Free Printable: Monthly Meal Planning Step-by-Step Worksheet

Start meal planning today with this free printable step-by-step worksheet!

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Need some help getting organized? Try meal planning! Use this easy step-by-step worksheet to guide you through meal planning for a whole month of family meals.

Stuck on what recipes to use? See my family-approved Recipes for ideas.

Not sure how to meal plan? Follow along with my Meal Plans to see how I’ve done it.

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Meal Planning for March 2016

March madness ensues… another meal plan, this one for 5 full weeks!

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February’s meal plan results are in, and it’s officially a success! Everyone has been fed, nutrients have been provided, and no one has complained about what was for dinner.

In terms of groceries, I’ve run out of tomatoes, eggs and peanut butter. There’s a shelf with just three cans: mushrooms, black beans, and chickpeas, and that last can of chickpeas is almost ready to be sacrificed in the name of hummus… Flour is low but not gone, and the skim milk powder is the only thing still going strong.

But…

All the meals were cooked as planned and we didn’t run out of variety.

And…

I was close to my (adjusted) budget of $125 per week, coming in at an average of $129 per week.

I can move forward now, using the same process as before, just refined a bit with what I’ve learned in tow.

Onto March Meal Planning!

#1: Identify your goals

Thinking back to Meal Planning 101, this is my opportunity to figure out just what it is I’m trying to do, so that I can stay focused on what’s important.

For March, my goals are similar to February. I need to plan meals that:

  1. …are Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. …stay on budget (after last month, I’m aiming for $130 a week, for 5 weeks worth of planning).

  3. …rely on slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays to accommodate my and my husbands out-of-house activities.

  4. …are quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday, to allow for the fastest food possible.

  5. …have carbs on the side to allow me to follow a moderate carb intake.

  6. …leave leftovers for lunches to allow me and Gord to eat well at work.

Side note: you may notice I’m not including vegetarian meals as a goal. Even though I enjoy going weekday vegetarian, my current need for low-carb options has shut this down temporarily. Vegetarian meals are, unfortunately for me, usually carb-loaded. So I’m going to forego another month of veggie meals for the sake of keeping the carbs at bay. I figure come June I can switch back.

#2: List out recipes that help you achieve your goals

What recipes can I make that allow me to achieve these goals?

My first goal is nonnegotiable: Healthy foods for my toddler.

Goal 2 (within budget) means I’ll aim to re-use ingredients across multiple meals. This means rejecting recipes that use rare or expensive ingredients that might spoil.

Goal 3 (slow cooker twice a week) will take some attention – 10 unique meals in a slow cooker? I’m up for that challenge!

Goal 4 (quick to prepare) will take some attention as well. Nothing’s worse than spoiling my toddler’s dinner because a girl’s gotta eat and mommy’s too slow…

My final goal (carbs on the side) is flexible, so long as I don’t make… um… mac and cheese in rice porridge sauce? I think I’ll pull through…

So what am I looking at?

  • Spaghetti – Low-cost, tasty and healthy. This one’s a no-brainer!

  • Burgers & steamed veggies – Buns for the family and lettuce wraps for me makes this one easy to pull off.

  • Peanut butter soup – This is one thing that I always know my daughter will eat. I swear by this Oh She Glows cookbook recipe.

  • Salad – Taco salad and Tuna salad, both of these keep the flavour high enough to entice my daughter, but healthy enough that I feel good feeding it to her.

  • Curry – I think we’ll make curry a few times this month. Gord loves the stuff!

  • Chicken cacciatore – This one will make a great slow-cooker meal. Sub in chicken breasts for ease-of-preparation and I’ll have me a lower-fat version I can feel good about.

  • Chicken veggie soup – Another “recipe” that has a few variations. I think I’ll go for “Jiggs dinner”, “Mushroom pepper”, and “corn” varieties this month!

  • Fish fillets with rice and veggies with Tahini mayo – Oh She Glows strikes again! Another thing that my daughter loves made with ingredients I didn’t even know existed until a few years ago.

  • Pizza – I’ll have to adapt this one for myself, but the rest of the family deserves something a little extra tasty every now and then.

  • Nachos – Another thing I’ll have to adjust for moderate-carb intake. Peppers instead of chips, maybe?

  • Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken, steamed veg and rice – This creamy dish is one of the first things I ever ad-libbed. It was delicious. So I did it again!

  • Pass the Peas Asian-inspired stir fry, with baked chicken breast and rice – This one was an unexpected delicious success. I’m adding this one to the meal plan rotation for good!

  • Baked beans with peppers and celery – I’m going to try to make “baked beans” in the slow cooker. It seems like something that should be possible. Like any good Canadian, I’ve got my Maple Syrup ready and waiting.

  • Veggie butter chicken – I’m pretty sure I’d lose my meal planning “privileges” if I neglected to add this one to the list.

  • Taco soup – Slow-cooker-ready, this meal will keep everyone full and happy, including my pocket-book!

  • Savoury Crêpes – I asked my husband to come up with something he’d like for supper at some point in March. This is what he asked for. I think he’s trying to stump me… I have no idea how, but it shall be done!

#3: List each day and assign a recipe to each day

I’m going to take the same approach this month that I did last month: Five nights a week of planned meals that include leftovers for lunches. Weekends are unplanned.

