Monday, August 6, 2012

Meal Planning, Take Two

Now, those of you who know me will know that I ALWAYS plan out my meals.  To wing it at the grocery store has not been an option for me since the first week of my marriage.  Lately, though, as I have been adjusting to homeschooling and adjusting to an intensely active toddler, I've been rethinking my planning methods.  My normal method has been to plan weekly based on the sales that are running here in Cincinnati. We have very competitive grocery chains here in our area, so I've had very good success keeping the costs down using this method.  The problem has come more for me as I'm waiting too long to think through the upcoming week and find myself scrambling to write out my plan before running out the door.  It's still successful, but I feel like we're repeating the same things way too often.

Not too long after this phenomenon began, I was reading a friend's blog post about planning meals monthly  and seasonally.  It sounded like a great idea so I gave it a whirl.  Here's my opinion...for some people, it would be a great way to plan.  I like the idea of planning once a month and not having to think it through so many times.  However, I found that I was spending more per week following this method because it didn't allow for the freedom to buy according to sales as much.  I think if you live in a rural area where your options for shopping are limited, a seasonal rotation would be a great idea.  Here it would still be helpful for those of you who have a little more available fund-wise and would rather have a set plan.

What I've decided to do is a more tentative approach.  I'm planning monthly, incorporating many dishes that I know we regularly eat and can  make cheaply at any time.  However, I reevaluate every week and make several changes as the ads come out.  My monthly plan is not something I could print up and hang on the refrigerator.  It's way too scratched out and edited!  However, I've found that it's really helpful to at least have a starting point to go on for those weeks when my brain power is not at its fullest...something that happens more and more often as the pregnancy progresses.  I've made a pretty comprehensive list of meals, separated into three sections...meals to be made every month, meals to be made every other month and meals that I make only occasionally.  Next to these columns I've included a short list of new recipes I've been meaning to try for who knows how long.  It's been a great help so far.

I'll keep tinkering around with my planning methods, and if I find that this system works really well for us, I'll post more particulars.  I can't be the only one struggling with my planning skills.  Either way, it never hurts to reevaluate here and there.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creative Leftovers...Prunes

Okay, maybe this isn't what you'd normally think of as a leftover, but if you've ever had a reason to buy a container of prunes (ie surgery, pregnancy), you may be in the predicament of repeatedly forgetting they're there.  Because of their potent powers (you know what I mean!) I've been a little hesitant to let the kids at them, which is my normal method for eradicating fruit.

No, it's not the handsomest of fruits, but boy is it good for you!

Here is the happy medium I've found for using them up safely.  I've been using them diced in place of raisins. I don't know how comfortable I feel with the normal handful of raisins for a snack thing, but I have great success with adding them to my baked goods.  I recently chopped them about the size of raisins and added them to some whole wheat carrot muffins and they were fantastic.  (As an aside, I'll add that we go for the super healthy muffins for breakfasts so Daddy doesn't have to partake!  I think he'd rather die than eat a whole wheat, flax-infused carrot muffin with prunes in it!  Trust me, it's way tastier than it sounds!).  I've also tried adding chopped prunes to our morning oatmeal with good success.  We're nearly done with the container now...I think we'll have to actually buy some raisins or apples soon.

Do you have any great ideas for using up spare prunes?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pulled BBQ Chicken

I've really been hunting for ways to eliminate oven usage this summer, considering the 100degree + weather during my last trimester.  My friend, Cindy, posted this recipe on her blog a while ago, and I thought it'd be a great opportunity to give it a try.  It was fantastic!  With only three boneless, skinless chicken breasts, we had enough meat for eight pulled chicken sandwiches--plenty for dinner for our family, plus a good bit left for Andy's lunch the next day.  It's inexpensive and easy and so tasty!  Try this link out and leave a comment if you get to try it!

Cindy's Pulled BBQ Chicken

Friday, July 13, 2012

B-B-Q Sauce

Every now and then you just need to think outside the sauce bottle, right?  Or perhaps, if you're like me, you've forgotten that your stash of cheap sauce is gone mid grilling!

Here's a quick and easy recipe for a good Barbecue sauce from our contributor Claudia.

Good B-B-Q Sauce

1 1/2 cup catsup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. liquid smoke

Mix well, heat, simmer 5 minutes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Using Flax Seed Meal Update

I've had a little break from preaching the benefits of flax seed meal, although I've continued to use it on a regular basis.  Last night I was able to experiment with in a way I've really been curious about.  I was out of eggs (I naturally forgot about it) and started to make some muffins.  It was the perfect opportunity to test out the claims I read on the flax seed bag.

To use flax seed meal in place of eggs in baking, measure out 1 Tbs. of flax seed meal and put into a small bowl.  Add 2 Tbs. of water to the flax seed and let it soak for two minutes, then add it to your baking just as you would regular eggs.  Use this once for each egg needed.

I tried this in my banana blueberry muffins last night and it worked out great.  The texture was great and they were nice and fluffy and lovely.  I'll keep trying it out in other things and keep you all updated.  This is a way that using flax seed meal could really pay!  It would be nice to save the eggs for the good stuff!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Baked Spaghetti

Here is another recipe for a meal that was given to us during Andy's recovery.  My mother-in-law made this for us, and it has such a great flavor I couldn't help but beg for the recipe.  This is also another great freezer recipe that I plan on for when the new baby comes in September.  As an added plus, it's cheap to make and easy, too!

Baked Spaghetti

3/4 lb. spaghetti
1 lb. ground beef
1 jar or can spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup zesty Italian dressing
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, cook ground beef in skillet.  When beef is done, drain and add spaghetti sauce.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  When spaghetti is done, drain well, and add Italian dressing and Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.

Put 1/2 the sauce with meat in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole.  Place spaghetti mixture on top.  Add remaining sauce.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly.