Category: meal planning

Meal Plan: Creamy Garden Veggie Spaghetti with Hillshire Farm Beef Smoked Sausage

With this sponsored opportunity from Collective Bias, I created a new recipe for our monthly meal plan. 
We are on a meal planning mission around here, but I’m on a quest to keep it interesting and not get stuck in a recipe rut.  Spaghetti was one of my favorite meals growing up, and this recipe gives my comfort food a little twist by adding creamy texture, tons of fresh vegetables, and tasty smoked sausage.  I found all of my fresh ingredients at my local Sam’s Club, where I can buy everything in bulk at great prices.    

Creamy Garden Veggie Spaghetti with Hillshire Farm Beef Smoked Sausage
The Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
Vegetables: 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 2 roma tomatoes, 2 cups baby spinach, 1 onion, 1 bell pepper
Sauce: 2 cans Hunt’s Tomato Sauce (15 oz cans), 4 oz fat free cream cheese, 2 tbsp each dry basil and oregano (or fresh herbs if you have them), salt and pepper to taste, 2 tbsp minced garlic
Pasta – 1 pound Daily Chef Spaghetti noodles
Meat – 1/2 pound Hillshire Farm Beef Smoked Sausage
Serves 4-6

Heat the olive oil in your pan on medium heat. Chop all of your veggies.  Saute the onion until tender.  Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  Add in the rest of the vegetables, except the spinach and tomatoes.  Saute the veggies for 5-7 minutes or until tender.  
Fill the pot with the appropriate amount of water for your pasta according to the package directions.  After you turn the burner on high, put a bit of olive oil in the water, then break your pasta in half and go ahead and put it in the water.  That’s right, you don’t have to wait for it to boil.  Just do it.  Trust me.  
Go back to your veggies and add the tomato and spinach.  Continue to let the vegetables cook, stirring occasionally.  Once the spinach wilts, add in the two cans of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce as well as the basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Next add the cream cheese and stir well until it is mixed in.  Once the cream cheese is completely melted, turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer until everything else is ready. 
Chop the smoked sausage into small pieces and toss it into a small skillet on medium heat. Let it cook thoroughly, then drain the grease into your grease jar. Never pour it down the drain! Set sausage aside.    
Watch your pasta and test it after about 8 minutes.  You don’t want it to get mushy.  As soon as it is ready, drain it and return it to the pot to keep warm.  

Serve the pasta topped with the sauce and the sausage.  Sprinkle a little fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top and  you are ready to enjoy.  Hopefully your family will love this twist on traditional spaghetti and get a big serving of vegetables while eating a favorite comfort food.  For more great recipe ideas, check out the demos happening at your local Sam’s Club from 11 am until 2 pm on September 17 (Italian Style Fish and Pasta), Sept. 19 (Quick and Easy Chicken Parmesan), and Sept. 24 (Chicken Dippers).  

Did you know that smoked sausage is one of my favorite foods of all time? It’s true.  I love those miniature smoked sausages with all my heart, but the larger version is more practical for use in a recipe.  Garlic bread is another favorite food.  I’ll share my killer cheesy garlic bread technique with y’all soon.

The Bear prefers for his food to be separated. We’ll call it deconstructed veggie spaghetti with a side of smoked sausage.  Toddlers are tricky.

What is your favorite comfort food recipe?  

Frugal Friday: 4 {Very} Basic Meal Planning Tips ~ A Beginner’s Guide

We have been living on one income for a little over one year, and it has been a challenge.  Last week I shared tips on how to set your monthly grocery budget.  You can read more about our budget here and our journey to financial freedom here.  One of the most difficult areas for us is our grocery budget.  There are three of us eating actual food right now, as the Pearl Girl is strictly on the mama milk.

Our monthly food budget is $350.  We take out that much in cash at the beginning of each month and try our best to stay under that amount.  In order to make this happen, we have to meal plan like champs.  Why is meal planning so important when you are on a tight budget?  Having a plan helps me prepare in advance and not end up trying to scramble to throw a dinner together at 5:30.  It helps me to choose budget friendly meals and not end up running for take out because we forgot dinner comes at the same time every day.

I tried using a paid meal planning service (that I won’t name) for free for a blog review, but it wasn’t a good fit for us.  I decided not to write the review because the reason it wasn’t a good fit wasn’t their fault.  The recipes were great, but I am married to a pretty picky eater and mother to a toddler who has very specific preferences.  Let’s just say a meal plan for normal people didn’t work out.  Meal planning isn’t rocket science, but it does take intentional decision making and the willingness to plan ahead.  If this Queen of Procrastination can do it, you can, too.  Here are my very basic meal planning tips to help you on your way.

1) Set Your Grocery Budget – Read more about how to do it in this post.

2) Grab a calendar and start filling in dinners.  Start with your family’s favorites.  Use a month long calendar and fill in as many slots as you can with meals you know how to prepare.

3) Fill in the rest of your meals.  Call your mom and ask for the recipe for a childhood favorite.  Look on Pinterest, Tasty Kitchen, and other recipe sites, but don’t get bogged down and overwhelmed.  Text your friend for her favorite recipes.  Once you have enough filled in for one week you’re off to a great start.  You don’t have to cook like Julia Child every night, but it is fun to mix it up by adding in new things once a week or so.  Add in a vegetarian meal once a week to save money on meat and reduce your environmental impact.

4) Start your list, one week at a time.  Go through each dinner and check to see if you have what you need, then add any missing items to your grocery list.  Next, add in basics for breakfast and lunch.  We keep these items on hand every week: homemade oatmeal, frozen whole grain waffles, English muffins, cream cheese, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, cereal, eggs, bacon, peanut butter, fruit preserves, honey, cheese, deli meat, and baked chips.

That’s it! You have a meal plan.  I like to plan ahead for the whole month but only shop one week at a time.  I call it a victory when I only have to grocery shop once per week.  Be on the lookout for more meal planning posts coming soon.  Thanks for reading!

#ad Budget Friendly Meal Planning and Giving Back with Tyson Hunger Heroes Champions for Kids Project

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Tyson Hunger Heroes Champions for Kids Project at my local Sam’s Club.  Right here in Texas 27% of children live in poverty and with food insecurity.  Do you know the statistics for your area?  During the month of August, for every bag of chicken nuggets purchased Tyson will donate one meal (4 oz) of protein to kids in need right here in the US.  Read more about how to become a Hunger Hero here.  Including Tyson Chicken Nuggets in your meal plan this month not only helps you provide a quick and easy protein for your family, but also helps another family feed their children.  You can see more from my Sam’s shopping trip here.  If you would like to try the chicken nuggets in person, you can attend a demonstration at your local Sam’s Club from 11-2 on August 29th, 30th, and 31st.

Find Tyson Chicken Nuggets at your local Sam’s Club.

Tyson Chicken Nuggets come in a 5 lb bag for less than $10 (here in Texas), and each bag contains 25 servings.  Our family needs 3 servings per meal, so that means we will get 8 meals out of one bag of nuggets.  That adds up to $1.25 per meal for our protein, which is definitely budget friendly.  A family of four would get 6 meals out of one bag of chicken nuggets.  The bags are resealable, so you can take out only what you need for that meal and bake them quickly while saving the rest for later.

Green Salad with Chopped Chicken Nuggets, Shredded Cheese, and Carrots

If you are interested in helping the Hunger Heroes Champions for Kids Project, head to your local Sam’s Club and pick up a bag of Tyson Chicken Nuggets.

Kid Friendly Dinner Options

Here are a few meal plan ideas for you to use:
1) Nuggets + Roasted Carrot Fries + Macaroni and Cheese
2) Green Salad with Chopped Chicken Nuggets, Cheddar Cheese, Tomatoes, and Light Ranch Dressing
3) Nuggets + Green Beans + Brown Rice
4) Whole Wheat Bun with Nuggets, Melted Swiss Cheese, and a Ham Slice + Roasted Sweet Potato Fries + Green Salad

The Bear loved his dinner.
What’s on your meal plan this week?  

Be sure to check out my fellow Hunger Heroes below and get more great ideas for feeding your family and giving back at the same time.  Follow the Champions for Kids project on Facebook and Twitter.

