Meal Planning Monday ~ Homemade or Store Bought?


          “Are you kidding me?!”  I muttered to myself, in the granola bar aisle at Kroger a few weeks ago.  I had plenty of coupons for a variety of granola bars, but not a one of them were on sale!  There’s no way that I am going to spend upwards of $3.50 on a box of 6 granola bars.  Yes, I do stock up on them when they are on sale.  However, my husband, Nick, LOVES sweets and will go through a box of granola bars in two or three days.  This means that I need to buy at least two boxes a week or he will have to do without.  That’s when I decided to find out if it was cheaper for me to make my own granola bars.

            My husband likes pretty much any kind of granola bars that I buy, but one of his favorites is the Golden Grahams Treat bars.  They come in a box of five or six and are over $3.50 when they aren’t on sale.  Sometimes they will be part of Kroger’s Mega Sale and I’ll be able to get them for $1.50 with coupons.  I enlisted the help of my “Try It Out” recipe group on Facebook and received links for the Golden Grahams Treat bars and traditional granola bars.

            The Golden Grahams treat bars were super easy to make!  I regularly stock up on Golden Grahams cereal when it’s on sale, so I already had it on hand.  I just picked up a bag of Kroger mini marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.  The only other ingredient you need is butter.  The recipe made the equivalent of three boxes of store bought treats.  Once cooled, I cut them (with a pizza cutter) into individual sized bars and put them in snack sized baggies.  Nick loved them and said they were MUCH better than the store bought ones.  The boxed Golden Grahams treats would have to be less than $1.30 a box to be a better deal.

            The other granola bar recipe turned out to be really delicious, too.  I made it exactly as the directions indicated, but you could easily mix up the type of nuts and other add-ins to your family’s liking.  Because there were more ingredients in these bars, they were a little bit more expensive to make than the Golden Grahams treats.  This recipe also made the equivalent of three boxes of store bought granola bars.  The approximate cost of the homemade ones was $1.75 per box.  Keep in mind that some of the ingredients in both bars were not on sale. (Shame on me, I know!)  So I will be stocking up on them when they are and driving the cost of my homemade treats down even more!  I did freeze half of the granola bars and treats I made to make sure they stay fresh.

            Is there something that your family eats a lot of that you hate spending money on at the store?  Maybe it’s frozen waffles, spaghetti sauce, or bread.  It’s possible that you could save yourself some serious money over the course of a year by making it homemade.  You’ll need to do a little research on the price of ingredients to see if it is worth your while.  Also consider your time investment.  You may be able to save money baking your own bread, but if you hate to bake and don’t have the time to, you’ll be better off hunting down coupons for your favorite brand and stocking up and freezing extra loaves when it’s on sale.

            So tell me: Is there something you’re currently making homemade instead of buying at the store to save big money for your family?


Golden Grahams® Treat Bars  (From


  • 1/3  cup margarine or butter
  • 1 package (10 3/4 ounces) miniature marshmallows (6 cups)
  • 1 package (13 ounces) Golden Grahams® cereal (8 cups)
  • 1 bar (1.55 ounces) Hershey®’s milk chocolate candy, cut into small chunks and frozen


Butter a rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.  Melt margarine and marshmallows in 3-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat.  Gently stir in cereal until evenly coated; let stand 1 minute.  Stir in frozen candy chunks.  Press in pan with buttered back of spoon.  Cool completely.  Cut into about 2×1 1/2-inch bars.

** Note: I used 1 cup of mini chocolate chips (frozen), in place of the candy chunks.  You could make this recipe will just about any cereal you like, leaving out the chocolate if you’re making them with a fruity cereal.  (Thanks to Toni White for pointing me to this recipe!)


Easy Granola Bars  (From


  • 3 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, sweetened condensed milk, butter, coconut, almonds, chocolate chips, and cranberries with your hands until well blended.  Press flat into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, depending on how crunchy you want them.  Lightly browned just around the edges will give you moist, chewy bars.  Let cool for 5 minutes, cut into squares then let cool completely before serving.

Nutritional Information: Amount Per Serving,  Calories: 179 | Total Fat: 8.1g | Cholesterol: 8mg

** Note: I baked mine for 18 minutes for chewy bars, which is how we like them around here!  Thanks to Tara Zinser for pointing me to this recipe!  Here are a few variations that I am going to try: Macadamia nuts with white chocolate chips; raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon chips; chopped peanuts with chocolate and peanut butter chips.









