April 26, 2013

Week 16 & 17 - Hotel Kitchenette Meals

Just returned from an awesome week in Florida!  We stayed at the Guy Harvey Outpost in St. Pete Beach and overall we were very happy with our stay.  The Guy Harvey is nice and quiet and guests have access to all the amenities at the larger Tradewinds Island Grand, just a short walk down the beach.  The beach was beautiful, water warm, weather hot and sunny... what more can you ask for?

View from our room at Guy Harvey Outpost, St. Pete Beach

Typically when we travel I'm most excited about the food, even when we go to an All Inclusive where you eat at the same buffet for 7 days straight.  Hey - if I'm not cooking, or more importantly cleaning, I'm not complaining!  However, this is our third sun destination vacation since Marin has come along and I'm now finding things go much smoother if we get accommodations with a kitchen.  With a child this age (4), who is off schedule and tired from being outside in the sun, restaurants are not necessarily a pleasant experience (lesson learned at Downtown Disney's Rainforest Café last year!).  But this was my vacation too, elaborate meals were definitely not on the menu.  We had a full-sized fridge, stovetop and microwave - all we needed.  An added bonus this year, there was daily housekeeping and they did the dishes!  Yippee!!  And we might not have eaten out much, much I made sure I totally enjoyed my morning coffee! 

We were travelling with my brother-in-law's family as well (kids aged 2 & 5).  Between us here's a list of some the meals and snacks that got us through:

Easy Meal Ideas:

  • Breakfast - alternated between cereal and toast
  • Wraps - filled with pre-sliced cheese, pre-chopped mixed peppers, black beans, salsa, sour cream and guacamole (option: substitute deli chicken for black beans)
  • Kraft Dinner
  • Grilled Cheese (using pre-sliced real cheddar)
  • Spaghetti (pasta with jarred pasta sauce)
  • Deli chicken with raw veggies or salad
  • Ham & Cheese Sandwiches
  • PB&J Sandwiches
  • Omelettes


  • Nuts
  • Fruit (bananas, apples, berries)
  • Dried Fruit (apricots and raisins)
  • Vegetables (cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers, mushrooms, green beans, sugar snap peas, mini carrots - anything prewashed and prepped is a bonus!)
  • Pretzels
  • Cheese and Crackers
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Yogurt (my sister-in-law buys the tubes and freezes them, makes an easy grab and go treat)
  • Goldfish crackers (I've stopped buying these at home so Marin was devouring this treat!)
  • Chips (for me Vacation = Chips)
  • Apple sauce

I didn't buy ice-cream for the room since I figured we'd make it an occasional outing to go get a cone.  Surprisingly, this only happened twice! 

This is Marin taking charge of snack time.  Slice of bread with diced peppers, juice from cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of ranch dressing.  Not bad at all!



  • Room Service Pizza (ordered enough for supper and leftovers for lunch)
  • Chipotle - this is a must have whenever we're close to one!  We ordered enough for 2 lunches.  Chipotle folks - if you're listening... I know you've found you're way to Canada but could you please, please, please make your way East!!
  • St. Pete Beach Produce & Deli - not sure if this place has a name, the sign just says 'Produce & Deli.  It's on Gulf Blvd, roughly across from the Howard Johnson.  They have an awesome Greek menu.  We found this place the first time we were in St. Pete Beach 3 years ago and loved it!  We were so sad it was no longer there but mid-week realized it had just relocated - yippee!!  For our last night I bought a variety of food from the deli counter - grape leaves, spanakopita, tzatziki, tabouli, pita, baklava... mmmm... If you're in the area you should definitely check it out!

We travelled Wednesday to Wednesday.  Before going I made a tuna casserole on Sunday to get us through Monday and Tuesday lunches.  Suppers were... well... creative.  I was on a mission to clean out the fridge!  On our way home from the airport I popped into the grocery store for milk and stuff to make nachos for supper (Marin's request). Thursday was our first full day back... luckily I had 2 pieces of lasagna frozen that we used up for lunch.  Supper was salmon (frozen fillets), basmati rice made with coconut milk instead of water and asparagus (from the freezer).  Supper tonight is chicken, corn (both from the freezer) and red pepper slices leftover from the nachos. 

Tomorrow I'll break down and get a grocery order and finally admit that vacation is over... sigh...

April 16, 2013

Money Matters

Now that I’ve been meal planning faithfully for over 3 months I have a better feeling for how much money we’re projecting to save this year.  These numbers really surprised me!!   Actually, scratch that... they shocked me!  I broke the savings into 3 areas – 
  1. Packing lunches consistently
  2. Eating out less
  3. Grocery bill
I worked things out based on 4 weeks in a month for 12 months.  That’s 4 weeks shy for the year but we have 4 weeks vacation where we eat “normal” so I thought that was a reasonable way to calculate.  If this isn’t motivation I don’t know what is...
Lunches – Prior to my meal planning pledge I estimate that we were buying lunch on average twice a week.  We are now very rarely buying lunch.  Packing a lunch has a cost as well, but I estimate that combined we save about $10/day by packing lunch instead of buying.  That’s $20/week * 4 = $80/Month
Eating Out – We had been in the habit of eating out most Friday’s.  We’ve cut that out completely and eating out has become an occasional treat, which it always was over and above our Friday splurge.  We weren’t fine dining on Fridays – typically it was Wendy’s, Swiss Chalet or Boston Pizza, and again our at home meal has a cost, so I would estimate the savings to be about $25/wk.   $25/week * 4 = $100/Month
Groceries – My main grocery order is now typically $100-$125/week.  This isn’t much different than it had been BUT, I’m not doing as many mid-week top ups that would often quickly add up to $30-$60.  I’m going to low-bal my estimate and say I’m saving about $30/week on groceries.  $30/week * 4 = $120/Month

So.... drumroll please....
$80 + $100 + $120 = $300/Month
$300/month * 12 = $3600/Year!

$3600!!!  I know right?  Shocking!  And really, I was doing some meal planning already, these aren’t drastic changes for us, it's just been more about being consistent.
I had also done really well with cutting out buying my morning coffee in January and February.  That was saving me about $1.50/day.  Roll up the Rim sucked me back in as always but I will return to making my own when all the cups are gone!
If you've been following or planning along with me I'd love to hear what your savings are!!

And just a quick note, no post this Friday but I will be back on the 26th with a special 2 week review! 
Have a great week everyone!

April 12, 2013

Week 15 - A Second Helping of Kid-Friendly Meals

My Kid-Friendly week back in February was a hit – both at my house and on the blog.  I can see from my stats that this is the week that has the most hits and is found the most by Google searches.  Which isn’t surprising, feeding kids can be a challenge!  Most parents I know also loathe packing school lunches.  I’m still looking forward to that by the way… again you can file away that you must tell me “I told you so” the first time I complain about it.
Kid friendly food is all about making food fun and appealing… so really it's everyone friendly!   Again I had so many ideas I couldn’t fit them all in… I have to file away the ideas that didn’t make it for the next instalment.  This week is doubling as April Magazine Week.  The April issue of Today’s Parent had a one week meal plan that’s worth checking out!
One important consideration in school lunches is packaging.  At supper club this past weekend we had a chat about reusable containers that are easy enough for little hands to open.  Thought I’d pass on this idea – I’ve been making reusable snack bags.  They’re great for ‘dry’ snacks (crackers, trail mix, etc… ) but I’ve also used them for fruit and veggies.   I’m a beginner sewer with a basic sewing machine so trust me when I say that if I can make these – so can you!  Here’s a picture of some of mine (aren’t they fun!?) and a tutorial if you’re feeling “crafty”.  


Recipe Quick Links:

Week in Review


Lunch – BTC Sandwich (Bacon Tomato and Cheddar).  We’re not big sandwich people but sandwiches are easily packable for school lunch so I decided to kick off with that.  I got a really nice 12 Grain Bread and topped it with mayo, crispy bacon, thin slices of tomato and Cheddar cheese.   It took everything in me not to eat this right away.  Unfortunately, as suspected the tomato made the bread soggy.  But I think this is still manageable, I would just wrap the tomato and bacon separately and assemble on site.  And if a microwave is available you could zap the bacon for a few seconds and this would actually be really good!
Supper – Leftover Lasagna.  I automatically think of adding lasagna to Kid-Friendly week because it was one my favorites growing up.  And you can easily get multiple meals out it so it’s also a working mom friendly meal!  Typically I’d make a Caesar to go with it but since we didn’t have anything to prepare when we got home I thought it would be fun to try out a new green smoothie recipe (Kale & Pineapple from Marin Mama Cooks).  Seriously – you gotta try it!  As you can see it was good to the last drop!
1)      Brown ground beef in large saucepan.  Add jar of pasta sauce and ½ jar full of water.  Simmer.
2)      Mix 500ml container of cottage cheese (I like Lasagna style) with ¼ cup of grated Parmesan and 1 egg.
3)      Shred cheese (mozza)
4)      Layer in rectangle pan – sauce, noodles (I use whole wheat and don’t precook them), sauce, ½ of the cottage cheese, sprinkle of mozza, noodles, sauce, remainder of cottage cheese, noodles, sauce, remainder of cheese.
5)      Back at 375, covered for 40 min.  Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes.
Note:  You can also layer the lasagna in a slow-cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours. 


