Back to School Meal Assistance - Made Easy.

If you’re responsible for planning and packing lunches for kids, you know this task does NOT come easy.

Yes, packing the same boring sandwiches and throwing in a store-bought pre-packaged snack might do the job...but how does it make you feel? Dare I say...a little guilty?

Do your kids really enjoy these meals? Furthermore, are you providing them with the effective fuel, so that they can go on to have a successful, energetic day...or are you actually contributing to fatigue and anxiety?

What your kids eat (and any of us for that matter) has a powerful effect on not only long-term health, but also how they feel throughout the day.

This year, send your kids back to school with nutritious lunches - but skip all the leg-work of trying to figure out exactly what that even means! Meal Garden’s trusted health meter has your answers in an easy-to-understand format.

Why do you care?

Well, our team has recently launched a hand-picked, curated collection of lunch-box meal plans, and a fully-encompassing kid-friendly packed lunch recipe collection (all allergy-friendly meals & picky-eater approved!) to provide you with the resources and tools you need to say hello to a healthier back-to-school season this September.

The following Monday-Friday lunch box meal plans can be easily scheduled over top of your regular meal plan:

If you’d rather design your own lunch-box meal plan - but could use some inspiration - rest assured we’ve got the collection for you:

Last but not least, this exclusive one-week picky-eater template - filled with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for each and every day - is guaranteed to have even the pickiest of eaters cleaning their plates:

If you like what you see - good news! There's even MORE where that came...all accessible from and included in your Meal Garden subscription - login or sign up here.

Kimchi: How to Make the “Healthiest Food in the World”

If there’s one superfood bandwagon you need to jump on, it’s the one filled with kimchi.

This Korean fermented vegetable side dish is now not only a staple in Korea (they literally eat it with every meal!), but has also gained traction in the Western world - we can’t get enough of this powerful health food!

A good friend of mine, Ashley, is a passionate Kimchi advocate, after living in South Korea for 5 years, she is determined to share the precious edible creation that is KIMCHI.

Ashley was kind enough to host a workshop where I learnt how to make it myself (spoiler alert: there is A LOT of chopping involved!), and now she’s sharing her wisdom with anyone who’s interested in learning more...

A Bit About Ashley:

  • I am currently an occasional (supply) elementary school teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a literacy website developer with the University of Toronto. Before coming to Toronto for my MA, I ventured to South Korea with the goal of learning a new language and travelling-- but I ended-up staying for 5 years! I fell in love with the people and culture, and I even fell in love with a lovely Korean man. Although we are no longer together, I have no regrets. I was lucky to share the majority of my life in Korea with the most amazing family a girl could ask for. I was also able to perfect a lot of Korean recipes, my favourite being kimchi!

Ashley’s Take on Kimchi:

  • I instantly fell in love with eating and cooking Korean food, but it wasn’t until my second year that I was brave enough to attempt making kimchi. Although my first batch was a disaster, I didn’t give up. With the help of my Korean family, I became the kimchi making queen. No one could believe that a foreigner could make kimchi so well. I guess it was because my heart was so invested in learning the tradition so that I could share the process and product with others.

  • These days, Korean men and women are so busy with work and family life that many don’t have time to make homemade Kimchi (Koreans work some of the longest hours in the world). Many mothers and grandmothers take on the task of making kimchi, but the tradition isn’t always being passed down to their children. This really inspired me to learn how to make it myself, and it’s my pleasure to bring such a delicious and healthy food back to my home country. I’ve even found ways to tweak the recipe so that it’s even healthier but just as delicious.

  • Koreans don’t mess around when it comes to refrigerators. They have one for everyday use (like you and I do) but at least one more JUST for kimchi! As Koreans eat some form of kimchi with literally every meal, they need somewhere to store it. Many Koreans celebrate something called Kimjang, where everyone gets together for the fall nappa cabbage harvest to make a giant batch of kimchi for the winter. Traditionally, they would dig a huge hole in the ground where they would store a large clay pot for consistent refrigeration, but now with all of Korea’s stellar advancements, they have huge fridges to keep their kimchi perfectly stored right in the comfort of their own homes.

Variations of Kimchi:

There are literally hundreds of kinds of kimchi. There are different recipes for making traditional nappa cabbage kimchi, or you can take just about any vegetable and use a similar process to make it into a kind of kimchi (I started to use kimchi as a verb rather than a noun to talk about all the things I wanted to kimchi-- maybe I still do….). As you learn to make it yourself, it’s fun to decide what kind of batch you want to make. Sometimes I like more garlic or salt when I know I intend to cook with it. I love adding pear instead of sugar for a natural sweetness option. Lastly, I personally think the older it is, the better it tastes, so it’s a good thing that the older it is, the better it is for you!

