a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Apr, 2008

Blue mom, Blue Menu – the kickoff post

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|Recipes and Food

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of parenting is menu planning. Good lord, I hate feeling like a short-order cook. I can be rather Jekyll and Hyde about it too. It depends entirely on the day. There are tiimes when I have to bite my tongue – hard – because all I want to do is shriek, THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN CARROT STICKS, and drop the bowl of carrot sticks on the table or slump down into my chair, cradle my head in my hands and quietly dream of a nice hearty chowder, a spicy stir-fry, or even -dare I say it – a soup that isn’t tomato.

On other days I am more than happy to serve those same carrot sticks, and I’m satisfied with the fact that they will only put cheddar, leaf lettuce, and red pepper in their fajitas. After all, a red pepper totally rocks it in the healthy vegetables department, right?

(As I was first typing this Emma came up to me and asked me what we’re having for dinner.

”Lasagna,” I said.
”Oh, I don’t want lasagna,” she replied, rather dejectedly.


My actual answer: ”Well then, I guess you’ll just be having the salad.”

As it turned out she just didn’t like the ”crusty part” on the top of the lasagne so I picked it off for her. The disbelief nearly knocked me over. The layer of baked cheese is the best part!)

When children are involved, food takes on an entire new dimension, doesn’t it? The inside of your fridge looks totally different, and you eat when you want to eat, and at your own pace. Mark and I used to eat dinner at 8 p.m. We ate what we wanted. It was actually leisurely! There was no one around to convince to ”just try one bite.” We’d have spanakopita. Or chili. Or a stir-fry. Oh, I miss a good stir fry.

The worst, for me, is when I cook up something major (”Hey kids, here’s some stew that I’ve been fussing over for about 6 hours!”) hoping everyone will like it only to find out that I’m the only one who’s going to be eating it, and that I’m going to be eating it forever because the recipe made twelve servings. It is absolutely crazymaking, isn’t it? I love food, and I enjoy cooking. I have been stuck in a rut, but, but, but, (and here’s the good side of all of this ranting) we’re going to be getting a little bit of help.

A couple of months ago I was contacted by a PR company that is working for Loblaws: would I be interested in working with a dietician and trying out some Blue Menu products for a month? The answer had to be yes, but confess, I hesitated because I didn’t want to be stuck eating processed foods for a month. But then I thought about it. I was fooling myself if I believed that we didn’t eat any processed foods.

Here’s a short list to give you an idea of where were stand re: processed foods. (As I read back I am realize this breakdown is going to make me sound totally crazy.)

Processed foods we eat: frozen pasta dishes (e.g. the lasagna and cannelloni), some brands of tinned soup, cereals, some brands of crackers, taco shells, processed meats (e.g. hot dogs, and deli meats), pasta sauces, frozen French fries, factory-made bread. We have also been known to eat chips, cheese in a jar*, and microwave popcorn* (*only at my in-laws!) ;)

We don’t eat, or tend to avoid: most factory-made cookies, pastries, anything with ”helper” in the title, flavoured rice/side dishes, shake n’bakes, premade frozen pizzas and anything in the pizza family, individually-wrapped children’s snack foods. And if I see a mention of trans-fats on the label it stays in the store.

The PR person asked me about my goals. For many, I suppose, a major goal would be weight loss (given that many of the Blue Menu items are calorie-reduced), but we don’t have those concerns here. No one is our family is overweight.

I didn’t see the ”goal” question coming. In fact, after I hung up the phone I thought my lack of goals might result in Loblaws giving me the heave ho. But now that I have had a chance to really think about it I can safely say these are my ”healthy eating” goals -not just for the next month – but, like, forever.

1) High sodium, trans fat, high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugars, white flour … I’d like to send them all packing.

2) I’d like to give ”Meat” offical status as a side dish. I’d like to reduce the amount of red meat we’re eating and increase the amount of fish, and, of course, the number of vegetable servings in our lives that AREN’T cole slaw, red peppers or carrot sticks. (Ha! Wish me luck!)

3) I’d like to increase the amount of organic food we’re eating.

I’d like to try some new foods, and discover some new ways of preparing foods old favourites that we all enjoy. And if I can find one new item to feed my family I would consider this a very successful experiment indeed.

