Meal Planning Monday ~ Bountiful Berries!

Yes, I know it’s not Monday!  With this Monday being Memorial Day, I wanted to post the meal planning early and share a patriotic dessert with you – The “Red, White, & Blue.”  While you’re enjoying the Holiday weekend, don’t forget to take some time to remember our military heroes.  Here is this week’s Meal Planning Monday.
  I love the selection of fresh fruit in the summer, especially berries!  When I was in grade school, we had raspberry bushes behind our house.  My brother and I always enjoyed helping my mom pick them.  Nothing feels more like summer to me than biting into fresh ripe raspberries!  Of course, I don’t discriminate…  I love blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries too!  The good news is that they are all super-healthy for you – low in calories and high in antioxidants and vitamins.    
I try to keep a container of berries washed and ready to go in my refrigerator during the summer months.  Since many people I know, myself included, are trying to eat healthy and slim down, I thought I would provide you with some low-calorie alternatives to berry favorites like strawberry shortcake and blueberry muffins.
This week I’ll show you how to add berries to every day of the week, whether it’s for breakfast, a snack, or a light dessert!
Monday ~ “ The Red, White, & Blue” Dessert.  Take a store-bought angel food cake and cut it into 1 inch square pieces.  Put in several dessert or martini glasses.  Add blueberries and cut-up strawberries to the glasses.  In a separate bowl, mix equal amounts of thawed Cool Whip and lemon yogurt.  Top the berries and angel food cake with a generous dollop of the yogurt mixture.  This is a light and tasty dessert that’s perfect for hot summer days.
Tuesday ~ Blueberry whole-grain pancakes with reduced sugar syrup.
Wednesday ~ Strawberries dipped in the leftover Cool Whip/ lemon yogurt mixture for dessert.
Thursday ~ Raspberry and Blackberry yogurt parfait with granola for a healthy snack.  Because of the sweetness of the berries, you can use plain low-fat yogurt.
Friday ~ Berry Waffles for breakfast.  Toast two multi-grain waffles.  Top with enough low-fat vanilla yogurt to cover the top of the waffle.  Add walnuts, blueberries, and raspberries. Another variation of this recipe is what I call “Hawaii Waffles”: use macadamia nuts and pineapple instead of the walnuts and berries.  Both variations are delicious!
Saturday ~ Add your favorite fresh berries to your oatmeal or cereal.
Sunday ~ Raspberry and Peach Smoothie (recipe below)
Raspberry and Peach Smoothie (From
Ingredients List:
½ cup of Apple juice.
          ½ cup of Low fat vanilla yogurt.
          1 cup of Partially frozen sliced Peaches.
          ½ cup of Partially frozen raspberries.
          1 ½ cup of Ice chips.
Put all ingredients in a blender.
          Blend until smooth.

Adventures in Cooking

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.
I’ve decided to be adventurous in the kitchen.  I’m going to pick one vegetable a week that I’ve never had and cook with it.  This week it’s eggplant.  I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated by it at first.  I kept thinking “How in the world and I’m going to cook this thing?”, and “Will my family eat it?”  I’m making Eggplant Parmesan since my family loves Italian food especially Chicken Parmesan.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Here’s what my week of meals looks like:
Monday ~ Eggplant Parmesan (See recipe, below)
Tuesday ~ Spaghetti (I’ll use the leftover spaghetti sauce from Monday)
Wednesday ~ BBQ Chicken in the Crockpot, baked beans, and creamed spinach
Thursday ~ Taco Night
Friday ~ Derrick and I going on a date, so we’ll be eating out.
Saturday ~ BBQ Chicken sandwiches, coleslaw, and potato salad (I’ll use the leftover BBQ Chicken from Wednesday)
Sunday ~ We’re going to a party so no cooking.
Eggplant Parmesan  (from
  • 3 eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 6 cups spaghetti sauce, divided
  • 1 (16 ounce) package mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2.    Dip eggplant slices in egg, then in bread crumbs.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes on each side.
3.    In a 9×13 inch baking dish spread spaghetti sauce to cover the bottom.  Place a layer of eggplant slices in the sauce.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Repeat with remaining ingredients, ending with the cheeses.  Sprinkle basil on top.
4.    Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Easy Appetizers

