Meal Plan Check-in – March 2016

We’ve past the ides of March…

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March madness has been in full swing: Two parents working full time while we rush past St. Paddy’s day and jettison toward the third-most chocolate-filled holiday of the year.

So how close have we come to meeting our goals for this month?

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.

Meal Planning for March 2016

March halfway results…

Most of the meals, have indeed been healthy for my little girl. They balance her needs of a broad range of colourful veggies, some protein and some carbs, all (during the weekdays, anyway) made from scratch at home. Some of our weekends have been a bit more loosey-goosey (chicken fingers have made the roster at least once this month) but during the week, she’s fuelled by homemade goodness.

As for the budget, it’s half way through, and I’ve spent $648 for five weeks worth of meals, for an average of $129.60 per week. My goal is $130 per week, so it’s borderline under budget, but only if I don’t spend a penny more in March.

We’ll see, March meal plan, we’ll see…

Slow cooker Tuesday/Thursday meals is working out spectacularly. The only qualm I have is that I made too frequent use of that ever-tasty chicken soup. I think we may scale back chicken soup next month. Maybe only once or twice instead of many, many times.

In terms of cooking time, meals have all been quick to make, so I’m on track for that goal.

Carbs are on the side. I’m eating them, but they’re on the side. We’ll call this one a pass, if only because low-carb meals are for stronger constitutions than mine.

As for leftovers, I’ve got leftovers coming out my ears. Neither Gord nor I have had to eat a lunch to-go, so another victory! Yay!

In summary:

  1. Success! Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. Borderline on track… Within budget of $130 per week – At $129.60, this target is borderline, I’m going to have to carefully execute my plan for the rest of the month.

  3. Success! Use slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays.

  4. Success! Quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday.

  5. Success! Have carbs on the side for a moderate carb intake.

  6. Success! Leave leftovers for lunches during the work week.

Overall, a bit better than February.

Challenges

One of my biggest challenges this month has been making sure to prep ahead of time. I’ve had a couple of slow cooker soups made the morning-of, rather than the night before.

It just goes to show that even the best planning doesn’t mean diddly squat if you don’t, you know, follow through.

Thankfully, I’ve chosen meals that don’t take a lot of prep, so I’m somewhat saved by being prepared to make something specific on each of the days, even if it is from scratch on the day-of.

Another challenge I’m having is staying on budget. This one is due in part to a poor plan on how to handle essentials that are missing.

I’m going to update my monthly meal plan worksheet to include an essentials checklist so I don’t have to run out to the store when I run out of salt.

And soap.

And toddler socks.

At the same time.

Not to mention, it’ll be time to feed the Easter bunny soon. Gotta make sure the bunny is full up on carrots so he’ll have enough energy to hide some eggs filled with goodies. So there’s that…

Two challenges: Actually doing the prep, and accommodating those unexpected trips to the store. The first one is helped by having a plan in the first place, and the second will be helped by not leaving it to my memory: Checklist, checklist, checklist!

I’ll make it easy for you. At the end of this month I’ll post my updated meal plan worksheet including an essentials checklist. It’ll take the guesswork out of shopping, and leave chance out of the equation.

No dice-roll for me, I’m sticking to the plan!

Unexpected successes

One final note, I’ve had some surprise successes this month, by way of extra help from Gord and our daughter. Even though she’s too young to “cook”, she’s been eager to help. Seeing her so involved has helped keep me on track more than I would without that level of interest.

Second, Gord’s been a gem, picking up a few of the meals I would have neglected, making ours a fast-food-free house for another couple of weeks.

To use a sports metaphor I don’t quite understand: It’s easy to score a home run when you’ve got a pinch hitter in the bag. Or something like that…

I think I’ll stick with the anime metaphors (GO! Heart of the Cards!).

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Chocolate Pudding

Creamy, smooth, delicious chocolate pudding… Yum, yum!

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Chocolate pudding reminds me of summer day-camp when I was a tweenager. I had to pack a lunch for myself.

So I ate pudding.

A lot of pudding.

Why did I eat a lot of pudding? Because I was old enough to decide for myself, and myself wanted pudding. After all, pudding was perfect! It offered something deliciously cool in the middle of those warm summer days. Plus it was chocolate. Like I said: Perfect!

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve discovered that chocolate pudding does not grow fully-formed, plucked from pudding-cup trees. In fact, I have discovered that I can make it on my own, with ingredients I already have. While wearing pyjama pants. Because that’s how I roll.

Pyjama pants or no, this easy-to-make dessert-slash-snack is a winner. I’ve tried it cool, like the recipe recommends, but I’ve also “taste-tested” it warm (who wants to wait 2 hours, anyway?), and it’s arguably better. Think hot chocolate, but thick, silky and sumptuous. Yum!

While I’m sure “real” chocolate pudding is made with 200%-milk-fat cream, ten pounds of butter and a plantation’s-worth of sugar, this version uses corn starch as a thickener, has a modest amount of sugar and uses no added fat. It has all that deliciousness, and is still so ooey-gooey, but it offers a modicum of pretending to be healthy.

Don’t let that low-fat title fool you, though. This is still chocolate-sugar-snack. And it’s still delicious.

Now that you’re fully informed, you can make this choice of your own free will. We both know you’ll make this choice. Because it’s the awesome-ist choice there is!

You’re welcome.

Chocolate Pudding Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups skim milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped baker’s chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Tools

  • small saucepan/pot with a wooden spoon
  • measuring cup
  • jar with lid, or a cup and fork

Directions

  1. Add 1/3 cup milk to the jar and combine with the corn starch. Tightly close the lid and shake well. If you don’t have a jar, thoroughly stir the corn starch in the milk with a fork, making sure there are no lumps.

  2. In a cold saucepan, add the milk/corn starch, remaining milk, and sugar, stirring until combined.

  3. Gently heat the milk on a low-medium heat. Make sure to stir often to avoid lumps. The milk is done when it has thickened like syrup.

  4. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate.

  5. Cover tightly and set in the refrigerator to cool for 2 hours.

  6. Serve chilled. Store leftovers for no more than 2-3 days.

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Pasta Alfredo

This easy recipe replaces pre-packaged side dishes, adding a tonne more flavour.

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This was the first recipe I ever threw together without referring to a recipe. Yes, I had made similar recipes before, but all carefully following a step-by-step guide of how to do it. This was the first one where I used my own creativity instead of relying on someone else’s.

That being said, so long as you use a thick cream-based sauce, it’s hard to get Alfredo wrong.

Between how easy it is to make and my nostalgia (being a stepping-stone to greater food improv), this has become a great meal to have in my weekday arsenal. Throw in some steamed broccoli and chicken, and it becomes a balanced meal. Put it with some cod and cauliflower, and it becomes a veritable blizzard of all-white-food yumminess.

I prefer Alfredo sauce on some long noodles (yes, that’s spaghetti in my picture), but you could also use rotini or macaroni and capture the same flavour.

The best thing about this recipe? It replaces that instant-noodle stovetop/sidekick with all its high salt and preservatives, and tastes a bajillion times better (it’s the butter, isn’t it?).

Low-fat, this is not, so if you’re looking to cut back on butter and oil, skip this recipe and go for something lighter, like my Celebration Squash Soup (creamy without the dairy) or Veggie Taco Salad (low-fat and quite tasty, if you enjoy tex-mex).

PSA done! Now onto that sumptuous pasta!

Pasta Alfredo Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 servings Pasta, Linguini, Fettuccine or rotini.
  • 3/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 100 grams Butter
  • 180 grams white flour
  • 3 cups milk (cream is thicker, but I never have it handy so I just use skim milk)
  • 2 cloves minced Garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons Parsley
  • Pepper to taste, about 1/4 teaspoon for mildly spicy to 1 teaspoon for spicier kick.
  • Salt to taste, about 1/4 teaspooon

Tools

  • Large pot and pasta strainer
  • Large saucepan, big enough for Alfredo sauce and the pasta
  • Cheese grater
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • Whisk – make sure it’s safe for the saucepan, especially if the pan is non-stick coated.

Directions

  1. Heat the oil and butter until the butter is melted. Add the garlic and pepper and mix through the butter. This is the base of a roux, so the butter has to be completely melted.

  2. Add the flour and whisk into the oil and butter. Don’t be too vigorous, or some of the hot oil will fly out of the pan.

  3. When the flour is evenly mixed, let the flour fry for a few minutes, making sure not to let it darken more than light golden in colour. Avoid burning the flour, so stir with the whisk occasionally.

  4. Add the milk, whisking the whole time, and make sure the flour is incorporated into the milk. From now on, stir with the wooden spoon. You’re done with the whisk..

  5. Cook the pasta while the milk is heating.

  6. Gently stir the milk with the wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom. Mix in any lumps so you avoid lumpy sauce.

  7. Strain the pasta and let sit for 2 minutes to drain all the water. We want to avoid watery pasta as this will water down the sauce.

  8. When it’s thickened up, remove the sauce from the heat and quickly stir in the cheese. Add salt to taste.

  9. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir through.

  10. Serve with a side of cheesy garlic bread.

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Making Detergent

How many bottles of liquid laundry detergent did you make today? Me? I made 3!

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I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a bit of an oddball. Between my natural oddball tendencies and Pinterest, I’m a regular wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube-man of fun!

Now that we’ve been properly introduced: Pinterest told me I should make my own laundry detergent.

So I did.

I found a site with a few variations that were tested side-by-side (I love the scientific method!). The best results came from the liquid version, and seeing as I use liquid laundry detergent anyway, that’s the recipe I went with.

There are a few other powder recipes, but according to the author’s results, they weren’t as good as liquid. I’m also squidgy about using my food-based kitchen equipment for processing soap.

Plus, I like liquid laundry detergent. It feels regal. Because royalty does their own laundry… right?

Anywho, I had trouble finding “Fels-naptha soap” but I did find an equivalent at Wal-mart: “Sunlight Pure Soap” in bar form. I had to buy a two-pack, but a box of Borax and Washing Soda goes a long way, so I figure the extra bar will come in handy in the future.

Did I mention that I bought the ingredients 6 months ago? No?

Well, to be honest, I actually meant to do this last summer but, frankly, I forgot. The ingredients have been sitting my a shelf in my laundry room for 6 months. I only ventured to try this experiment because (a) if it sits on the shelf any longer, Gord’s gonna give it the old heave-ho, and (b) I took a vacation day, so what else would I do with a full day all to myself?

I like trying new things!

I especially like trying new things when there are no witnesses!

Makin’ Detergent

The recipe I tried can be found on houselogic.com . I like the author’s side-by-side analysis of each of the detergents using a mustard-stained strip of cotton. It’s a vibrant way to demonstrate the cleaning power of each of the detergents.

Now, on to the soap-making!

Ingredients:

2016-03_making-soap-2
  • 1 bar of Sunlight Pure Soap (NOT hand soap. You need washing soap: Fels-naptha is the American brand to get, Sunlight Pure Soap is the only one I could find in this-here Great White North)
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
  • 13 Litres of Water

Other materials:

2016-03_making-soap-4
  • An cheese grater
  • An old 1.5L saucepan/pot (bigger is fine, the 1.5L boiled over at one point)
  • An old wooden spoon
  • A large bucket 15L or 20L
  • A measuring cup – I set aside an old powder detergent scoop and marked off 1/2-cup intervals
  • several old liquid laundry detergent containers for storage (optional)

To make the detergent is quite simple:

  1. Grate the soap. I have a grater set aside just for soap. This will never touch food again.

  2. Boil 1 Litre of water in the saucepan. When it comes to a boil, turn it down a bit. Otherwise, it’ll agitate the soap and boil over. Don’t let it boil over or you’ll be cleaning soap off the stove. Trust me on this one…

  3. 2016-03_making-soap-1

    Add a small sprinkling of grated soap at a time and gently stir it into to the pot. It doesn’t have to be dissolved all the way, but it shouldn’t glob together. If it does, just squish it against the side of the pot and stir it in. Repeat as necessary.

    How do I know this? Thanks for asking, fictitious audience-plant! Well, I added a huge glob of shredded soap and it made a large gummy wad that took a bit longer to melt.

    Learn from my mistake: Take your time. It’ll melt.

  4. While the soap is dissolving, dump 1/2 cup borax and 1 cup washing soda in the bucket and add 12 Litres of water. I used hot tap water to make sure it dissolved thoroughly. It might work with cold water, but I haven’t tried to find out.

  5. Give the bucket a good stir with the soap-spoon and make sure the powder is all dissolved.

  6. 2016-03_making-soap-3

    When the soap is all dissolved in the saucepan, remove it from the heat and dump it directly into the bucket. Give it another stir with the wooden spoon (dig deep!) and cover for a day (24 hours).

  7. The next day, stir up the thicker gooey liquid (it’ll be a little like jello. That’s good!) and portion it into the smaller containers. Make sure it’s mixed evenly so you don’t get one bottle super-thick and another super-runny.

  8. Use 1 cup liquid detergent per load of laundry. The end.

Cost breakdown

This makes about 13-14 litres of liquid detergent because I’m fast-and-loose with the water. Recommended usage is 1 cup of solution per load, so that’s about 55 washes.

Materials (omitting my time) cost me:

  • Borax – $6 for 2kg (9.5 cups – 19 portions) –> $0.33 per batch

  • Sunlight bar soap – $3 for 2 bars (2 portions) –> $1.5 per batch

  • Washing Soda – $4 for 3kg (14 cups – 14 portions) –> $0.28 per batch

  • That comes to a total of: $2.13 for 55 wash loads, or $0.04 per load for homemade liquid detergent.

    Compare that to $13 per 96-load bottle, or about $0.14 per load for store-bought liquid detergent.

    So what about the other costs?

    It took about a half-hour of my time (5 minutes to grate the soap while the water heated, and another 25 to melt the soap evenly). But there were only 55 loads worth of detergent, so I’d have to do this twice to achieve the same quantity as that $13 bottle.

    Comparing the two, that’s $13 for store-bought detergent minus the $4.26 in materials for an equivalent home-made detergent – so that works out to just under $9 for an hour of my time, plus the hassle of dealing with the (admittedly minor) cleanup.

    Not a bad savings if I have nothing else to do. If I’m busy? Well, that cost might just be worth it. Like homemade bread: great if you have the time.

    There are a few other things I needed that can be reused, so I didn’t count them in the cost. They could be an additional one-time purchase of $10, or simply some re-purposing of otherwise-discarded household items:

  • I bought a new grater for $4 at the dollar store. I could have used an old one but I didn’t have one that wasn’t in use.

  • I happened to have a spare 1.5L sauce pan – otherwise, this would have cost me $5 at the dollar store. You can technical use one of your good pots, but it’ll take a solid scrub to get all the soap off of it.

  • A scoop for measuring the borax and washing soda could be salvaged from a yogourt container or an unused measuring cup. I had an old bucket of powder laundry detergent, so I used the scoop from that.

  • A wooden spoon for stirring the soap – if you need to buy one, use the new one in your kitchen and set aside an old one.

  • A large 15-20 Litre bucket might be harder to come by. I happened to have an old bucket of powder detergent. You could use a salvaged fondant bucket (Tim’s alum right here!) or *shudder* buy one.

  • Liquid laundry detergent containers are also something you can just hold onto. I mention this is optional above, because you could technically scoop from the large bucket, but it clumps up so you’d have to make sure you stir each time you use it. It’s easier to just shake a small container before pouring out a measure.

  • The Results

    The question you have to ask yourself, is 60 minutes of your at-home time worth $9 in savings?

    Maybe.

    Put another way, though: is a fun activity with the kids once a month worth $4.50 in savings and a half-hour of your time? I’m always looking for fun and unique things to do with my daughter so…

    Yow-za is it ever worth it!

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Homemade Bread and Dough

Golden, delicious homemade goodness!

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Bread is a staple for many households, and mine is no exception. Even when I’m eating low-carb, bread still gets made for the rest of my family to enjoy.

With that in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I’ve perfected several varieties of bread and bread dough, which I use to great extent in my home. I’ve shared some of my favourites below (white, whole wheat and multigrain), all of which use the same steps, just with different ratios of ingredients.

Now, as much as my family loves fresh-baked bread, it’s hard to find 2-4 hours at the end of a work-day to bake it. Between supper, out-of-house activities and early bedtimes, this is usually a weekend recipe for us. I have managed to pull of a couple of mid-week loaves, but I had to stay up until 11:30 to do it. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

As for the recipe, the flour measurements I used are in weights because I started with bakers ratios, which are based on flour-to-water weights.

Back in the day, I picked up a cheap ($10) 2kg plastic weight scale and it’s served me well for more than 5 years. If you don’t have a kitchen scale (I highly recommend one), you can approximate the weight as 125 g per cup (so about 4 cups for this 500g recipe).

If you use cups instead of weights, you may need to adjust the amount of water. Make sure to note your differences, so you can make it again.

However you weigh it, the end result should be the same golden-brown deliciousness that is home-cooked bread!

Homemade Bread and Bread Dough Recipe

This recipe takes 2-4 hours start to finish and yeilds 2x400g loaves.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams flour plus extra for dusting
    • 500 g white flour for white bread.
    • 400 g whole wheat flour and 100 g white flour for whole wheat bread.
    • 400 g multigrain flour and 100 g white flour for multigrain bread. Omit 1/4 cup water for this recipe.
  • 1+1/2 cups warm water
  • 2+1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 8-gram pack)
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon oil or butter
  • 2 Tablespoons skim milk powder (optional)

Tools

  • Mixing bowl and wooden spoon (or stand mixer)
  • Large flat surface for kneading the dough
  • bread pan, roll pan, or baking sheet (depending on whether you want loaves, rolls, or frozen dough)

Directions – Dough only

  1. Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup hot tap water. Set aside for 10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. It should be foaming after a few minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, sift the flour, remaining sugar, salt and skim milk powder into a mixing bowl. Stir it together so the dry ingredients are mixed evenly.

  3. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the liquid ingredients – the yeast mixture, oil and 1 cup of hot tap water.

  4. Mix until there are no dry spots. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough is too dry.

  5. Knead for 10 minutes.

  6. Set aside for about an hour in a bowl covered with a damp tea-towel. It should be about double in size after an hour.

  7. Knead the dough again for just long enough to work out any air bubbles.

  8. At this point, you’ll have dough that you can form into bread, or you can freeze it for later use.

Directions – Bread

  1. Grease two medium sized bread pans.

  2. Separate the dough into a manageable size. I find 4 balls for 2 loaves (2 dough balls for each loaf) is a good size.

  3. Fit the dough into the bread pans and cover with a damp tea-towel. Let rise for about an hour or two until double in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400F and bake for 10 minutes.

  5. Reduce heat to 350F and bake another 30-40 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Loaves should be dark golden brown.

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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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An Open Letter to Costco

I’ve only got two hands…

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Costco was sent the following letter and informed up front that it would be posted publicly.

Dear Costco,

Most of the time, I love you, I really do. You help me stay on budget, you help provide my toddler with healthy snack options and warm socks. (Her favourite article of clothing is her blue owl house-coat. She knows the word for housecoat and most of her vocabulary is dedicated to food and ponies… that’s a lot!)

My parents had a membership and when I finally had the opportunity to purchase my own, I jumped at the chance. You’ve sincerely helped my family grow in the short months since we signed up.

But…

…are you familiar with the saying “You’re only as good as your last success”? With a corporate goal to “exceed member expectations” I would think so. Sadly, you have not exceeded my expectations today, in point of fact, I feel like you’ve forgotten that I had any expectations to begin with.

Here’s why…

After spending $502, I needed an extra few seconds of time from your checkout staff to get my things in my cart.

Instead:

  • …I was asked if I’d mind pushing two carts to my car (I was alone and politely said as much).

  • …I was told “no, that won’t fit there” when items were unnecessarily moved from one cart (all tightly nestled with bar-codes exposed) to another smaller/deformed cart – where they, of course “wouldn’t fit”.

  • …I was checked out around so that the next customer had to excuse his way past me while I struggled to jam packages into some semblance of how they had been in my previous cart.

Now, I’m no Costco newbie. I know to:

  • …put the light stuff on the conveyor.

  • …leave the bulky/heavy stuff in the cart – bar-codes visible and accessible by the hand-scanner.

  • …pack the conveyor neatly but compactly so your staff can get all their items per minute (or whatever the metric-de-jour might be).

  • …have my card ready for the cashier so he/she can start scanning quickly.

  • …smile warmly and make polite conversation so your busy cashier knows he/she doesn’t have to worry about me, the customer, being impatient.

And yet, your staff – I assume in an effort to be more efficient (it wasn’t, by the way) – made me feel like my purchase ($502, remember) was an inconvenience rather than providing income for Costco (and, by extension, for themselves as Costco employees).

I have some suggestions: next time, help your customer unload the cart onto the conveyor instead of starting a new cart where moving heavy/bulky things is needed; Wait until your customer is at least somewhat close to being settled away before scanning the next person’s items through; Above all, have a little empathy for the lone customer with a full cart and a single pair of hands.

I’m not calling for action against the employees involved. Neither of them were rude or abrasive; they were simply rushed. And frankly, they must be receiving direction from above that this sort of “rush ’em through” behaviour is deemed okay. But rest assured, my experience today makes it clear that sometimes speed is not the same as efficiency.

I do my Costco shopping on Frantic-Fridays and Squashed-like-Sardines-Saturdays because of the value your products add to my life and the life of my family. Kirkland No-Salt-Added Tomatoes are a mainstay in my kitchen. Kirkland-brand toilet paper never runs out…

…but no “great deal” is worth feeling like a burden over.

Perhaps you could remind your employees (and the management team who drives their behaviour), that when “there are plenty of shopping alternatives”, it’s service that’ll keep your customers walking through your doors.

With Regards,
Crystal
Costco member since 2015

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