Re-addressing Meal Planning on a Budget

After 2 years of successfully implementing my monthly meal planning, I have learned ALOT!

First disclosure: I am NOT a good photographer, this is not a full time food blog, and I am horrible at making food look sexy.

I am a Wife and Mom, figuring life out and discovering how, with the help of my culinary-trained husband, I can make healthy food taste really yummy on a very tight budget. So don’t let my iPhone photos deter you from trying out some of these delicious, easy recipes on here.

Now to business. 

I was asked by a friend to share for a few minutes at a MOPS (Mothers Of Pre-Scoolers) meeting this morning and I realized, in my attempts to prep speaking on this topic, that I had WAY too much info to condense into 5 minutes.

As a result, what felt like a train wreck, I stood in front of these beautiful ladies, after drinking way too much coffee, and downloaded a bunch of info that I hope they were able to find useful.

So, thankful to them for their generous feedback, I now want to update you on how to spend $400 (or less) to feed 4 in a month, in as concise of a manner as my brain allows.

1. Establish your budget

Maybe it’s $400, maybe it’s $600. Maybe it’s usually $1000 and you want to cut back, so see how far $800 gets you for the first month. Set yourself up for success otherwise you’re destined to fail. Make small cutbacks and work your way to a smaller amount each month.

This budget by the way does not include dining out or household supplies (i.e. Toilet paper, paper towels,etc.). Those are 2 separate categories in our budget and each get between $75 to $150 depending on projected expenses for the month.

2. Make your list

Not your shopping list, your food list. I will clarify, but stick with me.

Start with breakfast. What are your favorite foods. Coffee? Creamer? Snacks? Lunch? More snacks? Dinner? Couch date treats for when the kiddos go down (any other parents out there? i.e chocolate, ice cream, Cheetos puffs, etc.) Keep your favorite recipes in mind.

When you buy foods you love you’re more likely to stick to a budget because you don’t feel like you’re giving up your life.

3. List your priorities

Here’s the kicker: think of that dollar amount you budgeted, now ask yourself:

What are my priorities? Organic? No preservatives? Gluten free? Cage-free? Non dairy? RAW? Fish? Red meat? Must have cheese with everything? Oh sorry maybe that’s just me… Wine anyone? 

(Maybe wine needs a separate budget for you; be realistic and honest about what’s important.)

Level your priorities: what is the most important? Can your budget afford it all or do you need to adjust your standards? 

We’re grown-ups, sometimes we need to actually “grow up”.

For my family it is important to find foods that don’t have preservatives or additives. I know we will consume plenty of unhealthy foods outside our home, but due to our family health history there are certain preservatives that lead to digestive issues we are predisposed to; therefore, we need to stay clear of preservatives on a regular basis.

 It took some homework to find the right snacks and cereals I am ok with that taste good AND are cost effective. I end up rotating when I buy them based on sales. 

Again, put in the leg work up front, and it gets easier!! I promise!!

I also know the importance of organic. Because no preservatives is of higher importance to me, I choose select produce items such as kale, spinach, and certain fruits that are always organic, the rest are not, unless the sale prices are better. 

If your budget is a top priority sometimes other things need to go. Coffee creamer for instance. We CHOOSE to alternate weeks of using creamer to save those $3 on a week that it needs to go elsewhere. But RAW milk is a must, so that will always take presidence over anything else.

It’s your budget. It’s your choice.

4. Grocery list #1: Bulk items

Take all those wonderful food items you listed. Copy and paste it. Now, delete all the food that is unnecessary to your daily function. 

Ok now, look at items that can be bought in bulk and separate those onto a Costco list. If it helps, these are my Costco items: 

  • bread (they come in a 2 pack and I freeze one loaf)
  • Meat: chicken, ground beef/turkey, Italian Sausage (I change up my meat choice each month to avoid redundancy)
  • cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, and Romano are staples in this house)
  • yogurt
  • butter
  • eggs
  • hummus
  • snack item: usually pita chips or “food Should Taste Good” multigrain chips
  • salad packs: Asian chopped salad or sweet kale are my favorites
  • deli meat
  • apples- always check the price, sometimes these are better at the grocery store
  • cereal-again only sometimes, depending on the selection. 
  • peanut butter
  • strawberry preserves
  • coffee
  • Creamer-if price is right

 If you don’t shop Costco it will be difficult to stock up; I couldn’t work my budget without them. 
Your first month doing this method you may spend a little more because your stocking up on everything, but each month the list changes a little because it’s not time to buy every item every month.