Meal Planning Monday ~ We Heart Pinterest!


This week’s blog post is by Leah Kelley.

            Where do you find recipes?  I find a lot of mine on Pinterest.  I might be slightly addicted to Pinterest, but that’s another blog post…  I have discovered so many great cooking tips and recipes there.  For example, I am now able use a can of crescent rolls for just about any meal, appetizer, or dessert, all thanks to Pinterest!  I thought it would be fun to base my weekly meal plan on the recipes I’ve found on Pinterest.  (See I told you I might be addicted!)  I picked recipes that I already have all the ingredients for, with the exception of cilantro.  I’ve also included the links to the original blogs from which the recipes came.  Who knows, you might find a new food blog to follow!

Monday ~ Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas

Tuesday ~ Make Ahead Unstuffed Shells

Wednesday ~ Cream Cheese Chicken Chili

Thursday ~ Classic Southern Fried Shrimp with Sweet Potato Fries.  I picked up the fries at the Dollar store, so we’ll see how they are.

Friday~ Leftover Night

Saturday ~ Parmesan Chicken Cutlets, Honey Balsamic Carrots, and Mac n Cheese

Sunday ~ Slow Cooker Ham and Beans with Sweet Cornbread


Make Ahead Unstuffed Shells by Kraft


4cups medium pasta shells, uncooked

1lb. extra-lean ground beef

1 jar (24 oz.) marinara sauce

1 tub (10 oz.)  PHILADELPHIA Original Cooking Crème

1/3cup chopped fresh basil

1/4cup KRAFT Grated Parmesan Cheese

1-1/2cups KRAFT Shredded Mozzarella Cheese with a TOUCH OF PHILADELPHIA

COOK pasta as directed on package, omitting salt.  Meanwhile, brown meat in large skillet; drain. Stir in marinara sauce; simmer on medium heat 2 min. Remove from heat.

DRAIN pasta.  Mix cooking crème, basil, and Parmesan in large bowl; stir in pasta.  Spread half the meat sauce onto bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray; cover with layers of pasta mixture and remaining meat sauce.  Sprinkle with mozzarella; cover with foil.  Refrigerate up to 24 hours.

HEAT oven to 375ºF.  Bake casserole, covered, 40 to 45 min. or until heated through, uncovering after 30 min.          


Meal Planning Monday ~ Blessed are the Flexible

          Change is in the air in the Luken household!  On February 29th, I left my job of twelve and half year with the family business to strike out on my own and devote myself full time to Strong Tower, LLC.  I will be teaching my Coupon Workshops and Meal Planning classes at churches and businesses in the Greater Cincinnati area, doing financial coaching, and writing more e-books!  It’s very exciting for me to be able to do what I love – helping people save money and get out of debt – as my career.

            Even though this is a great change, our normal routine is going to be thrown out of whack.  My husband, Nick, works second shift.  I would typically cook dinner at night for myself and pack the leftovers as his lunch the next day.  Since I will be working from home, will we have our dinner for lunch, before he leaves for work?  I’m not sure, but we’ll figure it out!

            Changes such as an adult child leaving for college, a baby being born, a spouse changing work shifts, or the kids being out of school for the summer can disrupt your usual schedule and wreak havoc on your Meal Planning activities.  But they don’t have to.  One of my favorite saying is, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape!”  The best thing to do when dealing with a change like this is to sit down and figure out the best way to alter your meal planning to accommodate it.

            If you’ve got a baby on the way, you’ll probably want to do some freezer cooking in advance, so that when your bundle of joy arrives, you can spend the first several weeks bonding instead of worrying about what’s for dinner.  If a child leaves home for college, you may need to adjust your recipes so you’re not cooking as much food, or just freeze the leftovers so nothing is going to waste.  If you’re in grad school, maybe you enlist your spouse or high school son or daughter to cook and meal plan.  I did this for my mom when she was getting her Master’s Degree in Social Work and I was a sophomore in college.  It was a one-year accelerated program.  Needless to say Mom was busy and stressed!  We refer to that as the year of role reversal – I was the “mom” and she was the “daughter.”  But that was the year that I really developed a love of cooking, shopping, and planning out meals.

