Sunday, September 30, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese

Another toddler favorite today.... Mac 'n Cheese! We compared the old standby, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (the mini-shells), and Great Value Spiral Macaroni & Cheese. We have to say we haven't had regular ol' boxed macaroni & Cheese in such a long time, testing these really took us back! Were we glad we took the trip down memory lane? Keep reading to find out!

Price: The Kraft mac 'n cheese cost a full 80% more than the generic mac 'n cheese. The boxes we tested were different sizes (7.25 oz. vs. 5.5 oz., respectively), but we took that into account before doing our calculations. This huge difference seemed a little crazy to us so we thought we better check it out again at the store. And it turns out (as you can see from the picture above), the Kraft version we tested was the "three cheese" variety, so not an exact comparison to the GV spiral macaroni & Cheese. We're not sure how much of a difference in taste the "three cheese" version made, but there was a difference in price between that version and the Kraft spiral mac 'n cheese, which cost only 56% more than the GV spiral mac 'n cheese. Who knew there were so many different varieties of mac 'n cheese? Kraft alone offered at least four different kinds of just the regular (not "premium" or "homestyle" or any of those) boxed mac 'n cheese. So keep that in mind for what it's worth - there are many different varieties of boxed regular mac 'n cheese, ranging widely in price even within the same brand!

Ingredients: Great Value: enriched macaroni product (durum wheat flour with niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), whey, enriched bleached flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), salt, modified cornstarch, disodium phosphate, calcium carbonate, citric acid, color (yellow 5 and 6).

Kraft: enriched macaroni product (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate (iron), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), cheese sauce mix (whey, milk, salt, skim milk, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of sodium tripolyphosphate, buttermilk solids, sodium phosphate, citric acid, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, lactic acid, cheese culture, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, enzymes).

There's one interesting thing we have to point out here - the Kraft mac 'n cheese does not list "cheese" as an ingredient in its cheese sauce mix, while the generic does - or at least attempts to, by mentioning "cheese culture" as an ingredient... so Kraft mac 'n cheese doesn't have actual cheese in it?? Not that we really thought it did, to be honest - when you dump that pinkish-orange powder into the pasta "cheese" is not the first thing that comes to mind...

Calories/Nutritional Information: The calorie/nutritional information for mac 'n cheese varies widely depending on what you mix with it (skim milk? whole milk? butter? margarine?) so we're comparing the nutritional information provided for the mac 'n cheese before the milk and butter is added.

Both the Kraft and Great Value mac 'n cheeses contained the same amount of calories per serving (250 - again, that's without the butter and milk - if we have any calorie counters out there, don't think that's all you're getting when you actually eat it!) 5 grams of cholesterol, 49 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of protein. Kraft contained 2 grams of fat per serving, vs. 1.5 for Great Value, and had 610 mg of sodium per serving, vs. 570 mg for Great Value. Great Value also lists potassium content (which it seems to do in the nutritional information for all of its products, while few, if any, other brands do) at 210 mg per serving. Both versions also contain 10% of your RDV for calcium and iron, and GV also lists 30% of your RDV for folic acid.

GV on the left - we took this picture in natural light so you can really see the difference!
Appearance: The Great Value mac 'n cheese was a lot darker in color than the Kraft mac 'n cheese (see above). When we dumped the "cheese" powder in it looked the same (a weird orangey/pink color) but after getting mixed in the GV mac 'n cheese was much more orange compared to the blander/more yellow color of the Kraft mac 'n cheese. Which do you prefer? Orange mac 'n cheese or yellow mac 'n cheese? Something about the GV mac 'n cheese's color seemed more "fake" than the Kraft mac 'n cheese's color (it was just too bright!), which turned us off a little. Also the Great Value mac 'n cheese appeared drier than the Kraft, which was more moist/creamy. This could be because we were using the "three cheese" variety of Kraft mac 'n cheese, however... next time we try the non-three cheese variety we'll update this post to let you know if there's a difference - which would be great information in itself, right, to know if spending the extra 20 cents on the three cheese mac 'n cheese is actually worth it...

