Second Week of Meal Planning Success, Helpful Tips & Pantry Necessities

Before we get to the recipes for this week, I’ve realized some trending ingredients in my cooking. If you want to successfully follow these, here are my staple herbs and spices for successful, flavorful meals:

Pantry basics:
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper Mill
Garlic powder (not garlic salt or garlic seasoning)
Onion Powder
Cumin
Chili powder
Paprika
Dried Oregano
Dried Basil
Dried thyme

Also, I had some great questions on reducing spoilage of produce, lettuce in particular. Here’s my response.
Tip of the week:
Veggies should last you at least a week if they’re fresh, but one thing I’ve found is that lettuce goes bad the quickest! I started buying organic spinach, arugula, or power greens (these don’t last as long as the first 2) in the pre-washed tubs by Earthbound Farms. They’re healthier than a head of lettuce or those pre made salad bags too. They’re $3.50, but I can get 3-5 uses out of them depending on what’s with it. Costco has bigger packs for $4.50 if you need more:)

I’m finding they last longer and by the end of the week if I haven’t finished them in a salad, I can sauté them with a little EVOO or even just a little water and salt and then I’m not wasting them.

If you’re looking to lettuce for the crunch, try these alternative greens and use carrots, toasted almonds, walnuts, or pears.

If you’re not already, planning out what you’re eating for the week might help you be more intentional about what veggies you buy and which to use first to make sure they don’t spoil. I hate wasting food!!

Chicken Breast with Garlic & Onion Mashed Cauliflower & Focaccia Bread

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After indulging in that Heath Bar Devil’s Food Chocolate cake on Sunday night, I needed to start the week off with a healthier meal.

Chicken
1. Boneless, skinless chicken breast
2. Kosher salt
3. Garlic powder
4. Onion powder
5. Olive oil
-Preheat oven 350 degrees
-season chicken evenly on both sides with 2-4 (equal parts, quantity varies with size of chicken)
-get olive oil hot in fry pan on high heat
-sear 5-7 minutes on each side
-put in oven 7-10 minutes (depends on thickness of meat)
-remove from heat and let rest

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Garlic & Onion Mashed Cauliflower
1. 1 head of Cauliflower
2. Olive oil
3. 2 “sprouts” of green onion (chopped)
4. 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
5. 1/4 cup Romano cheese (grated)
6. 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
7. Handful fresh parsley (chopped)
8. 1/2 cup cream/milk
-Preheat oven 425
-boil cauliflower until soft
-place on cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, put in oven to evaporate moisture (5-10 minutes)
-remove from oven and put in large bowl with 3-7 and 1/4 cup olive oil
-use immersion blender or beaters to whip everything together
-sprinkle more Romano cheese

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“Focaccia” Bread
-Oven should still be hot from Cauliflower, if not preheat to 425.
-We had left over pizza dough from the calzones, so we, by we I mean my husband, the dough expert, rolled it out and brushed it with olive oil, dried oregano, dried basil and dried thyme, and then sprinkled finely chopped garlic and fresh parsley.
-bake 10-15 minutes

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-Plate it all up and serve

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Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Casserole

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This is the easiest and quickest thing I’ve made so far! This recipe comes from my aunt. She taught me and my cousin how to make it in jr. high, so it’s been around awhile. Seeing as we are a Sicilian family, this is about as close to Mexican food as we ever made at home.

It’s prettying just putting everything together in a dish. I guess that’s the beauty of a casserole.

quick tip: If you follow this week’s meals, you can make double the chicken from the above recipe and then this will be even faster.

Ingredients:
1. 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (follow cooking instructions above)
2. 40-50 oz of green enchilada sauce (you can pick your favorite brand, they come in all sizes, that’s why I say 40-50oz)
3. 3/4 lbs of jack or white cheddar cheese (grated)
4. 1/4 lbs cheddar cheese (grated)
5. 4-6 oz sliced black olives
6. Small pack or corn tortillas (I used 24)

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Assemble:
step 1: To spare you redundancy, just look at the above recipe to make your chicken and then after letting it rest, shred it with two forks.
step 2: combine shredded chicken and most of enchilada sauce in large bowl (put some enchilada sauce to the side)
step 3: pour a small amount of sauce (without chicken) at the bottom of baking dish.
step 4: line bottom with tortillas slightly overlapping and curving up the sides (my Pyrex fit six)
step 5: pour a generous amount of sauce an chicken mixture
step 6: top with cheese
step 7: put another layer of tortillas pushing down to make sure all sides are wet
Step 8: repeat 5-7 two more times
Step 9: pour remaining enchilada sauce (w/out chicken) and press down to make sure all tortillas are fully covered
Step 10: top with remaining cheese and olives
Step 11: bake 30-40 minutes (until cheese is nice and melted

