In an effort to save money and make calorie counting easier, local professional woman Tricia McMillian is making her own 100 calorie packs.
"Costco was really the impetus," Ms. McMillian said of her growing supply of snack-filled sandwich bags. "I discovered these crunchy Veggie Straws. They're really good, especially with hummus. Costco offers the option of pre-packaged individual serving sizes, which is what I was buying because it's so convenient to take a small bag to work for lunch," McMillian said, gushing over the benefit of a serving of vegetables in crunchy straw form, "but on a recent trip to Costco I noticed they also offer a giant bag of loose Veggie Straws. The giant bag of loose straws offers a $2.49 cost savings over the single serving bags. When I realized that a little light went off over my head. I thought, 'Trill, you can make your own 100 calorie single serving snack bags.'"
Citing the high cost of pre-packed 100 calorie single-serving snacks, Ms. McMillian admits her endeavor started as a way to manage her grocery budget. "I'm not made of money. Even though I shop in bulk and stay away from high-priced luxury food items, I was paying more and more and getting less and less on my grocery shopping trips. The stores can flash their '2 for $5' specials all they want. The reality is that you only get 4 - 6 single serving packs in those pre-made 100 calorie pack boxes. It's a rip off."
The size of the snack items in the pre-made single-serving packs was another source of contention with Ms. McMillian. "The cookies and crackers in those pre-made snack packs are really small. They're doll sized, like something you'd eat at a kid-sized table having a tea party with a 3-year-old. Granted, they may be geared for children, so I suppose miniature Teddy Grahams are appropriate in that regard. But I'm a grown woman and I always felt kind of silly eating a cookie or cracker that was so small I had to contort my fingers kind of funny to eat them. I really doubt any adult is fooled by the smaller sized snacks. No one's going to think they've eaten 20 normal sized cookies after devouring the micro-sized cookies." Ms. McMillian said she thinks most grown-ups would rather have two normal-sized cookies than 20 micro-cookies, "unless they have some sort of food dysmorphia issue."
Ms. McMillian's cost-cutting efforts don't stop at the bulk food products. "I found store-brand zip lock baggies on sale for $1.29 and stocked up on them. That's a huge savings over the national brand. They're thin but they're airtight enough to keep snacks fresh and crisp. I mean, $1.29 for 100 zip lock bags versus $2.98? No brainer. Store brand is the way to go." And the "snack size" zip lock bags? "Don't waste your money," Ms. McMillian emphatically recommended, "unless you really need to save space, the smaller snack sized bags are overpriced and unnecessary."
While it may seem like a lot of extra work, Ms. McMillian insists it's time well spent. She uses the food label as a guide for the portions. "Take Veggie Straws, for example," the snack pack enthusiast explained, "the mega bag says it has 26 servings. So, I count out 26 zip lock bags. Then, I count out the exact number of pieces in the suggested serving size and place them in a zip lock bag. I then use that bag as a gauge for the remaining bags. Usually I end up needing a couple more bags, in the case of Veggie Straws I typically get 28 to 29 snack packs, 2 to 3 more than the label says are in the bag."
Her home-made snack pack enterprise started with the Veggie Straws. Once she worked out the details and mastered creating her own Veggie Straw single serving packs, McMillian set her sights on other DIY single serving packs. She branched into Teddy Grahams, Cheez-It crackers, almonds, and baby carrots.
She's most proud of her trail mix. "That was a real eye-opener. I thought I was getting a good deal on the Kirkland brand single serving trail mix packs," Ms. McMillian said of the Costco store brand trail mix bags, "18 single serving bags for something like $14. That's less than $1/bag. But when I found a great sale on almonds and raisins, I thought I might as well make my own single serving trail mix. I bought bulk dried cranberries and mini-pretzels and mixed them with the almonds and raisins and made the single serving sized bags. It took some effort to calculate 100 calories of the mix, but I think I figured out a fairly accurate ratio per bag, give or take 10 calories. All said and done I ended up with 36 bags of trail mix and only paid $11 for the ingredients. And...I didn't have to dig out and throw away the pesky chocolate candies I don't like. Score!" Buoyed by her success with traditional trail mix DIY snack packs, the cost-savings portion-minded enthusiast and former Girl Scout created more exotic trail mix versions suiting her personal taste. "That's the beauty of making the snack packs yourself! You save money and get exactly what you want. Dried pineapple, macadamia nuts and sesame crackers bought in bulk combine to make 20 single serving snack bags with a hula flair for 50¢ - 75¢ per bag. Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I love that combination."
As she scooped dried apples, walnuts, raisins, almonds and Cheez-its into zip lock bags, the triumphant snack bagger enthused, "Cost savings and snacks personalized to suit my tastes? Win-win. I can't believe more people don't do this."