Hello Again, Aldi

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

This past Friday, I made a trip to my local Aldi store for the first time in a LONG time – as in over 15 years.  Why have I avoided Aldi for so long?  Back then, I had to shop at Aldi because I was flat broke.  So when I finally got to a place in my finances when I didn’t have to shop at Aldi, I left it behind.  When I’d drive by the store, I would remember how it felt to be broke, shudder, and keep on going.  (This is the same reason I rarely eat at Taco Bell.  It reminds me of the days of rolling change in college to go buy bean burritos for dinner.)

But it really wasn’t Aldi’s fault that I had that negative association.  So why did I decide to give it another shot?  Several ladies in my Facebook recipe group were raving about the great deals on spices, snacks, organic food, and gourmet cheeses.  Wait… organic food and gourmet cheeses?  That’s not the Aldi that I remember!  Because I’m trying to eat more organic food, I was definitely intrigued.  Especially when my friend Heather Tenney of In God’s Economy told me that Aldi and Trader Joe’s were owned by the same parent company!

So, here is what I discovered on my Aldi’s field trip on Friday.  First, you need a quarter for the cart – not 25 cents, but a quarter.  The quarter releases the cart from the corral and you get it back when you return the cart.  Aldi does NOT take credit cards!  (Another reason for me to like them.)  You can pay with cash, debit card, or EBT.  You need to bring your own reusable bags and you’ll be doing the bagging yourself after paying for your groceries.  Aldi does not accept manufacturer’s coupons.

I didn’t purchase any produce or meat on my shopping trip, since I was already stocked up from the co-op and Sam’s.  However, the meat and produce at the Erlanger, Kentucky store looked good and prices were reasonable.  The only fresh food I bought was hummus for $1.99, which is definitely less than what I would pay at my local Kroger.  Most of my purchases were in the snack and baking aisles.  Here are some of the deals I found:

  • Huge 4 oz. containers of various spices for $0.99 (Onion powder and steak seasoning made it into my cart on this trip.)
  • Canned beans (garbanzo, kidney, cannellini, etc.) for $0.65
  • 12-pack of granola bars for $1.79
  • Organic Animal Crackers 8 oz. for $0.99 – Very tasty!
  • Natural creamy peanut butter for $1.69
  • Organic Salsa $1.89
  • Capers $1.49
  • 16 oz. of Virgin Olive Oil for $2.99
  • 10 oz. whole roasted cashews $4.29
  • 12 oz. whole raw almonds $5.49

I was super excited about the great deals on the nuts because I love to have those on hand for a healthy snack.  I’m going to use the almonds to make Roasted Rosemary Almonds today, since I’m snowed in.  (Recipe below.)  The Aldi store in Erlanger is small, so you may not find everything you’re looking for on your grocery list.  The store is clean, well lit, and the staff was friendly.  There aren’t many name brand products on the shelf, but so far everything that hubby and I have tried has been tasty.  Nick gives Aldi’s yogurt covered raisins two big thumbs up, so I’ll be stocking up next time I’m there.

Hello again, Aldi!  Looks like you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

Roasted Rosemary Almonds

  • 2 cups whole raw almonds
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. rosemary
  • 1 tsp. sea salt

Toss all ingredients in a bowl and stir to coat almonds thoroughly.  Roast on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Let cool and enjoy.  Store leftovers in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolve to Have More Family Time

This week’s post is by Kim Bergeron of Extreme Coupon Professors.
We’re just past the middle of the first month in the new year. Some have made their resolutions and stuck with them and many have failed. Oh, and some, eh hum, the procrastinators, haven’t put theirs on paper yet. No matter what category you may fall into, there’s always a new morning to do the possible!
This year I’m on a mission and it’s to find more time in my day and more time with my family. And that doesn’t mean to stay up until 1 AM to find it either. What a relief, huh! In just a couple weeks, I’m glad to say that I’m making progress. I have been able to tweak some daily routines and have found some extra time. There are nights that I actually feel a little lost and I’ve been doing circles in the kitchen because I’m not used to having free time at the end of the day. What’s the million dollar answer you ask? Well here are some of our changes.
Meal planning.
Please trust me, it’s not as hard as you think it is. I begin by looking at my calender. We have five kids so that’s a lot of juggling at dinner time a lot of nights. I start by focusing on our busy nights and plan quick meals for those nights. Don’t be afraid to plan on pancakes one night or even a couple nights if you need to. Then. I look at the nights we’re home but we may be coming home right about dinner time. I’ll plan some crock pot meals for those nights. Finally, I look to see what nights I can plan on making bigger meals and I’ll put those meals on the calendar. I have found knowing ahead of time what we’re having has allowed me to start preparing some things in the morning when I have 10 minutes to spare before getting the kids off to school.  If you truly find it overwhelming to plan the whole week, then plan a few nights. You’ll appreciate how smoothly your evening goes that you’ll be penciling in meals on the calendar for the rest of the week.
Results:
Dinner time is not frazzled. I’m more relaxed and enjoying chatting with the kids at the same time. Because there are 7 of us getting ready in the mornings, I’ve also put on the calendar what breakfast is. For awhile some kids were making eggs, some were making yogurt fruit smoothies and others were having cereal. Our kitchen looked ransacked and if it was a day I was working, this is what I had to come home to. YUCK!  I tweaked mornings by only allowing simpler breakfasts during the week. I also won’t leave until everyone has cleaned up and put away all breakfast items, including their dishes.
Results:
I have found more time now when I get home.
The Clean Up Game. 

When my children were younger we used to be able to turn clean up time into a game. Turn the timer on and race to get all the toys put away before the timer goes off. Oh, the sweet. good ole’ days! Now it’s, “Kids, no one leaves until our chore list is done.”  I’ll be honest, at first I was getting a lot of, “Are we done yet?” Now, only two weeks into it, we have a great flow of getting things done as a team. We’re all doing this together. It’s been nice having dinner conversation carry over before everyone disappears into their rooms.
Getting It Done After Dinner List:
 
  • Dining room cleared.
  • Kitchen cleaned up and all dishes put away.
  • Sweep dining room and kitchen floors (Don’t say vacuum because that stops conversation flow. I’ll vacuum on my cleaning days.)
  • Make tomorrow’s school lunches.
  • Hang up any coats or backpacks that are laying around, put shoes in hall closet.
  • Start a load of towels or sheets .
  • If we’re having dessert, we’ll have dessert when our list is done and everyone washes their dishes and puts them away when they are done.
Results:
Mom doesn’t have to do it all herself, family worked together, there was together time and mom has found more free time at the end of the day. Just these few tweaks have made an enormous difference in our house. We have found time. Many nights there are a couple of kids sitting with me at the table with some game time. When we are, I’m not sitting there thinking of the mess around me or all I have to get done. Our chores are done and I’m enjoying my family time!   
On The Weekend

I’m always happy when a weekend arrives and I still do a little meal planning too. Some of the kids are in and out, some have friends coming over. Whoever is here, they enjoy eating at leisure so I typically make a hearty soup, stew or chowder that sits in my Ninja Cooking System for the afternoon. Everyone appreciates it, it goes a long way and I’m not forever cooking something for the “gang”. Last week was the first time I made a corn chowder. So easy, made a pot full and everyone loved it!
Here’s my recipe, but the fun thing about it is you can easily make it to your liking-add more bacon, use ham instead or even turkey bacon. Add a a couple diced carrots too. Whatever you may fancy.
Hearty Corn Chowder:
  • 1 lb of cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 2 cans of cream corn
  • 2 cans of corn, undrained
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp of pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 6-8 potatoes, chopped to bit sizes-NOT peeled
  • 6 cups of water or chicken broth
  • Combine all these ingredients in your crock pot or Ninja Cooking System. Cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 6-8 hours.
When ready to serve: 
  • Add 2 cans of evaporated milk
  • 3 Tbls of butter
Mix, allow to heat through and serve. If chowder is too think, just add more broth. I started mine in the morning. Cooked it on High and everyone had some throughout the day.  There were recipes that called for half and half or heavy cream, but I like being able to have the cans of evaporated milk on hand whenever I want to make this.  Some recipes also called for a bag of frozen corn. As you can see, it’s to your liking and to your convenience.
Enjoy your family time!
I’m a wife, mommy and a lover of life enjoying everything from playing board games to cooking to traveling. Finding deals for our family has allowed us to do the fun things in life with enjoyment and less stress. When I find a deal I’ll always share it on my blog, Extreme Coupon Professors. Hop on over to see all the ways to save!

 

Resolve to Start Meal Planning

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

 There are plenty of great reasons why regular meal planning should make it on to your New Year’s Resolution List.  Meal planning helps you save money, eat healthier, stress less, spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your family.  These are all things that we want, so why do we resist doing it?

I think what holds many people back from meal planning is thinking that, in order to do it “right,” they have to plan a month in advance, spend every weekend batch cooking and freezing, AND be super organized.  Sure, you can start that way if you want to, but for most folks it’s easier to begin gradually rather than cannonballing into the deep end.  So, here are some baby steps, tips, and tools to get you started on your meal planning adventures.

  • Plan a week of dinners.  Look at your calendar for the next week and plan your dinners based on what you’ve already got on hand in the fridge, pantry, and freezer.  Save more complicated, labor intensive meals for weekends or other non-busy days.  Plan on slow cooker meals or meals that can be on the table in 30 minutes or less for busy nights.  Next week, try planning out ten days to two weeks in advance.  Before long, you’ll be on a monthly meal planning schedule. (Which is great, because you only have to do it 12 times a year vs. 52 times a year!)

  • Make a double batch of a family favorite meal and freeze half of it.  It doesn’t take twice as long to make a double batch of a recipe!  In fact, it usually only takes a few extra minutes. You’ll be grateful two or three weeks from now when you’re short on time.  You’ll have a great meal you can dump frozen into the crockpot before heading to work and come home to a wonderful smelling house and dinner ready to serve!  I highly recommend a dish like beef stew, spaghetti sauce with meatballs, chili, or vegetable soup for your first freezer meal.
  • Stock up on freezer cooking supplies next time you’re at the store.  If you don’t have plenty of zipper freezer bags (quart and gallon size) and plastic containers in various sizes for freezer cooking, be sure and stock up so you have no excuses.
  • Search Pinterest or Google for good freezer cooking and batch cooking recipes.  It’s more fun to meal plan if you have recipes you’re excited to try!

  • Check out these great Meal Planning tools!  If you’d like a FREE blank meal planning calendar or freezer inventory sheet, just click here to download.  If you’re ready to really get serious about meal planning, invest a few dollars in my e-book, Discover the Magic of Meal Planning. (Kindle Unlimited members get it FREE!)

Whether you’re trying to save money at the grocery store, eat healthier, or spend more time with your family, meal planning can help you with those resolutions.  Here’s to a Happy New Year and Happy Meal Planning in 2015!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cookie Explosion

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Every year in December, for as long as I can remember, my mom and I take an entire Saturday and bake our famous sugar cookies with buttercream icing.  It’s one of my absolute favorite things about the holiday season!  Of course the cookies taste delicious, but half the fun is baking, icing, and decorating them together. By the time we have made a tripe batch, it looks like a cookie explosion has gone off in my kitchen.  There’s flour, frosting, sprinkles, and icing everywhere!  The finished product is worth it though. I have friends and family literally begging me for a few cookies, and wanting the recipe.

This year we had a few new additions to the cookie cutters that we’ve been using for ages.  My husband used his GorillaMaker 3-D printer to make “A” and “R” cookie cutters for my niece, Ayla, and my nephew, Reid.  Usually, they join us but my poor niece had the flu.   I’ll probably do a mini cookie baking session in January with them because I know they were disappointed about not being able to come over.  (But no need to bake flu germs into the sugar cookies, right?)

I also bought these awesome “Ninjabread Men” cookie cutters from Amazon.  I’ve always loved martial arts, so I thought they would be a fun addition to the usual stockings, angels, and Christmas tree cookies.  I’m definitely making sure that my nephew gets a few of the frosted ninja cookies!

So for the past four years, I’ve teased you, my dear blog readers, with pictures and descriptions of my fabulous sugar cookies, but have never released the recipe.  So here is your holiday gift from me (with my mom’s blessing) – Carol & Christine’s Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe! Enjoy!

Carol & Christine’s Christmas Sugar Cookies

(Single Batch)

 Ingredients:

  • ¾ Cup of Butter
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. real Vanilla Extract
  • 2 ½ Cups of Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Salt

Directions:

1.) Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.

2.) In a separate bowl, add flour, baking powder, and salt.  Blend thoroughly.  Add the mixture from #1 and mix well.  (This usually requires hand kneading at thoroughly combine.)

3.) Chill dough 3 hours or overnight.  Take dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before baking to soften it up.

4.) Preheat oven to 400 F.

5.) Roll dough on a floured surface.  If the dough seems too sticky, work some extra flour into in before rolling out.

6.) Cut with cookie cutters.  Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

7.) Cool on sheet before removing.  Let cool completely before frosting.

 

Buttercream Frosting

 

Ingredients:

  •  ¼ Cup of Butter
  • 2 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tsp. real Vanilla Extract
  • 2 – 3 TBS. Evaporated Milk
  • Food Coloring

Beat first four ingredients with an electric mixer.  Once thoroughly combined, transfer to a small bowl and add food coloring.  If frosting becomes a little stiff, add a little extra evaporated milk and stir.

Five Fun Christmas Dessert Recipes

This week’s post is by Amy of Savvy Saving Couple

One of my favorite activities to do during the holiday season is bake. Making desserts, cookies, and casseroles is just so fun once the weather gets chilly. Seasonal baking is especially fun because there is no better time of year to indulge in some homemade and festive treats. I thought it would be fun to spread some Christmas cheer and share five of my family’s fun and easy Christmas dessert recipes.

First up is my Pistachio Cherry Christmas Cake. This recipe has been in my family for decades. It is such a unique cake because it has a delicious pistachio flavor, maraschino cherries, nuts, and is super moist. It is easy to make and can be turned into a beautiful Bundt cake, or even cupcakes.

Next we have a recipe for Gingerbread Men Cookies that was passed down from my grandmother. I love these cookies because they are slightly chewy, and the dough is great for actual cut out cookies. Personally, I prefer to always chill my dough before cutting out my little men, because the shapes stay. Decorating them may be even more fun because the decorating choices are endless.

Love easy treats that require hardly any cooking skill? I used to be like that too! That is why Peppermint Bark is one of the easiest Christmas or seasonal treats I have ever made! Seriously, who would have thought that just two ingredients could produce such a tasty treat that goes perfectly with a side of hot cocoa! You can switch this recipe up too if you prefer dark or milk chocolate.

Don’t have time to bake? Another fun and easy Christmas dessert option for parties and hosting are these Christmas Oreo Truffles. These are no bake balls that are made with a few simple ingredients. However, the taste is so rich and seems as if you traveled high and far for only the finest truffles. These no bake Oreo Balls are perfect for this season of cheer!

Since the Christmas season is just such a busy one, I couldn’t leave out a recent short cut or “hack” I discovered for yummy Peppermint Brownies. These delicious treats use boxed brownie mix, and store bought vanilla frosting. The secret ingredient is peppermint extract which takes these brownies from average to rock star is seconds. These would make great treats for parties, or a late night snack!

As you can see, the Christmas season doesn’t have to be spent slaving in the kitchen. There are just so many sweet treats which you can make or bake up this time of year. I hope you and your family enjoy our top 5 Fun and Christmas Desserts and Treats recipes.

 

 

Save Money on Meat

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I know from personal experience that eating a diet rich in protein helps to keep me strong and slim.  However, you don’t have to be a “meat-atarian” to get the slimming results of protein.  According to Robert Ferguson, creator of Diet Free Life (the healthy eating plan that I’ve followed for over three years), if you’re getting 15 to 30 grams of protein with each meal, you’re on track.

With that being said, I’m going to give you some strategies to save money on your protein purchases.  The price of meat is definitely NOT getting any cheaper and eating grass-fed and organic is downright expensive!  Three things to keep in mind: buy on sale, eat less meat, and occasionally go meatless.

Buy on Sale

I have a tendency to create my monthly meal plans around what I’ve recently scored on sale at the grocery store.  I also check out what’s marked down in the meat department.  If it’s something that looks fine but has an imminent expiration date, I’ll either cook it up right away or freeze it.  The crock pot is definitely a good friend of mine because it makes cheaper cuts of meat taste delicious and fall right off the bone.  I purchase the vast majority of my chicken with the bone in because I get more for my money.  I frequently cook a whole chicken in the crock pot and make several meals out of it.  For example, tonight Nick and I are going to have rosemary chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy with broccoli.  I’ll shred the leftover dark meat and mix it with BBQ sauce and send Nick to work with BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries for lunch.  As for the remaining white meat, I’ll use it later in the week for my Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  Also, ask if there’s a discount if you buy in bulk.  I recently bought chicken thighs from a local farm and they gave me a discount since I purchased 10 pounds (and froze most of it).

Eat Less Meat

Most Americans eat larger servings of meat than their bodies actually need.  You can painlessly cut the amount of meat in a dish without sacrificing taste or feeling hungry.  For example, when I make spaghetti and meat sauce, I can easily cut back on the amount of ground turkey (or beef) and add a package of fresh mushrooms (washed and sliced) to the meat while it’s cooking.  Mushrooms have a meaty taste and are rich in protein, so it’s not really noticeable that the amount of turkey has been decreased. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can sub in your choice of zucchini, onions, bell peppers, or eggplant.  You can also do this with black beans or leftover brown rice when making tacos or burritos.  This will allow you to stretch a pound of ground meat over two meals instead of just one.  Be creative!  You also add corn, pinto and other beans, quinoa, barley, and other grains or vegetables to stretch your meat.

Occasionally Go Meatless

Yes, you can get enough protein from non-meat sources!  It seems there’s been a surge in the popularity of “Meatless Mondays.”  Don’t believe me?  Just search “Meatless Monday” on Pinterest and see the thousands upon thousands of recipes that pop up!  With delicious sounding recipes like Lentil Chili, Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchiladas, Mushroom Fajitas, and Spinach & Ricotta Pasta, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything at all!  Some of my personal vegetarian favorites are Black Bean Chili and Easy Cheesy Casserole.  I also can’t wait to try this Sweet Potato Salad recipe!

If you have any other tips for saving money on your meat purchases, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Vegetarian Options for Holiday Gatherings

This week’s post is by Casey Lindberg-Coghill of Veggies & Glitter.

I’ll never forget my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian.

While my family heaped their plates with smoked ham and oven-roasted turkey, my holiday meal consisted of pumpkin pie, brown sugar sweet potatoes, and several yeast rolls. Ironically, I had become a vegetarian for purely nutritional reasons, yet my feast was anything but nourishing. I knew that something had to change if I was going to successfully stick with this new lifestyle through the holiday season each year.

Since then, I have collected an arsenal of recipes that I can make and tote along to social gatherings from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Not only do I now have healthy options at holiday parties, but my friends and family have grown to look forward to these dishes as much as the meat-laden ones they have been devouring for years.

These five plates will brighten any holiday potluck spread, but they can also be served up as main entrees at home on busy weeknights. Whether you’re accommodating a strict vegetarian or just looking to lighten up on the amount of meat you consume yourself, these easy recipes will leave you feeling satisfied this season.

Monday: Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Salad

Image and recipe courtesy of The Vegetarian Times

Yes, planning a holiday meal is stressful, but I would argue that generating healthy meals during a busy week of school or work is just as taxing. Because half of this vitamin-rich recipe is prepared ahead of time, this salad is the perfect meal for a particularly manic Monday when ordering pizza seems like the only viable option.

Preparing the rice mixture on a leisurely Sunday and chilling it in the fridge overnight will make it possible for you to have an antioxidant-loaded meal on the table in less than a half an hour. To save yourself even more weekday work, also dice up the butternut squash and store it in the fridge one day prior to devouring this salad with your family!

Access the full recipe here: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/butternut-squash-and-wild-rice-salad

Tuesday: Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Image and recipe courtesy of Whole Foods Market

I’ll be the first to admit that I only thought of the sweet potato as a dessert component until I had reached adulthood. After all, I had only ever tasted it when it was topped with marshmallows, smothered with brown sugar and butter, or incorporated into a pie. It never struck me that it was also a savory root vegetable packed with a slew of vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, as well as iron and potassium.

Sweet potatoes are combined with fresh baby arugula and naturally sweetened with honey in this recipe, which is full of flavor without all of the processed junk that is often included in sweet potato dishes.

Access the full recipe: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/roasted-sweet-potato-salad

Wednesday: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Image and recipe courtesy of Sayyes.com

Vegetarians obviously won’t be indulging in the main protein source (turkey, of course!) in which most people indulge on Thanksgiving. But that doesn’t mean that “tofurkey” has to be at the heart of a meatless feast. Even as someone who is enthusiastic about sampling a wide array of meat alternatives, I’ll be quite honest that the idea of faux turkey sounds revolting to me.

This delicious recipe will undoubtedly appeal to both vegetarians and meat lovers alike, and it will save you from having to resort to noshing on “tofurkey” this Thanksgiving.  Quinoa is often thought to be a grain because it’s frequently used as a replacement for rice, but it’s actually a seed that can sprout into a leafy vegetable if harvested in a certain way. Like leafy greens, it’s also packed with protein. Served in half of a roasted acorn squash and topped with pumpkin seeds, it will leave you feeling more satisfied than turkey ever could.

Access full recipe: http://sayyes.com/2013/11/quinoa-stuffed-acorn-squash.html

Thursday: Spinach and Cheese Strata

Image and recipe courtesy of Annies-eats.com

A vegetarian strata recipe is ideal to have on hand over the holidays due to its versatility. Not only would you be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t love to indulge in such a decadently rich dish, but it can also be served virtually any time of day. While this dish was a hit when I served it to my family at a Thanksgiving weekend brunch, I also enjoy making it on cool fall evenings when it’s just my husband and me together at home.

Even though this dish is not for those who are counting carbs, it’s also loaded with protein-rich eggs and fiber-filled spinach. It’s certainly a healthier “comfort food” option than most others you will find this holiday season!

Access the full recipe: http://www.annies-eats.com/2010/03/15/spinach-and-cheese-strata/

Friday: Roasted Apple Pumpkin Soup

Image and recipe courtesy of Eating Well Magazine

 One of my favorite things to do during the fall months is to go apple picking with loved ones. Regardless of how many times I tell myself to take it easy, I always come home with more apples than I can physically consume before they rot! This recipe is one of my personal favorites because it combines tart apples straight from the orchard with pumpkin, one of my other favorite seasonal flavors.

Because it makes a large batch of leftovers that will last for up to three days in your refrigerator, this recipe is ideal for a busy holiday weekend when you want to have an easy, healthy option on hand. Just remember that in order for this to be a truly vegetarian dish, you must use vegetable stock rather than that made with chicken.

Access the full recipe: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/pumpkin_apple_soup.html

In addition to running her wellness blog Veggies and Glitter, Casey Lindberg-Coghill is a freelance writer based out of Charlotte, NC.  Aside from being  a writer, Casey is also a huge bookworm and fashion enthusiast who has rather  unhealthy obsessions with Justin Timberlake and anything pumpkin-flavored.

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Slow Cooker Comfort

Hello. It’s Heather popping in from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. The dreariness of fall has hit in full force. I hear the rain falling outside as the damp seeps in. Fall is my favorite time to pull out slow-cooker meals. With school in session and fall activities starting up, there just never seems to be enough time and the first thing to go tends to be dinner time.

Besides the questionable healthiness of swinging through the fast food drive-thru, we also have the cost factor. With a family of 5, 3 of whom are growing children, fast food definitely isn’t very frugal. Having a meal plan and making it functional for busy days and evenings, ensures I hit that drive thru less. Freezer meals and slow cooked meals save the day and budget.

I have a new healthy favorite slow-cooker meal that is easy and packed with hidden veggies. After dinner I asked my thankfully not too picky eaters if they knew there was zucchini in it. (Tip one, puree it well and nobody will know.) This recipe will make two batches, filling two goals for me. One, a great healthy slow-cooker meal, and two, a freezer meal. The best part is this meal is egg-free for those who may be allergic to most lasagna dishes.

Chicken Sausage Zucchini Lasagna Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken sausage, cooked (I make them ahead of time in the oven then fridge for meals)
  • 1 box lasagna noodles
  • 2 – 24 ounce cans crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups diced zucchini
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium sweet pepper
  • 32 ounces ricotta
  • 24 ounces mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic/3 cloved, diced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil

Directions

  • Boil water and cook lasagna noodles to al dente, drain.
  • Finely chop sausage in food processor or blender with a bit of tomatoes, be careful not to puree.
  • Blend rest of tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, and garlic in blender or food processor then mix with sausage.
  • Mix together ricotta and seasonings.
  • Put 2 cups of meat and veggie sauce mixture in bottom of pan.
  • Fill surface with one layer of noodles, slightly overlapping them.
  • Cover noodles with about 1/2 cup ricotta mixture.
  • Add another 2 cup layer of sauce.
  • Add another layer of noodles.
  • Add another 1/2 cup of ricotta.
  • Add one more layer of noodles.
  • Dot with ricotta mixture and 1/2 cup sauce.
  • Cover with 8 ounces of mozzarella.
  • Slow-cook on low for 4-6 hours. Should be ready at 4 hours.

For freezer meal:

  • Preheat oven to 325.
  • Using a 9 x 13 aluminum pan,
  • Start with a layer of noodles.
  • Add a layer of meat sauce, then ricotta.
  • Continue layering until all ingredients are gone.
  • Cover with 16 ounces mozzarella.
  • Bake for approximately one hour, or until cheese is golden brown.
  • Let cool.
  • Wrap with several layers of plastic wrap.
  • Wrap with foil.
  • Tape reheating directions to package.
  • Freeze.
  • Pull out to thaw in refrigerator about 1 day in advance.
  • Pull plastic off, replace aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  • If still frozen, add 20-30 minutes, depending how frozen it is.

 

Here are four more great slow-cooker meals that will have dinner on the table almost as soon as you get home. The best part is that if you do most of the prep work the evening before or that morning it will really make dinner quick and easy.
  1. Chicken Tacos – shredded taco meat, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa
  2. Change up your traditional Chicken Noodle with this Chicken Couscous Soup.
  3. Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
  4. Slow – Cooker French Onion Soup + Slow Cooked Brats

 

Heather writes at Real: The Kitchen and Beyond where the food is (mostly) real and the making’s easy. She believes any one can cook. Just follow the steps, starting at #1. Read, follow, taste, venture out. Don’t be afraid to fail, then try again. Her other hats are homeschooling, editing fiction, ghostwriting, and culinary marketing. Oh, and she believes life is always better with dessert.

October ~ A Month of Meals

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Do you meal plan weekly or monthly?  I’ve tried it both ways and have come to the conclusion that it’s less stressful for me to meal plan monthly, since I only have to do it 12 times a year, instead of 52!  On numerous occasions, I’ve had people ask me to share my monthly meal plan so they can get some fresh ideas for their own meal plans.

October is going to be frightfully busy for me!  I start teaching Financial Peace University tomorrow, which is a nine-week class.  I’ve also been doing more financial coaching appointments in the evening lately.  That means plenty of FFY (Fend For Yourself) days on the calendar!  I’ll be batch cooking to stock the freezer with soups, chili, BBQ, and pasta for those busy evenings.  I also plan on baking during the weekends – homemade granola bars, pumpkin bread, zucchini muffins, and plum cake!  Here’s what I’m cooking in October.

Week One

 

Monday ~ Homemade vegetable soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.  There will be plenty of leftover soup to be frozen.

Tuesday ~ FFY – Financial Peace University.  Hubby will probably reheat white chicken chili for his dinner.

Wednesday ~ Breakfast for dinner: Omelets, hash browns, turkey sausage and fruit

Thursday ~ FFY – Financial Coaching.  Hubby will have to reheat a freezer meal.

Friday  ~ Spaghetti & Meat Sauce with salad.  I’ll make a double batch of the sauce and freeze the leftovers.

Saturday ~ Oven Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans.  I’ll also bake pumpkin bread sometime over the weekend.

Sunday ~ Using the leftover chicken meat from Saturday, and the chicken stock in the freezer, I’ll be making chicken soup.  Recently, I’ve been omitting the noodles and adding extra veggies, like peas, green beans, and corn.  We’ll round out the meal with crusty rolls and butter.

Week Two

 

Monday ~ Broiled or grilled chicken breasts with artichokes & tomatoes.

Tuesday ~ FFY – Financial Peace University.  I’ll put beef stew in the crock pot in the morning, so it will be ready when Nick gets home from work.

Wednesday ~ Loaded Nachos.

Thursday ~ Turkey Chili with salads.  Plenty of leftovers for the freezer!

Friday  ~ White Bean, Kale & Carrot Soup with beer bread.  This is a cheap, filling, meatless meal.  Thanks to my sister, Leah, for this recipe!

Saturday ~ I’m going to try my hand at making Chicken & Asparagus with Black Bean Sauce and serve it with brown rice.  It’s a more involved recipe than most of the ones I make on a regular basis, so I’m saving it for the weekend.

Sunday ~ Turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes and a veggie.  I’ll also bake a double batch of granola bars.

 

White Bean, Kale & Carrot Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cups chopped raw kale
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans white beans, undrained
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a stock/soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; sauté until soft. Stir in broth, carrots, beans, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until carrots are almost tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kale; cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or until kale is done, stirring occasionally.

Week Three

 

Monday ~ Spinach Stuffed Chicken. My freezer is packed with frozen spinach, so I’m trying to work it into my meals this month.

Tuesday ~ FFY – Financial Peace University.  Freezer meals for everyone!

Wednesday ~ Chicken & Potatoes in the crock pot – easy and delicious!  I’ll strain the juices left in the crock pot and freeze it because it makes awesome stock for chicken soup!

Thursday ~ Out to Eat for Dinner!  A well-deserved night off for me!

Friday  ~ Meatloaf with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and broccoli.

Saturday ~ Rosemary Lemon Chicken in the crock pot with Parmesan potatoes and a veggie.  Make 5 balls of foil from 1’ x 1’ sheets and set the chicken on top of the foil balls inside the crock pot.  This keeps the skin from getting soggy.  I rub the chicken with olive oil, sprinkle it with rosemary and stuff it with lemon wedges, and cook it breast side down.

Sunday ~ Easy Cheesy Casserole and side salads.  The leftovers from this casserole freeze really well.  I also plan on making zucchini chocolate chip muffins.

Week Four

 

Monday ~ Spicy Shrimp & Tomatoes.  This can be served over rice or pasta, or with crusty rolls to dip into the tasty juices!

Tuesday ~ FFY – Financial Peace University.  Freezer meals for everyone!

Wednesday ~ Black bean soup with tortilla chips.  Fast, vegetarian, and leftovers freeze well.

Thursday ~ BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with sweet potato fries and a veggie.

Friday  ~ Chicken and mushrooms with white wine sauce over wild rice with garlic roasted cauliflower.

Saturday ~ Salmon and Steak with twice-baked potatoes and salad.

Sunday ~ Grilled Chicken Tenderloins with Hash Brown Casserole and green beans.  I’m also going to bake my favorite cake – Cardamom Plum Cake – just because!

 

 

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Finger Licking Ribs

Great for the kids, tailgating parties, or just a weeknight meal.

This week’s Meal Planning Monday is by Christy Hoover of AWomanTheWorldDeserves.com.

I definitely cook for the season when planning out my meals and with the kids in the house I try to cook with them in mind as well. In the spirit of a filling weeknight meal and the wonderful season of football parties, I thought it would be fun to make some finger licking ribs.  Great for the kids, tailgating parties, or just a weeknight meal.

Now, these ribs have been cooked individually mainly due to the fact that when I cook a whole slab of ribs, my kids seem to not have mastered the importance of saving some for others. They will take half of the slab and not even think about how they have just finished off all of the meat, or that other people may be hungry.

 

Slicing Finger Licking Ribs

 

 

So to solve this problem, I have individually sliced the ribs so that they can see the portion control I have set for them. Well, I guess when it is finger licking, it is kind of hard to worry about things such as not overeating and saving some for others.

 

Sliced ribs in baking pan

Ribs are sliced and placed in baking dish.

 

 

Ribs are sliced and placed in baking dish.

Now all finger licking ribs need a good rub. Here is what I use:

  • 2 tbsp of brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp of granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp of Creole Seasoning (or seasoning salt)
  • 1/2 tbsp of chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp of cumin

Rub for Ribs

 

I begin to sprinkle the rub on the individually sliced ribs.

Sprinkling rub on ribs

 

Since finger licking ribs need a bit of loving, you actually have to rub it into the meat. Well, it is more of a massage method. :-)

 

Rubbing rub on ribs Ribs with rub in pan

 

The ribs are covered in foil and cooked in the oven for two hours on 350 degrees. Once they are tender, I take them out of the baking dish, drain the grease, and put the ribs in a pan on the stove with 1/2 cup of my favorite barbecue sauce and toss until all the ribs are coated. Once they are coated, I transfer for them to a serving bowl and sprinkle them with small slices of green onion. This is where the finger licking begins!

 

Ribs

 

I served these Finger Licking Robs with Pan Fried Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Apple Cider Glazed Sweet Potatoes. Here are some other delicious and easy meals that you would love to try!!!

Marinara Meatball Sliders

Juicy Boneless Leg of Lamb with Roasted Vegetables

Easy Chicken Piccata

Best Meatloaf Recipe Ever

 

Christy Hoover is a military wife and mother of two who loves sharing her love of cooking and relationship advice with anyone who will listen. You can gather the best tips on life, building strong relationships, and making meatloaf on her website,

 A Woman the World Deserves.