Cheap Family Eats: The Istanbul Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravelThis post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

There’s something for everyone in Istanbul – sights, sounds, smells, sweets and savories. The trick is finding your flavor… and on your budget.

Whenever possible, we shop at local groceries or markets and prepare most of our own meals. It saves money, and I don’t have to stress about which restaurant to choose. Too many good choices lead to an incredible amount of stress to pick the “right one.”

In Istanbul, neither an apartment nor a kitchen were in the cards for us. That’s just as well, though, because I only saw a few very small markets in Sultanahmet. We would’ve been out of luck had we relied on our culinary efforts alone to sustain us.

Maybe you’re also headed to Istanbul and your head is spinning at all the options. You might also secretly be wondering if your kids will boycott any and all attempts to experience local cuisine, lobbying intently for dinner at the familiar golden arches.

Have no fear! Here’s a quick guide to what our family bought and bit into while in Istanbul. And yes, there’s even a review of Turkish McDonalds!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

What to Order

In Sultanahmet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant gem without a guidebook or online reviews. Restaurants are a dime a dozen, and every last one of them has hired a hawker to welcome you, “my friend,” to eat at their establishment for “a very special price.”

However, you’ll also likely be frustrated in your attempts to decipher addresses and locate that particular Lokanta that garnered gangbuster reviews on Yelp.

So when you’ve had enough of everyone offering you “the best food in Istanbul,” when your feet are aching from all the miles you logged in the Grand Bazaar, and your kids won’t stop the are-we-to-the-restaurant-yet mantra, just pick a place and order one of these simple dishes.

  • Lahmacun — Similar to a pizza, Lahmacun is flatbread topped with a combination of meat, onions, and spices and then baked. It’s often served with fresh vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, or parsley. You can eat it like a pizza, fold it like a taco, or roll it up.
  • Kebaps — Kebap is similar to what you might already make on your BBQ at home: skewered, grilled meat. Lamb and beef are more common but chicken is also possible.
  • Döner – You may have seen these gigantic cylinders of meat rotating on a vertical spit at various places around the world (I first saw one in Russia). The meat is shaved and usually deposited in a portion of flatbread and then topped with vegetables and/or sauce. If you’ve been to Germany, you probably already know (and possibly love) Döner.
  • Köfte — A main dish resembling meatballs, Köfte are often made from ground lamb mixed with breadcrumbs and spices. The Köfte are usually grilled and sometimes served with other grilled vegetables.
  • For more well-known Turkish dishes with descriptions, I recommend checking out Witt Istanbul’s list.

Our Favorite Finds

Most hotels in Istanbul include breakfast in the nightly rate, and ours was no exception. Turkish breakfast turned out to be quite an adjustment for us since no one was really keen on olives and tomatoes for the first meal of the day. Read up on typical morning fare you can expect while in Turkey here.

For lunch and dinner, we just roamed. We did our best to find the recommended restaurants I had scribbled on my map. But, sometimes we failed, and I just picked what seemed both affordable and the least likely to give us food poisoning.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Most guides tell you not to eat street food in Istanbul. You don’t want to spend your time in Turkey getting to know the toilet.

One notable exception, however, is the fresh-squeezed juice. You MUST try the pomegranate. Each cup is pressed to order, and the flavor explodes – tart yet sweet – on your tongue. Expert tip: Start with the smallest size possible. The nectar is very strong, and you’ll want to try it before committing to a larger size.

Beans & rice is one of our staple meals at home. When I found out that there’s a Turkish version, I knew I had to try it. Surprise, surprise – we loved the Middle Eastern twist!

The best places to sample Kurufasulye (Turkish beans and rice) are near the Sulemaniye Mosque. We chose Ali Baba on the corner because it had stellar reviews, but other restaurants on that row serve similar dishes.

The beans are cooked in a spiced tomato sauce and the rice is more of a pilaf. We also sampled the couscous which was equally as flavorful. Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

As you walk across the Galata Bridge, you’ll see scores of amateurs and professionals doing their best to snag a decent day’s catch. It’s true that Turkish people love meat, but with its close proximity to the sea, fish is always available in Istanbul. Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

However, if you’re a bit on the fence about fish like I am, you can tread lightly and make a sampler dinner by ordering a fish sandwich to go from Furreyya Galata Balikcisi and supplementing with delicious falafel from Kikero Falafel across the street. We rounded out our meal by picking up drinks at a small market and walked back down toward the Karaköy tram station.

With food growing cold and tummies rumbling, we ended up making a picnic – right in the middle of the road. It was fabulous to be in the eye of the traffic hurricane while munching on moist fish and crispy falafel.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

You may have heard of the legendary Turkish coffee – stiff and gritty like the streets of Istanbul. Maybe grounds with your brew isn’t your thing, though, and you want something a bit more like your morning Joe at home.

Enter Kahve Dünyası. This western-style coffee shop serves carefully crafted caffeine as well as CHOCOLATE SPOONS. Seriously. I highly recommend sharing a treat here after a long (morning/afternoon/day) of haggling at the Grand Bazaar.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Typically, our diet leans heavily on the healthy side of the scale. Living in Germany forced me to make nearly everything from scratch and to appreciate simplicity of flavor and ingredients. So, it may come as a shock to you that Doc Sci and I have tried McDonalds in nearly every country we have visited. Yep, shameful but true.

Despite this reality, I never set out to taste-test Turkish McDonalds. Unfortunately, once my kids saw the big M, it was all over.

I find it funny that they ask for McDonalds and even consider it their favorite restaurant since I can count on one hand the times in their lives when we’ve eaten there. But, everyone has their breaking point. Four hours in the Grand Bazaar was theirs. If I wanted to bring home some lanterns, I was going to have to give up something in return. And so the if-you-don’t-whine-and-let-me-bargain-in-peace-I’ll-buy-you-gross-McDonalds-for-dinner plan was hatched.