5. Grocery list #2: Grocery

Ok, go back to that first favorite food list. The remainder of those items go here.

Now, picture yourself in the grocery store. Where do you start? Do you wonder aimlessly? Or do you go in with a mission? If you’ve got kids, I suggest having a mission or its like shopping hungry; you end up grabbing random boxes and opening that box of cookies before even making it to the register.

I start at the left side of the store and I go aisle by aisle making by way to the back of the store than over to the middle and I finish on the right side. I make my list in the order that the food appears in the store. That way I’m on a fluid path and don’t have to jot across the store back and forth weaving through all the other shoppers because I forgot an onion.

Side note: my grocery store of choice is Sprouts. Their produce prices are the best and their sales are incredible. Their bulk bins are also a great way to get my kids involved in the shopping process and save a little extra too.

If you don’t have kids and can go to multiple stores for key favorite ingredients, please, do so! I make exceptions for Trader Joe’s if I really want their mango sorbet or pot stickers and fried rice.

6. Implementation: Bring Cash Only

Now that your budget is set and your lists are made, it’s go time. Look at that list at the beginning of every month. Add special items, delete unnecessary items. 

Be flexible! Life changes. One month you might have a new house guest every week, the next it might be a birthday, you might be on vacation. You are in charge!

Once you have established this outline, it’s as easy as adding and deleting a few items each week. Asked on what your family needs.

And yes! I said CASH only! When you have cash, you quickly become aware of the importance of certain items. You might find some items end up back on the shelf. No one wants to be at the register with not enough money to buy what’s in the cart. 

I’ve been there! Please, spare yourself, take my word for it! Handing back one item at a time to return as you watch your total decrease $1 at a time to what it’s supposed to be, ya that can be embarrassing! Not to mention the people behind you rolling their eyes as they comprehend your need to hand back that $2 box of muffins. Puts things into perspective!

7. Eat left overs/ Don’t waste

When you’re on a budget it forces you to consume everything purchased. You eliminate waste, you teach yourself self-control, you enjoy what you’re eating because you worked hard for it, you appreciate the needs of the world. 

When I start to get grumpy about eating leftovers, I quickly am reminded of the abundance I live in and blessings I have. It’s a quick sanctification process (for all you Jesus followers out there hehe) and it gives me a chance to teach my kids the importance of a grateful heart.

8. Have fun!

Remember, either your budget is a priority or it’s not. For us, it was necessary for the goals we have for our family. Making small sacrifices every month has been a huge payoff in other areas for us. 

Enjoy the process and you’ll soon realize that your money is buying you EXACTLY what YOU want. YOU are in control! YOU have hand selected every item that will be eaten in your house and will enjoy it so much more because you were intentional in the process. Trust me, your dinners will actually taste better to you because they were planned and not just a bunch of random items put together at the last minute (or worse, fast food).

9. One more thing

So often people say they can’t eat healthy on a tight budget. I’m here to tell you that is a lie! When my cart is filled with carrots and hummus or celery and peanut butter as snacks it’s much cheaper than when I grab those BBQ chips. Produce is cheap! Especially when you’re buying seasonally ripe items. Also to mention, I feel better, eat less, and have more energy because I’m eating real food that is meant to sustain me, not to drag me down and make me crave more. 

10. Ok this is the last- for the parents

Stop buying separate meals for your kids. That’s not budget friendly. It’s setting your kids and YOU up for failure. All kids go through picky stages, yes, some much more than others, but let them participate in the process and always provide healthy options. It can be fun. If they don’t eat the broccoli today, try again in a few days.  Keep it up! It’s hard, but press through! Those couple years of hard work will make family meals so much more enjoyable and affordable later. You can do it! I’m cheering for you!

Thanks for reading. Please let me know if you have any questions. I am still learning and refining my process too, so if you have any suggestions or feedback, please let me know; I LOVE to learn new tips!

Strength for Today

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God, gives us strength, Even though we can’t see Him.(repeat)

He gives us joy. He makes lots of things. He made cats and pigs and dogs and all of the animals at the zoo. And He made all of the horses too. 

God, gives us strength, Even though we can’t see Him. (repeat)

LilyBelle was not having it. Minutes turned into hours which turned into all night of screaming. Absolutely inconsolable screaming!!

Finally after thrashing her body around in our bed most of the night, she passed out at 3:45am to then wake up again at 5:45am wide-eyed and ready to play.

I was not!

Not long after, were both kids awake and at full throttle and I just couldn’t get myself in gear.  My husband had full-leaded coffee ready for me before he left for his early morning, and I sat and prayed all breakfast for strength and energy and patience to make it even another 5 minutes without snapping. 

I excused myself from breakfast and let my kids entertain each other so I could try to #breathe.

My Munchckin comes running up to me,”Mommy! Mommy! I cleaned up my oatmeal. I did it all by myself! Look! I threw it in the garbage!”

 Oh no! Danielle, pull it together. There will probably be oatmeal all over the floor and trash can, but don’t crush his spirit. He’s THREE. And he’s trying. Get ready to be proud of him and teach him gently. God, give me patience, gentleness and self-control.

We held hands. I scanned the dining room and kitchen floor to ceiling searching for this slop of oatmeal that we needed to clean. Nothing. Spotless. He opens the trash and there it was, a small little pile of oatmeal he hadn’t finished, his spoon in the sink and his bowl set back on the table nicely so it wouldn’t break.

“Wow, Bud! Thank you for cleaning up!”

“Ya! I did it all by myself because ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ even when things are hard. Mommy, I want Jesus here. Can He come in our house?” #proudmommoment

“Jesus is here, Bud. He’s here because we’ve invited Him to be a part of our lives.”

“But I want to see Jesus.”

I gently picked him up and show him the leaves rustling on the trees. 

“Do you see the leaves moving?” (Ya.) “What causes the leaves to move?” (Wind.) “Can we see the wind?” (No, but we see the leaves move.) “Exactly! We can’t see Jesus’ face, but we know He’s here because we see what He is doing in our lives.” (Oh, like love and people.) “Yep! That’s right! He’s our love to people, our strength when things are hard, and peace when we’re scared.”

He picks up his guitar and starts singing at the top of his lungs. I quickly grabbed a pen and paper (and he did too, as you can see) and asked if I could write this beautiful song of his heart down so we could remember it and sing it together.   

I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

Through this exhaustion, battling the “I can’t do this” and the “I am alone” lies, I have realized I have strength because Christ is in me. But I must seek Him daily.

It doesn’t matter how many times I hear that I’m a good mom; I will always feel empty, weak, un-acknowledged, and worthless if my value does not come from God.

Operating with strength means operating in faith. 

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:2

My strength comes from God. If my faith is blocked, God’s strength in me is blocked. 

I found notes from a women’s bible study I attended a few years ago titled The Barriers to our Faith and began to take personal inventory. 

I want to share with you the following barriers to my faith and the questions that go with them.  If you can relate at all to what I’ve shared, I encourage you to look at the list and evaluate your own life. Doing this self-reflection made me realize I dwell on some of these questions daily. They are in the back of my mind steering the course of my day, my attitude, my reactions, and to be quite honest, it usually ends up ugly.

Worry: Am I making the healthiest choices for my kids and their future success?

Fear: Will people accept me for who I am? Will something terrible happen to my husband and kids? Will I be left all alone?

Doubt: Am I good enough? Do I have purpose?

My past: Are there people I have not forgiven? Am I one of them? 

Distance from God: (until recently) I was not spending time praying or reading the Bible very often at all.

Depression: Post-partum hormones and emotions associated.

Anxiety: Am I doing everything “right”? I’ve realized that for me anxiety and fear are very much correlated; one doesn’t exist without the other. 

She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.

Proverbs 31:17

Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭31:25‬ ‭

  I love these verses (and all of proverbs 31, for that matter) because it reminds me that strength is woven into my DNA as God’s creation and as a woman living for the purpose He created me. I can’t be the mom, wife, daughter, sister or friend He created me to be if I don’t include Him in the process.

Being Mommy to these two precious kiddos is teaching me so much about me. 

Who am I? What do I value? Who do I value? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Do I have influence? Am I using it? Am I living with integrity? When my kids look back, will they be able to look past my hang-ups (and how I’ve messed them up) and be proud to call me Mommy? 

Will they see God’s love and grace in me and through me?

Is there something or someone that has shaken your world so much, you constantly evaluate and reevaluate what life is really about? Do you know who you are? Do you know your purpose? Do you know you have a purpose

I now realize these self-shaming questions, “am I good enough?” or “am I doing enough?” Or the “I can’t do this,” and “I am alone,” are a reflection of God not being the center of my life.  They are I-centered not God-centered. 

It’s taken over a year of listening to the *God Centered Mom podcast for me to take full ownership that my life has not been, well, that: God-Centered. As Heather MacFadyen encourages listeners every episode, it’s time I start to “replace me with He.”

I may have been going through the motions of church, Bible study, talking about Him to people, teaching my kids, listening to podcasts… but God doesn’t ask for our motions or our actions, He asks for our heart. And gives us the choice to give it to Him. All of the above are not bad, but they should come from the overflow of His love in me, not out of mere duty or, frankly, habit. 
I stumbled on this verse, right now in fact, as I am writing out my thoughts.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12

Relying on my own strength is what leads to exhaustion and negativity, and worry and fear and doubt and distance from God and depression and anxiety.  

   

 Just like each new day I encourage, teach and coach my kids to explore, take risks, and trust me to help them along the way, I need to remember God wants me to trust Him all the more. We will fall, we will fail, but He picks us back up, wraps His arms around us as if to say, “It’s ok. I’m here. I love you. Let’s try again.”

God used my three year old son to answer my desperate prayer for strength and remind me: 

“God, gives us strength, even though we can’t see Him.”

I’m so grateful God’s grace covers me and all of my imperfections. I am humbled that inspite of my inadequacies, God gives me strength for today. 

I’ll leave you with this thought that I tell my kids several times a day, and that I need to remind myself:

 “Let God pour so much of His love into your life that it can’t help but overflow and pour out into those around you.” 

It is in that love that you will find strength for today.


*note to parents: This podcast has been so encouraging to me. Every episode Heather MacFadyen interviews different Moms and Dads who have gone before us on this parenting journey. Whether it’s a Mom of one or ten, in her 20s or 80s, established a world-wide platform of millions or her platform is her home’s living room floor, there are gems to take away from every episode. I highly encourage you to check it out! Here’s the link again: God Centered Mom

Depression: Breaking the Silence

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 He turned my mourning into dancing again. He’s lifted my sorrows. I can’t stay silent; I must song for his joy has come.

-Ron Kenoly

It’s probably been 15 years since I last heard this song, but music has a way of flooding my spirit and speaking for me when I don’t always have the right words. 

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m turning a page. I’m writing again. At least today I am. Baby steps. This is the next step to freedom for me. I’m not sure what this season brings, but I’m ready to write again. After over a year of unintentional hiatus, I invite you back to join me on this next journey.

A time to keep silence, And a time to speak.

-Ecclesiastes 7b

Post-partum depression is real, and it is certainly different for everyone.  It can feel like a overwhelming darkness, or a heaviness consuming your body, or an anxiety that makes everything seem absolutely unbearable.

There have been times that this depression and anxiety roller coaster leave me feeling all of those physical responses to my scattered mind countless times in a day. 

The beginning was a fog. I went through the motions day-to-day with a disconnect between my brain, my heart, and my body. It was almost as if I was watching my life happen without getting to be part of it. I never wanted to hurt myself or anyone else; I just wanted to curl up underneath my down comforter, disappear for awhile, and actually believe the world could function for a few moments without my participation.  There were stages of having no idea anything was wrong, to being drastically aware and dumping the hateful self-talk that just seemed to bury me deeper. 

