Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pay More – Get Less!

In my last post, I told you about the way manufacturers and stores are changing the labelling and packaging of their products. It isn’t always because of new recipes. I think it is more of a way to keep consumers on their toes and to keep us in the store longer in hopes that we will spend more money.

Well we are spending more money but we certainly aren’t always getting more for our money!

Sure, some things are on sale and there are good deals to be had if we are lucky enough and patient enough to hunt for them BUT sometimes the new packaging can be a bit misleading.

How often have you checked the weight, volume or quantity of the product in that new packaging? Is it the same as what it used to be?

Several products have gradually shrunk over the years. When Canada brought in the metric system in the 1970’s products gradually switched their labels from imperial to metric. Rather than have odd sounding quantities the companies rounded the totals up or down to make the numbers even. For example: 8 ounces equals 227.2 g. This was either rounded down to 200 or 225 or rounded up to 250. 16 ounces is equal to 454g so that was generally rounded down to 450 but occasionally rounded up to 500. It was all rather confusing at the time and to some extent still is for those of us who were pretty much out of school by the time the metric came in.

What happened after that initial change though is in some ways more interesting. Several products gradually shrunk. You used to be able to buy a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips. That converted to 340.8g. Somehow over the years, that has managed to decrease to the new standard of 300g or 10.56 ounces. Some varieties have even gone down to 270g which is only about 9.5 ounces.

Generally I don’t go by the weight of a package in a recipe – rather by the volume or weight of the product required for the recipe, but it can get confusing if you aren’t paying attention to a recipe and the size of the package you are using.
In the last few years several major manufacturers have changed the packaging to cover up the fact that you are actually getting less for the same price.

I don’t buy a lot of cereal, but I remember seeing a piece on the CBS Early Show a year or so ago that said some of the companies had actually decreased the amount in each box by anywhere from 2 – 5 ounces (57 – 140g) but kept the same suggested retail price.

Snack food companies have also done the shrinking product content trick. Several brands of potato chips and crackers have about an ounce less (28g) per package. Frankly, the fact that you are getting less snack food for the same price is a good idea in my mind as most of these type of products are high in calories, sodium and fat. I buy one or two bags of tortilla chips and a three or four boxes of crackers a year. I’m not much of a snacker and rarely eat junk food.

One item that I buy a few times a year is the Green Giant frozen vegetables. I don’t use them often - I prefer fresh – but these are nice to have on hand when you want something out of season or to throw in a casserole. Late winter of 2009, I was watching for them to go on sale as I didn’t want to pay the regular price of over $3 for a 1 kilo bag. Finally, just before Easter, I saw them on sale for $2.39! Great! I could stock up with a bag each of sweetlet peas, peaches and cream corn, cut green beans and the mixed vegetables. I found the display case in the frozen foods and started picking up my bags. Wait a minute – something doesn’t feel right here. These are smaller! I checked the label and sure enough – the 1 kilo bag that had been around for years was now down to 750g! The regular and sale prices were about the same but the quantity that you were getting was 25% less! When I got home, I checked the ad more carefully and there – in tiny print was the size of 750g. Needless to say, I was not impressed!

This shrinking product syndrome isn’t just happening in the edible areas. It is also happening in the paper products such as Kleenex tissues. They used to be 200/box but now about 100 to 150 depending on type but the tissues are also smaller than they used to be.

I think the most glaring of the shrinking products is toilet paper. I’ve been buying the Purex brand for many years. I always wait till it is on sale and then stock up with several packages. About 15 years ago, a double roll was 500 sheets. Eight double rolls for $4 or less was considered a good deal. Well, you can still get eight double rolls for about $4 if you watch for sales BUT the double roll has somehow gradually managed to shrink to 280 sheets!

Yup, times are changing. Inflation has increased prices and a dollar sure doesn’t go as far as it used to. Packages are being redesigned and getting smaller. If there really was truth in advertizing, the slogan would be “Pay More – Get Less!”

Then again, maybe the truth is a little too hard to sell. We’d need way to much toilet paper to clean up the mess that would create.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

There Is A Flaw In My Shopping - Manufacturers!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t really enjoy shopping. I don’t enjoy spending the day in a mall or hours perusing the latest products or sales racks.

I prefer to get in, get it done and get out as quickly as possible with minimal damage to my wallet.

It’s not that I am cheap or that I don’t try new things – I do experiment with some things – mostly in the grocery section.

