Mid-Week Tangent: Battle of Fort Langley Gelato Part II

Oh, do I have a doozy for you today. And not in a good way. If you recall, last week I visited one of two gelato shops in nearby Fort Langley.   This weekend, in my quest to find gelato perfection, I returned to the other gelato shop.  Did I get closer to perfection? No. In fact, I found myself far, far, far from it. Like really far.

You can tell even from this picture that this is not gelato. Also, apologies for the picture taken while walking because I forgot before I started to eat it.

Where: Daily Scoop (no website), Fort Langley 

What I Had:  I had the Espresso Chocolate Almond Crunch (or something to that effect…the exact name escapes me now) and Rum Raisin.  My boyfriend tasted the Nanaimo Bar, after which he promptly switched gears and ordered the Belgium Chocolate (which, I assume, they meant to name Belgian Chocolate, but who knows).

What stood out:  I should have known by the utter lack of web presence that we were bound for disappointment. Last week when we went inside to check it out, but didn’t order anything, I was also thrown off by the lack of standard gelato cases. The gelato was nowhere to be seen, tucked away inside sterile looking stainless steel freezers.  Like I said last week, one of the joys of gelato, or any frozen treat really, is being able to see what you’re going to order before you order it. I should’ve trusted my gut.

We received another early warning sign. My boyfriend asked to taste the nanaimo bar.  I can tell when he loves a food item because his eyes tend to light up like a small child at Christmas. There was no sparkle of joy in his eyes. When I asked how it was he paused and responded “well, it doesn’t taste like nanaimo bar.” He ordered his Belgium[sic] Chocolate. The moment they set it on the counter I looked at him and said, “that’s not gelato.” There, on the counter, looking oh-so-chocolately, was ice cream plain and simple, scooped by an ice cream scoop in a rounded ball rather than the typical gelato spade. Uncool.  His chocolate ice cream–I’ll just call it what is is–tasted quite good but, really, it’s hard to mess up chocolate.

I still ordered because I do my research for this blog, and I couldn’t write a scathing review without having tried it. I wish that I hadn’t. I wish I had just formed a snap judgment on appearances alone and left it at that. Instead, I ordered the two above mentioned flavours.

Had the rum raisin not been called rum raisin, I never would’ve suspected that was its flavour. The supposed rum flavour was undetectable, and there was a nary a raisin the be found. It also had an odd texture, one I’m still struggling to describe, sort of a grainy and…dare I say, gelatinous feel to it. Zero gelato creaminess was present. Textural issues continued in my espresso “gelato”, which barely tasted of coffee and lacked the promised crunch.

I think you can tell that all in all it was a drastically disappointing experience, so much so that I barely ate any, drove all the way home without touching it (by the way, it barely melted on the drive home, yet another sign it isn’t legit gelato), and tossed it in the freezer for later.  The final insult: the gelato sat in the freezer all afternoon without so much as calling to me. I assure you that this never happens when I have frozen treats in my freezer. Most of the time, I can barely stop thinking about them and I rarely would’ve survived the whole afternoon without swan diving into the leftovers.

The final call: I honestly would’ve tossed this gelato in the garbage after two bites had I not just dropped $7 on it.  And so, my quest for gelato perfection continues…

Oh, and in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, and because this is a battle of gelato, if you’re in Fort Langley and jonesing for gelato, definitely go for Maria’s.


Mid-Week Tangent: Battle of the Fort Langley Gelato Part I

Unbeknownst to me until last weekend, I have not one but two gelato shops right in my own backyard (not literally, of course, although that would be a pretty fantastic backyard).  Now that I’ve kicked off my summer gelato challenge , I think I am hyperaware of gelato shops everywhere I go, sort of like when you buy a new car and then you start to see the same model everywhere you look.  What I was most excited by is that there are duelling gelato shops.  While not quite directly across the street from one another, they’re pretty close and I think that gives this gelato-off a very West Side Story vibe. I’m excited to see which gelato shop reigns supreme.

We checked out the interior of both shops this past weekend before choosing where to taste first.  I admit, I may already be biased against one of the shops. Bucking all gelato trends, they’ve opted not to display their gelato. While I’m usually supportive of bucking trends, part of the delight of gelato is being able to scan the flavours in their glass case. I’m not sure how I feel about sight-unseen gelato. But we’ll get to their products next week. For now, let’s take a look at our first Fort Langley gelato experience.

Reminder: I am not a food blogger. My goal is shoot as fast as possible to commence eating. But kudos to me for actually taking a picture before eating half of it…unlike the last two weeks.

Where: Maria’s Gelato, Fort Langley 

What I Had:  For some reason, though I typically select the most sickeningly sweet and rich dessert options, when selecting gelato I love me some fruit flavours.  It’s inexplicable to me. That’s my Cherry Mania on the left there, and my boyfriend’s (wiser) choice of coffee and salted butter caramel. I also sampled the peach gelato.

As a sidenote, I was disappointed in the lack of really interesting flavours. Aside from the pistachio and rosewater and strachiatella, most flavours were completely standard fair, lacking that Italian flair that I’m ultimately seeking in my quest for gelato perfection.

What stood out:  I had lower expectations for this place. For once, I did my research before checking out a gelato shop. The things I do for this blog! At any rate, I read countless reviews of tiny portion sizes, high prices, and rude service. I didn’t find any to be fair reviews.

As you can see from the photo above, these are fairly standard gelato serving sizes. My own theory is that customers are comparing to ice cream shops where double-scoops are often the size of your head.  It’s not ice cream. This is how gelato works. As for prices, I felt they were comparable to other shops at $5-7ish, depending on how much you ordered. Maybe it’s because when I lived downtown all the ‘artisan’ ice cream shops charged an arm and a leg for ice cream, but I’m not phased by that sort of price tag. Lastly, service was fine. It was pretty empty when we went, though, so perhaps when it’s busy service goes downhill. But I also have pretty low expectations for service. If I were scooping gelato on the daily, you’d better bet I’d have trouble being pleasant when customers want to sample every flavour under the sun and suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes time to place an order.

Okay, enough about the boring stuff, let’s get on to the taste! I’ll start with the worst of the day: the peach gelato. Granted, I had the world’s smallest sample, but the artificial peach flavour was noticeable nonetheless.  Perhaps since peaches are out of season, they are supplementing with artificial flavours…I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but something tells me I’m being overly optimistic on this one.

The cherry mania and coffee were both fine.  Flavour-wise, they were about what I was expecting.  The cherries were delightfully tart but the base was otherwise a fairly typical vanilla.  To me, coffee ice cream is coffee ice cream. I’ve yet to had one that blew my mind, so I’d say this one was perfectly fine. But I’m looking for perfect not perfectly fine with this gelato challenge.

The salted butter caramel, on the other hand, was a flavour explosion, so much so that I immediately regretted ordering only one flavour (seriously, why did I only order one flavour???). If you don’t like the flavour of butter, you will hate this gelato. If you’re like me, though, and have a mild butter addiction, this flavour is the only way to go. It is so rich and so over-the-top bold in its buttery-ness that you will be swooning. I may have eaten more of this flavour than my boyfriend. How he so willingly shares sweets is beyond me.

My biggest letdown at Maria’s wasn’t the flavour profiles, though. I need to talk texture and creaminess.  In the end, I would classify this gelato as more akin to ice cream.  It was still a bit airier than gelato, and lacked the rich creaminess that I was craving. For ice cream, it was good, but it didn’t have that velvety, easily-melting, supremely smooth quality for which I love, love, love gelato.

Overall, I’d say that I had a positive experience at Maria’s, but more as a destination for solid ice cream than gelato. I can’t wait to see whether the other Fort Langley gelato offerings blow my mind. But for that, you’ll have to wait until next week.

Mid-Week Tangent: Gelato Repeat

Okay, so if you read last’s week post you know that my goal is to try as many different gelato places as possible this summer. And then today, just one week later, I went and messed it up already by going right back to Dolce Gelato in White Rock. Can it sort of count as a new place if I at least forced myself to try different flavours? Not really, right? What makes matters worse is that I totally would’ve had the meringa flavour again if it had been there today.  Also in my defence, I was wooed by the beach and my nagging desire to take advantage of what appears to be the last sunshine we’ll see for four or five days.  I’ll stop making excuses now. Let’s just move past this, though, and accept that I’m failing in my gelato mission after just one week.

Professional food photographer I am not. This was not an attempt at an artistic backdrop. This was our beach blanket and my attempt to take a picture as quickly as possible so I could eat.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had:  I sampled the black sesame because I have an unabashed love for those little balls you get at dim sum stuffed with black sesame paste, and used to be on a stalker-like mission for black sesame bubble tea. In the end, for my actual order, I went with the Cassata and the Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans.

What stood out:  I was actually disappointed in the black sesame. It wasn’t as strong a flavour as I was expecting, which is precisely why I didn’t order it.  Maybe nothing can be as good as black sesame paste at dim sum, or black sesame bubble tea.  Or maybe, maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to just try another gelato place already.

The Cassata, on the other hand, was way better than I had expected. Like by leaps and bounds. I mentioned last week that I didn’t order it because the girl behind the counter said it tasted strongly of candied orange which, let’s be honest, isn’t really a flavour any candy-holic craves.  Still, I walked away last week wondering if I’d made a mistake. Indeed, I had. It was the best of my flavours today.  The orange was there, but perfectly subtle and complimented by candied fruit, nuts and chocolate. Would I get this again? Yes.

The Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans, dare I say it, was tasty but underwhelming. The challenge here may be that ricotta is a notoriously mild cheese, so it’s hard for its flavour to stand out.  That said, I had a fig and ricotta gelato in Cinque Terre that was identifiably (and in the best possible way) cheesy. And I must say, more pecans please! To be fair, I’m one of those people who never feel like there’s enough stuff in my ice cream. I get enraged by the final quarter of Blizzards because there is never enough candy mixed in near the bottom. Seriously, how have they not figured this out?!? But enough about Blizzards and back to gelato. I wanted more caramelized pecans, plain and simple.

I suspect that today’s relative lack of enthusiasm for Dolce Gelato really may be the culprit of my strategy to make gelato my lunch. I am not sure that it’s wise to arrive starving and rely solely on gelato to curb one’s hunger. I ate faster than I normally would have (think inhaling), which meant less pausing to notice smoothness, flavour and texture.  Note to self: eat a real lunch before gelato. Also, clearly this means that I have to return again.

Mid-Week Tangent: the quest for gelato perfection begins

I still dream of Italian gelato on the regular. I have zero regrets for eating up to three a day while on vacation last year. In fact, I regret not having eaten more of it. Since then, gelato has been notably absent from my life. Sure, on the odd occasion, I’ll buy a store-bought brand but, let’s be honest, there’s rarely a discernible difference between store-bought gelato and ice cream.  In my heart, I long to find the perfect gelato a little bit closer to home.

This weekend I tasted some damn good gelato, which got me wondering if I am missing out on all sorts of hidden gelato gems in and around this city.  And so, I’ve decided that I will boldly dedicate my summer to finding great gelato here, in and around Vancouver. Okay, I’m not actually going to devote my entire summer. My waistline certainly doesn’t need that, plus I’ll eventually be working again. It’s more like if I see a gelato place, I am going to try it. That’s half-assed dedication at its best!  Along the way, I will document the good, the bad and the ugly.

Today I’ll start with the best find I’ve found so far. Granted, I’ve eaten minimal gelato so far in the city. I used to live by Mario’s Gelati so I went there on occasion. Despite what many others think about it, I don’t like their gelato (gasp!). I find its texture to be quite grainy with ice crystals when what I want is silky creaminess. I blame mass production. I’ve also gone to the locally famed La Casa Gelato, which now boasts 238 flavours. I haven’t been in at least a decade, at which time they had a paltry 120 flavours I think, but I remember not being blown away and thinking their fame had more to do with quantity and gimmicky flavours (wasabi gelato? really?) than quality.  But there are so many more places to taste. And taste I shall.

As I mentioned, this weekend I found some brilliant gelato. It had all the hallmarks I personally look for: intensely creamy, boldly flavoured, interesting flavour selection, and made on the premises.

It looked better before I ate half of it and before it started to melt in the sun. What you can gather from this picture is that I lack the self control to wait even 30 seconds before starting to devour gelato. Truth.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had: A firm believer in never having just one flavour, I opted for Foresta Nera (vanilla with chocolate, nuts and booze-soaked cherries) and Meringa (heavenly meringue gelato, with massive meringue shards and chocolate).

What stood out:  Oh my god, I could have eaten those meringue pieces forever. I have no idea how they stay crisp in a sea of dairy, but they do and it is wonderful. The cherries in the foresta nera were heavenly as well, incredibly flavourful. I shouldn’t have to say things like ‘they tasted like real cherries’, but most cherries in ice cream bear little resemblance to real fruit so I will explicitly proclaim that these tasted like legit cherries!!!!  I had a hard time selecting flavours here as there were so many that looked unique and delicious.  In particular, I’m sad that I didn’t get to try the Casatta (candied orange peel, nuts, chocolate and orange liqueur) because it looked amazing and like something I would have seen in Italy.  I opted against it because candied orange usually isn’t my jam, but in hindsight I think I may have missed out on something different and delightful.  In other words, I will return and I will devour more flavours.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find a place to get your gelato on.*

*and if you know of a place in my general ‘hood, please send me recommendations!

Training Tuesdays: Trail Snacks!

Let’s talk trail snacks! Snacks are fun regardless of where and when they’re eaten, but snacks become essential on the trail. Hiking burns a lot of calories and you can easily bonk if you don’t find some way of refueling along the way. Trust me. I used to hike all day without any snacks only to absolute crash and burn once I got home. I’m talking laying on my couch from 5 pm onward with no energy to do anything. It made for a riveting social life. In other words, you gotta fuel yourself on the trail.

When it comes to hiking, you’ll want to be extra thoughtful about what you bring along. Here are a few simple rules to help you pick the best hiking fuel for the trail. I’ve also followed up the general rules with links to some of my favourite products and recipes (and no, I haven’t been compensated for product suggestions–my readership is nowhere near what it needs to be for that!).

Trail Eats 101: snacking right for a hike

1. Keep it Compact and Resilient: You’re going to be carrying whatever you have to eat, along with all your gear, and your water. That’s a lot of stuff. What you don’t need to add to the mix are giant tupperware containers or large-sized snacks. Keep trail snacks small. And, if you’re anything like me, your snacks will quite literally be crammed into your backpack.  This is not the time for rice crackers in their foil pouch nor a pillowy soft coffee cake in a baggie (yes, these specific examples come from experience).  They will only end up flattened and crushed beyond recognition.  Choose foods that can withstand the pressure of a full backpack.

2. Watch out for thirst makers:  Heat and exercise already make you thirsty enough, so don’t pick a snack that’s going to add unnecessarily to your thirst.  If you do, you could burn through your water supply way faster than planned. Plus, it’s just unpleasant to be parched.  Salty nut mixes are your enemy. Instead, look for raw, unsalted trail mixes.  They’ll also be less delicious, which means you won’t eat an entire family sized bag before you even reach the summit. Peanut butter sandwiches are also on my no-go list. Peanut butter mouth is the worst even at the best of times so you know throwing dehydration into the mix is going to make it downright intolerable. As a rule of thumb, if foods make you really thirsty when you’re not even exercising, you probably want to steer clear when you’re sweating up a storm.

3. Sugar + carbs are your friends (but do both wisely):  Oh, how the world likes to villainize sugar and carbs.  Let me tell you, if you’re going to hike 20+ kilometres and gain a bunch of elevation, sugar and carbs are a great source of energy.  That said, this doesn’t mean packing chocolate bars and candy. Sure, those snacks are fine every once in a while, but they’re going to make you hella thirsty (see above) and won’t provide more than a quick energy boost. Plus, there are so many fantastic products on the market that make use of dates and other natural ingredients for sweetness, as well as great recipes for home-made trail cookies and bars (I’ve included one of my favourites below).  Look for products with a handful of ingredients (all of which you can easily pronounce), with fruits as sweeteners, with minimal additives, and with healthier grains.

4. Make sure they don’t need to keep their cool:  Anything that would normally be kept in your fridge is probably not ideal for hanging around in your hot backpack all day.  Forget food safe rules and just imagine being absolutely starving and having to dig into a lukewarm, wilted salad.  Even a simple meat + veg sandwich can be rather unforgiving after a few hours in a backpack. Don’t even talk to me about anything with mayonnaise…

5. Avoid big smells: This one is pure paranoia, but I have a long-standing and largely irrational fear that if I take any food with a strong odour on the trail, I will surely be attacked by a bear. Like I said, I know this is irrational but, when it comes to bears, my philosophy is that one can never be too careful. I keep my snacks relatively neutral in the odour department and live to hike another day.

If you’re wondering what I most often carry in my backpack, here are my top 5 trail snacks, including some home-made options!