After having MyMunchkin I had similar feelings, but I managed to shift my thinking, smile, and change my paradigm without getting consumed. This time around its been quite different.

My story: LilyBelle  

We welcomed our beautiful baby girl, three weeks early, in November 2014. Our precious little flower, Lily, the perfect addition to our now family-of-four. My Munchkin was so excited to be a brother. He went to all my appointments, listened to her heartbeat, saw her on the ultrasounds, and put up with my arranging and rearranging of their bedroom time and time again; he was ready. 

When he came to meet her in the hospital he sat next to us in the hospital bed, just 23 months old, looked at me, looked at Lily, touched my belly, then reached out and gently placed his hand on Lily’s chest and said, “Heartbeat. Heartbeat, Baby Sister’s heartbeat! Not in Mommy’s tummy anymore.” We melted.

After an unexpected and very fast labor and delivery (bunny trail: the nurse actually told me not to push because the doctor wasn’t there yet, and then said it was more paperwork for her if she delivered my baby not him), and a whirlwind of beautiful moments with BabyGirl, I couldn’t sleep. I had my perfect little family and a surge of adrenaline; I was done being at the hospital. The whole experience was a neusence to the incredible miracle that this experience was created to be. I needed to be home!

Home. Visitors. House Guests. Helpers. 

All there to greet and spoil Miss LilyBelle with all things girly, and help us with whatever we asked. From as far as Idaho and Colorado, and from The Central Valley to South OC we had visitors sacrificing their time to stay with us, shop for us, cook for us, and even do laundry (thank you Auntie Em!!) for us.

Alone. Isolated. 

Nothing was enough. Why was all of their sacrifice never enough? It was never the right way or my way or what I needed. Not enough people in the house. Too many people in the house. Not the way I would cook. Stop asking me how to cook it!  Just help with Daniel. No, I want time with MyMunchkin; hold the baby. I just need sleep! Stop asking me if I need a nap; don’t you know me well enough to know I can’t nap?! Of course I need a nap, but it’s never going to happen. Because if I go to sleep the rest of my world is going to fall apart.

This is illogical, irrational, unfair, unloving, selfish…not me, not my heart! Stop this thinking, Danielle!! 

I would constantly beat myself up about it. My brain, my heart, my reasoning, and my faith all know this is not healthy thinking. They all know that beating myself up isn’t going to help. 

Why do I feel so negative, worthless, unloved, unlovable, unworthy, and in a fog?

Depressed.

The motions.

Wake up. Make breakfast. Frantically pack diaper bag for two. Rush Daniel through eating. If he wants to play before nap, we must leave…five minutes ago. Load kids in car. Run back inside and grab sunglasses that I left…where did I leave them? Don’t forget water. Jump in car. Did I lock the door? Run to check. Back in car. Kids ok? Ok. Snack for Daniel while we drive. Now….drive….sloooow. Pass…some…time. Why are there such bad drivers in LA? Arrive. Park. Ergo BabyGirl, throw on the backpack, get the toddler out without him smashing her head or kicking her. Success. 

I had to be out of the house. I needed fresh air. I couldn’t face the mess at home or even the possibility of making one. I had to put a fake smile on my face to just get through the day. I needed that vague interaction with complete strangers; it gave me some sort of falsely-perceived validation for what they inferred to be successfully and happily getting myself, a toddler, and a newborn dressed, fed, and to the park in one piece… all on day 4.

Insanity. Why? What is the purpose behind this behavior? What am I trying to prove?

This was my dark reality for a long time.  It took me four months to even realize this cycle that I was creating. Even after recognizing it, talking about it, trying to find solutions, I eventually just pushed it under the rug like survivors do and thought I was better. Not happy. Not enjoying life. But not depressed; therefore, I was fixed. Right?

I will make darkness light before them.

-Isaiah 42:16

“Joseph…Joseph!!! Call 9-1-1!”

That’s about all I could get out. Shivering,  hunched over in the fetal position, trying to hold myself up with my head against the bathroom wall, my tongue swelling, both hands clamped completely shut. 

