Meal Planning Monday ~ Finding Fresh & Cheap Produce at the Co-op

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.
            A few weeks ago, my mom introduced me to food co-ops.  She brought me to Paula’s Produce in Elsmere, Kentucky, a members-only co-op.  Since my mom invited me, I was able to join the co-op for just $4 per month.  This particular one has meats, cheeses, packaged foods, and an awesome selection of fruits and veggies (most of which are organic) all at great prices.  The co-op gets their food from local farms and produce distributors.
            Since finding the food co-op, it’s opened a whole new meal planning adventure for me. The vegetables and fruit they have change week to week, so I never know what I’m going to find. This past week, I picked up some turnips, cauliflower, yellow carrots, cilantro and garlic. I’ve decided to work in the vegetables I’m purchasing at the co-op into my Meal Plans. Here’s a great source for finding a food co-op near you:
So, what is on the Meal Plan for the Kelley family this week?
Monday ~ Meatloaf, Mashed Turnips, and Steamed Carrots (I’ll be trying turnips for the first time wish me luck!)
Tuesday ~ Cilantro Chicken, Brown Rice, and  Cauliflower
Wednesday ~ Sweet Turkey Chili and Cornbread
Thursday ~ Leftovers or FFY (Fend For Yourself Night)
Friday ~ My husband and I are having a date night so we’ll be going to our favorite Thai restaurant.
Saturday ~ Cilantro Chicken Enchiladas. (I’ll use green enchilada sauce to go with the cilantro.)
Sunday ~ Slow Cooker Ribs, Garlic Cauliflower, Skillet Green Beans and Deviled Eggs (picked up a head of cauliflower and a pound of green beans for a $1 each at the co-op!)
Garlic Cauliflower
Grease casserole dish and preheat oven to 450. Take 1 head of cauliflower and break into florets. Dice up 4 to 5 garlic cloves. Throw those in a big Ziploc bag with a little olive oil and shake until cauliflower is coated. Pour in a baking dish, and salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 20 minutes. Take out of oven and sprinkle with cheese (I used Colby jack cheese, but the original recipe called for parmesan) return dish to the over for a few minutes until cheese is melted.




No Cussing!


           We are coming into the home stretch of Lent, looking forward to Easter this Sunday.  This year for Lent, I attempted to give up cussing.  I say “attempted” because I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be able to keep this Lenten vow without breaking it a few (or many!) times.  I attend church at the Vineyard Christian Church in Florence, Kentucky, but I was born and raised Catholic.  Some years I decide to give up something for Lent, and other years I don’t.  I will say that this year has been the most difficult challenge I’ve taken!
            Many people have asked me why I decided to give up cussing for Lent, because it didn’t seem like I had a particularly foul mouth.  Compared with a lot of other people, my cussing is fairly minimal.  However, I’ve learned not to compare myself with others, but to try to be the best me that I can be.  In all honesty, my language was the worst when I was alone, especially driving in traffic! 
            I did pretty good… for about the first 24 hours of Lent!  However, whenever I messed up, I confessed to my friends, Ericka and Randy, who took the challenge with me.  Then I got right back on track.  I’ve come up with some good clean alternatives to many cuss words, so I would have something to shout when I banged my elbow, stubbed a toe, broke a glass, or got cut off by someone in traffic.  Even though it’s been hard, I have eliminated my cussing almost completely in the last month and a half. 
            So, what have I learned with this “No Cussing” experiment?  I’ve learned that if I put my mind to something, I usually achieve it, or at least come close to my goal.  I’ve learned that avoiding cussing makes me sound more courteous and professional.  I’ve also learned that sometimes, no substitute can really capture the feeling of what I’m trying to say, other than the real thing!  So, am I going to fall off the “No Cussing” wagon next week, just because Lent is over, and adopt a trucker’s vocabulary?  No, not likely.  However, I think I will be choosing my words a little more carefully from now on.
            So, did you give up something for Lent?  How’s that working out for you?  Leave a comment and let me know.


Meal Planning Monday ~ Easter Eggs!