Lunch – Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas.  Quesadillas are a great lunch option, quick to throw together, travel well, eaten reheated or cold and can be filled with just about anything.  I went spinach and mushroom today – a little feta would not have been wrong.  Mushrooms are most definitely kid friendly in our house but I can see where this particular combo might not be every kid’s first choice.  See Thursday for another option or use whatever your favorites are.  To make a quesadilla – prep your fillings (ie. shred the cheese, cook and dice the chicken, sauté the veggies, or rinse the beans).  Spray one side of a tortilla with oil, place in a frying pan sprinkle cheese on one half of the tortillas, top with fillings and then more cheese.  Fold over and cook each side until crispy and cheese melts.  Cut in triangles and enjoy!  We dipped this one in sour cream.
Supper --  Lemon Roast Chicken, Weelicious Veggie Nuggets & Kale Chips.   This meal was underwhelming and ironically the nuggets were probably the most "kid targeted" item this week, yet the one thing my kid did not want to eat.  The chicken was good, we typically have boneless, skinless breasts so skin-on chicken thighs were nice for a change and the gravy was good.  The kale chips were gobbled up but the nuggets were not a hit with anyone.  Mostly me, because I found them a pain to make on top of not really thinking they were anything special.  If you have a child who hates veggies but loves nuggets then perhaps this will do the trick.  The other problem with this meal was that all three items needed to be baked in the oven but at different temps and for different time so it was a bit of nightmare to coordinate – not very well planned!  OOPS!  I would make the chicken again but with different sides and perhaps on a weekend since it needed 45 minutes to cook so made for a late weeknight supper.


Lunch – Caprese Salad.  I love this lunch and I’m surprised this is the first time I’m making it this year.  So simple… diced chicken, cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and pesto.  I think kids would find the bocconcini fun and they have a very mild flavor.  This is also pretty weight watchers friendly – watch your serving sizes but you should be able to pack a satisfying bowl for about 8 points.   Easy to pack, travels well, eaten cold.  Perfect!  I also made a “trail mix” with cheerios, pumpkin seeds and chocolate chips which made a nice little afternoon treat.
Supper – Frittata and Turnip Fries.  The frittata was quick and easy to make and pretty tasty.  It got an “mmmm… yummy eggs” from the little one at the table.  The turnip fries were a little under done but if you are patient and leave them roast until they get crispy they are a tasty treat and a fun finger food for kids.  I just cut the turnip into fry shape (of buy them already pre-cut), boil for a few minutes and then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 450 until they crisp up.  I find the time it takes varies… but plan for at least 30 minutes.


Lunch – Chicken Quesadillas.  For this version I sautéed some red pepper with diced chicken breast (leftover from Wednesday’s lunch) and a sprinkle of Mexican spice mix.  I used a tex-mex pre-shredded cheese mix.  I love buying pre-shredded cheese when it’s on sale, saves a step and we eat it less on impulse.  If I buy a block of cheese with the intention of using it later in the week most likely it’ll be gone by the time I need it.
Supper – Hearty Tuscan Soup.  I debated this one because as I’ve mentioned before we’re not really “soup people”.  But it’s been unseasonable cold here and Marin has a bug she can’t seem to shake so a nice bowl of soup sounded pretty good.  This was excellent – so glad I tried it!  I actually used Tofu instead of the navy beans.  This would be really low Weight Watchers points if you skipped the croutons.  The croutons were my favorite part though…
Photo by Robert Caruso via Today's Parent


Lunch – Leftovers!  I packed the croutons separately so they would be nice and crunchy. 
Supper – Date night!  You’re on your own.  But if you’re looking for ideas we have Steak Frites on the menu for the weekend!  This is from Canadian Living.  It’s really just steak and homefries but what caught my eye was the aioli.

For some great school lunch ideas ‘Like’ 100 Days of Real Food and Weelicious on Facebook.  They both post daily what they packed for school lunches.

April 05, 2013

Week 14 - Patty Cake, Patty Cake…

Printable Version of Meal Plan and Grocery List

This week is all about the patties (chickpea and hamburger) and the cakes (quinoa and salmon).  Honestly, it was actually one of those accidentally themed weeks. Apparently I was in a patty mood last Sunday. I will say that I liked most of the meals this week, however I was so excited by the Patty & Cake theme that I failed to notice just how many beans there were on the menu.  Maybe a little overkill in that area.   But as a bonus all these patties and cakes made for a pretty kid-friendly week!