After all my vitals came back normal and my body started to relax again, the firefighters were really confused as to what happened and decided it was best to take me to ER for further evaluation and monitoring.

Basically, all this drama was my body’s response to stress.  God had been trying to get my attention and was telling me to slow down for a long time. I didn’t listen. So He allowed my body to be completely immobilized. I had to stop; this insanity  has to stop.

I’m sure you’ve heard Urban Dictionary’s definition of insanity: 

Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result

Knowing all of that, it seems ridiculous to still get caught in this hamster wheel, but these next two definitions really hit home.

1. The state of being mentally ill.

2. Extreme foolishness or irrationality.

The night of the ER trip was actually the launching night of our church’s new small groups called Freeways.  Unfortunately, I was too sick to go, but I see how God used those  circumstances to stop me in my tracks and turn to Him.

You are my help and my deliverer.

-Psalm 40:17

The timing of Freeways was perfectly  ochestrated by God. Freeways was all about discovering our freedom in Christ. It was a step by step journey, arm-in-arm with our small group, learning what is my true identity in Christ and what from my past is preventing me from walking in the freedom and purpose God has for me?

I have taken a lot of steps backwards during this process, and I’ve reverted back to survival mode on countless occasions, but what I am discovering is that it is not about “deciding I’m better”, “changing my paradigm”, or “smiling” to make everything good again. This journey is about recognizing that life is constantly changing. With change comes struggles and challenges.  It is through these that God is stretching me and allowing me to grow and heal and be molded into exactly the woman He has created me, for the purpose for which He has designed me.

Why, even now almost 15 months later, I find myself going through the same motions is beyond me. I am pretty sure constant frustration, exhaustion, and yelling at MyMunchkin do not fit the category of successful parenting. 

This is a process. I am learning to be present and enjoy the process, no matter how painful or emotional. 

My life belongs to Jesus. He is the author and how dare I try to take the pen out of His hands and write my own story. I’ve tried that, and it left me stagnant and immobile.

I waited patiently for the Lord. He brought me up out of a horrible pit. He set my feet upon a rock. He has put a new song in my mouth. Praise to our God.

-Psalm 40:1-4

I’m ready to move again.

Life is too short to be tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged. I have a purpose and it’s time I get to it. 

I am so excited to share what God is unraveling before me! I have felt so alone for a long time. I have believed the lies that no one really cares about me or what I’m going through. I have believed the lies that what I am going through is so much more important or more difficult than others. I have believed the lies that what I am going through is not a big deal at all. I have believed that I am not a good Mom.  I have believed the lies that I have to earn people’s love and affection for me. 

I am choosing to believe the Truth and not the lies. I will be back soon to walk with you through how I am overcoming these doubts and insecurities.

Until next time, I pray today you are encouraged. I pray that you realize you are not alone. I pray that you will see God right where you are. I pray you hear His gentle words whispering, “I love you my child, you are not alone. I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

I pray that if you can relate to any of these feelings of isolation or depression, that you start to take baby steps to see the Light when you feel consumed by the darkness.

Would you like prayer for anything today? 

Do you have any experiences that might help me or others along the way?  

I would love to hear what God is teaching you on your journey! 

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.

My March of Indulgences with “The Traveling toddler”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been a little absent from the writing world.

Well, here I am back for a brief visit. I’ll spare you some details (not because they’re uninteresting, in fact if you love a good roller coaster ride, the last two years of my life would probably give you quite the thrill) because, honestly, I’m still in the middle of a long two year ride on the “Dave Ramsey Plan”.

There is so much reward in all the sacrifice financially, emotionally, and my dear sweet sanity, but we’re just still working on it and waiting for it.

When I’m on the victory side of the long underground tunnel, I’ll share the dirty details. For now, there’s this faint light at the end that seems to be getting brighter, but a lot slower than I’d like.

To distract myself from the emotion of these life lessons, I’ve been learning some fun new indulgences recipes in the wonderful healthy, mom-on-the-go, crockpot-cooking world as well as some indulgent not-so-healthy, but organic desserts in the meantime.

