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How to be a better grocery shopper

Diana Duong | posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Learn how to pick the freshest produce and the most fibre-rich grains  —  not to mention the best deals and the shortest lines.

Pick perfect produce

Choose fruit that feels plump and heavy for its size. The skin should be firm and smooth with no tears, soft spots or bruises. Store fruit away from veggies (some fruit produces a gas that can make vegetables spoil).

Know your grains

Whole-grain products give you the benefits of both bran and germ, which are packed with vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat products, on the other hand, have had some of the bran and germ removed, although you still get more fibre from whole wheat than you do from white bread.

Get smarter about calcium

Keep an eye on milk fat (MF) in the dairy aisle. Angela Dufour, a registered dietitian in Bedford, N.S., recommends milk or yogurt with no more than 2 percent MF and cheese with less than 20 per cent. “You’ll save calories and still get the same amount of calcium.” When baking, buy buttermilk — it contains less fat than 2 per cent milk and provides the same texture.

Buy better beans

Dried beans should be uniform, smooth and shiny (when rinsing, pick out any that are discoloured, shrivelled or broken). Canned and dried are equally nutritious, but canned beans contain extra sodium. Rinsing canned chickpeas, lentils and beans for 30 seconds has been shown to reduce the sodium by 40 percent.

Shop strategically

Check flyers to see when the sale week begins and shop closer to the start date, when stock is plentiful. The best time to shop to avoid long lines is weeknights after 8 p.m., when the after-work rush is over and some meats, baked goods and produce with a short shelf life are marked down.

Be adventurous

Shop by the season and live by the flyer, says Dufour. “Instead of stocking up on bananas, why not try the pomegranates on sale? Try a new fruit or veggie each month to add different staples to your diet.”

Our favourite Mother’s Day gift ideas

Suzanne Ellis | posted Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Looking for a special gift to give to your one-and-only mom this Mother’s Day?

We’ve assembled our favourite ideas that won’t break the bank and that your mom is certain to love!

Frame a favourite family photo. In the digital age, it seems we rarely take the time to process photos anymore. But there’s something lovely about a framed photo, and if it’s a well-composed photo of the family — perhaps professionally done, or one taken on vacation — we guarantee your mom will love it. Or, take it a step further and make an album for your mom — photos from a recent trip or a week at the cottage. She’ll love flipping through it and remembering what a great time you had.

A hobby-inspired gift. Does your mom love to garden? Buy her a new pair of gardening gloves, a gardening tool or two, and some seed packets or seedlings. If your mom is active, head to the sporting goods store and pick up an accessory or two based on the sport of her choice. If she loves yoga, buy her a few drop-in classes. If your mom loves to cook, pair a new cookbook with a few fun kitchen accessories. A gift based on something you know she loves to do is thoughtful and will be appreciated.

Give your mom a spa day at home. I’m sure we’d all love to treat our moms to a luxurious spa retreat, but those can be expensive. It’s easy to give your mom a spa day at home – buy some scented bubble bath or bath salts, an individually-packed facial masque, some moisturizer, and a new nail colour for her fingers and/or toes. Bump up the experience with her favourite magazines, herbal tea, and a healthy spa-inspired lunch.

A book or magazine subscription. Reading can be a luxury for the busy mom. So give her a good book or magazine, and, perhaps more importantly, make sure she has some down time that day to turn a few pages. Looking for a good read for Mom? Head on over to our Cityline Book Club for a few suggestions!

A summery tote. Buying a new bag for Mom can be expensive, but with a tote it doesn’t have to be. Totes are endlessly practical, and because they’re often less expensive, you can find one in a bright, summery shade. We love bright oranges, crisp apple greens, and rosy pinks – but you know your mom best. Pick a shade and style you think would appeal to her.

Make your mom breakfast in bed. It’s true that homemade gifts are the best – especially when that homemade gift is breakfast in bed. We’ve got great ideas on how to do breakfast in bed for your mom, including recipe suggestions, right here!

What are you doing for your mom this Mother’s Day! Share your ideas in the comments below!

How to budget for a family vacation

Cityline | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Family vacations are a terrific way to bond with your loved ones — tons of quality time together, and no housework to do! — but  they can be prohibitively expensive.

We asked Bruce Sellery for his advice on how to plan a family vacation that won’t break the bank.

Where do you start?

Bruce likens the family vacation to a home renovation in that everything costs more than you think. Write down all the costs — flights, hotels, rental cars, gas, meals, entertainment, and souvenirs. Once you reach your total, add a buffer of 10% to account for any surprise costs that may arise.

How can you find deals?

Think about what’s important to you and your family — are you keen to try a particular restaurant that you know will be pricey? Look to save in other areas such as the hotel. Hotels and flights cost a lot, so look for package deals online. Consider travelling at off-peak days (Tuesday, Wednesday) and times. Book your flights well in advance for your best chance to score a deal.

Spend on moments/experiences, rather than things.

What are you and your kids going to remember: a vivid fireworks display, or the stuffed animal bought from the gift shop? Moments/experiences tend to outweigh material items in our memories, so make the goal of your family vacation to create memorable experiences that your kids will remember for a lifetime.

How are you going to pay for it?

Don’t wait until the end of your vacation to think about how you’re going to pay for it. Loading up the credit card is not the way to go. As Bruce advises, this needs to be part of the planning process, and ideally the vacation is saved up for and even paid for before you go. Think about trade-offs and discuss them with your family — for example, tell your kids that in exchange for the amazing vacation you’re going to take, you’re not going to have any restaurant meals for a couple of months.

