Simplifying Life through Meal Planning

I must say that I wasn’t always a meal planner, and I still have my weeks where I do not practice this discipline – and those weeks I always do feel a little more stressed out during the day as I think about what I am going to make for dinner and if I have the correct ingredients to pull it off.

The way that I do meal planning is pretty simple, and it allows me to take advantage of certain sale items at the store, as well as save multiple trips to the store to pick up that “must-have” ingredient for  a recipe that I wouldn’t regularly buy.

So this is what I do: I look through the sale flyers for all of the local grocery stores and mark down those groceries that I will buy because we use them, and they are priced right. As noted in another blog, I price match. This means that my grocery list is quite detailed as it lists the store, and the page number where we can find the sale item quickly at checkout. Next, I look at our “Meals we Like” list which includes our favorite meals that we regularly eat and I decide what we are going to eat for the week, and then I fill in the missing ingredients for those meals that aren’t yet on the grocery list. This ensures that I will have everything I need for seven meals throughout the week, and I can anticipate each day what I need to do to prepare the meal for the day without any stress. Sometimes I pre-chop all of my veggies earlier in the day, other times I will put everything in the slow cooker in the morning and turn it on, and other days I will simply remove any frozen items from the freezer to ensure that they are ready for the night’s meal.

meals we like - a list

Some other benefits of meal planning:

-I try new recipes more often. When I’m making a meal plan for the week I very often will throw a new recipe in there that I have yet to try from one of my favorite cookbooks. For me, this makes cooking fun and keeps things from getting too predictable. Also, I think that it is good for my kids to be pushed out of their comfort zones to try new things. I will not have any picky eaters!

-I can look at our calendar for the week and strategically pick meals that fit in our schedule. This makes the week run a lot more smoothly.

-I can involve the kids! They often help me pick a couple of meals for the week, and they eagerly look forward to these meals. Sometimes we all write our own lists (the older two girls and I) and this helps the girls to practise sounding out words and writing their letters. I suppose that it also teaches them how to be organized in this area of running a household.

-It saves money. When I thoughtfully plan our menu I use less convenience items, more sale items, and I do more cooking from scratch and this saves money! (Okay, I almost always cook from scratch anyway BUT about once a week if I don’t have a menu I am at a loss for what to make and we go buy something that’s convenient in a pinch.)

There you have it, that is how I simplify life through meal planning. Do you meal plan? Do you have a different strategy? I would love to hear it!

Pineapple Curried Chicken

This is my absolute favorite meal! I love it for a few reasons. One is that it is packed with flavor (including some curry which I LOVE), it’s also really easy to make, and it’s very healthy. How great is that??? I enjoy using my slow cooker, and when I can use it for something a little different I enjoy it even more. But seriously, who doesn’t like to prep a meal at lunchtime, and to come home at supper to an amazing meal. The best is the smell when you walk in the house…mmmmmm.

Pineapple Curried Chicken

Here is the recipe in all it’s glory:

Pineapple Curried Chicken

Ingredients:

1/4 cup sweet rice flour (for all of you out there who can eat gluten, go ahead and use whole wheat flour)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp curry powder
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp gluten free soy sauce
1 Tbsp honey
1 540 mL can of pineapple chunks in pineapple juice
3 large red peppers, sliced into thin strips (you can use whatever other color peppers you like as well)

Directions:

1. Cut your chicken into chunks and add to the slow cooker.

2. Add flour, paprika and curry powder to the slow cooker, and toss chicken to coat.

3. Sprinkle on onion, garlic, and pepper.

4. Pour soy sauce and honey evenly into slow cooker.

5. Pour pineapple and its juices over top.

6. Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, or until chicken is cooked.

7. Remove lid and add peppers. Replace lid and continue cooking for 20 to 30 minutes, or until peppers are soft.

8. Serve on a bed of brown rice.

Serves 4. Recipe can be doubled, but make sure to add extra cooking time.

(Recipe adapted from blushmom.com)

Curry powder is used in this recipe, and after looking into the fantastic health benefits of it, I am going to try and use it more often! Curry powder is a blend of spices, and one of the main ones is turmeric. Turmeric is the spice that gives the deep orange or yellow color to the dish, and it has some excellent health properties. There are current studies underway to investigate for possible benefits in Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, and other clinical disorders. Some research also shows that Turmeric contains compounds that are both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial (wikipedia).

 

People in India have long used Turmeric for cooking, as well as for many other uses including an anti inflammatory paste for small cuts and bruises, skin ailments, coughs, gum infections, and it is combined with aloe vera to make a burn remedy. It is also thought to fight free radicals in the body and help to prevent cancer (www.bewellbuzz.com).

Enjoy your pineapple curried chicken!

 

 

 

Shepherd’s Pie With a Twist!

I have a few meals that I have found that my family really enjoys, that are also gluten and dairy free AND full of nutrients. I thought that over the next few weeks I would share our family favorites! This first one is a great variation on the traditional shepherd’s pie, and I have adapted it from alive magazine’s March 2011 issue (recipe credited to Marilyn Smith). To put a healthy spin on this dish, sweet potatoes are substituted for the traditional white potatoes (My husband prefers the texture of white potatoes so I do a mixture of both). I absolutely LOVE the flavor of fresh rosemary in this dish, and I’ll point out some of the health benefits of this amazing evergreen herb following the recipe.

shepherd's pie

Ingredients
:
3 large sweet potatoes
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb organic or free range ground beef or ground turkey
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 cup organic, low sodium ketchup (or just make your own and avoid the processed sugar by combining crushed tomatoes or tomato paste, some garlic powder, a dash of apple cider vinegar, and some honey to add a bit of natural sweetness).
1 Tbsp gluten free soy sauce
2 cups vegetables of your choice (sauteed, frozen, or leftover cooked – whatever you have on hand).

Directions:
1. Peel and boil sweet potatoes in water in a covered pot until tender.
2. Mash and set aside
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
4. Heat large frying pan over medium heat (remember to avoid non-stick – cast iron is ideal!) Add oil and onion, and saute until the onion is soft. Add ground meat, and cook until no longer pink. If using fresh veggies, add them now and cook until desired tenderness is reached.
5. Add garlic, rosemary, and pepper and saute for 2 minutes.
6. Add ketchup and soy sauce and stir until well combined.
7. If using frozen or precooked veggies, add them now and stir well to combine.
8. Pour this into a rectangular glass baking dish, and top with your mashed sweet potatoes. Sprinkle a little extra pepper and rosemary on the top.
9. Bake for 20-30 minutes, and serve!
Makes 6 servings.

Here are some facts about the lovely sweet potato…
According to Wikipedia, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Pink, yellow and green varieties are high in carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. They may be beneficial for diabetics, as preliminary studies have shown that sweet potato helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and to lower insulin resistance.
And some really interesting facts…
In South America, the juice of red sweet potatoes is combined with lime juice to make a dye for cloth. By varying the proportions of the juices, every shade from pink to black can be obtained. Cool right?
Also, researchers at North Carolina State University are breeding sweet potato varieties that would be grown primarily for biofuel production.
(All information from Wikipedia)

Rosemary has quite a lot going for it as well! This perennial herb is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6, and has a reputation for helping memory function. Rosemary contains the antioxidants carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid, and other bioactive compounds including camphor, caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, rosmaridiphenol, and rosmanol. Some of these may be useful in preventing or treating cancers, strokes and Alzheimer’s Disease (Wikipedia). I should mention that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding you can eat small amounts of rosemary (like the amount in the shepherd’s pie), but don’t go crazy with it.
Why not try to incorporate fresh rosemary into some of the other dishes that you make? Sprinkle it on your mashed potatoes, on your meats, on your foccocia bread before you bake it- delicious.

Here is a picture of Karis (18 months) thoroughly enjoying her shepherd’s pie – she had four helpings!!!

Enjoy!

Allergies and Apple Cider Vinegar

Almost all of my life I have had REALLY bad seasonal allergies – especially in the fall. I also have never taken an over the counter allergy medicine such as Claritin to treat these allergies, since I was concerned about the possible side effects that these nasty drugs would have on my body (diarrhea, drowsiness, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, heartburn, nausea, nervousness or restlessness (especially in children), vomiting, pounding fast or irregular heartbeat, seizures, stomach discomfort, symptoms of a severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing hives or swelling of the face and throat, signs of liver problems (http://chealth.canoe.ca/drug_info_details.asp?channel_id=0&relation_id=0&brand_name_id=1871&page_no=2)). Frankly, after reading this list I don’t want to go near the stuff.

I did try some different homeopathic remedies over the years which helped a little. But the most impactful thing that I did to very significantly decrease my allergy symptoms began about five years ago. After doing a search on the internet for natural remedies for allergies, I noticed that over and over again, apple cider vinegar was mentioned. Not just any kind of apple cider vinegar, but raw, organic apple cider vinegar with the mother (the mother is like the pulp, and has lots of good stuff in it), which is found in the health food section of your store. The consensus seems to be that you should take about 2 tsp in a glass of water, 2 – 3 times a day for best results (always dilute, this is strong stuff!).
So, I found myself a bottle (which was quite inexpensive) and got my first concoction ready. I will never forget taking my first sip and gagging so badly that it almost came back up…. this stuff tasted disgusting! However, my allergies were so bad that I was determined and I continued the regime of taking it twice a day. I don’t think that I can pinpoint when it started helping, but I can say for sure that the following fall my allergies were about 80-90% better than I could ever remember them being, and I credit it all to the apple cider vinegar!

I have learned that apple cider vinegar is considered by many to be one of nature’s most perfect foods. What is in apple cider vinegar?
Potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, sulfur, copper, iron, silicone, fluorine, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, beta carotene, and vitamin P (www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/article/Apple_Cider_Vinegar). Not only is it full of important vitamins and minerals but it has also been shown to have the ability to destroy microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses from reaching the rest of the systems of the body (It contains natural malic and tartaric acids, which are important in fighting body toxins and inhibiting unfriendly bacteria growth). And, it is thought that apple cider vinegar will lower the bloods natural alkalinity, bringing it closer to a natural healthy acid state. A naturally acidic digestive tract with the correct pH balance will discourage bacteria and is less likely to grow yeast and fungus (www.earthclinic.com/Remedies/acvinegar.html).

Not only is it known as an effective remedy for allergies, it is thought to be helpful in a whole slew of things! Some of which are thought to include:

Arthritis
Asthma
Blood pressure
Cancer
Candida
Cholesterol
Colds
Constipation
Cramps
Diabetes
Diarrhea
Depression
Fatigue
Food poisoning
Gallstones
Headaches
Indigestion
Kidney Stones
Metabolism
Nasal congestion
Sore throat
Stiff joints
Ulcers
Weight loss

Holy Cow!!! Now, I’m not a doctor, and I am not officially recommending that you should take apple cider vinegar or saying that if you do you will feel better….. But what have you got to lose??????? I think it’s awesome. I take it twice daily, and the rest of my family takes it fairly often as a preventative, as well as to combat certain things. When the stomach flu is going around, we all consume apple cider vinegar and very rarely get sick. When someone has an upset stomach, they consume apple cider vinegar and it settles. Runny nose? Apple cider vinegar. You get the point. I did gag the first time I drank it, but I got used to the taste very quickly and quite like it now. When I feed it to my kids I put it in apple juice and it becomes tangy juice – they like it! I think that this is a great addition to a diet full of whole foods. I love how the simple things can often be so effective.

Anyone else out there an avid apple cider vinegar fan? Why do you consume it, and in what way does it make you feel better?

Blueberry Yumminess!

A few weeks ago I went blueberry picking with my mom-in-law and my two older girls at Klassen’s Blueberries in Harrow www.klassenblueberries.com, and we had a good time. We would have had a great time I’m sure if it wasn’t for the three trips each that Zoey and Sophia had to make to the port a john that was a few minutes walk from the designated place of picking… I think that they were getting bored with picking and that’s all they could think of to do! But that annoying fact aside, it was a beautiful day to be out in the sun picking berries and we are once again stocked up for a few months. This year I decided to make some blueberry jam, and I wanted to try some without any sugar added. I found this recipe http://monasrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/07/best-ever-blueberry-honey-jam.html for blueberry honey jam and I tried it! Well, it was a success – it’s delicious and I would definitely recommend that you try making it if you’re into that kind of thing.

Here’s a photo of the yummy freezer stash that we have to eat on cereal, in muffins in pancakes, and in smoothies!

And here’s a picture of Zoey and Sophia enjoying some blueberries for an afternoon snack.

Well, after the successful jam venture I decided to go all out and I canned some fresh local tomatoes, as well as some delicious peaches that we got from our friends’ orchard in Ruthven www.medelorchards.ca. I must say that I am going to take a break from canning for a while, but in the fall I am definitely going to do some applesauce as well.

Please share your favourite jam or canning recipes, I would love to try them!

Food Made Simple

Karis has been eating like a champ – both solids and breastmilk. A few months ago I wrote about baby led weaning and how I thought I might try this. Well, Karis is 9 months old now and has been trying new foods since she was 6 ½ months old. Just to recap, the premise of baby led weaning is to completely skip the purees and baby foods, to wait until baby is ready to swallow and manipulate foods, and go straight to feeding baby soft small pieces of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and tender meat.

Some of the first foods that we introduced were steamed sweet potato, avocado, banana, and steamed carrot. We made sure that they were nice and soft, and cut them into small pea-sized bits. After offering her as much breastmilk as she wanted, we offered this food to her on the tray of her high chair, and we were really excited to see her pick up the bits of food and clumsily bring them to her mouth and eat them! She seemed to enjoy this new eating experience from the get go and we loved the simplicity of it. No pureeing and spoon feeding involved, no rice cereal, just straight to real food. We continued to introduce new foods one at a time and quite quickly we were able to begin feeding her the portion of our regular family meal that was appropriate for her. We did realize that some things are better to spoon feed if we don’t want to deal with a very messy baby though!

When I think about this, it really seems to make sense. If we wait until babies are ready to eat solid foods, we can simply feed them these foods without thinning them out.  And, they can feed themselves!!! To me, this is pretty wonderful. I can eat my meal, my family can eat their meals…. We can all eat our meals!

We love the simplicity of this approach, and Karis seems to really enjoy eating meals with us as part of the family.

Baby Led Weaning

Time is flying by and Karis will already be 6 months old on Saturday. She has been doing wonderfully on her diet of breast milk, and I have been thoroughly enjoying feeding her, and hope that our nursing relationship will be an extended one. That being said, it is nearing the time to begin offering her some other nutritious foods.

I was perusing the internet the other day checking out the latest advice for what to offer my little one, when I came across the idea of baby led weaning.

Essentially, baby led weaning consists of preparing vegetables and fruits so that they are soft enough for baby to gum, cutting them into small cubes (to avoid a choking hazard), and simply placing on baby’s tray for them to feed themselves. The great thing is that you completely skip the step where you spoon-feed pureed food into baby’s mouth! As baby gets older and more familiar with different tastes and textures, you simply begin to offer baby more of the same foods that the rest of the family is enjoying.

You can only do this with a baby that has reached the six-month mark or they won’t be ready developmentally for grabbing the food, or for chewing the food.  As well, you always breastfeed baby first so that you know they are getting all of the calories and nutrients that are needed since they don’t actually consume much food in the beginning stages. After they get as much milk as they would like you sit them in their highchair and give them the prepared food to enjoy for themselves. I have read that this can be quite messy, but I think that I’m going to give it a try! Of all of my girls, Karis is the quickest to put anything and everything that she can get her little hands on STRAIGHT into her mouth, so I’m hoping that she’ll do a great job of feeding herself.

Next week sometime I’m going to give it a try and I’m thinking of steamed sweet potato as the first food to introduce – I’ll keep you posted and let you know how it turns out! Also, I would love to hear from any of you who have tried this method out.

Thanks for reading,

Karen