Meal Planning Monday ~ Dining Out with Kids


            This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.       

            I love to eat out, but with three kids it can get expensive.  My husband and I are on a tight budget, so eating out doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.  As my kids get older not only do they eat more (who knew that would happen?) but also my oldest child doesn’t want to share a meal with her younger sister anymore.  After spending almost $50 on four meals recently, I knew we had to change how we eat out.  And as much as I love cooking, sometimes Momma needs a break!  (So be sure to plan a night off or two on your monthly meal planning calendar.)  Here are a few tips on saving money while dining out that helped me. 

1. Find those restaurant coupons and use them!  I would clip the coupons, put them in my purse, and never use them.  (Hangs head in coupon shame.)  I’ve become better at this because we now plan where we want to go before we leave the house.  How many of you have had the “Restaurant Fight”?  “Where do you want to go?”  “Oh I don’t know honey, where do you want to go?” This could go on for hours and for my husband and me, the hungrier we get, the crankier we get.  So plan your trips!

2. Check out those Deal Sites!,,, and all offer some awesome dining deals. 

3. Happy Hour!  I love a good happy hour and they’re not only for adults.  Bar Louie has a great happy hour – half price appetizers and drink deals. 

4. Kids Eat Free!  I’m a sucker for Kids Eat Free Days.  This is a great site to find restaurants that have Kids Eat Free Days  A few of my favorite restaurants that have Kids Eat Free Days are Skyline Chili, Izzy’s, Qdoba, Moe’s, and Applebee’s.  The days for these “Kids Eat Free” promotions vary, so be sure to call ahead about dates and times. 


Meal Planning Monday ~ Restaurant Recipes at Home


           In America, we LOVE to eat out!  According to the US Department of Labor, in 2010 the average American family spent $2,619 dining out, which is almost $220 per month.  Wow, that’s a lot of money, especially with so many people in debt and without a cushion of savings!  I love to eat out as much as the next person, but I spend about half of that amount.  How?  One of my favorite tricks is to dine out for lunch instead of dinner, which saves me at least 30 – 40%.  Portions are slightly less (which is usually a good thing) and I try to drink water with lemon, so I’m not paying $2.50 or $3.00 for a glass of Diet Coke (much less $6.00 or more for a glass of wine with dinner.)

            Another way I save money on eating out is to find recipes for my favorite restaurant dishes and try them at home!  CopyKat Recipes is a great resource for restaurant recipes, and even has instructional videos!  One of my favorite places to eat out is Cracker Barrel.  Who doesn’t love their home cooking?  I usually get the grilled chicken tenderloin with hash brown casserole and green beans.  I was so excited when I happened upon a recipe for the Cracker Barrel chicken tenderloin on Pinterest this week!  I added it to my meal plan for the upcoming week, along with my friend Patty Welsh Cable’s recipe for Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole!  I also make a great Spinach & Artichoke Dip that Nick says is better than any he’s gotten out as a restaurant appetizer.  (That recipe is included in my upcoming e-book about Meal Planning, “The Coupon Sisters Get Cooking,” which will be for sale on March 1st.)

            What’s your family’s favorite restaurant?  Why not check out CopyKat or Google your favorite dish and see if you can make it at home?  You’ll certainly save money, and probably calories too.  I’m not against eating out, but most of us could stand to save some money in our eating out budgets.  Here is my Meal Plan for this week.


Monday ~ Turkey Polish sausage with Perogies and mixed veggies.

Tuesday ~ Lemon Pepper Tilapia with mac & cheese and broccoli.

Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) Night.  I am teaching a Coupon Workshop at my church.

Thursday ~ Fiery Fried Chicken with Yukon Gold potatoes and a salad.

Friday ~ Fish Tacos with refried black beans.

Saturday ~ Date Night!  Nick and I are going on a double date with friends to dinner and a movie.

Sunday ~ Cracker Barrel’s Chicken Tenderloins, Patty’s Hash Brown Casserole, and green beans.


Cracker Barrel Grilled Chicken Tenderloin Recipe


1 pound boneless chicken breast tenders

1/2 cup Zesty Italian dressing

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon honey



  1. Mix dressing, lime juice, and honey in a large resealable bag or container.
  2. Add the chicken.  Marinate for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. In a large non-stick skillet over med/high heat, add the entire mixture with chicken to the pan.
  4. Braise chicken on all sides until golden but not dry.(I do this until most of the liquid has evaporated out which is why mine have a dark color)



Patty’s Hash Brown Casserole (like Cracker Barrel)

10.25 ounce can of condensed can cream of chicken
8 ounce Colby cheese grated
½ cup melted butter
1 small onion minced
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 lb. bag frozen shredded hash browns

Spray 13 X 9 X 2 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray: set aside.  In a bowl, combine soup, cheese, butter, onion, salt, and pepper.  Gently fold potatoes into mixture and spread evenly into pan.  Heat at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until heated through or top is brown.