This amazing chocolate, peanut butter cup double layer cake with peanut butter whip topped with more peanut butter cups is one of them.20140327-142759.jpg</a
Recipe:

I opted for an organic chocolate cake and organic pudding mix as well as chocolate peanut cups from Sprouts Farmer’s Market, rather than the Reese’s, and let me tell you:

“it was the best cake I’ve ever had in my life!!!”

The confidential feedback from several family members who didn’t want to offend anyone. 😉 But at the end of the day we all agreed so I don’t think they’d mind my divulgence of information.

Another indulgent treat on this Dave Ramsey Plan journey, is implementing the “put a name to every dollar” idea. This discipline allowed us to plan a wonderful, much-needed family vacation to Seattle.

We visited the Space Needle:
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We went to the Seattle Zoo:
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This is my munchkin making his giraffe face.

We visited the Aquarium:
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My Boys Impersonating the otter’s eating.

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Pike’s Market:
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Our indulgent SIX Dollar Apple Fritter:

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Wine Tasting with our incredible friends who hosted us at there beautiful home:20140327-145533.jpg20140327-145557.jpg20140327-145617.jpg

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Seattle Science Center:

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Overall such a fantastic trip I wanted to share some of our memorable moments with you. Here’s one last one of me and my amazing hubby:
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Until my munchkin’s next nap time: Smile and just remember, when you’re going through a tough time, make time for yourself, your family, and your friends. It’s amazing how a brief break from the everyday routine can rejuvenate and reenergize you to finish the course.

I was reminded at Bible Study this morning to “finish the race”. Don’t quit along the way because it gets rough. You can do it! I believe in you! A lot of other people do too. Now, YOU just new to believe you can do it!<

Living NOW

October has just blurred into the month of November. With birthday celebrations, Diamond in the Rough-Women’s Conference, my mom and sis in town, voluteering at our Church’s Halloween alternative called Kidz Block Party, my husband working 15 days straight from 2a.m to 8p.m., and now my poor little munchkin has been sick for five days…I’m just enjoying the ride, living each day in each moment.

Living in the present is a concept of which I am constantly reminding myself. Life is so much more fulfilling when I’m not “waiting” for what’s to come next.

Believe me, it is not easy to do when we’re paying off student loans, living with in-laws, and seeing each other in passing as we balance intentional family time with laundry, taking a shower, and sleep, eating, living.

Each of the events that has happened over the last month has left me just simply relishing them. Soaking every moment in. As I did my daily reading this morning, I was reminded again:

There are a lot of boasting people out there–they decide what they want and expect everything to run smoothly. That can be a trick of Satan. If he can get them to focus on tomorrow or next year, they don’t have to deal with the problems in their lives right now. They can live in a world of only good things that will take place in the future. Isn’t that like driving a car down the highway and ignoring what’s right in front of us because we’re focused on the traffic signal five blocks ahead? We’re setting ourselves up for a wreck.

Jesus promised us a life of abundance (see John 10:10). But we can’t enter into that abundance if we’re not giving our lives fully to Him. Don’t spend today planning tomorrow and avoiding the issues that confront you now.
-From the book Battlefield of the Mind Devotional by Joyce Meyer. Copyright © 2005 by Joyce Meyer. Published by FaithWords. All rights reserved.

1103, 1104, 1105, 1107, 1108… “Where’s 1106?” I holler around the corner to my mom and bellman. My best friend sis and I are so confused as our room number is missing. The bellman says, “follow me over here.” We walk down the hall and around the corner, into our Presidential Suite!!!!

No wonder our room didn’t fit in that hallway, it took up the whole corner of the building.

As we walked in to our room at 11:30pm we quickly realized action needed to take place promptly in order to enjoy this room we only had for one night. I put my munchkin to sleep, started a bubble bath, and when I was done the three o is enjoyed a glass of wine by the fireplace with Chinese take-out. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect birthday evening.

I know these photos are long overdue, but here’s a few that we’re taken my birthday weekend. Sorry there aren’t more. We were just having way too much fun!

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Until my munchkin’s next nap time: Happy Thursday! Know that today you are blessed! Today, Thursday, November 7, 2013 is half-way over, smile and think: what are you going to do to make the best with the rest?