By Jen Arbo

Camping Without Commitment

I am an avid camper, and in the pre-kid days was of the “carry everything in a backpack and hike in” variety. Now, with a young son and a dog in tow, we are much more in the car-camping camp. We roll up to a nicely groomed provincially run campsite, and we settle in for a few days with our cushy tent trailer, and we don’t have to forage for wood or food. We spend most of our time lakeside, and we focus on marshmallow roasting and frisbee throwing. But we have a fully outfitted tent trailer at our disposal, so a few days here or there are pretty easy when all you have to do is grab a few bags of groceries and head out.

If the idea of camping appeals to you, but you’re not yet ready to invest in a stocked tent trailer, or even more simply, a tent and sleeping bags, don’t worry. There are a few options.

  • Rent the Gear: You can rent almost anything you want from Mountain Equipment Co-op. A $10 membership gets you access to low priced gear rentals.
  • Visit a Stocked Site: Pacific Rim National Park, a federally managed wilderness site, has Equipped Sites. They supply the tents,  sleeping bags, cooking stoves… you name it.
  • Beg, Borrow, and Thank:  At least one of your friends is likely to have a camping set up you can borrow. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When you want to try out camping but are scared to commit, these are good options to get you outside and enjoying Mother Nature.




Meal Planning: A Primer

I have one son, who is 7, and who is a pretty decent eater. He wasn’t always, though. After being a super laid back baby about food, in toddlerdom, he and I (or his dad – he didn’t care which parent) battled over meals. It would take him 45 minutes just to eat a simple lunch. I was frustrated. He’s a skinny kid and I was always worried he wasn’t eating enough protein as my GP had really impressed upon me he needed lots of protein. As new parents, we were trying our best to do what our doctor had suggested, but it became really clear that Kale was just not a kid who liked heavy proteins. He preferred to eat plates and plates of raw vegetables with a cracker chaser (and still does) but always wanted the very smallest servings of proteins of any sort – animal or vegetable.

Now, with a number of years of parenting experience under our belts, and a much deeper understanding of food and eating habits, it is easier for me to take a less worried approach about what goes into Kale’s body. It was also easier for me to challenge my then-GP on why he felt Kale needed all that protein. Disclaimer: while I felt empowered to challenge my then-GP on his advice, you should always try and work with your doctor for your family’s health needs and keep an open mind when they make their recommendations. In our case, our GP we admitted he didn’t have nutritional or dietary education, but that it was the common belief that “kids needed a lot of protein”. I disagreed and went in search of something better for us. Last October, a great article was published in Maclean’s magazine and the main message of it was essentially that we are overly obsessed with protein in North America. It’s an interesting read that had me really re-thinking the way I feed my family.  As well, the cost of a lot of proteins, animal-based ones in particular, has skyrocketed in recent years.

So, my secret weapon for dealing with my worries around what we eat, spending too much on my grocery bill, as well as taking the brain power required to come up with a meal every night is meal planning. I like meal planning because:

  • It gives me a chance to review our overall food intake on a weekly basis, which makes me worry less about what my son eats each day
  • I can incorporate eating seasonally or eating with foods on sale to try and save some money
  • We plan for new meals and the whole family gets involved
  • I do not stare at the fridge on a rushed evening with no idea what to make and turn to the sushi takeout menu

Meal planning has allowed for us to also budget better for food. We now plan for family dinners out, and they feel much more special than when a trip to the burger joint was a last resort on a busy, scattered night.

How I Meal Plan

The kale and broccoli salad I'm in love with lately, paired with a mushroom and wild rice soup.
The kale and broccoli salad I’m in love with lately, paired with a mushroom and wild rice soup.

Collect recipes or meal ideas as much as possible. If you’re a Pinner, create a board and add recipes that interest you. I have used both Trello and Evernote in the past. I had a subscription to Canadian Living for years, and I often will spend an hour paging through back issues to find stuff I missed the first time around and then go search their website for the online link and add it to my recipe-saving tool. Flipping through a magazine is often easier than staring at an empty search field on a website. As well, the public library is excellent for cookbooks, and you can join Facebook groups like “New West Cooks” for some local inspiration.

