Top 10 Life Lessons

I was challenged by my uncle to list my Top 10 Life’s Lessons. I think I relearned all of these lessons simply by thinking about them all over again.

I saw this quote today not long after I received this challenge and its so fitting:

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What a great way to move forward and be present: reflect on how the past has made me who I am today.

1. Don’t gossip:
At a very young age I learned how hurtful words can be. It’s not worth trash talking people I love for the sake of keeping other “friends.” If they gossip to me, they’ll gossip about me.

Learn who you can trust:
My most valued and cherished friendships are girls who are honest, brutally honest sometimes, but who love me enough to be honest. There is no flattery! There is encouragement. We aren’t afraid to be down in the trenches with each other when needed, but we also help lift each other out of them.

2. Stop worrying about what others think of me:
I still have to remind myself of this one. Most of the time what I perceive other people to be “thinking” are just my own insecurities projected onto them. God gave me my own conviction, passion, and vision. The more I focus on others’ approval the less I focus on God’s purpose.

3. Don’t be afraid to try new things, especially when it comes to food:
I lived most of my childhood hating seafood. I had only had salmon BBQd, “well”-done, with a either lemon or a brown sugar glaze. Bbllleecckk! Now, hand over the sashimi or catch it fresh on the rivers of Idaho and sear it with a little salt and pepper medium-medium rare…now we’re talking!! I had never tried sushi until I was 21 because I was told eating raw food was dangerous.

Most everything tastes good if made the right way!!!!

4. Smile:
If someone looks grumpy or rude, smile, say “hello”. I’m only responsible for my own attitude and actions. More often than not, I discover how nice people really are. Some are just deep in thought, more reserved or not having a good day. When I smile, it makes their day and my day too!

5. I am my son’s (and soon to be born daughter’s) Mommy for a reason:
God gave him to me, not someone else. Not the over-opinionated old lady leaving the grocery store who thinks my 8 month old needs to be wearing sunglasses for his 30 second trip inside. Not to the family member or friend who sees things differently. We (my hubby &I) make decisions for our children based on prayer and the convictions God has given us.

It is important to learn from other people’s experiences and heed the wisdom, but discernment is also necessary. Just because there’s a blog that says this or that doesn’t mean our choice was wrong…just different than how that family decided to do things for their child(ren)…and that’s OK!

We need to support and love each other with our words and actions, not judge and tear each other down.

6. Forgive myself:
I make mistakes. I can and have been well-intentioned and still hurt people. Good people do bad things sometimes, and it’s not always on purpose. Being humble and apologizing is huge, but still not always received. Forgive myself, learn the lesson, move on and don’t repeat the same mistake. Living in the past just prevents me from being my best now and in the future.

7. Quinoa is a superfood: It is a complete protein:
It serves as a great alternative for pasta or rice. There are many delicious ways to cook it, both alone- hot and cold (mmm yummy greek salad!!)- or in a casserole or some other fun Pinterest recipe. Try it!
(This leads me to my next lesson)

8. Quinoa should not replace everything:
Meat is good! Sometimes you just need a good steak…or chicken…or ground beef or sausage. God created plants AND animals for us to enjoy. There are few things better than my Nana’s Rosemary Garlic Rack-of-lamb or All Day Meat Sauce!

9. Lighten up:
I’m still working on this one… One of God’s greatest gifts to me is my husband Joseph. He teaches me how to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously all the time. And now I have a son, with his Daddy’s sense of humor, who by 16 months had discovered the humor in hiding and jumping out to scare me.

I love to laugh and have a good sense of humor, but I also know I’m not that funny, so my most memorable moments are when I surround myself with people who help bring the silly out of me.

This reminds me of one of the funniest road trips: crank up the music in the car with a good friend, do some hand motions while you dance, and sing as loud as you can…and if you end up on the wrong freeway, remember the lesson: lighten up:)

10. Miracles do happen:
God heals! The stories in the Bible are important to teach us lessons in history, but Go is the same God now.