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

My meal plan is for the whole month. I’m going to aim for one shopping trip again, so all the fresh/spoilable ingredients will be front-loaded in the first week. Slow cooker meals are also easy to pencil in, so they’ll go in first:

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
29(February)
Veggie Taco Salad

Next up: Fill in the blanks! My tactic for this is to avoid too much of the same flavour in the same week (avoiding two curry nights in the same week, for example), and to have something fun on Fridays.

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
29(February)
Veggie Taco Salad
14Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 16Pass the Peas with chicken & rice
28Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 30Veggie Butter Chicken

#4: Plan to Plan

What I’m cooking is all settled, so now I need to figure out what I can do ahead of time to make cooking that much quicker. If I can soak and cook beans a few days before or chop onions and peel carrots the night before, that will make cooking quicker on busy after-work evenings.

I’m aiming to prep everything for the week on Sundays so I’m going to write down what I need to do for each meal, then do it all on Sunday.

Example, Week 1 (Feb 29 – Mar 5)

Veggie Taco Salad – I can chop the peppers and onions ahead of time, and soak/cook the black beans. Everything else (mixed greens, mushrooms, spices, salsa, etc) can be prepped the day of fairly quickly.

Chicken Cacciatore – I can chop the peppers and onions ahead of time. Everything else is canned or frozen.

Tuna Salad – This one will all be chopped up just before supper, so no prep for this one.

Chicken Veggie soup – I can chop up the carrots, onion and turnip before-hand.

Nachos – Onion and peppers for this one.

So, all totalled, that’s 3 peppers chopped, 4 onions diced, 1 cup of dried beans soaked and cooked, 3 carrots sliced, and 1 small turnip.

#5: Prepare a shopping list

Now that I know what I’m cooking and what I’ll need for each recipe, I can prepare a shopping list. Half the work is already done from identifying the prep items, now to finish the items I’ll need for each recipe and tally them up for the month. When all is said and done, I have a fairly long list, but I know nothing will be wasted.

Finally, now that I have my grocery list, it’s time to add in some of the essentials I might not have listed in my recipes. Add in some hand soap and a few other toiletries, and I’m done!

Shopping!

Five weeks of meal planning and groceries and I’m $502 poorer, but I’m all set for the rest of the month! At an average of $100.40 a week, that leaves me a bit of wiggle room if I need to top up something in a few weeks.

So, to recap:

Meal Plan for the month of March, 2016

  • Identify your goals. For March, I need to plan meals that:

    1. …are Healthy for a growing toddler.

    2. …stay on budget of $130 a week.

    3. …rely on slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays to accommodate out-of-house activities.

    4. …are quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday.

    5. …have carbs on the side for a moderate carb intake.

    6. …leave leftovers for lunches during the work week.

  • Find recipes that work with your goals (shown in the calendar below).

  • Assign recipes to a day (shown in the calendar below).

  • Plan to plan, and identify preparation tasks that can be done ahead of time.

  • Prepare a shopping list and go shopping.

  • March, 2016
    Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
    29(February)
    Veggie Taco Salad
    14Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 16Pass the Peas with chicken & rice
    28Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 30Veggie Butter Chicken
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Veggie Taco Salad

Big taco flavour, without all the badness!

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I really enjoy tacos.

But tacos… they have all that cheese and grease… not to mention those super-delicious, but carb-loaded taco shells.

Fortunately for me, taco-stuffing tastes great on a salad! Add a little salsa and plain Greek yogourt (or caso fresco, if you’re down south), and you’ve got yourself a healthy “dressing” made for tacos, without all the heaviness that usually goes with taco-Tuesday.

If you really want, you can even have your shell to go with it. Just add a handful of salt-free nacho chips (Casa Grande is my locally-made favourite) and you’re on your way to a healthier well-balanced meal!

Now onto the recipe…

Veggie Taco Salad Recipe

Ingredients

  • Taco mix:
    • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
    • 1 medium Bell Pepper, diced.
    • 1 cup of cooked black beans or 1 additional medium Bell Pepper, diced (for low-carb)
    • 1 medium Onion, diced
    • 1/2 lb Mushrooms, sliced (about a can)
  • Seasoning:
    • 2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
    • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder or 1 clove of garlic
    • 1 teaspoon Cumin
    • 1 teaspoon Oregano
    • Salt, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • Salad:
    • 2-3 large handfuls Mixed Greens (spinach or lettuce), rinsed and dried
    • Salsa, to taste (optional)
    • 1 heaping Tablespoon Greek Yogourt (optional)
    • 1 handful of Low-salt Nacho Chips (optional)

Tools

  • cutting board and knife
  • frying pan and spoon

Directions

  1. Heat the oil while you chop the onion. Add the onions to the oil when it’s heated, and continue to chop the other ingredients (multi-tasking!).

  2. Add the mushrooms and peppers once the onions have started to sweat (turn clear) and throw in a dash of salt. This will draw out the liquids and add flavour.

  3. Add the beans to the pan if you’re adding them, otherwise, make sure to double-up on the peppers.

  4. Add the other seasonings once the peppers have started to sweat a bit.

  5. Continue cooking the taco mix until the peppers are your preferred level of done-ness. I recommend waiting until all the liquid has cooked off and you’re left with a slightly gooey delicious taco mix.

