A couple of weekends ago I did something amazing: I spent two full days at ExpoWest in Anaheim with 60,000 other visitors. ExpoWest is the ‘natural, organic, healthy’ red carpet of food shows; and, over 2,600 of the Who’s Who of food brands get decked out, strut their stuff, and highlight what we ‘must’ eat this coming year.
If you’ve never been to (or heard of) ExpoWest, imagine walking the isles of a 1-million square foot Whole Foods store. While people push and rub against you and force you to travel in baby steps, every single item is displayed, sampled, cooked-up, and/or served for your unlimited tasting. There are bright lights, music, yoga classes, speakers, massage chairs, colors, energy, savory smells of goodness, impromptu living rooms set up in booths where deals get done, and Disney-attraction quality displays where branded workers are tripping over themselves to hand pins, bags, stickers, stress balls, and sealed samples (some even full size!) of their products.
Gluten free, vegan, meat free, flower infused, dairy free, dairy rich, cricket-powder fortified (yes, I found a bar made with crickets as the protein source!), herbal… whatever your bent, ExpoWest had the goods.
It was a total hoot.
It’s taken me a bit to process it all. I’ve reviewed my brand materials, re-read ingredient labels, re-tested samples in the comfort of my own kitchen, and gathered reviews from my man and kids. And, now, here it is:
My TOP 5 GROCERY GOODIES TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS YEAR:
1) Beans from The Better Bean Company. I love beans, as you know, and typically make my own. What I love about this company and their ‘rethought’ beans, however, is they’re made the way I would make them: with nothing but real, wholesome ingredients and no added sweeteners, added flavors, or chemicals. The Uncanny Refried Black Beans are exactly what you want to have on hand for an instant burrito night; top a bed of quinoa with some Rethought Red Beans, Cuban Black Beans, or Three Sisters Chili for an instant lunch (I break one pod into two lunches for my girls); or, try the Chipotle Bean Dip as a dip, or even as a base for a southwestern chicken tortilla soup! Every recipe they have is delish – and, the fact this company is run by a passionate and engaging father/daughter team makes them even more special in my book. (They cost about $2.50 / 14 oz pod, and you’ll find them in the refrigerated section beside hummus and salsa.)
2) Tumeric Alive Vanilla Bean Elixir. Ok, I’m not a ‘drink’ girl that navigates too far from water, coconut water, and coffee. When I stopped and sampled the options from Tumeric Alive, though, I found a new indulgence: Tumeric Alive Vanilla Bean Elixir. (I say ‘indulgence’ because they’ll run you anywhere from $5-$5.50 a 12-ounce bottle.) It’s not a juice – it’s a ‘herbal formula’ made of turmeric, ginger, cardamom, spearmint, honey, lemon, sea salt, cayenne, and vanilla bean. What I loved about the Vanilla Bean blend is it has some kick to it, yet was extremely refreshing and soothing to my talked-out throat. MMMM…. so good – and so much better for an afternoon pick-me-up than any coffee bar drink.
3) Epic Bars. I was super leery about trying these ‘100% grass fed’ meat-based bars, but I did… and, thank God, because they are amazing. After tasting each of their four blends – lamb, bison, turkey, and beef – lamb was surprisingly my favorite. I felt like I was eating a really soft beef jerky with just a hint of sweet (from the cranberries). They’re geared for the Paleo crowd (but even non-paleo folk like me can dig ’em), and run about $2.75 a piece. The ingredients are clean and there are no added sweeteners – hooray! So, if you’re looking for a savory bar to keep on hand for after workouts, I’d give this a shot. (Use their product finder to locate a store near you, or order online.)
4) Nancy’s Plain Greek Yogurt and Straus Plain Greek Yogurt. Since yogurt is one of quinoa’s best friends in my world, of course I set out to see if there was a yogurt brand I’ve been missing out on. And, you know what I discovered? Fage, move over – I have two new loves in my life: Nancy’s Greek yogurt and Straus Greek yogurt. Nancy’s is out of Oregon and Straus is out of California; I’m telling you about both because, depending on where you are, you may not have both choices. Either one, however, will knock your socks off. Super creamy, just the right tang flavor, no grainy taste, and fabulous consistency of each. (If you’re dairy free, try SoDelicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Unsweetened Yogurt, another one I really loved at the show.)
5) Kolat Espresso Hazelnut Superfood Fusion Fruit and Nut Butter. My kids beg for Nutella and, while we have one jar in the house for ‘special’ nights (I keep it high up out of the everyday intake because it’s literally a spreadable candy bar), I’ve told them when it’s gone, it’s gone and will never return. (Seriously – read the ingredient label.) This is why I was so excited to discover Kolat at the Expo. They make decadent tasting nut and fruit spreads with NO ADDED SUGARS. Serious! My favorite of their four recipes was the espresso hazelnut spread, and check out the ingredients: roasted almonds, hazelnuts, dates, organic coconut oil, ground espresso beans, and sea salt. No sweeteners, no preservatives, no flavors – just real good stuff I’m happy to keep readily accessible for all of us to enjoy. ($9.99 / 16 oz. Use their product finder to locate a store near you, or order online.)
Here are some other ‘must mentions’ to look out for:
Protein bars by PerfectBar. If you read ingredient labels for food bars, almost every one of them has sugar as a top four ingredient and a variety of other junk that should never be labeled ‘healthy’. (This is why I developed SmartyBars years ago – in rebellion to all the garbage!) Thankfully, however, I stumbled upon this fabulous bar at the Expo – and now I have something I won’t hesitate to buy: the Almond Coconut Perfect Bar. The founders have a great story. Plus, their bars really are ‘perfect’ with no added sweeteners, added flavors, or preservatives. (A few flavors do use honey, but honey is God-made and I have no problems with it in moderation.) I’ll hand these to my kids in a heartbeat.
AlterEco Quinoa Dark Chocolate Crunch Bar. A true treat: their gluten-free quinoa chocolate crunch bar. (I love they use Fair trade certified ingredients.)
Chic-a-peas. These baked chickpea snacks (plain and falafel seasoned) are a perfect lunchbox snack. Made of nothing but chickpeas, safflower oil, seasonings, and sea salt; and, perfectly baked to satisfy your savory cravings. (Hopefully coming to a store near you… and, until then, order online.) The company was also founded by two cutie-patooties from New York – and their passion and love for their products captured my heart.
There you go! Let me know if there’s a grocery product YOU’VE discovered that I should try out. I’m always looking for clean ingredient labels and good tasting options.