Jun 28, 2017

Why Plan a Menu?

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Food, glorious, food! I love the smells and tastes coming out of European pastry shops, the smells of burgers and wings during football season, and bread cooking in my mama's oven. I crave the sweet, cool, juicy bites of the summer's first cold watermelon, and the pizza from my favorite small town pizzeria back in PA! (Shout out to Roma in Pottsville!) Fancy, humble, homemade, or bought, none of that matters to me as long as it tastes good. What I don't like is how much it costs. Which brings me to the point of this post, menu planning. I've found it to be a huge help in keeping costs down, even if only so I can make sure all those wonderful leftovers and bags of produce actually get used. Tossing containers I'm afraid to open is not my idea of fun. One, I don't like wasting good food. Two, wasted food equals wasted money. Three, I'm broke. Menu planning has allowed me to add foods I otherwise couldn't afford. I can purchase things like almond flour, try a new veggie, or an inexpensive bottle of wine. Your list will be different than mine, and that's okay. To help you get started I'm including a sample week of meals and my menu planner page as we "set a spell" and get to making a menu.

Now, how to do it? I don't tend to follow conventional wisdom here. Most advice seems to be the plan first shop later variety. I tend to go overboard looking for recipes with waaaaay to many ingredients I don't have on hand, or I get there and they are out of something I need. Needless to say, my meals can be banging, but I'm broker than ever. Worse, I get tired of so much cooking and things go bad before I use them. To keep this from being a problem I look for loss leaders and coupons . Check out those grocery fliers! Now, if you are starting out or starting over, don't rush out and buy a bunch of things you can't afford. Set aside a portion of your grocery money (even if it's just 5 dollars) and slowly build up. You want a good foundation to cook with. Now, while I shop, I literally keep a little pad of paper and subtract the cost of each thing I buy from the amount I'm budgeted. (Don't forget tax.) Then I look at how much I have left, and decide if I really want it or not. It's amazing what you can leave behind when you only have $60 to feed a family of 5. My personal opinion, don't take the kids if you are stressed about money. It just makes things worse. They either see things they want or you see things you want for them. Who needs the added stress and temptation? Personally, I enjoy having them with me most of the time. It's like a mini drive with singing in the car, conversations, and even homeschool lessons like mileage, nutrition, advertising, and the 's' word..... socialization! Whatever you do, don't get in a hurry, don't go hungry, and don't be afraid to change your mind once you get there. It's inevitable you will find better deals, or have new ideas based on what's available. Just go with it.

Photo by Andrei Bocan on Unsplash

Now that you're home and the groceries are put away and it's quiet. Take it! Grab it! Hold onto it for a few precious moments and don't let go! Enjoy a cup of coffee and small snack. Once ready get your receipts and go over what you bought. Write down on scratch paper the meals you want to cook. Don't get caught up here like I used to. You know your family. Do the meals that work for you and your schedule. Boredom hits hard very easily during meal times and it can be tempting to write down recipes you just realistically won't make, but seem amazing at the time. Menu planning allows us to get creative not just with our food, but also with our time. Time is my favorite perk, it allows me to include the kids in the cooking process. (I have a budding ramen expert, a baker in training, and a tea maker (because even though I taught him how, he makes it better...sigh.)  You can also have certain nights set aside for different types of meals. As a Catholic I still try to eat fish on Friday. The only other things I hold fast to is 3 vegetarian meals through the week (one each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and to have something a little extra on Sunday so my kids can look forward to it the way I did. Lots of people add a taco, soup, or slow cooker night as well. It just depends on how organized and detailed you want to be. I sometimes prep as I put away groceries by separating main ingredients (think value sized meats) into the amounts that will be used in a meal. Other times I know I'll have to do some more detailed prep for example, a huge ham cooked, separated into slices, cubes, and the bone set aside for beans or greens. I take all that into account. Getting the heat required prep out of the way as soon as possible during the summer heat and in the winter I bake more so I do those during the day to help warm the house. If you don't want to plan for a full week, start by planning a couple of days, or even just a few meals. Anything you do today that you weren't doing yesterday is a step in the right direction. Keep it sane. Keep it simple. Stressing about it doesn't help, so play with it until you get the hang of it and bask in the delight of good food making your home smell amazing, your family healthier, and your budget happier.