There are tens of thousands of products in the average grocery store and most of them will never be brought into my home. There are several reasons for that including: price, calories, additives, personal tastes and some mild food allergies.

When it comes to grocery shopping, I find most of my items on the peripheral aisles - in the produce, dairy and meat departments. I occasionally get bread in the bakery or things in the frozen food aisles.

The produce and meat are relatively easy. The major decision is which variety of produce or cut of meat do I want. Do I want leaf lettuce or romaine? What variety of apple? Do I want pork, beef or chicken – what cut? Those decisions are made mostly on price and quality of the item.

For me, the problem with grocery shopping usually occurs in the aisles with the packaged products. The ones with the cans, jars, boxes and such. I don’t buy a lot in these aisles, but when I do, I seem to have trouble locating the items I want.

You see, I shop in bulk. I’ve come to know what brands I like and how things are packaged. I can grab the item and do a quick price check. I check the shelf life of the item and “guestimate” how much of it I would use over the shelf life. For example: if a 1 kilo jar of my favourite brand of peanut butter is on sale and it has over a year till the expiry date, I can safely buy several if I have the extra money and the space to store them at home. This takes a bit of pre calculation, but it saves me money in the long run. Shopping like this also helps me to make more healthy choices and to occasionally splurge on some other kind of food that my taste buds would enjoy.

So, you’d think this would be a win-win situation right? Well normally yes BUT there is a flaw to my system. A flaw that is caused by manufacturers.

Manufacturers have this really annoying habit of “rebranding” or “repackaging” their products. They don’t necessarily change the recipe, they just update the packaging.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can confuse the heck out of a visually impaired and/or busy shopper!

The most confused that I ever got by a repackaging was a few years ago. I had gotten a really great deal on some feminine protection products, so bought about an 18 month supply. By the time I needed more, the package had gone from a pastel mauve to a deep purple with a completely different font for the print and entirely new labelling system. I honestly thought that my brand had been discontinued until I finally found a clerk who helped me sort out the new packaging and explained the new labelling and how to find what I needed.

In the last year or so, some major manufacturers have been updating their packaging.

Campbell’s soups have changed their labels a bit. The familiar red with white is still at the top but the soup pictures and variety labelling has been changed. I almost bought a cream of chicken rather than cream of mushroom. Not huge in the grand scheme of things but it wouldn’t have been what I really wanted.

Kraft has been doing some major changes to their packaging. Pretty much all the dressings have new labels and some items such as Miracle Whip even have a slightly different shaped jar. The familiar glass jar has been replaced by plastic with a unique scalloped edging on the lid.

The Kraft product that confused me the most though, was the Lemon Instant Pudding. The box used to be a rectangle and clearly said “pudding” on it. The newer one is more of a square – almost identical in size and shape to the Jell-o gelatin boxes. Yes, there is a suggested serving pictured but given the box shape and size it can be mistaken as gelatin unless you look closely. In the upper right of the box – in small pastel print no less – it does say instant pudding mix but good luck reading it without perfect sight!

It isn’t just the big name manufacturers though – even the store brands are changing designs. Over the last few months, there have been changes to packaging for some of my favourite no name products as well.

Picture it – you are moving along the aisle and scanning your list. You need salsa. You know you want the mild store brand but .... wait ... where is it? All the brand names are there and you know they are more expensive. Oh wait - what are all these white labels? Okay, the store brand is labelled differently now. Great – now I have to figure out which jar it is I want and hope it is the same as the one I’d been buying for the last few years.

For the salad dressings, the old labels were yellow with a small picture and a small section in blue with the word light on it for the low calorie versions. The new one is still yellow, but there is no picture and most of the printing is in black. The word light is in small letters above the variety of dressing. The light sits right beside the regular and all the other versions. That means you have to look really closely to make sure you have exactly the variety and version you want.

The boxes for the instant puddings have undergone changes as well. It isn’t as drastic but the print is different and the picture is smaller.
Some of the changes may have taken place months ago, but since I still had some on hand, I didn’t know about them until I needed them.

Now a days, when I put something on my list, I also have to be prepared for a treasure hunt. Oh goodie!


Next Post - May 30: "Pay More - Get Less!"

