breakfast, budgeting, dinner, lunch

Healthy Meal Planning on a Shoestring Budget

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When I was 5, my family moved to a hippy commune.

It wasn’t creepy newspaper headlines kind of place. More of an organic farm mixed with a yoga retreat and an extended episode of Thirtysomething. A lot of pastel was worn. Moral of the story is: the people who lived at this place (many of whom I consider family to this day) were exceptionally healthy and they managed to be this way on very little money. Wholesome meals were prepared from scratch in a shared kitchen space using simple ingredients. No chia seeds or goji berries in sight, but loads of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and farm-raised meat. My parents laugh a little about the move now, seeing it as their “new agey” phase. Still, living with so many inspiring, creative, thrifty, healthy people had a big influence on my life and my approach to well-being.

Which brings me to the topic of this post…healthy meal planning on a budget.

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When I’m strapped for cash one of the first places I cut back is my food expenses.

  1. I start cooking at home 95% of the time.
  2. cut back on fancy health food items that I like to have, but don’t need to have; and
  3. I menu plan. Menu planning makes it so much easier to reduce food waste at home and saves you from surviving off of crappy takeout.

Since I know meal planning isn’t an easy thing for many folks to do, I’ve tried to break it down for you…using a nifty chart.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
BREAKFAST Toast with peanut butter, sliced bananas and a drizzle of honey Oatmeal with apples, sunflower seeds and cinnamon Toast with poached eggs
LUNCH Kale salad with lentils, carrots and celery Bean and grain bowl Sardine salad and crackers
DINNER Fish with brown rice and salad Chicken, potatoes and kale Roast squash stuffed with tofu scramble
SNACKS Homemade granola barsHard boiled eggs Celery and Carrots with hummus and rice crackers Apple and peanut butter

Why did I choose these meals?

Of course it’s all personal preference and feel free to pick and choose the foods you love, but the meals I’ve chosen for this plan are all healthy, easy to prepare and most importantly…cheap! Eggs, grains, beans, peanut butter and root veggies are staples of a penny-pincher’s diet. When it comes to meat and fish, it’s always good to choose cheaper cuts of meat (bone-in, skin on chicken legs for instance) and fish that’s local to your region. This is just an easy way to put it all together!

Shopping List:

  • Eggs
  • Whole Grain or Gluten Free Bread
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oats
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Sardines in tomato sauce
  • Rice crackers
  • Tofu or Tempeh
  • Chicken legs or thighs
  • Local white fish (hake is a great choice)
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Onion
  • Squash
  • Potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Extras: Tahini, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper

Hope you enjoy! Good luck & keep saving those pennies for the things that really matter….Like data overcharges and a new pair of air force 1s. ;)

dinner, recipes

Masala Chicken, Green Beans and Lentils

When it comes to weeknight cooking, I tend to have one of two very different approaches: maximum efficiency or maximum effort. On a maximum efficiency day, I eat out of a giant mixing salad bowl that is usually layered with greens (arugula, kale, spinach), sweet potatoes or brown rice and some kind of quick and cheap protein (chickpeas, tuna, tempeh, etc). On a maximum effort day, I do things like make my own pizza crust from hand-ground almond flour or whip up 7 layer vegan mousakka. Usually on these days I usually end up snacking so much by the time dinner finally hits the table that I’m too full and tired to enjoy my meal, let alone clean up after myself.

This evening I tried my hand at some kind of middle ground, and the results were fairly tasty.

Chicken and Green Beans

Masala Chicken, Green Beans and Lentils

Ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1.5-2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • coconut oil
  • 1 lb bag of green beans
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1.5 cups cooked lentils

Directions:

For the chicken

  1. Preheat the oven to 425
  2. Heat coconut oil on a large frying pan on med-high heat.
  3. Massage chicken breasts with salt and garam masala.
  4. Add chicken to fry pan and cook about 4-5 minutes or until browned, then flip to the other side and repeat.
  5. Place browned chicken on a lined baking sheet and place into the hot oven. You can also use an oven-safe pan and place it directly into the oven.
  6. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until cooked through but still tender.
  7. Allow to sit for a few minutes, then slice.

For the green beans and lentils 

  1. Cook lentils according to package instructions (i usually use a bit over a 2:1 ratio)
  2. Melt coconut oil in a large pan or wok.
  3. Add green beans and garlic and stir fry for about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add tamari and a small amount of water (1/4 cup max). Simmer and allow to reduce by half.
  5. Add cooked lentils to the mix and stir well to combine.

Serve sliced chicken on top of lentils and green beans. Serves 2-4.

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gettin personal

Surviving Urban Life in Your Late Twenties: Part 1

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When you’re 22, living in a big city is the perfect thing. There’s a seemingly endless array of things to do, people to meet, jobs to apply for, and restaurants to eat poutine in at 4 in the morning. It’s an indecisive time of life, so being constantly surrounded by options is the ideal scenario. But, skip ahead a few years, living in a city starts to feel a little different. The options are there but you know yourself better so you don’t always feel the need to take advantage of them. Tuesday night gallery openings might sound cool, but in reality they’re awkward and boring…plus you have pilates that night. And all those people? Who has the time? You barely see friends you have and they are cooler and better than everyone anyways.

With the honeymoon period of big city living over, the daily grind of doing “adult” things in an urban context (commuting, grocery shopping without a car, finding a non-sketchy family doctor, etc.) can start to get you down. And if you’re like me living in Canada in the middle of February, the whole experience can be pretty isolating….

So I thought I’d start a little series where I share some of my strategies for surviving city life as a responsible(ish) adult.

Survival Tip #1: ESCAPE
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It’s easy to start feeling like your neighborhood is the centre of the universe. In my case, living in Toronto’s West End, all my favourite bars, coffee shops, restaurants, food co-ops, yoga studios, terrarium designers, artisanal jam shops and literally every person I know are within a stone’s throw of my apartment. Escapes don’t necessarily need to be “vacations” but they need to take you out of context. Here are a few examples of mini-escapes I’ve taken, that have really helped to broaden my perspective during my down times.

Check out a new neighborhood : escapes don’t have to take you far from home. Hop a bus across town and explore what your city has to offer you beyond your own backyard.

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Go to the country: If you’re anything like me, the mix of consumer culture, jam-packed schedules and non-stop screen time can leave me feeling drained and disconnected. One of the best remedies for this I’ve found is to visit a smaller community where people do things a little differently. Good people, slower pace, tight knit community and rural life are just a cure all if you ask me.
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Hang out with munchkins: Full disclosure I am definitely a “kid person” but honestly I feel like one of the biggest things that gets me down about city living is how self-focused it all starts to feel. My apartment, my job, my hobbies, my gym, my friends, my plans, my needs, etc. It’s easy to feel purposeless or worse selfish and vain. And while I genuinely don’t think everyone in this world is meant to have kids themselves, I think we undervalue the restorative and frankly existential value of having children in our lives. So Skype your niece and nephew or take the bus out to the suburbs and hang with your married friends. As long as you don’t go comparing your own life to theirs (never a recipe for success) you might just find the boost you were looking for.

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Staycation: Not every weekend you have needs to be chock-full of social plans and to-do lists. Sometimes you need to kick back, relax and get some much needed R&R. Check out a new yoga studio. Go for a walk. Take a book & read/people watch in a cozy cafe (preferably NOT your local spot). Bake something tasty. Stretch. Marathon episodes of Empire…ahem. Whatever you do to relax and get your mind off the hectic world around you.

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gettin personal

Don’t heal your gut, follow it…

There’s a lot of talk in the wellness world about “gut” health. People cutting out gluten, chowing down on probiotics & eating foods in specific orders with the goal of improving their digestion/life.

But if we dive a little deeper, what is our gut really? It’s the part of our body that helps us process. That separates good and healthy from bad and toxic…It filters out bullshit that doesn’t serve us.