I, personally, within a 6 year period, was diagnosed with a chronic digestive disorder, suffered migraines, anxiety, had mysterious inflammation that “wasn’t quite rheumatoid arthritis”, a brain tumor, and was told it would probably be impossible to have children. All of which through prayer and God’s Grace are completely gone.

God wants to be present and in our lives, but He doesn’t force Himself. We must invite Him to participate. He wants to show us His power that will work in us, through us, and around us.

Until my munchkin’s next nap time: I challenge you and encourage you to Make your own list.

It’s really cool what happens in your brain and in your heart when you write stuff like this down. If you’re comfortable sharing some of them, I’d love for you to comment. I can always handle some more learning from others.

A Month of Meal Planning on a Budget: How Did I do it? What did it cost? Grocery List and more…

I started the month with $400 cash in my envelope and did a whole month of meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for $386.54.

We had also budgeted $100 toward dining out, but because of the meal planning, we ended up with plenty left in our envelope to do a spontaneous family day exploring some new places in L.A. over the holiday weekend.

20140831-000058.jpgGriffith Park Train Ride

20140831-000718.jpgGriffith Park Pony Rides

What I learned?
1. It’s possible to feed a family of 4 healthy food for under $400/month.
I know we’re not technically 4 yet, but I am eating more than normal and my husband and I usually have a “second” dinner after we’ve put the munchkin to bed. Not to mention, with these recipes, we always had an abundance of leftovers! We probably could have fed two more adults each meal and still had dinner for us the next day.

I utilized the leftovers for my lunches a lot of the time or even a small portion for a snack in the middle of the day.

Did I mention I eat more than normal right now; not only portions, but also throughout the day? I tell you this again to emphasize that this plan has plenty of food. Even if you have a family of five or six, this should suffice. Or, you can always freeze portions to make your job easier the next month, and, hey, why not save even more money!!

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2. Planning makes shopping quicker.
Having my list already prepared helped me stay on track. No more: aimlessly wandering the aisles to decide what I wanted. No more: “Oh, that looks good, I know it’s not the best for me, but I want it, so I’m gonna get it.” No more: guessing how much everything was going to cost hoping I brought enough cash. Best of all, no more: toddler going crazy in the cart because he’s tired of sitting and I’m only half way through the store.

I admit, I did not go to the store with a completed list my last week, and I swear I will never do that again. It was a great reminder of why I set this goal to begin with!

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3. Be Flexible:
Some things need to change. Days don’t always go as planned, produce isn’t always ripe when you want it, life happens.

I changed up the order of some of my meals during the week. Sometimes a particular meal sounded better to my pregnant pallet tonight instead of at the end of the week. If my husband was going to eat at home one night, but home late the next I tried to make something fresh the nights he was home and had leftovers the following night.

This was only possible because all of the ingredients to all of the week’s meals already in the house.

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4. Smile & Have Fun:
Take the pressure off of yourself. It’s just dinner. If it doesn’t turn out how you expected, oh well! Make adjustments next time or toss that recipe into the never-again category.

Part of enjoying dinner is enjoying the process making it. I know, I know sometimes there are just days you’re in a hurry and food is simply a way of keeping you stable.

Lets not forget those experiences where you sit down and start salivating before your first bite. Those times you walk into a home or restaurant and the smell overwhelms you with anticipation of what you’re about to endeavor.

Do I want those experiences in my home too? Yes, of course!! They can’t happen all the time, but just thinking about walking into my own home with a roast or chicken or homemade lentil soup in the crockpot…ready to eat makes the cooking process so much fun…and relaxing!!! Add a little bit of this and a little bit of that…taste along the way…add some more of this.

20140905-163538.jpgMy Hubby being a goober. He keeps me smiling!

    Before we cook, we Meal Plan!