            Easter Sunday is just around the corner!  Many people will be decorating Easter eggs in preparation for the big day.  I have eggs on the brain, but for an entirely different reason.  I am hosting at least a dozen family members for brunch this Sunday.  My menu includes an awesome breakfast casserole that always gets rave reviews (see recipe at the end of this post).  The casserole has eggs, turkey sausage (to keep the fat in check), hash browns, seasoning, and cheese.  The great thing about this casserole is that it tastes best when it’s assembled the night before, then goes from the fridge to the oven in the morning.
            Eggs can be a Coupon Queen’s best friend!  Not only are they cheap, eggs are tasty, easy to prepare, and nutritious.  I frequently hard boil several eggs at a time and keep them in the fridge for a quick breakfast on the go or to add to a lunch-time salad.  When I’ve had a long day at work, it’s a snap to whip up some omelets or egg sandwiches for dinner.  Eggs aren’t just for breakfast, you know!  Even if you choose free-range or organic eggs, the price is still less than a few dollars a dozen.
           
So here is what’s on the Meal Plan this week for the Luken household:
Monday~ Chicken & Veggie Foil Packets on the Grill
Tuesday~ Chicken Parmesan with Pasta and Tomato Sauce
Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend-For-Yourself)
Thursday ~ Turkey Stroganoff
Friday ~ Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Saturday ~ Easter Celebration at my Dad’s (No cooking for me!)
Sunday ~ Breakfast Casserole, bacon, fresh fruit, Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
Breakfast Casserole
1 dozen eggs
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
2 cups of milk
¼ cup of green onions, finely chopped
1 pound of ground turkey (or pork) sausage
½ teaspoon of original Mrs. Dash
1 package of frozen shredded hash browns
4 drops of hot sauce
Shredded cheese
Brown sausage and onion.  Drain.  Combine with Mrs. Dash’s seasoning.  Spray bottom of 9 x 13 inch glass pan with cooking spray.  Layer hash browns one inch thick on the bottom of the pan.  Top with the sausage and onion mixture.  In a bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, mustard, and hot sauce.  Pour into pan over the sausage and hash browns.  (Best refrigerated overnight).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Top the casserole with shredded cheese of your choice right before baking.  Bake 45 minutes to one hour, or until golden.  Serves 8 to 10 people. 
           


Buying Up


             Sometimes Coupon Queens can get sucked into a trap of thinking the lower the price, the better the deal.  Yes, it is great to get things for FREE or cheap!  However, it pays to look at the “cost per use” of certain purchases.  Some things you buy, you want to have for a while, and it does pay off in the long run to invest in quality.  Let’s look at an example. 
            After Christmas, I was looking for a new winter dress coat.  My old winter coat had served me well for six years, but was looking worn and beginning to detract from (rather than enhance) my professional appearance.  Looking at my budget, I decided that I would be willing to pay up to $150 for new classically-styled winter coat, since I plan to wear it for five to six years.  Rather than go to the mall and find a mediocre coat marked down on clearance for $50 or $60, I decided to hold out for a real gem of a coat.  Several weeks into my search, I found what I was looking for on the discount designer website, Ideeli.  I purchased a gorgeous red wool Calvin Klein coat, originally $350, for $120 delivered.  I came in $30 under budget and purchased a great quality coat that I receive plenty of compliments on!
            This is an example of what I refer to as “Buying Up”.  When I shop at designer outlet stores or on-line, I can buy great quality clothes, shoes, and jewelry that I would normally not be able to afford, and still stay within my budget.  I can look like a million bucks, while saving 50 to 90% off of the retail price!  How do you know when should you invest by “Buying Up” on an item? 
            First, consider the cost per use.  Let’s consider my red Calvin Klein coat.  If I wear it every winter (November through February) for the next six years, three times per week, my cost per use for the coat is less than 42 cents!  ($20 per year/ 48 wears per winter)  If the $60 coat only lasted me two years, because it’s cheaply made, my cost per use would be 63 cents.  (And it certainly wouldn’t make me look like a million bucks, like the red Calvin Klein coat!) 
            Second, if you’re going to spend more, make sure it is an item of quality.  Just because something has a fancy brand name doesn’t necessarily mean the item is well-made. If you’re buying on-line, make sure you’re buying a brand name that you know is high quality. 
            Third, invest in classics, not trends.  Here are the items that I personally have invested in within the last year: dress coat, leather jacket, classic watch, cashmere sweater, and a gray sheath dress for work.  All of these items I will wear for multiple years and many occasions.  Look for classic designs and colors.  Orange may be in style this year, out the next.  I’m not against trying out the trends -  I just don’t drop a lot of cash on them.  Floral print shirts are in style this spring, but I think they’ll be a passing fad.  So I picked one up at Old Navy for $12. 
            Lastly, if you are going to invest in an item, make sure you LOVE it!!  If you are feeling lukewarm or wishy-washy AT ALL about the purchase you’re about to make – PUT IT BACK!  Follow this rule whether you’re spending a little or a lot.  There’s nothing worse than looking at something in your closet or jewelry box that fills you with regret every time to see it.  Of course, it’s a little easier to swallow if you didn’t pay too much for it.
            Check to see if your favorite designer brands have outlet stores close to you.  I’m fortunate enough to have a great outlet mall about 45 minutes away with my favorite brands: Coach, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, and Michael Kors.  Here are some of my favorite websites for “buying up”:
·        Ideeli – You need to be “invited” to join, so here’s the invitation link: www.ideeli.com/invite/christineluken
·        Haute Look – Here’s the invitation link for this site:   http://www.hautelook.com/invite/CLuken225
·        Gilt.com – You’ll need to send me an email so I can get you “invited” to shop here: Strongtower.christine@gmail.com
Happy Shopping!
           

Meal Planning Monday! Chicken Tortilla Soup


              (This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.)
            This week is all about being creative with your stockpile deals and your leftovers!  Sometimes kids and husbands can rebel against leftovers, saying, “Not that again!”  However, if you’re sneaky, you can disguise leftover ingredients into a whole new meal that your family will love.  You can also freeze many leftovers and pull them out a few weeks later.
            I recently scored some free pasta and $.75 pasta sauce from a Kroger Mega Sale (using my coupons, of course)!  I picked up a two-pound package of manager special hamburger for $2.13 and made meatballs a few weeks ago and froze them. So, on Monday, we’ll have Spaghetti and Meatballs.  The total cost of the meal is only $2.88 to feed a family of five – Not too shabby!  I will send leftovers to work with my husband, which is cheaper and tastier than anything he’ll get at the drive-thru. 
            On Wednesday, we’ll have Meatball Subs for dinner, using leftover meatballs and sauce from Monday. I’m attempting to make homemade wheat buns, so we’ll see how they turn out!  On Sunday, I’ll make Chicken Tortilla soup using the leftover roast chicken from the night before.  As you can see, it’s not hard to use a little creativity, and repurpose your leftovers into something tasty, saving a lot of money in the process.
So here is what’s on the Meal Plan this week for the Kelley household:
Monday~ Spaghetti and Meatballs
Tuesday~ Dill Salmon, sugar snap peas, and brown rice
Wednesday~ Meatball Subs
Thursday~ Chili and cornbread
Friday ~ FFY (Fend-For-Yourself) Night.  I’ll be at a Thirty-One party at my sister’s house, so my husband will be on his own for dinner. He’ll either eat leftovers or pop a pizza in the oven.
Saturday ~ Roast chicken, mashed cauliflower, creamed spinach
Sunday~ Chicken Tortilla Soup
Chicken Tortilla Soup (from the website HeavenlyHomemakers.com)
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked chicken
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green chiles
1/2 t. chili powder (or more to taste)
1/2 t. sea salt
5-6 whole wheat tortillas
Simmer all of the ingredients…except for the tortillas for about 30 minutes. Just before serving, tear the tortillas into bite sized pieces and stir into the soup. Heat for five minutes.


