Sunday, October 16, 2016

SimplyNature Kids Berry-Licious Lemonade Organic Juice Drink (Aldi)

Juice? Tastes like this is at least 90% water.
Well, we're back with a SimplyNature Kids organic juice product, and if you read my review of the Fruitastic Fruit Punch, you pretty much know what to expect this time around.

Once again, this is basically a severely watered-down juice product that I can't see any kid enjoying. The taste is very, very light, and there's virtually no detectable sweetness. Despite all this, though, I will say that I found this one to be better than the fruit punch, because the lightness benefits this one a little more.

Whereas fruit punch is one of my favorite flavors, and should also be—as the name suggests—a collection of powerful-tasting fruit juices, lemonade can sometimes be a little too sour or tangy when full strength. Since the flavor is weaker, this prevents that from ever being an issue. The berries unfortunately also suffer the same fate, and although I would have liked for those to taste much stronger, there's really nothing I can do about it.

Honestly, I'm starting to kind of appreciate these a little bit more, because I can't stand the taste of water, and don't always want to add those drink mix powders, which are made out of chemicals and “natural flavors”. These provide a nice alternative to water, with a mild flavor, a mere 35 mg of sodium, and a scant 10g of sugar (per 8 oz. serving), while also providing 100% vitamin C and 31% juice (weird percentage). It's not something that I can sit back and sip, but I've found myself going to this more and more when I'm thirsty and want something with a little bit of flavor.  Rather than soda or some other junk, I've also been drinking this for dinner quite a bit lately.

That being said, I think I've had my fill of these for the rest of the year, but this is a pretty healthy drink that tastes like I remember sports drinks tasting in the '90s. If you want a throwback to when they were predominantly water, with some flavoring thrown in as an afterthought, here you go.

Overall: 5/10. I still can't see any kid in the world liking this, and still believe that they're catering this to the wrong demographic, but this watered-down juice product is kind of growing on me as a (slightly) more flavorful alternative to water. Whereas the fruit punch disappointed me because I really like the flavor kick of a normal fruit punch, this Berry-Licious Lemonade works better as a diluted juice because, at the very least, it prevents the lemonade part from being too sour. The main drawback to this is that the berry flavoring also suffers the same fate—if that was a wee-bit stronger, this might have been even better. It's decent, but I wouldn't put this anywhere near a normal child, and I can't say that I'll even buy them again at any point in my life.

SimplyNature Kids Fruit-ariffic Punch Organic Juice Drink (Aldi)

Not for children.  All water, barely any juice.
In case it's not obvious how much of a child I am, I have wanted to try a good number of the items in the SimplyNature Kids line, but have yet to do so. All of their products seem really “fun”, at least in the way advertisements make children's food products seem “hip” and “cool”, even though all you do is eat them, which isn't fun at all. The packaging is also adorable, sticking to a simple color scheme, while not going overboard on the cutesy designs (for example, the bottle to the Fruit-ariffic Punch features a real picture of strawberries, grapes, and watermelon, complete with drawn-on faces and appendages on a couple of them).

I'm honestly unsure of why I have never tried anything, despite always taking an interest in the kids items that are available. A few things have been a little too expensive for me, and of course there have been a couple that just didn't appeal to my tastes, either then or now, but for the most part the products they offer speak to the inner child in me. My wife is the same way, so why she has never asked me to get something from that line is an even more baffling quandary.

At the risk of sounding like a complete pedophile, I'm happy to say that my SimplyNature Kids virginity has finally been taken! As soon as I saw Fruit-ariffic Punch in the Aldi ad, I added it to the shopping list. I mean, the juice of grapes, strawberries, AND watermelons?! Two out of those three are some of my favorite fruits; the fact that it is organic only sealed the deal. I'm not one of those people that are hugely in to organics—I think the price trade-off is ridiculous, especially considering the food corporations themselves are largely responsible for defining what constitutes “organic” in the first place—but if the price is right, I'm willing to give them a shot. This didn't even make it to the fridge before I eagerly dove in...

Kids are going to hate this...hell, I almost hate it. It tastes like how I remember sports drinks tasting when I was younger: all water, with just a hint of juice for flavor. There's almost no sweetness whatsoever. I'm not suggesting that children need a boatload of sugar, but they do seem to like things that have taste, and this barely even registers on that scale. I get that there are no added sweeteners, so added sugars would be out of the question, but maybe just adding a touch of extra juice would have made it a little more palatable. Furthermore, I always make the mistake of assuming things when it comes to “healthier” beverages; in this case, I just assumed it would be 100% juice. It's only 30%, with water no doubt making up the remaining 70%.

There are a few pros (though they don't come anywhere near outweighing the cons in my book): Each 8 oz. serving does get you 100% Vitamin C, which is a good thing, as is the mere 35mg of sodium and 10g of sugar, to go along with 45 calories per serving. The price tag is also somewhere around the $1.99 range, if I remember correctly, which puts it on the more affordable end of organic juices. But in the end, it just feels like a gyp, considering a majority of what you're paying for is nothing more than water.

I think this is a product that's completely mis-branded: there's certainly a niche for this kind of drink with everyone looking to cut back on sugar and such these days, but marketing this toward kids is completely moronic. It tastes a lot like the popular brand of vitamin-infused water; with different packaging to appeal to grown-ups, along with the “organic” and “natural” talking points on the bottle, it could serve a purpose and appeal to a certain demographic. But as a kids product? Not a chance.

Overall: 3.5/10. This stuff is awful as both juice, and a kids' product. It's severely watered down, with hints of organic juices from concentrate all that there is in the way of flavor. What kid is going to drink this junk? It does taste like the popular brand of vitamin-infused water, so I could see it work with a complete re-branding (maybe as an addition to the Fit & Active line, with a focus on the “organic” aspect), and the health benefits are pretty good (only 35 mg of sodium, 10g of sugar, 45 calories, and 100% vitamin C per 8 oz. serving). But as a product marketed for children? I would only use it as a form of punishment.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fit & Active Five Cheese Lasagna Frozen Single Serve Entree (Aldi)

"Healthier" than I would have expected, but otherwise not noteworthy.
It was crunch time. We were about to get in the line at Aldi, when I realized I didn't have anything for just myself in the cart—we had plenty of family meals, but nothing I could eat just as a snack, or a meal for just me in case my wife was working late. 

I will definitely have to say this is better than the Chicken Alfredo Florentine, but it's still with its own set of problems. Can something that literally only has two layers even be considered lasagna? That's right, all you get are two thin noodles with a small layer of cheese sandwiched in between them, and that's the “lasagna”. There are little specks of white on top of the lasagna that I'm also assuming is supposed to be cheese, but there's not enough of it to make any sort of impact anywhere.

One big saving grace is that they load you up on sauce—there's plenty of it, allowing you to drench each bite in sauce to avoid the blandness of the rest of the dish. It's not that the sauce is really all that good—it tastes just like liquid tomatoes and sugar—but it's certainly edible and probably the high point of the entire thing. The cheese sandwiched inside, which is the blend of four cheeses that the title of this product alludes to, is also pretty good, but there's not all that much of it in most bites.

Nutritionally, I have to say that I'm kind of impressed: There are 12g of protein per single-serve meal, while all the usual suspects of bad health for frozen TV dinners are kept at or below 15% of your daily intake, assuming a 2,000 calorie diet (sodium = 15%, carbohydrates = 14%, total fat = 7%, saturated fat = 10%). No, these numbers aren't going to give it a “Healthiest Product of the Year” award from the National Institute of World Health, but for a frozen dinner, those are some pretty modest stats. There's also 8% dietary fiber, thanks to those noodles, which is also a decent dose, as well as 15% of three vitamins (calcium, vitamin C, and iron). That's not to say you should be fooled into thinking this is healthy enough to eat all the time, but when compared to similar meals, this one is a lot better than a vast majority of them.

Overall: 5.5/10. It didn't fill me up, but these meals never do, so I wasn't really heading into this with that expectation. It's a little light on the flavor side, YET it's also relatively light in sodium, calories, fat, and cholesterol compared to similar frozen dinners, so I guess that's a trade that you just have to expect. The $1.19 price tag is okay, however it's not as spectacular as the savings on other Aldi products. I can see this filling a certain niche, though, with the high amount of protein (12g) and decent amount of dietary fiber (8%). It won't have a permanent spot in our freezer, but this is a decent little snack to fill the void of an empty stomach that I will continue to get occasionally.

Fit & Active Chicken Alfredo Florentine Frozen Single Serve Entree (Aldi)

Did not realize how terribly blurry this picture was when I took it.
TV dinners, as disgusting and unfoodlike as they are, still can fill a viable role in the right person's life. Take me, for example. I lost several pounds after being on a certain medication, and these usually offer just the right combination of cholesterol, fat, and sodium to help me get right back on track. They also function as a quick meal, or more likely in my case, a quick snack to hold me over between meals.