How to Make Kimchi:

  • When researching different ways to make kimchi, I find that the most inconsistent part is the brining process. Some people soak the cabbage in salt water for 5 hours and some for 10. Some people dip the cabbage in salt water then leave it to drain all the water out. Whichever way you choose, make sure you do the bend test! Your cabbage is ready to rinse when you can bend the leaf most of the way until it finally cracks. If you can bend the leaf all the way without it snapping, then you’ve overdone it. Don’t worry though; it will still taste delicious!

 

  • You’ll want to cut your cabbage about two inches down the centre. Then you can gently pull the pieces apart.

  • The next most important part is rinsing out all the salt. You’re going to want to wash the cabbage thoroughly at least two or three times. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve made your kimchi too salty!

  • As you’re waiting for the cabbage to drain, you can prepare all of your veggies and sauce.

 

  • PUT ON GLOVES!

  • Many people use different ingredients in various amounts at this point, so feel free to be flexible with portions. Add more of whatever you like. If you prefer milder kimchi, cut back on the chili flakes.

There I am (Kiki) giving it a go - with the helpful instruction of Ashley!

There I am (Kiki) giving it a go - with the helpful instruction of Ashley!

 

  • Start from the inside of the cabbage and work your way out. Make sure to put sauce all the way down to the base of the cabbage. Try and spread the veggie and sauce mix as evenly as possible.

  • Some people leave the cabbage in two halves, others quarter at this point.I prefer to keep it in halves. I like to use the larger leaf on the outside to wrap around your sauced cabbage, keeping all of the ingredients nicely packed together. However, you may like to slice it before packing to make it easier to take out as you need it.

  • Whatever way you choose to package your kimchi, make sure there is a little room left from the top and that it is airtight. You’ll need to leave it out for a day or two before putting it in the fridge. This gets the fermentation process started. You can peak on it before putting it in the fridge. You’ll notice it bubble as you push it down.

  • You can eat your kimchi right away and there are many fantastic recipes for this, but I like to wait at least a week before eating. The longer you wait, the better it is for you and the better it tastes!

 

  • Enjoy your kimchi and all of its crazy awesome health benefits.

Whether or not we’ve inspired you to try your hand at making your own...here are some delicious recipes where you can incorporate some ready-made kimchi in:

Or, if you’re ready to take the plunge - give it a go start to finish by dilligently following this recipe:

11 Pantry Essentials for a Healthy Kitchen (Worth Bragging About!)

In addition to some edible staples, I also threw in a sprouting lid, veggie spiralizer, and a nut milk bag.

In addition to some edible staples, I also threw in a sprouting lid, veggie spiralizer, and a nut milk bag.

A kitchen cupboard filled with the right staples is the key to keeping things “clean” when cooking and baking at home.

Going from zero to (healthy-)hero can be a bit intimidating - especially if you have no clue where to start. I’m not talking about just “Oh shoot I’m out of pasta” - I’m referring to getting your pantry ready to master nutritious creations of all kind! Knowing where to start, and exactly what you’ll need, is obviously the first (and hardest!) step.

A dear friend of mine expressed the desire to have one of these “dream pantries” - you know, the ones you see featured in overly attractive health and wellness blogs.

Given that my experience with Meal Garden - both as an employee and as a user myself - has provided me with quite a bit of knowledge in this space, I decided to whip-up a “pantry care package” for this lovely inquiring soul.

*In full disclosure: she promised me some of her breath-taking succulent plant arrangements - so this was an exchange I was more than willing to get behind!*

Here’s what I put together for her, and what I recommend when it comes to bulking up your kitchen cupboards for creating meal plans that boast green-leaf health ratings.

1) Go-to sweetener: Coconut sugar

  • I like the caramel and slightly nutty flavour it adds to dishes like fruit crisps. It's also less processed than refined sugar and has a lower GI.
  • It’s ideal for creating crumbles - when you still need the coarse texture of sugar and thus sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, stevia or agave just won’t cut it!

2) Go to flavour-enhancer: Nutritional yeast

3) Go-to smoothie-bowl topper: Cacao nibs

  • No smoothie bowl is complete without this powerful chocolatey addition!
  • Since raw cacao is not as sweet as chocolate, this ingredient is even more versatile - making it a staple you can even add to savoury meals.
  • Cacao beans are one of the best dietary sources of magnesium, are loaded with fibre, iron, antioxidants, and have been shown to improve your mood.

 

5) Go-to thickener: Chia seeds

  • I like to “sprout” them, which releases the “enzyme inhibitors” that are used to protect the seed - this soaking (and thus sprouting) process makes them more digestible.

  • I add a tablespoon to coconut water for an on-the-go energy drink (literally the best post-yoga fuel ever!).

  • You can also coat your fish and chicken with chia seeds to add a nice crunchy texture (combine with gluten-free flour and herbs/seasonings of your choosing).

  • Rich in fiber, omega-3 fats, protein, vitamins and minerals - chia seeds have even more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.

6) Go-to flour: Spelt

7) Go-to grain: Barley

  • While most people tend to think of barley in savoury main dishes - or as a side to a fish/meat/vegetarian protein - I like to switch it up and do barley breakfast porridges. Pearl barley does take quite a bit of cooking time, so I tend to make a large batch and will prep ahead 4-5 breakfast bowls for the week ahead (just store in mason jars and pop in the fridge). This article explains how to cook it with the intention of having it as either a sweet or savoury breakfast. Or you can just pop some into the oven with milk and let it cook on a low-temperature all night like in the following recipe.

8) Go-to egg-replacer and baking-enhancer: Ground flax seed

  • Ever go to bake something...think you have all the ingredients...but then come to the sad realization that you’re out of eggs? Game over...until now! Mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water and you’ve got an egg replacement that can also help turn baked goods recipes into their vegan counterpart.

10) Go-to dried fruit: Mulberries

11) Go-to tea: Chaga

  • Okay, this is more of a bonus “luxury” item I included just because I’m ‘Friend of the Year’. Perhaps not a pantry “staple” - but hey, who doesn’t love a good tea?

  • Steep these immune-boosting mushrooms in hot water for about 10 minutes, and the outcome is similar to green tea, but a little more “woodsy”.

So next time you’re at the grocery store, keep your pantry in mind...filling up on the right go-to stock items helps to keep cooking and baking at home all the more healthy!

Achieve your GOAL Weight Once and For All - The Meal Garden Strategy Works.

Whether you’re looking for help shifting towards a “cleaner” whole-foods diet, or if you are determined to get fit and get “tight”, there are countless how-to’s available on the internet...many of which are even free.

If you look closely though, there is a clear underlying pattern in all of the guidance.

The answer? Meal planning.

Take this Esquire article by Will Hersey: “9 Food Rules to Help You Lose That Belly Before Summer”. Yes, the food itself is important, but it’s the PLANNING that is the key to success.

As our Meal Garden community continues to grow, we’re noticing that more and more people are using the platform with the goal of losing weight. Specifically, they are looking for a tool to help them develop healthier eating regimes so that eating right and looking great doesn’t have to be such a chore!

Kristen Jakobitz is a holistic health coach that specializes in just this! Her mission is creating happy, healthy lives in a way that is fun, flexible, and full of deliciously healthy food. We got her help in creating a quick and easy guide for you to follow so that you can shed those extra pounds quickly – in a healthy and efficient way - using Meal Garden.

WHEN AND HOW TO MEAL PLAN

When it comes to eating well, I find meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. One of the concerns I hear most often from my clients is that meal planning seems intimidating and tedious – I assure you it’s really quite simple . The best part is you can customize what you’re eating to fit your lifestyle, so there is really no wrong way to do it!

The key is just to start, and to set aside a little bit of time each week to do it. Saturdays or Sundays work really well for meal planning because it gets you prepared for the week ahead, so no meals are left to chance. There are so many ways to approach meal planning that, after practicing just once or twice, you’ll begin to find what works best for you and your family. My clients and I personally love the Meal Garden tool. It’s super simple to use which means less headaches trying to figure out what to plan for meals and more quality time to spend with family.

So how exactly do you meal plan? Here are four easy steps that will get you to Expert Meal Planner status in no time:

Assess how many meals you need – Eating situations can vary greatly from week to week depending on work schedules, kids’ after school activities, evening commitments, etc. Take a quick inventory of everyone’s plans to give you a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need to get through the week, and how many potential meals you can get from each recipe.

Collect recipes with overlapping ingredients – Selecting recipes that have similar ingredients will help you minimize what you need to buy at the grocery store. Meal Garden makes this a breeze by allowing you to search for recipes by ingredient(s).

Keep an eye on nutrition – Choose recipes that will help you meet your goals. It helps to have a breakdown of the nutritional information for each recipe, and Meal Garden is a life-saver in that aspect. Each recipe has a complete list of nutrition details and a health rating so you have peace of mind knowing you’re feeding your family nutritious and delicious meals. You can even tweak your meal plan as needed.

Use the serving size to your advantage – Take note of how many servings you get from each recipe – especially if you are feeding a family. Choose recipes that make larger quantities so you can utilize the leftovers for more than one meal. I’m a big fan of the cook once, eat 2-3 times approach! Meal Garden has a great feature that automatically calculates this for you, ensuring you buy the proper amount of ingredients every time.

By taking just a little bit of time to meal plan, you can ensure that you always have healthy food choices at your fingertips instead of being tempted to give in to those quick, convenient, not-so-healthy options. 

PRACTICE MEAL

Looking for a delicious hearty meal you can prepare in under 20 minutes to get your meal plan started? This Mexican Turkey and Black Bean Salad is one of my favourite protein-packed recipes that will keep you energized through even your toughest day. It’s perfect for lunch or dinner and only takes 10-minutes to make!

Click for recipe.

Click for recipe.

LIMITED TIME OFFER!

Are you and your family tired of eating the same meals day after day? Do you dread the thought of having to pull recipes and make out a grocery list every week? Do you want to simplify your life and have a week’s worth of simple, healthy recipes at your fingertips?

For a limited time only you can grab my 7-Day Clean Eating Meal Plan for just $5! You save more than 50% off the regular price of $14.99…but you must act fast because this offer won’t last. Click here to learn more and take advantage of this delicious offer TODAY!

Hack Your Way to an Overflowing Cookbook That Will Have Pinterest Jealous: In 10 Minutes or Less!

I have two things to ask you:

1. Where do you find all of your recipes?

  • Blogs?
  • Cookbooks?
  • Magazines?
  • Pinterest?
  • Google?
  • Facebook?
  • Written in a notebook (or napkin) somewhere…?

2. Where do you store and organize all of your recipes?

  • Bookmarks tab/manager?
  • Word document?
  • Email?
  • Books/journals?
  • Print-outs that get posted on the fridge or put in a drawer somewhere?

Regardless of your response to either of the above questions, the idea of COMPLETELY changing the way you do things now (even it’s not really working) is probably a bit overwhelming.

But you know what, I’m going to ask you to think about how you find and store recipes in a TOTALLY new way - and you’re going to love it.

Yes, you’ll have to learn a new tool.

No, you won’t have to spend more than 10 minutes on the ENTIRE PROJECT.

Basically, I’m going to show you how you can finally achieve your ULTIMATE DREAM COOKBOOK - whether that be a collection of recipes you already hold with a few additions, or a full new set of ideas - and you can have this accomplished within 10 minutes.

Before I waste anymore time - let’s get straight into it.

The process is a three-fold:

1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MEAL GARDEN’S RECIPE COLLECTIONS

Click the lightbulb icon from your Cookbook page and select ‘Recipe Collections’ under Explore. Simply ‘follow’ any of the ones that take your fancy - from that moment forward, they’ll be prioritized in your search and you’ll automatically have easy access. DONE.

2. EMAIL IN YOUR RECIPES

Sure, you can struggle and mess around with other meal planning “importation” tools...but in case you don’t have a PhD in Computer Science, how about using email instead? It’s as easy as going to your email account and sending whatever recipes you’d like added to your Cookbook to recipes@mealgarden.com. It’s like emailing a friend, but better - we do things for you and will always respond. DONE.

 

*note you can email links, pictures, or recipes in whichever other format you choose*

3. STEAL IDEAS FROM MEAL PALS

Let’s be real, some people are just made for this stuff. We all have that healthy, inspirational friend who thrives on gathering amazingly nutritious and delicious meals we are jealous of. Invite them to be your Meal Pal on Meal Garden, and get instant access to their Cookbook. DONE.

Now, dare I say: who needs Pinterest?!

Okay, to be fair, you can totally still use Pinterest...just email in your pins to recipes@mealgarden.com - and we’ll upload them to your Cookbook for you!

Now remember: your Meal Garden Cookbook isn’t just a resource for aimlessly browsing and scrolling. No, it’s your toolbox for meal plan creation. Schedule your meals, get full nutritional analysis - every step of the way.

Being an informed and organized recipe hoarder just got remarkably easy ;)

Start building your Cookbook now - it only takes a few minutes and you’re DONE!

Smoothies Are NOT for Drinking - Thicken it Up and Get it in a BOWL.

This is one I made with turmeric, ginger, and raspberries - as a cold-fighting remedy. Click image for recipe.

This is one I made with turmeric, ginger, and raspberries - as a cold-fighting remedy. Click image for recipe.

Being a smoothie bowl fanatic myself, I’m sometimes a little surprised when people ask “What’s a smoothie bowl?”…

bigstock-Little-Kitten-63341257.jpg

 

A breakfast of champions, a mid-morning snack, or a well-balanced meal (that doesn’t have to be sweet), smoothie bowls are truly an enjoyable and easy way to get loads of nutrients in - with the added bonus of cooling you off on hot summer days!

While often confused with acai bowls or “nice cream” (i.e. a blend of frozen banana + other “superfoods”), smoothie bowls can actually be SO MUCH MORE!

I’m going to teach you how to build your own epic smoothie bowl - creations that you can repurpose into breakfasts → snacks → lunches, and even dinners. While dessert-inspired bowls can be a healthy indulgence, I’m going to step outside the boundaries of the carrot cake and pumpkin spice bowls trending on Pinterest and prove that you could technically have a bowl for each and every meal of the day - without overloading on sugar!

Note that smoothie BOWLS (vs. regular smoothies) provide the benefits of actually eating and chewing your food - which is proven to be healthier than drinking your calories.

The main takeaway? Solid food has many benefits over liquid food. Smoothie bowls = solid. Smoothies = liquid. Smoothie bowls WIN.

Now let’s get straight into it…

Pick a protein: sure, powders (e.g. hemp seed, pea protein, brown rice protein, whey, etc.) work well - but how about something less conventional? Here are some of my favourites:

  • Red or green lentils - cook beforehand, and then freeze in separate ½ cup portions (8 grams of protein each)
  • Teff or quinoa flour - Teff has 7 grams of protein per ¼ cup, while quinoa (should be soaked and sprouted before raw consumption) has between 4 and 5 grams.
  • Skyr or Greek yogurt - Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) totally kills it with 21 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar per ¾ cup. Greek yogurt is a good second choice with 18 grams of protein and 5 grams of sugar for the same amount.

Pick some veggies: there isn’t a better opportunity to get your greens in than blending them up with delicious items that totally hide that “healthiness taste” you might not be in the mood for…

  • Squash - butternut or summer squash work best. Pre-steam and then freeze in cubes. They add a creaminess to the texture that gives bananas a run for their money! Plus you get the added bonus of beta carotene.
  • Zucchini - Another addition that will bulk up the texture of your bowl. You can just cut it up raw and then freeze.
  • Cucumber - Such a refreshing addition on a hot day - mixed with coconut water this combination is worth trying!

Pick some fruit - if you want. Most people consider the fruit addition to be an absolute necessity in a smoothie bowl...I beg to differ. Still, if you’re not a hardcore smoothie bowl advocate, it might be better to start with a more mainstream approach. I still like to keep things on the low-glycemic index side:

  • Berries - wow, how original, am I right?!
  • Apricots - fresh or frozen...just not dried!
  • Grapefruit - add with some mint for a refresher, or ginger for a kick!

Pick a fat. Yes, fat is good. Not only because your body requires it to function, but also because this addition will improve the consistency and taste of the entire bowl. While we’ve all heard of nut butters...how about:

Pick a liquid. It’s a bowl, but it needs to blend. Other than yogurt - which I already mentioned - you might want to try:

  • Kefir - an even more potent source of probiotics vs. regular yogurt!
  • Almond/cashew/coconut/rice/soy/hemp milk - each have their own pro’s and con’s...just make sure to get the unsweetened kind.
  • Coconut water - my favourite for sweetening up green smoothie bowls. Just make sure not to add too much as it’ll thin out the consistency.

Still need to bulk it up? Your blend should resemble ice cream - not soup. Here are some ingredient “hacks” I’ve found that work best for thickening things up!

  • Psyllium husk - loaded with fiber; reduces appetite and even aids digestion.
  • Oat bran - again, a very high fiber content which keeps you feeling fuller longer.
  • Flaxseed (ground) - beyond the fiber, flaxseeds contain manganese, vitamin B1, and omega-3.

TOP IT UP! Now the real fun begins…

  • Grains
    • Top pick: sprouted buckwheat groats
  • Seeds/nuts
    • Top pick: pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruits
    • Top pick: mulberries
  • Other favourites…
    • Cacao nibs
    • Freshly sliced fruits such as pear, nectarines, and guava
    • Coconut chips/flakes


And now you’re officially a smoothie-bowl connoisseur! Here’s a collection of some of my favourites which will help you get the ball rolling...and recipes you can schedule to your meal plan right away.

Just click the image - there's loads more recipes where these came from!

Just click the image - there's loads more recipes where these came from!

Meal Gardener of the Month, July 2016: Liz

Liz started using the Meal Garden tool a couple months back and has been able to transform the way she thinks about food and plans meals for herself and her family. Her enthusiasm for getting on track a nutritious and efficient lifestyle has been a joy to watch and participate in - thanks for allowing us h to be a part of your healthy living journey Liz!

Tell us a little about YOU…

I am a secretary by profession, but only worked 7 years as a legal secretary and then became a stay-at-home mom. I've been married 32 years and have one married son and one single daughter. My husband is self-employed and I've done the secretarial/bookkeeping tasks for him for over 30 years. He is in the restaurant business and is a marvellous cook but won't take over the kitchen at home so it's up to me – unless it's manning the barbecue. That's his department!
I enjoy yoga, watercolour painting, pencil portraiture, murder mysteries (books and tv), and have travelled fairly extensively. Once retired, Hubby and I hope to travel some more before the world blows itself up. We're especially interested in crossing Canada and taking two or three months to do it!

What’s your go-to strategy when it comes to preparing meals in the kitchen?

If I know there's an event coming up (dinner guests, Christmas, etc.) I like to prepare what I can ahead of time, either completing a dish and freezing it, or prepping the veggies by chopping/slicing/dicing, putting in a container and into the fridge.
When it comes to the daily grind, however, I was leaving it to the last minute to see what appealed to me, then dashing to the grocery store to pick up what I needed, or even, horror of horrors, wandering the grocery store hoping for inspiration! There are usually three of us for supper and my daughter isn't big on eating meat – she'll eat some, but doesn't like “big chunks of animal” placed in front of her. When she cooks, we usually get pasta, which is nice but sometimes you need a little meat! No one minds leftovers, especially me, so when I cook, I try to make a good quantity. Not always easy because we tend to eat a bit more than recipes recommend, so if it says it'll make 4 servings, I'll 1 1/2 x it just as a matter of course, 3 x or more if I want leftovers.
On a scale of 1-10 of my “chef” skills, I'd say I'm about a 7?? I've been at it long enough so I have a fair idea of what goes well with what, flavour-wise, how to prep different things, how long to cook things... My biggest issue is that I'm slow. It's paid off – in all these years, I have minimal scars, and can still count to 10 on my fingers. I'm full of admiration for real chefs who can fly along with a knife and not hurt themselves!

How did you find Meal Garden?

I found Meal Garden when Googling for “menu planning”. I was hoping to find an app or something just to use either on my computer or my iPhone so I could try and organize myself. I was thrilled to find Meal Garden and discover how complete it is with it's Schedule, Cookbook and Shopping app! Meal Garden has been an enormous help to me in planning menus and getting off the 4pm-OMG-What's-For-Supper train. I've tried making menus before and it worked well for a week or two but then I would get all muddled with some dishes winding up as leftovers and then my meal plan would shift and then ingredients I'd already bought would go bad...
Since using Meal Garden, however, I can easily plan ahead as far as I want, shift and juggle meals if we either eat up everything or if there are leftovers unplanned for. As I learn how the whole thing works, adding in my own recipes, using the tools, it just gets better and better. Four o’clock comes around and I'm happily confident that I know what we're having for supper!

What’s your favourite recipe that you’ve prepared (utilizing or found via Meal Garden)?

There have been a number of excellent recipes on Meal Garden that we've enjoyed, and I've only been using MG a short time, but so far, I think our favourite is the Briami (Greek Vegetable Stew).
I made a few alterations, but only very minor ones, and I'll definitely be making this one again and again! The Meal Garden tool made adjustments very easy so I could add my own remarks to the recipe without destroying it for anyone else. It's the same as having a written copy of the recipe in my own binder and I can write all over it!

What would you like to see Meal Garden offer in the future?

As for any recommendations or improvements, I have been emailing poor Kiki regularly, questioning this and whining about that, so I'm sure she's got lots of ideas from me! At the moment, all I can think is I'd like to see the Shopping Lists combine more easily from one week to the next because sometimes my shopping week doesn't go Sunday to Sunday. Maybe a sideways continuous scrolling schedule instead of a week-to-week one, and the Shopping List could just scroll as well, deleting items as you cross them off?

As always, we love hearing inspiring stories such as Liz's journey with the Meal Garden tool thus far - the good, the bad, and the ugly! Thanks for your feedback and suggestions for improvements, we look forward to continuing making this a worthwhile experience for you :)

Meal Planning: Good for your Wallet and the Planet

Written by Emma Rohmann

We’ve all been there. It’s Sunday and you realize you have no food. So you head to the grocery store and start throwing stuff in the cart, roughly putting together a menu in your head. Or maybe you shop every couple days, grabbing stuff on your way home from work. While you may think it saves time to meal plan on-the-fly, you’re actually wasting money. A lot of money. Here’s a look at how you can meal plan to waste less – money, time, and resources.

The Cost of Food Waste

Studies suggest that individuals are wasting $400 a year on wasted food – that’s $1600 a year for a family of 4! And this doesn’t even include the amount of food wasted before it reaches our grocery carts.

Wasting food doesn’t only impact our wallets, but when you throw away food (yes, even if you compost it), you’re wasting all the resources (water, fertilizer, farm equipment, labour, transportation, storage, refrigeration, etc.) that went into getting it to you in the first place. So yes, while composting is good, not composting is even better.

It Starts With a Plan

Some people shy away from anything that requires planning. But trust me, if there’s ever been a time to plan, it’s for grocery shopping. Before you head to the grocery store, follow these tips I give my clients to help make the most of your budget:

1.     Look in your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that needs to get used up? Build your menu around these first. Meal planning programs like Meal Garden can be used to find recipes that have the ingredients you’re looking to use – easy peasy! If you’re not feeling like using up something that’s about to go bad, freeze it for later.

2.     Know your schedule. I have my calendar open when I’m planning my meals for the week. If we have activities or events that will mean less time available, I make sure the meals on those days are super simple. Meal Garden lets you choose how long you have to make a meal, from 15 minutes to 1 hour, so you can choose meals that you can make in the time you have so you can actually use the ingredients you bought.

3.     Be Flexible. Things happen. Sometimes even the best made plans go sideways. So if you have a schedule change and you can’t make the meal you had planned, try using up the ingredients another way or freeze them for later. One way to do this is to plan a day at the end of the week for pantry clean-out. Meals like pasta bakes, frittatas, homemade pizza, and stir-fry can be simple ways to use up veggies and leftover meat that would otherwise get thrown out.

Build the Habit

Once you get the hang of meal planning, it becomes second nature. Building your shopping list from a menu will save you time in the grocery store and goes a long way to help prevent wasting food (and money). Set aside time that works for you before you hit the stores – whether it’s every other day or once a week. Use tools like Meal Garden that make it easy to find recipes and create grocery lists. Pretty soon, you may even start to like planning!

 

Emma Rohmann is founder of Green at Home. Through workshops and consultations, she helps families create healthier, happier homes by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals and reducing their environmental footprint. Learn more at www.greenathome.ca.

 

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The Kitchen Tools You Need To Set Yourself Up For Success

Struggling with mastering your inner chef? Alongside planning your meals, the right kitchen essentials help ensure that the dishes you have so diligently set out for yourself taste (and look) great!


Alison of The Sticky Kitchen has recently started using the Meal Garden tool, and so we felt like it was only appropriate to get her take on the matter...

If you can find a way to “cook for the fun of it” and “prepare for people you love” your time in the kitchen doesn’t have to feel like a chore. My advice is to cook with a friend and socialize during the preparation.
Meal Garden is a great way to find new inspiration and you can easily change the number of guests you will be serving.  Print your grocery list and you are organized for your shopping trip.
Next I like to start off with my kitchen as clean as possible. I find if I remove the clutter from view I don’t get as easily distracted from the task at hand. Sometimes I think my husband gets worried after he cleans the kitchen. To me the wide open space on the counter is an invitation to bake the things I love, especially on a weekend afternoon.
A few key cooking tools can make your kitchen even more enjoyable.

Here are my favourites*:

*Meal Garden has added recipes to serve as examples of the types of dishes you can prepare utilizing Alison's suggestions - just click the image for the full recipe!

  • A cast iron enamelled dutch oven or braiser

A heavy duty pot that retains heat well and cooks evenly. Perfect for stovetop to oven recipes. Great for soups, stews and stir fries. A large size close to 5 or 6 litres will work for many family meals.

  • Stainless steel mixing bowls; Various sizes

They help organize your prep work.

  • A selection of measuring cups and spoons

Make sure you have both dry measure cups and glass liquid measure cups. I like to put mine in a storage bin and I keep at least 2 or more of each measure so there is no need to wash until the end of the preparation.

  • Heat proof silicone spatulas

Ideal for stirring on the stove as well as baking. Find fun colours that make you happy or give these as gifts!

  • A good chef knife

As well as a selection of smaller versions. When kids are starting out they can use “crinkler cutters” to chop vegetables or small steak knives.

  • A microplane grater

My go to for fresh ginger and finely grated parmesan cheese.

  • A kitchen scale

Because I bake often I have one of these for flour to increase accuracy and save time on spooning and levelling in measuring cups. No need for the expensive stainless steel ones my plastic $20 version has lasted years.

  • A garlic press and garlic roller

My press is from pampered chef and works like a charm when you need to distribute a small amount of garlic into your food – especially for uncooked items like salad dressing. My garlic roller peels the skin easily and is a fun task for the kids.

  • A wire whisk

Perfect for cheating on the sifting of dry ingredients.

  • A fine mesh strainer

Which I often use for thickening mixtures added to hot food – no clumps allowed.

  • Small and medium “ice cream type” scoops

These work well for pancakes, muffins and cookies. My favourite sizes are 3 tablespoons or 45 ml and 20 ml for cookies.

  • Herb scissors

Super sharp they finely slice herbs without the bruising that can happen with chopping. The covered choice is best for cleaning of herbs without the risk of cutting your fingers.

Items in check? Time to get scheduling!

Meal Planning for WayHome

Summer is here and that means it’s officially music festival season! Now we all know how easy it is to turn to food trucks and ice cream during these sorts of events. Healthy foodies fear not - eating nutritiously throughout all that sweaty musical glory is actually easier than you think if you use a tool like Meal Garden.

Even if you’re camping - like at the upcoming WayHome Music & Arts festival in Oro-Medonte - a bit of strategic meal and snack planning is all it takes to ensure you still eat healthily. How else are you going to stay energized throughout performances by artists like Keys N Krates and Major Lazor?! If you want to bring your A-game, that means bringing along hearty food that won’t spoil (like your hair and glitter make-up will)...

I’ve already got my WayHome meal plan for July 21st-24th all done (grocery list and all!) on Meal Garden. If you think staying healthy while on a music festival camping trip is impossible - think again.

Here’s my DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO MEAL PLANNING FOR WAYHOME:

1. Pack snacks that won’t spoil. That means avoiding ingredients like dairy, eggs, or anything else that needs to be refrigerated to stay fresh. Texture is also key. Nothing is worse than overly soft and gooey banana bread that's been mushed up and has gone soggy in your knapsack...so do yourself a favour and bring snacks that are as sturdy and hard as The Killers.

These Grain-Free Quinoa Protein bars work well:

The original recipe called for an egg, but I replaced it with a “flax egg” (i.e. 1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp water) to keep things vegan and minimize the danger of having the bars turn rancid in the heat. Note that if you choose to add a scoop of protein (might come in handy as you’re busting out to A Tribe Called Red), a vegan protein might be a better choice (e.g. brown rice, pea, or hemp seed protein) versus Whey - which again should be kept out of the heat if possible.

Other great on-the-go snacks for when you’re frantically scurrying between shows are kale chips, like these All Dressed Kale Chips from Oh She Glows:

Some of your friends might think you’re a bit of a prude as they pull out their package of “regular” chips - and you steal the show with these green beauties. Don’t worry though, once they get a taste of them (if you’re willing to share) they’ll soon realize they need to take a page out of your book.

Lastly, these baked Chickpeas are basically impossible to ruin - put them in a plastic bag, stick them in your pocket, and they’ll stay edible and delicious all 4-day weekend long!

2. Breakfast each morning can be easily taken care of. The answer? Granola. In big mason jars, because they’re kinda practical but very hip, and you’re at a music festival after all. This Superfood Granola recipe will be sure to get your day off to the right start...it’s so good it'll even suffice mixed with water. Yes - I went there. Alternatively, I’d recommend packing along a few single-serving dairy-free milk boxes like almond or soy - just make sure you buy the non-perishable kind (i.e. not from the refrigerated section of the grocery store!). Stocking up on some cheap and filling bananas which you can add to the mix in the morning will also take this already delicious meal up a notch!

Figure you’ll be too partied-out to open a milk carton and cut up a banana each morning? Fair. Make these 3-Ingredient Almond Butter Granola Bars ahead of time and literally all you’ll have to do...is eat them.

3. Packing lunch and dinner is POSSIBLE! And dare I say it...these meals can even be HEALTHY - not kidding. You might think salads are a “no-no” because they need to be kept cold...but how about opting for grain-based salads that will actually maintain their freshness without refrigeration! This Curry Quinoa Salad can indeed be enjoyed at room temperature…

Similarly, this Quinoa Bean Salad recipe calls for quickly frying up the ingredients in a saucepan, but you could skip this step entirely and mix together the ingredients at the last minute. Or feel free to follow the recipe instructions as written and just portion out servings into containers - they’ll last over the weekend as long as they’re kept out of direct sunlight (leave them in the shade in your campsite!).

4. Lastly: GET YOUR GREENS IN! Yeah sure, freshly washed and chopped cucumber and broccoli might not be convenient (although there’s no reason you can’t take some for the road trip there) - but how about muffins?! You heard right. Spring dinner muffins. They are green. Enough said.

And there you have it. While you may end up losing a piece of your dignity at WayHome this year (let’s be real, you’re going to smell...bad) - as long as Meal Garden’s around, there’s no reason to say goodbye to your health!

Inspired to create your own meal plan? Get started here.