Download my menu planning page here.

Sample Menu
  1. Sausage biscuits, fruit
  2. grits, fruit
  3. biscuits n' gravy
  4. pancakes
  5. oatmeal
  6. sausage biscuits
  7. (Sunday fast)
  1. baked potatoes
  2. sandwiches, carrot sticks
  3. left overs
  4. BLT's, celery
  5. fried rice
  6. Grilled cheese
  7. bean burritos
  1. pasta Alfredo with ham, green beans
  2. potato soup, salad
  3. greens, beans, cornbread
  4. leftovers
  5. baked tilapia, peas, corn on the cob
  6. pancakes, bacon, fruit
  7. stew, rice. salad
  1. carrot sticks and ranch 
  2. celery and peanut butter 
  3. fruit 
  4. brownies
  1. milk
  2. hot tea
  3. sweet tea
  4. coffee
  5. water
  6. juice 

Jun 24, 2017

Dinosaurs vs. Mom

I don't know about your kids, but my kids are dino-nuts! Three out of the four library books they picked last week are about dinosaurs. My house is FULL of them. I hear the roaring and other strange dino-sounds all day long that they have learned from documentaries we've watched (over, and over, and over*wimper*). I tried limiting the amount of dino toys. I have tried the park, monkeys, fashion, birds, and even bugs to hold back the dino bursting dam ..............nope, no good. They know so much about dinosaurs that they teach me about them! They are fascinated with herbivore vs carnivore vs omnivore, teeth, bone structure, self defense, and survival instincts. At the park it isn't tag they get everyone to play, it's T-Rex, and my daughter is always the T-Rex trying to eat all the other kids (the herbivores, if eatean (tagged) you're out.) They even sing songs about them! *insert small defeated cry here*

Today, today I went with it and read those dino books...............I hurt my throat on the roars. All because I'm the cool mommy, I do voices. Soooooooooo today the dinos win. I give up! They can have and play with all the dino stuff they want while I drink cool water and nurse on ice cubes. The kids got the stories they wanted read to them by mom (with all the glorious sound effects), they had a blast giggling over the antics of the Dinosaur in Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea. They played a book version of hide and seek in Tyrannosaurs Reg by Dan Crisp. They had fun looking at new animals in Prehistoric Animals by Peter Zallinger. Right now they are playing with their toy dinosaurs in the kitchen. In their imagination they are living in a prehistoric wold full of volcanoes, meteors, huge herds of giant reptialian herbivores, and a baby triceratops trying to befriend a pancake eating t-rex in the middle of it all. Now that takes some creativity! Thinking about it, maybe there are no losers here. The kids are happy and they have learned new things, had mommy time, and are playing out the stories we read. Me, I got cuddles, giggles, and happy kids that learn. I think a scratchy throat is a small price to pay for that.

Jun 22, 2017

Water Challenge

As I've stated a few posts ago I've backslidden on my journey to a healthy me. So when a friend started a 5 day water challenge I jumped on it. Now I used to use a fancy filtered water bottle from Brita that I love dearly. I miss it. I just can't afford the filters anymore and it began whistling everytime I drank from it. This is great for my 7 year old daughter's giggle fits, not so great for my sanity. So now I have this not so new water cup from Murphy USA!

OKAY! Fine! I got the kids slushies when I got gas and then we went to Taco Bell and I got a Lemonade Mountain Dew slush thingy (among *cough*crunch wrap and naked chicken nachos*cough* I did share them though!). I then saw the posts about the water challenge, cringed, (I may or may not have finished my slush) then used my old cup (above), measured how many ounces it held (because of course this is the ONE THING you can't find on google!...Now watch one of my kids find it. *insert eyeroll*) and have learned it holds 20 ounces. I'm on cup two of water. My goal for today is 60, by the end of 5 days my goal is 100, but I'll be happy with 80. I am grateful to use this cup, not so proud I didn't think the day through, but YAY for tomorrow which is a new day. Now, if you will excuse me I have to use the little girls room.

