Meal Planning

I have had several people on facebook ask me about meal planning. How do I handle it? What kinds of foods does our family eat? How do I manage to feed our family on a military budget?

Let me start by saying, it isn’t easy. And we still have a long way to go. My children are picky. But I force them to attempt a variety of foods, whether they want to or not. My husband and I struggle to get enough time to sit down for a good meal, let alone with all 5 of us together. Things get crazy and chaotic. And sometimes we eat in shifts. Oftentimes Aaron and I eat in front of the tv.

So we are far from perfect. We are a normal family, just like you. Trying to do what is best.

A few months ago I revamped our way of meal planning. I was getting tired of the “What’s for dinner?” question that would come. I would have meals planned out, but not what we were going to eat on what day. It was great knowing we could eat meals A, B or C, but it was also very difficult because we would have to narrow it down and might not feel like any of those meals. I found that we were not eating a lot of the meals I had planned because we just didn’t feel like it. So we would go off of the meals I had planned and buy something else. It was just not working.

What I have found to work is to organize my weeks based upon categories. Now, this is not an original concept. If you google meal planning you will probably find a handful (or two) of blogs that talk about this concept. Honestly, I don’t remember reading it on any particular website, but I know that I saw a similar idea posted on pinterest, and it reminded me of the way we used to eat growing up.

Now growing up we always had predictable meals. Spaghetti on Monday, Burritos on Tuesday…so on and so forth. And I hated it. Hated having the same meals over and over and over again. So I didn’t want to get stuck in that rut. But the concept works. Especially for a tight budget.

So here’s my take on it.

Each day of the week we have a different “category.” Then I plan meals based upon that category. I don’t purchase things for a specific meal but things that I know we like that fit into those categories. Let me show you how it works.

Monday: Mexican

Tuesday: Italian

Wednesday: Whatever (leftovers or quick meals)

Thursday: Asian

Friday: Fish

Saturday: Grill

Sunday: Crockpot

So when I do my shopping list I take a look at these categories and think about what kinds of foods that we like to eat. Here’s how it looks:

Mexican: We like to have burritos a lot. But we also enjoy quesadillas, soft tacos, and fajitas.

So I can get chicken breasts, salsa, cheese, tortillas, beans (I get dried beans from WIC), and brown rice. If there are any good avocados available I will pick up one to make some guacamole. And fresh salsa is always best. So sometimes I will pick up the ingredients to make fresh salsa (tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, cilantro, green onions, lemon juice, and garlic). These ingredients work well for any of the three options. If I want I can add in bell peppers, some spinach (or lettuce), etc. These veggies work wonderfully in quesadillas and fajitas.

For those of you who are following the Trim Healthy Mama plan, here is how I alter my Mexican Mondays. First of all, we buy the low carb whole wheat Mission tortillas. These are great for my diabetic son as well.

If I decide to have beans and rice on my burrito or with my fajitas, this makes it an E meal. This means no guac and low fat cheese. I LOVE Cabot extra sharp, 90% reduced cheddar. Because I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts the fat is very minimal in the whole meal because I do not use any fat in our refried beans (I simply mash the beans in my food processor with some salsa and then reheat it).

My brown rice I like to use the boiling method. Basically you cook it like you would pasta. Heat up a big pot of water. Add your rice. Let cook for 30 minutes with the lid off. Drain the water from the rice. Put it back in the pot and place the lid on it for 10 minutes. There will be a little bit of water in the rice still which is good. The water will then steam the rice, cooking it the rest of the way. Then you can add seasonings. I usually make up a decent amount and put the leftovers in freezer bags to save for another night. (Works really well for stir fry.)

After cooking I season the rice with chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and pepper. Sometimes I add a little salsa and sometimes I add just onions, garlic and a little bit of tomatoes. Depends on my mood.

Now, my kids won’t eat our burritos. But they love “cheese crips.” So I make them up tortillas with cheese crisped in the skillet (quesadilla to the rest of the world) and serve it with some salsa and a few corn chips. They love it!

Italian: For Italian we have a variety of choices. Spaghetti, baked ziti, pizza, or alfredo.

In our pantry I always have a variety of pastas. Spaghetti noodles, ziti, and elbow are the most common. I have just switched us over to Dreamfields pasta which is supposedly great for blood sugars. It seems to work for us, but may not work for you. There are some other great pastas like the veggie one from Rotoni that we also like.

