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!





Meal Planning Monday ~ The Big Thaw


            Currently the East Coast is digging out from under three plus feet of snow from one of the worst snowstorms we’ve seen in a while.  We certainly hope all of our fans are safe and warm today.  So much for that groundhog’s prediction of an early spring!  Spring is inevitable though and will be here before we know it.  While you’re waiting for the warm weather to arrive, take advantage of these next few weeks of cold to tackle a meal planning chore – defrosting and cleaning your deep freezer.

            It’s important to defrost and give your freezer a good cleaning at least once a year, or any time there’s a good amount of frost build-up on the inside.  When the frost builds up, it keeps your freezer from running efficiently and can cause freezer burn due to uneven temperatures.  When you’ve invested time and money into making freezer meals and stockpiling sale items, the last thing you want is to have to throw away the fruits of your labor due to freezer burn.

            Every January or February, I pick a weekend when I know it’s going to be very cold.  My husband and I load up our reusable shopping bags with our freezer stash and take it out to the garage and put it in coolers.  (This is also a great time to weed through your freezer stockpile and throw away anything that is past its prime.)  We allow the freezer to defrost overnight, and then clean it really good the next day.  Then it’s time to reload the deep freezer and pop in a new box of baking soda to keep it fresh.

            I defrosted and cleaned my freezer a few weeks ago.  I noticed that there were some items in the freezer that needed to be used up soon before they expired.  So I’ve worked them into my meal plan for this week so nothing gets wasted.  Here’s my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Turkey Meatloaf with parmesan potatoes and green beans.  I bought a huge amount of fresh green beans from my produce co-op in October and froze them, so it’s time to use them up.

Tuesday ~ Grilled Chicken Tenderloins (Cracker Barrel style) with hash browns and spinach.

Wednesday ~ Fend For Yourself!  I have a financial coaching appointment, so it will be leftovers or grilled cheese and soup.

Thursday ~ Happy Valentine’s Day!  Since Nick is still working second shift this week, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day this Saturday.  Cilantro Lime Shrimp with rice and asparagus.  This shrimp is so simple to make and absolutely delicious!

Friday ~ Honey Lime Tilapia with garlic roasted cauliflower and zucchini

Saturday ~ If we don’t go out to eat tonight, I’ll make something easy in the crock pot, like beef stew or BBQ chicken thighs.

Sunday ~ Thanksgiving in February!  I purchased a 13-pound turkey during the Thanksgiving sales in November and put it in my deep freezer.  I’m having my husband’s family over for turkey dinner with all of the fixings.  And since my homemade mashed potatoes kind of suck, my sister-in-law, Emily, is going to bring some of her always-awesome mashed potatoes.  Thanks Sis!



Meal Planning Monday ~ More Soup for You!


          One of my favorite things about autumn is having a nice bowl of hot soup on a cool day.  Lately I have been the anti-“Soup Nazi,” declaring, “More soup for you!”  Once every week or so in September, I made large batches of soup and froze the leftovers in individual servings.  One of the reason I did this, besides the fact that I love soup, is to have easy meal options on hand for busy days.  I have eight classes this month that I am scheduled to teach, so it will be great to heat up some soup with a sandwich or grilled cheese on these nights.

            This has also saved me money over buying canned soup.  I am very picky about my canned soup, because so many varieties have too much sodium and other additives that I’m trying to avoid.  Plus, many of the canned soups really don’t taste very good.  My brand of choice is Wolfgang Puck’s organic soup line, which is delicious but expensive.  It’s also a rare thing to find a coupon for that brand.

            This week, I am going to give you several great soup ideas and recipes that you can make and freeze.  If you’ve got a big family, you’ll want to double or triple the recipes so you have plenty of leftovers to stock your freezer.  You may need to add plastic freezer containers to your grocery list this week if you don’t have enough on hand.  Pretty soon, you’ll be able to say to your family (with an accent, of course), “More soup for you!”


Tomato Basil Soup ~ In my opinion, there is nothing better than tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich when it’s cold and rainy outside.  One of my friends recently turned me on to parmesan-crusted grilled cheese, and it is SO good!  Just sprinkle a little parmesan on top of the buttered bread and make as usual.  I’ve been making mine with turkey, pesto, and sharp cheddar cheese – pure heaven!

Taco Soup ~ This soup is a crowd pleaser, and can be made with either ground beef or turkey.  It’s a nice alternative to chili and perfect for tailgating!

Vegetable Soup ~ I consider myself a vegetable soup connoisseur.  Frisch’s vegetable soup has always been my favorite.  I was completely delighted when one of my Facebook friends, Lori Wagner, shared her homemade version which is even better!  I have a feeling that this soup will be the first one that needs to be replenished.

Chicken Soup ~ There’s something so comforting about a bowl of chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather!  I was so glad that I had some in the freezer when I got sick with a sinus infection recently.  The recipe, which I got from my Mom, is below.

Black Bean Soup ~ Lately I’ve been adding some shredded chicken to this recipe, which is really good when served with crushed tortilla chips and a sprinkling of cheese.

Chili ~ It freezes very well and it’s so easy to double a chili recipe.  That makes it a no-brainer to make extras for freezing.


Mom’s Chicken Soup

  • 2 Large Bone-in Chicken Breasts, or 1 whole chicken
  • 1 cup of sliced carrots
  • ½ cup of sliced celery
  • ¼ cup of diced onions
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 – 2 TBS of dried parsley
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 3 cans of low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • ½ package of egg noodles (I use whole wheat egg noodles)

Place all ingredients, except for the egg noodles, in a large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer (covered) for 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pot.  Cut into the breast and ensure there’s no pink in the middle.  Peel the skin back from chicken and allow to cool slightly.

While the chicken is cooling, return the broth to a boil and add the egg noodles.  When the egg noodles are tender, turn off the heat.  Remove chicken from the bone, chop and add to the soup.  Remove the bay leaf and garlic cloves from the pot, and serve.

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 ~ Lazy Days


          As I write this week’s post, I am feeling L-A-Z-Y…  I had a super busy week and honestly, I am just plain tired!  Between my work schedule and even the fun stuff – Girls Night at church, painting class, and a big family gathering – I didn’t get enough rest this past week.  So I have given myself permission to be lazy for a few days!

            So, what does this mean for my meal plan?  Am I just going to throw it out the window and order pizza and Chinese carryout for the next three days?  Of course not!  I have a few freezer meals I can fall back on for times like these – banana chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin muffins for breakfast, and turkey chili or chicken and wild rice for dinner.  I also have a stash of “Lazy Day Recipes” for meals, appetizers, and desserts that I put in rotation on my meal planning calendar.  I thought I would share some of them with you for your lazy days when you want a nice hot meal or a dessert/ appetizer to take to a party but can only muster up a minor amount of energy.         


~ Turkey & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes.  I buy a package or two of the Oscar Meyer Carving Board turkey (or roast beef) and put in on the stovetop or in the microwave with a can or two of gravy.  Serve over instant mashed potatoes or rice and a veggie on the side.

~ Chicken Fried Rice.  I use leftover cooked chicken breast meat, the frozen brown rice and veggie steamer blends, and some extra frozen broccoli cooked in the microwave.  It’s ready in less than ten minutes.

~ Grilled chicken and steak.  Sometimes I make my husband cook, I mean grill, when I’m feeling lazy.  I’ll take a can of whole white potatoes, put them on a skewer with some veggies, and brush with Italian dressing for Nick to toss on the barbeque with our meat.

~ Grown Up Grilled Cheese.  I will use rye bread or a good hearty wheat bread with a nice slice or two of sharp cheddar cheese, adding some ham for Nick.  I almost always have a few servings of homemade tomato or chicken soup in the freezer that I heat up on the stove to round out my meal.

~ Bean Dip.  This is a great appetizer that everyone loves and is SO lazy.  All you need is one can of refried beans and one cup of salsa.  Mix and heat thoroughly on the stove top or in the microwave.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese and serve with tortilla chips.

~ Warm Italiano Spread.  I found this recipe on and it’s one of my favorites.  It looks and tastes impressive, but is extremely simple to make.  I serve it with the Black Pepper Trisuits.

~ Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (or cupcakes).  With only a few ingredients and store bought frosting, I’m always a little surprised by the compliments galore I always get for this cake.


Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (Adapted from “The Cake Doctor” cookbook by Anne Bryne)

1 Box of Chocolate Cake (or Devil’s Food) with Pudding in the Mix

1 can (21 oz.) of Cherry Pie Filling

2 Large Eggs

1 teaspoon of Almond Extract

1 small jar of maraschino cherries

1 Can of Dark Chocolate Frosting


            Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease pan(s) with butter flavored cooking spray.  Place cake mix, cherry pie filling, eggs, and almond extract in a large mixing bowl.  Beat on low for one minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix for two minutes more at medium speed.  Pour batter into pan(s) and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  ** You can make this as a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake, as a two-layer 8-9 inch round cake, or as cupcakes.  Use the cooking times on the cake mix box for the pan you are using.  **

            Once the cake is finished baking and has cooled, frost with the store bought frosting.  If I am making cupcakes, I will place a cherry on top of the frosted tops.  If I am making a layer cake, I cut the cherries in half and place them between the layers before frosting.  I then whip up the frosting in my mixer – which makes it fluffier and increases its volume, ensuring I will have enough frosting for the entire layer cake.  Sit back and enjoy the compliments!

Meal Planning Monday ~ Your Meal Planning Toolbox

          If you’ve been following our blog for even a few weeks, you know that one of the keys to successful Meal Planning is being organized.  Now, you don’t have be anal-retentive, get out your label-maker and alphabetize your food, organized.  However, a little bit of organization and planning is required to be successful in your Meal Planning endeavors.  I thought I would share with you some great tools and resources that will make this much easier for you!

            I am a big fan of Freezer Cooking, and I frequently make extra pancakes, muffins, batches of chili, soups, and stews to freeze.  These really help me on mornings or evenings when I don’t have time to make a proper meal.  I can pull something out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and have a tasty, home cooked meal in minutes.  However, I was running into the problem of not remembering what exactly was in my deep freezer.  I would either forget something was in there and have to throw it out, or would swear that I had a couple of serving of turkey chili in the freezer only to find out that I’d already used it a few weeks before.  So I decided to start using a Freezer Inventory Sheet to keep track of what is in my freezer.  I hang it on my freezer and every time I add or subtract something, I write it in.  For example, I would write “Turkey Chili” with a 4 for the number of containers I put in the freezer.  As I pull them out, I make an “X” in one of the boxes, so I know how many I have left.  When the item is all gone, I cross it off the list.  I update the whole thing once or twice a month on my computer so it doesn’t get too messy.  This has really helped me make better use of what’s in my freezer.

            I certainly hope that you are using some type of Meal Planning Calendar to keep track of your monthly meals.  I use the Coupon Wizard Software for this because it makes it easy to add meals to a day on the calendar and add any missing ingredients to my shopping list.  If you’re not computer-savvy, you can just as easily use a paper calendar and write your meals on it.  However you decide to do your Meal Planning Calendar, I suggest you hang a copy of it on your refrigerator, so that your family can see what’s for dinner each day.  You might even ask your family members to put stars by the meals they enjoyed so you’ll know which recipes were a hit.

            Another Meal Planning tool I can’t live without is my Recipe Binder.  Once I try a recipe and decide that I like it and will make it again, I add it to my recipe binder.  It’s simply a 3-ring binder with sheet protectors in it.  This makes it easy to pull out the one page recipe that I need and I can easily wipe off any flour, water, etc. that I might happen to drip on it while cooking.

            I also stumbled across this post on the Money Saving Mom website which has a Recipe Cost Calculator that you can download FREE.  It seems to be geared towards baked goods, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add other ingredients for your dinner recipes to see how much your recipe is going to cost you.  This may seem like work, but it may reveal some surprising insights about how much your favorite recipes truly cost to make.  Based on what you discover, you may decide to make certain recipes more or less to help ease the strain on your grocery budget.  I am going to use this tool to figure out how much each of my meals costs per person this month and see if it changes my meal planning strategies.

            Here’s my Meal Plan for this week:

~ Monday – Turkey Stroganoff served over Egg Noodles with Peas

~ Tuesday – FFY (Fend For Yourself).  I am teaching a Coupon Workshop at my church tonight.  I will probably eat one of my freezer meals (like Chicken Soup) before I go.

~ Wednesday – Fiery Fried Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli

~ Thursday – Turkey Sausage, Perogies fried in a little bit of butter with onion, Green Beans

~ Friday – Meat Loaf with Freezer Mashed Potatoes and Salad

~ Saturday – Foil Packets on the Grill (See Recipe Below)

~ Sunday – Chicken Tacos with Refried Beans


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, and then add the other ingredients.  Cover and cook for 8 minutes.)











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 ~ 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.



Meal Planning Monday ~ Frozen Dinners



           Sometimes there is just no time to cook and having a frozen dinner is a valid alternative to the fast food drive-thru.  This does not mean you are a failure as a mom, wife, or a meal planner!  I just stocked up on some Healthy Choice Steamers at Kroger this week.  They were on sale as a part of their Mega Sale, so after coupons I paid between $1.25 and a $1.50 apiece.  I try not eat packaged frozen meals for lunch or dinner more than a few times a week. 

            Although certain frozen meals sound healthy – “only 300 calories!”  – many have too much sodium and sugar, and not enough protein and fiber.  I was surprised the other day when I discovered that the Kashi Sweet & Sour Chicken entrée I had just finished had 25 grams of sugar!  In contrast, Kashi’s Chicken Florentine only has 1 gram of sugar.  If you didn’t know, a teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams, which means there’s over 6 teaspoons of sugar in the Sweet & Sour entrée!  (Yikes!  That’s a lot of sugar for something that’s not dessert!)

            I always make sure that I check the labels to see that I’m getting no more than 600-700 mgs of sodium (you should get no more than 2,100 mgs per day, and some people with health issues should get less than that.)  I also want to make sure that I’m getting 15 grams or more of protein, which ensures that my energy stays high and I’m not hungry an hour later.  I try to pick varieties made with whole grain pasta or brown rice. 

            However, the best frozen meal is the one you make yourself!  This is why I am such a big advocate of freezer cooking.  This way YOU control how much salt and fat goes into your meals.  Just double or triple your favorite recipes and freeze the leftovers in individual serving sizes.  I was wiped out after my trip to Kroger on Friday, so I was happy to have a container of turkey chili to heat up when I got home.  I made homemade chicken soup on Saturday and have several containers in the freezer for future meals.  I’m curious – what’s your favorite (store-bought or homemade) freezer meal?

Here is my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Meatloaf.  I’ve been searching for the perfect meatloaf.  This will be the third recipe I’ve tried this month.  I’ll serve it with mac and cheese and cauliflower.  I might make two meatloaves and freeze one.

Tuesday ~ Black Bean Soup.  This is a super-easy soup to make, and the leftovers  can be frozen!  (See recipe below.)  

Wednesday ~ Fend For Yourself Night.  I’ll be teaching a class this night, so I’ll either have a Healthy Choice frozen dinner, or maybe one of my freezer cooking meals.

Thursday ~ Coconut Crusted Tilapia

Friday ~ Dinner out with my friend at my favorite Chinese Restaurant, The Oriental Wok!

Saturday ~ Beef stew in the crock pot.  If there are any leftovers, they’ll get frozen as well.

Sunday ~ Oven Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and green beans.  My sister-in-law, Emily, makes her mashed potatoes with a tablespoon or two of ranch dressing in them.  I tried this the other night and it was fantastic!  (Add the same amount of milk and butter that you usually do.) 



Easy Black Bean Soup

1 can of black beans, drained

1 can of refried black beans

1 can of chicken broth

1 cup of salsa

Shredded cheddar cheese

Crushed tortilla chips

Chopped cilantro, optional

Low Fat Sour Cream to garnish, optional


Heat the salsa in a medium-sized pan over medium.  Bring to a gentle boil and let the salsa simmer for 3 – 4 minutes.  Add the black beans, chicken broth, and refried black beans.  Bring to a gentle boil and reduce heat to low.  Allow soup to simmer for 10 minutes.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips.  Add chopped cilantro and sour cream if desired.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Practice What You Preach!


          January is synonymous with new beginnings, and that is certainly true for my life right now.  For the past twelve years, I have worked as the VP of HR & Accounting and been a part owner of my family’s business, KRC Machine Tool Services.  I am grateful for the people I have met and worked alongside for many years and for the comfortable living that my job has provided for me.  However, I feel that my calling in life is to help people save money and get out of debt.  So, by the end of February, I will be completely self-employed and putting a full-time effort behind Strong Tower – teaching Meal Planning and Coupon Workshops and doing financial coaching.  Equal parts exciting and scary!

            For the past seven or eight months, I’ve essentially been working a job and half, trying to ramp up activity with Strong Tower while working full-time at KRC.  I’ve definitely been better about Meal Planning during this time, because I’ve had to be!  Certainly Meal Planning saves money, but its main benefit is saving time and stress.  However, because I’ve been SO busy, I haven’t been as diligent as I could be with keeping up on the deals for my family and maintaining my coupon binder.  I’ve been so occupied teaching others, that it’s been difficult to find time to do it for myself!

            That is going to have to change!  Once I’m completely self-employed I will certainly have more time to check out the deals and shop more stores.  I’ll need to because there’s going to be a decrease in our family’s income until Strong Tower starts really taking off.  Yes, we’ve got a good cushion in our savings account so I won’t have to worry too much, but I don’t want to dip into that unless it’s absolutely necessary.  So I will definitely be practicing EVERYTHING that I teach and preach to others – Budgeting, Meal Planning, Stockpiling, Freezer Cooking, and Super Couponing!

            The one thing that I tell people in my classes is that the more savings techniques you apply together, the bigger your return will grow.  All of us have different family, income, and job situations.  Some people have more time to devote to Couponing and Meal Planning than others.  The nice thing is that you can easily pick and choose how much of it you want to do and which strategies you want to apply.  When you have a change in income, schedule, or family dynamics, you can easily change what you’re doing with Meal Planning and Couponing to adapt.

            The lesson here is not to beat yourself up over how you’re not doing everything you can to save money.  Take a good look at your money and life situation and decide how much time you can devote to Couponing and Meal Planning.  Hey – no one’s perfect!  (Least of all, me.)  Can I get an “Amen”?

Here’s my Meal Plan for this week.

Monday ~ Fish Tacos.  They remind me of being on vacation with my husband in Maui, where I first tried them.  With it being freezing outside, I’ll give myself a little mental vacation!

Tuesday ~FFY (Fend for Yourself!)  I will probably eat out at Panera or my favorite cheap Chinese restaurant.  I am helping teach Financial Peace University at my church tonight.  I love helping people get out of the bondages of debt! 

Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend for Yourself!)  Bible Study.  I have several freezer meals that I can pick from for dinner – turkey noodle soup, chili, or Mom’s split pea soup.

 Thursday ~ Weeknight Deviled Cornish Hens.  I found this recipe in the USA Weekend magazine that comes in my Sunday paper.  It sounds easy and delicious!  I’ve included the recipe below.

Friday ~ Turkey Stroganoff served over egg noodles with peas.

Saturday ~ Baked Salmon with garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli

Sunday ~ Tomato basil soup with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on rye bread.


Weeknight Deviled Cornish Hen

• 2 Cornish game hens (1½ to 2 pounds each), cut down the back with kitchen shears to butterfly
• 1½ tsps. olive oil
• 1½ tsps. dried thyme leaves
• ¼ cup dry plain bread crumbs
• Salt and ground black pepper
• ¼ cup Dijon mustard

Adjust rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add thyme and bread crumbs; toast until fragrant and golden, a couple of minutes.

Lightly sprinkle hens all over with salt and pepper. Place on a rimmed baking sheet large enough for them to comfortably fit in a single layer. Brush hens with mustard and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Roast until impressively golden brown and juices run clear when leg thigh is pricked with a fork, about 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes. Halve and serve.

Makes 4 servings