Meal Planning Monday ~ The Glory of Autumn


This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

Cooler temps, the leaves are starting to change colors, and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back.  Yep, it’s officially autumn.  This is my favorite season ~ Halloween, pumpkin farms, and cozy sweaters are just a few reasons why I love this time of year.  I also love cooking in the cooler weather.  I tend to use my crock pot more in the fall and winter.  I thought I’d share a few of my favorite fall crock pot recipes.

Chili ~ My husband loves chili, so this is a staple in our house.  I like experimenting with different chili recipes: black bean chili, vegetarian chili, and white chicken chili to name a few.  Chili also freezes very well, so I make a double batch and freeze half.

Ham and Green Beans ~ This is so easy to throw together.  All you need is ham, green beans, salt, pepper, and chicken broth. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Black Bean Soup ~ A friend of mine in my Facebook recipe group recommended this recipe.    It’s so good and it also freezes well.

Pot Roast ~ there’s nothing like coming home to the smell of roast cooking in the crock pot. My family loves leftover pot roast sandwiches.  I love meals I can make once and get two to three more meals out of.

Baked Apples ~ I haven’t tried these yet.  I did put them on my “To Make” list for fall foods.

Carnitas ~ I don’t instantly think fall when I think of carnitas, but this recipe is so good and it’s another one that makes my house smell amazing.

Pumpkin anything ~ Alright that doesn’t fit into the crock pot category, but who doesn’t love pumpkin flavored anything in the fall?  Here’s a great recipe for pumpkin pancakes.

Here is the recipe for Baked Apples in the crock pot.  If you try them out let me know how you like them.

Baked Apples

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons trans-fat free margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 Gala or Macintosh apples, cored
1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
2 tablespoons orange liquor (optional)


Preheat a large crock-pot on high heat and preset it for 3 hours.  In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, walnuts, margarine, and cinnamon.  Fill the apples with the filling and place them in the crock-pot.  Pour in the apple juice or cider and the liquor, if using.  Cover and cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours on high heat until the apples are soft and begin to collapse.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Cashing in at the Co-op

Leah has been asking me to come and check out the produce co-op she belongs to for months, and two weeks ago, I finally went. Why did I wait SO long?? The produce co-op is AWESOME, and I joined after my first visit! What is a co-op, (which is short for the word cooperative)? Essentially it is any business that is owned by the people who use it. Co-ops are operated for the benefit of the members, not to make a profit for investors. This means great prices!

For this particular food co-op, there is a $5 one-time fee to join, plus $5 per month, and you must be brought in by a current member. I felt like it was some kind of secret, underground grocery club that I never knew existed! These fees are easily offset by the produce prices, and you can take a turn working the co-op instead of paying the fee.

The produce selection varies and I receive an email the day before telling me what’s available. Much of produce is organic. Last week’s haul, pictured above, included 2-pound packages of portabella mushrooms for $1.25 each, packages of organic blueberries and celery for 75 cents, three pounds of potatoes for $1, and lemons, limes, onions, and garlic for a quarter apiece! Typically, when I do my meal planning, I’m flexible with my side dishes. For example, before the month began, I scheduled chicken bruschetta this week. However, I’m flexible about whether I’m going to make it with rice or potatoes, green beans or cauliflower. This allows me to make the most of what produce is on sale at the grocery store or co-op.

So, how do you find and join a food co-op, so you can start saving, too? Check out the Co-op Directory Listing or check out Local Harvest for co-ops and farmers markets. I think I’m going to have a line of friends and family who want to come with me to the co-op this week! Hmm, who should I pick first?

Here is my meal plan for this week.

Monday ~ Dinner out with my good friend, Heather, to one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Oriental Wok!

Tuesday ~ I’m teaching Financial Peace University tonight, so I’ll probably heat up some of the Taco Soup I have in the freezer.

Wednesday ~ Chicken sausage with red pepper and onion and parmesan potatoes.

Thursday ~ Chicken bruschetta, wild rice, and drunken mushrooms. Very excited to try the mushroom recipe! I want to test it first and make sure it’s good before I give you the recipe.

Friday ~ Spicy tilapia, mac and cheese, and broccoli

Saturday ~ I am having a Miche purse party this night, so I will probably have a Lean Cuisine for an early dinner, since I’ll be serving a cheese tray, wine, and chocolate covered cherry cupcakes for the party! If I’m running short on time, I will use store-bought frosting for the cupcakes.
Sunday ~ Homemade vegetable soup and hot ham and cheese sandwiches on rye bread.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Special Orders Don’t Upset Us!

This week’s post is by Sherry Nehl, a fellow member of the Facebook recipe group and Leah and I belong to.  I’ve asked her to share how she overcomes the challenge of having several people in her family on special or restricted diets.

            This is my very first post and I’m grateful to Christine for allowing me the opportunity.  I’ve always loved being in the kitchen and cooking for my family and friends.  As our family has grown, our needs have become more and more diverse.  Within our family of six, you’ll find a peanut allergy, a vegetarian, and an amateur vegan.

            Here is what works for us.  I clean out our refrigerator and pantry on Fridays, and then make the shopping list and menu plan for the following week.  Any fruits that are past their prime go into snack-sized freezer bags for smoothies and veggies go into a large freezer bag to make vegetable stock.

            Saturdays are my shopping day.  I like to set out breakfast and leave before anyone wakes up!  I usually go to Aldi, Sam’s Club, and Kroger every 2-3 weeks.  During the summer I’ll go to the Farmer’s Market first (and, to be honest, every garage sale I pass).  I keep a cooler in my trunk since I make multiple stops.

            Sundays are for meal prep, which saves me time during the rest of the week.  I usually peel and mince three whole heads of garlic to keep in the fridge for the next few weeks.  I wash the veggies and fruits in a vinegar/salt solution and let them dry thoroughly.  For this meal plan, I make up the BBQ rub, BBQ sauce, a big batch of spaghetti sauces (vegan and meat-based, but store-bought is also fine) and assemble and freeze the lasagnas in loaf pans.  On the days when I have chicken scheduled, our vegetarians will omit it and eat just the side dishes.  Here’s our plan for this week.

Monday ~ Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Vegan Bolognese (see recipe below), served with rolls and green salad.

Tuesday ~ Lemon Roasted Chicken, Pesto Pasta Salad (see recipe below), and Oven Roasted Corn.

Wednesday ~ Pulled chicken sandwiches with, black beans, rice, corn, and caramelized onion (aka BBRC).

Thursday ~ Meat Lasagna and Vegan, Gluten-Free Lasagna with rolls and green salad.

Friday ~  BBQ drumsticks, cheese quesadillas, and leftover BBRC.

Sherry Nehl is a brand-new blogger and full-time mother of four boys.  She loves to entertain, bake delicious desserts, and trade recipes with friends.


Pesto Pasta Salad

  • One box of bow-tie pasta
  • One jar of pesto sauce (or homemade)
  • One pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • One (8-oz) container of Sun-dried Tomato Feta Cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions and rinse well with cool water.  Add pesto and toss.  Add tomatoes and feta and serve.  For vegans, omit the feta.


Vegan Bolognese Sauce/Meat & Veggie Sauce

This will make enough sauce for 8 dinners total (4 vegan, 4 meat-based) and freezes beautifully.  You can easily omit the mushrooms and double the meat, or vice versa.  If there aren’t any good coupon match-ups for canned tomatoes, I buy the restaurant-sized cans of crushed tomatoes at Sam’s Club for less than $3.00.

  • 102 oz. of crushed tomatoes
  • 4-6 oz. of tomato paste
  • 1-2 cups of red wine or vegetable stock.
  • 4 yellow or white onions, peeled and chopped
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 packages (8-10 links) of hot or sweet Italian sausage
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 16 oz. of mushrooms (any variety, Port0bello are recommended)
  • One large bunch of parsley, washed and minced
  • 2 Tablespoons of dried basil and oregano (can substitute fresh)
  • 4 T. crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  In a food processor, chop onion, carrot, and celery until fine.  Add to hot skillet and cook until onions are starting to turn golden brown.  Add a splash of red wine or stock as needed to deglaze the pan.  Turn heat to medium and add garlic.  Cook until fragrant, continuing to deglaze the pan as necessary.  Turn off fire and remove pan from heat.  Remove vegetable mixture from pan and set aside.

Heat skillet to medium-high again.  Add mushrooms and bell peppers, continuing to deglaze when necessary.  Cook until the mushrooms have released their moisture, and that moisture has been cooked off.

Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 cups of water.  Slice open the sausages and remove from their casings.  Crumble meat as it cooks until the sausage is no longer pink.  Drain and set aside.

With skillet and Dutch oven both over medium heat, divide onion/carrot/celery mixture into pans.  Add equal amount of tomato paste to both pans and stir into the vegetables.  Once combined, add mushrooms mix back into skillet and cooked sausage back into Dutch oven.  Add crushed or diced tomatoes, dividing equally and bring to a slow simmer.  Reduce heat to low and add all of the herbs and spices, dividing equally.  Simmer for 30-60 minutes and serve or freeze.

For pasta, top with parmesan cheese.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Handy Kitchen Tools

             Recently, I decluttered my whole entire house, including my kitchen.  I realized that I owned a lot of kitchen gadgets that I rarely used.  I was fortunate to be able to off-load some of them through my yard sale group on Facebook and made a few bucks in the process.  Among the things I parted with were a wine bottle chiller that made too much noise, a tiny crock pot for dips that I never used, and a generic version of the Slap-Chop (also never used).

            However, there are some handy kitchen tools that I love and would never part with!  Here are some of my favorites.

  • Magic Bullet Blender.  When I first got one of these as a Christmas gift, I wasn’t terribly excited about it.  However, when my coffee grinder broke, I realized the Magic Bullet had an attachment blade made for grinding.  Now I use it at least once a day!  I use it for smoothies, making homemade sweetened condensed milk, pureeing fruit for recipes, and of course, grinding my coffee beans.  When mine recently died, I was excited to find someone who wanted to part with their never-used Magic Bullet for $15 with all of the accessories!  Score!
  • Garlic Press.  I love fresh garlic and use it in many of my recipes, so this is indispensable for me!  It makes mincing garlic a breeze.
  • Tupperware Kitchen Shears.  I bought these scissors almost ten years ago and they are probably the MOST used item in my kitchen.  I use them to cut open packaging, trim herbs, even for cutting raw chicken.  The most amazing thing is that I have never needed to have them sharpened.  They are an investment at $50 a pair, but one that’s well worth it, in my opinion.
  • Kitchenaid Mixer.  Because I love to bake, my mixer gets a workout on a regular basis!  Yes, the Kitchenaid brand isn’t cheap.  However, it’s so well-made that I’ll still be using it to make cookies with my grandnieces and grandnephews!
  • Misto Olive Oil Sprayer.  This is my most recent acquisition.  The Misto sprayer replaces your cooking sprays, which contain chemicals.  Fill it with some olive oil and pump the top to build the pressure.  It sprays on a nice even coat of olive oil (or other oil of your choosing) with no chemical propellants.

            Now you know some of my favorite kitchen gadgets which help make meal planning easier for me.  So tell me:  What’s the one kitchen tool or appliance you can’t live without?