1. Cashew Lara Bars: My stomach does not handle any of the Lara Bars with almonds, but the cashew bar is stomach-approved and absolutely divine. The ingredient list is short and they will give you a quick sugar hit when your energy reserves are low.

2. Prima Ginger + Pistachio: I am a sucker for anything ginger. And these have the added boost of brown rice crisps and quinoa flakes for some staying power.

3. Trail cookies: I make quite a few modifications to this recipe, usually adding coconut, chia seeds and dried (unsweetened) cranberries in place of the chocolate and cacao nibs (because not once in my life have I had cacao nibs on hand).  You can also sub peanut butter for the almond butter if you don’t want to pay $9000 for a jar of almond butter (seriously, how has it gotten so expensive?!?). Your end result will be a crazy dense and filling cookie, perfect for on-trail energy boosts.

4. Green smoothie: Okay, okay, this is totally going to look like it violates my ‘no refrigeration required’ rule and my ‘compact foods only’ rule, but hear me out. I bought this great small, super-insulated thermos years ago and it fits perfectly on the outside pouch of my backpack AND keeps things cold for over eight hours.  Here’s the trick: I make the smoothie the night before and freeze it overnight. For the smoothie, use a high-power blender to blend: 1 whole apple (peel and everything, which is why you need a really good blender), juice of one lemon, 1/4 of a cucumber, 2 TBSP chia seeds, and 1-2 cups of frozen kale.  Blend and add water to get to desired consistency. This has almost no sweetness so it’s not for everyone but it is ultra refreshing on a hot day and full of vitamins and minerals!

5. Sierra Trail Mix: The link is for a local drugstore house brand, but any raw mix will do. This one is heavy on seeds, lighter on nuts, and doesn’t have any of that pesky, thirst-making chocolate. I’ll save my chocolate binges for post-hiking, thank you very much.

Snack wisely on those trails, friends!

Mid Week Tangent: Meal Planning Like a Champ Part II

I’m back again, one week later than intended (best laid plans…) to follow up on my meal planning mindset post. Hopefully you’ve had the chance to gauge your meal planning readiness and have come back fired up and ready for some tips on how to save some serious coin by meal planning. My goal with these tips is to help you save money through meal planning. Of course, you may have other meal planning goals (healthy eating, etc.) and these tips may help with those goals too, but they’re mostly aimed at keeping cash in your pocket. Let’s do this!

1. Map out your week

Meal planning starts with knowing what’s on the horizon for the week ahead.  Map out every meal and snack that you need to plan for, including days when you may be cooking for extra people, and removing any days when you’ll be dining out. You need to how many meals and people you’re planning for. Once you are armed with that info, you’re ready to select what you’ll make for each of those meals.

2. Pick your recipes/meals

There are some cardinal rules here that will save your sanity and your pocket book, some of which rely on having the mindset I wrote about last week. If you’re an avid cook, this process will be easier as you’ll have a large repertoire of recipes and food combinations to draw upon. If you’re not comfortable in the kitchen, my suggestion is to make note of a few of your favourite ingredients and literally Google “[insert favourite food] + recipe” and see what comes up.  As you start to read and try recipes, pay attention to food combinations that you enjoy (and don’t enjoy!) and build up from there.  In addition:

  • Consider meals that can take advantage of larger packages of proteins: buying protein in larger quantities is usually considerably cheaper. If you’re willing to eat chicken a couple different ways during the same week, you can buy in bulk and save more. Remember last week when I said get used to repetition? This is where you have to put that mindset into action.
  • Keep it simple with breakfasts and lunches: Honestly, we eat maybe 2 variations of breakfasts and lunches week after week. Sometimes it’s boring, but the simplicity and ease of preparation and shopping makes it worthwhile. Plus, it allows us to buy certain staples in bulk.  The fewer different ingredients you need to buy, the less you’ll spend. If that sounds awful to you, ask yourself if you’re really going to make seven different breakfasts and lunches every week.
  • Avoid recipes with ingredients you’ll rarely use again: I had a bottle of pomegranate molasses in my fridge for six years. Six years. I bought it to make a salad dressing for a frisee, grapefruit and olive salad, a salad that doesn’t scream ‘every day salad’.  I follow at least 30 food blogs so I’m constantly confronted by recipes I want to make but that often include ingredients I’d use rarely, if ever. When I’m in money-saving meal planning mode, I have to skip past those recipes and move on to simpler things.
  • Remember to account for leftovers: Closely look at the yield for recipes and make sure you work leftovers into your meal plan.  This way you’ll avoid over-purchasing groceries and having a ton of food left over at the end of the week.
  • If you’re proactive, take a look at what’s on sale at your local stores before deciding on your meals for the week: It’s best to build your meal plan around what’s on sale (although you can also adjust your game plan in real time, as you’ll see later in this post). No matter when you check out prices, you’ll save more if you plan recipes around the best deals.
  • Select vegetables wisely: If you’re planning on including vegetables in your meal plan, you want to think about which vegetables will last in your fridge for the whole week without wilting or rotting.  For instance, we buy a lot of kale for our lunch salads. It’s not because kale is trendy or a superfood, either. It’s because kale lasts forever, even when it’s dressed. I can prep kale on Sunday afternoon and it’s just as fresh come Friday. The same won’t be true of pre-bagged lettuce mixes.  You’ll also save more if you buy fruits and veggies that are in season. Importing adds costs to products, and that all comes out of your pocket.
  • I cannot repeat enough: select recipes and meals that you will be willing and able to prepare!!!!

3. Make your shopping list

Once you have your meals selected for the week, it’s time to build a detailed shopping list.  This seems easy on the surface, but here’s a few tips to optimize your opportunities to save coin:

  • Pay attention to quantities required in your recipes: If you know exactly how much you need, you can do the math on whether it makes sense to buy packaged goods or to buy in bulk. Recently I needed 1 tablespoon of corn starch for a recipe, and I never, ever, ever use corn starch. Even though it’s cheap in large packages, it still didn’t make sense. I was able to score a tiny amount in bulk that I’m fairly certain cost about 6 cents.
  • Always, always, always check your fridge, freezer and pantry before finalizing your list: Make sure you know what you have already.  You don’t want to end up with three bottles of dijon mustard (not that it’s happened to me, of course) or no rice because “we always have rice” (again, not that it’s happened to me). Do an inventory before you put pen to paper.

4. Hit the store(s)!

  • Be prepared to swap out proteins and sides if you see a better deal: I’m not always the most proactive when it comes to looking at deals up front. When we’re in the store, we keep an eye out for great deals. If lamb is on for a great price, we’ll either buy it to freeze or swap it out for one of our other planned meals.
  • Stick to your list…unless you see a great deal on items that you can freeze or store for use at a later date: Sometimes you don’t need another 2 pound bag of oats but it’s on for such a great price that it makes sense to buy it and store it.  If something easily freezes or stores for long periods, it’s always wise to stock up at a great price.  What you want to avoid is buying a whole bunch of extra stuff that you really don’t need just because it’s tempting.  My own personal weaknesses are things like ice cream or candy.  I either work these treats into my meal plan (dessert is a totally legit part of my meal plans, of course) or keep on walking.
  • Get to know pricing at various stores: Sure it’s a pain in the ass to go to more than one store every week, but you’ll quickly see that it can be worth it.  Organic lacinato kale is $2.50/bunch at our local vegetable market compared to $3.99/bunch at our main grocery store.  However, lettuce at the local vegetable market is 40 cents more per head than the grocery store.  I’ve gotten obsessive about paying attention to where the prices are good for certain items. It’s not always where you would think, and the small amounts of savings really do add up.
  • Think beyond the week: Buy family sized packs or larger quantities if you are likely to use ingredients again and again (as long as it’s food that can be stored or frozen).  Rice, pasta, flour, oats, and other pantry staples fall into this category, but so do proteins that you use on the regular.

5. Prep, prep, prep

This doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with saving money. However, some of your veggies will last longer in the fridge if you take the time to wash, dry and store them properly right away. I spend 45 minutes every weekend washing, drying, chopping and storing various greens. I loathe it. But trust me, if you leave greens all damp and crushed together in that slimy grocery store plastic bag, they will rot before you know it.  When it comes to proteins that you’re planning to freeze, do it right away. If you don’t, you may forget and end up throwing money down the drain. Any prep you do over the weekends will also make it far more likely that you’ll actually stick to your meal plan during the week. If all your big prep is done, cooking will be much more appealing and you’ll be less likely to opt for dining out. Sticking to your meal plan = saving money.

6. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t

You’re going to have some big winners in your meal plan, either things that are super easy or super delicious (maybe even both!). You’ll want to remember those recipes for future meal plans.  You’ll also have some big fails, some recipes that are either downright unpleasant or a ton of work (also sometimes both!).  Unfortunately, it’s the failures that are more likely to make you disillusioned with meal planning in general. Make note of ingredients you don’t enjoy, things that you don’t actually end up eating during the week, or styles of cooking that made you want to pull your hair out.  Remember for meal planning to stick, it’s got to work for you.

So there you have it, a very long and not-so-specific guide to help you save money by meal planning.  Go forth and save some coin!




Mid-Week Tangent: Meal Planning (and money saving) Like a Champ (Part I)

I would be lying to you if I said I started meal planning in order to save money, reduce food waste or to eat better. These are just happy byproducts of a more selfish goal: my commute time was about to triple and I didn’t want to have to think about meals when I got home from work. But once I got started, I couldn’t get over how much money we were saving and how little food we were wasting.  We’ve actually high-five’d at the dinner table when we’ve realized our home-made dinner cost less than $5 per person. I also find it strangely gratifying to go from having a fully stocked fridge every Sunday to a barren wasteland of a fridge when the next Saturday rolls around. We use everything we buy, and I’ve gone from going to the grocery store almost every day to maybe twice a week.

If this sounds exciting to you–and it won’t for everyone–I’m about to kick off a two-part post on meal planning. Today’s post is all about the mindset, or terms and conditions as I’m calling them, that I think are necessary to stick with meal planning and reap its benefits. Next week I’ll be back with a nuts-and-bolts ‘how to’ post. Let’s get planning!

First things first…terms and conditions

It may seem odd to talk about meal planning and mindsets.  Most of the time we jump right to the ‘how to’ part.  The problem with that is, at its heart, meal planning is a behaviour change and behaviour changes are mostly about mindset changes. The execution part is going to be more successful if your head’s in the game. In other words, if you want to stick to meal planning, you’ll probably want to agree to the following terms and conditions:

1. Get over your commitment issues: For a meal plan to actually save you money, you’re sometimes going to have to eat things you don’t really feel like eating.  There will be times when it’s  tempting to order in, go out, or hit the grocery store for something else. Resist the urge! You don’t really want to throw $10-50 down the drain nor condemn that beautiful head of lettuce to a slow, wilting death do you? I didn’t think so. To save money meal planning, you’ve got to be okay with the trade offs. In this case, your trade off is that lovely instant gratification to which we’ve all become accustomed.

2. Plan ONLY for your cooking style and level: This is the age of the foodie, and with that can come immense (and largely self-inflicted) social pressure to cook elaborate and beautifully plated meals.  That’s all well and good if you are experienced in the kitchen and have a passion for cooking.  If you don’t, it can be intimidating. Meal planning will only work in the long run if you are selecting meals that you are able and willing to prepare, and that include foods that you genuinely enjoy eating. Everyone may tell you kale salad is the best thing since sliced bread (and I might tend to agree) but if you hate kale, I can tell you you’ll be ordering a pizza before you know it. Similarly, if you hate doing a ton of food prep, making that recipe with 19 different ingredients, all of which need to be chopped in a different way, is never going to happen. Once you get comfortable in the kitchen and with sticking to a meal plan, spread your wings,  diversify ingredients and become more elaborate. You gotta walk before you run.

3. Repetition is your friend: Yeah, yeah, variety is the spice of life and all that jazz. Let’s face it, though, most of us are stuck on repeat when it comes to our dining options, whether it’s cooking at home or eating out. I used to think that was a bad thing, but when it comes to meal planning repetition is your friend.  Why? Ultimately, to save the most money with meal planning, you’re going to want to buy in bulk when you can and build multiple meals around the same ingredient. If you’re cooking for one or two, meal planning also means leftovers.  Really, no matter how you slice it, you’re going to have repetition with meal planning. If you can be at peace with this, you’re more likely to succeed. I like to think of repetition like the old friend who you never tire of.  If you legitimately crave a ton of variety in your meals, you can still meal plan, but you may not save as much money doing it.

Thank you for indulging in my need to explore the philosophical side of almost any issue. Next week I’ll be back with Part II, which is the part most people will actually care about: the brass tacks of how to start meal planning.  Stay tuned.