Posted in Good Eats

Back to Cooking

SOMETIMES.

This is true… sometimes.

Sometimes I love skipping into the kitchen with my apron on (actually I never remember to wear one… my clothes get very mad at me 😉 ) and whipping up fantastic meals that taste pretty decent if I do say so myself!

Other times I drag my feet into the kitchen, look in all the cupboards and fridge and freezer, declare there is absolutely nothing worth eating/nothing I can muster the energy to cook (or so my tired perspective tells me) and I turn my attention to the pile of coupons on the counter.  Pick one guys – there will be no cooking done in this house tonight!

*Unless Josh is home and feels like taking over in the kitchen. And once in a while the oldest son will work his kitchen magic. They love cooking sometimes too :)*

Through the years I’ve gone back and forth between having a tried and true menu plan for the week/month, and just winging it with whatever ingredients need to be used up first.

There are times when life is so busy and my brain is full of anything but what’s for dinner. In these times a menu plan works great and I do a big shop for ingredients that we use up over the next few days/weeks. This is when I know exactly what we’re eating for each meal for quite some time ahead.

Then there are times when I’m sick of cooking the same old-same old and need to be a bit more creative with upcoming meals. So I buy a few standard staples, brace myself for having to go to the store a FEW times that week for any last-minute ingredients (I don’t like shopping much) and see where the mood takes me each day.

Since our move a few weeks ago, I’ve gone through a whole range of emotions when it comes to cooking.

At first I couldn’t wait to get back into a kitchen that didn’t need to be spotless for house showings at any time of day. I took out my old menu plans and visited the local grocery stores and started to restock the pantry, fridge, and freezer. This took some time, and it was so weird being in a different kitchen! But I calmed down after a while and feel much more comfortable in the new space.

Josh has been in there canning peaches and applesauce already too… I like when he goes in the kitchen 🙂

After a little while of sticking to the menu plan I noticed the skipping had ceased and the dragging had started.

I knew it was time to let go of the old plan for a while and see what the days brought in the kitchen for a while.

This is when I use a different method – browse the flyers, buy whatever is on sale for meat and veggies that week, pitch it all in the fridge/freezer after it’s bought, see who feels like cooking that day, and leave the rest to chance. It’s freeing, and gets the creativity flowing in the kitchen.

I’m sure that after a little while of “free”, when the Christmas season is approaching, and life gets much busier again, the menu plans will resurface and I will love their predictability and consistency.

No matter what your kitchen style – be it planner or freelancer – there are a few ideas to help keep it simple in the kitchen…

  • Eat in as much as you can muster. This saves an amazing amount of money and it’s great for your health. Restaurant coupons might save you money but they won’t save your health. As much as we want it to be true… it’s just not… ah well… back to the kitchen!
  • Use the same ingredients as much as possible, but in completely different ways. This way you keep the grocery list simple, and decrease the amount of space needed in your home for all sorts of ingredients you rarely use. This will also reduce the amount of ingredients going in the garbage – good for the globe!
  • Keep the kitchen gadgets to a minimum. This keeps the kitchen clutter-free and leaves more room for creativity and kitchen helpers!
  • Eat what you love (and is pretty healthy). Don’t try to make yourself eat foods you don’t enjoy just because the latest craze says you can’t live without them. But do find healthy foods you like – I had to sort through alot of ever-changing media hype about certain foods, and go back to basics – healthy foods I love are carrots, celery, bananas, and applesauce. I eat these 4 things almost every day. Also throw in some berries in smoothies alot of mornings, and some broccoli or peas or corn or cucumber or lettuce or tomato or mix of a few at dinner, and I’m good to go! I try to remember what all my guys like, and give them foods they enjoy as well. Sometimes we all have to eat foods we don’t love because others in our family love them, but we also don’t hate the foods, so it’s all good. I like to eat less meat than my guys so I’ll take BBQ salmon instead of a burger/sausage, or hummus, etc. I also throw beans in with the meat in some recipes – to boost the protein without loading up on meat.
  • Cook what comes easy. For the life of me I can’t figure out the BBQ, or French toast, or pancakes, or soup. I wish I could master all these things, but I’ve tried folks, and I’ll leave these creations with someone else. It’s either than I burn, or it’s mushy, or I just don’t like cooking it at all. So I’ll pass those along to others who can manage them. Odd, I know, they all seem so simple, but turns out I definitely have my limitations in the kitchen!

There’s a few thoughts and tips to get me (and you) back to cooking – which I don’t always love, depending on the busyness of the season I’m in.