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Lately I’ve been making an effort to be more attentive to my gut…and not by cutting out dairy. I’ve been listening when it twists into knots. Am I anxious? Stressed? When it feels like its moving up from my belly into my throat. What am I feeling? Do I have emotions I need to identify or express? And especially when it feels like it’s sinking or dropping. Am I afraid? Is my fear rational?

This weekend I decided to follow my gut and found it brought me exactly what I needed…

Slow mornings.

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Yoga.

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Fresh air.

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Fresh food

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Long nights.

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It might sound hippy dippy but I encourage you to listen to your own gut and to think about what it’s really got to tell you. What that gurgling is actually all about. Was it really that gluten-bomb you ate for dinner or is there something more? If you put down the kefir water and gave yourself some R&R time, saw a friend for tea, marathoned some Broad City or drank a glass of wine with dinner….

It might just do the trick.

gettin personal

Healthy Homemade Chocolate

I’ve never been one for Valentine’s Day.

When I was in 10th grade my boyfriend made me a hand welded amethyst ring and I told him it “looked hard to make” then walked away. In 12th grade my boyfriend and I ate our first chocolate fondue over a delicious Valentine’s Day dinner then proceeded to amicably break up. College days are a blur in general, though I do remember one where me and my partner at the time got A&W burgers and went to a black and white movie…I guess they weren’t all bad.

No matter what your feelings are about the love-centric aspects of Valentine’s Day, I think we can all agree that a day celebrating chocolate in the middle of February is a universal good.

So with that, here’s a recipe for some. And it’s kinda healthy, but not too healthy.

Healthy Homemade Chocolate

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 heaping tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp good quality cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized bowl mix together melted coconut oil, honey and almond butter and stir until smooth.
  2. Add in cocoa powder and mix until well combined.
  3. Line a shallow bowl with saran wrap.
  4. Pour mixture directly onto saran wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove bowl from freezer, peel away saran wrap. Use a sharp knife to chop chocolate into 3 inch squares (mine made about 16).
  6. Store in freezer until ready to eat.

Enjoy!

reflections

The Weekend Cookie

Hey pals.

A while back I posted a recipe for what I boastfully called “The Ultimate Cookie” that’s been one of the most popular recipes on this blog. It was my own take on Bunners’ (a gluten-free vegan bakery based in toronto) gypsy cookie. And I must say that even after all this time, this recipe keeps me coming back.

But there’s a new cookie in town.

These days when the weekends roll around and I find myself hunting for a treat, I’ve been finding myself reaching for another Toronto baker’s fare – a local raw vegan kitchen called Earth & City, and more specifically their INSANELY delicious “Cowgirl Cookie.” I’ve been obsessed with these babies for years but the price tag (about $3 a cookie) has kept my cravings in check…until now. Today I decided that rather than springing the $3 for my favourite treat, I’d whip up my own version and see how things went.

All I can say is “Holy Cowgirl.”

These guys are naturally sweetened (for all you folks cutting out sugar this month) plus they are full of fibre and healthy fats so they won’t leave you craving more sweets after eating them. Perfect for kicking your sunday afternoon cookie craving. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

The Weekend Cookie

IMG_2593Ingredients: 

150 grams dates (around a cup) – if they aren’t soft I’d recommend soaking them first
150 grams ripe banana (about 1.5 bananas)
2 cups oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped coarsely into chunks
1/4 cup coconut oil
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to just under 300 degrees.
2. Place bananas in a food processor and blend until they are smooth.
3. Add dates and continue blending until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of water if necessary.
4. Pour date/banana mixture into a big mixing bowl, then add oats, coconut, oil, chocolate chunks, cinnamon and salt. Mix until well combined.
5. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop mixture and your palms to form it into medium sized cookies.  The dough won’t stay together like regular cookie batter but it should stick when you press it. If not, refrigerate for an hour or so and it should be easier to work with. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
6. Keep forming cookies until you’ve made about 18-20 cookies.
7. Bake for 30 minutes at low heat – I suggest 275-300 degrees.
8. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool completely (this will also keep them from crumbling) before removing.

These store in the fridge for 5-7 days or in the freezer for as long as your will power allows.

healthy treats, recipes

Black bean brownies

I can’t place exactly when black bean brownies came on the scene. Maybe it was something cooked up by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife – you know, the one notorious for her putting vegetables in all sorts of inappropriate places? Or maybe it was The Happy Herbivore, the first place I ever saw them. Either way, they have become a staple of the “tricked-you-this-is-actually-healthy” dessert genre.

While I enjoy healthy desserts as much as the next healthy living blog addict, but my philosophy on healthy desserts is to keep them to yourselfFor two main reasons.

1) You made them for yourself. You took the time to shop at the health food store, dropped a bunch of cash on chia seeds and maca powder then spent all afternoon in the kitchen so that you could enjoy a delicious baked good without feeling like garbage afterwards. Keep half the batch in the freezer if you need to but you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

2) When you push a bite of a “healthified” treat on a friend or a co-worker and then surprise them with its secretly beet-infused contents, you’re not sharing you’re looking for validation. If they don’t enjoy the treat, it will probably make you feel self-conscious and judged. If they do enjoy it, you’ll feel proud and like you beat the system. Either way, who cares what they think? Wasn’t it supposed to be a treat for you in the first place? Obviously you should offer a bite to a pal if they ask, but maybe just let them try it and spare them the ingredient list?

ON THAT NOTE….

Here is a recipe that’s just for you. These are nice, dense chocolatey brownies that – no secrets here – are made without any sugar and are loaded with fibre. I have a feeling you’re exactly the kind of person who will appreciate them.

Black Bean Brownies

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Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 cup soft dates or raisins*
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour

*If your dried fruit is too firm, simply place it in a bowl and add some boiling water. Let it sit for 5 minutes then drain.

Directions:

  1. Place dried fruit, cocoa, beans and almond milk into your blender and blend on high until smooth.
  2. Pour wet batter into a large mixing bowl and mix in 1/2 your chocolate chips
  3. Finally add coconut flour and allow the batter to sit for 3-5 minutes or until it thickens up a bit
  4. Pour mixture into a greased or lined 8×8 baking pan
  5. Top with remaining chocolate chips
  6. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the centre is firm
  7. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting, otherwise the brownies will crumble
  8. Cut, refrigerate and enjoy

 

 

reflections

RECIPE: 4 Ingredient Fermented Coleslaw

Don’t ask me to explain it, but hipsters love to ferment things.

Beer is a given. But also tea (kombucha). Soy (tempeh). Milk (kefir). And now…vegetables. Yes, the rise in “craft” vegetable production can be seen across the urban landscape – from every food truck serving up kimchi tacos to every hippie grocery store hocking $10 juniper-scented saurkraut.

And they’re not wrong. Fermented foods are incredibly good for you. Something like 80% of your immune system exists in your digestive system and fermented foods are the fastest way to load up on all those probiotics you’ve been hearing about. They’re also delicious and are an easy way to add loads of flavour to any sandwich, salad, soup or bowl of bibimbap.

So…while you might feel like the whole thing is a little “trendy” or even a little gross…Here’s a super easy recipe for those of you who might be feeling just a little curious and are interested in taking a step into fermented waters.

RECIPE: 4 Ingredient Fermented Coleslaw

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of green cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 tbsp course pink salt
  • 2 cloves garlic

