Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Elevation by Millville Double Chocolate Protein Meal Bar (Aldi)

Product packaging for Elevation by Millville Double Chocolate Protein Meal Bar, from Aldi
Affordable and pretty good, but beware the "meal" bar designation...

I’ve found that breakfast bars make the perfect snack for me when I’m wasting away in the mornings at work. I usually stock up on the cheap ones (dipped granola bars, etc.) but every once in a great while, I’ll turn my attention to the Elevation by Millville line, which offer up “premium” bars for a comparatively premium price tag. Wanting to get as close as I could to the line between “premium” and “value”, I eventually opted for these protein bars, simply because they were the cheapest ones that had at least 5 bars. After all, I need to get at least a week out of them!

The only other product I’ve tried in the Elevation line were the mint chocolate bars, which are absolutely phenomenal, but still make me pause for thought every time I see the $6 price tag ($1 per bar? That’s some serious shit right there.) These offer up 6 full-size bars for just $4.19, which comes out to a respectable $.70 per bar. I haven't really compared the two all that in-depth, but I am kind of wondering what else the mint bars have that these don't (besides superior flavor), that justify the nearly $2 price increase.

At any rate, these aren’t anywhere on the same plane as those flavorwise, but they are a decent bar in their own right. The chocolate flavor here is definitely more akin to “milk”, rather than dark (thank God), but isn’t too awfully sweet. Meanwhile, the bar’s “guts” are light and crispy, also akin to the mint chocolate bars that I once fell in love with. There’s a slight graininess in the finish, but nothing that’s too noticeable, and certainly not enough to be distracting.

It's a good-tasting bar, with a decent amount of protein and some other necessary vitamins (A, C, D, calcium and iron chief among them), but one thing I don't like is that this is a “meal” bar, insinuating it's meant to replace a meal. Only, it's nowhere near filling, making this come off as more of a “snack” bar. I mean, I don't personally care, because I just use it as a morning snack (which I guess technically makes it "breakfast"), but I can't see anyone being satisfied enough after eating this to be able to skip eating actual food; that whole idea is ludicrous, and a distinction that makes the whole "snack" versus "meal" bar thing a little confusing.

Overall: 7/10. A nice milk chocolate flavor with a delicious “puffy” crisped-rice style interior set the stage for this bar from the Elevation by Millville line. The flavor is pretty delicious, offering up some nice sweet milk chocolate flavor without being too sweet, the price is on point at $4.19 (for six full-size bars), making it one of the more affordable options they have to offer, and there's minimal weirdness in the texture. It's not nearly as outstanding as their mint chocolate bars (which are, to be fair, almost $2 more expensive), nor are they anywhere near filling, making their designation as a “meal bar” (as opposed to just a “snack” or “protein” bar) pretty confusing and pointless.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Benton's Caramel Delights: The Classic Australian Cookie (Aldi)

Outer packaging for Benton's Caramel Delights Cookies, from Aldi
Not quite as flawless as the chocolate ones, but a delicious treat nonetheless.
I already took a look at the chocolate version, which I adored (and which a couple readers pointed out were knock-offs of a certain popular Australian cookie), and now I’ll be taking a look at the other variety on offer: caramel. Although it’s not normally something I would normally try, I have two reasons: 1.) an unknown commenter, who commented on the review for the chocolate one that I should give the caramel a shot, and 2.) Ben, another commenter who informed me that his store has run out and didn't appear to be replacing them. These, paired up with the knowledge that my own local store has a very dwindling supply, makes me fear that they might be discontinuing them in the very near future. In other words, now was the time to try them!*

As can be expected, the exterior texture (“texterior”?) of the caramel is exactly the same as they are in the chocolate version, except for the middle, where there’s a gooey ribbon of caramel waiting to ambush your mouth hole. I like the combination of caramel and chocolate, but outside of Caramello bars (which I haven’t had in years, come to think of it), I don’t really try caramel things all that often. Would these win me over? Or simply remind me of why I'm prone to avoiding the golden confectionery product?

Oh yeah, these are good. Like, really good. They don't quite reach the perfection of the chocolate ones (how could they?) but they are way better than I was expecting. The caramel flavor hits strong, and pairs up well with the chocolate to deliver an even balance of each that goes down smooth, and begs you to keep going. It was much easier for me to limit myself to just one or two of the caramels, but the melty chocolate coating and chewy caramel is a solid combination that reminded me just how good the two ingredients can be together, in the right setting.