Verdict? It’s pretty nasty as far as McDonalds goes. I’ve definitely had better Big Macs. But, they loved it, and I got my lanterns and no one threw up. That’s a win in my book.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Honorable Mention

  • Dondurmasi Ice Cream – This is one part entertainment, one part humor, one part ice cream thickened with mastic, among other things. There’s a shop with a show near the corner of Divan Yolu Cd. and Babı-Ali Cd. on the tram line. You can catch a preview of what’s in store for you here. The conniving cream peddler wasn’t at his post when we walked by, so we bought ice cream at the grocery store just north on Babı-Ali Cd. When we returned to Divan Yolu Cd., the show had begun. We ate our ice cream at a safe distance from the slick man and his stick.
  • For more restaurants gleaned from friends and guides, you are welcome to view my Google map here. I have not personally tried everything on the map, so I can’t guarantee every spot is open and of good quality. However, I always welcome a place to begin and a fall-back list in case I run out of time to complete my own research before traveling.

What’s your favorite Turkish food? If you were in Istanbul right now, what would you most look forward to tasting? Do you have any family- and/or budget-friendly restaurant recommendations to share? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?Grocery shopping – it’s either a mundane chore or an obsessive activity depending on who shares your shack. If you only cook for one or two, restocking the fridge may be an afterthought or even an annoyance. But for those with HUNGRY munchkins nipping at their heels, getting groceries is serious business.

While purchasing provisions in Germany vs. the US might not be as drastically different than, say, bartering for baloney in a rural Mongolian market, the discrepancies while abroad were enough to make me pine for the greener pastures of Publix, Kroger, and… Costco.

During my weekly German Aldi run, I longed for a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s. I was completely over the cashiers’ stares when I bought my standard ten liters of milk every Monday. Must I always insist that I am not feeding a herd of baby cows each week?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Rookie German grocery mistake: don’t buy more than your teeny fridge can hold.

In Germany, buying in bulk is just not a thing. Are you a big-box or warehouse shopper? Do you buy your milk by the liter or by the metric ton? I would’ve preferred the latter, but really, all I wanted was to shop at one store.


Super Size It

America has done such a bang-up job of exporting BIG abroad – BIG brands like Oreo and BIG companies like Coke (to say nothing of BIG hair and BIG bodies plastered on the BIG silver screen). Unfortunately, my homeland failed me in neglecting to force the rest of the world to jump on the jumbo food packaging train.

Did I count down the days until we could join an American warehouse club store? You betcha.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and Recipes

Shop Around

Beyond the super-sized milk jugs and bloated boxes of cereal, the second major annoyance focused on the necessity of patronizing a minimum of two grocery stores every week to purchase ingredients I needed or wanted. More often than not, I visited three OR MORE… e v e r y    w e e k.

Give a little shout out if you that routine sounds major awesome!! No one? Really..?

One store. That doesn’t seem to much to ask, does it?

You might say, but hey, don’t you often sign the praises of Aldi? Yes, you’ve caught me. I do love Aldi, so much so that I pitted German Aldi vs American Aldi in a supermarket smackdown which you can read here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Weekly Aldi grocery run.

Unfortunately, as a discount store that aims to keep prices low, Aldi does not and cannot carry everything. Another German grocer, Rewe, is as expensive as it is amazing. Most Rewe stores are sparkling clean with two or three times as many products as Aldi or Lidl. But, that variety comes at a premium. Prices at Rewe were too high to shop there exclusively.

Despite their advantage over Aldi in terms of options, even Rewe doesn’t carry cilantro for my homemade salsa or black beans for this cheesy Warm Chipotle Dip. Want to know why?

I’ll let you in on a little secret… many Germans do not like dishes that feature a lot of spices (the exception being, of course, currywurst). Plain Jane is the name of the German flavor game. Grocers in Deutschland don’t carry a plethora of ethnic products because the majority of German customers won’t buy them.

So, what if you want to buck the well-established German flavor system and cook delicious dishes like curries and stir fry? Where are you going to find the essential ingredients?Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

The best place for global cuisine staples is an Asian or Middle Eastern specialty shop. Since I just can’t live indefinitely without my red lentils or soba noodles, I added yet another stop to my grocery groove – the Turkish market.

Exhausting and irritating yet unavoidable for the flavor seeker – patronizing multiple stores was my weekly routine. And every time I did the dance, I dreamed of being about to shop at one store per week.

Just ONE.

Coming to America

By now, you’re thinking that the neighborhood Walmart sounds like a fabulous place to shop in comparison – yeah, you and me both. Well, okay, maybe not Walmart. That place sends me into an absolute panic.

As you can imagine, one of the things I looked forward to the most when moving back to the States was one-stop grocery shopping. One store – done.

Bahahahahaha. Boy, was I wrong.

In Arizona, we became Costco members, and I gleefully loaded my colossal shopping cart with industrial-sized laundry detergent, a city block of toilet paper, and enough ketchup to last me until the apocalypse. Those first few weeks of buyers bliss were seriously something awesome.Thrifty Travel Mama | Reverse Culture Shock: First Thoughts on Reentry

But, I soon realized something.

Costco really is fabulous, but it doesn’t carry all the produce we usually eat. Kroger has low prices, but they don’t have all the natural and organic foods I buy. Sprouts is a decent health food store, but even they don’t carry all the ethnic food ingredients needed for more exotic dishes.

Oh my… here we go again.

I still find myself frequenting at least two stores every week here in America, often three if I add Trader Joe’s in the mix.

The main difference is I zip around in my car instead of my bike, burning gas instead of calories, while stressing out about traffic instead of whether the heavens will open up and drench both me and my bike trailer full of groceries. Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Is Getting Groceries Easier in America?

Win, Lose, or Draw?

If neither Germany nor America can give me that one and done experience – will ANYONE win?

On the plus side for America, it really is nice to save money in the land of grocery competition where stores often sell items at a loss just to get you in the door. I am once again using coupons (though nowhere NEAR the level I did once upon a time) and shopping the sales.