Directions

  1. Remove outer leaves from cabbage and set aside for later.
  2. Shred vegetables with a knife, grater or food processor.
  3. Combine shredded carrots and cabbage in a large metal bowl, then sprinkle with salt.
  4. Using your hands, massage salt into vegetables for 3-4 minutes until cabbage has wilted. Vegetables will release water as they wilt.
  5. Pack coleslaw mixture into several mason jars or one large jar (like the one pictured above), making sure there are no pockets of air and that vegetables are submerged in their own liquid (you can add the remainder from the bowl to each jar).
  6. Cover coleslaw mixture with reserved cabbage leaves (these keep air from getting in and help keeps vegetables submerged).
  7. Leave the jar out for 3-4 days. Open the jar daily to ensure vegetables are submerged and to relieve any air pressure that may have built up in the jar. When packing down vegetables, always use a wooden utensil rather than metal as this can affect the fermentation process.
  8. After 3-4 days, taste the mixture. If it tasty sour, bubbly and a little spicy it is perfect! Just refrigerate and the coleslaw will keep for 2-3 months in the fridge.

Note: if this is your first time fermenting, you might want to check out this video, this kimchi recipe or this safety guide

community, restaurants, reviews

Eating out on weekends: 80/20 Redux

For most city dwellers eating at restaurants is a daily practice. Most people don’t want to rush out of the house in the morning lugging a bpa-free Tupperware of lentil salad with pockets full of cashews and a bamboo fork in their purse. For me, these things are a comfort. I love feeling prepared for my day and a big part of that is knowing that my nutrition is covered and I don’t have to rely on others for healthy, inexpensive food.

That said, on the weekends I think it’s important to release my micromanaging tendencies and let someone else do the cooking for a change.

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There are so many benefits to eating out now and again, either at a friends house or your favourite neighborhood takeout spot. There’s nothing like taking a bite into something you didn’t prepare and having the flavours be a complete suprise to your palette. It’s also a great way to enhance the meals you eat day to day, by inspiring you to enjoy new ingredients and combinations. Mostly its good for your mental health and happiness to vary your routine now and then. After all, diversity is the tastiest spice.

This past weekend I had the chance to try a few spots in Roncesvalles -one of my favourite Toronto neighborhoods. The first was La Cubana, a sweet Cuban restaurant with a 50s diner vibe and the best lighting in the city. I wasn’t super hungry so I ordered a grapefruit and avocado salad with a side of coconut shrimp. Heaven. Next time I definitely want to try one of the platters with rice beans slaw and spicy fish.

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I also got to try one of Toronto’s best polish restaurants called Cafe Polonez. Apparently this place is so good it’s attracted the likes of Anthony Bordain. Obviously I ordered the Borscht, which was served ice cold on a hot day with an egg on top and baked potato on the side. Filling, delicious and hot pink.

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While some people may believe in the 80/20 rule when it comes to healthy eating, I’m not totally convinced. I’d prefer not to label food as good or bad unless it’s past it’s expiry date. But I think it’s a great approach to eating out! Making the majority of your meals in your own kitchen is cheap, rewarding and delicious, but grabbing tacos with a pal on a Saturday afternoon is a simple luxury that you well deserve.

lunch

How to Overcome FOMO with Quinoa

I think my entire generation suffers from a malignant case of FOMO. And I’m no exception.

It’s nearly impossible for me to commit to plans. When my friends text me about their breakup I’m back and forth with them for hours, but when they message me on a Friday night my response is usually 10 minute long “…” followed by 2 hours of silence.

So it’s not a suprise that this past weekend it took everything I had to escape Toronto’s busy social calendar (we pack a lot into these two months of sunshine) and head for the country.

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It was worth it.

Despite all that my city has to offer, a lot can be said for a little sometimes.

So often we are overcome by stress and anxiety  simply because we try to do and feel all the things, to be everywhere all at once. Paring down – on your to-do list, your social calendar, even what’s on your plate – can be just what you need to pull yourself back together.

Simple Quinoa Bowl. 

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Ingredients:
(serves 2)

Mixed organic greens
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1 large chopped raw beet
1/4 cup hummus
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
balsamic and olive oil, for drizzling

Directions:

1. Fill 2 bowls with greens followed by 1/2 cup chickpeas and quinoa
2. Top with chopped and a dollop of hummus (store bought or homemade)
3. Drizzle with dressing and a sprinkle of salt
4. Enjoy.

 

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