them.

Once the bananas are good and spotty, you have to peel and freeze them for at least 24 hours. When you’re ready to make your treat, take the bananas out of the freezer and let them defrost a bit. This will require a little finesse. The manufacturer recommends defrosting for 10-15 minutes, but we had to defrost ours for more like 25 minutes. If the banana goes into the machine too hard, it will start to chip off in pieces instead of creating a smooth texture. But if it’s too soft, it will come out runny.

Once you fine tune that part of the process, the rest is easy.

You need about 2 whole bananas to make a decent amount of dessert. Simply put them into the Yonanas chute one and use the plunger to push them through slowly, one at a time.

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What comes out the other end is nothing short of amazing. It really does look like ice cream!

And it tastes like magic. Because the bananas are overripe, they are sweeter than perfect green or yellow fruit. That makes for something that tastes like a sinful treat, but is really a healthy indulgence. Seriously. I LOVE the idea that I can eat this at any time because it’s just fruit. Nothing else. I know exactly what’s in it and therefore am only too happy to let my kids have at it. Plus, I am addicted to ice cream, which we all know to be sugar and calorie rich, so I’m hoping this will help me end my addiction.

After trying a bananas-only treat, we added some frozen mixed berries. This pushes the treat over the top. If you do several types of fruit, you do have to mix them together, but that’s no big deal.

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My husband and daughter each devoured a bowl, and I’m freezing some bananas as I write this so I can have a bowl of my own. The biggest problem will be keeping enough bananas on hand to feed our appetites.

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The machine is also easy to disassemble for cleaning. However, a lot of fruit does tend to stay in the machine instead of running all the way through. Not a big deal, but I did notice that when I was cleaning it.

We have a lot of small kitchen appliances, and most of them get put away when not in use.  I can already tell that the Yonanas machine is going to be awarded a permanent spot on the counter, because I know that we’ll use it a lot. And that is the best possible review I could give it.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.

Since the moment I became a Walmart Mom in October of 2008, I have been asking for more organic food options in their stores, mostly because I know that greener products at Walmart tend to be more affordable than everywhere else. So every time a new option is added, I celebrate it.

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This time, that option is Wild Oats. The brand has been around since 1987, but they’re coming to Walmart with more affordable prices so they’ll be accessible to even more consumers. Wild Oats Marketplace Organic™ products are USDA certified organic. This line includes canned vegetables at just $.88 (Nice!) to a wide range of spices, from paprika to curry powder and ground cinnamon starting at $2.48. These organic items represent nearly 90 percent of the Wild Oats offering, but the other items are still made from simple ingredients.

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In fact, the company has a list of 125 questionable ingredients that you will never find in their products, including antibiotics, nitrates, artificial colors and flavors, MSG and a ton of other nasties you’ve probably never heard of, but still want to avoid eating.

The price point is really the key here. I am among those consumers who is used to paying more for organic food, but I still wish I didn’t have to. And that pricing is what really keeps a lot of people from even attempting to buy organic options. So just how affordable are these products? Here are a few comparisons:

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The assortment will vary by store, but with nearly 100 total products from Wild Oats being added, most stores will likely have a decent selection to choose from. And of course, we always want more organic produce, because I think we could all stand to eat more fresh fruits and veggies, sans pesticides. In addition to growing its selection of organic packaged foods, Walmart is also expanding organic options in other categories, including yogurt, produce, deli and bakery.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a ton of products in my pantry that are likely to be replaced by Wild Oats. Organic food without the markup? That’s what I’m talking about.

Learn more about Wild Oats at Walmart.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

There are a lot of things I planned to do with baby Juliza. Breastfeeding, for one. That plan has worked out thus far. But I also planned to use reusable diapers. That one hasn’t worked out so well. Another plan I have for when she starts eating food is to make my own baby food. She just turned 3 months old, so that is still a little ways off, but I’m already thinking about it. I have all these grandiose ideas about how I will make all her meals from scratch with nothing but fresh, whole ingredients. ALL of them.