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Tortellini Skillet Lasagna

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This Recipe from Lemons for Lulu is really good. I skipped the mozzarella cheese that she used, which I think was probably necessary for this to really taste like a lasagna. Here’s my pretty-much-identical version.
Ingredients:
1. 1 lb pork Italian sausage
-sauté in hot skillet until browned and cooked through
2. 1 24 oz jar of Marinara
-reduce heat to medium and add to sausage
-cook 5-7 minutes
3. 1 19 oz bag frozen cheese tortellini
-add to skillet and cook 3 minutes
4. 1 egg
5. 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese
6. ¼ cup Romano cheese
7.1 teaspoon basil
8. 1 teaspoon oregano
9. ¼ teaspoon salt
10. ¼ teaspoon pepper
-mix 4-10 in small bowl and scoop small teaspoons into skillet
-reduce heat and cover 5 minutes (until cheese is melted
side note:
If you omit 4-10 it would be a tasty one-pot, tortellini & meat sauce recipe.

Grilled lemon-herb chicken, Mac-n-cheese, and Spinach Salad

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Yes, that says Mac-N-Cheese, and No, it’s not homemade. Sorry if that’s a disappointment. I’ll do homemade one of these days, but this was a quick, last minute improvise. I was going to do wild rice, but sometimes you gotta make the hubby happy.
Lemon-herb chicken:
Marinade:
1. 1 lemon (zest, juice, and peel)
2. 3 cloves garlic (peeled and smashed)
3. 1/2 cup olive oil
4. 1 tbs kosher salt
5. 1 tbs dried oregano
6. 1 handful fresh parsley (torn)
7. 1 handful fresh arugula
8. 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (fillet in half)
-combine all ingredients and mix well with hands to fully coat chicken
-cover and put in refrigerator for at least 3 hours
Grillin’ time:
-get grill hot!
-wipe chicken off with paper towel
-lightly sprinkle kosher salt on both sides
-grill first side 5-7 minutes
-grill second side 3-5 minutes and cover until done

Mac-N-Cheese:
1. 1 1/2 tbs butter
2. 3 tbs milk
3. 6 cups water
4. 6 oz box Back to Nature Organic Shells-n-Chedder (you can use whatever’s your favorite, but I found this to be the best and there are no preservatives!!)
-follow directions on box

Spinach Salad:
1. 3 generous handfuls of Baby Spinach
2. 2 oz dried cranberries
3. 4 oz blanched slivered (not sliced) almonds
-toast in oven at 350 until golden brown, shake them around a few times to toast all sides
4. 2 oz feta cheese
-combine ingredients
Balsamic Vinegarette:
1. 1 oz olive oil
2. 1/2 oz balsamic vinegar
3. Pinch of kosher salt
4. 1/8 teas oregano
-whisk together in small bowl

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So, here we have week 2 completed and we’re feeling great in this house. My husband told me last night that he’s been feeling much better with these healthier meals at home; we haven’t needed to eat out at the last minute because there wasn’t food ready.

The house always smells like something yummy cooking. There’s food on the table every night. My shopping trips are so efficient because everything’s already planned out. I get excited to cook because there are all these fantastic recipes I want to try and I have the food in the house to make them.

Until my munchkin’s next nap: I hope these recipes are inspiring you to plan too. Find your own routine and what works for your home, but I encourage you to try some of these.

Let me know when you do, and what you think of them.

Happy Planning!

First Week of Meal Planning Success: Recipes & Discoveries

A shortage of food has definitely not been the issue this week with the meals planned, which has been fantastic. One obstacle overcome! Instead, however, I think we could have fed an extra family each night with the amount of food these recipes make.

Keep that in mind. Either, invite some friends for dinner, cut the recipe in half (a good money saver), or freeze for later.

I hate wasting food! Probably because my older sister and I were always told to, “finish everything on your plate!” One time, when my parents thought my sister and I were complaining too much about leftovers, they made us eat cold cream of wheat, 3 meals a day, for a whole week; yes, they even sent it with us to school for lunch.

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My inspiration came from Rachael Ray’s recipe on Food network, but here’s my version (I think I made it easier):

Ingredients:
Turkey Burger Patties:
1. 2 lbs ground turkey
2. Bundle Baby Spinach (sauté, cooled, and squeezed to drain liquid)
3. 1 whole red onion (sautéed)
4. 2-3 cloves garlic (add to pan with #3 and cool),
5. feta cheese
6. 1 tbs oregano
7. 1 tbs onion powder
8. 1 teas black pepper
9. 1 teas kosher salt
– Combine 1-9 in large bowl
– Form into slightly bigger than golf-size balls and press flat to make patties.
Creamy Cucumber Spread for Bun:
10. Plain Greek Yogurt
11. Lemon
12. Heavy pinch Kosher salt
13. 1/2 large Cucumber (chopped-reserve other half)
14. 1 Garlic clove
-Combine 10-14 in food processor
-Adjust salt to taste
Toppings
15. Arugula
16. Feta cheese
17. 1/2 Cucumber (peeled and cut into chunks)
18. 2 Tomatoes (sliced)
19. 2 tbs Olive oil
20. 1 tbs Red wine vinegar
21. Pinch of kosher Salt
22. Pinch of black Pepper
-Combine 17-22 in small bowl and set aside
It’s grillin’ time:
-Get grill hot!! You can use a stove-top grill or a fry pan like the above link says, but there’s nothing like a burger grilled over charcoal!
-Grill 3-5 minutes on each side. You don’t need to flip them continuously. A lot of people make this mistake, but if your grill is clean, the meat will “remove” itself when it’s ready to be flipped. This means, slide spatula under and if its still stuck, it’s not ready. No need to scrape it off. (If you’re frying them up inside make sure you give your fry pan a good coat of olive oil and get the pan really hot! Patties will take longer to cook: 5-7 minutes on each side)
Build your burger
Bun, Creamy Cucumber Spread, Patty, feta cheese, arugula, dressed tomato and cucumber, bun