Enjoy 🙂

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Posted in Good Eats

September Menu Plan

So… I create monthly menu plans to make life much more simple for me. Yes – it’s all about me. Imagine 3 hungry men coming at you every night with the same question, and never knowing the answer…

What’s for dinner?

Such an innocent question, but so loaded with angst for me.

It should be an easy answer, but… What’s in the fridge? What did we have last night? What’s on the schedule for tonight? Do we have any coupons? (No, wait, we can’t eat out AGAIN!) And so the angst cycle begins.

Many moons ago I realized I’d love to develop menu plans – they’re all the rage in simple living books and blogs. How hard could it be right?

Well, it took much trial and error, and required me to get rid of alot of people-pleasing tendencies (because not ALL of us like ALL the dinners I make).

A big factor for me was fitting all this required food into the budget. And the budget has expanded as my boys have expanded (vertically 🙂 ). And that’s perfectly fine.

When we started on the Food Box program that was a challenge as well, because I never quite knew what would be in the box every week! I had to learn to cook with what I was given, instead of buying food needed for recipes I’d chosen beforehand. Quite a switch for me, let me tell you. But I think I’ve mostly got the hang of it, and many of the things in the Food Box are seasonal or similar every week, so I’ve learned to roll with that as well. Sometimes the menu plan becomes an idea outline instead of a set-in-stone regiment.

Here’s our September plan – let me know if you’d like a recipe and I’ll start to type them up 🙂

 

BREAKFAST School Lunches – 8 Items AFTER-SCHOOL SNACK DINNER – 1st Week & 3rd Week DINNER – 2nd Week & 4th Week
MONDAY Muffins/Smoothies 1-Pizza/Sand./Leftovers muffins Chipotle Meat, Rice, Torilllas – Double It Thai Chicken Stir Fry – Double It
TUESDAY Breakfast Cookies/Smoothies 2-Yogurt popcorn Chili with Nachos, Buns, or Hot Dogs – Double It Spaghetti Pie – Double It
WEDNESDAY Muffins/Smoothies 3-Fruit muffins Sausages or Salmon & Salad BBQ Skewers, Rice, Broccoli
THURSDAY Breakfast Cookies/Smoothies 4-Vegetables popcorn Eggs, Beans, Toast, Tomato Crock Coup – Lentil & Veg
FRIDAY Sausage/English Muffins 5-Granola Bar/Muffin choc bar Burgers or Salmon & Salad Burgers or Salmon & Salad
SATURDAY Pancakes/Bacon 6-Treat Homemade Pizza & Raw Veg Homemade Pizza & Raw Veg
SUNDAY Anything Goes 7-Juice Can Leftovers or Potluck or Crock Pot Recipes Leftovers or Potluck or Crock Pot Recipes
8-Bottled Water
N O T E S 🙂
MONTHLY BAKING – Portion & Freeze ALSO MAKE DESSERTS BEDTIME SNACK
Cereal Squares 2 Granola Bar Recipes for Us Fruit Cereal
Choc Chip Bars Ice Cream Toast
Choc Snack Cake Cake Fruit
Peach or Apple or Berry Cake

In addition to this plan, I also have a few frozen pizzas on hand for hunger emergencies 🙂

Having everything mapped out like this really helps with making the grocery list as well – SO NICE!

When I scan the weekly flyers and make note of the sales, then I can stock up for the recipes coming, or for next month if I’ve already got everything I need for the current menu plan.

What’s for dinner you ask? … well let me just check… 

See how easy that can be?

Yep, lovin’ it!

 

Do you menu plan? If so, do you have any tips for the rest of us?

Posted in Good Eats

Simple Life – Whole Grain Recipes

simple life

Last week I mentioned that whole grains were loaded with nutrients that a body needs to fuel the Simple Life. Multigrain, enriched, and organic do not mean the same thing as whole grain. Whole means all – you get all the nutrients of the grain in one place.

Simple. Done. Potential maximized.

I was on a quest to adapt my current go-to grain recipes into something at least on the way to whole grain. Instead of using all-purpose flour or white rice, I changed up a few of my recipes.

That’s what I’m sharing with you today – recipes that we use at our house. Some of these have been revised a few times during the years, for less sugar, less ingredients, better taste, etc.

Let’s start with a couple of breakfast recipes… Continue reading “Simple Life – Whole Grain Recipes”

Posted in Good Eats

Simple Life – Whole Grains

simple life

I’ve got my naturally flavoured water steeping in the fridge – we are trying watermelon/rosemary and blackberry/sage this week. I bought mini packets of fresh herbs for $1 each at Walmart and small containers of pre-cut watermelon and fresh blackberries for about the same price as a normal-cost carton of juice. I mashed the fruit and herbs slightly with the metal attachment for an electric beater – in an effort to release some of the flavouring of the ingredients (I wanted to try the blackberry/sage right away – yum! I ran it through a small strainer into my glass, just in case).

We’ll also be trying mango/mint and strawberry/lime in the next few days as well. I bought frozen packages of the fruits, and I’ll thaw out a small bowl-full the night before I want to steep these creations.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Now on to whole grains…

I’ve been working on this for quite a while already – trying to adapt recipes to include whole wheat flour, trying to incorporate other grains into my days, trying to make sure I buy items labelled as “whole” grain.

Enriched, organic, and even multi grain does not mean the same thing as whole grain.

Whole grains contain all the parts, all the nutrients of the grain. They include corn (popcorn is a whole grain!), quinoa, rice, oats, rye, wheat, and a few others. Digesting grains can be hard on the body, so it’s a good idea to go with the everything in moderation principle.

A diet with lots of variety is key, and it can still be simple. The trick is getting rid of the clutter in our lives, including our diets. Clutter would be things like processed foods, greasy foods, fast foods, foods high in white sugar or white flour, soft drinks, most juices, flavoured coffee, and so on! You get the picture.

What helped me most as I just recently started this process of decluttering my diet was finding healthier, simpler foods I enjoyed eating to replace the foods that were cluttering up my life. This is not an easy one, folks. Especially when you’re used to eating a certain way, and you’ve been walking that road for a long  time. It’s hard to even SEE a different path, let alone choose to walk on it. I love my chocolate (at least once a day), my occasional cans of Coke, my breakfast creations of all shapes and sizes (usually involving white flour and sugar in some form or another), and my fast-food french fries.

But decluttering is absolutely needed – my trip to the thrift store last night to buy a few summer items confirmed it. I am putting my foot down and refusing to go up another pant size – that’s it for me! I’ve already gone up 2 sizes since I’ve been married, and that’s just enough. Time to do some serious decluttering on my menu. Sometimes I might eat different things than Josh and the boys, sometimes I might make treats just for them, sometimes I might linger at the table and just chat instead of helping myself to more. And that’s all OK.

Back on topic – whole grains. I took a look at where we’ve already got them on the household menu. To be honest, they are a little scarce right now, so I’ll have to improve on that. We love to eat muffins, breakfast cookies, waffles or pancakes at breakfast. We enjoy sandwiches or nachos and hummus at lunch, then there’s buns or bread slices or pizza at dinner.

Areas of future improvement for me in the whole grain area include adapting my breakfast recipes to incorporate whole grains, putting more rice/quinoa on the menu, and finding recipes for homemade bread/buns/pizza dough that focus on whole grains.

Note: I like being in the kitchen most days and baking/cooking for my family. Hence all the homemade meals at our house. Not everyone enjoys this part of life, and I know there are some great options for those who want to spend a little less time in the kitchen. Options like a husband or children who like to cook :), prebaked whole grain bread products, packaged whole grain cereals for the mornings, instant oatmeal packets, bags of prewashed rice/quinoa, and many more options!

My hope is to sort through the mess of what I currently eat in a day, try to eat only at certain times to make things predictable for my digestive system, and to put in good, clean food that will actually fuel the machine. Back to basics, nice and simple, easy to do.

The hard part is the clutter – the emotional eating, the just-because-I’m-bored/lonely/procrastinating eating that creeps into my life every day. That’s where the challenge lies – in getting rid of all that eating “stuff” that I don’t need. Back to needs vs wants. For me, when it comes to food, it’s easily said but not easily done.

Next steps are a new menu plan (maybe just for me, instead of trying to change everyone’s eating habits – that would just be completely overwhelming, and then I’d never get started!), adapting recipes to include whole grains, eating only at certain times of the day, not caving in to fast food, and maybe even starting to track calories (eeks!).

I’ll keep you posted…

Posted in Good Eats

Simple Life – Ideas for Hot and Cold Water Flavourings

simple life

Ah… water. The more I drink it, the more I like it! My body is craving less and less of the sweet stuff like juice and pop, and more of the simple stuff like water with lemon or lime.

It’s working.

Our bodies really do adapt pretty quickly to healthy choices if we give them a chance. The plan of 7 cups of liquid/day plus eating more food packed with water (like fruit and veggies) is slowly becoming a habit. I reach for my glass of water as soon as I wake up, then enjoy a smoothie or more water at breakfast. Here’s that Breakfast Smoothies – 4 Servings  recipe again since I messed up a little with the hemp hearts quantity last time!