Meal Planning Monday ~ Beyond the Grocery Store

          Before I started couponing, I rarely went shopping at Walgreens or CVS, the two major drugstore chains in the Cincinnati area.  Whenever I did go in to my local drugstore for medicine or cosmetics, it seemed like their prices were really high compared to my favorite grocery store.  My how things changed once I learned the coupon policies of my local drugstores!  Now I stop in at Walgreens and CVS almost every week for a few select items. 

            You might be surprised what kind of great deals you can find at the drugstore.  Not only do I shop Walgreens and CVS for razors, toothpaste, cold medicine, and vitamins, but also for things like cereal, coffee creamer, trail mix, and bottled water.  Typically there are a few “grocery” items on sale at great prices – like cans of chicken broth for only 50 cents – that I can’t pass up!  In the past week, I’ve purchased Coffee Mate powdered creamer for $2.50 each (about $4.70 regular price at Kroger), cheap Valentine’s Day candy for my husband, and Multigrain Cheerios (buy one get one free plus coupons!)  You do need to pay greater attention to expiration dates at the drugstores because their stock on these items typically does not turn over as fast as it does at Kroger or Meijer. 

            What’s the lesson here?  Sometimes you can find great deals in unexpected places, so keep your eyes peeled!  Have you found a great deal in an unexpected place?  If so, tell me about it!  Here is my Meal Plan for this week.

Monday ~ Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  I’ll be using the Butterball chicken broth I have in my stockpile (purchased at Walgreens for 50 cents a can) to make this cold-weather favorite of mine.

Tuesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself) Night.  I have a class tonight, so I will probably eat some leftovers.

Wednesday ~ Tomato Basil soup and turkey sandwiches.

Thursday ~ Black Bean Chili.  This chili is so hearty, you won’t even miss the meat!  (Recipe below)

Friday ~ Chicken Fried Rice.  I want to make something quick and easy because my friend is coming over to watch Breaking Dawn on DVD with me.  (Yes, I am one of those Twilight dorks!)

Saturday ~ Chicken Parmesan with angel hair pasta and salad.

Sunday ~ Family Dinner at my Dad’s house.


Black Bean Chili


     1 Tbs. olive or canola oil

    1 green pepper, chopped

    1 medium onion, chopped

    3 cloves of garlic, minced

    1 small can of mild green chilies

    1 tsp. of cumin

    1 tsp. of oregano

    2 tsp. chili powder

    1 can of black beans, drained

    1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

    1 can of vegetable (or chicken) broth

    1/4 cup of water

    2/3 cup of barley



     Sauté onions and green pepper over medium heat in oil until onions become translucent.  Add the garlic, green chilies, cumin, oregano, and chili powder.  Sauté for one minute.  Add the beans, broth, tomatoes, water, and barley.  Stir, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until barley is soft.  

            Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.


Meal Planning Monday ~ Spring Cleaning

            This week’s blog post is by Leah Kelley.

            The weather has been awesome lately here in the Cincinnati area – 50, even 60, degrees in January and February?  I’ll take it!  I caught a bit of spring fever this past week.  I cleaned out a few closets and organized my stockpile.  It’s a good idea to organize and rotate your stockpile items (especially the food items) every few months just to make sure there’s nothing expired.  If you’re planning on doing some Spring Cleaning in the next few weeks, add this item to your list!  If you happen to find some items that are close to expiring, you can work those into your weekly meal plan.  You can make organizing your stockpile less of a chore by making sure that you put your newly purchased items towards the back of your shelves and moving the older items forward.

            While going through my stockpile, I realized I have enough canned tomatoes to feed a small army!  I thought I’d find a few recipes to try this week to use up my surplus of tomatoes.  Here’s what my meal plan looks like this week. 


Monday ~ Leftover Night.  My husband is driving to St. Louis for the day so he won’t be home for dinner. 

Tuesday ~ Chili and cornbread.  I’ll make an extra batch of chili to freeze for another meal later in the month.

Wednesday ~ Crockpot Chicken Caccitore. I’m trying this recipe again, the first time it didn’t turn out quite right and I’m not sure why.

Thursday ~ Chicken Enchiladas.

Friday ~ Date Night!  My husband and I are trying to go on at least two dates a month. 

Saturday ~ Mexican Lasagna.  I’m excited to try this it looks delicious.  (Recipe below.)

Sunday ~ Broccoli and Cheddar Soup.  I froze some last week so I’m hoping it will be just as good the second time around.


Mexican Lasagna

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
  • 1 (14 ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes with juice
  • 10 (6 inch) corn tortillas
  • 1 cup prepared salsa
  • 1/2 cup shredded Colby cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef, and stir in the taco seasoning and tomatoes.  Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with half the tortillas.  Spoon the beef mixture into the dish, then top with the remaining tortillas.  Spread salsa over the tortillas and sprinkle with the cheese.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.