Recipe Quick Links:
Layered Salad, In the Kitchen with Stephano Faita
Quinoa Cakes, Marin Mama Cooks
Chickpea Burgers, Marin Mama Cooks
Refried Beans, 100 Days of Real Food
Corn Tortillas, 100 Days of Real Food
Mandarin Almond Salad, All Recipes

Week in Review

We had two fabulous meals on the weekend. Saturday night with the MacNeil’s and Sunday night with the Robertson’s. Ham one night and turkey the next.  Add a ton of chocolate to that and this was definitely not a low cal weekend, but everything was delicious and worth every Weight Watchers point!! Shout out to my nephew Cameron who made the most amazing macarons. He made two batches – lemon and lavender, which apparently took him 6 hours. They were to die for, I’m sure you could not find any better at a French bakery. I was super impressed! I hear he makes maple as well which I can’t wait to try sometime… hint, hint

Monday – I had Monday off so Marin and I headed downtown to meet Daddy for lunch and then we enjoyed a rainy afternoon watching cooking shows at home.  Marin got particularly focused on watching In the Kitchen with Stephan Faita.  He made a layered quinoa salad and she said “I wish I could have that for supper”.  I took that as a sign that we all needed a boatload of veggies to make up for the rich foods we were eating all weekend.  So we headed to the kitchen and made a layered salad with everything we could find.  I didn’t have all the ingredients we needed for Stephano’s version but I’d definitely like to give it a try sometime!

Tuesday – Lunch was Marin Mama’s Quinoa Cakes.  I love this recipe hot out of the pan but they weren’t quite as good reheated in the microwave.  I also used water instead of broth so they were a tad bland.   Don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe though… they’ll just be a weekend treat from now on.  Supper was Salmon Cakes with Caper Mayo – although I skip the capers when I make this.  I’ve tried quite a few versions of salmon cakes and so far this is our favorite.  We love the dip!

Salmon Cakes with Caper Mayo (source unknown)
• 2 lb fresh salmon
• ¼ c lime or lemon juice
• 1 c chopped green onion
• 1 c chopped fresh cilantro
• 1 c light mayo (or 1/2c mayo, 1/2c sour cream or plain yogurt)
• 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tsp chilli powder
• 2 Tbsp capers (optional)
• 1 1/3 c dry Italian bread crumbs
• ½ c cornmeal
• 2 tsp butter

1. Break fish into pieces and microwave 6-8 minutes. Crumble and drizzle with lime juice. Add green onion and cilantro
2. In separate bowl, mix mayo, Dijon, and chilli powder. Add ½ to salmon and reserve the rest for dip.
3. Mix bread crumbs into salmon. Form into 8 cakes. Roll into cornmeal. Cover and refrigerate for 30 min - 24 hrs or freeze.
4. Fry in butter 3-5 minutes per side, cover and let warm through for 10minutes.

Wednesday – Lunch was one of things that I make when I don’t feel like making lunches – Hummus, melba and veggies.   I made us some apple sandwiches with almond butter, maple and coconut spread (Marin’s creation from last week) for work snacks as well.  They were as good as I had hoped.  Supper was slow-cooker refried beans, homemade corn tortillas and all the fixin’s!  Seriously… so good!
This is another snack I made up mid-week.  They’re called Granola Coins, are really quick and easy to throw together and make a great work or school snack at just 2 weight watchers points each.  I find them to be a good alternative to granola bars and you could easily personalize them with different add-ins.


Thursday – Pulled out another Marin Mama recipe… chickpea patties.  I was thinking of these because I had some cilantro to use up.  Instead of doing them up as burgers I packed just the patty on its own with a mandarin almond salad.  This lunch was excellent.  Light and full of flavors!  I’ve been making this salad for years, typically with mixed greens.  I had a salad at Pipa Restaurant last month which reminded me so much of this salad but using kale.  That was my plan but I can never seem to find Kale when I need it.  However, it worked out fine because I stumbled on PC Organic Field Greens with Herbs Salad Mix.  This was the perfect mix for this salad.
For supper I made hamburger patties with feta, red onion and oregano.  I grilled them on the Foreman but overdid them a tad so they were a bit dried out.  We did them up on pita with tzatziki and cherry tomatoes.  I have to remember to pull this idea out for bbq season.

Friday – Lunch was an exact replica of Thursday’s lunch… and just as good!  Supper was nachos.  I was planning on using the beans but instead cut up the leftover hamburger patty.  The beans will go in the freezer for an easy meal in a few weeks.

Happy weekend everyone!