Regardless of being labeled as "three cheese," we think the difference in moistness/ creaminess may just have to do with the preparation instructions. We prepared both of these according to their directions on the box, and the GV mac 'n cheese said to mix 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons of milk in along with the sauce powder. The Kraft mac 'n cheese, on the other hand, said to add 4 tablespoons (that's TABLESPOONS, not TEASPOONS) of margarine (we used unsalted butter for both, to try to keep the results similar) and 1/4 cup of 2% milk (we used 1% milk in both). So isn't it obvious why the Kraft mac 'n cheese is creamier and the generic is drier? The Kraft mac 'n cheese has over 4 times as much butter and milk in it! Now, we're not sure how the GV mac 'n cheese would turn out if we put the same amounts of milk and butter in both, because we wanted to follow the directions, but we suspect it would make a difference... if anyone tries that let us know how it goes!

Texture/the chew test: As we mentioned above, the GV mac 'n cheese ended up a lot drier, while the Kraft was more creamy, gooey and moist.

Taste: The Kraft mac 'n cheese had a more buttery (obviously the extra butter makes a difference) and salty flavor than the GV mac 'n cheese. The GV mac 'n cheese was just blander and had less flavor overall, despite actually listing "cheese" in its ingredients. Neither of these tasted particularly cheesy.

Bottom line: we're willing to try the GV mac 'n cheese again given the great cost savings, but we plan on adding more butter and milk the next time we make it in the hopes of replicating Kraft's creamy moist cheesy consistency (in addition to adding some flavor). If that doesn't work, though, we'll pay extra for that creamy cheesiness that reminded us of our childhood!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


As promised, for this post we compared Kellogg's Pop-Tarts (our favorite flavor, Frosted Cherry, to be exact), to the Great Value Frosted Cherry Toaster Pastries. So obviously, since we only compared one flavor, opinions may differ from flavor to flavor. Hopefully this will give you a general idea though about how the pastry part of each compares.

Price: Pop-tarts cost 50% more than Great Value Toaster Pastries. Our highest difference yet! Is the difference worth switching to the generic though? Keep reading to find out...


Pop-Tarts: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, soybean and palm oil (with TBHQ for freshness), sugar, cracker meal, contains 2% or less of wheat starch, salt, dried cherries, dried apples, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), citric acid, gelatin, modified wheat starch, caramel color, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, calcium stearate, vitamin A palmitate, red #40, niacinamide, reduced iron, natural flavor, red #40 lake, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), yellow #6, carnauba wax, riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), confectioner's glaze, folic acid, blue #1.

Great Value Toaster Pastries: enriched wheat flour (contains: niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), corn syrup, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oils, fruit from concentrate (white grape, cherry), whey, glycerine, modified cornstarch, precooked corn meal, salt, leavening (sodium aluminum phosphate, baking soda), citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate (a preservative), gelatin, color added (includes red 40), modified soy protein, vitamin A palmitate, reduced iron, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), folic acid.

Okay this is scary... Pop-tarts contain not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different types of sugar/sweetener. FOUR!! And the GV pastries are almost as bad with three different sweeteners listed. Do you think they could get any more sugar in there??? Of course this doesn't mean we're going to stop eating them altogether. :) When you crave a Pop-tart (or toaster pastry, whichever you prefer), you crave a Pop-tart... just remember the old rule of everything in moderation! 

Calories/Nutritional Information: The nutritional information is virtually identical.  Both Pop-tarts and Great Value Toaster Pastries contain 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, 160 mg of sodium, 16 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein per serving (which is one pastry - so if you eat both Pop-tarts/toaster pastries in the package that's 400 calories and 10 grams of fat - yikes!). Pop-tarts have 38 grams of carbohydrates, while the Great Value brand lists 37 grams of carbohydrates, and the GV pastries also list 60 mg of potassium (GV brand products seem to list potassium as a standard procedure while other brands do not). Both the Pop-tarts and toaster pastries also contain the following RDVs of the following vitamins: vitamin A 10%, iron 10%, thiamin 10%, riboflavin 10%, niacin 10%, vitamin B6 10%, folic acid 10%.

Appearance: We thought a lot of pictures would be helpful in explaining the differences we saw in these. In general, as you can see below, the GV pastry was skimpier on the icing and the filling. The thickness of the filling layer (and the pastry overall) was the same (see second and third pictures) but the filling in the Pop-tart went closer to all the edges, while the GV pastry filling stopped well short of the edge (see last three pictures), leaving a lot of floury pastry with no filling. Also the filling in the GV pastry appeared to have a more gel-like texture/consistency (it's shinier and more sticky), while the Pop-tart's filling was a little thicker/more paste-like. Oh and it's kind of funny to compare these pictures to the pictures of the pastries on the boxes they come in. There's a lot of artistic license taken on the boxes!

