Food

I keep promising myself that I’m going to modify more of my recipes to make them crock-pot friendly, but somehow that never happens. Because that would require starting dinner hours in advance — and I’m not exactly good that planning meals ahead. Still, this is a habit I really need to establish, because it would make dinner time a lot less stressful for the whole family.

Since I needed a kick in the pants to get started, I was only too happy to learn about Crock-Pot’s “Ultimate Crock-Pot Crock-Star Contest,” open now through October 31. If you’re further ahead of the curve than I am, and you love cooking in your Crock-Pot slow cooker, this is for you.

All you have to do is visit CrockStars.com and submit a 1-minute “video selfie” preparing your favorite original slow cooker recipe using a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker. Check out the contest rules and make sure you follow them so your video will be eligible. The winner will earn bragging rights as the “2014 Ultimate Crock-Pot Crock-Star,” a nice payday with a $5,000 prize and a feature at Crock-Pot.com.

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I received a 6-quart Cook & Carry Crock-Pot so I could try my hand at a slow cooker recipe. I’m not sure if my recipe is quite good enough to win a contest, but I gave it a try. I modified one of my favorite recipes, Caribbean Stew Chicken, for the crock pot. I love the fact that this cooker is large enough to contain enough chicken for a few meals. What can I say? I’m a lazy cook, so if I’m going to do it, it has to last :)

Crock Pot Caribbean Stew Chicken

Ingredients

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  • 4-5 lbs. chicken (any parts)
  • Seasoning to taste (I use Adobo & Badia seasonings)
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1 cup diced green peppers
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 16 oz. tomato sauce
  • 24 oz. water
  • 2 tbsp. ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • 3 cups baby carrots
  • 5 red potatoes, chopped
  • Cooking oil

Note: We’ll first start this recipe on the stove, then finish it in the crock pot.

Clean and season chicken to taste. This is best done a few hours, or even a full day in advance so seasonings will marinate.

Add enough oil to just cover the bottom of a large saucepan and heat. Add onions, green peppers and garlic to hot oil and saute for about 5 minutes. Add seasoned chicken and cover. Saute chicken for about 15 minutes, or until chicken is lightly browned.

Add tomato sauce, water, ketchup and nutmeg. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.

Turn off stove and transfer entire mixture to crock pot. Add baby carrots, potatoes and dash of ground cloves. Mix well and cover. Continue cooking for 3-4 hours, or until carrots and potatoes are tender.

Alternatively, you could continue cooking this on the stove for another 30-45 minutes, but this is good for when you are cooking in advance and want to really give the flavors of the veggies time to permeate the sauce. The chicken will likely be falling off or completely off the bone by the time it’s done.

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It’s difficult to take a photo that properly conveys this, but trust when I say this recipe is delicious! It’s great served with a little rice or macaroni and cheese pie.

Serves 8-10.

Remember, if you’d like to enter the #CrockStars contest, submit your video by October 31.

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.

September is Hispanic Heritage Month, and while I don’t mention it often here, I actually do have Hispanic heritage. My mother is Puerto Rican and bilingual. Unfortunately, neither I nor any of my sisters speak fluent Spanish (or much of it at all, really), but mommy did pass her heritage down to us in other ways. My favorite way? The food. We grew up eating a variety of Puerto Rican recipes, but my favorite, to this day, is Arroz con Pollo, also known as Chicken and Rice.

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When Walmart asked me to share a story for Hispanic Heritage Month, it took me two seconds flat to decide to share this. My mom taught my husband this recipe a few months back, and he’s become really great at it. Never mind the fact that he learned in one afternoon a recipe I never learned in 31 years. I’m just glad he’s a great cook and loves me enough to make it for me. Because he’s the best ever.

Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups medium-grain rice
  • 4 lbs. chicken (any parts you’d like)
  • Seasoning to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 5 oz. olives
  • 2 oz. capers
  • 1/2 cup recaito
  • 1/2 cup sofrito
  • 1 packet Sazon con culantro y achiote (red Sazon)
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • Bay leaves (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Water

Equipment

  • Large roasting pan or cast iron pot with cover, oven suitable
  • Large pot

Note: This is a big recipe, and it usually feeds my family for 2-3 meals. You can half the recipe if you’d like to make a smaller quantity.

Clean and season chicken to taste. Cover the bottom of your large pot with olive oil and heat.

Add seasoned chicken to hot oil, along with peppers, onions, garlic and bouillon cube. Mix so chicken is covered with seasonings. Cover and sauté until chicken is cooked through and browned slightly, stirring occasionally.

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Once chicken is browned, add recaito, sofrito and enough water to barely cover the chicken. Add bay leaves, capers, olives and packet of Sazon. In case you don’t know what I mean when I say red Sazon, I’m talking about this:

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You can find this and all the other ingredients at Walmart.

Mix and cover. Let ingredients simmer for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350.

While chicken is simmering, rinse rice with water until it runs fairly clear. It may take 2-3 rinses. Pour off water and cover the bottom of the roasting pan with rice.

The chicken mixture should be done simmering. Pour over rice in the roasting pan slowly, and mix everything together.

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Cover roasting pan and place in oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until rice completely absorbs water. Check and stir occasionally.

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Serves 8-10.

Recipe Video

If you’d prefer to see the process in action, and my hubby’s enviable cooking skills, check out this video:

Try this recipe, and you’ll figure out immediately why it’s one of my all-time favorites. Cooking the chicken twice — first on the stove, then in the oven — will leave it flavorful and falling off the bone. It really doesn’t get any better.

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.

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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, kids didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day.

OK. I’m being a smart aleck. But my husband and I remember this time fondly. Of course, our kids will remember that they get out of school in early May, when kids who started after Labor Day were still sitting in a classroom until June, but still. Around here, though the kids already back in school, we still like to think of Labor Day as the official end of summer.

So when Walmart challenged me share a Labor Day story with you, I knew I wanted to do something to celebrate summer’s close. If you’re planning to celebrate the holiday with a picnic or party, or if you just need to cool off (because we all know it’s still going to be hot for a few months), here’s a recipe that will hit the spot.

Frozen Berry Lemonade

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INGREDIENTS

  • 6 oz frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup fresh, diced watermelon
  • 6 tbsp. agave nectar
  • 1 1/2 cups ice
  • 12 oz. water

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place frozen lemonade, strawberries, raspberries and watermelon in a blender. Blend until smooth.

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2. Add ice, water and agave nectar and pulse until blended. Serve immediately.

Makes about eight 8 oz. servings.

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My daughter says this tastes like a frozen drink from Taco Bell. I like to think it tastes better, and it’s definitely healthier. :) It’s also likely a lot cheaper per serving, and you can get all the ingredients at Walmart.

If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate Labor Day, check out what the other Walmart Moms have shared:

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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Baby Juliza is growing up fast. Too fast, it seems some days. And with growing up comes experimentation with food. She’s at the age now when she wants to try everything that we’re eating. Sometimes, that works. We can mash a little of whatever fruit or veggies we’re having and share with her. But there are times when we can’t share much of what’s on our plates. For those moments, we like to keep baby food on hand. And the child loves to eat.

So when Walmart asked me to share our experience with Plum Organics baby food, we jumped at the chance. Baby food in great blends that are also USDA certified organic? Yes, please!

Juliza still likes single ingredient baby food, but now that she’s a little older, we thought it would be fun to try some blends.

Plum Organics has a ton of great stage 2 options for babies older than 6 months, including sweet potato, corn & apple; pumpkin & banana; spinach, peas and pear; pear & mango and more. I started Juliza on pear & mango. I understand that these pouches are meant for ease on the go, since older babies and toddlers can just eat directly from the pouch. But at this age, I’m still serving Juliza with a spoon, so I squeezed a little into a bowl first.

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And then? She went in.

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All the way in.

Did I mention the child likes to eat? Oh. I did?

The very first bite was met with a little hesitation, but once she got the taste in her mouth, I couldn’t feed her fast enough. Really. She was whining between bites if I took too long.

And this is her face when we were done.

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Honestly, the pear and mangoes were delicious. Not a combination I ever would have thought to try, but after this taste, I know what I’ll be adding to my next smoothie.

She also tried spinach, peas and pear, and loved that too. I love that she got some of the sweetness of the pear, with all the nutritional value of the veggies added as well. That is true of most of the stage 2 blends.

The best part? These pouches of organic goodness are available at Walmart for just $1.38 apiece. Not bad. Not bad at all for organic, non-GMO baby food with no artificial ingredients.

If there’s one caveat, it is the packaging. In general, I’d prefer packaging I can recycle or reuse. For baby food, that generally means glass jars, and that would honestly be my preference since my local recycling service won’t take the pouches. Also, I’ve seen one too many horror stories about what lies at the bottom of some food and drink pouches. Not a huge concern, but it’s in the back of my mind whenever I crack open one of these.

Still, we really love Plum Organics, for the flavors, the price point and the fact that they’re easily available at Walmart. When she gets a little older, we’ll try the Little Yums teething wafers, Super Puffs, Little Cremes (fruit and rice milk snacks) and Teensy Fruits. There are options for her all the way through toddlerhood.

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 have been used.

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.