I also always buy at least one jar or can of spaghetti sauce, a package of lean ground turkey sausage, parmesan cheese, and pepperoni. If I know that we are having ziti or pizza I will pick up mozzarella and ricotta (these are also great THM items).

It takes a little more work to fit Italian food into the THM plan but it can be done. Remember that Dreamfields is on plan as long as you stick to 1/5 of the box. I try to stick to 1/6th since that is one serving size according to the box. Make sure your sauce is sugar free.

When I have spaghetti I am usually in E meal mode and add a slice of bread to go along with it (that is in plan).

Ziti can be done in S mode if using ricotta, and full fat mozzarella. This is a good meal to use real sausage if desired or to add some good pepperoni chunks. Just make sure to keep your sauce and pasta amounts down so that your carbs do not exceed 11 grams. Alfredo is also truly an S meal due to the fat in the sauce. Add some chicken for protein.

My kids don’t really like most of these options. But they do like noodles with some cheese on it. So I will make up whatever pasta we are eating and add some cheese. S loves pepperoni so I give him a few slices of that to go with it. And I always give them a small amount of what we are eating (so spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, etc, on the side).

Pizza is a bit tricky. I have yet to really figure it out. But generally what I do is make my family pizza and then make an S crust from the Trim Healthy Mama book for myself. I then add a tablespoon of spaghetti sauce, pepperoni, tomatoes, spinach, bell peppers, a couple of onion slices, and a whole bunch of cheese. Yum! I would love to figure out a way to use Gwen’s bread as a crust in a way that it would fit as an E meal but I have yet to do so.

Salads go great with all these meals. I am not a big dressing fan so I am quite content with either lemon juice (if its an E meal) or some olive oil mixed with lemon juice (if its an S meal). My husband uses low carb Italian dressing. Gwen has a recipe for a great ranch dressing option that can also be used.

Asian: For Asian we are a bit boring. We really like beef and broccoli, and chicken stir fry.

My husband loves steak. So he buys steak in bulk at Sam’s and we freeze it to use for a variety of different meals. Beef and broccoli works wonderfully with steak versus the roast that many recipes online suggest. If making it THM style use shirtaki noodles (konjac or yam noodles) to make it a S meal. Otherwise brown rice works wonderfully under the beef and broccoli. (By the way, I buy frozen broccoli to use throughout the pay period in a variety of ways. It works wonderfully in this recipe as well.)

Another favorite is chicken stir fry. The ingredients for this are easy to come across too. The rice I make up on Monday’s for the Mexican meal and then freeze. The chicken comes in the package with the chicken I use on Monday as well.

This is a perfect E meal if served over rice and cooked with a minimal amount of oil, or a great S meal if served over shirtaki, and cooked with a healthy amount of coconut oil. Just use egg whites instead of whole eggs if making it an E meal.

12 Weeks…

Its been 12 weeks. Twelve weeks since my little G was born. Hard to believe that it has already been so long. He is HUGE! The kid looks like he is a 6 month old. In fact, he is about to move into 6 month clothing. As soon as I get it all sorted and washed. Here is a great shot of him all spread out in the pack n play yesterday. (Note: my mama made that gorgeous quilt he is sleeping on.)

I took a great picture of the three boys today. The older boys are so in love with their little brother. They want to be near him, to play with him, to read to him, to kiss him…it touches my heart how much they love him and each other. I am so blessed!


We’ve been devouring smoothies lately. I have been hiding all kinds of veggies in it but mostly spinach. I love the spinach because it has a very subtle taste. It can be covered up so easily. Kale is our other favorite but that one I notice more. T loves them no matter what. Yesterday I made a chocolate peanut butter one that was absolutely delicious!

I started by using my food processor to grind up the frozen spinach with a bit of milk. It does a better job of getting it nice and pureed. Then I transferred it to the blender where I added a couple of large tablespoons of peanut butter, and a Atkins chocolate shake. It was pretty runny. I did add some ice but it was still thin. But that’s okay. It was amazingly delicious and T and I devoured it!

I also made chocolate peanut butter this week with my new food processor (got it for half off and I LOVE it!). I used the peanut butter we get through WIC (2 heaping tablespoons), some powdered choclate (1/2 cup), milk (amount needed for desired consistency poured in from the top), and a tiny bit of Truvia (to taste). The boys love it! Here’s a picture of its creaminess.

I made enough to fill our old chocolate peanut butter container. Only downside is keeping it in the fridge and using it up in a timely manner (because of the milk) but we go through it so fast that I’m not too worried.

Last Sunday was Easter. We had great fun on Saturday with a small hunt in our kitchen/dining room. I put the boys’ lunch in their eggs and they loved opening each egg to find all the different parts. Here is S’s plate. He organized it so nicely. T just dumped it all on his plate.

Sunday we had a nice time with our friend Amber who joined us for church and then spent the afternoon/evening with us. I’m so grateful she was able to celebrate with us.

Dinner was different than anything I had ever made before.

First I made a ham in the crock pot. I adapted a recipe that I found online. I love this particular website as I have found several recipes that have worked successfully for my family of picky kids.

I did alter it a bit. I used apple juice instead of pineapple juice, because it was what we had on hand. I also put cut potatoes, and fresh green beans in the crock pot with the ham. Let me tell you, I am not a huge fan of ham, but this was amazing! So sweet, and moist. And the potatoes and green beans…oh! There isn’t a word describe the amazing taste of the caramelization. And the green beans were still nice and crisp. Yum!

I skipped my family’s traditional sweet potatoes and made this sweet potato and apple recipe. I did use more apple juice than the recipe called for and added a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon. It was delicious!

I served the boys leftover mac and cheese because it was the one thing I knew they were guaranteed to eat (and yet only S ate it, go figure). I did give them a little of everything else to try as well but they didn’t even touch the other stuff. With the exception of the rolls.

About a month ago we discovered Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuit mix at Sam’s. I decided Easter was the perfect time to give them a try. Oh my goodness! They are delicious! Pretty much just like the ones at Red Lobster. So good! Not healthy, I am sure, but a delicious way to enjoy a favorite part of dinner out, while at home.

Amber brought us some delicious cupcakes from Walmart. Oh my! So good! I really need to not be allowed to have deserts though. I am such a pig and have no self control!

The only bad thing was that I cut my thumb. Pretty deeply. And it wouldn’t stop bleeding. I cut it at 1:30 while cutting my sweet potatoes, and it was still bleeding when we decided to go to the ER at 8:00. I went through several wraps of bandages. When they got me into the ER all they did was washed it, put a foam thing on it, and wrapped it back up. It is healing nicely now. But it has been quite a challenge to do things without using my right thumb.

As far as my weight loss goes, I haven’t lost anything. I also haven’t really made a concerted effort to work out. I have been working on recipes for myself and my family, and have been trying to incorporate more healthy options into our diets. I have been drinking more tea (a mixture of black and green sweetened with a little Truvia) as opposed to soda (diet or regular) and I have been trying to get more veggies into my diet. Smoothies have definitely become my best friend in that aspect because it is a lot easier for me to drink a big glass of veggies then it is for me to eat them.

This week I need to focus on drinking more water. I have not wanted water lately and I think I am feeling the effects of that. So I am going to work on doing a better job on that this week. Still hoping to find time to get some exercise in. Hoping we can do some walks as a family this week (we took one last night) since it is FINALLY warming up a bit.

And that is how things are going in my life. How are they in yours?

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Adventures in Freezer Cooking

I am so grateful for tax money! With it we were able to purchase a Sam’s membership and with it a brand new freezer. Its nothing fancy. Just a box that holds extra frozen food in the garage. But it means that I can now embark on an adventure in freezer cooking.

This week I have been planning, and searching for recipes. I was looking for things that my family already eats that can be frozen, or things that it looked like my family would really enjoy.

After a shopping trip yesterday afternoon I began my adventure!

Here’s what I made:

1. Skinny Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese:

This delicious casserole was what we had for dinner tonight.

I substituted half of the cheese for pepper jack cheese and used whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. I didn’t have chicken broth so I used the low-sodium, organic vegetable broth that I did have on hand. I skipped spraying the pan with oil as there is plenty of oil in the dish already. I used unsalted sweet cream butter for half of the butter amount and then used a vegetable oil spread for the other half. I also made my own breadcrumbs from whole wheat bread, using minced garlic, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and onion powder to season them.

The results were fantastic! The only change that I would make is to add chunks of cheese in right before baking in order to make it a cheesier dish like the mac and cheese that I grew up with.

Fortunately I have two huge casserole pans (aluminum from the dollar store) of it in the freezer along with a few individual containers. So it will be something that we will be able to enjoy several more times in the next few months.

2. Shredded Chicken:

Next I cooked up some shredded chicken. This was kind of cheating since the crock pot did most of the work. Before I went to bed last night I put three (HUGE) chicken breasts into my crock pot along with the rest of the vegetable oil that I used in the macaroni and cheese. Then I let the crock pot do its thing on low all night.

This morning I woke up to some delicious smelling chicken that was ready to be cooled and shredded. Once it was cooled, and shredded, I separated into three 1/2 pound portions. I then put them in quart sized freezer bags with just a small portion of the broth and froze. Now I have shredded chicken on hand and ready for a variety of different recipes!

3. Homemade Frozen Pizza:

We love pizza! There is nothing more enjoyable then having a hot, cheesy slice of pizza on a long hard day. But I hate the fact that the majority of pizzas are horribly unhealthy. Plus, spending all that money on grease is just a shame.

I picked up 4 pizza pans at the dollar store. I went with the regular ones rather than the disposable because that way I can use them over and over again and not worry about them being too flimsy. And they were the same price!

Next I got myself some Fleischmann’s Pizza Crust Yeast. It wasn’t my original plan but I am glad I did because it was super easy to use!

I used half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose. Next time I buy all-purpose I will be buying the non-bleached kind so the dough will be even healthier and also much darker. But for now I went with what I have on hand.

For the tomato sauce I bought a can of Hunt’s spaghetti sauce and added my own seasonings, allowing it to simmer in a saucepan. I wanted to make it from scratch but found that it would actually cost me more. So I went for the lowest price, sauce with the least amount of ingredients.

The alfredo sauce is my favorite jarred sauce, and I didn’t do anything to it. The chicken I cut up, seasoned with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper, and cooked in my skillet until just cooked through.

Right now everything is cooling. But in a bit I will assemble the pizzas. I will have two that are chicken alfredo and then two that are half cheese and half pepperoni/mushroom (for my hubby).

Hopefully this will be a deliciously healthy alternative to either ordering pizza or buying frozen pizzas at the store.

4. Pinto Beans:

My crock pot is currently cooking a batch of pinto beans. I decided to use the left over chicken/vegetable broth (after I put some in the bags with the shredded chicken and froze some in star shaped ice cube trays) mixed with my seasonings and water. When it is done cooking I will freeze the beans in 2 cup portions so that I can quickly grab them from the freezer and make refried beans whenever I want.

This is a big deal for me. I hate spending the money on canned refried beans but there are days when I want beans and don’t think about it early enough to get them done in time for dinner. This way I can simply defrost the beans, puree, and reheat, adding in salsa, cheese, onions, and garlic as desired. Its an amazing time saver, far cheaper, and much healthier. Just be sure to freeze a bit of that bean broth with your beans to aid in the reheating process.

5. Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken:

Doesn’t this look delicious?

I’ll be honest. We haven’t tried it yet. But I figured it would be easy enough to go ahead and prepare it so that I can just throw it into the crock pot some morning without having to really think about it. (I intend to make up some rice to freeze in the next couple of days as well.)

I did make a mistake in my reading of the directions and added all the ingredients together in the plastic bag, but I doubt that it will make that much of a difference. I’ll try to remember to come back with my opinion once we try it. I’ve heard it is amazing though!


I still want to make up some packets of dry cookie mix, some breakfast foods (pancakes, muffins, quick breads, pb&j…) for those busy mornings, and some lasagna (chicken alfredo with broccoli and carrots, and meat/vegetable) once we get paid again. But I managed to create about 10 frozen meals without too much effort. It’ll definitely help on those busy nights or when I am just too tired to want to prepare a healthy meal.

Do you have any make ahead healthy recipes to share?





Hearty Chili

The other day I posted a blog on making your own beans to use for a variety of recipes. Today I want to share with you a recipe for a very hearty chili to warm up your cold fall/winter nights. (Thank you Nenna for the basis of this recipe!)

Hearty Chili

Makes 12, 1 cup servings


*1 lb dried Red Kidney Beans

*1/3 cup dried Black Beans

*1 lb ground Turkey Sausage

*2 28 oz cans of Tomatoes (I use crushed because we don’t like chunks but you can substitute diced or stewed. You may just have to adjust the liquid content.)

*1 cup Salsa (I prefer Pace Picante.)

*1 large Onion, diced

*1 tablespoon of minced Garlic

*Black Pepper, Chili Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Cumin (to taste)

*Grated Cheddar Cheese

1. Start the night before by preparing your beans. Follow this tutorial for an easy method. In the morning, drain beans and return to the crock pot.

2. Spray a large skillet with a non-stick spray. Saute the garlic and onion for a few minutes.

3. Add the ground turkey to the skillet and heat until cooked through. Drain grease.

4. Combine the beans, tomatoes, turkey, salsa, and seasoning in the crock pot.

5. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

6. Scoop into a bowl, sprinkle with cheese and enjoy!

This recipe makes a lot of chili! Once your family has enjoyed it, divide the rest into small containers and freeze for quick, easy, and healthy meals anytime.

If you try the recipe, let me know how it works for you and what additions or changes you find work for your family.

{Tutorial}: Beans

One of the most important ingredients in chili is beans. You can’t have a good bowl of chili without those hearty and delicious beans.

An economical and healthy option is to use dried beans.

I know that a lot of people are afraid to use dried beans. They think that the process is too complicated and time-consuming.

While I will admit that it does take hours to get the beans to the perfect softness, it is one of the simplest thing you can make. So simple that you can do it while you are sleeping!

{Tutorial}: Beans

1 pound bag beans (will yield about 4-5 cups of cooked beans)


Big Mixing Bowl

Crock Pot

1. The first thing you need to do is dump the beans into a big bowl. Fill the bowl the rest of the way with water.

I suggest letting this sit on the counter for a few hours. Usually what I do is get it started after dinner and leave it be on the counter until I am getting ready for bed.

After letting the beans sit for a few hours you will notice that they have plumped up quite a bit. A few beans will have risen to the top. You will want to skim off any beans that look gross and watch out for any rocks that might be in the batch. Pour the beans into a colander to drain them of the water.

In my picture you can see two different kinds of beans. These beans are waiting to be turned into chili. But it is the same process for pinto beans to be turned into re-fried beans, or any recipe in which you want to substitute dried beans for the canned variety.

2. Pour all the beans into the crock pot.

3. Fill crock pot with water.

You want to make sure to fill the crock pot to about 3/4 of the way full. It is important to make sure that there is plenty of liquid in the crock pot. Don’t worry about there being too much because you will end up getting rid of the water at the end of the process.

4. Plug in the crock pot, cover with lid, and set on low.

5. Let it cook overnight, and don’t think about it until the morning.

6. Pour beans into the colander to drain of liquid and use in recipe as normal.

If you are making re-fried beans or another form of beans that does not need to cook for hours you can let the beans soak overnight and cook all day. Then they will be ready to prepare for dinner. If you are using them for a recipe, like chili, it is helpful to cook the beans overnight so that you can prepare the recipe in the morning and allow it to cook all day.

I will share my chili recipe (an adaptation of my wonderful friend Nenna’s recipe) soon, but here is how I take this recipe and turn it into “re-fried” beans. (I put it in quotes because I generally do not do any real frying.)

Re-fried Beans

1. The easiest way I have found is to use a blender. I do not own a food processor, but it may be simpler. If you have one, give it a try.

Start with a small amount of beans. You do not want to overload the blender. (I accidentally killed a blender by putting too many beans in at one time.) Generally I do about a cup of beans at a time.

Add a small amount of milk. Blend. You are trying to get a mushy consistency.

2. Transfer the beans into a large sauce pan.

3. Continue blending until all the beans have reached the mushy consistency. Over time you will figure out exactly what consistency you like.

4. Spray a small skillet with oil and heat some garlic and onions. The amount that you use is completely up to you. I change the amount from time to time. But as a general rule, for one pound of beans (which is around 4-5 cups cooked) I would us a large onion and 5-6 garlic cloves, minced.

5. Add garlic and onions to the pot of beans.

6. I then add cheese and salsa to the beans. I also like to add pepper, cumin, chili pepper, paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder. (I do not use salt as it is unnecessary and adds to high blood pressure problems common in our society, but if you must use salt, feel free to do so.) This is all to taste, and all seasonings can easily be omitted.

7. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the cheese is all melted.

Because your beans are probably still hot from being in the crock pot, it won’t take long to get the cheese melted and to blend the flavors.

If you are making this into more of a dip, I would suggest adding more milk when you are blending the beans. If it is to go on your burritos, I would use less. Just make sure that you use enough liquid to keep your blender happy.