But, other than that aspect – significant as it may be, I can’t say that the American market experience is much better in terms of value added. America just stocks more products, offers more choice, and advertises more options… all of which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for an expat in reverse culture shock recovery.Thrifty Travel Mama | Global Eatery - Sri Lanka

I do like that I can get any ingredient I need at nearly any time of day or night. And, yeah, the free samples at Costco and free cookies at Publix are a godsend when shopping with little boys. It’s also a big bonus to have my groceries bagged for me instead of having my meat and potatoes flung at me by an overzealous Aldi clerk because I’m not sacking them fast enough for her…

I don’t like that every time I go to the grocery store here, I am loaded up with a zillion and one plastic grocery bags. Where is the petition to ban these convenient nuisances from stores? Please, put my name at the tippy top.

Environmental concerns aside, those piles of plastic are a mushrooming monster, multiplying at an alarming rate and silently conquering every available nook and cranny in my house. At least German stores charge for plastic bags which passes the cost to the customer and makes one rethink how many bags are actually necessary.

Even if I can’t shop at one store, maybe I could make it out of each one with only ONE reusable bag instead of ONE thing in each plastic sea-creature-suffocating bag… A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green Tea

Wrapping Up

Contrary to my domestic daydreams, the grocery shopping grind in the US isn’t all I had hoped it would be. Despite living in the land of infinite possibility and choice, grabbing groceries every week at ONE store is simply not possible unless you possess (a) loads of cash that allow you to always pay full price or (b) a personal shopper who goes to all the various stores for you.

My one-and-done goal turns out to be downright unattainable under current circumstances. But, who knows? Maybe ONE day, that dream will come true.

What do you like and loathe about your weekly grocery trip? If you have grocery delivery, I would love to know your experience and if you think it simplifies things for your family.Signature Thrifty Travel MamaLead photo credit


Supermarket Smackdown – Aldi America vs. Aldi Germany

Thrifty Travel Mama | How Does Aldi USA Compare to Aldi Germany?I’m sure you’ve already gathered from my posts through the years that grocery shopping in Germany is not at all what it is in America. But, the two places do have one thing in common – they both have Aldi!

Which Aldi is better, east or west of the Atlantic? Could I get the same products on both continents?

And, if I could indulge in my favorite German treats every now and again, would this reverse culture shock beast be just a bit more manageable?

German Aldi

Do you have a default grocery store where you can be found nearly every week?

While living in Freiburg, Aldi was my jam. I couldn’t stay away. Their prices were just amazing, and we eventually came to love many of the off-brand products sold at ALDI SÜD.

When we returned to the US in 2014, I wondered what American Aldi would be like. Would they stock the best-tasting pretzel sticks, delicious organic yogurt, and balsamic vinegar from Italy?

Now, I did shop at Aldi a little bit in 2010 when the chain first came to Orlando. Confession: I didn’t like it one bit. In fact, I kind of hated it.

The store seemed a bit trashy, dirty, and the products of low quality. Truthfully, it was this first impression that made me hesitant to shop at German Aldi when we moved to Deutschland.

I soon came around though – German Aldi is awesome!

Thrifty Travel Mama | How Does Aldi USA Compare to Aldi Germany?

An Aldi store in Freiburg – no American Aldi is this cute.

American Aldi

Fast forward to the fall of 2014 when we arrived back in Orlando. Nerdy as we are – and more than slightly terrified of Walmart, we rounded the kids up and drove down to the neighborhood Aldi to check out the scene.

In the car, everyone shared their hopes of what might be on offer – chocolate, muesli, flips, pretzel sticks, flavored peanuts. We all had the jitters. A certain someone even dressed up for the occasion (search the photos for a clue..).

I’m certain we are the only people to have ever darkened Aldi’s door with that much excitement.

Stepping out of the car, we first noticed that the lack of carts in the parking lot. Yes! Grab your quarters boys and girls, because otherwise you’ll find yourself without a shopping cart. Since this is standard in German supermarketsno free carts there and no exhausted teenage employees corralling them – we felt instantly at home (seriously, nerds).

Quarters in our fists, we raced to the entrance. First shock: the tiled floor had to have been bought by the truckful at rock bottom prices because it was just. that. ugly. The décor didn’t invite me to relax and part with my entire paycheck (apparently Aldi needs to take a cue from her cousin Trader Joe’s). The store seemed almost deserted save one or two uniformed employees.

Things were not looking good.

I prepared myself for disappointment, but then a mere three feet later I spotted it… Moser Roth chocolate! Could it be? The very same bars I used to buy in Germany? No way – impossible! But yes, the brown bar had indeed crossed the ocean just to be gobbled up yours truly.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How Does Aldi USA Compare to Aldi Germany?


Further on down the aisle, our kids found their favorite muesli – made in Germany! – that just so happened to be about the same price as it was at “home.”

Ohhh, things were certainly looking up. Dare I hope for even more delights?

Every few meters, we found treasures. Mustard made in Germany. Peanut butter flips – those crunchy puffs of nutty goodness that are like Cheetos but with savory peanut butter instead of cheese.Thrifty Travel Mama | How Does Aldi USA Compare to Aldi Germany?

But there, in the middle of the store, lay the most thrilling find of all… Weihnachten (Christmas) treats! Nearly every standard sugary German Christmas delight waited patiently, calling my name, begging to be bought.

At the end of the display, I spotted our family’s absolute favorite – Spekulatius cookies. Though the ingredient list appeared identical to the German version, I remained skeptical. They couldn’t really be the same, could they?

In the interest of blog research (naturally), I put the American version to the test. Oh, how glorious to discover that these sweet gems look and taste the same as the biscuits sold in our old Aldi in Freiburg. Hallelujah – thank you, Jesus! Christmas cookie time cannot come soon enough…Thrifty Travel Mama | How Does Aldi USA Compare to Aldi Germany?

At this point, we couldn’t be much higher on joy. The only thing that might have nudged us to the very top of the scale would have been authentic German bread and fresh-baked pretzels.

Nice try, but no.

Unfortunately, American Aldi does not carry any German bread besides Fitness Brot (like this). The rest of the bread selection disappointed, only squishy American carbs full of additives and preservatives.

