Meal Planning

One of the best parts about not working is the fact that I can stay on top of almost everything in regards to my personal/home life. And to me, that means cleaning/organizing/planning. Best of all: meal planning!

You might be wondering, what is meal planning? Well basically, it’s like deciding in advance what you’re going to eat either on a weekly or monthly basis. From there, you make a specific grocery list that consists only of the ingredients you need for your weekly meals + some snacks and home essentials. Some people like to plan week to week, but what I found works best for me is to plan one month at a time with 30 some odd different recipes and go from there.

I’ve actually used quite a few free printables for meal planning in the last year or two, and here are my top picks:

 

You should definitely do some browsing and see which one suits your needs best. Then once you’ve decided, print one out and try it out!

The first step to meal planning is integrating good recipes, some of which you may not have even tried before. And ideally, you should pick at least 2 recipes that contain similar ingredients if you know you won’t be using a lot of one ingredient that is likely to go bad within the week. For example, when I buy cauliflower, I make sure I can use it in two of my weekly recipes if I only need half for one recipe, that way none of it goes to waste. Alternatively, you can freeze what you don’t use and save it for later, but make sure you freeze it as early as possible so it stays as fresh as possible for when you unthaw it.

How do you find good healthy recipes if you either have none or are tired of eating the same old meals over and over again? For me, it was buying a new cookbook and doing lots of online research on Google and Pinterest. And I have to say that the cookbook purchase was well worth it. As a side note, I’m a pescetarian, which means I’m a vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood/fish. Because of this, I decided to buy a vegan cookbook, but not just any vegan cookbook! I bought the best of the best: Oh She Glows! ❤

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I’m still working on compiling a recipe book of my own, with family recipes as well as ones found online, but it’s not very complete. Mostly I just go online to pick some recipes when I’m doing a new meal plan.

Some recipes will require more ingredients than others. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, but sometime’s that’s less efficient because maybe you’re on a tight budget. It’s important to look for budget friendly recipes as well, even if that means that some recipes will only contain a few ingredients. As for myself, I try to make those ingredients some of my favourites, such as broccoli, cheese and pasta. Most pasta dishes can be pretty simple, and stir fry is always a great go-to meal for veggies lovers and omnivores alike!

Here’s a list of my favourite frugal recipes:

And there are so many more options! In this upcoming month, I’m going to try a variety of new recipes that contain red lentils because I’ve got a full bag I haven’t used yet. I’m also going to try making something called Cauliflower Buffalo ‘Wings’ because the cauliflower is on sale at No Frills this week.

The next step to meal planning after choosing lots of healthy recipes is to make a grocery list! You can go the easy way and just write everything on a piece of paper, or write it down on your phone given the fact that you mostly bring your phone with you everywhere you go. As for me, I don’t know why but I love the idea of printable grocery lists. I try to keep all of them after I’m done my grocery and file all of them so I can go back and see what main ingredients I often buy. Here’s my current template for my weekly grocery list:

Grocery List Template
This PDF file lets you edit and customize the grocery list!

Where to start though? Well I like to take all my recipes and see what ingredients I don’t have lying around the house. I’ll write all of those down and how many of each I need, double checking the fridge and storage to make sure I don’t already have what I need. Then it’s time to do some research.

My favourite step of the process is finding the best deals. I have various apps for this, as I mentioned in my blog post Home Organization, that show me coupons and/or deals for the stores of my choice. I look at all the flyers first to see what’s on sale, and I also check the PC Plus App to see what products will give me points if I purchase them. The main part of my grocery shopping is done at PC stores, either No Frills or Superstore, because of the amazing deal they have with their rewards points. It’s by far the easiest one to accumulate and saves you tons of money! I should also mention that I have the PC MasterCard which also gives me extra points for every dollar I spend. So far this year, I’ve already cashed out $80 worth of points – and it’s only been two months!!

After I check to see where the best deals are, I’ll mark it down next to the items I need to make sure I get it at the right store. At this point, I might also add products if there’s a great deal somewhere, and then stockpile that item. But I know it isn’t always feasible for everyone to tell themselves they’ll go to 3 different stores to get the best deals, so you do what’s best for you.

Once you’ve gotten your grocery list all done, you go out and you buy your food! I find that picking a grocery day/night is the best way to make sure you don’t overspend or go to the grocery store numerous times in one week, so I head out to do a haul every Thursday. It used to be Tuesday in NB, especially when I had a valid student card because students get 10% off on Tuesdays – definitely something to look into if you are a student!

And that’s about it. That’s how I do meal planning.

Try it out for yourself and feel free to let me know how it goes!

I got a new planner!

I had been looking far and wide for a new planner, but I’m so picky and they can get pretty expensive. My biggest problem was that most of the ones I found didn’t have the full month layout, basically my favourite part of an organizer because you can see the bigger picture of what the month ahead looks like. But I finally made up my mind and splurged a little to get myself The Happy Planner at Michael’s!

If you know me, then you know how much I love to plan and organize, and what better way to do that than with an amazing planner? Not to mention I usually have a crazy busy schedule, so it’s mandatory that I write everything down and manage my time as efficiently as possible to accomplish all my tasks and goals!

This is actually my first full on planner since I graduated from University. The first year, it hit me hard that I wasn’t going to receive a free scheduler for all planning purposes, but regardless, it wouldn’t have been adapted to my non-student schedule, so I moved on and tried some free printable sheets for that first year. I got mine from Passion Planner and I enjoyed it a fair bit. The only down side was that I printed full size sheets – I found they were too big – because all I had to put them in was either a binder or my hand-dandy clip board that I bring with me everywhere I go. I still managed to make it work by carrying around 2 months worth of weekly sheets – as well as the full month sheet for both months – in my clipboard. And that worked well, that is until summer came around and my whole life kind of changed and I couldn’t commit to using a scheduler anymore. The fact that I was working at a daycare probably didn’t help since it wasn’t the type of job you would use a scheduler anyway. I was used to working in an office, so I was trying to change my habits but still managing my schedule as best as I could.

This year is much different, for various reasons. Firstly, because I have been unemployed for a while now, which made me wonder if it was worth buying a planner at all. Secondly, because I have been and will be travelling a lot this year, so if I was in fact going to buy a planner, I needed something to meet my needs for short term and long term. And also since I’m now starting a business of handmade crafts, I knew the planner would have to be suitable for daily time management so I could organize and plan how much time I spend working on projects.

The end result: The Happy Planner

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I think I’m in love.

 

My favourite things about this planner:

  • Full one week layout on 2 pages
  • Full month layout on 2 pages
  • A full page dedicated to important information before each month!
  • And last but not least… a space to write notes on EVERY PAGE!

I am definitely looking forward to getting the most out of this gorgeous planner.

Home organization

If you don’t know this about me already, I am slightly obsessed with cleaning and organizing my home – or anyone else’s home for that matter. I started looking into it via Pinterest a little over a year ago and it’s actually amazing how much my life has improved since then. Notably, I’m talking finances. Getting organized helped me get things done, and getting things done helped me save a ton of money.

Here’s how:

  • Meal planning
  • Stock piling
  • Couponing/Points Cards (including coupon apps!)
  • Waste reduction
  • Decluttering
  • Budgetting

By implementing good habits as listed above, I was able to not only save money, but to feel good about it because I knew that it was my hard work and dedication that helped me achieve my goals. Dedication is really a key aspect when taking on any challenge, and when it’s combined with consistency, you begin to see change.

I want to take the time to underline again that I LOVE doing this kind of stuff, which makes it easier to motivate myself to keep doing it every day. It’s a lot trickier when you want to be able to get organized, but you don’t like doing it therefor it feels like a chore you need to keep doing, over and over again. Don’t get discouraged even if this may be the case; you can always make changes that are adapted to your lifestyle and find a way to make it work under your terms.

The first topic of home organization that I was interested in was meal planning. I lead such a busy life, always getting involved with events, volunteer work, gigs, work, projects, etc., and I was tired of – and broke from – going to the restaurant all the time and buying groceries every other day because I never had all the ingredients I wanted to make the meals I wanted. So I did some research on meal planning, just to see what I could find. Unfortunately, one of the biggest fads was “Freezer Meals”, most of which contain meat. The problem being: I’m a vegetarian. There were also tons and tons of meal ideas for monthly meal plans, but again, they were all easy go-to meat-based recipes that I had absolutely no interest in making. The solution: I needed to buy myself a good vegetarian cook book. I actually owned one, not that I had ever really used it. My dad bought it for me when I decided to become a vegetarian when I turned 16. The only meal I had ever tried to make was a vegetable lasagna – YUM – but it always took so much time and effort that I only ever made it twice, and the second time was for a fundraiser and I wasn’t even the one cooking.

I’ve never thought of myself as a fussy person, but just by browsing through the veggie cook books at Chapters, I realized how limited I had made my diet. I suppose it was due to habits; I ate what my parents ate. So I took a leap of faith and bought a book with a wide variety of vegetarian meals, and decided I would start a 30 Day Home-cooked Meal challenge to try a new recipe every day. (See: Cooking With Gary the Giraffe)

Next up was to find a meal planner. Did I want to use an app or a print out sheet? I couldn’t decide so I decided to try both. I downloaded the Pepperplate app on my phone and iPad, and printed out some free sheets from Pinterest searches that I thought looked good. At first, I tried doing a weekly meal plans, so that meant picking 7 meals, writing down all the ingredients I needed for them, and only shopping for those items – and snacks, of course. It worked pretty well, although sometimes I would switch them if I wasn’t in the mood for a certain meal on a certain weekday. I tried to make sure my time was well managed around making the meals. What I mean by that is that I used to have choir practice every Monday night at 7pm, and since I work until 4:30pm, that means I only have a little over 2 hours to cook the entire meal, sit down to eat, and clean up. In that case, I would always make sure that Monday meals were quick and easy to make so that I could have some extra time to take a shower, watch some TV, or catch up on my e-mails.

After finishing the 30 Day Challenge, I realized that weekly meal plans felt limited, so I printed out new monthly meal planning sheets – I still use these today. My new plan was to pick out enough meals for the entire month and post that on the fridge. Then I would also use the weekly meal planner to make sure I was only going to do groceries once a week. I also clicked in that it would be more efficient to make sure I used some of the same ingredients for more than one meal in the same week. For example, if I buy spinach for just one meal this week, it is most likely going to go bad because I haven’t planned a second meal that contains spinach to use it up before the expiration date. I worked this into the planning and it helped reduce the amount of food I was throwing into the garbage – make that compost, now.

The whole meal planning did save me money, just like that, without even doing anything else. But to me, it was like taking the first bite of a delicious chocolate cake that just melts in your mouth, and I wanted more. Next up was a combination of stock piling and budgeting. (Side note: the coupons were a part of it, but I wasn’t fully immersed into couponing until just now.)

What is stock piling, exactly? Well, basically it consists of buying a LOT of non-perishables when they’re selling at their best price. How do you do this? Flyers. All of the flyers. It’s a process too, because you need to visit every store that sells the items that you use – oh yeah, good tip: only buy stuff you know that you use! – and compare the regular prices to the sale prices. Sometimes Sobeys will have an item on sale, but the regular price is still cheaper at Superstore, so obviously, I’m going to buy it at Superstore. The smartest way to do stock piling, is to ONLY buy sale items, when they are at their cheapest. This makes it a bit more difficult because at the beginning, you don’t necessarily have a lot to work with. The first time I started stock piling, I bought non sale items as well, but made sure to stay on or under budget.

As for the budget itself, I’ve tried a lot of different things. I did print out sheets to keep track of what I was using. I tried spreadsheets to keep track of all my finances. And then finally I found what worked best for me (at the time): cash. What that means it that I budgeted my money by only shopping with cash, that way I could never overspend – not that I usually do anyway, I’ve been frugal my whole life. I bought a coupon organizer and put a set amount in there with the coupons every week I went to do my groceries. I also kept track of the money I was spending on cue cards. Each cue card represented a month, and for each week of spending, I would write down the total spent, and the total savings. Then at the end of the month, I wrote down the grand total which would indicate if I went into the positive or into the negative. The reason I even mention going over budget in this scenario is because the stock piling can cause the budget to be a little unbalanced the first week of every month, and I would allow that because I knew I would still end up saving money at the end of the month. And I did. In only 6 months, I saved over $250! Imagine how much you could save every year!

Unfortunately, I moved after 6 months or so, which meant I would have to start over. This is when I started implementing waste reduction and decluttering – it’s pretty much necessary to get rid of clutter when you move anyway so it’s a win-win. As for waste reduction, I’ve always been eco-friendly, very aware of my environmental impact and my ecological footprint, but I hadn’t really gotten into good habits concerning waste management at home. I had just moved into a nice spacious house with only one roommate, so I knew I had more flexibility when it came to deciding I wanted to compost more frequently. Another important thing – that I’m not very good at – is to portion foods so that it doesn’t go to waste, in other words, always finish off your plate. Luckily, I have an amazing brother who will eat anything I can’t finish, and then I got a wonderful boyfriend who could do the same. So although I am relying on others, I can say that I’ve got that accomplished. But in all seriousness, I do serve myself smaller portions and I take home any leftovers if/when we go out to restaurants.

And then I moved again! I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to cope well, despite the instability of living arrangements in the past 6 months. But it also meant starting over, again. Not to worry, given the fact that I was – and still am – unemployed, it gave me plenty of time to get everything in order to have a budgeted, organized and eco-friendly home. With all this free time, I decided it was time to get into couponing and get my points-card game on! I found a printer on Kijiji for $10 – booya! – and got right to printing coupons. I already had three coupon apps on my phone, but I figured there must be others I haven’t heard of, so I did some research and ended up with these:

  • Checkout 51 (My all time favourite)
  • Zweet (Pretty good app, but fewer options)
  • Snap by Groupon (Often the same options and you can only use them once each)
  • Cartsmart (Just downloaded it. Seems to have a decent variety, but not a huge selection)
  • Coupgon (Just downloaded it. Very limited because it’s based on specific stores and it only recognizes one store in my area)

*Bonus app: Flipp! Absolutely amazing app that gives you coupons and shows you all the weekly flyers for the stores around you. Win-win!

And then of course there are the points cards:

  • Air Miles (not a huge fan, and there’s no Sobeys or IGA in my area right now)
  • PC Plus Points (LOVE this one! You can redeem $20 with just 20 000 points. I’ve already redeemed $140 since I got it a year ago. Can be used at Superstore and No Frills)
  • More Rewards (This one is for Save On Foods. Seems hard to accumulate points fast)
  • Optimum (A lot of people are familiar with the Shoppers Drugmart points card. I only recently became more aware of the points system and got $30 of free groceries last week!)
  • Smart Shoppers Cards (These can be used at Freson Bros by collecting stamps and filling out cards to redeem free or reduced price groceries. Love it, but the food at this store is expensive so you have to spend a lot of money to acquire enough stamps for free food.)

And that’s where I’m at right now. I just started my new stock pile so I’m pushing the budget quite a bit and will continue to do so for a maximum of 2 more weeks. After that, it should be smooth sailing with savings a plenty!

I GOT A LABEL MAKER!

For those of you who don’t know me that well, I’m kind of obsessed with being organized. I do the whole meal planning/budgeting/home organization/stock piling/frugal living lifestyle. All the food that I own are in containers and organized in cabinets by size. My clothes are either hung up in order of preference, divided into sections – sweaters, shirts, dresses – or in my dresser, divided into sections by drawers and containers. I’m a mason jar-a-holic. My bathroom cabinet looks like Bed, Bath and Beyond displays. So you can imagine my excitement when my boyfriend suggested I buy a label maker!!

I got it yesterday afternoon. And it was on sale! – duh, I don’t buy anything if it’s not on sale. Typical conversation with Max when I get home:

“Can I print the first label?!”

“I forbid you to print the word ‘Penis’ as our first label.”

“It’s not penis… hehehe.”

“Oh my God, you’re gonna write something horrible and put it on my face!”

He did in fact print the first label, and I got very worried when he left the table without showing me, walked to the counter, and pulled his pants down.
“Check it out.”

He shoved it in my face to show me:

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Har-har.

And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about the numerous things I could label. Mostly I got it to organize the kitchen, but it’s like I’m out of control! I want to label everything!!

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I pretty much love my label maker.