This reminds me of fettuccine alfredo TV dinners that I've had over the years, and have tended to like (although Aldi's version, which they no longer sell, wasn't very good at all), at least based on look. I was expecting a smell similar to rich, creamy alfredo, but this had a different smell entirely, one that said I should just put the fork down and walk away. But I decided to ignore the ominous scent and dove right in...

Sometimes, the nose can be a deceptive force. There are cheeses that smell like hell, but that taste delicious. Ditto for beverages, and any number of other edible items. Unfortunately, in this case, it was right...the sauce here tastes more like a gravy for dumplings than it does any kind of sauce that should be adorning a pasta. Even though there seems to be a lot of sauce, the flavor in each bite dissipates before the noodle is swallowed, leaving behind the bland taste of a lame, frozen fettuccine noodle, mixed with a taste that I could swear is cardboard packaging.

Ironically, the creepy chicken is probably the best component here, as it seems to be seasoned (or “naturally flavored”) with something that would approach “delicious” were the rest of the dish not so underpar. Worst of all, and the reason I haven't bought a frozen dinner like this from Aldi in a long time, is the $1.19 price tag: similar brands with far more options offer the same kinds of meals for $1 elsewhere. Sure, you have to wait for them to be on sale, but they seem to be more often than not, at least on the rare occasions I wander into a supermarket. That's one of the dwindling downsides to Aldi...with no sale prices on their items, it's never less than this price.

Since this is Fit & Active, that would insinuate that these are at least slightly better for you than standard TV dinners, and at a quick glance (and with nothing to compare it too), I could see a case being made: Each carton has just 25% sodium, 11% fat, and 10% cholesterol. These are no doubt high numbers, but relatively low compared to others that I've seen; I wouldn't call these “healthy”, but those that do stay active could probably easily burn off the 250 calories in a short time frame.

In short? Not very good at all.

Overall: 4/10. It looks like it will be a creamy alfredo-like pasta, but the sauce actually tastes more like the gravy in dumplings than anything that should be on a pasta. It's pretty bad when the weird chicken ends up being the best thing in the entire dish. The price tag is also a letdown, with these retailing for $1.19...other supermarkets always have similar frozen meals on sale for $1, and they have a lot more flavor than this. Minor upside: this is “healthier” than most TV dinners, with only a quarter of your daily sodium intake (assuming 2,000 calorie diet) and a tenth cholesterol, but when the tradeoff is crappy flavor, it's kind of hard to take that seriously. Been avoiding Aldi TV dinners for a while now, and this is just only cements my decision for the future.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Belmont Brookie Dough (Brownie + Cookie) Super Premium Ice Cream Pint (Aldi)

Overpriced for what it is.
UPDATE (June, 2019): Due to a slight change of heart and a possible change of opinion, this product will be re-reviewed in the coming weeks.

As you can see from my review of Make Fudge Not War, another flavor in Belmont's "Super Premium Ice Cream" line, Aldi has started selling pints of ice cream for around the same price that they sell their half-gallons. It's really kind of a pointless idea when you think about it, but I guess the ones in pints are supposed to be more “premium”, as they make sure to tell you on the packaging. As you can also see from that review, I was not very impressed with the first one I tried, but that didn't stop me from grabbing “Brookie Dough”, despite the appearance of the phrase “YoLo Cookie Dough!” displayed on the front. Christ Jesus that's a whole new level of dumb.

Anyway, this seemed to be more my style, because I prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, and the last one we tried was just chocolate on top of more chocolate, which got old. Here, as the name implies, we have “brownie” chunks and “cookie” dough rolled up into one little pint. We also get chocolate AND vanilla ice cream, which gives us the best of both worlds, and would at least help prevent the chocolate overload that was apparent in the last one we tried.

It took me a little while to get to the first “chunks” and I started to worry that they were included sparingly, but once I found one, a whole bunch soon followed. The brownie chunks are just like they were in the previous ice cream, soft and doughy, with a strong chocolate flavor. The cookie dough pieces, though, are where it's at...these are fantastic little bits of raw cookie, complete with a grainy texture that recalls the massive amounts of sugar that are probably contained within. The taste, though, is ridiculously good, with a depth missing from most cookie dough ice cream.

Unfortunately, simply by nature, the taste of chocolate will always overwhelm the laid-back taste of cookie dough, and that's the case here—if you get some of both in your mouth, you may not even notice the dough at all. I also wish they would have kept the chocolate ice cream out of here altogether...why do we need both chocolate and vanilla? The brownie chunks would work just as well inside a vanilla ice cream as they do a chocolate, and just like the dough, the chocolate ice cream overwhelms the weaker (yet, in my opinion, tastier) vanilla.

