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I long for the day I wake up and find myself one of those women whose house is uncluttered and beautifully organized. I suspect that won’t happen until the kids are grown, or at the very least, when their attention span for toys isn’t that of a gnat.

Home organization I don’t quite have down, but dinner? I’ve figured that one out. I look forward to sitting down each week with my white board, pen and paper and figuring out our meal plan for the week. Not only has it eliminated the end-of-the-day what am I supposed to make for dinner??? panic, it’s streamlined both my shopping trips and food budget.

Below you will find all the meals we ate this past month. There were some repeats of our favorites, and occasionally we get a take-out pizza because…well, I love take-out pizza! I also make a lot of salads because it’s an easy way to get veggies in. You can put almost anything in a salad! I’ve gotten into the habit of snapping quick photos of a lot of our meals, but I will work on getting the recipes written out in the next few weeks and link back to them.

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Week 1

- Calzones, salad
- Cheeseburgers, sweet potato fries, broccoli
- Garlic noodles, salad
- Asian sticky rice bowls
- Leftovers
- Roast chicken, sweet potato crisps
- Take-out pizza

Week 2

- Chicken Enchiladas
- Mini meatloaves, acorn squash, broccoli
- Chicken soup, homemade bread
- Chicken ranch calzones, salad
- Dinner out with friends
- Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, salad
- Leftovers

Week 3

- Chicken bites, spinach, roasted carrots
- Taco salad
- Homemade pizza, salad
- Baked potato soup, homemade bread
- Sweet potato quinoa chili
- Leftover soup, salad,
- Burritos

Week 4

- Chicken and vegetable stir fry, rice
- Slow cooker shredded beef tacos
- Chicken soup, homemade bread
- Quinoa mac n cheese, broccoli
- Leftovers
- Homemade pizza, salad
- Mini turkey meatloaves, mashed sweet potatoes, peas

And here’s what we’re eating this week:

Week 5

- Philly Cheesesteaks with peppers and onions
- Skillet lasagna, broccoli
- Roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, peas
- Taco salad
- Chicken tamale pie, salad
- Leftovers
- Spaghetti, chicken meatballs, salad

I like to make at least one dessert a week, too. But maybe that’s a post for another time…

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Confession: up until recently I had never cooked quinoa. I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. Was it more of a grain? A rice? A pasta? What exactly should I put it in?

I don’t know why I was so apprehensive about it, because as it turns out, quinoa is pretty awesome. If you can make rice, you can make quinoa.

I stumbled across this recipe for a vegan quinoa chili and it looked simple and intriguing. Turns out, it was also delicious.

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Confession number 2: I didn’t make it vegan. I added in spicy sausage. And topped it with cheese. I do not regret these decisions.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Chili
Adapted from Milk Free Mom

Ingredients:

1/2 pound spicy sausage
one 29 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
one 6 oz can tomato paste (or if you’re out like I was, about 1/3 cup of tomato sauce)
32 oz chicken stock
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
1 cup dry quinoa
salt and pepper to taste
avocado, cilantro, cheese for garnish  (optional)

Directions:

In a medium pan, crumble sausage and cook until browned. Drain grease and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium low heat. Add onions, and cook until soft and they start to turn brown (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste/sauce, chili powder, cumin, oregano and garlic powder  and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the beans, stock, sausage and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper.

Raise heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and add the quinoa. Continue cooking for about  30 minutes, stirring frequently, until quinoa and potatoes are cooked and the chili has thickened. Top with garnishes.

~

This chili surpassed my expectations. It was SO good! I’m glad I added the sausage, though, as I think it might not have enough kick without it. If you’re looking to keep it meat-free, I might suggest adding a small can of diced chilies, or a small jalapeno. We put away about five servings and I froze at least two, so it makes plenty!

Happy eating!

Find me on Pinterest here.

Y’all. This pie.

Some friends and I had a girls’ night a few weeks ago where we stuffed our faces with calorie-heavy food and wine. Stretchy pants were mandatory, obviously. My contribution was ham and cheese-stuffed pretzel bites (recipe to come!) and this peanut butter chocolate chip pie.