  6. Place a handful of lettuce on a plate and top with taco mix. Serve with a dollop of salsa and yogourt.

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Meal Plan Check-in – February 2016

Half-way through February. How has this month’s meal planning fared?

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It’s half way through the month of February and my one-month meal plan has been put to the test. Let’s take a look at my goals for the month and see how I’m faring…

From the meal plan, my goals were to make meals that:

  • …are healthy for a growing toddler.

  • …let me follow a restricted food plan high in protein and low in carbs.

  • …let my husband watch his calories but feel full.

  • …stay within a budget of $100 per week total for a family of three in Newfoundland.

  • …includes two slow-cooker meals per week.

  • takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Meal Planning for February 2016

On top of those goals specific to this month, I also need to assess:

  • Was the meal plan followed?

  • Was it effective? How well were those goals (listed above) actually met?

  • What worked best? What should be continued for the rest of the month? What should we note for March’s meal planning?

  • What didn’t work? Should anything be changed for the rest of the month? What should be changed for March’s meal planning?

February’s Goals

The first three goals are well-met, as they relate strictly to which recipes were used. So long as the meal plan was followed, all these meals are a-okay!

The fourth goal (“within a budget of $100 per week”) was… not met. Last week I needed to contribute to a daycare valentine snack. Then I ran out of chicken and eggs (both related to my restricted food plan). I ended up purchasing an additional $76 worth of groceries.

The fifth goal to include two slow-cooker meals per week, that’s spot-on too.

The sixth and final goal to take less than 30 minutes per meal was mostly met. Even though a few of the meals were “longer than 30 minutes”, I consider this one a success. This is because I chose ahead of time which meals I was willing to take longer to prepare.

So, to recap:

  1. Success! Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. Success! Follow a restricted food plan high in protein and low in carbs. Adaptations based .

  3. Success! Let my husband watch his calories but feel full.

  4. Failed… Stay within a budget of $100 per week total for a family of three in Newfoundland. So far the total is $119 per week.

  5. Success! Includes two slow-cooker meals per week.

  6. Partial Success Takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Meal Plan Goals

So for the first half of February, was the meal plan followed? Largely, yes, except for one day last week, where a healthy alternative was made instead.

So, why wasn’t the meal plan followed that one particular day? Well, it turns out that in order to make a slow-cooker meal, you have to prepare it before you need it. Last week was an overwhelming week at work, so, alas, one of the slow-cooker meals was not prepared ahead of time.

Thankfully, Gord stepped in and made an extraordinary soup from our favourite cookbook, and the overall spirit of the meal plan remained intact.

The lesson here? Prepare ahead of time to avoid last-minute disruptions.

Was the meal plan effective in the first half of the month? Largely, yes. The exception to this is that I’m finding that for my particular restricted food plan, I should have better planned ahead for the weekend as well. If I had done that, I might have had better success with the budget as well.

The lesson learned here: When restricting what can be eaten (i.e. when following a diet), include more careful meal plans for the weekends as well as the weekdays.

What worked best? Having the plan in a central place has worked out well. Printing off the meal plan and sticking it to the fridge has allowed Gord to step in when I was unexpectedly unable to cook.

Also, having the meals prepped (all the chopping done ahead of time) has worked out great! I’ll definitely keep doing that!

What hasn’t worked? I’m sad to admit, that I don’t think shopping once in the month was enough this time around. I believe this has something to do with my over-ambitious cost-cutting goal combined with not planning for the weekend. In order to reduce the number of shopping trips, I really needed to account for those weekend meals. Without weekends, my meal plan was only 70% complete.

For the rest of the month, I may need to make one more trip to the store (focusing on a very targeted shopping list of a few specific items), so for March, I need to either: Plan meals including the weekends, or bite the bullet and go to the store more often. I’m leaning toward the first option. Costco on Saturdays is a madhouse! The fewer times I need to go, the better for my sanity and the pocketbook.

From February to March

My adjusted budget for February is to not spend more than an average of $125 per week. For March, I may be able to get this down to $100 per week, but only by better planning for the weekend meals as well.

In terms of all the other goals, I’ll continue as planned and re-assess at the end of the month.

While not spot-on, the first half of February has largely been a Success! I’ll keep sticking to the plan, and we’ll see what happens…

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Croutons

Crunchy, wholesome, homemade croutons…

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So… I think I’ve mentioned that I’m currently on a brief low-carb thing (6 days left!). Naturally, that means I’ve been thinking about – what else – carbs. And what’s more carb-loaded than bread? Nothin’, that’s what!

While I haven’t actually made these tonight, I did take pictures when I made my last batch, so here we are… My homemade croutons sit in an airtight container, silently waiting for the day they’ll be used in a salad or with soup. I silently sit at my desk, wondering how many bites of delectable croutons would still be low-carb (by the way, if you’re wondering, the answer is “none”).

Oh well, they’ll wait. It’s not like they could go stale or anything. That’s because they are, in fact, made from stale bread. Or regular bread. Whatever’s handy, really. Homemade or store-bought, if it’s bread, and not actually spoiled (as in mouldy) then you can turn any kind of bread into delicious croutons.