Honestly, as much as I enjoyed these, I will sadly continue to ignore them as long as the chocolate version is on the shelves; but if I ever had a craving and had to “settle”, presumably because the chocolate ones were sold out and these were my only option, I wouldn’t be too disappointed knowing these are what I’d have in store.

Overall: 8/10. These aren’t nearly as addicting (or as flawless) as the chocolate cookies, but they are way better than I expected them to be, and an excellent reminder of what makes the chocolate/caramel combination so potently delicious. The golden confectionery oozes out in ribbons, as if desperately reaching for your tongue, while the chocolaty exterior just melts in your mouth almost immediately upon impact. The chocolate ones are so good that, honestly, I'll continue to bypass these, but as far as fallback options go, these would help to ease the pain should the chocolates ever go out of stock (God forbid).

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whole & Simple Mediterranean Style Scrambled Egg White Bowl (Aldi)

Yay! The return of actual flavor!
I already took a look at the Salsa Verde Breakfast Bowl, and hated every goddamned minute of it, so now we turn our attention to the other variety available in the same special buy cycle - and with even lower expectations to boot.

Those lowered expectations were obviously as a direct result of the previous dish, but also because this is the one I was least excited about to begin with. And a quick glance of the ingredients reminded me of why: No meat, nothing noteworthy that would seem to bring much flavor, and the same weird “whole grain” concoction of steel cut oats, spelt, buckwheat, and red quinoa that I swear actually sucked some of the flavor out of the breakfast burrito bowl—yeah, this was not headed down a great path.

Well, would you believe me if I told you that this vegetarian option was loads better? Well, maybe “loads” is the incorrect term—it still seems like a lot of the flavor has been drained from each of the individual items, as if only to remind us that we're eating something that's considered “healthy”—but I would probably get this one again, something that can’t be said for the meat-based version at all.

What really shines through here is the “spicy tomato and roasted red pepper sauce” which adds a bit of heat with a delicious tomato-based flavor to boot. And even though the “spicy tomato” gets top billing, it's just a light dash of heat that no one but the most heat-sensitive of individuals will have problems taking. That’s a good thing, too, because that sauce is really the only thing that consistently stands out, giving your tastebuds a nice kick that the other ingredients only seem to hint at. The texture is still the same kind of “slimy” texture present in the breakfast bowl (and with the same cast of whole grains), but when it’s paired up with actual taste, would you believe that it actually becomes a lot more tolerable? Gee, imagine that.

I still feel like $2.99 is a little too much for what you get on the whole, but hey, I'm a cheapskate; either way, I definitely felt like I was getting more of my money's worth here than in the salsa verde variety, and could easily see myself grabbing this again at some point in the future.

Overall: 6.5/10. It’s not fully my cup of tea, and the $2.99 asking price is a little excessive (in my humble, cheapskated opinion), but this one delivers in the taste department. Curiously, the flavors of the individual items themselves are still muted, but the spicy tomato and red pepper sauce that covers the dish packs in a good amount of flavor, with just a touch of spice, making the whole thing easily edible. The feta cheese also packs a good textural counterpoint to the weird whole grain "oatmeal"-style consistency spread throughout. It's not the best value in Aldi stores, but it's pretty tasty and good for a quick bite on the go.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Whole & Simple Salsa Verde Breakfast Burrito Bowl (Aldi)


This story begins the way almost all of mine do: I was at Aldi, and I was in a bind. This time, my grocery trip was almost done and I was about to head to the line when I suddenly remembered that I was going to need some dinner items for the nights my wife was at work. I had made a quick stop and was running low on time, so I took the lazy way out –a trademark of mine--and decided to settle for something in the special buy freezer section. After a couple of passes, I noticed these Whole & Simple bowls, and noticeably perked up a bit: a salsa verde breakfast burrito bowl? Now that sounded promising! And into the cart it went.

I’ve tried a couple Whole & Simple foods before in the past, and remembered liking them quite well, so despite the ultra-clean packaging—which seems to insinuate a food that’s too healthy to taste good—I wasn’t really all that nervous to give it a shot. Especially considering the salsa verde, which singlehandedly could provide enough flavor to carry an entire frozen entrée.