Of course, the reality check in the back of my mind knows that it’s unlikely I’ll make all her food. Because there are barely enough hours in the day as it is. And while I’d love to buy only organic baby food in those moments when I do go the store-bought route, that can get pricey. So when Walmart asked me to sample some new food from Beech Nut that meets me in the middle, I had to try it.

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Beech-Nut’s new “Real Food for Babies” is a line of baby food that contains exactly what the name implies: real food. No preservatives. No artificial colors. No added flavors. Just real, whole foods like fruit and veggies. For example, the carrots are called “just carrots”, and that is quite literally the only ingredient in the jar.

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Take a quick look at this video for a sneak peek at baby Juliza in action and what my older daughter thinks of the Beech Nut products:

We actually tried all four of the options. Of course, our more mature palates are used to added salt and sugar, particularly when it comes to veggies, but these were still really good. The beets, pear and pomegranate was actually my favorite, because I love beets. And we’re betting that baby Juliza will be only too happy to try them when she’s finally old enough. She already seems to be interested in everything we eat!

These are available at Walmart for just $0.98 a jar, and there are options for stages 1, 2 and 3.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I am a serial snacker. Not to be confused with a cereal snacker (though I do have a history of that too). In the past, this habit has gotten me in trouble, because I tend to prefer sweet snacks. Unhealthy sweet snacks. Think cookies, ice cream and the like.

As I worked to lose more than 60 pounds last year, I shifted my snacking habit toward healthier options, like celery and peanut butter, nuts and fruit. But pregnancy has a way of making a woman feel invincible, and I admit I started falling back into old habits. So when Walmart offered me the opportunity to sample Balance Bars, a nutrition energy bar, I jumped at the chance to get my snack habit in check.

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They offered two flavors: Balance Bar Dark chocolate crunch and Balance Bar Gold chocolate peanut butter. As much as I love peanut butter and nuts in general, I’m not a huge fan of nuts and chocolate together. Yeah. I have strange food preferences. (aff)

The upside is that I love, love, love the subtle bitterness of dark chocolate. And this bar offers just enough chocolatey goodness. The bar is a bit chewy on the inside, more like a firm brownie than a granola bar. And while it definitely skews sweet, it isn’t toothache-inducing sweet. It’s more of a passing sweetness that doesn’t stick around for very long.

With 12 grams of sugar and 180 calories per bar, it definitely make a great snack if you’re on a calorie restrictive eating plan, and with 13 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, it is filling enough to make a standalone snack, preferably with a large glass of water. But there are other attributes that make Balance Bars attractive: They are gluten free and kosher, and made with 100% Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa.

Bonus? My daughter begged me to try one, and she loves them! I’d feel completely comfortable buying these to use as her snack for school, particularly because it would fill her up more than some of the other snacks she takes. Plus, I can easily drop one in my own purse before heading out the door for an easy snack that doesn’t require stopping at a convenience store or vending machine.

A box of 6 bars costs $5.36, which puts us at less than a dollar a snack. I can work with that average, and we’ll be buying these again. They’ll give me something to reach for in the middle of the afternoon when my sweet tooth starts looking for attention.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I can’t lie: Breakfast time at my house basically  boils down to every man for himself (and God for us all). On weekdays, my daughter gets up about an hour before my stepson, because her bus comes a lot earlier. Sometimes I make her breakfast, and sometimes she does, but he is responsible for his own meal. And my hubby and I sort of figure it out as we go. On weekends, sometimes one of us will get up and cook for everyone. But as a general rule, it’s a potluck. Which means that some days, I am tempted to head to the nearest fast food restaurant for a quick breakfast sandwich because I don’t feel like cooking.

So when I was introduced to the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker on a recent trip to Walmart headquarters — and found out I was going to receive one — it was like a match made in heaven. A device that will make breakfast in 5 minutes and allow each person in the family to have exactly what he or she wants? That’s what I’m talking about!

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I couldn’t wait to try it. And it really is as awesome as it sounds.

The premise is simple: Start with bread of some kind and top it however you’d like: With your choice of egg, meat, cheese, veggies, whatever.