Indulge and Enjoy

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Loaded Potato Soup in Artisan Bread Bowls 20140808-135441.jpg

The Pinterest link broke and I search everywhere trying to figure out who to credit for this recipe, and I found nothing, but here it is:

Ingredients:
1. 8-10 Russet potatoes (peeled & cubed)
2. 1 yellow onion (diced)
3. 3-4 garlic cloves (chopped fine)
4. 4 cups chicken stock
5. 1 tbs kosher salt
-combine 1-5 in Crockpot and cook on high for 4-6 hours (until potatoes are soft)
6. 1 cup cream or whole milk
7. Black pepper to taste
-add to soup and use immersion blender to mash up potatoes and make creamy. Leave some smaller chunks for texture.
8. Artisan bread bowls (or sourdough)
9. Cheddar cheese (grated)
-cut a hole in the top of bread and scoop extra bread out of center to make room for the soup.
-scoop soup into bowl
-stir in cheese and add more cheese on top
10. Plain Greek yogurt
11. Bacon (cooked crispy & chopped)
12. Green onions/chives (slice small)
-sprinkle toppings to your liking and serve
Yummy!!!

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Avocado Chicken Pasta Salad 20140808-135647.jpg
Here’s the original. And here’s my version:
Ingredients:
1. 1 lbs Bowtie pasta
-boil and cool
2. 1/2 yellow onion (chopped)
3. 1 clove garlic (diced)
4. 1 tbs olive oil
5. 1 tbs Kosher salt
6. Small bundle fresh parsley (chopped)
7. Boneless skinless chicken breast
-pour 1-6 over chicken and marinate for 2 hours covered in the refrigerator.
-Preheat oven 350 degrees
-take chicken out and rinse; don’t discard marinade
-sauté marinade (in oven safe fry pan) and set aside to cool
8. 1 tbs olive oil
9. Garlic powder
10. Onion powder
-season chicken with 8-10
-in the same pan as marinade, sear chicken on med-high heat 5-7 minutes each side
-put in oven 6-8 minutes (until cooked through)
-let cool
-chop into bite-sized chunks
11. Bacon
-cook until crispy
-chop
Make your salad
12. Red Wine Vinegar
-Combine all finished ingredients with pasta, add 11 and mix
-chill until ready to eat
13. Avocado
14. Shaved Romano Cheese
-serve pasta and top with 13 & 14
Here is the delicious result again:

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Stromboli:(aka Calzone)

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This idea started as what seemed like a simple Stromboli recipe and as I made changes to make it a little healthier and a little yummier (i.e. Trader Joe’s pizza dough instead of canned, frozen dough; ground turkey instead of pepperoni; homemade sauce…you get the point), my son woke up and my husband stepped in to assemble everything.

The above link has some great freezer meal ideas on a budget that I’ll be using along the way.

Part of his culinary school training was baking bread, so his ability to work with dough without it becoming a big blob trumps my lack of skills. I can bake a mean cake (which I was also doing while prepping everything for these), I decided to leave the pizzas and breads to him.

Stromboli is supposed to be rolled, buy with the fresh, soft, delicious dough, simply folding it over and making a calzone instead, made south more sense.

That being said…These were soooooo good!! And all the yummy fixin’s for the inside can be changed to your liking, but here’s the basics of what you need:
-Semolina
-Flour
-Pizza dough (I used 2 bag of Trader Joe’s dough because its the best)
-Pizza sauce (you can buy a jar/can pre-made or follow my easy recipe below)
-Mozzarella Cheese
-Any filling other you want

My choices:
-8 oz Nonfat Ricotta Cheese
-8 oz Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
-Small handful Fresh Arugula
-Small handful Fresh Spinach
-Grated Romano
-Ground turkey

Here’s what I did:

Pizza Sauce:
1. 1/2 red onion (chopped)
2. 2 cloves garlic (diced)
3. 16 oz can “Sprouts Pizza Sauce”
4. 1/2 teas dried Oregano
5. Small handful fresh parsley (chopped)
6. 1/4 teas dried thyme
-sauté onion on med-high heat in olive oil 5-7 minutes (until soft), add garlic for another 2 minutes
-lower heat add ingredients 3-6
-stir and let sit on low heat until ready to assemble calzones