Well, my casual beliefs went unrewarded, because this somehow manages to be bland as shit. No, scratch that—shit would actually have flavor, as putrid as it might be, so this is even blander than shit. Especially for a bowl packing in a few different ingredients (including chicken sausage), and the aforementioned salsa verde, which is generally pretty strong in everything, but inexplicably is only noticed in small bursts here. And the only reason it's noticed at all is because it imbues everything with a noticeable touch of heat that's fairly welcome, if only for the reason it's the only thing that makes me feel something. In fact, the egg whites themselves just might provide the most identifiable taste, words that should never be uttered, and that tell you all you need to know about what a serious misfire this is.

The texture is also pretty weird, given the addition of actual “whole grains” at the bottom of the bowl, consisting of buckwheat, red quinoa, steel cut oats, and spelt. These seem to function as flavor removers, because any hint of possible tastiness is quelched the moment you get the grain bites, which have almost the exact same consistency of oatmeal, and the same flavor profile as water. This weird mushy consistency could easily be forgiven if it were in a more enjoyable dish; in this tasteless void of sadness, it just takes everything down a further notch.

If this is a valid example of eating healthy, then I'd rather load up on delicious taste, and die twenty years sooner.

Overall: 2/10. Given the addition of salsa verde, there is no excuse for this bowl to be as tasteless as it is; the fact that egg whites just might be the most flavorful thing in here, tells you all you need to know about just how miserable this is. The texture—think oatmeal only with no sweetness whatsoever—only manages to take things down another peg, as does the $2.99 asking price, which is reasonable on paper, but feels like a gyp when you get a dish with a similar flavor profile to water. I've never been more thankful to feel a slight touch of heat before, courtesy of the verde, but that can't come close to saving this bowl, which tastes like a life completely void of happiness.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Specially Selected Lattice Cut Aged Cheddar and Black Pepper Kettle Chips (Aldi)

These are interesting and delicious.

“What are lattice-cut chips?”, you may be wondering, just as I was before scooping them up one day at Aldi. Well, the image on the front of the packaging sums it up well: imagine a waffle fry fucking a potato chip, and you’ll pretty much be in the right ballpark.

But how does that affect the actual texture, in practice? It delivers the extra crunchiness of a kettle chip (because that’s what these technically are), but manages to be slightly unique thanks to the wavy, “grid-style” ridges. The end result is a thin chip with some small, pin-sized holes throughout. 
Honestly, I like that a bit more than most typical kettle chips, simply because there’s less chip here; this means they don’t get overly crunchy like some of the “normal”, thicker kettle chips do.

But no food product can be good if it’s lacking in taste, and I am proud to announce that these pass the flavor test with flying colors. I will say that I think there tends to be a little bit too much black pepper for my liking, which leads to the “sodium burn” typically reserved for excess salt (which there’s a decent amount of, too), but the cheese is appropriately inviting, and counterbalances the “harshness” of the pepper, for the most part. It's rather light, and also kind of veers off into a slightly sweet territory that I wasn't expecting, although that might just be a gustastory illusion courtesy of the interplay between the cheese and pepper. At any rate, I have a hard time stopping once I start eating these—which is typically a good sign of deliciousness.

That being said, as good as the flavor is, it does start to wear thin after a while, which prevents this from being an “everyday” kind of potato chip that I could eat almost all of the time, such as their ranch tortilla chips. That means these are a once-or-twice-a-year kind of a thing, which works out pretty well considering they are only available as a Special Buy a few times throughout the year. It's the perfect example of a product confined to special buy cycles that absolutely should be.

Popping in at $2.19 (per 7 oz. bag), they’re certainly a bit more expensive than their typical chips; presumably, it costs a few extra cents for them to add another angle of cutting to the chip. Still, it’s far cheaper than national brand chips in general, and since this is presented by Specially Selected, Aldi's more “premium” label, that helps to justify and explain the slight cost increase versus their other chips. At the very least, they're worth buying at least once just to give them a shot, especially if you're tired of the typical options.

Overall: 7/10. These lattice cut chips are, basically, a thin waffle fry texture in chip form, with a “grid-like” cross-cut throughout that delivers extra crunch without being so thick that they threaten to shatter teeth. The flavor here is good, with a light cheddar flavor paired up with a bit too much cracked black pepper for my liking, leading to that feeling of “sodium burn” that you get from eating overly salty snacks for too long. Once I hit that threshold, I know it's time to put them down, but they are pretty addicting before reaching that point. I wouldn't get these all the time, even if I could (on account of them being a special buy and all) but they're a great change from the norm, and at $2.19 per 7 oz. package, a reasonable value at the same time.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Scalloped Potato Chips with Five Cheeses (Trader Joe's)

Dear God these are incredible.