Let’s begin with the Costco necessities: (Keep in mind, the * items are not for meal plan dinners, they are staple items for our household. Double check them with yours and make adjustments based on your needs.)
*30 ct Fig Bars. $8.99
*Bisquick $5.49
Tortellini $9.99
Mild Cheddar Cheese $5.69
Romano Cheese $13.50
Boneless/Skinless Chick $26.06
Ground Turkey $18.33
*Bacon $15.99
*Guerrero Flour Tortillas $3.59
Guerrero Corn Tortillas $3.19
*2 Natural Peanut Butter $7.89
*Coffee Beans $10.39
Total: $113.95

Week 1a Menu:
1. Quinoa Bake
2. Leftovers
3. Lasagna Rolls
These carried over from the previous month’s shopping, an because I didn’t meal plan I don’t have grocery prices, but I still posted the recipes, so here’s what you need.
Grocery List:
2 cups uncooked Quinoa (4 cups cooked)
2 cups uncooked pinto beans (use 4 cups cooked or canned)
1 Small can mild Green Chilis
2 10 oz cans Enchilada sauce
1 1lbs block Jack cheese
1 Avocado
1 bundle Cilantro
1 box lasagna noodles
1 lbs Ground turkey
1 lbs Romano cheese
8 oz Mozzarella cheese
Organic Baby Spinach
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
8-10 white Cap mushrooms
1 yellow onion
1 garlic bulb
Bottle of wine (if you don’t already have some you’re planning on opening this week)
Week 1b:
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
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Russet potato $1.50
1 cucumber $0.50
1 curly parsley $0.50
1 red onion $0.77
2 Yellow onion $0.76
1 Green Onion (bundle) $0.59
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
Organic Baby Arugula $3.49
Nonfat Greek Yogurt $2.50
Hamburger Buns $2.50
Sliced Black Olives $2.38
Organic Pizza Sauce $1.79
Trader Joe’s
4 1 oz Pizza dough $4.76
1 6oz Ricotta Cheese $2.99
Pavilions/Vons/Safeway
3 French Bread Bowls $5.97
Farfalle Pasta $0.89

    Other Misc Groceries:

3 Apples $0.63
3 Pears $1.00
1 bundle Bananas $2.88
4 Yellow Peaches $1.10
1/2 Gallon Raw Milk $8.99
1/2 Gallon 2% Milk $2.19
1 lbs Steel Cut Oats $1.09
2 Loaves Wheat Bread $3.00
Week 1b Grocery Total: $61.50

Week 2:
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
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Head Cauliflower $1.72
1 Cucumber $0.50
1 Bulb Garlic $0.20
1/2 lbs Green Beans $1.15
2 Lemons $1.00
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
2 Yellow Onions $0.34
Green Enchilada Sauce $5.96
32 oz Canned diced Tomatoes $1.69
Organic Whipping Cream $3.69
1/2 lbs white cheddar (or jack) $3.11
1 lbs bulk Italian sausage $3.59
Pita bread $2.29

    Other Misc Groceries:

1 12 oz Blueberries $1.50
3 lbs Clementines $4.99
3 Apples $1.06
1 Bundle Organic Bananas $1.91
2 lb Organic Yogurt $2.99
24 oz Toasted Wheat Cereal $2.50
1.45 lbs Granola $5.79
1.37 lbs Steel Cut Oats $1.36
1.71 lbs Flour $1.69
6 oz Organic Shells & Cheese $2.49
Week 2 Total: 55.01

Week 3:
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
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 lbs Brussels Sprouts $1.65
1 bundle Celery $0.50
1 bulb Garlic $0.20
1.5 lbs Red Potatoes $1.18
0.5 lbs Roma Tomatoes $0.60
2 Yellow Onions $0.68
1 lbs Penne Pasta $1.50
32 oz Crushed tomatoes $1.69
1.5 lbs Boneless Chuck Roast $10.43
3 links Italian Chicken Sausage $4.67
1 loaf Rustic Sourdough Bread $2.99

    Other Misc Groceries:

1 Bundle Bananas $1.99
8 oz Strawberries $2.50
24 oz Mom’s Best Raisin Bran $2.50
6 oz Organic Mac & Cheese $1.69
6 oz Organic Shells & Cheese $2.49
8 oz Organic Granola Bars $2.50
12 oz Veggie Sticks $1.99
12 oz Tortilla Chips $1.99
2 lbs Greek Yogurt $2.99
1/2 Gallon Raw Milk $8.99
1/2 Gallon 2% Milk $2.19
8 oz Fresh Salsa $3.99
1 lbs Granola 2.42
6 oz Smoked Kielbasa Sausage $4.67
1 loaf Wheat Bread $1.50
18 ct eggs $2.29
1 lbs Cheddar Cheese $5.79
Week 3 Total: $81.68

Week 4:
25. Crockpot chili in bread-bowls
26. Leftovers w/ cornbread
27. Grilled Chicken, Quinoa, & Spinach Salad
28. Chicken soft tacos, rice and beans TexMex Power Greens Salad (courtesy of my hubby’s magic)
29. Leftovers
30. Pizza (I’ve gotta see what veggies look good before I decide what kind) Spontaneous Family Night Out
31. Pasta and Meatballs
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Bundle Cilantro $0.59
1 Cluster Vine Tomatoes $2.78
3 Hass Avocado $2.64
1 Jalapeño $0.08
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
1 Yellow Onions $0.33
1 bag Sweet Mini Peppers $2.50
1 lbs Black Beans $1.49
3 15 oz Diced Crushed Tomatoes $2.97
1/2 lbs Jack Cheese $3.19
1/4 lbs Dried Cranberries $4.49
Chicken Breast tenders $5.26

    Other Misc. Groceries

1 lbs Pluots $2.08
2.5 lbs Red Seedless Grapes $3.77
1 Bundle Bananas $2.17
12 oz Organic Raisin Bran $2.50
Organic Tortilla chips $1.50
2 lbs yogurt $3.79
1/2 Gallon Organic Raw Milk $8.99
1 loaf Wheat Bread $1.50
BBQ Chicken Flatbread Pizza $4.49
Spinach Goat Cheese Flatbread $4.49
Pavilions/Vons/Safeway
12 oz Low Sodium Chicken Broth $0.88
18 ct eggs $3.99
1.5 lbs Ground Beef $7.41
Week 4 Total: $74.70

Monthly Total: 386.54*
*I did not include restocking of spices/seasonings/salt/etc. on my lists. See my lists of Pantry Basics to see what you’ll need for this month and any other future recipes I post.

I hope this helps you attack your goals and gives you a resource for good prices, tips, and recipes.

Until My Munchkin’s next nap: Here’s a bonus recipe to start your next month. The Best Lentil Soup I’ve made!!
4 cups Chicken Stock
16 oz Diced Tomatoes
2 Carrots (peeled & diced)
1/2 yellow onion (diced)
1/2 clove shallot (minced)
3 Celery stalks (sliced)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 tbs kosher salt
1 teas ground black pepper
1 tbs cumin
3 cups dried green lentils
-put everything in crockpot on low for 8-10 hours
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 bundle green chard (chopped)
-add to crockpot 20 minutes before serving
- top with freshly grated Romano Ceese

The Final Stretch: Monthly Meal Planning Week 4 Completed

A whole month of meal planning, and actually cooking and documenting these meals is completed!

It feels good to finish goals.

Part of my goal was to provide you with some grocery lists so you too can successfully Meal Plan on a Budget. I am finishing putting that information together and will have it soon, but I wanted to make sure I got my recipes to you as I promised.

Here is Week 4:

Crockpot Turkey Chili

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Ingredients and Instructions:
1. 1 yellow onion
2. 8 small sweet bell peppers
3. 1″ jalapeño pepper (no seeds)
4. Heavy pinch of Kosher salt
-sauté 1-3 in olive oil until soft
-add 4
5. 2 cloves garlic
-add to pan for 2 minutes, stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn
-pour ingredients into Crockpot
-carefully give pan a quick wipe with a paper towel
6. 2 lbs ground turkey
-add to hot pan
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 1 tbs onion powder
9. 2 tbs cumin
10. 1 teas kosher salt
11. 1 tbs paprika
12. 1 teas chili powder
13. 1 teas fresh ground black pepper
-add to meat and cook until browned and cooked through
-add to crockpot
14. 4-6 oz can of tomato paste
-scoop into hot pan and stir for a few minutes until color changes from bright red to more of a brick red
15. 1/4 c water
-add to pan and stir
-pour into crockpot
16. 2 16 oz cans crushed tomatoes
-add to crockpot
17. 3 cups cooked beans (you can use canned beans too. I cook mine. But either way I like pinto and black beans; you can use white beans, kidney beans, etc. if you prefer)
18. 1-2 c water
19. 1 tbls kosher salt
-add to crockpot and stir, cover, cook for 6 hours
-taste before serving, add a little more salt if necessary
20. Cheddar cheese (grated)
21. 1 avocado (cubed)
-sprinkle cheese and top with avocado
The first day we ate the chili with organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips and day 2 I made homemade cornbread from this “High Heels and Grills” recipe

This tasted good the first day, but was even better the second day after all the flavors really came together.

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Grilled Chicken, Quinoa, Spinach Salad, and Caprese

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Chicken Marinade:
1. 1/2 cup olive oil
2. 1 tbs kosher salt
3. 1 teas fresh ground pepper
4. 3 garlic cloves (peeled & smashed)
5. 1/2 lime
6. Handful fresh cilantro
- combine ingredients and soak chicken for 3-5 hours, turn chicken over part way through time
Grillin’ time:
-After grill is hot, cook each side 5-7 minutes then close lid until cooked through
Quinoa:
-Follow ratios on package, substitute chicken/vegetable broth for water.
Spinach Salad:
1. 3 c Baby Spinach
2. 1/4 c dried cranberries
3. 1 avocado
4. 1/2 cucumber (peeled and chopped)
Dressing:
1. 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
2. 1/2 olive oil
3. 1 teas oregano
4. Pinch of kosher salt
Caprese:
1. 2 tomatoes (diced)
2. 6 oz fresh mozzarella (cubed)
3. 4-5 basil leaves (chopped)
4. 1-2 teas Balsamic vinegar
5. 2-3 teas olive oil
6. Kosher Salt
-put 1-3 in bowl
-drizzle 4 & 5 over
-sprinkle a small pinch of salt

Leftovers turned into magic by my husband aka TexMex Power Greens Salad:

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So my husband has the ability to take random ingredients and make magic! This gift is probably due to the mystery basket challenges he did while in culinary school.

His instructors would put 5-7 items in a basket and he had to create something fabulous in a very short amount of time.

Along with his amazing cooking skills, comes the fact that he doesn’t really measure; everything is by eye and taste. Here are the ingredients for the salad, and I’ll let you decide how much of each you want to include.
Ingredients:
-Power Greens
-tomato (cubed)
-sweet baby bell peppers (diced)
-avocado (sliced)
-leftover chicken (cut into small cubes)
-corn tortillas (cut in small strips and fried; or you can just buy them pre-made to make it easier)
-mix everything in large bowl
-serve
Dressing:
1. 1/4 c BBQ
2. 2tbs each vinegar
3. Approx 2 tbs honey
-drizzle over salad
Again, he doesn’t measure, so these are estimates and they vary depending on your taste buds.

We’ve made several dressings this month, and I’m fully confident in your ability to execute a masterpiece as well. Let me know what you try and if there’s anything good I can add to my recipe catelog.

Penne w/ Meatballs

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Meatballs:
1. 1.5 lbs ground beef
2. 1 egg
3. 3 slices “day-old” sourdough bread (put in food processor until breadcrumbs)
4. 2 tbs dried basil
5. 1 tbs dried oregano
6. 1 tbs onion powder
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
9. 2 teas kosher salt
10. 2 tbs grated Romano cheese
-add all of ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with hands
-form into balls
11. Olive oil (enough to coat fry pan)
-get oil hot
-brown all sides of meat balls
-transfer to baking sheet and put in 375 degree oven 10 minutes (until cooked through)
Sauce:
1. 3-4 tbs red wine
-after meatballs are transferred, pour out excess oil, deglaze pan 1-2 minutes
2. 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
-add to pan
3. 1 tbs dried basil
4. 1/2 teas kosher salt
5. Small Pinch of thyme
-add to sauce and stir
-simmer 3-5 minutes
This is a very quick way to make sauce. The longer the sauce has to simmer and reduce the more flavor comes out, but if you’re crunched for time, this is a great alternative!

Penne:
1. 1 lbs penne pasta
-follow directions on package
2. 1 tbls olive oil
3. Pasta water reserved
-strain
-add 2&3

After everything is cooked and ready to serve, top with freshly grated Romano cheese.

Power Greens Salad w/ smoked Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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1. Power greens
2. 1 vine ripened tomato (cubed)
3. Smoked mozzarella (cubed)
-mix in small bowl
4. 2 teas olive oil
5. 1 teas red wine vinegar
6. Pinch kosher salt
7. 1/2 teas oregano
8. Fresh ground pepper
-combine 4-8 separately and adjust quantities to taste
-drizzle over salad

Until my munchkin’s next nap time: I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s meal planning challenge! Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Stay tuned for the completed monthly menu, shopping lists, and tips I learned along the way.

Meal Planning Week Three: Easy Year-around Recipes- Perfect for a Hectic Week

This week felt hectic! It helped so much to have everything planned ahead of time!

We had a few nights of left overs and I was gone for the weekend, so here are the three meals I cooked that stretched through the week.

Rustic Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

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Recipe from Taste of Home

Ok seriously!!! One of the best soups I’ve made!!!

I adjusted quantities and made some additions to the original recipe as well, so here are my Ingredients:
1. 1 whole onion (diced)
2. 2 whole carrots (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3. 3 garlic cloves (finely minced)
4. 3 Chicken Italian sausages (remove from casing)
5. 1/2 teas dried basil
6. 1/2 teas dried oregano
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 1 tbs onion powder
9. 5 c Water
10. 3-4 oz baby spinach
11. 1/2 teas red wine vinegar
12. 1tbs kosher salt
13. 8 oz diced tomatoes
14. 2 stalks celery (1/4 inch slices)
15. Cheese tortellini
-sauté onion until soft, add garlic and a pinch of salt and sauté another 2-3 minutes, pour into crockpot
- in same pan add a little more olive oil and cook sausage
- add everything to crockpot except spinach, tortellini, and red wine vinegar
-cook on high 4-6 hours
-10 minutes before serving stir in spinach, tortellini, and vinegar
-serve with rustic sourdough bread (Sprouts Farmer’s Market has a really yummy one in their bakery)

Italian Breaded Chicken w/ Penne & Green Beans

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This is a family favorite!!! At most of my family events, unless a major holiday, you will find these included in the feast. One of my all-time favorite meals, and best of all it’s pretty easy to make.

I adjusted quantities for an average family of four, because let’s be honest, every Italian family plans food for at least 15, even if we’re only feeding four… “You never know who might walk in. You can always have left overs!”

Ingredients:
1. 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts w/ tenders (breasts sliced on bias and then into 1″ strips, tenders cut in half)
2. 1c flour
3. 3 eggs (whisked)
4. Approx. 1tbs Kosher salt (divided)
5. 2c Breadcrumbs (I make my own, but to simplify things, any Italian breadcrumbs will suffice.) Below is my way though, which are better, and just take a few extra minutes

-Rinse and dry chicken off completely with paper towels!! This is crucial to getting the breading to stick and not fall off when your fry them up!!
-sprinkle salt on all sides of chicken
-Get all of your ingredients set up in separate containers, in this order:
1.) chicken 2.) flour 3.) eggs
4.) Breadcrumbs 5.) clean platter for assembled chicken

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-one strip at a time, dip into each container in order. Make sure you shake off extra flour and extra egg so it doesn’t clump.

Cooking Time:

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-heat olive oil at medium high heat (make sure olive oil goes 1/4″ up sides of pan. Quantity of oil differs depending on the size of the pan you’re using)
-When oil is hot gently lay strips, away from you, into oil with tongs (be careful not to splash oil! That hurts!!)
-get chicken a nice golden brown color and flip to other side
If you’re concerned about wasting oil, here is a great resource to show you how to properly clean, save, store, and reuse the oil.

penne pasta & marinara sauce
1. 1 lbs Penne pasta
2.1/4 teas Dried basil
3.1/4 teas Kosher salt
4. Pinch of thyme
5. 1 clove minced garlic
6. 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
7. Romano Cheese
-cook pasta according to package (reserve 2 tbs pasta water after cooking)
-in small sauté pan add garlic to 1 teas hot olive oil -2 minutes
-pour 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes
-add 2-4 and stir
-pour over strained pasta
-add pasta water reserve
-stir together and top with freshly grated Romano cheese

Green beans:
1. 1 lbs green beans
2. 1 tbs olive oil
3. heavy pinch of kosher salt
4. ground pepper mill
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-Drizzle olive oil over cleaned and trimmed green beans on baking sheet.
-evenly sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
-put in oven for 10 minutes (check throughout to rotate beans as needed)
(Sorry these didn’t make it in the photo! I was very hungry and very tired after a busy day running around with my munchkin and the green beans apparently got left out)

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Crockpot Chuck Roast & Brussels Sprouts

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Ingredients:
1. 2 lbs Chuck Roast
2. 1 tbs kosher salt
3. 1 c flour
-heat olive oil in fry pan
-mix 2&3 in bowl
-coat all sides of meat
-sear meat 5-7 minutes (until browned) on all sides
4. 1 whole yellow onion (chopped)
5. 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
6. 3 carrots (peeled and cut in 1″)
7. 4 stalks of celery (cut in 1/4″)
8. 8-10 red potatoes (cut in 1/2″ cubes)
9. 1 tbs salt
10. 1 teas dried thyme
11. 1 teas fresh ground pepper
12. 1 tbs garlic powder
13. 1 tbs onion powder
-add 4-13 to Crockpot
-place meat in center
14. 4 c water
-pour into Crockpot (liquid should cone 1/2 way up meat, add or reduce water quantity if necessary)

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Low-sodium beef stock is a great alternative for water, just don’t use bouillon! That’s way too salty and has a bunch of unhealthy junk in it.
-cover on high for 6 hours (or until it breaks apart with a fork)

Brussels Sprouts:
-preheat oven to 425 degrees
-cut Brussels sprouts in quarters and put in large bowl
-drizzle olive oil
-heavy pinch of kosher salt
-1/4 teas fresh ground pepper
-mix everything together until fully coated
-pour onto baking sheet
-bake 5-7 minutes
-flip
-return to oven another 5-7 minutes
-plate it up

This was dinner for my boys while I worked and was gone for the weekend. I unfortunately didn’t end up with a final picture of it plated. I did taste it though, and it was really good.

This week’s meals are great for either multiple days or 6-8 people.

They are also good recipes to hang onto all year around. It’s been in the high 80s and 90s and these hit the spot, but on a cool fall evening or in the chill of the winter these would be fabulous options!

Maybe they tasted so good regardless of the heat because I’m ready to transition out of summer already!! You try them and let me know what you think.

Are they a hit in your home like they were in mine?

Until my munchkin’s next nap:
Mangia, Mangia!!

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.

Greek-style Turkey Burgers 20140808-135255.jpg
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.