Sometimes dinner is not an issue, especially when you’re heading over to someone else’s house for a meal.  We regularly have Family Dinner at my Dad’s to celebrate that month’s birthdays and holidays.  Yesterday, we celebrated my niece’s sixth birthday.  It’s nice that I get a night off from cooking dinner, but I can’t show up empty-handed!  In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a yummy appetizer that’s easy to make. 
Two weeks ago, I alluded to a favorite appetizer recipe of mine that’s made on the grill, called Warm Italiano Spread.  Since several of you asked for that recipe, I’ll gladly share it here today.  I love making this in the summer with my husband’s home grown tomatoes, which are amazing!  The nice thing is that there are only five ingredients.  And there’s usually enough pesto left over to make my favorite Pesto Chicken with Pasta the following day.  (Lucky you – two recipes for the price of one this week!)  You may want to get two bricks of cream cheese… I usually make two batches of this for my family gatherings.  It disappears fast!
So, what is on the Meal Plan for the Luken family this week?
Monday ~ Pesto Chicken with Pasta & Salad (using leftover pesto from the Warm Italiano Spread)
Tuesday ~ Marinated Turkey Breasts, Au Gratin Potatoes, & Mixed Veggies
Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) Night
Thursday ~ Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese
Friday ~ Chicken Bruschetta on the Grill
Saturday ~ Dinner Out
Sunday ~ Homemade Chicken Soup
Warm Italiano Spread (From
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Neufchatel Cheese
1/4 cup pesto
1 plum tomato, chopped
1/4 cup KRAFT Finely Shredded Italian Five Cheese Blend
TRISCUIT Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil Crackers
Heat grill to medium heat.
Unwrap the cream cheese (but leave it sitting on its foil wrapper) and place on an 8-inch square sheet of heavy-duty foil; top with pesto, tomatoes and shredded cheese.
Place foil on grill; cover with lid. Grill 8 to 10 min. or until shredded cheese is melted and Neufchatel is softened, but still holding its shape.
Transfer foil to platter. Serve spread with crackers.
(How to Prepare in Your Oven–I have even used my toaster oven!  Prepare this recipe year-round, by baking in a 375ºF oven 12 to 14 min. or until shredded cheese is melted and Neufchatel is softened, but still holding its shape.)
Pesto Chicken with Pasta
1 large boneless chicken breast
2 tablespoons of pesto
3 ounces dry whole wheat thin spaghetti
1 – 2 teaspoons of olive oil
Shredded parmesan cheese
Cook spaghetti according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Brown the chicken on both sides, ensuring there’s no pink in the middle.  Remove the chicken from the pan and slice crosswise into bite-sized pieces.  Drain the spaghetti and reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water.  Return the chicken to the skillet with the pesto, drained spaghetti, adding enough of the cooking water to allow the pesto to spread evenly.  Top with parmesan cheese.  (This recipe is for two people, and easily doubles or triples to feed four or six.)  I typically serve this with a green salad and nice glass of wine.  Enjoy!

Learn Something New!

