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Mom Foodhacks: Everything you ever wanted to know about meal planning

Written by Terra

Contrary to my prior post, I struck out last week with the intent to start menu planning and shopping less frequently. Why? Well, life happened, as it tends to do, and finances need to be stripped to the bare minimum in my little household – even groceries. You’d think that would be easy to do, since it’s just me and a three-year old, but no. My daughter has Celiac disease and a dairy allergy, and I’m extremely sensitive to both wheat gluten and dairy, too. Add into this scenario that we eat a mostly-vegan diet, and you get a picture of our food needs.

gluten-free-food-labelsPrepared gluten-free, vegan food is expensive stuff. But, I’m better than I used to be: when my daughter was first diagnosed, I bought anything that was gluten- and dairy-free, regardless of the price – just in case she liked it. One month, I realized I’d spend nearly a thousand dollars on food – some of it meat and produce that had gone to waste because the yummy, processed, expensive food was being eaten first – and I started shopping differently, and cooking and baking from scratch. But, sometimes I get so tired of cooking, we’ll have a few days of restaurants and take-out. Even when I’m “good,” we still routinely spend at least $600 a month on food.

So last week, I thought: We’re two very tiny people! On a very tiny budget! We need to make some changes! I can’t be more enthusiastic than this! Let’s start meal planning! And onto the Internet I went.

You’re probably familiar with the meal plans that Scattered Mom creates every week – they’re fabulous, right? But I needed something a little more specific, so that I could have a defined grocery list that included every snack, beverage and gluten-free cracker needed. And it had to be meat-free, and cover every single nutritional base that a healthy vegan diet requires. Also? It needed to look pretty.

What can I say? I’m a stickler for a pretty font.

So, I got Google-happy and here’s what I found:

  • Simple Mom has the system that will work best for me. With one exception: I rarely follow recipes, so won’t be linking to any in my Google calendar.
  • Knowing the dietary requirements for each member of your household is important before you start planning a week or more in advance. Check out Canada’s Food Guide.
  • If you’d like something automated to figure out serving requirements, try this.
  • Vegans and vegetarians can find a very descriptive food guide [pdf] in a paper posted on the Dieticians of Canada site.
  • If you’re new to menu planning, it’s easiest to start planning only a week’s worth of a single meal. Otherwise, it can get overwhelming. Trust me.
  • Make extra dinner and you’ll have leftovers, so you won’t have to plan for lunch the next day.
  • To save big bucks, look through your kitchen and pantry to see what meals are already there, and note them on your menu plan. Then look through your local stores’ flyers to see which sale items can be made into yummy, inexpensive meals the rest of the week.
  • Want even less responsibility? Chatelaine has a cornucopia of 7-day meal plans.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014
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