No German pretzels, and no fresh bakery. I might have shed a tear or two.

For my curious German readers, we didn’t see a tub of Quark anywhere, but I recently spotted a promising product at SuperTarget with the words “Creamy German Style” on the label.

The Verdict

So, which one is better?! It’s a tough call, but one that someone’s going to have to make. If I didn’t already love German Aldi, I don’t think I’d give a hoot about Aldi in the US. And, while American Aldi scores massive points for carrying many of our favorite munchies, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. We love you ALDI SÜD!!

Sadly, no Aldi stores exist in Arizona, so I won’t be looking to Aldi to cure my reverse culture shock any time soon. The nearest one is in Texas, but I read recently that Aldi plans to give the southern California area a run for its (grocery) money. One can only pray and hope.

Until Aldi moves in next door, would I drive four hundred miles for muesli and cookies? You betcha!

What’s one of your favorite treats from a place you used to live? Would you drive four hundred miles to stock up on precious ingredients or products you love?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama Image Credit



Walmart is Terrifying! – Notes on Reverse Culture Shock

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceHere’s another post written during the first few weeks of our return to the US in the fall of 2014.

One of the things that scares me the most about returning to America after four years in Germany is the dreadful reverse culture shock. It’s nasty, sometimes hard to identify, and manifests itself differently in each person.

The last time I went through reverse culture shock, it wasn’t so bad. I was in my early twenties and had spent the better part of a year in Russia. I was single, and I only experienced a few weeks of floundering before I had to buck up and finish my last semester of university. I’m sure it was worse than I remember, but I moved on quickly.

This time around I have four other people to think about besides myself and none of them has the slightest idea of what lies ahead.

So far, Charlie hasn’t noticed a thing except that there is an abundance of snacks here ranging from slightly salty to serious sugar high. He hasn’t met one he didn’t like. Obviously, he’ll be fine.

Bravo is distracted by all the big-kid Lego he now owns. We had been saving the transition from Duplo to Lego to hype as a major perk of moving to America. Now that we’ve made the switch, he likely thinks we’re on a continuous Lego shopping trip which is a win in his book. He’ll also be fine.

Alpha is not happy with all the homeschooling we are doing (to catch up on taking a few months off to pack and move). He thinks it strange when I refer to everyday items and places using German names (Spielplatz instead of “playground”). German is NOT cool in his book. But other than that, he appears to be fine.

Perhaps things with these three boys will get worse when we actually settle somewhere and they have to integrate into school, church, sports, clubs, neighborhood friends, etc.

Update, September 2015: No ill effects other than disdain for speaking German in the US. Apparently, Germany never happened in their minds except when random memories pop up. They don’t express any emotions at these memories; only facts are stated.

As for Doc Sci and I… oh sure, we smile and share a box of Cheez-Its, but inside? We are freaking out.

I strive to play the good American. I hop in my car, drive the one mile to Walmart, and do my best to “pick up a few things.”

At the superstore, I go inside for milk, cookies (because, you know, the Oreo aisle), and a piece of poster board.

Several hours later, I emerge.. My bags are laden with three kinds of cookies, two peanut butter candy bars, hummus, pita chips, four boxes of cereal, one piece of poster board, and the latest anti-aging moisturizer because this move is giving me wrinkles… but, no milk.

Crappity crap. Cookies without milk.

I’m too terrified to go back in that freaky big box again, so I just leave and go home minus milk for the cookie smorgasbord.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Walmart is Terrifying! And Other Notes on Reverse Culture Shock

Walmart.. once you go in, you may never get out. Photo

I found this article browsing through an old issue of Cooking Light that just happens to be a perfect picture of the American grocery store experience.

Spend two hours in a big supermarket, not shopping, just studying the food and customers, trying to take every bit of it in, trying to receive fresh clues about an everyday activity.


Ninety minutes in, you may find yourself having an out-of-body experience, as if wandering the aisles with Timothy Leary’s ghost. Such is the hallucinatory effect when you open your mind to all the brands, claims, data, memes, and pop culture icons that crowd shelves and packages, hooting and hollering for attention.


There are as many as 40,000 products in a supermarket, just one of which, if you stop to study it, is a cereal that offers nine health-related bits of information on the front of the box and 134 bits of information about nutrition and ingredients overall.


Now that you’re in the cereal aisle, walk its length. There are 28 paces of product, five shelves high: a staggering number of variations on the single theme of something crunchy to pour milk over.


Of 137 cereal products, about 93 look to be sugary. But there are also sugar-free cereals, low-added-sugar products, “natural” products, and products containing urgent amounts of fiber… (full text here)

If I could sum up our current state in one word, it would be overload.

For someone who is used to shopping at a grocery store that is approximately the size of two, three-bedroom American homes put together, the sheer size of Walmart is the first hurdle.

The second is the vast amount of choice. My German neighborhood Aldi stocked four kinds of chips. FOUR. How do you pick between the 6,902 varieties here? Either you are required to take the time to read every.single.label to check for hidden chemicals and unwanted ingredients or you are forced to not care.

And speaking of reading labels, I had forgotten how long ingredient lists are in the US. Friday night dinners in our house are usually fun, lazy cooking kid-friendly affairs.

In Germany, I would often pick up frozen chicken strips and oven-bake fries to serve with a quick salad. The chicken strips were composed of chicken (as in actual pieces, not that weird pink puree), flour, spices, salt, and maybe some broth. Less than 8 ingredients and nothing I couldn’t pronounce, even auf Deutsch.

And those fries? Potatoes, sunflower oil, salt. Nothing hydrogenated or hydrolyzed.

Short, straightforward ingredient lists are scarce in a vast majority of American food products. Here’s another snippet from the Cooking Light article I quoted above…

Keep walking and watching—all aisles… Sugar, fat, and salt, the three sirens of the American diet, still seem front-loaded in so many products.


A “light” 3-ounce snack pack intended for one child contains 77 ingredients, 17 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, and 620 milligrams of sodium.


Mark Bittman, crusading New York Times columnist and cookbook author, would say that a lot of this food is not even “real,” inasmuch as he finds it not “recognizable by appearance or flavor as what it was when it started.”


Little cans of propellent-powered cheese spread insist that they are, however, “made of real cheese!” (full text here)

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. I’ve been encouraged to see so many American brands rolling out product lines with a “simple” theme featuring fewer ingredients and no artificial chemicals. It’s just so dang difficult to find them in the sea of 40,000 products all vying for your attention and money.

So, while my kids are loving the free-flowing Goldfish crackers and I’m enjoying a cold glass of dark chocolate almond milk, I have to admit I’m straddling the line… the line that separates the “food is better for you Germany” from “but choice is what makes America awesome.”

I miss my little Aldi with it’s limited choice. Though, if I dig down deep, I have to admit I don’t miss it enough to say it was better or that I wish I could go back to shopping there every week.

Yes, there’s still a teeny part of me – my residual “Americanness” – that enjoys a smattering of choice and the convenience of being able to get almost any product at nearly any time, day or night. But this unmitigated freedom and overabundance of choice leaves me exhausted.

What I really crave is the simplicity that comes out of choosing from only a few products that are truly made well.

I know it’s only a matter of time before I fully jump the fence on to the American side – joining Costco and buying my toilet paper in 100-roll packs. But, for now, we’re stuck in the overwhelmed stage of culture shock… eating our way out one Cheez-It at a time.

Since writing this post, I have (ahem) joined Costco. The plethora of choice still paralyzes me at times, such as when I visit a new restaurant that offers too many options on the menu. I still find myself lost at Walmart and end up leaving with things I don’t need and without the things I do.

So, what do you think about the abundance of choice in the US? Love it? Hate it? Do you get overwhelmed with too many options or frustrated with too few?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Expats Move Home: Do We Miss Germany?

Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany“Do you miss Germany?”

I get asked this all.the.time, and the answer is a resounding, YES!

The more difficult question involves what we miss about Germany, because there are things we most definitely do NOT miss. Hang on to your hats – that list is coming next.

In struggling to adapt back to American culture, I find myself often looking back on our European adventure with rose-colored glasses.

It seems that in every frustrating encounter with our broken American healthcare, every failure to communicate in my native language, every awkward social encounter with a spandex-clad, minivan-wielding soccer mom.. I want to quit. I want to give up and go back. I long for the “good ol’ days.”

But, were those olden days really… good?

If so, then what was good?

Over the past months, I’ve been compiling a list – both for you and for me. For you, the curious – and for me, the perspective. In no particular order, here is what I miss the most about living in Europe.


This is where I truly struggle the most. America boasts many treasures, and I don’t discount that fact. But, they are all American and relatively new in the history of the world.

What I adored about living in Freiburg was the ability to hop in the car and find myself in a completely different country and/or culture in a half a day’s drive (or less).Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

The European landscape is littered with old castles and ancient fortresses. And, if the drive to a new place seemed too long, budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet made further-flung destinations just a quick flight away.

I guess the ancient old-world feel of Europe is just my style. I could explore and photograph charming provincial villages and never tire of the rustic old stones, writhing iron, chiseled wood.

America has a different look that makes her special and unique. Sadly, Route 66 and Palm Springs just don’t do it for me. Perhaps that will change with time. For now, all I want is to be lost in the hill towns of Tuscany.

There’s also something to be said about the European idea that vacation time is a necessity, not a luxury. And while not every European can afford to spend a month in Spain, nearly every one of them receives much more time off than the average American… and the European uses it.

Riding My Bike

When we were searching for jobs last fall, Doc Sci and I desperately wanted to find and move to a walkable or bikeable community. We longed to keep some of that liberating feeling of using our own two legs to get us wherever we need to go.

While our current city is on the smaller side and thankfully doesn’t have too much traffic, it is NOT set up for getting around on two wheels.

For starters, American drivers just absolutely do not watch out for cyclists. I know, because I used to be one of those drivers. Retraining my brain to check the bike lane at every intersection in Germany was not easy, and I constantly worried about accidentally hitting a pedestrian or cyclist.Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

Here in the US, you’re often taking your life in your hands using the bike lane. I know some people do it and don’t die. But with kids? Forget it.

I have tried riding on the sidewalk with the boys to a few places only to discover that sidewalks exist only on certain streets, abruptly beginning or ending without rhyme or reason. It’s there one block and gone the next. Rarely do the sidewalks extend along the full length of our route, forcing us to venture onto the actual road (yikes).

I guess we’ll have to stick with mountain biking or cycling nature trails. Enjoyable – but not at all the same.

Simplicity of Food

You can find many American foods in German supermarkets such as Coca Cola, Oreos, Pringles, etc.; but beware – these goods are not exactly the same. Sure, American Oreos and German Oreos share a common product name, but the ingredient lists are not identical!

American packaged food is often full of chemicals – preservatives, artificial colors, fake sugars. In Germany, soda is made with real sugar, and artificial ingredients are uncommon due to strict labeling laws and a population of consumers that prefer things au natural.

If I want to buy a simple bag of pretzel sticks in the US, I have to search multiple brands and products in order to find one with a short ingredient list and few allergens (and they ALL have sugar!).

Not one single product could boast an ingredient list like the ubiquitous German Salzstangen: flour, water, oil, salt, malt, and yeast.Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

In Deutschland, we grew accustomed to eating whole foods; only rarely did we buy something prepared. In the US, it often feels impossible to find raw ingredients for a decent price. Why is it that packaged food costs less in America than simple pantry staples?

No Bags at the Grocery Store

Can this really be a thing to miss? I have never been much of a staunch environmentalist (though I do think it’s important to care about the earth), but I appreciate a minimalist approach to life, especially with kids.

I have three growing boys, and they want to eat three meals a day and two snacks for some reason (the nerve!). As you can imagine, we buy a car-ful of groceries every week.

At first, I brought my reusable bags everywhere. But, I often forgot to hand them over before the cashier started bagging my items (often double bagging!). I ended up with bushels and bushels of these stupid nuisances within just a few weeks.

The waste drives me nuts; and the effort to recycle them is just one.more.thing to remember when I shop. Now, I just leave the reusable bags in the car and ask for no bags or use the self-checkout when I want to avoid the stares and comments (are you SURE you don’t want ANY bags?!).


During our cross-country move, I ducked into a store to grab a few things for dinner at the hotel. The woman in front of me in line whipped out a checkbook to pay for her groceries. A check?! Who pays with a check?

The cashier didn’t even know how to process the thing. I just stared. What is this, the 90s?

Nope, it’s 2015 in America – but, we’re still living in the dark ages of banking.

If you want to pay someone in Germany, you simply ask for their bank account number, and you transfer the money. It’s simple and free. Stores accept cash, debit, and sometimes credit. Chip and PIN cards and TAN blocks make transactions secure. If you’re curious, you can read more about German banking here.

While e-banking has changed by leaps and bounds since 2010 and nearly every business accepts some form of electronic payment, the last holdouts still cling to the comfort of old-fashioned checks. I have at least two payees that only accept cash, check, or money order (speaking of relics..). The sooner these antiquated bits of paper make their way from pocketbooks to museums, the better.

Freedom to Roam

Did you know that first graders in Germany are expected to walk themselves to and from school? Sure, parents are encouraged to show the kids the way, even walk the route with them a few times to practice. But then the parents should leave the child be to walk alone.

I’ll admit, I am not ready to give my seven year-old that kind of freedom. But, I do think he should be able to play on our street and in our neighborhood and work up to walking to the park or library by himself when he’s ready. Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

I want my kids to roam freely without fear that I will face repercussions for allowing such actions. Tsh from The Art of Simple discusses her wish for the same thing and gives a rallying cry that we, as a culture, need to stop blaming and start trusting our neighbors and each other. Amen.

Along with allowing our kids the freedom to wander, Germans allow their children to take risks. Playgrounds in Deutschland are full of every kind of wonder that would never be allowed on American soil. The risk of injury and subsequent lawsuit is just too great in the US.

Thrifty Travel Mama | What We Miss About Germany

German playgrounds don’t sport signs or warnings such as those pictured here.

Fresh Bread

Ask a German in the US what they miss about home, and the words BREAD and BAKERIES will come flying out of their mouth. I never understood why they thought their carbs were so much better. Up until 2010, I ate squishy loaves with the rest of America, laden with dozens of ingredients, multiple allergens, and a hearty dose of preservatives.

In Germany, every grocery store offers freshly baked bread, sans preservatives. Some stores like Lidl even offer a machine where you can slice the whole loaves yourself. Bakeries exist on nearly every corner. Why? Bread is important to Germans, and – I’ll let you in on a little secret – that bread tastes amazing when it’s fresh.

Fast forward to 2014. We’re back in the US, hunting the local store for something to bookend turkey and cheese.

First, we check ingredients; lists read like a food science textbook. None can stick with the basics like flour, yeast, salt, and water. I decide I’ll be generous and settle for allowing a bit of sugar or honey. But no, even this is not enough. I have to wade through -ates and -ites and countless dough conditioners (what the CRAP are those?).

Giving up, we then move on to the squeeze test. If the loaf squishes easily like your favorite pillow, it’s out. Each package crumples like a deflated balloon with the slightest touch.

Nearly a year later, we still have yet to find a great bread here that isn’t made from scratch at home or costs $5+ a loaf. If you know of one, please share it in the comments below.

German Speakers

Over the course of four years, I grew accustomed to hearing German spoken and the quiet that surrounded my lack of fluency. And, since I lived in a university town, I shared the streets with people from all over the world. My neighbors were from Israel, Ghana, India, Tunisia, and China. I loved that.

Yes, America is very diverse and many cities in the US host various ethnic populations. Just not my city. It’s starkly… white. And, considering it’s Arizona, I rarely even hear Spanish being spoken.

Earlier this year, I saw two young men that looked to be from India walking out of Costco as I was walking in. I fought the urge to rush over and ask them where they hung out, where they bought Indian groceries, what the best places were to eat Indian food. In the end, I restrained myself. Out of context, my questions might come across as, well, creepy. I didn’t want to be the one to scare off the only Indians in the city!

Wrap Up

Well, there you have it. All the things I miss and can’t easily obtain in my current place and time. Our German expat experience was incredible; but, it wasn’t all castles and chocolate. For the things I don’t miss, come back on Wednesday.

What things do you miss from a place you used to live or visit frequently? What did you do to cope?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Supermarket Souvenirs – Scotland

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandWondering what to buy from Scottish supermarkets either for yourself or the folks back home? Shortbread is the obvious place to start. But don’t buy these butter-laden treats from the expensive tourist shops in town. Stock up at the supermarket!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandScottish stores have no shortage of shortbread (ha). Walkers is the most famous, but step out and try other brands. We even found gluten-free shortbread at Sainsbury’s.

To be clear, shortbread is not actually bread, but a cookie (er, biscuit, sorry). And to eat it properly, you need tea. Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandPerhaps you’ve heard of English Breakfast Tea. But, did you know there’s such a thing as Scottish Breakfast Tea? The Kitchn explains the difference, but you can read it for yourself right on the package. It’s especially made to be brewed with soft Scottish water. So do make a pot while you’re in country.Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandIf you’re going to go to all the trouble to make tea while on holiday, you may as well pick up some tea cakes from Tunnock’s. These little calorie bombs are a puff of marshmallow placed on a biscuit and coated in chocolate. While you’re at it, pick up a package of Tunnock’s caramel wafer biscuits. Apparently, they’re the national treat!Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandIf you’d like something that more resembles actual cake to go along with that tea, unwrap the famed Kirriemuir Gingerbread. Again not bread, this treat hails from the same town as the author and playwright J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame. Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandAnother sugary snack is what’s known as tablet. It looks like fudge, but it’s not soft. Our pal wikipedia clarifies.. “Tablet is a medium-hard, sugary confection from Scotland. Tablet is usually made from sugar, condensed milk, and butter, boiled to a soft-ball stage and allowed to crystallize. It is often flavoured with vanilla, and sometimes has nut pieces in it.” YUM!Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandIf you’re a texture eater and can’t get over the crumbly consistency of tablet, you may as well go ahead and try the fudge instead. You’ll have plenty of brands to choose from, but Mrs Tilly’s is quite famous.. and apparently gluten-free, too!Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandAre you in a sugar coma yet? Let’s take a break from the sweets and go with another traditional Scottish food, the oatcake. I saw a zillion and one brands, flavor, and texture varieties at the grocery store. These little rounds are quite the versatile meal ingredient, and they can be served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandI’d be remiss not to mention haggis, but given my absolute abhorrence when it comes to organ-based dishes, I can’t offer any personal recommendations without wretching. (I am not an adventurous eater..)