We were at TJ's for the first time in over three years, when these caught my eye on the "What's New?" endcap (a little ironic, considering half the store was new to us since it had been so long). Even though I really like potato chips, I did hesitate grabbing them for a second, figuring that it would taste like other cheese chips, but I finally grabbed a bag, curious to see what Trader Joe's could do with such a standard item. Beyond that, they were only $2.49 for a 6 oz. bag, which isn’t an outstanding value, but still cheaper than national brands.

I decided to crack these open one of the growing number of evenings where the cupboards were virtually bare and I was being run around by our three-year-old, mostly against my will. For some reason, we always used to be great about going to the grocery store on a schedule, but lately, it seems we always find excuses not to go, no matter how bad we need things. And that’s the mindset that leads to eating chips as a dinner appetizer.

Holy hell, I did not expect the flavor explosion that immediately befell my tastebuds, nor did I expect to find what can nearly be called the perfect chip. These are excellent, from texture on down to flavor.

And let’s start with the texture, shall we? I have to be honest: I’m not exactly sure what a “scalloped” chip is, but they seem to be somewhere between a regular chip, and a kettle chip in the crunch-o-meter, which is the name of the official device used to measure the crunchiness of a potato chip. While that might sound like a gray area that doesn’t need to exist, I find that, while most regular chips are crunchy enough, some kettle chips do go a bit overboard into almost teeth-shattering levels of crunchiness, so really, the middle ground between the two is a rather wide area that should be explored.

Now the flavor: oh man, it’s very, very good. It plays things smart by sticking only to flavors that can be replicated fairly well on a chip: cheeses. Five of them, to be exact, as you can tell by reading the front of the bag. But, unlike many other cheese-flavored chips, these somehow manage not only to avoid being overwhelming (which five of anything can easily do), but also avoid tasting like excess salt. In fact, salt content seems to be slightly less than the average chip, at 6% per 1 oz. serving (assuming the default 2,000 calorie diet). Every flavor is balanced just right, so that one doesn’t overtake the other, and while I won’t lie and say that I can differentiate the taste between every kind of cheese (romano, cheddar, provolone, asiago, and parmesan, for those that might be interested), the combined effect of them is way more delicious than I ever would have expected to be possible in potato chip form. And because of this, they go down way too easy.

About the only complaint I can come up with is that the chips still manage to be a little bit greasy—pair that up with the generous amount of seasoning and you have a snack that’s every bit as messy and gross as all the rest of them—but outside of that minor quibble, this is easily one of the best-tasting potato chips I’ve ever had. I also won’t lie and say that I will frequently go out of my way to grab these (our closest Trader Joe’s, while not a super long haul, is 15 minutes away), but I’ll definitely be sure to grab a bag of these any time I’m in the store.

Here’s to hoping it won’t be another three years.

Overall: 9.5/10. They’re still greasy and messy, and the $2.49 (for 6 oz.) price tag—although reasonable—doesn’t really scream “value”, but in terms of texture and flavor, these are some of the best chips I’ve ever had. Despite blending five cheeses, it somehow manages to avoid an overload of any specific cheese, but perhaps even more shockingly, doesn't taste overwhelmingly of salt. The end result is an enticing, cohesive combination of flavors that just demands to be binged, thanks to a nice, texture that is slightly crunchier than a typical chip, but not as teeth-shattering as some kettle chips can be. Excellent, and highly recommended.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Fit & Active Mango Tropical Flavored Water Beverage (Aldi)

You're better off drinking regular water, no matter how much you hate it.
I’ve mentioned it a trillion times in previous reviews, but I hate drinking water. Hate it. So naturally, if I’m drinking a flavored water drink, I don’t really want it to taste like water. At all. That’s what I like so much about Fit & Active's lemonade version of this drink: aside from the info on the label, nothing about the taste screams “water”. It might not be the greatest lemonade you’ve ever had, but for what it is, a calorie-less water-based beverage - and for being sugar free - it has a great abundance of flavor, and even somehow manages to hit that counterbalance of tart and sweet that the fruit is known for. And it's that combination that makes it so inherently drinkable.