            So, I encourage you to remain flexible and be creative when change comes your way!  The beauty of meal planning, practical stockpiling, and freezer cooking is that you will be prepared with plenty of options when faced with changes to your dinnertime schedule.  Here’s what my meal plan looks like this week.  


Monday ~ Bean & Sausage Stew.  This hearty stew is quick and easy to make.  Leftovers freeze very well.  Serve with some crusty bread.

Tuesday ~ FFY, Fend For Yourself!  I have a hair and nail appointment this evening. 

Wednesday ~ Turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes.  

Thursday ~ Chicken Tacos.  I use ground chicken instead of beef.  Low fat and very tasty!

Friday ~ Greek Chicken Salad.

Saturday ~ Turkey Sausage and Perogies.  Mrs. T’s Perogies were on sale recently at Meijer, so I stocked up!  I fry them in a little butter with some onions. 

Sunday ~ Family Dinner.  We are having Nick’s family over for dinner.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to make a double-batch of spaghetti and meat sauce or beef stew.  I have everything on hand to make either, so I may not even decide until that day!


Bean & Sausage Stew (Modified from Real Simple magazine)

1 Tbs Olive Oil

12-oz turkey smoked sausage, sliced ¼ inch thick

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 19-oz can of white kidney beans, drained

1 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained

1 14.5-oz can of chicken broth

4 cups of fresh spinach (or 1 cup cooked spinach)

¼ tsp. each of salt and black pepper


            Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium low heat.  Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 3 minutes.  Turn the sausage to brown the other side and add the garlic, cooking about 2 minutes.    Add the beans, broth, and undrained tomatoes.  Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a simmer.  Add the spinach to the pan and cook until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.




Meal Planning Monday ~ In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb


          This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.       

            I’ve decided that the Greater Cincinnati area has the craziest weather ever!  March has definitely come in like a lion!  It was 60 degrees on Friday when several tornadoes tore through the area and today it’s 30 degrees and snowy.  One day you’re outside grilling up steaks, the next day you’re freezing inside making chili.  I thought it would be fun to talk about seasonal food.  Do you like chili in the winter and potato salad in the summer?  The weather plays a huge role for me in what I decide to cook.  If it’s warm and sunny outside, we’ll grill some hamburgers or we’ll pack some lunch meat sandwiches and head to the park.  If it’s cold and cloudy outside, I’ll make chicken noodle soup or chicken and dumplings.  What are some of your favorite seasonal foods?

Here’s what my meal plan looks like this week.  It’s all over the place, just like our weather forecast!  (I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping March goes out like a lamb!)

Monday ~ Country Fried Steaks with gravy, Mashed Potatoes, and Mac & Cheese.

Tuesday ~ Sesame Chicken in the Crock Pot.  This is a new recipe from Pinterest I’m trying out. 

Wednesday ~ Girls Night Out!  I’m headed to Bonefish for some $5 Bang-Bang Shrimp (my favorite!)  

Thursday ~ Mexican Lasagna. 

Friday ~ Pizza and Beer Tasting.  A local liquor store is having a brewery from Aurora, Indiana come in and do a Beer Tasting.  All the proceeds go to benefit those who were affected in the recent tornadoes. 

Saturday ~ Spaghetti and Meatballs with Caesar Salad. 


Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken 
Recipe adapted from: Baby Center

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thighs would be fine too)
Salt and pepper
1 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (could also use olive oil or canola oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional – doesn’t really add heat, just adds more flavor)
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 6 Tablespoons water
Sesame seeds

Season both sides of chicken with lightly with salt and pepper, put into crock pot. In a small bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, onion, ketchup, oil, garlic and pepper flakes.  Pour over chicken.  Cook on low for 3-4 hours or on high 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours, or just until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken from crock pot, leave sauce.  Dissolve 4 teaspoons of cornstarch in 6 tablespoons of water and pour into crock pot.  Stir to combine with sauce.  Replace lid and cook sauce on high for ten more minutes or until slightly thickened.  Cut chicken into bite size pieces, then return to pot and toss with sauce before serving.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over rice or noodles.
*You can also sprinkle more red pepper flakes on top if you want more heat.

Thank you to   for the recipe.