This past weekend, I went to a class at Hobby Lobby to learn the Bob Ross method of paining from my good friend, Kim McLaughlin.  Yes, that picture above is my finished painting!  I was excited about attending the class, yet at the same time I had anxiety about it.  I haven’t painted a picture since grade school and my adult painting experience was limited to covering the walls with a roller.  I even had a dream about how hard this class was going to be!
            I used to be very self-conscious in my teens and early twenties, and that held me back from trying new things.  Some time ago, I decided that I needed to get over myself and be willing to look foolish while learning something new.  Most people don’t expect us to be good at something we’re trying for the first time anyways. It turns out that painting isn’t so hard when you have a great instructor and a teachable attitude.  Often we psych ourselves out, saying, “That’s too hard.  I’ll never learn how to do that.”  We are defeated before we even try! 
            Since making the decision that it’s okay to looking foolish when trying something new, I’ve learned a lot – how to golf, wakeboard, drive a boat, fly fish for salmon, and bake a mean rum cake….  Now I can add painting to the list!  Obviously, I have plenty more to learn about painting and it will be up to me to decide how far I want to take it.  There are other things that I still want to learn. I’d like to learn how to speak a foreign language, Spanish or maybe Italian.  I’d like to get SCUBA certified.  My friend, Ericka, just about has me talked into getting my concealed carry license (and I don’t even own a gun – yet)!
            So, are you a life-long learner?  There’s always more to discover, so decide today to broaden your horizons and try something new!  Learn how to use a sewing machine, decorate a cake, drive a motorcycle, build a deck, (even couponing!) or whatever you’ve always said you’d like to learn but it’s probably too hard.  Give it a try – you just might surprise yourself!
            (If you’d like to give painting a whirl, check out Kim’s blog: )

Meal Planning Monday ~ Stretching Your Food Budget

          This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.
          I’m a big fan of stretching your food budget, especially when it comes to meat. It’s not often you find coupons for beef, pork and chicken (I do occasionally get some from Kroger), so it’s important to find other ways to save.  One great way to save on meat is to check out the “Manager’s Special” section of the meat case.  Often times these cut of meat are getting close to their expiration dates.  If I find something my family likes, I’ll either use that cut of meat immediately or freeze it for later use.  You can frequently save 50% or more on Manager Specials.
Another great way to save on protein is by literally stretching a cut of meat out over several meals.  Here’s a great way to do that with a pork loin.  Put one in the Crockpot with salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. Shred it up when it’s done and put a third of it back in the crock pot with a bottle of barbeque sauce and make Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches. Throw the rest in Tupperware and you have pulled pork in the fridge or freezer ready to go for another two meals. I like making Carnitas with some of it and I’ll put the rest on buns with a slice of Swiss cheese and mayo for a quick and hearty lunch.  
What’s on the Kelley family Meal Plan this week?

Monday ~ Garlic Chicken ( I’ll make a double batch so I can have something ready for the rest of the week) , spinach, and carrots ( I boil the carrots first, then sauté them in butter with a little bit of brown sugar)

Tuesday ~ Lobster Shrimp Ravioli Frozen Dinner from Buitoni ( I received a Free Coupon from a House Party I hosted)

Wednesday ~ Spaghetti with Garlic Chicken Sauce (I’ll use leftover Garlic Chicken and put it in the spaghetti sauce) and a Caesar Salad

Thursday ~ Slow Cooker Ribs, mashed potatoes, and corn

Friday~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) night. I’ll be at a Girls Night Out.

Saturday ~ Garlic Chicken Parmesan Subs and potato salad

Sunday ~ Grass Fed Beef Beer Burgers topped with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese, leftover potato salad, and Cucumber and Onion Salad