Ground turkey:
1. 1 lbs ground turkey
2. 1 teas dried thyme
3. 1 teaspoon dried basil
4. Small handful fresh parsley (chopped)
5. 1/2 teas kosher Salt
6. 1 tbs garlic powder
7. 1 tbs onion powder
-heat olive oil in pan on high heat
-add 1-7 and stir until meat gets a nice color and is cooked through

First Calzone
Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough (it’s the best)
Pizza Sauce
Nonfat Ricotta Cheese
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Small handful Fresh Arugula
Small handful Fresh Spinach
Grated Romano
Second Calzone
Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough (it’s the best)
Pizza Sauce
Nonfat Ricotta Cheese
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Ground Turkey

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-Preheat oven to 450
-build your calzone on a cookie sheet or preferably a pizza stone prepped with semolina
– fold in half
– brush olive oil on dough

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-bake 15-20 minutes (until golden brown)
– slice and serve

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If you’re like my munchkin you’ll be saying, “Mmm, Calzone! Mmmm, Calzone! More Calzone!” Over and over again.

Just for fun here’s a bonus recipe. We celebrated some family birthdays and I made a Heath Bar Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake:

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1 box Devil’s Food Cake
1 box instant chocolate pudding
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
4 eggs beaten
2 teas vanilla
2 12 oz bags of Heath bars (chopped fine)
-mix everything well except Heath (will be really thick)
-stir in about 1 cup chopped Heath bars
– follow baking directions on box
-let cool at least 10 minutes before taking out of pan
-refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I did over night)
-if using two rounds, put a layer of cool whip and sprinkle some of the chopped Heath bar in between
-frost with cool whip and put chopped Heath bar around edges and on top

Enjoy!

Let me know if you try these, and what you think of them.

I’m off to the grocery store first thing in the morning for week two.

Monthly Menu-Watching My Budget Stretch: Meal Planning has already saved me money.

Shopping day.

It was actually pretty amazing to see my budget stretch with all the ingredients I was stocking up on for the month.

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Tip 1: Bring Cash- Shopping with cash and not card will help you stay on track. You’ll only buy the items on your list because that’s what you budgeted. Go to the ATM. What good is a plan if you don’t stick to it?

No, variable income excuses! My income is variable too, and we still do this every month. It will be hard at first, but be strong. Let’s create good habits together!

Each week I’ll update you on everything I’ve made, including recipes. At the end of the month I’ll post what everything cost individually along with some tips on saving money along the way.

I started the month with a $400 grocery budget. That’s all food made at home: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

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I spent just under $200. We had quite a few staple items that needed restocking (i.e peanut butter, pancake mix, coffee, etc.) and I purchased all of my proteins for this month’s meal plan as well. I think we’re off to a good start.

For breakfast we rotate between cereal, a variety of ways we like our eggs, oatmeal, and waffles.

Lunches are usually PB&Js, turkey/egg sandwiches/wraps/salads, or quesadillas; sometimes we have leftovers.

Snacks change every week. I’m always on the hunt for brands that leave all the preservative junk out. Nature’s Bakery has good fig bars in an assortment of flavors. They’re at Sprouts ranging from $3.49 (on special) to $4.99 for a box of 8, but Costco sometimes sells a box of 30 for $8.99. So I got them from Costco this week. Late July is a great organic brand for crackers. We stay away from crackers most of the time, but they’re really handy when I’m driving the munchkin an hour each way on days I work.

Fruit is our snack of choice most of the time. Such a great natural way to get all that fiber, iron, and vitamins into my son’s body without giving him a bunch of “fillers” all day long. I always look for the ripest and most cost effective fruit, which helps us rotate and not get bored with the same thing all the time.

Now the fun part!! Here’s my Mostly-healthy Monthly Meal Plan on a Budget Dinners:

1. Quinoa Bake
2. Leftovers
3. Lasagna Rolls
4. Feta Burgers and Home-fries
5. Loaded Potato Soup in bread bowls
6. Leftovers
7. Chicken and Avocado Pasta Salad
8. Leftovers
9. Stromboli
10. Family Party
11. Chicken w/ Garlic Mashed Cauliflower, and veggies
12. Tortellini Skillet Lasagna
13. Leftovers
14. Lemon Herb Chicken & Rice
15. Turn 14 into pita sandwiches
16. Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Casserole
17. Leftovers
18. Crockpot Tortellini Soup
19. Leftovers
20. Breaded chicken & veggies
21. Crockpot Chuck roast w/ roasted potatoes & veggies
22. Turn 20 into chicken Parmesan & penne
23 & 24. I’m gone so the boys get leftovers for the weekend
25. Crockpot chili in bread-bowls
26. Leftovers w/ cornbread
27. Grilled Chicken, Quinoa, & Spinach Salad
28. Chicken soft tacos, rice and beans
29. Leftovers
30. Pizza (I’ve gotta see what veggies look good before I decide what kind)
31. Pasta and Meatballs

We’re on Day 6 and off to a great start!