Electronic Coupons

          Any Coupon Queen worth her salt knows that electronic coupons, or e-coupons, are important weapons in the battle to save money on groceries.  Many stores have e-coupons that you can load onto your shopper card or cell phone, such as Kroger, Target and Meijer.  This certainly makes it easier to save money because the coupons automatically come off your order when you check out with your shopper card or cell phone. 
            Although most every store says that they will only accept one manufacturers’ coupon per item, up until recently, you could use an e-coupon and a paper coupon on the same item at Kroger.  Obviously this saved many a Coupon Queen a ton of money!  However, all good things must come to an end, and this was no exception.  Kroger has changed their system so that it will now deny your use of a paper manufacturers’ coupon (MQ) if you’ve got an e-coupon for that same item.
            I am not upset that I can’t use two manufacturers’ coupons on one item anymore.  I knew it was a matter of time before stores disallowed this.  However, I am a little peeved that I can’t choose which one to use at the register.  If I have an e-coupon for something, it will automatically come off my order and I’ll be denied the chance to use my paper MQ.  If my paper coupon is higher value, that’s too bad for me.  What does this mean for us couponers?  It means we will have to more closely manage our e-coupons.  Before going to Kroger, I will need to check my list of e-coupons and see if I have a superior paper MQ.  If so, I’ll delete the e-coupon from my Kroger card so I can use my paper coupon.
            One thing that did upset me on my recent trip to Kroger, was that I got denied the valid use of one of my paper manufacturers’ coupons.  Here’s what happened.  Six-packs of Jello pudding cups were on sale for $2.28 each.  I had two paper MQ’s for 50 cents off, which would double to a $1 off, making the two packs of pudding $1.28 each.  When I went to check out, the cashier gave me my two paper coupons back, saying that I had e-coupons for those items.  When I got home, I noticed that I only had ONE 75 cent e-coupon for Jello, not two.  Clearly, the second paper manufacturers’ coupon should have been accepted.  I will be going back to Kroger tomorrow to see if they will grant me an adjustment.  I hope they will get this fixed in their system so I don’t have to argue over it with the cashier in the future.
            What would be nice is if the cashier would say, “You have an e-coupon for this item.  Would you like to use it or is there a paper coupon you’d rather use?”  Maybe if enough of us ask for it, the stores will comply.  So, should we give up on e-coupons in the mean time? Definitely not!  However, it looks like there will be a little more maintenance of our e-coupons for the time being. 
           

Meal Planning Monday ~ Fish Tacos!

     During the Lent season, grocery stores have great sales on fresh and frozen fish and seafood. Now is the time to stock your freezer with your seafood favorites! Whether you’re eating fish for religious or nutritious reasons, sometimes you can get stuck in a rut with your seafood recipes.  This week’s recipe is for Fish Tacos.  If you’ve never tried fish tacos, you may think it sounds a little weird.  I thought the same thing until I recently tried some on vacation with my husband, Nick, in Hawaii.  Since we’ve been back, I’ve been checking out different fish taco recipes and trying them at various restaurants.
            I’ve blended several recipes to make my own fish tacos, of which my husband gives “two thumbs up”, meaning there are NO leftovers.  I prefer my fish tacos with unbreaded tilapia.  Feel free to tweak the recipe to fit your family’s tastes.  We’ll be having our fish tacos on Friday, of course.
            So, what is on the dinner Meal Plan for the Luken household this week?
Monday  ~  Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and Salad
Tuesday  ~  Turkey Kielbasa, Potato-Cheese Pierogies  with Mixed Veggies

Wednesday  ~  Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

Thursday  ~  FFY (Fend for Yourself) Night

Friday  ~  Fish Tacos (see recipe below)

Saturday  ~  Fiery Fried Chicken with Au Gratin Potatoes and Broccoli
Sunday  ~  Chicken and Steak on the Grill
           
            Fish Tacos Recipe
·        1 pound of tilapia, thawed
·        1 – 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
·        1 packet of taco seasoning mix
·        12 oz. package of fresh broccoli slaw mix (or coleslaw mix)
·        4 Tablespoons of Philadelphia Cooking Crème, Santa Fe Blend
·        Fresh chopped cilantro
·        8 soft taco shells
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Coat both sides of the tilapia fillets with the taco seasoning mix.  Cook fish in the skillet 3-5 minutes on each side, until it flakes easily with a fork.  Remove from heat.  Cut fish into bite size chunks.  In a large bowl, combine broccoli slaw mix with the Philadelphia Cooking Crème until well coated. (I know it’s called “Cooking Crème”, but you’re using it cold here!) Heat the taco shells in the microwave or oven according to the package directions.  Fill each taco shell with ¼ cup of fish and ¼ cup of broccoli slaw mix.  Garnish with cilantro and your favorite taco toppings: salsa, guacamole, shredded cheese.  I make some refried black beans to serve on the side with the fish tacos.  Enjoy!