All you need is time, a little oil (I like the spray kind) and an oven. And a baking sheet. And some seasoning, if you want it. Maybe a bowl…

Personally, I leave out any extra seasonings, and leave the flavours to the thing the crouton goes in. It usually works out pretty well. If you want to try mixing up flavours, I like pre-packaged sweet pepper and garlic seasoning. Just a dash goes a long way.

Croutons Recipe

Ingredients

  • Bread. Stale, not mouldy works best, but fresh bread will do (it just takes longer).
  • Canola or Olive oil
  • Desired seasonings are optional (for example, packaged seasoning mix like sweet pepper and garlic)

Tools

  • Cutting board and bread knife
  • large mixing bowl and tongs
  • Baking tray
  • Oven

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200F. Your goal is to dry out the bread, not cook it further.

  2. Cut your bread into crouton-sized chunks. I like ’em about 2cm x 1cm x 1cm. Whatever size you go with, try to keep them roughly the same size, that way they dry out evenly in the oven.

  3. Toss your bread in a mixing bowl with a very small amount of oil. I like to use a light spritz of spray-oil, but you could use a baster brush to lightly baste a bit of oil on top. Shake the bread around until it’s all lightly coated with oil. If you have a lot of bread, you may need to do this in batches.

  4. Spread the bread into an even layer on the baking tray. Make sure the bread is in a flat layer, and not stacked on top of each other. Shake the tray a bit and make sure nothing falls off. You’re going to be doing that a few times, might as well make sure it’s stable now.

  5. Put the baking tray in the oven for 20-minute intervals. At the end of 20 minutes, take the tray out and give it a good shake so everything shifts around. The goal here is to avoid burning any bread by leaving it in one place. Put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Repeat until the bread is dry and crunchy, or when it’s golden brown.

    With really stale bread, you might be done in a round or two. Fresher bread might need a bit more.

  6. Let cool for an hour with a dry tea-towel over top, then store in an airtight container.

  7. Use in leafy green salads or as a garnish with soups.

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“Pass the Peas” Asian-inspired stir-fry

Low-carb and pretty tasty to boot, this stir fry has flavours reminiscent of teriyaki, but… not quite the same. It’s great, I love it, you should give it a try!

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So, I’m doing a low-carb type thing for a couple of weeks, and man, am I bored. There’s only so much you can do without sugar, sweet fruit, pasta, bread, or anything, well, delicious.

I’m on week two of this carb-reduced experiment, and I’m so tired of the same flavours. Tex-mex for a week straight… sounds good, gets a little dull. So, in an effort to shake things up, I tried to go for something more Italian by hauling out the Balsamic vinegar.

Then, I added ginger. Don’t add ginger if you want to “keep it Italian”.

What I ended up with is more reminiscent of teriyaki than tagliatelle, but it’s pretty tasty, so I’m not disappointed.

As I said, my focus was on the low-carb side of things, but the wonderful thing about this dish is that it can be paired with rice if you’re not reducing your carb intake. Add a side of meat (pork or chicken work best), and all the healthy food groups are covered!

Without further ado, I present…

“Pass the Peas” Recipe

This Asian-inspired stir fry is low-carb yet delicious! Pair it with pork or chicken for a bit of extra protein, or serve it atop a side of rice for a well-balanced meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 large florets cauliflower, diced (about the same size as the celery)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Olive oil (or canola oil)
  • Seasonings:
    • 1 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
    • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
    • 1/8 cup basalmic vinegar
    • 1/8 cup soy sauce
    • salt to taste

Tools

  • Cutting board and knife
  • large frying pan or wok
  • wooden stirring spoon
  • Small bowl and fork

Directions

  1. Preheat the pan with a little oil and prepare your veggies while you wait. Dice the onion and cauliflower, chop the celery, and roughly chop the peppers.

  2. Add the onion to the oil and heat until the onion is translucent.

  3. Add the celery, peppers and cauliflower and sprinkle a dash of salt to draw out the liquids. Heat through until the peppers are vibrant in colour, about 6-7 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, add a sprinkle of hot tap water to the peas and microwave them for 3 minutes, stirring at the minute-and-a-half mark. The hot tap water helps give the microwave something to work with. You can optionally use canned or fresh peas instead of doing this step.

  5. In a small bowl, mix together the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and seasoning, except the salt. Stir well.

  6. By now the peppers should be vibrant in colour. Add the peas and sauce and mix well.

  7. Stir frequently to reduce the sauce. You should end up with darkly-tinted veggies, vibrant green peas and no extra sauce.

  8. Serve with pork or chicken. If you’re not watching your carbs, this goes well with rice.

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What’s in your pantry?

Keeping the essentials on hand can help your family eat in more often. Don’t be caught flatfooted, keep the necessities in your pantry!

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Whether it’s in my meal plans or not, there are some non-perishable items I always keep handy “just in case”. These basics allow my family some flexibility, for example, if I can’t cook due to an unexpected bout of overtime, or if I spontaneously need a batch of cookies in the house. They also let me explore different recipes on the weekends without taking away from those meals that are part of my well-thought-out family meal plan.