It was a big hit. Friends raved about its light texture and delicious flavor and I was impressed at how easily it came together. Best of all, it’s a refrigerator pie, so after it was all mixed up all I had to do was toss it in the fridge for a few hours.

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The original recipe calls from a homemade graham cracker crust, which is probably pretty good. I happened to have a pre-made shortbread crust on hand, so I used that instead. Truth be told, I think I probably would like it better that way. Peanut butter and graham cracker makes me think of toddler food.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pie
Adapted from Growing Up Gabel

Ingredients:

  • 1 ready made shortbread pie crust
  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. heavy cream
  • ¾ cups mini chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract using a hand held beater. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form.
  3. Add whipped cream to peanut butter mixture, folding in gently until combined.
  4. Gently stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Spread peanut butter mixture into crust. Allow to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

The pie is rich in flavor, yet light in texture. It’s decadent enough to feed a bunch, too, since we all found one slice was more than enough. It’s equally delicious in the morning (not that I would know or anything…)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pie. Owen tested AND approved.

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Enjoy!

Follow me on Pinterest here.

Despite the fact that it’s 60 degrees here today, it really is winter and winter food means all things hearty and warm. I’m a big fan of lasagna, but I’ve never been big on assembling it. All the components take a while to make and it’s messy to layer and then if we don’t finish it right away, it tends to get soggy in the fridge.

Enter: Lasagna Soup. I’m pretty sure this is one of my earliest pins, and also one of my favorites. It has all the things I love about lasagna, but half the work.

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Tomatoes, meat, noodles, spice, cheese. And then some more cheese. Nom.

Lasagna Soup – Adapted from A Farmgirl’s Dabbles

Check out the link for the full recipe, but here are the changes I made:

- I don’t like too much onion flavor, so I used just half of a large yellow onion, not 3 cups. I found it to be plenty.

- Omitted the bay leaves because I never have them on hand.

- I was out of chicken stock so I used water instead. I have made it both ways and to be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in flavor. If you don’t have stock, water will do!

- In my most recent batch I added a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach and wilted it down before adding the liquid. It’s a great base to sneak in some extra veggies.

This soup is a winner in our house and is really customizable to your taste. If you would put it in a standard lasagna, put it in your soup! I happen to like the spicy sausage in it, but a ground beef/chicken/pork would work just as well.

 

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Mmmm, look at the goodness right there. Serve with crusty bread because, why not?!

Happy eating, friends!

Find me on Pinterest!

 

I’m feeling a bit off this week. Slightly down-in-the-dumps, weepy and irritable. I don’t know if it’s some lingering postpartum-ness that decided to pop up, the change in weather or something else. Maybe it’s a combination of a few things.

I’m still feeling grumpy about my weight and my body image is kind of at an all-time low. The number on the scale just isn’t budging, not even a little, and it’s messing with my head. I realize it has only been 12 weeks since Ryan was born, but I don’t think a pound or two lost is too much to ask. Or for my pants to fit.

Toss in a messy house that I just can’t get a grip on (it’s a vicious circle of stuff needing to get done, getting overwhelmed by the stuff and as a result ignoring the stuff, only then having more stuff to deal with), and I need a serious reboot.

We took the boys to a fall festival at a local farm yesterday and that was really nice. Ryan slept through most of it, but Owen really enjoyed his first hayride and corn maze and it made me happy to give him those experiences.

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Today I baked up some pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins (both in regular and size-wee) and while those will do nothing to help the weight issue, they sure taste good.

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I know this “meh” will pass, but I hope it does sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I’m off to eat a muffin.

As I look through this most recent roudup of Pinterest food finds, I can’t help but notice they’re a little carb-heavy. I think I must subconsciously be tying the cooler weather to our dinners! I promise you, we eat vegetables.

Crock O’ Ribs - by Crockin’ Girls

I actually didn’t pin this one (gasp!) but found it on the Crockin’ Girls website. Do you know it? It’s a wealth of slow cooker meals, which I really appreciate, especially having even less time now in the evening to prepare dinner.