Breakfast Smoothies – 4 Servings – Printable Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 1 ripe avocado (slightly squishy with no brown spots inside)
  • 1 banana (can be thawed from freezer)
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 2 cups frozen fruit (berries, peaches, apples, etc.)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • water
Instructions:
  1. Cut the ripe avocado in half and remove the pit. Squeeze all the green avocado pulp into the blender.
  2. Add banana to blender, peel removed.
  3. Add hemp hearts, frozen fruit, and orange juice to blender.
  4. Add enough water to fill to 1 – 1.25 litres on the outside blender measuring line.
  5. Pulse the ice cube crusher setting a few times to break up the frozen fruit, then blend for a few minutes until the smoothie is a uniform colour and consistency. You may still see tiny bits of frozen fruit – that is OK.
  6. Stop the blender, pour the smoothie mixture into 4 cups, and enjoy!

And on with my day… another glass of water mid-morning, one with lunch, one mid-afternoon, and one with dinner – these are not always consistent, but I’m getting there. And one more cup of water before bed, usually in a herbal tea like peppermint or chamomile.

I have stumbled many times this week when it comes to drink choices, but the goal is not guilt, the goal is simple and healthy. Just trying to focus on simple and healthy.

The truth is that clean water is an amazing gift that we take for granted every day. Not trying to make you feel guilty, just reminding you of something maybe long-forgotten. We walk to the tap, turn it a little, and out comes clean, clear, refreshing water! Maybe this has to be cleaned a tad more with a Brita filter, but there it is people – water. No need to walk for hours, or carry jugs on our heads, or miss out on employment or education to accomplish this task of consuming clean water.

It is truly a gift.

I do understand that water tastes like – nothing. No taste whatsoever. And it can be hard to switch to plain water after a lifetime of choosing flavoured beverages of all varieties. So how about instead of missing out on all the flavourings, we look at some natural options that just might be delicious. Maybe even better than the artificial flavourings we are offered every day? I’ll let you be the judge. I have tried a couple of these through the years, and they were amazing – so light and refreshing – and so easy to make.

Natural Flavourings for Cold Water – Printable Recipe

FRUIT – Fresh or Frozen

lemon, lime, orange, pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, peach

HERBS – Fresh, NOT Dried
mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, basil, tarragon
 
OTHER
cucumber, ginger
 
Mix and match any fruit and herb combinations, according to your preferred taste.
Some recommendations: Straight Citrus, Strawberry Kiwi, Pineapple Mint, Raspberry Lime, Blueberry Lemon, Watermelon Rosemary, Blackberry Sage, Cucumber (plain or add mint and/or melon, lemon, ginger). 
  1. Wash fresh fruit thoroughly – you can pick up a fruit wash from your local health food store. Organic fruit is also a good choice.
  2. Fill jar or pitcher about 1/4 – 1/3 of the way full with fruit. If you are using herbs, add only a sprig or a few leaves to the pitcher.
  3. Slice fruit or cucumber/ginger as needed into small rounds or chunks and add to large pitcher. You can add berries whole. Frozen fruit will need to be thawed slightly before slicing.
  4. Mash the fruit pulp just a little with the end of a wooden spoon or a whisk to release the some of the flavour. Frozen fruit will have to be thawed slightly before mashing.
  5. Add ice if you like, and fill the pitcher with water.
  6. Chill & Enjoy!

And here’s some ideas for those who enjoy hot beverages (these will come in especially handy when the next Northern Ontario winter hits!)

Natural Flavourings for Hot Water – Printable Recipe

HERB IDEAS

Ginger, Fennel, Cinnamon Stick, Lemongrass/Lemon Balm, Lavender, Mint, Licorice Root, Rose Hips/Petals, Lemon/Orange Peel (dried)

Grow Your Own Herbs: Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Mint, Oregano
OTHER IDEAS
Lemon, Split Vanilla Bean, Strawberry/Raspberry Leaves, Chamomile
 
SWEETENER IDEAS

Maple Syrup, Honey
 
Mix and match any combination of ingredients, according to your preferred taste.
Some Recommendations: Mint with Lemon, Ginger, Lavender or Rose, Ginger with Honey or Maple Syrup, Ginger Strawberry, Cinnamon Rose Hip, Cinnamon Orange
  1. Add 1 tsp of dried herbs or 2 tsp fresh herbs per cup of hot water. Mix in other flavourings as chosen.
  2. Use a tea ball or strainer for single servings, or a coffee maker filter for multiple servings made with a coffee maker.
  3. Brew, steep for a few minutes, and Enjoy!

There you have it – ideas for making the gift of clean water that much more tasty. Try to keep at least a couple of cups of plain and simple water in your day, and try to stop for a few seconds and think on how blessed we are to enjoy the gift of clean water. This one small practice has changed my attitude so much over the last couple of years. Viewing it all as a gift, and one to be shared with those who don’t have the same luxuries in life.