Couponing for One

              I frequently have people ask me if it’s worth couponing if they’re only shopping for one or two people.  The answer is a resounding YES!  Although a single person will not save as much money as someone shopping for a family of five, it’s because they aren’t spending as much either.  A single person might hear her coupon queen friend brag that she saved $150 this week on her groceries, and think, “I’ll never save that much money!”  Well if that single person is spending less than $100 a week on groceries, that’s probably true!    It’s better to think in terms of percentages than absolute dollars.
            In fact, it’s easier for a family of one or two to coupon, simply because it takes LESS time and effort to find coupons, meal plan and shop.  You won’t need as much space for your stockpile in your freezer and pantry as a family of five.  Even if you dine out a lot, a small family can still save a ton of money on cleaning supplies, paper products, drug store items and cosmetics! 
            One couponing strategy I teach has great value for the single-person household:  Use the largest value coupon on the smallest size of a product.     For example, there are frequently sales at Walgreens for the smallest size Reach floss for 99 cents.  Many times, there will be a $1.00 off coupon for Reach floss during the sale.  This means you get the small-sized floss for free!  Someone with a larger family might be tempted to buy a bigger sized floss, or have to hunt down multiple coupons to get the amount of floss they need for free.  A single person doesn’t even have to worry about that!  One or two packages are all that’s needed.
            If you’re couponing for one or two, your freezer can be one of the best weapons in your savings arsenal.  In my household, I am shopping just for my husband and me.  I frequently buy loaves of bread, divide them in half, and freeze them.  We just don’t use enough bread to eat a whole loaf before it gets moldy!  To think, I used to throw the other half away…  When I use frozen broccoli or green beans as part of my meal, I make ½ of the bag of veggies, and put the other ½ in a quart-sized freezer bag for another time.  Since many of the recipes I make are for four people, I regularly take leftovers to work for a delicious and nutritious lunch, or freeze them to use for a dinner later in the month.
            As you can see, couponing, meal planning and stockpiling are for everyone!  Whether you’re cooking for one, two, or ten, you CAN save 50% or more on your grocery bill!

Meal Planning Monday ~ Fire Up the Grill!

The smell of spring is in the air!  No, I don’t mean flowers… I’m talking about the sweet smell of food on the barbeque!  With warmer weather finally moving in, it seems like grills are firing up all over my neighborhood, and probably in yours too.  In fact, I like to think of the grill as the summertime equivalent of the crock pot.  You can make so many tasty and inexpensive meals on the grill that don’t require a lot of effort.
Think outside of the box when it comes to grilling!  Sure, hot dogs, hamburgers, barbequed chicken, and steak are all great, but there are so many other grilling options as well.  How about grilled salmon, tilapia, portabella mushrooms, or veggie kabobs?  My husband and I regularly grill canned whole potatoes and fresh mushrooms on a skewer brushed with Italian dressing, a perfect accompaniment to steak.  I also have a favorite appetizer dip that is made on the grill – which, if you’re lucky, I may share that recipe in a future post! 
This week’s recipe is for Foil Packets on the Grill.  I make mine with chicken, but you can just as easily substitute beef, lamb or pork.  Also, if you don’t like one of the veggies listed below you can use eggplant, sugar snap peas, or yellow squash instead.  So fill up those propane tanks and Happy Grilling!
So, what is on the Meal Plan for the Luken family this week?
Monday ~ Grilled Chicken & Steak with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Salad
Tuesday ~ Spaghetti & Meat Sauce (I have the sauce in the freezer so     all I have to boil the noodles and heat the sauce.)
Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) Night
Thursday ~ Turkey & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes
Friday ~ Coconut Crusted Tilapia, Jasmine Rice, & Veggies
Saturday ~ Foil Packets on the Grill
Sunday ~ Mother’s Day Brunch
Foil Packets on the Grill
1 ½ pounds of chicken breast tenders, cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ pound of asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 oz. of sliced fresh mushrooms
1 bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons of diced onions
¼ pound of zucchini, thinly sliced
¼ cup of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning
¼ cup capers, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the sauce ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the diced veggies and chicken.  Stir to coat veggie and meat with the sauce.  Use four 12×12 inch sheet of heavy duty foil.  Divide the meat and veggies among the four foil sheets.  Fold the foil edges toward the center and crimp to seal.  Fold up the outside edges to seal as well.  Place foil packets on a hot grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  Let stand 3 minutes before serving.  (This recipe can also be made on the stove top with a large deep frying pan.  Brown the meat first, then add the other ingredients.  Cover and cook for 8 minutes.)