I would love your feedback on how this plan can be most effective and helpful for you. I’m here to do the work so you don’t have to. If you have any requests or suggestions let me know and I’ll do my best to incorporate them into this process.

Until My Munchkin’s next nap:
Have a beautiful day! Remember, cooking can be fun. It doesn’t have to be a headache. Smile and enjoy the process. Choosing a good attitude makes everything better.

Monthly Meal Plan 2: Lasagna Roll-Ups

Let me start by saying, these were soooo yummy!!! I will definitely be making these again!!

Now, I’ll be honest though, they were very tedious to prep. So save them for the days you have some time on your hands to really enjoy the cooking process.

I got my inspiration for this dish from these lasagna roll-ups
I saw on Pinterest, but I wanted meat and red sauce so the following recipe and process is my own creation.

I wanted layers of flavor, so rather than combining everything in one pan, I broke it up into separate steps. And, oh what a difference it made!!! I did, however, use the same pan for each step to save myself the headache of a kitchen full of pots and pans to clean.

The presentation of these lasagna roll-ups is beautiful, but the flavor is really where it’s at!! If you want to save yourself a little bit of time, when you’re ready to assemble (step 8 below), you can simply layer everything like a traditional lasagna. If you really want to get crazy, cook a different type of pasta such as farfalle (Bowtie), penne, or even linguini, and mix everything in a large bowl.

So here we go.
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Ingredients:
-1 box lasagna noodles
-Ground turkey
-Romano cheese (I always have a block on hand because I’m Sicilian, and that’s just what we do. Not having Romano cheese in my house is like not having water)
-8 oz Mozzarella cheese
-large bundle of fresh spinach
-28oz can crushed tomatoes
-8-10 white Cap mushrooms (sliced)
-1/2 yellow onion (chopped small)
-1 clove garlic (minced)
-2-4 oz wine
-olive oil
-Small Pinch thyme (a little thyme goes a long way)
-1 1/2 teas garlic powder (separated)
-1 1/2 teas onion powder (separated)
-1/4 teas oregano
-Kosher salt
Step 1:
Cook lasagna noodles in salted boiling water “until they’re done” as my husband likes to say. Approximately 10-12 minutes. Lay out on flat surface and drizzle with olive oil so they don’t stick.

Step 2:
Sautéed spinach in 1-2 tbs olive oil, add pinch of kosher salt, remove from heat and set aside.

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Step 3:
Add more olive oil to pan. Sauté the onion until softened, add a pinch of kosher salt, add garlic, and white cap mushrooms. Remove from pan and set aside.
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Step 4:
Deglaze pan with your choice of wine. I used a buttery, oaky Chardonnay, but a red wine would work great too; just do not use anything sweet! Use that bottle in the fridge that’s been open a few days and is better to cook with than drink. The yummy flavor mixed with the wine is called the fond. Set aside because you’ll be using it in a minute. (Make sure nothing is left in the pan that can burn.)

Step 5:
Add 1-2 tbs olive oil to pan. Add meat, 1 teas garlic powder, 1 teas onion powder, heavy pinch of kosher salt, oregano, and thyme. Mix together and let brown. Add fond and finish cooking meat.
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Step 6:
Deglaze pan again.

Step 7:
Add can of tomatoes and fond to pan. Season with remaining garlic powder and onion powder.
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Step 8:
Assemble ingredients on noodles as follows: sauce, spinach, mushrooms, meat, cheese.

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Step 9:
Delicately roll20140803-215414.jpg
Step 10:
Place in oiled baking dish and top with sauce and more cheese. 20140803-220411.jpg
Step 11:
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes

Step 12:
Top with freshly grated Romano cheese and serve.

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Enjoy!

Tomorrow is shopping day. Here is this weeks menu:
1. Feta Burgers
2. Chicken and veggies
3. Baked Potato soup in bread bowls
4. Avocado Pasta Salad
5. Stromboli

Stay tuned for recipes, prices and grocery list.

Mostly-Healthy Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget: Meal 1

Working one day a week in the salon and the other seven six at home being Mommy, I have decided to tackle a new project called “Mostly-Healthy Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget”.

What, you ask, has possessed me to plan meals a month in advance with grocery lists included?

No one else has! That’s why. At least not that I can find. Sure, there are plenty of “how to’s” on budget-making. There are recipes like crazy, of which I am definitely taking advantage! I, however, decided it was time someone did the research on prices and recipes, and made it accessible online. So, if you find this helpful, please share with your friends and family. Some of my favorite reads and most helpful information usually comes from an article someone has sent me directly, knowing I’d be interested.

So, here we go. I have compiled my favorite list for the month all in one place.