How do you stick to the budget?

It’s challenging, there’s no doubt, to stick to a budget when you’re away and having a great time. Try to succumb giving in to temptation when you’re faced with it, and set realistic expectations with your family in advance. For instance, tell your kids that they’ll each be allowed one souvenir to bring back from the trip. If you have a good sense of your budget going in to the trip, you won’t have to stress about expenses every waking moment. This is supposed to be a vacation for you, too!

The 7-day kitchen fix

Cityline | posted Thursday, Apr 30th, 2015

Is your kitchen in need of an overhaul? Samantha Pynn shares easy ways to upgrade the space that don’t cost a ton of money.

1. Paint your cabinets or install new ones. Cabinets are the first thing people see in a kitchen, so you don’t want yours to be outdated and/or in rough shape.

2. Update your cabinet handles. They don’t have to be expensive, just current and/or classic.

3. Swap your faucet. Again, it doesn’t have to be an expensive model, just a new one that looks fresh and modern.

4. Consider a new backsplash. You can find great peel-and-stick backsplashes that won’t break the bank.

5. Replace your countertops. A fresh, white countertop will work wonders in making the space feel clean and new.

6. Cover your builder’s basic window with a Roman blind. This inexpensive window covering will add softness and diffuse light.

7. Add/switch your lighting. It could be as simple as updating the shade, but proper lighting makes a huge impact.

8. Accessorize! Adding pretty bowls, vases, and flowers to your space will make it more cheerful.

9. Add a runner. A runner along the floor in a colourful pattern will help add a boost of brightness.

10. Create an island. An island provides not only a prep space, but extra storage too.

For more advice from Samantha Pynn, watch the clip below.


10 ways the Apple Watch makes life easier for parents

Mike Yawney | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2015

It’s easy to write off the Apple Watch as a gadget strictly for tech-lovers or Apple uber-fans, but the timepiece is also pretty useful for parents. In fact, you may be surprised to discover just how much the slick device can do for you. Here are 10 ways the Apple Watch can make your family life a little easier.

1. Take better family photos (that actually include you)
Finally, an easy way to get everyone—including yourself!—in your smartphone snapshots. Apple Watch lets you remotely control the camera on your iPhone. Just prop up your phone or place it on a tripod, then gather the family. Once everyone is in place, you can look at your watch to see a live preview of the shot, adjust the focal point and set a timer to ensure everyone has a chance to get in place. When you’re ready to snap the photo, just tap the watch. After the shutter clicks, your family photo will be saved on your iPhone.

2. Simplify family meals
Load the Apple Watch with the Kitchen Stories app and you’ll receive inspiration and daily suggestions on what to make for dinner. Use your watch to track your grocery list, or set timers so you never burn or overcook a meal again. And if your meal is a flop, you can always manage a restaurant reservation through the OpenTable app for Apple Watch.

3. Keep track of family finances
It’s easy to lose track of your family’s budget—unless, of course, your watch holds you accountable for every dollar you spend. If you bank with Tangerine, you can check your account balances and review transactions right on your wrist. Worried about overspending? Set up an account threshold and receive a notice when you reach your limit.

4. Lighten up
Reduce the weight of your purse or wallet by storing gift and loyalty cards directly on your Apple Watch. When you arrive at the checkout, simply raise your wrist and scan your watch. It’s just like having the cards with you—minus the bulk.

5. Stay organized
Doctor appointments
, soccer practice, dance recitals—there’s a lot running through a parent’s mind at any given time. The Apple Watch can help keep even the busiest family on schedule. The built-in Calendar app helps you plan your day by displaying your schedule right on your wrist. Reminders pop up throughout the day, ensuring nothing will fall through the cracks.

6. Be connected without pulling your phone out
You want to focus solely on the kids, but you’re waiting for an important call or email. Every parent’s been there. The Apple Watch notifies you of incoming messages right on your wrist, preventing you from having to constantly pull your phone out of your purse or pocket to check it. You can respond to texts with your voice or return a call even if your phone is tucked away.

7. Get more control of your kids’ tablet time
More and more, kids are watching videos on tablets and smartphones, and that’s fine—in moderation. The Apple Watch gives you added control of your kids’ screen time via the PlayKids app. When you’d like your kids to take a break, you can stop the video using your Apple Watch. You can also send custom messages to your kids, featuring a cute cartoon character, letting them know it’s time to brush their teeth or go to bed.

8. Plan a better family vacation
The Apple Watch can help you discover amazing family activities when you’re travelling. Launch Trip Advisor on the Apple Watch and find nearby attractions, restaurants and hotels. Navigate city streets with ease using the Maps app, which gives turn-by-turn directions to your destinations as you travel. And if you’re staying at a Starwood Hotels and Resorts property, you can even use the watch to unlock your room door.

9. Get more active
The Apple Watch monitors your movements throughout the day, tracking not just the quantity of your activities, but the intensity as well. Using a heart-rate sensor and accelerometer, it provides an accurate summary of your daily activities and workouts. The watch also notifies you when you’ve been sitting for a bit too long and (gently) encourages you to get up. Time for that post-dinner family walk!

10. Improve your cool quotient (maybe)
Sure, you know all the words to “Let it Go,” but what about the lyrics to your kids’ other favourite songs? The Shazam app for Apple Watch prompts your iPhone to start listening to a song being played. Once your iPhone identifies the song, it will begin displaying lyrics in real time on your Apple Watch. Your kids will be super-impressed that you know all the words to their favourite songs. (Well, that or totally mortified.)

Apple Watch is available for sale now, and will retail for $449 and up.

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