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I omitted the mushrooms because we don’t like them, but otherwise followed the recipe as written. The ribs fell apart like pulled pork and were very tasty. I paired them with cornbread and a quick white bean, tomato and basil salad.

Uno’s Deep Dish Pizza

Confession: I love Uno’s pizza. Yup, it’s a chain restaurant and hardly gourmet, but I love it. I used to frequent one in high school with friends or for dinner with my family and their signature deep dish pizza always felt like a special treat. There isn’t one close to us now, so I probably only go once a year, if that, but whenever I do, I’m a happy camper.

Imagine how excited I was to find out that Uno’s had released the recipe for their pizza! I HAD to try it.

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Well…

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…it did not disappoint. It wasn’t exactly the same in flavor as I remember (this could be because of small changes I made, like vegetable oil instead of corn oil and pamesan instead of romano cheese), but it was super delicious. I used a spring-form cake pan and I think it looks like the real deal!

Cheesy Zucchini Rice -  by Buns In My Oven

I liked the idea of this side dish. Cheese. Zucchini. Rice. I’m on board.

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I decided to make it a full meatless meal, so I added chickpeas and tomatoes. I also upped the spices a bit because I thought it was too bland initially. It was good. Nothing spectacular, but good. It also makes a TON.

Chicken Tamale Pie - by Pinch of Yum

YOU GUYS. This meal. This is the clear Pinterest winner by far.

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I’m a huge fan of Mexican food and just the thought of this made my mouth water. The only changes I made were the omission of cilantro (don’t like it), the egg substitute (used one real egg instead), and the garnish of Cotija cheese. Spicy chicken on top of sweet masa-like cornbread, smothered in cheese. Yum! It was so simple to put together and so, SO good. It received rave reviews from both boys and I ate leftovers for lunch for two days…and didn’t share a bite.

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Serve with a Corona, naturally.

Happy eating…and pinning!

This recipe came about one night when I realized I had nothing planned for dinner and wondered what I could scrounge up from the contents of the fridge. It came out really good and I’ve since made it a few times, most recently for dinner last night and a second batch I’ll be delivering to a friend today who just had her third baby girl.

There’s no fancy food styling going on here. These un-staged pictures are straight from the phone while I was cooking last night, because halfway through I realized, hey, this is a good recipe to share! So, advance apologizes for any bad lighting, appearance of Owen’s bib, a newborn pacifier in the drainboard, etc. Don’t let the photos fool you…this is yummy!

The basis of this pasta salad is a yogurt dressing rather than your standard oil base. Because of that, I wouldn’t recommend bringing it to an outdoor event where it would be in the sun or heat for an extended period, unless you put it on top of an ice bath. There’s no “real” recipe for this. I kind of just eyeball amounts of things, but I’ll do my best to give you an estimate of how much I use for various ingredients.

Start by making your dressing. I chopped up an handful of Italian parsley and mixed it with a container and a half of plain yogurt. Add in 1-2 squirts of dijon mustard, a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes.

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While this is going on, cook up a pound of bowtie pasta and start your bacon. Line a baking sheet really well with foil, place 5-6 strips on bacon on it and place in oven. Turn it to 400 degrees and give it about 10-15 minutes to get good and crispy. You’ll know when you start to smell that delicious bacon smell. Once you do, check on it periodically and take it out when it’s crispy, but not burnt. Drain on paper towels.

I pretty much make bacon exclusively in the oven; it frees up your burners, cooks evenly, doesn’t really stink up the house and as long as you’ve used enough foil, clean up is as easy as throwing it away.

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Dice up some tomatoes and avocados. Add some corn. You can really use whatever veggies you like here, but these taste yummy together. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper.

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Drain your cooked pasta. If you’re serving this right away you can run it under cold water to cool it down quickly, or if you have time just let it cool on its own. Throw everything in the bowl together and squeeze half a lime over the top. Crumble in your bacon. Mix.

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If you can, let the pasta salad sit for a bit so the flavors can really marinate, but it’s not totally necessary. This makes a fair amount — usually enough for the three of us to eat dinner, then lunch tomorrow.

Below is the best breakdown of ingredients I could do, but really, make it to your taste. Enjoy!

Pasta Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients:

- 1 pound of bowtie pasta

- about 8-9 oz. plain yogurt (I used 1.5 individual serving cups)

- small handful (about 1/4 cup) Italian parsley, chopped

- 1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard, to taste

- 1 teaspoon salt

- 1 teaspoon pepper

- about a tablespoon of garlic powder

- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

- 2 tomatoes, diced

- 2 avocados, diced

- 3/4 cup corn

- 1/2 lime

- 5-6 slices of bacon

Directions:

- Cook and drain pasta. Cook bacon on foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crispy. Drain on paper towel.

- Mix yogurt, parsley, mustard and spices in a small bowl. Set aside.

- Chop tomatoes and avocados and place in large bowl. Add corn. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta, dressing, lime and crumbled bacon. Mix.

Oh, hey there bloggy friends! This poor space gets neglected when it’s nice out. I can’t help it. Plus, we’re deep into First! Birthday! Party! Mode! which is occurring on Saturday, the day before my not-so-baby baby turns one. SOB. We’ll talk about that later.

Anyway!

I’ve touched on it here and there, but after a VERY successful food budget month, I wanted to come back and tell you exactly what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learned. I’m super proud of myself and surprised at how with just a little planning and practice, it is really easy to stay within a food budget. It’s a long post, but I hope it can help anyone looking to implement a food budget in their own home.

I’m writing this on Sunday, June 19th. I’ve shopped three times since June 1st and will probably go one more time before the end of the month. I am excluding the food purchases I will be making at the end of this week for Owen’s party, because that’s an abnormal addition to the budget and one that won’t happen every month.

Budget: $400/month
Spent thus far: $262.34
Balance remaining for one week: $137.66 (which is more than I will need!)

Before I go to the store, I “shop” in my kitchen. I go through the freezer to see what I have on hand already, and use that as a jumping off-point for my meal plan. I usually have chicken on hand. It freezes well and I stock up when it goes on sale. I like to buy bone-in chicken breast because it’s super versitle, but also like thighs and occasionally boneless breasts. Depending on how prices were earlier in the month, I may have some ground beef or turkey also. I also see which vegetables I have left over from the previous trip that need to be used before they go bad.

Next, I’ll check the grocery circulars to see if anything I normally buy is on sale. I say normally, because “ON SALE!” can trick you into thinking it’s something you need just because it costs less. I will make a side-by-side list of sale items at the three closest grocery stores to see if one offers a better selection for my dollar that week. To be honest, based on what we buy, I have never shopped anywhere for our regular shopping except our local, smaller market, even though I check each week, because it offers the best prices on what we eat. Plus, they have the better selection of produce and meat so I think it’s a win-win. The only exception is when we run out of K-Cups for our Keurig, or the chai I drink, neither of which the smaller store carries.

Once I’ve decided where I’ll be shopping, I write out a meal plan. This step has amounted to the biggest savings by farCreating a simple seven-day dinner menu allows me to know exactly what we will be eating, so I know exactly what to buy. No more wandering around the store trying to come up with meals on the fly — it’s already in my hand. Not only does this make the trip more efficient (absolutely key with a baby in tow), but it has helped reduce waste. Far fewer vegetables go bad in the fridge because I bought them and forgot about them. I write the meal plan on a Post-It and stick it to the magnetic notepad on my fridge. I don’t make a set “eat this on Monday” type of list, but just make sure I have a balanced menu that I can pick and choose from during the week depending on how busy the day is, what I need to defrost, etc.

Then, I make my shopping list. I refer to the meal plan to see which items I’m missing, then list out my regular basics (fruit, milk, etc.). Depending on how the previous week went, sometimes the list is short, other times it’s long. But I find they tend to balance out in the end.

After that, I’ll go through my coupons to see if there is anything relevant. I’m not an extreme couponer by any means. I go through the Red Plum flyer that comes for free in the mail each week, and occasionally I’ll print some off line for things like the organic milk we use. Checking out websites of companies you buy from often might result in some surprise savings.

Now it’s time to shop! And shop with cash. Since I’ve budgeted $400 a month, I figure an average of $100 per weekly shopping trip. Of course sometimes I will be under and others over, so I tend to bring about $140 with me when I go. The cash is tangible; an amount I can hold in my hand and know that is my window to work in, unlike a debit or credit card which can give the false sense of having more than you do. Swipe! It’s done, and you forget about it. But seeing a stack of twenties disappear holds more weight in my mind.  I also find it helps me stick to my list and avoid impulse buys. Now I’m not saying I don’t buy “fun” items, I do. But I try to only veer from the list if I know it will stay within my weekly budget, or if there is a deal just too good to pass up (like, ground turkey on super sale, for example. I might buy a few pounds and freeze them for future dinners.)

Using cash also gives me a clear idea of what I have to spend next time. Two weeks ago I had planned out our meals so well and we had eaten so efficiently, that by the end of the week our fridge and cabinets were completely bare! To restock took about $135, leaving me with $65 for the following week. I was prepared to dip into week three’s pot, but following my system, I was able to get all I needed plus “extras” (cookies!) for week two for around $50. It works!

Grocery store rewards programs are also a huge budget helper, and the store I go to has a great one. Rather than using your card to get items on sale (at this store, if they’re on sale, they’re on sale. You don’t need a card to get the sale price), for every dollar you spend you earn one point. Then you can log onto a website and redeem your points for items. There’s a whole store of things — random crap, mp3 downloads, credits at local stores — but there is also an option of earning gift cards for the very grocery store I’m already shopping from. So, for every $350 I spend, I get a $15 gift card. It might not sound like a lot, but when you factor it over the course of a year, earning on average one gift card per month, it’s like I got $180 back in my pocket to put towards groceries, which is about two weeks worth of free food.

Every store is different, so it’s worth looking into yours to see how it can best help save you money.

Is the system fail-proof? No, of course not. There will be times when I’ll spend more than I want to, or have to run back to the store later in the week because we ran out of something faster than I anticipated. Maybe I want to make a dinner that requires some items I don’t keep on hand, or I’ll run out of staples that I always have at the same time and need to stock up, causing a higher total. It happens. As the summer goes on, I’m also going to be buying more of our vegetables at the once-a-week farmers market, which might not bring the price down, but is supporting local agriculture and is super yummy.

But in general, this system has changed my budgeting forever.

I shopped yesterday. I bought dinner for five nights (all include at least one vegetable), sandwich fixings for the week (lunch meat, cheese, bread), fruits, veggies, drinks (including pricier organic milk and apple juice), yogurts and cheeses, and two kinds of cookies (mmmm). I didn’t buy any breakfast foods because we weren’t out of them yet. Unless we blow through bananas (because Owen could eat them for every meal if I let him), I shouldn’t have to go back to the store for at least six days.

I spent $68.23. Just over half of my weekly budget.

With a little planning, I’ve made a huge difference in how we spend our money, and I don’t feel like we haven’t been able to buy the food we want because of it. I am SO happy.

 

I want cake.

It’s the same text message each month. I’ll send it to my friend, or she’ll send it to me. Out of the blue, usually in the evening. Cake. I want it.

Men don’t get these cravings, you know? For the life of him, Michael cannot understand why I will suddenly crave a specific food. It changes…sometimes it’s salty, sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s cake. (Often, it’s cake.)

I combat these monthly cravings by eating something that is not cake. It’s quite depressing and all the while all I can think about is how great some CAKE would taste right now and if I only had some CAKE I would show it who was boss and eat that CAKE all over the place.

Sure, I could go get a slice of cake somewhere. But I don’t want a slice of cake.

I want the whole cake. And then a slice of cake.

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This is not cake.

This is Special K. Special K is not cake.

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We had a discussion, Special K and I. I told Special K it was going to cure my cravings and pretend to be cake and we would live happily ever after while losing 1 inch from my waist in 2 weeks. (See that claim? Right there on the bottom left corner of the box? That claim is only true if you eat only Special K and not cake.)

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Special K tastes nothing like cake.

Am sad.

And craving cake.

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