GV vs. Pop-tart

GV vs. Pop-tart

GV pastry on the left, Pop-tart on the right - GV pastry has less cherry filling, more pastry
GV toaster pastry filling
Pop-tart filling
Texture/the chew test: As you can see from the pictures above, the GV pastry has more pastry and less filling. This wasn't a good thing in our opinion. The pastry part of the GV version became more sticky/gummy/pasty while chewing it. It's not uncommon for pastry or bread products to gets a little pasty and sticky when you chew them, of course, but the GV pastry took on a significantly more pasty or gummy texture while eating it than the Pop-tart, which we didn't really like.

Taste: We tested these both un-heated (how we usually eat them - like a cookie - since that's basically what they are, right?) and heated in the microwave (we're not a fan of toasting). On the pastry part, the GV pastry was more floury while the Pop-tart pastry tasted more wheat-y (the difference reminded us of eating a hearty multi-grain bread (the Pop-tart) vs. white bread (the GV pastry)). On the filling, the GV filling was a little sweeter and tasted more like fake-cherry flavoring, while the Pop-tart filling was more tart and tasted more like actual cherries.

Bottom line: Even though Pop-tarts are significantly more expensive, we're fans of Pop-tarts, so we're going to stick with the name brand version when the craving strikes us. If you like Pop-tarts, the GV toaster pastry just isn't going to cut it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Ok, let's just throw this out there up front. Oatmeal is oatmeal (Update: instant oatmeal is instant oatmeal - from comments we've received, the majority opinion out there seems to be that non-instant oatmeal brands vary in terms of mushy-ness! We found these two instant oatmeals to be the same consistency/texture). Buy the cheapest oatmeal you can find. You can stop reading here or continue reading, but if you choose to continue you're not going to learn anything else, so if you're short on time just know that oatmeal is oatmeal!

For this post we compared Quaker Oats 100% Natural Whole Grain Quick 1-Minute oats, and Great Value 100% Whole Grain Quick Oats (which cook in 1 minute).

Price: Yes they are different sizes in the picture above, but we compared the price of the same-sized containers and found that Quaker Oats cost 48% more (!!) than the Great Value Oats. And after doing this comparison we're kicking ourselves for spending that much more on oatmeal our entire lives, just because we were "used to" buying the Quaker brand, so we never bothered to try anything else. Keep that in mind when you are shopping! Step outside your comfort zone and try the generic! Hopefully this blog is helping you do just that, while saving you money at the same time. 

Ingredients: Rolled oats. No surprises there!

Calories/Nutritional Information: 1/2 cup of oatmeal has 150 calories per serving, 3 grams of fat per serving, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar and 5 grams of protein. Who knew oatmeal had protein? We didn't expect that. Rolled oats also contain 10% of your RDV of iron per serving, and the Great Value oats list 140 mg of potassium. The Quaker oats don't list any amount for potassium but we're assuming that's just because they're choosing not to, since oats are oats (again, it appears different companies use different nutritional value listing guidelines).

Appearance: Oatmeal looks like oatmeal. The oatmeal in uncooked form is on the top, vs. cooked on the bottom.

Quaker vs. Great Value

Quaker vs. Great Value

Texture/the chew test: We prepared these the same way and they had the same texture and consistency (the texture/consistency of cooked oatmeal).

Taste: They tasted the same to us.

Bottom line: If you've read this far, we are jealous that you have so much free time! Like we said at the beginning of this post, oatmeal is oatmeal, so buy the cheapest one! We won't be buying Quaker oats again, as long as there is a cheaper alternative.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Apple Sauce

Wow it's been a long time since we've posted - sorry about that! As you've probably gathered by now based on the things we post about (CheeriosPeanut Butter, Chocolate Syrup), we have little ones, so with all the end of summer/beginning a new school year activities that go along with that, our kids are the excuse we're using for being so delinquent in posting (and BTW, I'm sure we'll use the kids as our excuse again in the future, so don't be surprised!). Well here's another one for all you moms out there - apple sauce! (We're spelling that as two words, because that's what's on the labels of the products we reviewed, but we were sure it was one word, and it seems to be used as one word all the time - which do you prefer?) We chose to review Mott's, Musselman's and Great Value all natural no sugar added/unsweetened apple sauce, because that's the type we buy for our kids (it makes us feel better about feeding them the occasional cherry frosted Pop-Tart - post on those to come!) Also the Musselman's is in a picture by itself because it was a late entry. We realized after starting our analysis that most stores carry these three primary brands, so we thought we better include it!