I found these haggis chips (crisps) flavored with sheep parts for those who only want a taste without the liver-full commitment.Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandAre you sick to your stomach? No, just me? Well, a little carbonation should help. Irn-Bru is the Scottish soda to try (unless, of course, you’d rather have a Scotch & soda..). It’s bright orange with a very unique taste. I’m not sure how to describe it, but if you like Mountain Dew and all it’s variations such as Code Red, you’ll probably like Irn-Bru.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - Cheap Treats from ScotlandAnd last, but not least, this Saltire rock candy is a fun way to bring home the Scottish flag. Bonus: it tastes like Irn-Bru!

What are your favorite supermarket souvenirs from Scotland?  Anything I missed?

Headed to Edinburgh?  Check out my posts about visiting Scotland with kids!Signature-Marigold

Capturing Everyday Memories: A Day in Our Life

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo ProjectOkay, okay, enough with resolutions and words-of-the-year.  If you really want to know, mine is “intention,” but I really like “go” and “focus” that my friends have chosen.  If you’ve selected a word like I have or written a few resolutions, have you considered a project or tangible action to correspond to or capture your efforts to reach your goals?

Last year, I committed to doing Project 365.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically taking (at least) one photo per day for an entire year.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo Project

Doc Sci took this photo of the boys’ morning vitamins. I find it hilarious!

It sounds easy enough, but I didn’t want to be stuck snapping pictures of my boys just because they were conveniently always there.  I wanted my final set of 365 photos to be filled with variety and unique views.  Since I kind of get lost when I don’t have an idea to start with, I used the daily prompts from Fat Mum Slim. They’re free and ambiguous enough that you can make them fit your life situation no matter where in the world you happen to be.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo Project

I started out so well in January, but… by July, I wanted to throw in the towel.  It ended up being just one more thing on my to do list.  Many days, “taking photos” didn’t make the cut which turned into a source of frustration for my commit-and-follow-through personality.

Since I tried the same project 365 the year before and gave up after Big Foot was born, I wanted to press on and actually accomplish the goal in 2013.  I did.  But now, I am staring at 365 photos that I want to edit before I display, and in those famous words, ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.So, I’m turning to my old faithful project, a Day in the Life.  I wrote about it back in 2011, and I’m still doing a book every year.  One photo a day?  Completely overwhelming at times.  One photo book per year?  That, apparently, is more my speed.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo Project

My weekly grocery shop – the backseat of my Phil & Teds loaded to the brim. If you’ve ever grocery shopped in Germany, you’ll know that this drives the cashiers completely mad.  See all my milk cartons?  And more are buried…

In the spirit of celebrating everyday moments (with “intention” and “focus” and boy, are we always on the “go”), consider doing a Day in the Life project.  It’s only one day, and then you’re done!

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo Project

I homeschool T-Rex in the afternoons to get him ready for the possibility of entering first grade in the US. This particular day, he cut up a paper snowflake and turned it into a creepy Silence of the Lambs mask.  That wasn’t part of the curriculum, just in case you were wondering.

We recently found some old videos of T-Rex when he was one year-old.  We had forgotten how much he chattered away, how chubby he was, and what life was like with only one child (oh my!). Even better, the boys loved watching these videos and seeing younger versions of themselves.  My hope is that these annual day-in-the-life books (I’m renaming them A Day in our Life) will have the same effect.  Thrifty Travel Mama | A Day in (Our) Life - Annual Photo Project

Just to clarify, I’m not dissing Project 365 in any way.  In fact, I’m toying with the idea of committing myself to editing one of those photos per day as a way to look back on what we were doing on the same day last year and have 365 photos ready to print and put in a physical album.  But the enormity of the task is just not something my overflowing plate can handle at the moment.  Better luck in 2015!

So what do you do to preserve your everyday moments and family memories?  Do you have any keepsake ideas that fit into my theme of intention?Signature-Marigold

GIVEAWAY (Closed): Win an Italian Not-Exactly-Coffee Break!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyUpdate: Giveaway is now closed.

Can’t make it to Italy any time soon, but want to try some Italian supermarket souvenirs I’m giving away an Italian not-exactly-coffee break! 

Here’s what’s inside:

  • Orzo Bimbo – A caffeine-free coffee alternative packaged in a container sure to make you chuckle every time you open your cabinet. (more on orzo here)
  • Ghiottini Cantucci – Authentic Tuscan biscotti, made in Firenze.
  • Ritter Sport Espresso Chocolate – From Germany, but Italian-inspired!

And here’s how to enterone entry per email address (required):

  1. Click over to Our Tuscan Family Adventure post, and pick which item on our Italian bucket list you enjoyed the most.
  2. Then come back here, and leave a comment telling me which post was your favorite and why.
  3. You must leave a comment on THIS post; comments on the Tuscan Family Adventure post will NOT count!!

Extra entries – may be earned once per day:

  • Facebook – Share the giveaway on your timeline, and then come back here and leave a comment letting me know you did so.  (If you haven’t liked TTM on Facebook yet, now would be a good time to do that!)
  • Twitter – Tweet about the giveaway, and then come back here, and leave a comment letting me know you did so.
  • Pinterest – Pin your favorite image from the post you chose from Our Tuscan Adventure.  Then come back here, and leave a comment letting me know you did so.
  • Tag – Make sure to use @T_Travel_Mama and #tuscancoffeebreak where applicable!

Other fine print:

Contest ends on Friday, October 11, at 6pm EST.  A winner will be chosen at random and notified via email within 48 hours.  Winners must claim their prize within five days, or a new winner will be chosen.  Contest open to readers worldwide. Giveaway sponsored by Thrifty Travel Mama.

Good luck!!

Congratulations to Manda – look for an email from me soon 🙂


Italian Supermarket Souvenirs… and a GIVEAWAY!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyHowdy there, and happy Monday!  Today I’m sharing some fun souvenir ideas that can be found in Italian supermarkets.  If you’re headed to Italy any time soon, you’ll want to make some notes.

But, even if you won’t be able to wander the aisles of the local supermercado in person, I’ve done a little shopping for you, and I’m giving a supermarket souvenir prize pack away to one lucky reader!  A link to the giveaway is located at the end of this post.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyLet’s start with the obvious – pasta.  An Italian grocery store is full of all kinds of great noodle shapes in various sizes.  I wouldn’t suggest wasting luggage weight on plain ol’ penne, so look for something that’s made regionally, such as pici.  If you peek in the kiddie aisle, you’ll notice several types of pasta made just for babies and toddlers!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyThrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyYou’ll need to dress up those carbs somehow, and you’ll find an assortment of gourmet pasta sauces in the next aisle.  But remember, most Italians make their own (and you can too!), so you may be better off carting home a few tins of San Marzano tomatoes.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyAnd, while we’re on the subject of making your own, find the flour aisle and look for Farina Tipo 00.  This is one of the two kinds of flour that Italians use to make pasta and pizza (the other is semolina, but I wouldn’t bother making room for it in your luggage since it’s more readily available outside of Italy).  For a fun gift idea, pick up a pizza dough mix like the one above and an Italian-style rolling pin.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyMmmmmm, cheese!  Okay, this isn’t going to make it home in your suitcase, but I highly recommend trying some Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.  I must warn you, however, that it’s not cheap.  Doc Sci found this big block with major sticker shock – 82 euros!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyLet’s talk liquids.  Realistically, you won’t be lugging any five-liter bottles of olive oil home in your checked luggage.  But, if you’re driving or are able to wrap up a smaller bottle carefully, I’d highly recommend purchasing a bit of true Italian extra virgin olive oil.  Olives in tins are a bit more manageable for air travel.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyI’m sure I don’t even have to mention that it’s imperative to give the local wines a try.  If you can’t cart any home, just share a bottle in your hotel room.  If you’re clueless about wine like I am, look for a bottle that bears the name of a hill town you’ve explored.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyGood quality balsamic vinegar comes with a hefty price tag.  But the bottles are small, pretty, and make excellent gifts.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyMoving on to sweets… These Pan di Stelle cookies were a big hit with our family.  If chocolate star cookies with sprinkles aren’t your thing, you’ll still find something tasty to try.  The cookie aisle is as big as the pasta aisle!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyPizelles are a type of Italian cookie – crispy, paper thin, and flavored with anise.  These snappy suckers are addicting.  Check the bakery for a fresh batch!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyNever heard of pizelles?  Don’t worry, you’re probably more familiar with biscotti (or cantucci as they’re known in Tuscany).  The most traditional type is made with almonds, but the chocolate chunk variety is delicious as well.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyNeed some coffee to go with all those cookies?  Pick up some espresso powder, or try orzo.  Wait, whaaaaat is that?  It’s a hot drink made from toasted barley that Italians often serve to their children since it contains no caffeine.  Some orzo can be made like coffee or espresso (in a machine or with a filter).  Other types are instant (look for solubile).  Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyIf you’re staying in a villa or vacation rental, grab a few pints of the local gelato and throw a tasting party.  Fancy schmancy toppings can be found near the ice cream in the freezer section and should make it all the way home without melting.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - ItalyIf five liters of olive oil just isn’t a realistic souvenir for you, check out the many olive oil products available.  Italians literally bathe in the stuff.  I’ve seen bar soap, hand soap, dish soap, body wash, lotion, etc. made with olive oil.  Just check to make sure you like the fragrance first!

And now for that giveaway I mentioned…

Can’t make it to Italy any time soon, but want to try some Italian supermarket souvenirs?  I’m giving away an Italian not-exactly-coffee break!  Click here for details. 

But first, let me know in the comments, what Italian supermarket souvenirs would you like to take home?


Make It Yourself: Bagels!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!A bagel is as practical as you can get when it comes to breakfast on the road.  Back when the bagel first became a hot item, bakers could easily display and transport the goods thanks to the giant hole in the middle.

Nowadays, that hole is the perfect size for little hands and an excellent vehicle for a nutritious on-the-go meal.  Fill it with peanut butter, almond butter, cream cheese, whatever!Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!There’s just one problem.

Germans aren’t into bagels.  Oh, the horror!  But, ’tis true, my Panera- and Einstein-loving friends.  Once or twice a year, the discounter grocery stores sell a package of 3 or 4 “American” bagels full of preservatives.  Outside of that offering, you’ll have to settle for a whole roll.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!So, why not try your hand at making bagels yourself?

Actually, I have tried once or twice.  But, I used the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I love their dough.. for bread.  The bagels turned into a sticky, sloppy disaster.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!I’d given up when I came across this recipe on A Beautiful Mess for everything bagels.  Emma always makes everything look so easy.. and gorgeous!

I resolved to give bagel baking another shot… and score!  We all loved these and chowed down on them while driving through Switzerland on our way to Schilthorn in the Alps.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!For the recipe, hop on over to A Beautiful Mess.  Since comments there are closed, if you make these everything bagels, leave one here instead to let me know how they turned out!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!Need more road trip meal ideas?  I’ll be posting more on this topic very soon!  Until then, click over to my Pinterest board, Meals For Traveling Families, to check out hundreds of ideas.