I hope that you’ll join me on my journey. I’ll be posting about it from time to time here at the Fishbowl.

And here is the fine print, because I want to be completely transparent about the process. Yes, my food is covered by Loblaws, as are my meetings with the dietician, but I’m not being paid for anything I post here. This is my place … Loblaws is sitting in my living room and it’s my party. The way I see it, I am the one who decides whether it’s going to be crumpets or coffee cake. I reserve the right to say whatever I want about any of the products we try, good or bad. I’m not afraid to tell it like it is. (You know that, right?)

This is a golden opportunity for me (and you!) to tell everyone (including the folks at Loblaws and their PR firm) what we think of their products. And if you’ve been following me here for awhile you know it’s about more than food for me. It’s about the labelling and packaging, whether or not their cashiers know how to pack the bins, whether they have a tendency to want to pack your groceries in plastic bags and THEN put them into bins. (Here’s a hint, yes, they’ve done it before.)

I am supposed to have my first meeting with the dietician sometime next week. I am strangely excited. Knowledge is power my friends, and that’s why I’m here.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? I’m all ears.

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27 Responses to "Blue mom, Blue Menu – the kickoff post"

1 | javamom

April 4th, 2008 at 2:19 pm


I guess I subconsciously realized that when kids came along, the processed/take-out foods will not be eliminated completely from our meals. Like you, we eat well, healthy, organic when we can, local, and we even grow some things (salad stuff is SOOOOO easy to grow yourself!).

Like you, my kid is a great eater and likes raw vegetables. (the other one is only 5 months old).

What I didn’t realize, before the kids came, was that come Friday, for some reason or other, there is never anything ‘planned’ for dinner anymore. We either eat take- ut (and when I say take-out I don’t mean fast food, we have neat delis in the SW Toronto area neighbourhood where we live, like perogies made by the the polish grandma in the back of the store kind of thing), or we eat scrambled eggs on toast or something like that.

What is it with that? Official meal planning for the week just hasn’t happened at my household, although I have great intensions when I shop for groceries every week. But I have to admit, in the last bit (since the baby arrived), I have been picking up the odd Blue Menu item, and sticking it in the freezer. It’s funny how I still, to this day, hesitate everytime I pick up a prepared product, yet come Fridays, I’m usually glad I have something tucked away for that end of the week slump. Frankly, it’s a little bit cheaper too to have a Blue Menu or similar item in the freezer than getting take-out delivered once again….although there is that sushi place down the street….

So I’ll tune in. See what you have to say about them.

2 | Jennifer W.

April 4th, 2008 at 2:20 pm


Hi – let me start by saying I enjoy your posts, very amusing/insightful to read. Never responded to one before, but this one really caught my attention, made me think of the one you posted just prior RE: packaging. I applaud Loblaws for trying to make healthier processed foods, however the one big reason I still won’t try them is the packaging. WAY TOO MUCH packaging. Is there no way a big company like this can’t be more inovative in the way they package the goods? Yes, I think most of the packaging can be recycled, but better to first have less. If you get to pass info onto ‘The Man’ that would be my 2 cents worth. The foods would be much healthier, to us, our families and the environment with LESS packaging.

3 | Vicki

April 4th, 2008 at 2:28 pm


I can’t speak to the kid situation since we don’t have kids. But I do buy a couple Blue Menu products – the butter chicken sauce and the chicken korma sauce are very good. Tonight I’m testing out the Blue Menu taco seasoning.
I’ve worked hard to eliminate packaged food from our diet. It is hard to do without kids – I can’t imagine how challenging it must be with more people to feed and satisfy. I remember my brother refusing to eat cheese and potatoes – for British parents this was a massive challenge. I went through a phase of not eating “brown” food. I considered it to be “dirty”.
I look forward to reading about your impressions of the Blue Menu cuisine.

4 | porter

April 4th, 2008 at 2:36 pm


I am excited about this little experiment. I am always looking for meal ideas, love hearing reviews about products, and I am a fan of PC products. Like you I don’t tend to buy many prepared foods (I don’t buy the lasagnas but do buy packaged kiddie foods!) but there are prepared/processed foods that aren’t so bad, and certainly better than alot of take out. Besides, PC Blue Menu products aren’t all processed are they? Maybe they are…not sure. You are right, knowledge is power. I’m all ears too….do tell!