Price: GV and Musselman's apple sauce cups were a full 4 oz. vs. Mott's which were 3.9 oz. per cup (24 oz. vs. 23.4 oz. total). So Musselman's ended up being 9 cents per ounce, or 28% more than the Great Value apple sauce, which was 7 cents per ounce. The Mott's apple sauce was in between at about 8.5 cents per ounce, or 20% more than the Great Value apple sauce. Doing these calculations made us realize why we didn't include Musselman's in the first place - it's becuase we had never bought it before because it costs so much more!

Ingredients: There are two primary ingredients in all natural apple sauce - which probably isn't surprising for something so simple - apples and water. The GV and Mott's apple sauce also contained ascorbic acid.

Calories/Nutritional Information: Each type of apple sauce had 50 calories per cup. The Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces had 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup and 8 grams of sugars, while Mott's had 13 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of sugar; Great Value and Musselman's each listed 2 grams of fiber, while Mott's had 1 gram; and Great Value and Mott's each listed 85 mg of potassium (the Musselman's did not list any potassium). 

Two strange things caught our attention - the Great Value apple sauce indicates that is has 100% of the RDV (recommended daily value) of vitamin C, but Mott's listed vitamin C at 20% and the Musselman's had 0%. This doesn't really make sense to us given that apples are apples and should contain the same vitamins. So we did a little research and found out that ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C. So it makes sense that the Great Value apple sauce has 100%, since it contains ascorbic acid, and the Mott's has only 20%, since it does not contain ascorbic acid. But the Musselman's apple sauce lists ascorbic acid as an ingredient and does not indicate that it has vitamin C. Which makes it seem like these companies are following different rules when listing nutritional information...

The second strange (alarming) thing we found in the nutritional information was that the GV and Musselman's apple sauce cups contained 10 mg of sodium per cup. This threw us for a loop (why would apple sauce contain sodium?) Salt is not listed in the ingredient list of either the Musselman's or GV apple sauce, so we did some research and found that an apple contains at most 1-2 grams of sodium, and that ascorbic acid does not contain sodium. Then we found that there can be as many as 10 grams of sodium per cup of unsweetened apple juice (see this), which makes us wonder if the reason GV and Musselman's apple sauces contain sodium is because they're putting apple juice in it... apple juice has the same ingredients as apple sauce, so the apple sauce could contain apple juice and the ingredient list would still be accurate, right? Wouldn't that also explain why the GV and Musselman's apple sauces tasted sweeter (since apple juice is basically concentrated apple flavor)? Let us know your theories on this!

Appearance: the Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces were a little darker in color than the Mott's (due to the ascorbic acid we are guessing, given that the Musselman's ingredient list indicates that the ascorbic acid is "added to maintain color") which you can sort of tell in these pictures (these are not great for comparison becuase they were taken at different times of day, so the lighting is different, but at least they give you an idea):

GV on the left, Mott's on the right

GV on the left, Musselman's on the right
Do you think the color of the Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces is more appealing? Does the Mott's apple sauce look more bland/anemic? We think the effect of color on our perception of tastiness and healthiness is very interesting so let us know your opinion!

Texture/the chew test: these had the same consistency/texture - none of them seemed chunkier or smoother or more watery than another.

Taste: the Mott's apple sauce was a little more tart/sour, while the GV and Musselman's apple sauces were sweeter. Musselman's seemed the sweetest but it was a very insignificant difference compared to the Great Value brand.

Bottom line: While the Great Value applesauce has the best price, we don't feel great serving our kids applesauce containing sodium. On the other hand, the sodium-free Mott's applesauce had more grams of sugar per cup, which we don't feel great about either. So you'll have to make a judgment call there - or let us know if you find one that is both low-sugar and sodium free!