Friday, February 17, 2012

Meal Planning - How's it going?

I'm curious to know if anyone's tried to meal plan since my series of posts earlier this month? I'd like to know what you think and steal your tips and give them a try...

I came across this article about Meal Planning by Helen Jane on during my weekly catch-up-with-the-internet Friday afternoon session and thought I'd share. :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our Infertility Adventures - Volume 2

The results are in and everything looks in order... except for one thing. It's kind of odd but that's what we were hoping for. The fact that this test came back negative means that we can get some help and get things moving... instead of going further down the "testing" road. Also, it means that we know what the problem is and it's a relatively easy fix - the best outcome we could hope for considering.

So right now we are looking at a few more weeks of medication, monitoring and daily testing of how I'm responding to the treatment. Until then, Js has to put up with my pretty intense PMS outbursts of bitchyness and hormotional fits.

It's encouraging because things are moving along at a nice pace and the faint light at the end of the tunnel (no disgusting pun intended) is finally looking a little brighter.

Just another quick update until we have more exciting (read: relevant!) news to share. :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Self-inflicted Ass Kicking

My goal for 2012 is to “do shit and stick to it”. Ironically enough it, has been kinda demanding to stick to but so far so good. I’m holding on for dear life to the last shreds of hope at this point but it’s better than nothing at all. Everything just seems so simple when there’s no accountability for how little productivity is expected. I just gotta keep reminding myself that I’m doing this for me and I’ll be successful. I think.

To help restore some self-awareness that I felt had been slipping away from me over the last few months (read: 8-10 months), I decided to take up some Yoga classes at our base gym.

I actually quite pleased with it. It’s reminded me of how important it is to totally suck at something and how fun it is to stick to it. I suck, not gonna lie. This girl is not the most flexible or graceful – ask anyone. I do feel some progress though which is really inspiring. I’ve even found some pretty decent youtube channels with some instructors that I like so I can do some at home during the weekend.

I also took up another fitness class which is totally more kick-butt-wanna-puke-hope-for-a-quick-and-merciful-death type of physical activity. I totally hated my instructor the next day but totally loved her at the same time. I forgot how much I love pushing myself.

I’m lazy and that’s one of my main issues with ... well, pretty much anything. That’s what self-awareness mixed in with some fitness classes and lifestyle changes has thought me in the first month and a half of this goal focused endeavour.

I’m kind of excited for the next few months to see what else I can take on, suck at and then kick butt in.

Namaste bitches.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Meal Planning – Grocery Shopping

After you’ve planned everything you’ll be eating for the week; there comes the daunting task of grocery shopping. Ugh.

Firstly, here are a few shopping tips I’ve come up with to make it easier for you.

  1. Write a list. On our fridge, we keep our meal plan menu and our shopping list on separate pieces of paper as well as our “Costco list” on an erasable board. We like to add to the list as we use the last of something to save some time when meal planning time comes. Once we’ve figured out our menu, we like to go over all the ingredients we’ll need then one of us goes searching and the other one writes stuff down. As we normally do our shopping on Tuesday nights, we usually end up doing this Monday right after dinner when the coffee is brewing.
  2. Bring your list. Don’t forget it at home, on the counter, in the car or at work. Write it in your cell phone if you have to! I like to keep it in my day planner that I carry everywhere with me.
  3. Stick to your list. Don’t wander. Don’t buy stuff because it’s on sale unless it’s on your list. Check everything on your list and run outta there! Grocery stores are made to make you wanna buy more than you came for. It’s not a scam or anything – it’s just good business sense! You’re a savvy shopper, you have a list, and you can do this!
We all tend to stock up for a rainy day when we see good deals on food especially stuff that doesn’t expire. We think, what harm can it do, just sitting there in the pantry? If you look back at your inventory exercise, you’ll see what an impact stock-piling has can have on your house and budget! Yeah, it’s only $5 but you could have that $5 in your pocket instead of in your pantry. Ask yourself this: Would you leave a $20 bill just sitting on a shelf in your fridge? Then leave $50 to accumulate dust in your pantry?

Try to stick to the “outside walls” of your grocery store. Most stores keep all the major items and perishable goods like meat, produce and milk in fridges and shelving that flows along perimeter of the store. Save the isles for last and only go down those you must according to your list then run to the check out! The isles are jam packed with cans, boxes and pre-packaged (and not to mention over-priced!) stuff you don’t need.

You’ll save money, time and a whole lot of guessing out of grocery shopping! You know you have enough food for the week, you know you’re not spending more than you should and you know you can afford a nice latte for the drive home.

This may seem odd at first but trust me, you’ll feel so liberated after a few times doing this, and grocery shopping will become so easy and fun – almost like a top secret mission except your list won’t self destroy – you’ll look forward to it a lot more. I always thought grocery shopping was therapeutic because I was doing something good, something to provide for myself and my family and it was almost hypnotic looking at different items and comparing prices, trying to save pennies! Now, I know for sure that I’m saving money and I feel much better knowing I can go home and I can hang with Js and play fetch with the dog.

Meal Planning – Week 1

Now the fun begins! You’ve listed everything in your house and now you’re ready to start planning. It might seem like a daunting task but trust me; it’s about one third as complicated as it sounds - even less than that, actually.

If you’re a big breakfast family, then you might want to plan for your breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Otherwise, you can stick to planning lunch and dinner like we do. Because our schedules are so different and vary so much day to day breakfast sort of became a “you’re on your own” kinda meal which I rather enjoy because I don’t have Js breathing down my neck telling me it’s chocolate is not considered a “breakfast food”. I can just munch on my granola bar in the car and ingest insane amounts of coffee.

Again, this is another situation when you have to do what works best for you and your family. If you have a hard time the first week sticking to your plan, don’t give up! Figure out what didn’t work; talk it out with your partner (boring, I know), rinse and repeat.

Our planner has a section for lunch and dinner every day, and then there is a small box on the bottom of the page for “breakfast stuff” and “snacks”.

Start by looking at your inventory and priority list of what needs to go first. During the first few weeks, you want to try and use up as much as possible from your own personal “grocery store” (aka pantry, fridge and freezer). The first week we went from spending at least 90$ at the grocery store to a wee 35$ - if you have a lot of food stashed in your house, this can represent significant savings.

Tip: For fun, you can add up the approximate cost of items on your inventory lists to see how long you can go and how much money you can save eating from what you already have. All this money is money you’ve spent in the past that’s been sleeping in your pantry. Think of it this way: the only can of soup you should keep this long in your house is on a very expensive painting. Don’t buy something unless you intend on eating it in the next few weeks otherwise it turns into very bulky house d├ęcor.

For the first week, you want to start right on the next day you write out your plan. We found it worked best if we planned the day before we did our shopping. This week, we did the planning on Monday so we went shopping on Tuesday. This way, we figured out everything we needed for the entire week to save us a couple trips.

Also, stick to basics. Especially at first, you’ll want to give yourself a little bit of time to get accustomed particularly if you’re used to eating out a lot. As much of a time and money saver meal planning is, it can get a bit overwhelming if you plan a three course meal every day.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
  1. There are awesome websites that can help you combine some ingredients and find recipes to use up the odds and ends.
  2. Don’t get caught up in the complicated. Stick to basic foods and recipes that you know.
  3. Try to spread out your frozen stuff – if you make a stir fry to use up some frozen veggies, toss in a few fresh ones to give your stir fry a bit of texture and also to eat through your fresh stuff and save it from the garbage can doom.
  4. If you’re planning on eating out – include that in your plan. Give yourself a break!
  5. Don’t freak out if things don’t work out perfectly the first week – you’ll get the hang of it I promise.
Here’s an example of what our meal plan looks like with notes:

Monday Lunch: Tuna Sandwiches 
Monday Dinner: Stir-fry with shrimps

We normally do our shopping on Tuesday evenings, so by Monday, we’re all out of the fresh stuff so canned tuna and frozen shrimp it is!

Tuesday Lunch: Stir-fry left-over
Tuesday Dinner: Chicken Fried Noodles

We buy the BBQ cooked chicken at the deli counter so it’s quick and ready after the grocery shopping is done and put away.

Wednesday Lunch: Left-overs Chicken fried noodles or salad with cranberries and chicken
Wednesday Dinner: Breakfast for dinner

Thursday Lunch: Soup and veggies
Thursday Dinner: Chicken breast with rice or potatoes

We like to give ourselves options sometimes. It’s still easier to figure out “do you want potatoes or rice?” than “what’s for dinner?” and also gives you an easy option if you run short on time or supplies.

Friday Lunch: Left-over chicken or Chicken salad sandwiches
Friday Dinner: Home-made pizza and oven fries

Saturday Lunch: Left-over pizza or falafel wraps/salad
Saturday Dinner: Beef roast and rice

Sunday Lunch: Pancake brunch
Sunday Dinner: Tacos

You can see that by the end of the week, we’re giving ourselves a few more options and we’re figuring out meal preparation times in our schedule. Like Saturday, if we hang around the house all day, we’ll make a roast or lasagna but if we’re going to be running around, we’ll make a roast in the slow-cooker. Both very similar ingredients but two totally different dishes. Plus, we ALWAYS have supplies to make pancakes on hand – as every household should.

Now make your plan, using as many items from your home as you can and get crackin’. I’ll keep up with the posts for tips and tricks and menu ideas but by now, you should have most of the tools you need to successfully plan a week’s meals.

Keep track of your savings and menus and feel free to share with me! I’m curious to see and can’t wait to read all your inspiring ideas!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Meal Planning - Inventory

The first step is to inventory everything you have in the house as far as food goes. You can probably list off the top of your head most things you already know you have but it’s crucial that you take a bit of time a pull everything from your pantry and list it all down to the last snack. Same goes for your fridge and freezer or anywhere else you store food.

Take this opportunity to check the expiry dates on everything and toss out old or expired items. At our house the salad dressings, jams and sauces tend to survive longer than they really should in our fridge so it’s nice to clear up the space and pick out new ones at the grocery store. This will also help you clear out some stuff from your freezer and pantry so you can keep a better pulse on what you have in stock and make planning easier down the road.

Just a note, if the process seems like it’s taking forever, don’t give up! The longer this part takes, the easier it will be for you to adapt. Also, don’t do this right before you go grocery shopping – do this on a day when you know you won’t need to go shopping for a few days. You might want to start planning on the day after you do your inventory or maybe wait for the next Monday or something – do what’s most logical for you and your family. Just make sure to cross off the things you’ll use from your inventory list until then.

You can find some “freezer inventory” or “pantry inventory” templates online for free – or some for purchase but don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of time picking out a template that would work for you. You’ll figure it out as you go – personally, I like to start with a blank page and then figure out what’s best for the second time around. All you need is a pen and paper. It doesn’t matter what you write it on as long as you can keep that info neat and tidy in a binder or a box for reference later.

Here’s what I came up with – if anyone’s interested, I can send you a copy for printing. They are in French though so if you need an English copy, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. ;)

I keep a separate list for the pantry and for the freezer. The freezer being downstairs, this comes in handy when I don’t feel like running up and down to figure out my meal plan for the following week.

Freezer Inventory

On the top of your list, write today’s date. List all the items in your freezer along with quantity and the date (or approximate date) it was frozen. Put a star or an arrow or something next to the items that have been frozen the longest.

I like to divide my lists in categories: prepared meals, fruit and veggies, meats and seafood, snacks and misc. This makes it easier for me to plan meals and prioritise but you can do it however works best for you.

I like to put a star on the top 5 items that have been frozen the longest – later, I’ll be able to tell at a quick glance which items I need to use first.

Pantry Inventory

Same as for your freezer inventory, write down the date on top of your list. List everything you can get your hands on and make sure to look for expiry dates. Some stuff you wouldn’t even think expires like soups, cookies, crackers and cereal.

Put an arrow or a star by the products that expire first to help you prioritize what you need to use first and what you can keep longer.

Now that you have everything listed and you’ve already disposed of everything that’s freezer burnt or expired, you are looking at your “grocery store” for the next week.

If you have anything that’s huge like a turkey or a huge bag of potatoes, you might want to consider what would be the best way to go about using them up. If you’re going to be alone at home all weekend, please don’t make the entire turkey just because I suggested you use it first. Always look at the big picture and do what’s best for you and your family.

Make the most with what you’ve got and you’ll do just fine. Next step - the fun starts!


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