5 | J.

April 4th, 2008 at 2:36 pm


looks like a really good opportunty. I’ve always been curious about the Blue Menu really being ‘healthy’. I’m looking forward to what you think of their products.

6 | K

April 4th, 2008 at 2:49 pm


I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the blue menu products. I have a hard time spending money on them unless someone has told me that they actually taste good.

7 | Barrie Summy

April 4th, 2008 at 3:13 pm


Actually, this sounds very exciting. I’m looking forward to reading the meals Loblaws gives you to try. And about your and your families responses!

My theory: the more work I put into a meal, the more complaints I get! (I have 4 kids)

Great blog!

8 | Shan

April 4th, 2008 at 3:33 pm


I can’t wait to read more about this process. I don’t really have an opinion on the Blue Menu since we don’t typically shop where they can be purchased. Although I have tried their hamburgers and we enjoyed them.

9 | Tammy

April 4th, 2008 at 4:15 pm


Fellow Ottawa gal here! I’m de lurking to let you know I’m totally on board with this little experiment. I’m a mom of two little boys and have many of the same issues with food/meals as you do. Looking very forward to hearing thoughts on the Blue Menu items!

10 | Soire

April 4th, 2008 at 5:22 pm


Man do I hear you on the “PLEASE JUST EAT IT”


11 | Simone

April 4th, 2008 at 6:17 pm


Interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing about this. I hope you’ll review lots of the products!

One of the (very few) Blue menu products we have tried is the Lentil and Bean vegetarian patties – http://tinyurl.com/46eded
They’re really tasty. Rice and bits of vegetables with curry seasoning. We heat them on the BBQ or in a pan and eat them on a bun like a regular burger.

12 | Catherine

April 4th, 2008 at 7:52 pm


Delurking here because this post caught my interest. I work for Loblaws in the bakery and everytime we have a new product out we critisize it. I have only bought 1 Blue Menu product EVER and like to think that I make healthier food choices being no trans fat, hardly any prepackaged, etc.

I can’t say for all the other departments but the Blue Menu products in the bakery are not much “healthier” then their normal substitues. The size is smaller yet the price is the same. Really watch close because a lot of the items (take the cinnamon coffee cake for one) compares the nutritional information for 1/10th of the cake. While the non Blue Menu cake is WAY larger then the Blue Menu one. Obviously the nutritional value of 1/10th will be more because the portion is larger.

Just my rant about Blue Menu. Do I feel it’s a ploy to get customers in…for sure.

13 | The Veg Next Door

April 4th, 2008 at 9:12 pm


I smiled when I read that meat will be a side dish. Yay! Better for you and better for the environment.

What an interesting experiment. I would love to hear about the foods that you test.

And I agree — it’s hard feed kids sometimes. Oh, how my patience is tested sometimes.

14 | Scattered Mom

April 4th, 2008 at 10:40 pm


I do buy some Blue Menu items now and then, although like you, I don’t really eat packaged food a whole lot.

I’ll be interested in what you think…mostly we stay away from pre-made stuff because of preservatives, msg, salt, fats. But they do have a nice organic chicken broth and some good granola bars, so we’ll see. :)

15 | tali

April 5th, 2008 at 6:46 am


Wow, I think we have complementary kids – my 3yo prefers red peppers over any other vegetable but would never, ever, touch tomato soup.

My kids just eat a ton of raw veggies and fruits. And meat, although I am a vegetarian. (Well, just started to eat fish a year ago). I decided to stop caring if they eat dinner. I make things my husband and I like, albeit a little less spicy and easy to separate out into the distinct portions the little ones prefer (because one thing can’t touch another, right?). If they don’t eat it, there are apples, bananas, oranges, frozen blueberries, peppers etc.

We eat some processed food (crackers, sometimes pasta sauce, frozen perogies) mostly because we are trying to eat out less. I’ve eaten a few of the blue menu things but honestly I think the key to weight loss is portion control and making your plate 50% veggies – if something low fat tastes off, I’d rather have less of the “unhealthy” stuff. I think the blue menu crackers are good – less salt without sacrificing too much taste.