Related Posts:
- Food storage to save you money! - Part 1
- Food storage to save you money! - Part 2
- Grocery Shopping

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Empathy: understanding of another's feelings: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties

Many years ago, I remember someone telling me that I should try and find some type of commonality with people I meet. Find something within my life, experiences or knowledge that can draw a parallel to what the other person is experiencing. This would create a bond of sorts that can lead to a great friendship and a better understanding of the person.

That was good advice. It really does work. But if you aren’t careful, it can also be a real problem if one of the people feels the need to take almost every detail you’ve shared and relate it to their own life. In other words, sometimes it has a way of becoming all about them. Your experiences were really only a springboard for them to express theirs. It doesn’t matter that you were the one who needed to share or vent. It becomes all about them – again.

Just because I may be having a bad day, doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to hear how bad your day was. You can relate, but don’t override mine. It isn’t a contest.

Maybe I got a really good deal or had an interesting experience that I’d like to talk about. I don’t always need to hear that you had an even better experience or got a better deal. And I certainly don’t need to hear a woe is me of “How come that kind of thing never happens to me?”

Sometimes you just need your own moment of euphoria or woe is me. You need a friendly ear that will listen but not feel the need to interject their own experiences on top of yours or before you’ve even had the opportunity to fully express yourself.

There is a fine line between understanding how someone feels and taking over that persons need to go through whatever they are going through.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t care – I do – well usually I do - but sometimes I just need some me time and for you to listen.

It is a balancing act that takes practice. It is a line that is sometimes too easily crossed.

We want to be a good and supportive friend, but trying to relate to everything is impossible and sometimes you just need to let the other person have their moment to vent or express themselves.

In a healthy friendship, you are able to take turns in being the ventee and the empathetic one. The roles will often reverse, but it eventually balances out.

In a less healthy relationship, one of you has to be more supportive than the other and that can be exhausting. There is only so much you can take or empathy you can express before you want to get an unlisted number or run screaming from the room.

You feel like every amount of energy you are putting into the friendship is being leached to feed their needs and your needs aren’t even being heard – let alone met.

Maybe it is just me and the stage of life I am at, but some people are just really working my last nerve. I dread running into them or even talking on the phone to them as I don’t feel they are even hearing me. They are too consumed with their own drama to really get that there are other things going on outside of their self imposed cocoon.

Oh that sounds harsh doesn’t it? Sorry. Maybe they are going through some rough stuff of their own, but sometimes the balance stays tipped in one direction for way too long. Just when I think it is starting to balance out, it tips over - again.

Don’t get me wrong. I have some amazing friends who are there whenever I need them and they know that I will always be there for them. We’ve helped each other get through a lot over the years.

I guess I’m just a bit tired of being the supporter rather than the supportee for some things.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear about what is happening in the lives of the people I know and care about. I do want to know how life is treating them – I just don’t need to hear every minute detail. If you want me to be empathetic – fine - I can do that, but know that I will most likely expect it in return at some point without you overriding my experiences and needs.

We’ve all had experiences where a friend has had a run of bad luck and feels the need to relate every little detail – even if it takes an hour to tell a story that could have been done in 10 minutes or less for the Reader’s Digest version and still gotten the point across. Sometimes brevity goes a long way. If I want more info, I can ask. The problem is that some people just don’t know how to self edit. But, by the same token, don’t be so brief that I don’t see the issue or that I have to pull more information out of you. Knowing how much to share can go a long way in getting the right amount of support in return.

Be happy for someone who got a great deal or is having a good day. Whining about your lack of luck or relating your better deal or luck, isn’t going to do a lot to endear you in the heart or mind of the other person.

Empathy works both ways. If you don’t seem to be getting what you think is your fair share, then stop and take a long hard look at your life and how you express yourself around others. It really isn’t all about you.

Sincerity and being a good listener goes a long way in being empathetic.

Empathy is not a game of “I can top that” or one-upmanship. It is a balance of compassion, support and related understanding.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Was there something you wanted to say?


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

My mom has a great sense of humour. She loves a good laugh. We talk every Sunday morning for about an hour and every week we share at least a laugh or two or three! Since she doesn't use a computer, I often read her some of the email humour that regularly shows up in my inbox. So today - in honour of Mother's everywhere - I thought I'd share a little Mother's Day humour:

Mother's Day Quotes:"Mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young." - Author Unknown
"Mothers are all slightly insane." - J.D. Salinger
"I want my children to have all the things I couldn't afford. Then I want to move in with them." - Phyllis Diller
"My mother's menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it." - Buddy Hackett

What Famous Mothers Might Have Said:

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary's Mother: "I don't mind you having a garden, Mary, but does it have to be growing under your bed?"