Frugal Friday: How to Set Your Monthly Grocery Budget {And Stick to It}

For the past four years, we have followed the Dave Ramsey financial peace plan.  A huge part of this plan is writing down and sticking to a monthly budget.  We tell every dollar where to go, including what we spend on food.  Setting and sticking to a budget is the number one thing you can do to become debt free and find financial freedom.  If you are bogged down by your finances, know that freedom is possible.  We are living proof.  You can read more about our financial story here.  Both of us were once deep in debt and we have now been debt free for almost 4 years.  Today I’m sharing how we set our monthly grocery budget, and a few tips that help us stick to it.  
1) Track your spending.
Before you set your grocery budget, it will be helpful to track your food spending for one month.  Keep you receipts and add up your totals at the end of the month.  Was this a typical month or was your budget off kilter because of guests visiting, birthday parties, etc?  Add or subtract to accommodate those factors.  This will give you a ball park figure to add to your total budget.
2) Create your larger monthly budget.
Your grocery budget is a part of your larger monthly budget.  There are a multitude of budgeting tools out there.  We prefer Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover budget tool.  It takes you through setting up a budget step by step.  If you want to do it on your own, simply write down your total monthly income and start subtracting your expenses.  Account for your tithe or giving, rent or mortgage, utilities, and then groceries, and any debts.  After the essentials you will see what you have left to spend on the non-essentials like dining out, gifts, travel, etc.  You will probably need to tweak the numbers a few time to get everything just right.  Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a few months to get it right.  
3) Take your grocery number set in your larger budget and divide it up.
How much do you usually spend on meat?  We buy meat only when it is on sale and freeze it in individual baggies or in freezer meals.  We also eat at least one vegetarian meal every week to reduce our spending and our environmental impact.  What are your budget busters? Alcohol, fancy cheese, brand name foods, seasonal items… Each week you will want to make sure your basics are covered before you buy a bottle of wine or (in my case) a fancy cheese.  Goat cheese is my love language, y’all.  If you are a soda drinker, wait until they are on sale and stock up.  One month we busted our grocery budget buying Christmas candy.  I’m so not kidding.  
4) Meal Plan 
Write down your dinners for the week and stick to the plan.  I’ll share more about how we plan our meals next week, but know that without a plan it is easy to lose track of your spending.  Some folks use coupons to help them plan, but I have more luck shopping at Aldi.  When we started shopping there it cut our budget by almost 40%.  Seriously.  They aren’t a sponsor of this blog (but the totally should be), we just love the store.  We gave up name brands almost entirely.  There are a few products that truly are better with name brands, so we look for coupons for those favorites.  
5) Use cash envelopes.
Take out the entire monthly grocery budget in cash at the beginning of each month.  Put it in your grocery envelope and take it with you every time you go to the grocery store.  If you run out before the end of the month, try your best to use what you already have on hand and get creative.  Using cash will help you immensely as you try to stick to your budget.  
How do you keep your grocery spending on track? 

Meal Planning: Chicken and Peppers with Minute Rice

 Ok, everyone remembers that I’m not a food blogger for several very good reasons, right?  Be that as it may, I like to share my favorite recipes with y’all from time to time.  Lately we’ve been on a meal planning jaunt, and it has been good to us.  We are seriously only going to the grocery store once a week, and staying under our $380 a month food budget.  Yay!  This is one of our favorite recipes, and I recently made the switch to using Minute Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice in place of white rice.  We try to buy chicken when it is on sale, and freeze it in serving sized baggies for later use.  We also try to keep veggies and whole grains on hand all the time for easy meal planning.  Fresh veggies – check.  Whole grains – check.  Lean protein – check.