This will be very interesting, since I shop almost exclusively at Loblaws. Would shop there even more if they expanded their organic/free from meat selection (hint, hint).

16 | Cath

April 5th, 2008 at 8:18 am


I’m very interested to see how this goes — especially your goal around low sodium etc. I don’t buy many of these products because B has allergies (and at 18 months is getting picky, unfortunately – hommous is about as exotic as it gets around here at the moment) but I’m passionately interested in all aspects of food and will look forward to your posts!

17 | Jen_nifer

April 5th, 2008 at 8:49 pm


I find it funny the different processed foods people will or will not eat. I won’t buy frozen lasagna, but am happy to eat some Alphaghetti from time to time.

I am curious to know what you meant by “some brands of tinned soup” and “some brands of crackers”. Do you mean that you only buy a couple of brands, or that you buy some, as well as make some yourself. If the latter, I’m really dying to know how you make crackers!

18 | ScatteredMom

April 6th, 2008 at 6:08 pm


I just bought some Blue Menu crackers today, and they are really quite good.

Hmm…I’m interested in your reviews!

19 | Alison in Ottawa

April 6th, 2008 at 8:11 pm


Notice to Loblaws: When you come up with a popular item, stop changing it. Often at Loblaws they come up with something I like. Then they make it smaller, then (a few months later or even a year later) they make it more expensive and then it disappears (likely because sales have dropped off).. STOP messing with the good stuff. People notice, even when these changes are over a 2-3 year period.

20 | Alison in Ottawa

April 6th, 2008 at 8:16 pm


Loss of the Devonshire Double Cream. First Loblaws carried Devonshire Double Cream (like clotted cream – and very important for those of us w British heritage). Then they dropped carrying the plain kind and only carried the kinds flavoured with alchohol (ick). Then they dropped all of them and replaced them with some wierd imitation PC double cream that had practically nothing in common with the real stuff (imported from england) except the fat content. I am a big PC fan. Lots of their specially made PC line is AMAZING (although prone to negative change as noted above) but this is not an acceptable substitute.

21 | mark

April 7th, 2008 at 1:31 pm


…and I understand they have discontinued Splendido pizza crusts. I was stunned when the bakery department at Loblaws informed me of this. We totally relied on those crusts for our homemade pizzas !

22 | Lex

April 8th, 2008 at 9:20 am


This is fantastic. I’m exciting to hear your impressions of the PC products AND your girl’s impressions too. I’m hoping Mark will pipe up occasionally.

It’ll be great to have someone I trust checking the products out and commenting honestly about them. Have fun with it!

23 | jennP

April 8th, 2008 at 5:18 pm


I found mealtime really tough. I am the type who walked to the fridge, took a look and decided what was for supper. at about 4:30 pm. I started taking part in Organizing Junkie’s Monday Meal Planning and so I plan my meals Sunday night for the week (mon-Fri). I have done this for a few weeks and find it great.

this is the link to her site: http://orgjunkie.com/2008/04/menu-plan-monday-april-7th.html
she is up to 268 menu plans posted this week… i am amazed at the ideas people have for meals! a lot of people are very *green* and frugal and have great ideas. i love it!

My daughter (who is 6 today) doesn’t always enjoy what i make, but i try to balance it out and have at least a side or a few veggies that she likes so then if she doesn’t eat the main dish per se, i don’t mind so much.

24 | a peek inside the fish bowl

April 14th, 2008 at 8:23 pm


[…] This is week one of four that I’m undertaking a Healthy Eating Challenge. (In case you missed it, here’s the kickoff post). […]

25 | a peek inside the fish bowl

April 23rd, 2008 at 9:48 am


[…] I didn’t think it would be fair to blog about the PC Blue Menu Multigrain Oatmeal, after all, it was already a staple in my pantry even before the Healthy Eating Challenge kicked in. (What am I talking about? Read the kickoff post here.) […]

26 | a peek inside the fish bowl

April 23rd, 2008 at 9:48 am


[…] The Healthy Eating Challenge is going pretty well, although there have been a couple of small hiccups along the way. […]

27 | Steel cut oatmeal >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 18th, 2011 at 11:24 am


[…] some of you because the last time I wrote about it (during the Blue Menu Healthy Eating Challenge, remember that?) I realized that Oatmeal Is Big […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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