Fit & Active's Mango Tropical version, however, falters by presenting us with a watered-down version of a flavor that would already be a tough task to translate to a 100% juice, let alone a flavored water. The unconvincing mango flavor doesn’t hit nearly as hard as mango should (nor is it even remotely tart), while the remaining “tropical” is represented by a flavor akin to orange powdered drink mix; only, someone forgot to add any sugar, because it's weak as hell. It's further impacted by a complete lack of interplay: the lemonade, as mentioned before, has the competing tartness and sweetness working in its favor, delivering an equal amount of both. This, on the other hand, just has a weird, vaguely-tropic flavor that starts off fairly sweet, and then dissipates almost into unsatisfying nothingness. You wait, expecting there to be something to rile up your tastebuds...and then you swallow in disappointment; there are no “peak” points on the flavor scale that hit your tastebuds noticeably harder, or anything that would bring excitement: it’s just…bland. Not quite as horribly bland as real water, but way too close for comfort.

At $.69 per 33.8 oz. bottle, value is pretty strong, and the lack of sugar, calories, caffeine, and minimal sodium is a good thing (along with the 60mg of potassium per 12 oz. serving). But even factoring those into the mix, this is an underwhelming beverage that I wisely avoided (subconsciously) for all these years, and will now continue to consciously do for the rest of the foreseeable future.

Overall: 3.5/10. It starts off not good, and then somehow gets worse and worse the more you drink it. Unlike the lemonade version, which is pretty tasty, this one starts off with an weak and uninspiring flavor that just kinda…disappears, offering absolutely zero reasons to look forward to the next swig, let alone the next bottle. The $.69 retail price (for a 33.8 oz. bottle) is a great value, and the lack of caffeine, sugar, calories, and low sodium are also factors preventing this from scoring lower. But, arguably, in the end, it's all about taste, and this one falls so short on that front, that there are literally zero reasons I can think of (besides curiosity) that you should ever subject your poor tastebuds to this sloppy combination of what appears to be vague sweetness and orange powdered drink mix.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Millville Peanut Butter Chewy Dipped Granola Bars (Aldi)

Like candy in granola bar form.

I like granola bars, but I don’t often get Millville’s dipped kinds, for whatever reason; the few times I have, I’ve always stuck with what I know I’d like: chocolate chip. Well, my wife recently picked up the peanut butter variety for our 3-year-old son, and I must confess that I raided his stash to try them; after all, this isn't a kind I would ever lean toward on my own.

Now, to be fair, I don't even know why that is: I actually like the combo of peanut butter and chocolate, but for some reason, I’m always hesitant to try new things with that flavor combination. I don’t know why, but peanut butter cups are about the only thing that I’ll immediately eat without giving it a second thought—maybe because as good as things are that utilize the combination properly, they can be just as awful when it goes wrong. (And, contrary to what some may think, it can go wrong.) So I gave it a shot, expecting it to be an instantly forgettable, if not regrettable, affair.

Wow, this texture is way better than I expected…and along with it, the taste. I thought that the peanut butter would come through in the form of peanut butter chips, or even peanut butter-flavored granola—both of which I'm not crazy about in granola bars—but underneath the exterior coating of chocolate is a thin, creamy layer of the stuff. When paired up with the fully-chocolated exterior (with surprisingly soft, melty, fakey artificial chocolate), it creates a candy-style combo that easily wipes any health benefits away from the granola center. But who cares? It tastes really good and a box of the stuff (with six bars), can be had for under $2, making them an excellent-tasting snack on the go.

Meanwhile, the small nature of these bars (and they are pretty darn small, at least compared to the typical granola bar) is where the health-conscious might even find some solace: each bar is 150 calories, and so unhealthy that it can be easy to forget that there's even granola in them. What am I getting at here? That these would probably be the perfect size for someone craving the delectable combo of peanut butter and chocolate, while still maintaining at least some level of control (and while at least delivering some dietary fiber; hey, I don't care if it's only 1 gram, I'm trying to make a case for it here!).

I’m still not sure that I would ever pick these up for myself, but having tried them, I’m certainly more inclined to do so than I initially was. It’s a tasty little treat, and the small size (while off-putting to a certain degree) also ensures somewhat limited caloric and sugar intake, which can be a good thing. Contrary to my original expectations, this is a delicious bar at an all-too-affordable price.