Mona Lisa's Mother: "After all that money your father and I spent on braces, Mona, that's the biggest smile you can give us?"

Humpty Dumpty's Mother: "Humpty, If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times not to sit on that wall. But would you listen to me? Noooo!"

Columbus' Mother: "I don't care what you've discovered, Christopher. You still could have written!"

Babe Ruth's Mother: "Babe, how many times have I told you -- quit playing ball in the house! That's the third broken window this week!"

Michelangelo's Mother: "Mike, can't you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?"

Napoleon's Mother: "All right, Napoleon. If you aren't hiding your report card inside your jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!"

Custer's Mother: "Now, George, remember what I told you -- don't go biting off more than you can chew!"

Abraham Lincoln's Mother: "Again with the stovepipe hat, Abe? Can't you just wear a baseball cap like the other kids?"

Barney's Mother: "I realize strained plums are your favorite, Barney, but you're starting to look a little purple."

Mary's Mother: "I'm not upset that your lamb followed you to school, Mary, but I would like to know how he got a better grade than you."

Batman's Mother: "It's a nice car, Bruce, but do you realize how much the insurance is going to be?"

Goldilocks' Mother: "I've got a bill here for a busted chair from the Bear family. You know anything about this, Goldie?"

Little Miss Muffet's Mother: "Well, all I've got to say is if you don't get off your tuffet and start cleaning your room, there'll be a lot more spiders around here!"

Albert Einstein's Mother: "But, Albert, it's your senior picture. Can't you do something about your hair? Styling gel, mousse, something...?"

George Washington's Mother: "The next time I catch you throwing money across the Potomac, you can kiss your allowance good-bye!"

Jonah's Mother: "That's a nice story, but now tell me where you've really been for the last three days.

Superman's Mother: "Clark, your father and I have discussed it, and we've decided you can have your own telephone line. Now will you quit spending so much time in all those phone booths?

Thomas Edison's Mother: "Of course I'm proud that you invented the electric light bulb, Thomas. Now turn off that light and get to bed!"

Happy Mother's Day!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Choco Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

A few weeks ago, I wanted to make a coffee cake. For the past few years, I have been making the “Choco Coffee Cake” on page 149 of the Company’s Coming Muffins & More by Jean ParĂ©. Alas, this was one of those rare occasions when I didn’t have any sour cream in the fridge. I pulled out the family favourite Coffee Cake recipe from an old cookbook I got from my grandma called Cooking The Co-op Way (1959), but that recipe called for shortening and I haven’t bought that in years!

I looked through a few more cookbooks and on line but anything that sounded tasty called for shortening or sour cream and I wasn’t going grocery shopping for a couple of more days. What to do? I guess I could have made something else, but I really wanted a chocolate coffee cake - so I decided to experiment and create my own new recipe. I compared ingredients and quantities in a handful of recipes, made some notes and rough calculations – then crossed my fingers and hoped my creation would turn out!

Not all of my creations have turned out good on the first try. Some have taken several attempts before I’m happy with the results, but I got lucky with this one! A couple of my friends have tasted this and assured me that this is awesome – a real keeper! So here it is for you to try:

Choco Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons margarine
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
¼ cup finely chopped almonds

½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup margarine
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1 egg
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray an 8” round or square pan with cooking spray such as Pam and set aside.

Topping: Combine first four ingredients and cut in margarine. Mix till crumbly. Stir in the chips and nuts then set aside while you prepare the cake batter.

Cake: Combine the first eight cake ingredients and then cut in the margarine. Mix until it resembles a fine crumb like mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. Add the egg and milk and mix thoroughly. Batter will be stiff. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Spread the topping mixture evenly over the batter and lightly press into the batter.

Bake for 30 minutes or until it tests done using the toothpick method. Cool on a wire rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Serves 8.


Ever have trouble measuring small amounts of margarine? Here is a simple method that I’ve been using for years:

Most cakes are generally made in a round pan, but cutting the pieces evenly isn’t always easy. I almost always use a square pan for baking and have figured out a simple way to cut it so that everyone gets an equal size portion – and an edge piece. The triangular pieces aren’t quite the same shape everyone expects but its the taste that really counts! Here is the method I use: