Over the years I've observed that I have a well-stocked pantry compared to many people, and I'm often surprised by what's NOT in people's pantry's. Let's chat about a well-stocked kitchen over the next few blog posts and see what all the fuss is about!
Keeping a well-stocked pantry can be the difference between whipping something up for a meal and ordering in (or going out). It's not a big deal if you don't think it is, but if you feel guilt, shame, or regret every time you go out when you would rather not, this is one of those things you can do to take control and find some satisfaction and happiness in your kitchen.
Keeping your pantry stocked enables you to run a more efficient and organized kitchen. It makes your meal planning and grocery shopping easier and quicker, and by keeping everything organized and knowing what you have means less time and money is wasted. It's so important, in fact, that I offer pantry audits as one of my services, because it's one of those places in our homes that seems to encourage chaos. I encourage you to do your own pantry audit before you run out to shop for your staples- you may find things in there you forgot you had!
We'll go over fridge and freezer stocking another time, and at the end of it all we'll put together a list of a few ideas of meals you can throw together with what you have.
Some standard pantry staples:
My stocked pantry includes items most people would probably not consider as basics, but we don't let ourselves run out. These items include all of these above plus:
There are overlaps, of course, between fridge and pantry. If we open the salsa, for example, it lives in the fridge. And we keep our ketchup in the fridge too, though I hear it's shelf-stable and refrigeration isn't required.
Here's a recipe using basic pantry ingredients to create baked beans in the slow cooker- a perfect recipe for the weather we are enjoying today in Fort Saskatchewan!
Have a comment? Want to tell me what I missed (or added) that makes my stocked pantry different than yours? Feel free to leave a note for us here or hop over to my Facebook page and start the conversation there.
Have a great week, friends!
I love soup so much, you will seldom see a meal plan of mine that doesn't include at least one dinner made up of a soup of some sort.
And the leftovers...soup leftovers make me happy too. For one thing, they seem to taste better the second or third day. And you can always pair them up with a sandwich or salad and have another dinner or hot, quick, and satisfying lunch. It freezes beautifully, too, which makes me happy because then it means I've got some meal starters in my freezer.
I love soup because it can be as fancy or simple as you'd like. Soup doesn't require a recipe, most of the time, and it's a fantastic way to use up bits and pieces of ingredients that need a meal to be useful, which also means it's an economical thing to cook at the end of the food in your fridge and pantry.
However, my family doesn't love soup. It used to be the only way I could get my second son to eat a balanced meal- if it was in soup, he'd eat it. Now, however, he's older and wiser and realizes he doesn't like soup very much. Putting soup on the meal plan twice this week is a big gamble, but I'm hopeful that because one of the soups is from my freezer and new to them it will be tolerated, the best outcome I can hope for with this family.
I've been making adjustments to my love for soup against the preferences of my family, and I have come to the realization that if I turn my favourite soup flavours into a one-pot skillet meal they will eat it. It seems to be the broth they object to. Last week I made minestrone minus all the lovely broth and both boys gobbled it up without a word of complaint. I can add as much broth as I like to make my own brothy bowl, the way I like it best. This week I aim to take the leftovers from my curry soup and turn it into a potato casserole of some kind. I will keep you posted.
How can you marry the food you love with the disdain of your family in a way that makes everyone happy? Feel free to let me know!
I'm just a message away if you're looking to make happier changes in your meal times!
Enjoy your week, friends!
The first words I hear after school are "I'm hungry, what can I eat?"
Can you relate?
Sometimes it's a simple question to answer because I'll plan for it and have snacks ready, or at least have a suggestion about what they can grab.
Other times though, not so much.
To really feel that sense of pleasure when you know the answer, you need to plan for it, and that is something that is true for everyone- no matter what kind of snacking style you're working with.
Starting with an inventory of what you already own is a great idea. It saves you time and money in the grocery store. It helps fight food waste which benefits the environment. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Is there something in there that can be transformed into a snack?
I'm not saying my kids would eat all these snacks all the time, but taste buds change as we grow and I have no doubt that my picky second son will soon enjoy foods he currently turns his nose up at.
Preparing homemade snacks will, generally speaking, always be better for you then the processed snacks you can buy at the grocery store. If you can find a system that works for you, in the time you have, using your freezer to store snacks (such as muffins or cookies) or having a dedicated snack space in your fridge will go a long way to reducing or even eliminating the frustrations that come with having to prepare meals and snacks when you aren't ready to do so.
You can take these sorts of steps for your other meals, too. Spend some time thinking about what you can do with what you have. It's kind of like a puzzle to me, figuring out how to use what we've got. Sometimes it's easier than others, and remember that everyone finds themselves in an uncreative spot from time to time.
Happiness grows in tandem with planning. As uncertainty decreases and stress decrease, happiness steps in to take its place.
I just sent out an email to my newsletter friends, but I'm going to copy and paste it here so the rest of you can read it here too. One of these days I'll figure out how to remove the "sign up" message- in the meantime, ignore it when you see it.
It's been a struggle for me to send out emails over the years because I just HATE the idea that I'm adding to the inbox overwhelm most of us feel these days...so I'm letting that go. I'm cancelling my email service provider this week.
I appreciate personal emails and messages from all of you, so please don't feel you can't get in touch! I will always welcome hearing from any of you and get back to you, of course. You can use my contact forms on this website such as this one.
This is my last email to you.
Over the first few weeks of 2018 a word has been popping up everywhere I look- "Simplify". And when it comes to a structured email campaign, this decision makes the most sense to me. I don't have to do what "everyone" else does. I don't even open most of the business emails that hit my inbox, and I feel very strongly that most of you don't either- life is too short to be burdened by constant emails.
Rather than spending time and money crafting the occasional email I can better put my resources to use doing things that make life better for both of us- whether it's a blog series, recipe development, customer service calls, or in-home companion days.
I appreciate all of you sticking with me over the years! I'm not going anywhere. The Meals Maven has been a labour of love and I wouldn't do anything else. Keep an eye on me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course, www.themealsmaven.com isn't going anywhere either. If you don't follow me on any of those social media sites, my handle is the same everywhere- @themealsmaven. Please "like" and "follow" me wherever you can. Comment on my posts, tell your family and friends about me, and help me grow my business so
I can keep helping others improve their lives as well.
In closing, if there's anything I can ever do for you to make your life better with regards to your relationship with food or nutrition, or if you want to touch base with me to tell me about your latest wins, or if you have a challenge you just can't wrap your head around, I'm always happy to receive emails or messages from YOU- I will always open those ones and you'll hear back from me :)
All the best, friends. You are the backbone of who I am and I thank you for your support over the years. I've changed and grown and morphed over the years into who I am today and feel more strongly than ever that this is the right path for The Meals Maven to be on.
It's not a cold.
If you haven't had the flu, it's impossible to imagine that you can feel that bad. And I've had the flu before, but I'd forgotten just how bad.
Having just gone through the worst of it and coming out the other side, I can tell you it is really awful. There's no way you can have the flu and not know it.
I'm sure each strain is a little different and effects everyone a little differently, but mine started with a headache. I kept it at bay for several days but after a sleepless night it came roaring in...congestion, whole body aches, and then the fever- that fever that just kept going up and up, and stayed there. I spent literally an entire day in bed, and then most of the next as well. Today's day 5 of symptoms, and I'm still not well enough to go to work or do much housework of any kind. This illness requires time and rest to recover. We'll see how long that process takes.
For a complete discussion on the Flu, check out this article.
In the meantime, I wanted to share some practical real-life tips for meal planning and cooking ahead. Doing that helped us survive the flu, because there was literally no way I could have cooked beyond pushing a button on the microwave.
1. Double your Meals.
Some foods are meant to be pulled out of the freezer and used in a pinch, and these are the ones to double. Think versatile.
My favourite one this time was meatloaf. I haven't been hungry, but since everyone got sick at different times, there were hungry people needing food. The best part about meatloaf is you can slice it into sandwiches or chunk it to be eaten with steamed vegetables and toast or tossed into a bowl of broth- the versatility that doesn't require a lot of effort earned it a gold star from me this time around.
2. Don't forget the Soup.
So here's the thing...I had no soup in the freezer. I had tons of stock, but no soup made already, and that was entirely too much effort for me. I had people wish me well and say things like "good thing you know how to make good soup!"- which I do, but the irony of getting this sick is the inability to put a meal together. A simple soup was simply too much. When you make soup try to put some aside in easy-to-thaw containers in small portions so you can just push a button on the microwave and have something nourishing to eat.
3. Batch Cook Proteins.
If you cook a roast- beef, pork, turkey, whatever- keep some meat aside in portions that are easily used and sliced exactly as we did with the meatloaf. It may be a simple thing to pull a bag of cooked chicken out of the freezer and eat it like that but at least it's food, and a nutritious one at that.
4. Score points with Casseroles.
I had a brick of shepherds pie frozen for just such a time, and I didn't pull it out the night before or have any sort of pre-thought about it at all. Instead, the oven got turned on to 350*F, it got covered with foil and sat on a cookie sheet in the oven. Eventually it warmed all the way through and got hot enough to eat, and it was big enough there was enough of that for 2 days of meals.
5. Order in.
Normally eating out is not the most nutritious food, especially when you're sick. But if you need to, just do it. And don't feel guilty. We ordered pizza last night, having exhausted all our frozen food. And I picked up a big batch of that Pacific Rim soup from OJ's when my husband was fevered so he had some hot soup to eat in between fever spikes.
6. Ask for help- and if it's offered, accept it.
A new friend asked me if she could make me some congee. I've never had it, but I was happy to say yes. It was such a sweet gesture and a welcome gift. And she made muffins for my family, too, and added a huge bag of citrus fruit for us as well. I'm eternally grateful.
Do what you can when you are well to help yourself when you aren't. Because I had no idea I'd be too sick to even make soup- it's hard to fathom being that unwell when you feel fine.
Until next time, friends, enjoy your day and stay warm...and well.
I haven't done a lot of research on the history or background of this soup. A friend of mine suggested I make turkey pho with my turkey leftovers one year, and I haven't looked back.
This recipe helped return us to more healthy meals after the over-indulgence of Christmas, and was the perfect comfort food when my husband caught the flu. It provides plenty of fluid, lots of vegetables, and is gentle to digest.
Like many recipes, I think this one leaves a lot of room open for individualization. It reminded me of the Sunday soup I used to make in college, where I'd open the fridge and use up whatever I had ready to cook.
I cooked the noodles in my soup rather than separately not only to help flavour them, but also because I didn't want to add more dishes then necessary to my washing up pile.
My recipe may not be exactly traditional, but I enjoyed making it and we enjoyed eating it.
8 c good quality chicken stock
6 c assorted chopped fresh vegetables
4 garlic cloves. minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp anise seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1-2 c sliced chicken or turkey
handful of rice noodles
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp coconut oil
Lime slices, garnish
Bean sprouts, garnish
Fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions
Fresh ginger, garnish (optional)
Melt coconut oil and add onions. Saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir in spices. When beginning to brown, add fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Mix well, and add warmed stock. Bring to a boil. Add noodles and vegetables, and bring back to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender crisp. Add turkey, stir to combine, and remove from heat.
Before serving, stir in chopped handfuls of fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions, or sprinkle over each serving. Add bean sprouts and lime slices.
Serve with freshly grated ginger, freshly ground salt and pepper if desired.
It's almost halfway through December, and that means we're almost done 2017. Although there's nothing overly magical about the turning of the page to a new year, we seem universally to want to "start over" with each new year.
So what's holding you back?
Take a few minutes to think about what you want in the new year, and what you can do to make it happen. As nice as it would be to think that the changes we want will magically appear under the tree on Christmas morning, realistically speaking the changes we need to make are made up of the steps we need to take ourselves.
For example, I would love to wake up on Boxing Day and find out that our house is magically uncluttered and clean. Will that happen? Not overnight. But if we consistently make the effort together as a family to make that a goal for the new year- and take steps to ensure it happens- at some point it will happen. Slow and tedious, yes. Worth it in the end? Oh, yes.
Here are some suggestions to help you get a handle on your kitchens going into the new year. Tedious? Maybe. But if you really want to make the changes, you will make the effort.
1. Issue: Don't know what food you have?
I hope some of these suggestions help fuel your new year thoughts and plans! Any questions please feel free to reach out!
Have a good day, friends!
It seems like socks never make it together in the washing machine and dryer. We always seem to have a bin of mismatched socks that look like this...
But with some dedicated time and effort, we can make a little magic happen and many of those socks can be matched and put away...
Going from the overwhelming chaos of the first photo to this one feels like "ahhhhh"...like sipping a cold drink on a hot day, or relaxing into bed at the end of the day and feeling your body melt into the mattress.
Learning how to meal plan feels like that too. Knowing what you're eating and when, especially on a busy night or chaotic holiday season (like now until the end of the year!) can make it less stressful, less time consuming, and less expensive. Meal planning can make your busy nights and chaotic holiday season feel more joyful, more calming, more enjoyable, more cost-effective, and more healthy.
You can do this! Let's talk. I've got space in my calendar so you can start your new year on the right foot...with matching socks (ha ha)
Book your complimentary call here- your confidence is waiting!
We were in Victoria for a week without the kids this time, but we've gone several times in years past and will continue to go in years to come. It's a lovely city with an amazing climate, friendly people, local food, and gorgeous architecture. Not to mention, of course, that we have family there- and the ocean. The ocean is a big draw.
Without further ado: Here's the list of Things to Do! And these aren't in any particular order. Some are better for the kids so they will be marked accordingly. If we feel kids would be bored then we'll mark them "adult".
Bear in mind even if an activity is marked as a half day, at the very least you will need to plan on finding something to eat or drink after, and be flexible with your timing. We have learned the hard way not to make commitments to get somewhere right after a day trip- either it takes longer than we think or the traffic doesn't cooperate. When you're on vacation, just give yourself the freedom to take your time.
1. Butchart Gardens
-Plan for a day away! I went as a kid and hated it- got very bored very fast. (Adult)
2. City Tour, including Craigdarroch Castle
-Plan for a half day! (Adult)
-We went with CVS Tours, so that's who I linked you to. We enjoyed the tour so much- the bus was air conditioned and with tinted windows we could sit in comfort. The driver was fun to listen to, a good driver, and had so much to tell us. The Castle itself only takes about an hour/90 minutes or so to get through, so the half-day tour is mostly driving through interesting neighborhoods, hearing about the history of Victoria, and seeing places you probably wouldn't get to really see if you're focusing on driving.
-We highly recommend it as we learned so much about the city and saw so much of it.
3. Historical Food Tour
-Plan for a half day! (Adult)
-You start at the Victoria Public Market and explore the interesting local businesses, hear their stories, and sample their food...and then you walk. We enjoyed tasting everything from Olive Oil to Macarons to Peroghy.
-You will hear fascinating stores about Victoria- just like on the CVS tour- but from a street level. It was so much fun and we enjoyed the tastings tremendously.
4. The Bug Zoo
-Plan for a half day (Kids)
-The Bug Zoo is located downtown and housed in a small space with an amazing collection of bugs. If you and your kids like the wiggly and crawly, hairy, tiny, or huge bugs, this is the place to go. They offer tours- the staff will take small groups of people from habitat to habitat, often with the opportunity to touch and hold bugs.
-My kids were enthralled. It can take as short or as long as you like- we had to leave early once before my kids were ready, which resulted in an epic meltdown. Be sure to give yourself more time then you think you'll need.
5. Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea
-Plan for a full day (Kids)
-So much for adults as well, if you love the ocean as much as I do. The exhibits are phenomenal, so beautiful and so important. Like most aquariums, there is a huge element of education involved. They have worked hard to educate and teach the public about the Sea and all that lives within and depends on it to live.
-I've only been there once, several years ago, and we are definitely going to revisit when we return next time.
6. Willows Beach
-Plan for a half day- but be prepared for a full one (Kids)
-So much for the adults as well. This beach has easy parking, food, washrooms, and a playground. Lovely sand to play in and water easy to wade into. Hit up the dollar store to pick up some sand toys to enjoy and gift to another family when you leave :)
7. Gonzales Bay
-Plan for a half day (Adult)
-This is great for kids too, but with no on-site parking, washrooms, or food available it's less family friendly. You will definitely still find sand that's playable and ocean that's walkable, and the views are amazing.
8. Whale Watching
-Plan for a half day (Kids)
-Our tour was with Prince of Whales, so that's who I linked you to- but I think all the companies in Victoria are driven to promote respect for the ocean and its inhabitants. I know they work together to help watchers see whales. There's never a guarantee because ocean creatures are free to go where they want to, but we've now been on 3 different tours (one in Southern California, and twice in Victoria) and we have always seen whales- Humpbacks twice, and Killer Whales once.
-You never know what the weather will be like out at sea- it's best to bring a light jacket, a hat, and sunglasses. One whale watching tour we did in July when my second was an infant was so cold we almost needed a toque and gloves, so be warned- it's very different on sea then on land.
-If you think you or the kids might be prone to seasickness, it's best to bring Gravol (motion sickness medication) with you. You may also consider a day pack with bottled water for each, a battery charger for your phone, and a good camera that snaps pictures quickly. The whales will appear (often without warning) and then are gone, and if your camera takes its time to load you may miss capturing the experience on film.
-Many companies offer photographs taken by their staff during the tours, so ask about that option so you can just enjoy the day without worrying about what photos you may be missing.
I'm sure you'll enjoy Victoria as much as we did. Drop me a line and let me know what treasures you have discovered there!
After breakfast at our air bnb we joined in a Historical Food Tour (with samples!), starting at Victoria Public Market. It was so great! There will be more details about this in a future blog post. Suffice it to say if you enjoy sampling local food and hearing stories from the purveyors, this is an activity you want to take in.
For lunch we wandered up to the Irish Times Pub. I ordered a lamb burger with a side house salad while Mike ordered the Times Cheese Burger with an Irish Flight of beer. We sat outside under a big red umbrella and enjoyed the activity going on all around us. For dessert we shared a Guinness Chocolate Brownie.
The lamb burger was delicious. I wasn’t sure if the apple chutney would be too sweet for the burger but it was, in fact, a perfect complement, even though it was a bit messy and "slidey"- it kept sliding out of the bun. And I highly recommend their house salad. If you’re going for beer, the Smithwick’s Red Ale was the right pairing with the lamb burger out of those 4 beers.
Mike enjoyed his Cheese Burger but it was the different kinds of beer that he enjoyed sampling the most.
Dessert was another story, however. We were rather disappointed and didn’t even finish it. The brownie was good, absolutely, but the whiskey toffee sauce was so granular it felt like we were biting into chopped up sugar cubes, and there was so much of it (the sauce) there was no real way to avoid it. It could have been amazing, but it wasn’t.
This was our actual 20th anniversary, and we enjoyed some time walking along Willows Beach. I think I could stay there forever- in fact, I found my next house- just $2.5M! It’s going to take a little time to save for that, right? I would love to live right there on the beach and have that kind of day every day. Who’s with me?
For our anniversary dinner we enjoyed dinner at “Lure”, the Delta Ocean Pointe hotel in-house restaurant. The view from the windows was amazing, the staff attentive, and the tables large enough that none of us felt crowded in. We were able to watch the float planes fly in and see Victoria from an angle we don’t normally see it from.
We shared a starter of mussels with my brother and his family and I ordered the Columbia River Steelhead. What caught my attention (besides the fact that steelhead trout is my favourite fish) was the bacon jam and duck-fat roasted potatoes it came with. Mike ordered (halibut) fish and chips. For dessert we shared an ice-cream sandwich.
The mussels were delicious and the broth spicy. There wasn’t enough bread to soak it all up with though, and they happily provided more so that none of that goodness went to waste. It’s definitely a starter dish meant to be shared as there was a lot served.
Yes to the Steelhead! It came with corn succotash which was ok, and the duck-fat potatoes were nothing to write home about (I like my roasted potatoes way more, in fact). But the trout was cooked perfectly, a lovely crispy crust even, and the dollop of bacon jam was to die for. I actually put it on my list (well, my husband’s) to learn how to make.
Mike thought the fish and chips were good. They would satisfy anyone who doesn’t like a “fishy” fish because Halibut is nice and mild. It was cooked beautifully, not overdone and dry, and the fries were good as well.
I think we’d both say “no” to the ice cream sandwich again. I fully appreciated the level of imagination that went into creating it, but the cookie was so rock hard it was difficult to actually get a piece of cookie to eat with the ice cream, and I didn’t fall in love with the flavour or texture. I actually think I would have preferred the cookies my nephew and niece got to enjoy after their dinners instead.
Our last day of Island Life was spent wandering the beach in Gonzales Bay. We even got to see a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish that had washed up on shore. My absolute favourite thing about Vancouver Island is hanging out with the ocean. There is something magical about how the water pulls away anything negative and just replaces it with calm. I will always love the ocean- I'm pretty sure it's in my blood.
For lunch we returned to Bin 4. This time I ordered the “Chicken of the Sea” with house potato chips and Mike ordered the Pre-Season Favourite and fries. We ate at the location that’s right in Victoria. Same great service and food as the other we visited our first night.
Oh, for all that is wonderful and good, eat the Ahi tuna burger. It was so fresh, flavourful, and satisfying. I think I will probably go back to eat that burger every time we go to Victoria: it was that good.
My husband knew exactly what he’d order because he tasted my leftovers our first night there, and he was just as impressed with the Pre-Season Favourite hot and fresh as he was when it was day 2 leftovers.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my food adventures as much as I enjoyed eating and experiencing them myself. If you head to the Island, be sure to drop me a line and let me know where you ate and what you ate- and what you thought about it!
Next time I post I will tell you about some of the fun stuff you can do in Victoria. Until then, ciao, friends.