Know what you have on hand. I keep a written inventory of what is in my freezer tacked up on my fridge. It might seem like an over the top step, but having this on hand really hits home what’s been in there a while, buried at the back of the freezer, that really should get used up. I also shop at Costco with some frequency, and it’s really easy to forget what I bought a case of three months ago that’s stashed in the basement. I also incorporate “leftover” or “Pickit” nights, where we eat any leftovers and often just cut up raw veggies to go with it.

Be a smart shopper. Shop in bulk, shop the sales, and shop in season. I’m not an extreme couponer, but I do use the apps from Superstore and Save-On Foods to get bonus points and coupons, and I often use my points accumulating credit card to buy my groceries. I’ve also recently started using on occasion, which feels like such a luxurious choice, but they have good flash sales and a low minimum order to get free delivery. One of the best decisions we made, however, was to buy into a CSA, or community supported agriculture, through Zaklan Farms, who is a wonderful vendor at Royal City Farmers Market. This weekly box of veggies will take a lot of the guess work out of shopping because I don’t have to think about it and the farmers will give us the heads up on what’s going to be in the box each week. It was a bit of an investment up front (in a CSA, you pay the whole amount up front so the farmer has money to get their season started and then get a weekly share all season long) but will be totally worth it. I also do a lot of seasonal preserving such as jams and pickles and we grow what we can in our backyard like garlic and rhubarb, plus we have backyard chickens.

Set aside time to plan. On Saturday or Sunday every week, I sit down with a cup of tea and I plan our meals for Sunday through Thursday. I originally was doing the whole week, but I found that things would change as our week went on. So for us, I work out the week, and then plan Friday and Saturday closer to those days when I know what we’re up to. Involve everyone if you can.  My son gets to pick at least one meal every week. Reliably, I know he’ll ask for mac and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs but I make mac and cheese from scratch to oomph up the nutrition and I have more than one meatball recipe I make. Once I have my plan, I then write my shopping lists.

Meat as a garnish. We’re omnivores at our house, but I really like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. One of them states “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. We’re trying hard to make meat a garnish rather than the focus of our meals and so I start with all the sides I plan to make. Baked potatoes, roasted veggies, kale and broccoli salad (which is a lovely diced salad that is winning hearts at our house these days – recipe here), sautéed carrots… you name it. Write down all the veggie or grain parts of your dish and add the meat as the accompaniment rather than the other way around. This doesn’t mean we don’t plan for giant rare steaks on the BBQ, but it does mean that those nights are very, very special. . We had some success with “Meatless Monday” in the early days of meal planning, but I felt like “Meatless Monday” focuses too much on what’s absent. So, while we eat a meat protein probably four days in an average week, we also have strict portions and don’t care what day of the week it is.

Sample Weeks

Here are two sample weeks to get you going, I’ve included links if I have recipes I like. At our house we are omnivores, with no allergies or food sensitivities, and these meal plans reflect that. Just adapt yours to be right for your house. Remember, meal planning is designed to make your life easier, not harder, so make it work for your house and try not to worry. Stick with it, though, it may take you a month or so to get into the habit.

  • Sunday: turkey lasagna
  • Monday: skin-on grilled salmon salad with fresh strawberries and feta
  • Tuesday: French onion soup with cheesy chive baking powder drop biscuits
  • Wednesday: chick pea and quinoa salad
  • Thursday: homemade sushi with avocados and prawns
  • Friday: baked potatoes, simple green salad, and grilled pork tenderloin
  • Saturday: Leftovers / Pickit
  • Sunday: one pot Greek chicken with lemon rice
  • Monday: roasted vegetable sandwiches with fresh sprouts
  • Tuesday: easy bowtie pasta tuna salad
  • Wednesday: quiche (this recipe is my go-to recipe for the crust, and I use whatever we have in the fridge for the fillings. I find in my shallower 9″ pie dish, I need five eggs)
  • Thursday: ground turkey tacos
  • Friday: kale and broccoli salad with garlic butter carrots and marinated steak bites
  • Saturday: corn bread and vegetarian chili