Jun 21, 2017

Book Review: They All Saw A Cat

My son, the 11 year old new parent of a feline fur baby, picked this book to read at our local library. It is so far below his reading level that I admit I cringed. I let it go because, as a late reader, I don't much care what he reads as long as 1.he enjoys it and 2. he is actively reading. It doesn't hurt that his little sister is struggling too and this is right around her level. (As a late reader myself, I get it.) Now, that said, when I read this little book a few minutes ago at bedtime it became a conversation.
"Why does the snake see differently than the dog?"

"Wow! Do bees really see like that?"

"I don't think the dog likes the cat very much!"

What started as a simple, quick book turned into observations about how different animals see things. That conversation turned into how people see things differently. Just like that we had a life lessson amongst giggles and snuggles along with a couple of moments of pondering. It gave me warm fuzzies seeing my kids take a few minutes to learn how no one ever sees anything in exactly the same way as anyone else. As a mom I know they will forget this as soon as one irritates the other, however, for a few minutes, they saw eachother a little differently and they were smiling!

This little treasure gets a thumbs up from me for sure.

 Click Here to find the book on Amazon.

Listen and attend with the ear of your heart -St. Benedict

Jun 20, 2017

Shepherd's Pie and Pastry

 Now my friends and family in the UK will say this is cottage pie. Technically they are correct as it's not made with lamb or mutton. However, I grew up calling it Shepherd's pie as has every American I've met, and being a military brat I have the added bonus of having lived in a few different states....denial and confusion being the most visited. Ha! So to my UK friends and family.....yes, feel free to roll eyes at us "Colonials" and "Yanks". We love you anyway! *insert big loud American hug here* (We won't tell them I usually have iced tea with this....I don't think the eye sockets could stand that level of rolling! Hahaha!) Seriously though, this is amazing and I know they will like it just as much as I like 99 Flakes, a true cuppa, and chip butty's.

Shepherd's Pie (or Cottage Pie)
serves 6-8

For Mashed Potatoes:
6 medium potatoes, peeled, chunked 
1/2 block cream cheese
1/4 c. butter (real)
salt and pepper
milk (to reach desired consistency)

1 lb. ground meat (I use beef or turkey most often)
1 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce or steak sauce of choice
1 lb. mixed vegetables (frozen will work) 
1 tsp. vegetarian bouillon base (or one cube dissolved)
1 tsp. Greek seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste
1/2 10 oz. block Cheddar or Colby cheese, shredded

Boil the potatoes in the water until fork tender. Drain and mash with the cream cheese, butter, salt, and pepper. Add milk a little at a time to reach a spreadable consistency but be careful not to over mash and end up with wallpaper paste.

Cook the ground meat until cooked through and starting to caramelize. Drain some of the fat if needed, you do want to leave a bit though. Add the flour over the meat and fat in the pan and stir to create a roux. Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir. Dump in the veggies while frozen. Add the bouillon and seasonings to taste. You may need to add a little water to get a thick gravy going. 

In a cast iron skillet (preferably the one you cooked the meat in) or a casserole dish spread out the meat mixture evenly. Top with and spread the mashed potatoes evenly. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake in a preheated 375° to 400° oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly. 

Vegetarian: You can use tvp or another type of meat substitute crumble 

Vegan: Use a vegan friendly meat substitute or tvp, a butter substitute such as Earth Balance, and a nondairy milk such as rice or almond, vegan cream cheese, and vegan cheddar - all can be found in google searches, though the first thing that showed up for vegan butter was ghee, this is NOT vegan, ghee is made from butter so be sure to know what you are purchasing

Clean Eating: Since potatoes are supposed to be in moderation you can substitute cauliflower puree for some or part of the mashed potatoes, Instead of frozen veg use fresh and possibly up the vegetable to meat ratio. Instead of bouillon use homemade broth or at the very least get a low sodium variety. 

Shepherd's Handpies

You can use any pie crust recipe for this really, just roll it out, cut out large circles (I used a cereal bowl at one time for this, but anything round will work, the size of course will determine how much filling you use in each one.) I'm including my technique for the crust as I really don't use measurements when I make them anymore.

3 c. all purpose flour (give or take)
salt and pepper
seasonings of choice (in this recipe I used the Greek seasoning)
1 c. grated Cheddar or Colby
3 good dollops of lard, butter, or margarine about the size of an egg each
same filling and potato recipe above but halved
water (to moisten the pastry edges)
1 egg beaten to wash the pastry with

To the flour add the salt and pepper, Greek seasoning and whisk briefly to mix. Add the cheese to the dry ingredients and blend in careful to coat and separate (keeps it from clumping together). Add in the lard and cut into the flour mixture. (I use my hands.) Add just enough milk to bring the flour and fat mixture into a ball. Let it rest about half an hour in the fridge. On a floured surface divide the dough into half and roll out as you would for a regular pie crust. Cut out the circles, flour them lightly to stack, keep going until the dough is gone. (Yes, some of them will be tougher than others, but I reroll the scraps and keep going until I have used everything up.)

Once they are all rolled out add the filling. Now add a dollop of mashed potato. (Be careful with how much filling and potato you use so they don't squish out of the sides.) Wet the edges, fold over, and crimp with a fork. Once they are all made, put them on a baking sheet, and brush with the egg wash. Bake in a preheated 400° degree oven until golden brown. Let cool before serving. I have frozen these many times to be heated up for a quick snack for teen boys or as a packed lunch for work. 

* I don't usually add cream cheese, but I had it and it needed to be used. Don't be afraid to use what you have.

Vegetarian: skip the lard and go with butter or coconut oil

Vegan: see above, and use vegan friendly cheese for the topping, use rice or almond milk, for the egg wash use a bit of olive oil or coconut oil

Clean Eating: You can keep the lard (just be careful how it's processed) or you can use butter,

Jun 19, 2017


This picture was taken over Mother's Day weekend on my phone......by someone else. The river was low that day and as a result the obstacles that are often buried beneath the surface were clearly visible. I simply was not prepared either physically or even materialistically to climb the rocks to be able to see the beauty of the full picture. I didn't know rock climbing was on the agenda so I had to stick to the areas that my flimsy canvas sneakers limited me to, which added to the already obvious health related ones. Choices I'd made in the past limited me. Choices I'd been making for years when I'd chose a soda instead of water, fried chicken instead of grilled, fries instead of steamed veggies, etc. all lead to my obesity that limited my ability to enjoy one of my favorite childhood activities, hiking in the mountains. The other choice was my footwear. I chose to take my flimsy sneakers instead of my supportive ones. The result was I couldn't even reach my physical ability because I had no ankle support. Ergo I limited my enjoyment of the day when it finally arrived. Don't get me wrong, I still had a blast that weekend, but I felt the sting of it. I had to have help getting this picture, among others, because of things that were completely within my control. I don't want to stay this way. I have choices to make if I want this to change. Hard choices are going to be made, choices that affect not just me, but those that depend on me. I am not used to being a single parent anymore and I'm afraid. Even after over a year of being separated I'm not used to being quite so alone. I've let fear keep me down and in truth to some degree I still do. I have a choice to make, either start doing things afraid, or to stay dependent on others. In this picture the river is still free, she is flowing despite that she is weakened, she has obstacles in front of her and all around her, but still she keeps flowing forward. I am determined to be a river of life to those that depend on me. It will take work. There will be highs. There will be lows. I am determined to keep moving forward, no matter how slow I may be.

I can do all things through Him that strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NASB