Overall: 8/10. Aaaah shit, these are way better than I was expecting, which was a chocolate covered granola bar with peanut butter chips in them. Nope, we're talking a fully-covered chocolate bar with an actual layer of rich, tasty, creamy peanut butter directly underneath, making them more crack-like than snack-like. However, they are small, which at least moderates the sugar/caloric intake (assuming you can stop at one), and the $1.39 price tag (for six bars) is perhaps too inviting. I'm not really sure the specific market for this (it's too unhealthy for those looking for a legit granola bar product, while those just looking for a sweet treat will be off-put by the granola bar they threw in there as an afterthought), but marketing demographics be damned...these are delicious.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Millville Sweet and Salty Nut Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate Chunk Granola Bars (Aldi)

Dark chocolate typically ain't my thing, but these are a welcome change from the other, sweeter varieties.

One thing I feel like I've mentioned a million times before is that I pack my lunch for work four days a week. Since I've been doing it pretty consistently for so long now, I've got it down to a science: sandwich (or sometimes frozen entrée) of some sort, fruit, breakfast bar (for snack in case I get hungry before lunchtime), chips, and sometimes a beverage of some sort. Did I say science? I probably should have went with “routine”, since I just go through the motions of packing at this point, without any excitement whatsoever.

Depressing intro paragraph aside, my point was to explain that, even though I have much of it broken down by category, there are still dozens—if not hundreds—of items that fit into each one. For example, “sandwich” can mean turkey and swiss, or chicken salad, or peanut butter and jelly; likewise, there are dozens of fruits, hundreds of chips, and many different breakfast bars to keep the routine from getting too stale. And so, to switch it up a little bit, I occasionally like to try new things, if for no other reason than to break the doldrums of familiarity.

And that's how I ended up with Millville's Sweet and Salty Nut Chocolate Chunk granola bar, something that I wouldn't normally pick up, on account of my hating dark chocolate and all. But you know what? I was tired of the sweeter almond butter dipped ones, and didn't want to fork over $5 for a box of protein-packed “fancy” bars, so the decision was pretty much forced upon me, courtesy of Aldi's limited selection.

As expected, this is the flavor to get if you find the other varieties too sweet, because it definitely dials back on that front. On top of having the dark chocolate chunks throughout, the bottom is also dipped in a “chocolate flavored coating”, according to the description on the actual package, although it doesn’t state what kind. After digging into it, I can say it’s definitely more akin to dark chocolate than milk, with a semi-sweet flavor that also adds in a slight layer of “bitter”, as if it was inserted simply to remind me why I can’t stand the stuff. Thankfully, though, since only the bottom of the bar is covered, and there's a generous helping of granola and nuts, there are enough other flavors to get me through.

Even though these really aren't my cup of tea, I can appreciate them for what they are, since they fill the void left by the other two (overly, some might say) sweet varieties. The chocolate does provide a nice blast of flavor that doesn't make you feel like you're eating dessert, yet offers enough of a slightly sweet finish to also remind you that you're not eating just a boring ol' granola bar. I would imagine fans of dark chocolate would really like these, even though I'm sure it's not a high-end example of the stuff.

The texture is about the same as the national brand, which is to say that it’s soft, and perfectly chewy, which also helps to make these enticing. Meanwhile, the $1.49 retail price (for six bars) makes them all-too-affordable and provides a week's worth of work snacks for me, for a price that won't come anywhere close to breaking the bank. I couldn't get them all the time, but for a change-of-pace, these do a good job of (barely) hitting the spot.

Overall: 6/10. Again, take my opinions with a grain of salt, because dark chocolate just isn't my thing, but these do provide a nice counterpoint to the other varieties of “partially-dipped granola bars”, which are particularly sweet. Thus, I get these as a change-up from those; on those grounds, it succeeds admirably, by offering up a semi-sweet, slightly bitter dark chocolate coating atop an almond and granola bar of soft, chewy texture. I could never get these on a weekly basis (a statement true of almost anything), and I'm still not at all crazy about the taste, but fans of dark chocolate should appreciate these a lot more than I do. The $1.49 retail price (for six bars) also provides some pretty solid value.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Colorful Double-Wall "Designer" 9.5 oz. Sippy Cups (Dollar Tree)

Can't find the lid, but you get the idea. (Pic taken right before chucking it in the trash.)
Like most families with children, we're finding you can never really have enough sippy cups—if nothing else, the more you have just means the longer you can go without having to do dishes, and that's an okay issue to have in my book! Plus, a majority of the ones we got from friends and family were mostly the “semi-disposable” ones that aren't meant to be kept around forever. So while perusing the baby section at Dollar Tree and stumbling on these, I figured I'd grab one just to test out.

What initially drew me into them were the designs: There's one with a pirate theme (for all the boys), another one with a princess theme (for all the girls), and one with a friendly monster telling no one in particular that “Friends are great!” (for either or). Thanks, Cup Monster! The artwork is clear and cutesy, while the cups themselves felt surprisingly thick and sturdy. I wanted to grab a few, but didn't want to be saddled with a bunch of them in case they sucked, so I just fired a single pirate cup into my basket.

These cups, like many geared toward younger children, are “spill-proof”, via a plastic piece that fits on the underside of the lid. This prevents the liquid from coming out, unless there's a distinct sucking motion on the spout, a clever piece of engineering that has probably been prevalent for dozens of years but which I never paid attention to until having a kid of my own. This plastic piece is also easily removable, allowing for quick and easy cleanup; I always wash the plastic part by hand, while throwing the rest in the dishwasher (which probably isn't recommended...oh well), and have never had an issue with any of it.

Alternate angle with punched-up colors.
Now for the big question: How well does it perform? And that's where these cups (sometimes) lose much of their luster: The plastic piece—by far the most integral part of the whole cup—is prone to coming off at random times, no matter how hard you shove it into place. It's especially noticeable after we shook it up to mix the cup's contents, such as after adding a dash of chocolate syrup to baby's milk for a little treat. But even once we figured that out—and started mixing it before we put on the plastic piece—there's still one very concerning variable: kids are crazy. They like to flail things around and drop anything they can get their hands on...cups included. Which meant that, even if we took proper care with it, our child could still wedge it loose with an act as simple as accidentally dropping it, which isn't really a great way to instill confidence in a product. Put it this way: if your product is meant to prevent spills, and is prone to causing them, it's not very good.

We've since limited the use of these to nighttime, or during the day right before he takes his nap, when he's very tired and less apt to perform random bouts of physical insanity. This has certainly cut down on the number of problems we've had, but obviously, it's not a foolproof plan. Even more annoying is just how random the whole plastic piece issue seems to be: sometimes, he'll drop the cup and it will be perfectly fine, while other times it seems the slightest movement dislodges it, causing the drink to pour out at an alarming rate, thus leading to excessive spills. And let's not even mention how incessantly annoying it is to dig the plastic piece out from the bottom of the cup; it fits so perfectly across the bottom, that when that happens it's much easier to pour the contents out into another cup until the plastic piece falls out. Or, to be proactive, you just put the contents into a different cup to begin with to save yourself from the potential hassle.

I'm really torn though because I still like these cups a lot: even after several trips through the dishwasher (which again, I learned is not recommended), the artwork still looks great—it hasn't faded in the slightest like I would expect an inexpensive cup to do, nor has any moisture condensed between the walls—and structurally, the cup is still in great condition, with no chips or scuffs even after repeated droppings on hardwood floor. Unfortunately, all because of that dumb little piece, we've had to severely cut back on using them only a couple of times per week when we're almost certain he's too tired to mess with it, and won't be buying any more going forward.

I suppose it's technically possible that it was only one cup causing these problems, and we were just an unfortunate recipient of quality control issues (we did buy three, but all with the same design, so it would have been hard to differentiate between them). Either way, even if only one was causing the issue, odds are good that there are many more out there that will do the same. And, in my opinion, even the quality of inexpensive products should not come down to a randomized lottery.

If you bought them and had a better experience, I would be glad to hear any counterpoints you may have in the comments!

Overall: 4.5/10. This score is a shame because structurally, these cups are surprisingly sturdy and fantastic, even after repeated passes through the dishwasher (which, for the record, I don't think is recommended, something I learned far too late). Unfortunately, the plastic piece that fits under the lid—you know, the entire thing that makes a cup spill-proof—is prone to falling off with the slightest amount of movement, which then leads to frustrating mess cleanups, and an upset child. That means shaking it is certainly a no-no, as is dropping it—once again, two things that children regularly do. We still use them occasionally, mainly at bedtime when he's more calm, and that has greatly reduced the number of issues we've had with them. But what good is a baby product that is made to prevent spills, if there's also a decent chance it will cause one?