Side note: I will give you links to the original recipes I have found, but the creative side of me will probably always find a way to tweak them here and there.

Side Note 2: I like to cook and take pictures of what I make, but I’m a mom and a hairstylist, not a chef or photographer, so the pictures will be taken from my iPhone and will look cooked at home not from a fancy restaurant.

This is the beginning of the month so those of you reading now will be going on this journey with me as I try these recipes out for the first time. At the end of the month we will have a solid list of mostly-healthy meals, their recipes, and all the prices for really affordable meals.

I say, “mostly” because let’s be honest, it’s a month worth of food, and I can only do so much quinoa and salad. I need a good burger, some pasta or homemade pizza every now-and-again.

My first meal is a Enchilada Quinoa Bake.

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Since starting the Dave Ramsey Plan two years ago, every month we have a certain amount allocated in our “Grocery” envelope. This worked really well for us…and then I got pregnant.

Either my brain cells are being sucked through the umbilical chord, I’m eating more, my toddler is eating more, or well, let’s be honest all-of-the-above.

I do my weekly grocery trip on Mondays, and by Saturday we’re scrapping for options. I pride myself in being a decently organized or at least “planned” individual, so this dilemma is getting a little a lot on my nerves. Even when I buy more food we end up just eating more during the week. This month I’m putting an end to this ridiculousness!!!

I’m so grateful Baby Girl likes healthy food, unlike my munchkin who made me eat beef and cheese my whole pregnancy, so I get to actually plan healthy meals.

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I may feel like an Oompa Loompa, but we don’t all need to look like one.

Since the beginning of the month fell at the end of this week, and I already did my shopping with last month’s budget on Monday, I started off simple, inexpensive, healthy, and made some adjustments to this Quinoa Bake Recipe I found on Pinterest.

It will also serve as leftovers, since the boys need dinner when I’m gone at work.

Rest assured, we will be living in the reality of “leftovers” nights. Like I said, this is true “Meal Planning on a Budget“.

Because I’m being really strict on this budget thing, this meal, I omitted the chicken because I haven’t done my monthly Costco-stock-up on proteins yet.

So here’s what I did to whip up this yummy meal:

Quinoa Enchilada Bake and Avocado Cilantro Lime Spinach Salad

I Cooked quinoa and pinto beans during nap time. You can use canned beans, but we had just bought a huge bag of pinto beans, so I substituted these for the black beans in the original recipe.
*quinoa and bean instructions at bottom

Ingredients:
-2 cups uncooked Quinoa (4 cups cooked)
-2 cups uncooked pinto beans (use 4 cups cooked or canned)
-Small can mild Green chilis (I can’t do too spicy of food, so by all means, go for the gusto. If you like spicy get the large spicy can!)
-2 10 oz cans Enchilada sauce
– 1 cup grated Jack cheese
– 1 Avocado
– Cilantro to taste
-Olive oil
-Salt
– 1 teaspoon Chili powder
-1 teaspoon Cumin

-In large skillet add cooked quinoa, beans, green chili peppers, enchilada sauce, chili powder, and cumin.
-stir occasionally over medium heat 10-15 minutes

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-top with grated jack cheese
– put in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
-turn broil on and turn cheese golden brown (Don’t walk away from broiler, it only takes a couple minutes and you don’t want burnt cheese!! That’s gross!)

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– remove from oven
-plate it up
– top with avocado and chopped cilantro
-serve with your favorite side. Mine was this salad. Next time I might add buy some tortilla chips cause we like different textures in our meals.

Avocado Cilantro Lime Spinach Salad

-bunch of baby spinach
-8-10 cherry tomatoes (quartered)
-1/2 avocado
-fresh feta cheese (as much as you’d like)

-Enjoy!!

In case you missed it the first time:

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*Cooking the Quinoa:
2 cups uncooked Quinoa
3 cups beef broth
1 cup water

-Heat olive oil in sauce pot, add quinoa and stir over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes.
-add liquid and stir
-when it starts to get small bubbles, turn down heat to low and cover
-after 20 minutes remove from heat

Cooking up some yummy Beans:
3 cups dry pinto beans
1/2 yellow onion
8-10 cups water
1-2 tsp salt

-rinse beans
-sauté onion until soft
-add beans and enough water to cover completely
-bring water to simmer, turn down heat to medium low and cover
-check every 20-30 minutes and add more water as necessary (beans should always be covered but not drowning)
-cook until they’re soft (all beans vary in cooking time which is why canned are so much easier, but you can’t beat the flavor if you’ve got the time!)

Next, I’m making Lasagna Roll-Ups, but I’m adding meat.

Stay-tuned for the updated recipe and pictures of my experiment.

Do you ever feel isolated, depressed, or alone? How do you break it? This is what I did today.

Do you ever feel isolated, depressed, or alone? How do you break it? This is what I did today.

I started off this week super productive. After staying up late Sunday night meal planning to stretch my dwindled budget through the end of the month, I was up early for a doctors appointment. I made breakfast, loaded up all the necessities for me and my munchkin for the day (food, food, and more food), got him up and dressed and out the door. After the doctor, it was Costco, Target, Sprouts, then back home in time for lunch and nap.

Feeling über-motivated, I decided to meal plan for the month. I went Pinterest crazy with recipes and strategies. In the meantime, I made homemade chili with my best friend, Mr. Crockpot.

After nap I enjoyed an amazing afternoon playing chase, follow-the-leader, soccer, and rolling and dancing on the grass outside with my favorite little buddy, while waiting for “Daddy” to get home for dinner.

Following such a productive, fun Monday, you’d think I was set up for a successful week. Why then did I wake up tired, sore, sad, and sluggish?

Besides the obvious “I’m pregnant” response, there was something else wrong. All morning I battled this depressive and emotional state and nothing was fixing it.

I had a good breakfast and took my son to the park to get out of the house.

The empty park mimicked the desolate feeling in my heart. The family of crows seemed to mock my aloneness as they sat in the tree above me squawking and shaking the branches. It’s kind of funny now, in hind site.

Ever since we relocated for my husband’s work, I have eagerly sought out different locations to meet other moms. I so desperately need people in my life, as I think we all do, I’m just ultra-aware of how much I care about the people in my life.

Maybe it’s because from a very young age it seemed like every best friend I ever made moved away not long after. This taught me that maintaining friendships requires a lot of work on both parts. I have found that most of the time the other party doesn’t put in the same effort. I have also found that my very closest friendships DO put in the work. And we chase after each other if a few weeks have gone by without a call.

The hardest reality for me right now is that I haven’t connected with anyone in this new city. One mom and I connected immediately and then after a few unsuccessful attempts of getting together, she started back at work. Since all the other kids I see at the playground are raised by nannies, I thought I’d form some friendships there. We had some fun mornings digging in the sand with our little ones, until the parents decided preschool was the best summer option for their two-year old.

Eeeeevvvvery-once-in-awhile I see other moms with kids on play dates and wonder, “How the heck did they meet? It must have been “Gymboree” or “Mommy and Me”.

This morning I called my sister, who lives five hours north of here, crying because I felt so alone and isolated. I battled uncontrollable tears. In this crowded overpopulated city, where is everyone?

Have you ever felt like loneliness was drowning you?

It’s a weird reality that nothingness can feel like a giant ocean swallowing you in the waves.

As my sister and I often find in our conversations, I make the bitter comments about how “all the moms are working and letting nannies and preschool raise their kids” and she being a full-time working mom of two kids under three makes the comments about how moms who are home have “so much more time to get things done”…on and on go the differences.

Despite our vast differences, we both know in the depths of our hearts that we want the best for our kids, and each other’s kids; we long for our children to be happy, healthy, God-fearing individuals who love The Lord and want to serve and love others.

We talked today about how we all have different realities, but ultimately the only way to survive our worlds is relationship and support.

After our brief heart-to-heart moment we both scurried off the phone to chase our toddlers onto their next adventure.

I still felt empty. Really? Can’t this darkness just leave already? I have an amazing child to hang out with, yet I feel alone.

We left the park to do our little lunch and nap routine at home.

We finished reading and singing and I began to pray before putting him to bed.

It hit me.

Since he was a newborn, I have prayed the scripture, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper in the name of Jesus,” and we put on the full armor of God. Now that he’s older he’s able to repeat what I say and is learning where the armor goes. It’s been such a joy listening and watching him get excited about participating.

Today, as we said these things together God reminded me that “No weapon formed against me shall prosper!!!” This verse has power! Not only to protect us as we sleep (like we had just prayed), but that it’s God’s Word, His promise to me that when I stand in faith and in His reality, not my own, that the Enemy cannot mess with me. I am God’s child. I am protected under the blood that Jesus shed to conquer Sin.

I put my munchkin down. As I thought about this verse my emotion didn’t change, but I mustered up the energy to say those words out loud again. This time believing them for myself.

Do you ever feel so defeated that even the truth seems impossible to listen to?

Let me encourage you today. That was me this morning! I muttered those words once and the heaviness felt just a little bit lighter. I said them again.

I’m not going to over-dramatize the results and tell you the skies opened up, a light shined down and a beautiful choir started singing in the background… I will tell you this, the darkness left!!! To that I say, “Thank you, Jesus!” I am ready to face the rest of my day, whatever the reality of today might be. I’m putting a smile on my face, and doing my full-time job, the job and purpose God has set before me:

I am going to nurture the precious, little, miracle 19-month old baby boy with whom God blessed me.

I can only live my life, not everyone else’s. I can only pray God sends me wonderful friends in this new place and trust that He will, just as He lifted the darkness today.

In the meantime, until my munchkin’s next nap: Be someone’s friend. My life lesson for today: I’m going to stop looking for friends and start looking for opportunities to be one. I’ll start by smiling.

How much better do you feel when someone walks by and you actually acknowledge each other’s existence with a smile or “hello”?

Will you join me?
Will you commit to being a friend to someone?

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Food for Thought

I applaud my friends who on a daily basis offer healthy food choices to their children. It is a full time job being a parent, and it’s not easy making the time to read up on the latest info to better our kids’ lifestyle. Yet, I am surrounded by moms who selflessly sacrifice precious sleep to do the research and pass it along via text, Facebook, Pinterest and whatever other social media outlet reaches the masses. I have learned so much from you! And am excited to see that other moms care so much about their children’s’ well-being, even if it means its not popular to all who scrutinize us under their microscopes.

Why is it that most people in the the generations preceding us can’t get the clue? Are they so exhausted from parenting that they’ve “earned the right” to throw junk food down our kids’ throats? Or is it ignorance? Why do I constantly have to justify or explain that I’d rather feed my child blueberries or grapes than crackers and cookies. I don’t care that they’re organic! But thanks for the effort.

If a grown adult ate bread, cookies, and crackers all day, any right-minded person would know this leads to diabetes and a slew of other health issues. Why are these ok to give our kids?

I’m not saying these are never ok, but my goodness, they don’t need to be the go-to foods. You can wash an apple just as fast as you can open a cracker box.

Our precious innocent children, who have yet to create their own bad eating habits, are being subjected to this junk to pacify the whines. No one wants to support the younger, educated, “health obsessed” generation in raising healthy kids simply because of the old-school thought, ” I did it this way, you-turned-out-fine” argument. If we all turned out fine, than why are we all doing so much research to find a better way?

If everyone’s fine than why are so many people suffering from digestive disorders, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the like? Every doctor wants to blame anxiety. Why don’t we face the facts and look at the side effects of some of the preservatives put in our food?

Disodium phosphate or tripotassium phosphate for instance-the binding agent in most foods such as the popular Cheerios. Almost every household in America is taught by doctors that these fabulous O’s help infants strengthen their dexterity. Has anyone bothered to look at the side effects of these ingredients? Or the OSHA warnings for that matter ? Or what these ingredients are also used for?

I’m not here to claim to be an expert and provide all that info to you, but what I’d like is for people to stop pretending they know what’s best for my child, and stop questioning my parenting choices. I doubt and question my choices enough. I don’t need aunts, uncles, grandparents, or random strangers at the grocery store giving me funny looks, ignoring me telling them not to feed my son that cookie because “he says he wants it.” Of course he does!! He’d watch hours of television (don’t get me started on my thoughts on tv and other media) or drink a piña colada I’m sure, if I let him. Does it mean its good for him? NO!! of course not!!

My sister shared a link that’s been circulating Facebook about how parenting choices that are failing this generation of kids. One of the author’s points is that “we’ve lost the village”. I totally agree. The village needs to support the parents’ choices. It’s not “your mommy/daddy says no”. It’s “that’s a no” “we all agree its a no and support each other in setting healthy boundaries.” A toddler throws a tantrum because (s)he is learning how to process and express emotion. This does not mean we give her/him anything (s)he wishes.

I feel like I just went on a rant, but this is a desperate cry for people to learn respect! I thought that as I became more confident in my parenting choices that I wouldn’t care so much about all the opinions or that I’d get more respect or a response from people. Wrong! Nothing’s changed, and quite frankly I’m tired of it!

We’re expecting our second child at the end of the year, and I’m sure I’m going to learn more about myself and this process with our new addition. But Lord help me if I have to deal with more comments about “how different two are” or “I’ll lighten up when the second comes” or “I won’t care as much.” I’ve seen plenty of moms with multiple children still making the same healthy choices as they did with their first. I pray I can be that diligent, and I have so much respect for their choices!

We all parent with different perspectives, paradigms, realities, and choices, but it’s up to us and the communities around us to support each other in those differences. But why is it that children with cellulite on their legs get “goos” and “gaahs” and cute nicknames as they shove chicken nuggets and donuts in their mouths and then we wonder in disgust why adults have eating disorders? People celebrate those parents and tell me to lighten up.

I talk to moms that don’t get to be home all the time with their kids that complain that they “can’t tell someone else how to raise their child.”

I’m here to say, “yes you can! (S)He’s your child!! I know that in order for a lot of people to survive these days two incomes are necessary, but guess what, don’t sacrifice your child’s well-being by making excuses for the caregiver. They’re getting paid, and if not, then its someone who loves your child enough to watch him/her for free and therefore should love him/her enough to make healthy choices. If not, do the extra work and pack the food yourself so there’s no excuse.

I know I’m not going to make everyone happy every time I write, but please know my heart is to encourage you. I want to learn from my own mistakes and other’s successes. I welcome feedback and questions with love.

Until my munchkin’s next nap (or my next sleepless night), I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I hope my life lessons can promote community and respect for others. Now, I need to figure out how to smile and shut off my brain so I can sleep. Now is a good time to let go and let God.