In short, this one is better than the previous one we tried, but not by as much as it should be. The cost is also a factor: This, like all of their pints that I'm aware of, retails for $1.99. Aldi's 1.5 quart “full size” ice creams start up at $2.29, and the ones I've tried (cookies and cream, cookie dough) are pretty fantastic, especially for the price. And that's the quandary, because the pints that I've had, despite the attempt to make them appear more “premium”, just haven't had the mind-blowing taste that a $2 pint needs to have to justify its cost, especially when the 1.5 quart sizes are so close in price.

In other words, I'll be sticking to the larger containers, thank you very much.

Overall: 5.5/10. I liked this one better than the brownie and chocolate ice cream, but not by much. Brookie Dough is half-chocolate and half-vanilla ice cream, with both brownie chunks and cookie dough pieces. The “vanilla side” is fantastic, with a delicious vanilla ice cream and some of the best cookie dough I may have ever had in an ice cream. The brownie chunks are large and chewy, with good texture and a good chocolate flavor. I'm just wondering why the chocolate ice cream is even necessary...between those two things, the “chocolate side” dominates the weaker “vanilla side”, despite the latter being better (in my opinion). The $1.99 price tag is also an issue, because the “full size” 1.5 quart containers are just $.30 more. With that kind of closeness in pricing, paired up with average flavors, why even consider the pints at all? Good question.

Belmont Make Fudge Not War Super Premium Ice Cream Pint (Aldi)

Very expensive in price, very average in flavor.
UPDATE (June, 2019): Due to a slight change of heart and a possible change of opinion, this item will be re-reviewed in the coming weeks. 

Aldi seems to be trying to go slightly upscale in a lot of areas, balancing their “premium” offerings with the inexpensive “discounted” products that made them famous in the first place. For example, their cheese selection has been greatly expanded, and it's not uncommon to find aged cheddars, brie's, goat cheese, and other offerings as Special Buys throughout the year. It's all a part of their plan to cater to everyone's tastes (or, perhaps more importantly, their income levels).

But the area that I've noticed the most change is in their ice cream section. They've always had half-gallons of basic flavors, and party-sized tubs of vanilla for parties, but within the last few months have added premium chocolate ice cream (which was $3.99 per half-gallon, but has dropped to $3.79); some pints from their Specially Selected label, which is their more “gourmet” offerings; and on the last trip, some additional pints with “clever”, playful names and cartoon sheep saying things like “Sheep happens!” on the front, a baffling occurrence considering sheep have nothing to do with ice cream, fudge, or war.

The packaging is light and kind of “fun”, which is what initially caught my eye; the fact the packaging is strongly reminiscent of a popular national brand of ice cream is what won me over. I thought the price was a little excessive for what it was, but if it tasted as spectacular as I was hoping, it would be worth every penny. And my wife was also encouraging me to get it, because she really wanted to try it. So into the cart it went, and it didn't make it through that first day without getting opened.

It tastes like chocolate ice cream with brownies inside, which I guess is a good thing considering that's what it is. But it's not entirely a good thing, because it tastes like every other chocolate ice cream with brownie pieces—the chocolate ice cream is slightly bitter, while the chunks of brownie are chewy, soft, and sweet. It's good, but it's nothing spectacular, yet these are being sold for a price that would insinuate this stuff is out-of-this-world: $1.99. For one PINT. That's right, for roughly the same price as a half-gallon of their basic flavors, Aldi is offering just one single pint of uninspiring ice cream. Ice cream that I could get across the street at a supermarket chain for just a dollar or so more for a half-gallon of their store brand. Even my wife was unimpressed, and she's usually very easily impressed when it comes to ice creams.

Overall: 5/10. I appreciate that Aldi is trying to cater to more upscale crowds, but no matter how I look at it, I can't wrap my head around the “why?” of this particular product. It's nothing out of the ordinary, yet it's being sold for a rather astronomical price: $1.99 for a single pint. This literally tastes like any number of similar ice creams I've tried, with the chocolate starting off sweet and finishing slightly bitter, and the doughy balls of brownie serving up some soft texture and added sweetness. For just a bit more, I could get the store brand half-gallon of a very similar product, which means there's not much in the way of value. It's not that it tastes bad, it's just that it tastes average, and is way too expensive to merely be average.