Water – yes, quite simply, it is a luxury.

Next week I’ll be moving on to a focus on whole grains and adding more of those into our days.

Posted in Good Eats

Simple Life – More Water

simple life

There are so many beverages available to us every day. So many options. And we can have them either heated or cooled within just a few moments.

Coffee, tea, juice, pop, carbonated water – all with hundreds of varieties to choose from. It can actually get pretty confusing trying to figure out how to quench your thirst every day.

And we’re supposed to make the decision at least 8 times over during the course of a day. We are supposed to drink at least 8 cups of liquid in our days.

Some of those liquids will add a few unwanted ingredients into our bodies in the form of sweeteners or preservatives.

Caffeine can have a negative effect on some of us as well, while others are unaffected by it.

And then we all have our favourite beverages that we tend to reach for every day. Mine are herbal teas, lactose-free chocolate milk of any sort (except rice milk), and plain old water. I like the taste of Coke or Pepsi quite a bit too, but the other pops I can leave alone no problem.

As I’ve been trying to get to Simple, to get down to the basics and get rid of the clutter in all the areas of my life, my drink choices needed to get under the microscope along with everything else. I realized I was drinking quite a few cups of tea with caffeine in them instead of purchasing the decaffeinated variety. All this caffeine was most likely adding to my insomnia and anxiety issues. I was also reaching for a Coke or Pepsi much more often than I used to, also adding more caffeine (and sugar) to my body. Not cool. Needed to change.

I was reaching for water, but not nearly enough every day. I wasn’t drinking anywhere near enough liquids, let alone water, to meet the daily requirements needed to keep all the systems in my body functioning properly.

It helped to remember that clean water is a gift, that most people in our world don’t have that luxury, and for me all I have to do is turn on the tap. I don’t have to walk for miles, there is nothing harmful in my water, and it costs me so little compared to all the other beverage choices available. Water satisfies my cravings for efficiency in my days, health for my body, and frugality for my family. There is nothing more I could ask for.

Most of my daily requirements for liquid for my body are now met with water. I even got rid of the Brita filters because it just seemed to be another unnecessary step and expense in the process. There were complaints from the family for maybe a few days that the water tasted different, and that was it.

I have a general plan for getting 7 glasses of daily liquid into my body, and I’m hoping this will just become second nature over time. And there are days when it all flies out the window, but the point is to do your best with whatever your day brings. It helps to know there is a plan, and that I can get back to it any time. I also get water from fruit and vegetables I eat throughout the day.

Here’s the plan to drink 7 glasses of (mostly) natural ingredients every day:

  1. Glass of water when I wake up.
  2. Breakfast smoothie (recipe below).
  3. Glass of water mid-morning.
  4. Glass of water at lunch.
  5. Glass of water mid-afternoon.
  6. Glass of water at dinner.
  7. Mug of decaffeinated tea after dinner.

I have discovered a few ideas for naturally flavouring both hold and cold water – I’ll share those next week.

For now, here is our Breakfast Smoothie – 4 Servings recipe that our family been perfecting for months now. We all seem to like this variety, it accommodates my lactose-free needs, and has added benefits of healthy protein and fat to fill up growing boys during the school day. We change up the frozen fruit quite often to give variety to the smoothies. These are usually on the menu 4 times a week at our house, and 3 of us know how to make them, which means a much more simple morning for me!

Breakfast Smoothies – 4 Servings

Ingredients:
  • 1 ripe avocado (slightly squishy with no brown spots inside)
  • 1 banana (can be thawed from freezer)
  • 1/2 cup hemp hearts
  • 2 cups frozen fruit (berries, peaches, apples, etc.)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • water
Instructions:
  1. Cut the ripe avocado in half and remove the pit. Squeeze all the green avocado pulp into the blender.
  2. Add banana to blender, peel removed.
  3. Add hemp hearts, frozen fruit, and orange juice to blender.
  4. Add enough water to fill to 1 – 1.25 litres on the outside blender measuring line.
  5. Pulse the ice cube crusher setting a few times to break up the frozen fruit, then blend for a few minutes until the smoothie is a uniform colour and consistency. You may still see tiny bits of frozen fruit – that is OK.
  6. Stop the blender, pour the smoothie mixture into 4 cups, and enjoy!
Posted in Good Eats

Fuelling The Simple Life

simple life

A few months ago I looked through all my food storage cupboards and freezers with a fresh perspective. No longer was it about the quickest, easiest, and cheapest ways to feed my family of four. It wasn’t about stocking the house full of the best deals from the grocery stores (on sale, with coupons, and sometimes even for free!). Neither was it about complete deprivation of foods we love, or scaling back to the extreme regarding all things sweet and fatty. I was learning to look at food and drink much differently than I had in the past.

Food is neither my friend nor my enemy. Sometimes it is simply fuel for the machine, and sometimes it serves to bring family together. There can be feasts and there can be fasts. Guilt and food don’t mix together well, and it’s best to keep temptation out of the house. Obsessing over calories gets me nowhere, and that goes for constantly thinking about food as well. It can easily become an idol in my life, and I’d like to put it back in its place.

I’ve made it simple. Through the years I’ve developed menu plans that seem to work (all the while allowing for “life” to happen), and recently I’ve compiled a monthly grocery list of staple items for our household. Matching up the items with typical lowest prices allows me to keep the grocery budget intact. This area of our family’s life can run on “autopilot” pretty well these days.

It’s been a long process, let me tell you. Sifting through emotional eating issues, and the constant onslaught of healthy food media, and the recommendations for counting fat and calories and sugar and salt and carbs… the list goes on and on. So much to sort through, so I simply listened for the tried and true, the basics that have always been there, those quiet voices that speak of an easy, healthy, fun way of looking at food.

Back to basics – in so many ways. That describes our family’s eating journey the last few months. We still enjoy our treats, but not as often, and we are a work in progress. The guilt is easing up, and we see encouraging views of long, healthy life on the horizon. Enjoying time around the table, nourishing our bodies and our souls, laughter shared over a good meal – sometimes just the four of us, sometimes with friends and family. It’s coming, slowly but surely.

What have we changed since the start of the journey to simple health? It started with that fresh perspective as I looked into the food cupboards and freezers.

  • The not-so-healthy items were separated out, and we quickly ate through those, knowing they would most likely never make it back into the house again.
  • We started separating processed from natural – anything in a container with added preservatives, anything made on a factory line, anything that wasn’t really “food” (no nutrients).
  • Which foods were in their natural state? Fruits, vegetables, grains, meats – even if they were frozen, as long as there wasn’t a long list of chemical preservatives involved we were happy.
  • What about baking ingredients? Could some of these be healthier than others? We learned about healthier sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, applesauce instead of oil, oatmeal instead of more flour, healthier fat instead of less fat, and putting more focus on fruit-based desserts. We still love our treats in our family!

That’s where we’re at right now – with most likely a long way to go. But what we’ve discovered so far has been encouraging. There is more confidence as we learn more about what our family needs for a healthy life. And knowing it’s affordable has made all the difference in moving forward. What are our next steps?

  • Buying only what is needed for the menu and not picking up extras.
  • Continuing to search for affordable local-grown food, moving ahead with weekly Food Boxes from the local farmers.
  • Trying to grow some of our own vegetables.
  • Finding a plan that works, then simply working the plan.
  • Focus on other things that bring health and life to our family, and getting food off the pedestal.

I’ll be sharing much more in the coming weeks about our current plan for healthy eating in our family. As I’ve been mapping it out the last few months, I have been encouraged by how much good food we are already putting into our bodies, how much beneficial fuel we’re already adding to our lives.

We try and spend less than $450 per month for food, and eating out is also not included. We may grab burgers (the healthiest we can find – either A&W or Wendy’s) a couple of nights of the month that are busy, but we’ve cut way back on getting fries and pop to go with them. We’re making progress, and it feels real good.

And I’ll share my own journey to simple health over the coming months as I challenge you to embark on your own journey. We’re in this together people!

I encourage you to follow along through the milestones to a simple life – starting with simple health – fuelling the journey.

What sort of simple steps have you taken in your own life when it comes to food?

Posted in Good Eats

Simple Life – Minimalist Menu

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Could a family menu plan really be basic, simple, and easy?

Without alot of food waste, or complaints from the eaters, or numerous trips to the grocery store?

I believe it just might be possible to meet the requirements of health, taste, and variety for my family.

And in a minimalist sort of way.

In a bare bones, back to basics, this-is-actually-quite-easy kind of method.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. First things first – take a look at the food you’ve already got in your house.

It’s not about What do we want to eat? It’s about What have we got in the house? Here’s an example of a list I made a while back – this gives a snapshot of what was in our freezer and pantry. I also had things like cheese, milk, eggs, bread, etc. in the fridge. And there was a bag of chicken bones as well.

FREEZER MEAT FR. VEGGIES PANTRY
2 sm Zip cooked red beans 1 sm bag ch. tomatoes 1 jug maple syrup
1 Trout 11 sm bags cooked squash 10 – 500 ml applesauce
1 Pork Chops 3 sm bags kale 2 spaghetti noodles
17 – 1 lb. Ground Beef 1 chopped leek rice, quinoa, potatoes
7 – 4 Tilapia fillets 5 sm bag cooked sw. pot. LOTS of granola bars
1 Large bag Sausage
3 Roast Beef
2 Tenderloin Steak FR. FRUIT OTHER VEGGIES
4 Inside Round Steak 10 bananas 2 large onion
4 Striploin Steak 2 sm bags cooked pumpkin 1 sm onion
4 Sirloin Steak 1 large bag blueberries 1- 2lb bag sm carrots
4 Prime Rib Steak 7 large bag peaches 1 rhutabaga
1 Chicken Breast 1 large bag rhubarb 2 garlic bulbs
1 Large Chicken Leg 2 sm bag apples
1 lb. Ground Turkey 6 large bag strawberries
1 Meat Pie 2 bags apples

Just by looking at this list, I can see that I’ve got AT LEAST 47 meals worth of meat products if I use the roast for 2-3 meals (one as a crock pot dinner, then shredded beef sandwiches for leftovers, or soup, or spooned over baked potatoes, etc).

The frozen fruit can mainly be used for smoothies in the mornings or fruit-based desserts.

And I’ve got a bunch of small Ziploc bags of pureed squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin that I can add to muffins, soups, stews, or mashed potatoes.

I have rice, quinoa, and pasta to use as well.

So much food to eat up in our house.

I need a plan for eating our way through our stockpile of food.

2. Think of possible uses for the food already in the house.

I know I will use most of the frozen fruit in smoothies and/or desserts, the frozen veggies as sides for dinners, or in soups & stews, or the pureed veggies will be great in baking recipes if not used as a side.

If I switch up rice, quinoa, pasta, bread, and potatoes throughout a typical week, that’s a great variety for my family.

3. Start committing the food to a plan.

Start with the meat portions. Don’t be afraid to delegate specific foods for specific days of the week.

For example – our menu will look something like this for the near future:

Monday – Soup & Biscuits (use any chicken bones I have in the freezer to make broth – use about 1-2 cups broth for soup, portion and freeze the rest in small Ziplocs, lay flat in piles in freezer – make sure they are sealed WELL!)

Tuesday – Beef

Wednesday – Chicken

Thursday – Fish or Pork or Meatless

Friday – “Pub” food – burgers, wings, chicken strips, etc. (The Oldest got a deep fryer for Christmas, and he’s making up some delicious eats with it – we got one with spin technology that helps decrease the grease)

Saturday – Pizza and movie night (we do one pepperoni and one BBQ chicken/red onion – the leftovers become one school lunch and one quick meal on Sunday – either a grab lunch after church or relaxed dinner with other leftovers)

Sunday – Potluck or crock pot or leftovers (depends what our social plans are for that day)

4. Add in veggies and starches to your plan.

I’m pretty relaxed with this, and lately I’ve enjoyed a little more freedom from a plan when it comes to the side dishes. As long as I’ve got the main dish, or main meat idea on the plan, I like to look up which of my on-hand veggies I could use with it. I’ve been just typing ingredients into a search engine, and seeing which recipes come up. This has done wonders for getting me back into the kitchen with energy and enthusiasm after a long period of not even wanting to set foot in that room of my house! Do you ever get burned out or bored like that with your kitchen?

5. Follow the plan (to an extent).

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. Even if you’ve only got a dinner plan. Even if you feel overwhelmed by looking at all those meals you have to make. Recruit family members to help – get them washing the lettuce, or peeling the carrots, or chopping the veggies (if they’re older), or turning on the oven, or setting the table – ANYTHING that can lighten the load even a little and create this amazing flow to your family life. Helping in the kitchen is much better than TV and video games – guaranteed! It’s way more fun to hang out and chat and laugh and spill things and clean messes and make mistakes – TOGETHER. Plus, the more everyone else pitches in making meals, the less you’ll have to cook in the long run – you’ll be training younger chefs in your home without even knowing it – just by inviting them into the kitchen, into the plan, and into your space.

6. Let go of the plan (when life happens).

Plans are amazing – I love mapping things out, making lists, checking things off – this is joy for me. But life definitely has a way of changing everything up in a moment’s notice. When this happens, it’s time to let go of the plan. Maybe you will need a simpler meal that night, or even a meal out of the house – and it’s OK. If you find that cooking dinner EVERY night is exhausting, try making double batches and freezing the second portion for later. This has worked wonders for our family through the years. I’ve never mastered once-a-month cooking, but I hear that works great too.