My main goal for having a well-stocked pantry is cost. Sure, it may cost a little bit more each trip to include items that aren’t on my meal plan. However, that small cost is well worth not paying for takeout due to “food boredom”.

There are plenty of thoughts on just what would be good to keep around. One that I’ve personally referred to over the past few years has come from CBC. Back in 2013, CBC had its own assessment of the basics as part of their “Live Right Now” program. (side note, “Live Right Now” seems to have died on the vine, but this reference sheet is pretty timeless).

external_cbc

Now, I’m not suggesting that the list above is the be-all and end-all of pantry lists. For example, I bought a small bag of couscous back in 2013 and I’m pretty sure it’s still in my cupboard… I’ve made my own personal list that meshes well with the types of meals and snacks my family consistently make.

Bare basics

These bare basics are things I never let run out, or else the ground will swallow me whole:

  • Raisins – This is the perfect snack-food for my daughter. Never mess with a hungry toddler.

  • Peanut butter – Another one that’s purely driven by my toddler. She asks for this specifically; a pretty large feat considering her toddler-level vocabulary.

  • Flour – I bake most of the bread in my home ($0.70 a loaf as opposed to $2.50), plus it’s used in a lot of recipes and sauces. I usually keep whole wheat, but if that runs out, there’s always another type of flour (white, pastry, or bread) to make due until the next grocery visit.

  • Sugar – Baking, cooking, or just in tea. This is a must-have, although we have been using less and less as our daughter grows. Looks like the little tyke is a good influence.

  • Spices – Without these, food would probably make me cry.

    whats-in-your-pantry-alt-1
    • Salt – if you’re cooking from scratch, salt is a must to bring out flavours.

    • Pepper – Added at the table, pepper helps Gord and me spice things up while our daughter has a milder version of whatever we’re cooking.

    • Cumin – I don’t know why, but just a dash of this stuff brings out the flavours of whatever I’m cooking.

    • Garlic Powder – Used in a lot of my dishes, I always have a big 500g bottle of this in my cupboard.

    • Chili Powder – I cook a lot of tex-mex style foods. ‘Nuf said.

    • Cinnamon – Gord does breakfast most of the time, so this is his critical spice. Pancakes, french toast, random baking endeavours… this stuff is pretty tasty.

  • Canned Tomatoes – Tomatoes are used in practically everything I cook. I ran out of these once. There was a riot… Now I make sure there are at least 6 extra cans over and above my month-long meal plans.

    With all the tex-mex style cooking and curries, I use tomatoes probably 3-4 times a week. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with heartburn…

  • Beans – Canned and dried beans are always in my cupboard, at minimum chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans. A few times, we’ve had a lazy Saturday with baked beans and toast for lunch.

    Lazy beans are the best, Yum!

  • Pasta – Need something quick? Tomoatoes + Beans + Spices + Pasta = quick, easy and tasty meal.

  • Rice – Whole grain rice (I use basmati a lot) is a must in our household. Take the same ingredients you’d use on a pasta dish, add rice instead, and you’ve got something brand new!

  • Canola Oil – Baking or cooking, we use a moderate amount of this in most of our meals.

  • Onion – When cooking from scratch, onions are the base to most of my home cooked meals.

  • Eggs – Breakfast, baking and the occasional lunch, I always have a backup carton of eggs on hand.

Over and above what meshes with the CBC list, I also have a few family “must haves”:

veg-butter-chicken-1
  • Frozen home-made dinners – Grab-and-go frozen lunches are a must-have when you have two working parents. Sometimes lunch doesn’t get made in time for work, so these frozen lunches keep us from buying fast food. Plus, it’s nice to have a home cooked lunch in the middle of a work day.

  • Chocolate Chips – CBC’s list says “Dark chocolate chips”, probably because of the sugar. But really, if you’re going to bake cookies, the chocolate chips aren’t what’ll break the sugar bank…

  • Onion Soup Mix – I actually use Onion Soup Mix more than I use bullion. I use neither that much, but I do use them enough to have some of each in the pantry.

  • Gravy Browning – If you’re from Newfoundland, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I always have this handy.

  • Bottled Butter Chicken Sauce – Gord’s all-time favourite meal is butter chicken. I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t have one of these handy at all times.

More ‘miss’ than ‘hit’

So, while the above list showcases my essentials, and I do take most of my pantry items from the CBC list, there are a few things on that list that I disagree with.

I suggest, like anything on the internet, that you take this list with a grain of salt. Assess what’s right for your family and be willing to experiment, but also know your own limits.

The following have made it to my, nuh-uh, “what were they thinking” list:

  • Wheat Bran/Wheatgerm – I bake with whole wheat flour and have never, ever needed just wheat bran or wheatgerm.

  • Dried Pears or Apples – I have never needed these dried fruit in the history of ever. Plus, I’ve never even found these items other than in one particular bulk store. Although, that possibly has something to do with the fact that I haven’t been looking too hard…

  • Agave Nector – This is one of those trendy “superfood” items that’s also “super expensive”. For the low amount of sugar we use, it’s not worth having a sugar substitute like this around. Honey is much more accessible.

  • Pumpkin seeds – I don’t know why this is on a list of “Staples”. I wish they had explained the items (like I’m doing here) to justify this one…

  • Flax Seed Oil – While I’m sure flax seed oil has some pretty neat-o properties, I’ve never been inclined to use anything other than canola and olive oils.

  • Fresh Beets – Gord won’t eat beats, and they go bad too quickly compared to potatoes. I buy these once in a blue moon, but they don’t make it to my “must have” pantry list.

  • Frozen tortillas and pitas – I’ve never had a frozen tortilla. Maybe I’ll add a few to my list next time and see what this one’s about. Maybe…

  • Sardines – Big fat fluffy nope!

  • Kale – I tried, I really did. I had eight kale plants growing in my garden. I tried it in a stir-fry (it took about 2 hours to become edible) and it was tough and unpleasant, and I tried it baked as desiccated kale chips. Neither one were worth the effort.

    If you are about to say “smoothie”, I refuse to try a kale smoothie. After how aweful my other two experiences with kale were, that just sounds gross (I was vegetarian for two years; I’m no stranger to trying new things and still, the thought of kale smoothies grosses me out).

  • Swiss Chard – Another one that’s off the mark for me. While I’m sure it’s a perfectly lovely green, it doesn’t make it to my family’s “must have” list.

  • Couscous – While I’m sure the writer’s heart was in the right place, I’ve literally used couscous twice. And only because it was in my cupboard from this list. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy there. Quinoa, on the other hand? I use that all the time.

So that’s my list and my anti-list.

What about you? What’s in your pantry?

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Recipe review: Our Perfect Veggie Burger (OhSheGlows.com)

Many strive for perfection. Will this burger earn its namesake? Stay tuned to find out!

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I’m going with something a bit different today; a review of one of my favourite recipes from the OhSheGlows cookbook and website .

The title is pretty bold (Our Perfect Veggie Burger ), so… Is this burger really all it claims to be?

I’ve made a batch of these burgers, following the recipe exactly, even taking the time to taste-test before cooking. It says so, right in the instructions. Gotta follow the rules, after all…

Let’s start out with the must-haves she mentioned on her recipe:

  • Can’t be mushy in the middle (the problem I have the most)
  • Crispy outer shell
  • Lots of flavour from fresh herbs & spices
  • No tofu (not a fan)
  • Crunchy, chewy texture is a must
  • No cracking or falling apart (another common problem)
  • Must cook well 3 ways: frying pan, oven, and BBQ
  • Could make a grown man shed a tear of joy (ok, that was my requirement, heh)

So, let’s break it down…

veggie-burger-review-alt-1

Can’t be mushy in the middle

The sunflower seeds, Panko bread crumbs and shredded carrot help to keep these burgers firm and moist, but not mushy. Check-mark for that one!

Crispy outer shell

After a good oven-baking or pan-frying, it crisps up quite well. This one’s covered.

Lots of flavour from fresh herbs & spices

(please excuse the silence as I enjoy the bright herbal flavour-splosion) Mmmm….

No tofu

Nope!

Crunchy, chewy texture is a must

The crunchy sunflower seeds in the middle, plus the way the oat-flour soaks up all the juices from the shredded veggies, all of that combines into a – dare I say – perfect chewy and crunchy combo.

No cracking or falling apart (another common problem)

This one’s covered by that oat flour. That stuff works wonders at keeping these burgers firm and solid.

Must cook well 3 ways: frying pan, oven, and BBQ

I’ve tried these two ways, oven-baked and fried. Oven baked is a little drier than I’d like, but they’re still quite tasty. Pan fried, these are just delightful. I get that crispiness on the outside from direct contact with the heat, which I’ve been unable to reproduce in the oven.

Here’s a bonus: One other way she didn’t mention here: Cooked from frozen. I’ve had great success cooking, freezing and re-heating these on the stove. Just splash with water, microwave for 90 seconds to thaw them out, then finish them on the stove.

Sadly, I have not yet tried these on the BBQ.

Awe shucks, I’m just going to have to make these burgers again to try them on the BBQ… what a shame [/sarcasm].

Could make a grown man shed a tear of joy

I think I saw a glimmer of a tear. My meat-loving husband did actually go back for seconds, so I’ll call that one a pass.

My verdict?

Perfectly perfect!

Give them a try. If you’ve ever enjoyed a veggie burger, this one will wow you!

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Meal Planning for February 2016

Future Crystal is happy that present Crystal wasn’t lazy!

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This one’s a long post. If you want to skip to the good stuff (my finished February meal plan), I won’t complain. I’ve even made a nice little link button for you!

So, I’m doing up my meal plan today but my “normal” routine (is there ever such a thing, really?) has been broken this month. In an effort to lose weight, I’ll need to stick to a very specific meal plan. Plus I’m trying to keep my growing toddler exposed to foods that are outside of my plan. Plus I’m balancing the needs of my husband’s ongoing “battle of the bulge”.

Oh, and did I mention? We’re trying to seriously reduce the cost of our grocery bill this month.

Let’s get started!

#1: Identify your goals

So this is step one for any meal plan (whether monthly, weekly, or even just the night before): figuring out what it is I’m trying to accomplish. Remembering back to Meal Planning 101, this helps to keep me focused on just what I’m looking for.

Maybe you would want to simplify dinners (in that case, go with casseroles, roasts, soups or easy-assemble stir fry), maybe you would want to be healthier (in that case lower-fat meals high in veggies and whole grains are your target). Or maybe you simply want to minimize the hit to your pocket book (planning with your weekly flyer handy is the way to go).

This month I have a lot to balance, my goals don’t exactly mesh well. So, with these conflicting goals, my challenge for February is to make a meal plan that (in order of importance):

  1. Is healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. Lets me follow a restricted food plan high in protein and low in carbs.

  3. Lets my husband feel satiated while still watching his calories.

  4. Costs about $100 per week total for a family of three in Newfoundland.

  5. Includes two slow-cooker meals per week to accommodate our out-of-house activities.

  6. Takes less than 30 minutes to prepare once I start cooking.

#2: List out recipes that help you achieve your goals

Those are my goals for February. I’ve figured out what I’m trying to accomplish (again, thinking back to Meal Planning 101), so now what can I do to achieve these goals?

Well, my next step is the hard part – finding meals that fit as many of my needs as possible. My first goal is a must; my daughter’s health. No fancy diet-supplement-laced liquid something-or-other. Goals 2 and 3 are flexible enough that if I find something “close”, I can tweak it later. Goal 4 means no caviar tastes. So let’s see:

  • Spaghetti – My daughter and Gord are covered, and with a small tweak (green beans instead of pasta), I am as well. Cost is low on this one, plus it’s a breeze to make. Probably why it popped into my head so quickly.

  • Burgers and Steamed Veg with Tahini Mayo. My daughter loves the tahini mayo so much that she’ll even eat her veggies, so that’s blown out of the park. My husband loves burgers, so that’s covered. For me… I’ll make a small substitute here – Chicken breast instead of burgers.

  • Chinese-egg stir fry with rice – This covers all the bases (minus the rice for me).

  • Veggie chickpea curry with rice – Also covers everything, so long as I cook with skim milk and low-fat greek yougurt.

  • Salad – There are a number of adaptations on this one: Tuna salad (no mayo here, just a green salad with Tuna); Taco salad (no taco chips, but all the bold tex-mex flavour); Garden salad.

  • Hummus – not technically a “meal” but definitely something healthy for the family to snack on.

  • Mock-tuna casserole – This big-batch meal meets all the goals, plus adds a bunch of homemade freezable lunches.

  • Lasagna casserole – Another big-batch meal that makes for easy grab-and-go lunches during the work week. On my half, I’ll replace the pasta with shredded carrot, and use cottage cheese instead of the real stuff. Everyone else will have all that deliciousness.

Okay, those were the easy ones. It’s not enough to cover all 4 weeks, but it’s a great start. Now to look into my recipe book (I use Paprika Recipe Manager) or on the web.

  • Spinach tomato chicken with rice

  • Broccoli stir fry with cashew-cheese and quinoa – this adaptation of one of my favourite Oh She Glows recipes needs the Quinoa on the side, but otherwise is good to go.

  • Potato Broccoli Soup

  • Chicken veggie soup – there are a bunch of variations I can try to re-use this one a few times: Broccoli mushroom and spinach chicken soup; Mushroom and pepper chicken soup; Jiggs dinner (a Newfoundland favourite) chicken soup – break out the Mt. Scio savoury;

  • Peanut butter soup – technically “African peanut soup”, this is another family fav from Oh She Glows cookbook (I swear, I don’t have stock in that cookbook!)

  • Veggie Burgers and sweet potato fries – Adding in some steamed carrot sticks will bulk this meal up with great colourful veggies. I seem to be on an Oh She Glows kick – this one’s from her website too.

  • Sesame Fish – Add some steamed veg and rice to make this a complete meal.

  • Pizza – While not technically “healthy”, a little treat at the end of the week will keep my family happy. This is one I’ll have to sit out, but I can do something fun with a fried egg, pizza veggies, cottage cheese and pizza sauce, so I won’t be sitting in the corner

#3: List each day and assign a recipe to each day

Now that I’ve got my recipes all picked, it’s time to place them throughout the month (this is the “when” I was talking about).

You may notice that I’m only planning five meals a week. Weekends in my house are a bit “off the cuff” but you could easily take this approach to weekends as well. For lunches, my goal is to use leftovers for me and Gord. Our daughter is fed at her daycare, so we don’t need to pack anything for her.

Let’s see what we’re working with…

February 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

My meal plan is for the month, which also includes shopping only once, so let’s put the salads in the first week so the lettuce isn’t all icky. While we’re at it, let’s write in the slow cooker meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

February 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)
18One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)

Finally, let’s write in all the rest of the recipes. My strategy here is to try to avoid the same thing twice in one week, or in back-to-back weeks.

February 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)
10Veggie curry with rice – mashed chickpeas on the side
18One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)
26Veggie burgers and sweet potato fries with steamed carrots

#4: Plan to plan

Now that I know what I’m cooking, I need to figure out what can be done ahead of time to make the meal plan run smoothly. Anything from soaking and cooking beans ahead of time, to chopping onions and storing them in the fridge until they’re needed. When the planning is done, I’ll keep my notes handy; they’ll help with the shopping list.

I want to get all my prep out of the way on Sunday, so my plan is to identify everything that can be done ahead of time.

For each week, I’ll take a look at the recipes and figuring out what types of items are needed, then jot them down in a list so there’s space to tally amounts.

For example, for the first week, I’ll need to chop some salad veggies for three salads, prep soup veggies for Chicken veggie soup, and dice the veggies needed for One-Pot Pasta.

For the first week, all totalled that’s:

  • Two onions diced for the slow cooker meals, plus half an onion finely sliced for the salads.
  • Two peppers diced for use in the salads and slow cooker meals.
  • One cucumber, sliced, for use in the salads (these would be quick enough to do day-of).
  • One carrot chopped for Tuesday’s soup.
  • One two-cup portion of black beans, soaked and cooked for Wednesday’s salad.
  • Four eggs hard-boiled for Friday’s salad.

#5: Prepare a shopping list

Finally, I need to prepare a shopping list. Using the lists I prepared above, I’ll add anything that wasn’t included in my prep list (chicken breasts, whole veggies, etc).

Again, scanning from the top of the list, I tally them up.

Before I go shopping, I need to take a look in the pantry and figure out what’s already there. This helps avoid wastage so the pantry’s not overloaded on ingredients that won’t be used. I’ll subtract what I have from the tally.

Now that the plan is done, and I’ve noted which items are on sale, I’ve written my list. Now I’m ready to go shopping!

A short time later…

I stuck with my carefully curated list, and the verdict? $405 for four weeks. Almost spot on to my goal of $100 per week!

So, let’s re-cap…

Meal Plan – February 2016

  1. Identify your goals. For me, my goals for February are to plan meals that:

    • …are healthy for a growing toddler.

    • …let me follow a restricted food plan high in protein and low in carbs.

    • …let my husband watch his calories but feel full.

    • …stay within a budget of $100 per week total for a family of three in Newfoundland.

    • …includes two slow-cooker meals per week.

    • takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

  2. Find recipes that work with your goals (shown in the calendar below).

  3. Assign recipes to a day (shown in the calendar below).

  4. Plan to plan, and figure out what preparation tasks you can do ahead of time.

  5. Prepare a shopping list and go shopping.

February 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)
10Veggie curry with rice – mashed chickpeas on the side
18One Pot Pasta (with steamed green beans)
26Veggie burgers and sweet potato fries with steamed carrots
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Celebration Squash Soup

Pureed squash, and other vibrant veggies make this a brightly coloured soup, perfect to clear up those winter doldrums!

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Ah, sigh, I got married to this soup. Well… not married to the soup, but the soup was there… er… this is awkward…

Ahem, so yeah, when I got married I made this bright and pleasant soup as one of our buffet foods. My wedding was a small affair: City hall for a brief ceremony, followed by a party in my home for our closest family and friends. It was fun; good times, even. I made this soup; it was tasty.

This soup reminds me of that time during the first few days of my marriage, getting ready for our honeymoon, and just relaxing… Those were the times… yeah…

Now it’s 6 AM Saturdays and slow-cooker suppers and out-the-door or child will be late for something. Manic or not, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but every now and then, that nostalgia for simpler days will hit me and I’ll throw this recipe into the family meal plan.

I think my favourite part about this soup is the texture. It’s a blended soup, so all the ingredients (chosen for their orange hues and complimentary flavours) just meld together into a thick, silky broth. Adding some home-made croutons gives it just a little crunch, making for a satisfying yet light meal.

That it’s so easy to make, well that’s just the icing on the cake!

Celebration Squash Soup Recipe

Makes 15-20 portions, depending on the size of the veggies and amount of broth used.

Ingredients

celebration-squash-soup-alt1
  • 1 medium Butternut Squash
  • 2-4 Carrots
  • 1 small Turnip
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 large Red Onion
  • 4 cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Litre of Soup Broth
  • Salt to taste (about 1/2 a teaspoon)

Add some crispy Bacon on top if you’re looking for something more “healthy-ish” than healthy.

Tools

  • Slowcooker/crockpot or large steamer basket and stock pot
  • Blender (immersion or full-sized)
  • Ladle

Directions

  1. Prepare the veggies. Peel and roughly cut each of the vegetables into large chunks, basically cut the large enough so they just fit in the steamer basket or slow cooker. Cut the onions into quarters or eights, whatever fits.

  2. Add the veggies to the slow cooker or steamer basket, and cook until tender. In the slow cooker, you should have all the veggies jam-packed together; Add broth until the veggies are just covered and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 2+1/2 hours. If using a steamer basket, add enough water to allow to steam for 45 minutes; if you need to remove the drippings, set it aside for the soup later.

  3. Blend the soup using an immersion blender or carefully in small batches using a full-sized blender. Place a towel over top of the blender and firmly hold it down before starting to blend. As soon as you turn on that blender, the super-heated air is going to expand and try to explode! I’m not kidding, this can be scalding!

    Add broth or water to allow the blender to work its magic.

  4. Mix the soup thoroughly to make sure the broth is fully incorporated together.

  5. If desired, fry up some crispy bacon and crumble it into a bowl. Set it to the side and allow each diner to sprinkle some over top of their own bowl.

  6. Eat within a day or two, or freeze immediately. This recipe doesn’t scale down well, but it’s easily freezable and tastes just as great re-heated.

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