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!

Advertisements

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

20140818-221819.jpg
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

20140825-140710.jpg
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

20140820-151902.jpg
-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:

20140825-140753.jpg
-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)

20140825-140710.jpg

Crockpot Chuck Roast & Brussels Sprouts

20140825-143217.jpg
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)

20140825-150508.jpg
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

20140812-161703.jpg

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

20140812-162529.jpg
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

20140812-164201.jpg
“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

20140812-163923.jpg
-Plate it all up and serve

20140812-164001.jpg
Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Casserole

20140812-204131.jpg
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)

20140812-210502.jpg
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

20140812-210416.jpg
Tortellini Skillet Lasagna

20140818-142329.jpg
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

20140818-142342.jpg
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

20140818-145522.jpg

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!

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.

20140806-141719.jpg
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.

20140806-135743.jpg
I spent just under $200. We had quite a few staple items that needed restocking (i.e peanut butter, pancake mix, coffee, etc.) and I purchased all of my proteins for this month’s meal plan as well. I think we’re off to a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthly Meal Plan 2: Lasagna Roll-Ups

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go.
20140802-224949.jpg

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.

20140802-223401.jpg
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.
20140802-225050.jpg
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.
20140802-230117.jpg
Step 6:
Deglaze pan again.

Step 7:
Add can of tomatoes and fond to pan. Season with remaining garlic powder and onion powder.
20140803-221037.jpg

Step 8:
Assemble ingredients on noodles as follows: sauce, spinach, mushrooms, meat, cheese.

20140803-101725.jpg
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.

20140803-222042.jpg

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.

20140731-223031.jpg

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.

20140731-223336.jpg

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

20140801-181141.jpg
-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!)

20140801-181411.jpg
– 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:

20140731-223031.jpg

*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.

BBQ Chicken Sandwhich

I’ll make this short and sweet, for all of you drooling over the picture already.

Don’t be deceived by the chicken and cabbage that this is healthy…it’s not…but it sure is delicious!!

I’ve made these sandwiches a few times and i’ve tweaked the recipe a little each time; this was my favorite.

I come from a huge Sicilian family. We cook expecting company, going back for not just seconds, but thirds (otherwise Nana thinks either you didn’t like it or you’re on a diet and need “meat on your bones”), and leftovers.

Serves 10-12
Ingredients for Chicken:
6 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
1/4 Cup Montreal’s Steak Seasoning
1 bottle Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons Spicy Brown Mustard

Ingredients for Coleslaw:Top Secret KFC Coleslaw Recipe

1. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels

2. Apply generous amount of seasoning to both sides

3. Put in Crockpot and add all other ingredients

4. Set Crockpot on low or 8-hour setting (go make Coleslaw; it needs time to sit and soak up flavor before serving!!)

5. After 2 hours check if its cooked through; if it is, put checked on cutting board and shred with 2 forks

6. Add back to Crockpot for 2 hours or until ready to serve

7.Toast bread:Ten minutes before serving, put rolls in a 375 degree oven to toast. I used fresh baked Artisan bread from Costco. I’ve made this before and used a French loaf and also cheese rolls. The Artisan bread has been my favorite!

8. Put a healthy serving of coleslaw on bread, scoop chicken on top, grab a few napkins, Enjoy!!

20131206-002828.jpg

Until my munchkin’s next nap time: breathe and enjoy the flavor of yummy food! Smile while your cooking; it changes the way it tastes, I promise! Go for a walk. This time of year is filled with really good hearty foods and amazing desserts, but there’s also beautiful fall leaves and cool, crisp mornings. Walk a little more so you don’t feel so guilty about all of the deliciousness.