Quick and Easy Chicken and Peppers with Minute Rice
3 Bell Peppers (I prefer to use one red, one yellow, and one orange.)
1 Onion ( I like Vidalias best.)
2 Chicken Breasts (about 13 oz)
2 servings Minute Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice
Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning
Olive Oil (about 2 tbsp)
2 cloves minced garlic

Boil your chicken til it hits 165 degrees and then shred it.  If you have a Kitchen Aid Mixer, throw your chicken in there and shred it with the paddle in about 30 seconds.  Pure magic.  I’ll spare you the raw and shredded chicken pics.  No one wants to see that.
While the chicken is boiling, chop your onion and peppers.  Saute the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp of the olive oil until your onions are well cooked.  Then toss the peppers in with the their friends.  Liberally sprinkle the Cavender’s and Tony C’s all over the onion/pepper mixture, and stir in the other tbsp of olive oil.  Sprinkle on more seasoning for good measure.

Now would be a good time to start the rice.  It only takes 10 minutes, so no worries.  Follow the directions on the box and you’ll be good to go.
Once the chicken is shredded and the peppers are cooked, toss the shredded chicken in with the peppers and onions.  Feel free to sprinkle on more seasoning.  Once the Minute Rice is ready, toss it in, too.  And you’re done.  Woohoo!

What’s your favorite go-to weeknight meal?  Do you meal plan? 

Minute® Rice is so quick and easy to prepare and is great pantry staple. When meal time seems like a hassle, Minute® Rice is a go-to ingredient your whole family will love and allows you to have more quality time doing what your want with your loved ones.
Leftover rotisserie chicken or veggies from a meal earlier in the week? Minute® Rice can easily be paired with some of your leftover ingredients to make a quick, easy and wholesome meal your whole family will love in just a matter of minutes.
Visit to create a great main meal or side dish for your next family get-together or potluck.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Minute® Rice.

Let’s Make Healthy Breakfasts for a Week in 10 Minutes or Less

I learned a version of this homemade instant oatmeal recipe at MOPS last year, and then shared it again with our group of mamas and it was a big hit.  I make it almost every week and it provides about 9 breakfasts. It takes about ten minutes to prepare the whole batch to store.  I reuse the same gallon ziplock bag over and over to store the mix in my pantry.  Each morning you just scoop out a half cup of mix, add 1 cup of water or milk, and microwave for 90 seconds.  I let mine set for a few minutes and then stir and eat.  Easy and yummy and quick.

Homemade Instant Oatmeal:
4 cups oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup dried fruit bits
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 large ziplock bag or other storage container

Measure your ingredients and toss them into a storage container like a gallon ziplock bag or pyrex dish.  Stir or toss to combine well.  To serve – add 1/2 cup mix to 1 cup milk or water and microwave for 90 seconds (ish).  Let set for 2 minutes, stir, and enjoy.
Feel free to add fresh fruit after cooking for more deliciousness.  Other fun add ons: pecans, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, cocoa powder, etc.

What’s your go-to meal for a quick and healthy breakfast?

frugal friday – dinner @ home

last august we made our very first budget as a family. to figure out how much to budget we had to look at what we actually spent in a month. whoa. it was disturbing. the biggest shocker was how much we spent dining out. oh. my. goodness.
we are both work full time, and often when we come home we are too tired to cook, and dallas has so many great restaurants. the combination was proving to be destructive to our finances. we decided to set a relatively low dining out budget at $150 per month. you can spend that much on one good meal in dallas pretty easily. when the money is gone, we are done dining out. we have stuck to it since then, and it has been good for us. it is very difficult, as i’m sure you know, but we are trying to cook at home as much as possible. here is a meal we had this week:
we had a big batch of fresh strawberries that we sliced up, for 99 cents a lb at aldi. i looked at bagged lettuce and it cost $6.99 for red lettuce and spinach. i bought a head of each for $2.69 total, and they made double the salad. i added some low fat feta and black pepper. we used balsamic vinaigrette one night and raspberry vinaigrette another night.
we also tried the barilla plus pasta this week, and it was actually good. i’ve had bad experiences with whole wheat pasta in the past, but i’m loving this kind. it has to cook a little longer, but that’s ok. we browned some lean ground turkey and added it into the mix. we tossed it together with organic vodka sauce and fresh parmesan. the whole shebang took way less than 30 minutes, and unlike rachel ray my lettuce does not show up shredded during commercials. i love dinner @ home.

dining out was our budget buster. what is yours? have you conquered it or is it a work in progress?

i’m linking to:

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