Yes, a menu can be quite simple, easy, quick, and minimal. You can serve the same sort of meat on the same night, week after week after week. Changing up the veggies would help, or cycling through a few different “chicken” or “beef” or “fish” recipes is a wonderful idea too. If you can find just 2 recipes of each type of meat (or other protein) that your family enjoys, and cycle through those every other week, you are on your way to a very simple menu plan. There are many people out there who literally eat through the same menu plan every week, and they are perfectly fine with that, no problems. Now THAT’S minimalist. My family is not quite there yet.

I’m quickly realizing that variety is not necessarily key, that I don’t need to try every new superfood out there, that many people in the world live absolutely happy lives by eating whatever is available to them locally, and that feeding my family doesn’t have to be so hard.

I love to cook and bake, but I often get overwhelmed by all the choices out there when it comes to food. Sometimes I envy those around the world who live with a few simple recipes made from whatever grows in their village or town. This would be so easy and so affordable.

So, what’s on the menu for your family today?

*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net*
Posted in Good Eats

Weekly Breakfast Menu For Our Family

After reading through a couple of good books about the basics of healthy living, and realizing I’m usually doing a pretty good job, I adapted our current weekly breakfast menu (I’m a big fan of menu planning – this saves so much stress for our family at mealtimes!) and away we go…

(Just posting this because it helps me process things – these ideas may not work for your family due to dietary needs or food allergies)

MondayBanana Split Muffins with whole grain flour (and 1 tbsp flax seed added), mixed berry smoothie (just frozen berries of your choice and water), green tea

Tuesday Whole grain bagel, light cream cheese, eggs, banana/orange, OJ or milk, green tea (yogurt could replace milk and have water instead)

Wednesday – Toaster Strudel/Pop Tarts for boys (once a week is OK – it even said so in the book!) & Josh and I enjoy a weekly breakfast with a friend (still need to work on a healthy option for that), fresh berries, OJ or milk

Thursday – PB & Banana/Jam on whole grain toast, mixed berry smoothie

Friday – Eggs, breakfast muesli bun from Costco, banana/orange, OJ or milk, green tea

Saturday – Pancakes (we’ll be looking for a healthier version than our current recipe – Josh is the pancake king BTW) with some berries added in, bacon (OK once a week), fruit sauce, OJ or milk, green tea

Sunday – Waffles (looking for a healthier version) with some berries added in, sausages (OK once a week), fruit sauce, OJ or milk, green tea

And there you have it, the basics of  a weekly breakfast menu that my kids won’t balk at, and that gives us a good start to the day.

The trick is not to overeat – like just 2 slices of bacon at a time or 2 sausages, 1 muffin, 1 egg, 2 slices of toast, etc.

What do your morning meals look like?

Posted in Good Eats

Packing School Lunches

It’s easy to get in a rut with our kids’ school lunches! Here are a few tips and lunch ideas to help you out!

  • Think easy to eat and not messy
  • Pack it the night before!
  • Involve your children in the process
  • Include fruits and vegetables
  • Choose 100% whole grains and a variety of breads (pita, buns, wraps)
  • Choose low-fat and low sugar products
  • Keep hot food hot in a thermos and cold food cold with a mini cold pack to keep lunches safe
  • Don’t forget napkins daily and forks and spoons when needed!

Lunch Ideas

  • Sandwiches—meat & cheese, jelly, or egg, tuna, chicken salad
  • Bagel & Cream Cheese—add cucumber slices
  • Nachos & Salsa—include shredded cheese as well
  • Pita & humus with a side of carrots
  • Wraps filled with what your child likes (chicken salad, etc)
  • Hot soup or chili in a thermos
  • Pasta salad—try fun shaped and coloured pasta such as small shells, wagon wheels or ABCs.

Drinks

  • Bottled Water
  • 100% fruit juice boxes—look for no-sugar added
  • Find out if your school has a milk program—take part!

Snacks

  • Apples, grapes, bananas and orange slices
  • Cut up kiwis, strawberries, watermelon and cantaloupe are a favourite treat!
  • Cut cheese sticks
  • Yogurt
  • Carrots, celery, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes keep well in the lunchbox
  • Homemade rice krispies squares and cookies eliminate the preservatives found in store-bought
  • Granola bars (peanut free for most schools!)
  • Cheerios, dried fruit, pretzels, bag of popcorn, home made trail mix, baked chips, crackers
  • Muffins, banana or carrot bread
  • Fruit Salad or cups of no-sugar added apple/fruit sauces
  • Yogurt covered raisins

– From the September 2007 issue of Mom’s Moments.  www.momsmoments.ca/pdfs