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The first sandwich I made was super simple: A whole wheat English muffin with some sliced turkey and an egg. The trick is that the machine has two compartments: One on the bottom for the bottom half of the bread and whatever you choose to top it with, and a section on top with a sliding bottom where the egg will cook, topped with the other half of your bread.

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I followed the instructions for assembling the sandwich. Bread and turkey slices on the bottom, with an egg and bread on top. Of course, I was so focused on the instructions that I forgot essentials like salt and pepper. Nonetheless, 5 minutes later, I had a respectable sandwich, and my hubby enjoyed it.

Once I realized how easy it was to use, I got a little more ambitious. The second sandwich featured bread, cheese and turkey slices on the bottom, with an egg, beaten together with chopped onions, green peppers, salt and black pepper, along with bread on top.

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How amazing does this look?

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And wow, did it taste great! Seriously. Not greasy at all and about a million and a half times better than any breakfast sandwich I’ve ever gotten at McDonald’s.

Like I said, this is perfect for my family, because we all figure out what we want for breakfast when we want it and tend to eat at random times. These sandwiches take about 2 minutes to assemble and 5 minutes to cook, so even if you’re in a hurry, it will be ready for you when you’re walking out the door.

If you have someone on your holiday gift list who, like me, is a lazy cook, this gift will make their entire Christmas the second they use it. Really.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Even last year as I was in the process of losing 60+ pounds, my weight loss didn’t change the way I feel about cooking. It’s not that I dislike it. I’m just lazy. So I tend to cook the same stuff over and over again and opt for ease and convenience. Now that I’m late in pregnancy during the rush of the holidays, I admit sometimes I’m even less inclined to cook. Exhaustion and all that.

So when Walmart challenged me to provide a meal for my family using only Marketside ingredients, I jumped at the challenge. Because I’m always up for a dinner option that I can get on the table quickly with little effort. Big bonus if it didn’t come from the drive thru at a fast food restaurant and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to feed four people — including a hubby and stepson who can both pack it in.

If you’re not familiar with Marketside, it’s a line of food products exclusive to Walmart that includes everything from organic greens to artisan breads, pre-made salads, pasta and more. If you’ve ever bought a rotisserie chicken at Walmart, there’s a pretty good chance it was from the Marketside brand.

We buy the rotisserie chickens and organic baby spinach all the time, so this time, we wanted to try something new. I was actually pretty impressed with the selection of options available, even down to sandwiches made fresh in store and single serving salads.

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Still, given that I am the picky eater in the family (sad, I know, with two kids at home), I had to find something that we all could enjoy. And who doesn’t like pizza, right?

We picked up an extra large five cheese pizza for just under $7, cheesy breadsticks, a Southwestern salad kit and some baby spinach to mix with it (picky as I am, I DO love raw spinach), some extra dressing and a bowl of chicken tortilla soup.

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You may have noticed the turkey pepperoni smuggled in there. Well, there are a ton of options for pizza flavors, but most of them were topped with either beef or pork — neither of which my family eats with any regularity. And I don’t eat red meat at all. So we grabbed some turkey pepperoni to add to half the pizza. My daughter had a ball with that part.

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While the pie and breadsticks were in the oven, I put together the salad from the kit, added some spinach to it and warmed the soup.

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We took the cheesy goodies out of the oven a few minutes later, and marveled at how good everything looked. Seriously, if you’ve been turned off by refrigerated or frozen pizza in the past, you will NOT be disappointed by these. The cheeses and sauce are great quality and taste like it. I personally like to let the cheese get bubbly and a little brown around the edges, so it has almost a fire-baked quality.

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Really, this was a delicious dinner that took almost no time to prepare. At $7 for such a huge pie, we’ll be eating these more often. For right at $25, we got a full, satisfying meal WITH some leftovers for lunch the next day. And we honestly could’ve been satisfied with just the pizza and salad, even without all the extras. That would’ve cost us right around $10. For dinner to feed a family of 4.

I admit I didn’t give Marketside products a thorough look in the past, but I certainly will be from now on. You can check out the full range of products at the Marketside website.

 DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.