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.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Camping with the Kiddos

This week’s blog post is by Leah Kelley.

I love camping! Before my husband and I had kids, we went camping all the time. We would just pack up and go. We would pick a state park and off we went. One of our best camping trips was at Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. We did a little hiking then came back to our campsite where it started to lightly rain. Ironically, that was one of the only times we didn’t have a problem starting a fire and keeping it going. We camped next to a stream, and the sound of running water and rain was so peaceful. I think that’s the best night of sleep I’ve ever had on a camping trip.

We’ve held off camping with the kids until now.  Well, actually we did try when my daughters were six months old and three years old but that was a hot mess! I was finally able to talk my husband into camping with the kids this summer – woo hoo!  We’re planning on going next month when he’s on vacation from work and me and kids are super excited. Preparing to camp with kids is completely different then preparing to camp with just your spouse or significant other. There’s so much planning and prepping! Thankfully I love planning and list making.  I thought I’d share with you all a few tips I picked up from my favorite site – Pinterest.

Make a Meal Plan ~ Yes, even though you’re on vacation you will still need a meal plan while camping. It can be as simple or extensive as you wish but my advice is to make it simple when camping with kids.

 Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst ~ I don’t mean plan on your kids to get extremely sick but throwing together a first aid kit might save you a bit of sanity if one of them does fall and scrapes a knee or has some tummy troubles.

 Pack Extra Clothes ~ As you know it gets colder at night so make sure you pack them weather appropriate pajamas and extra blankets. You might not need them but better to be prepared then not.

 Make a Checklist ~ I’m addicted to checklists so this one is easy for me. If you’re not a list-maker just type in “Camping Checklist” into Google and print one off.  This is will make sure you remember all those little details like bug spray and sunscreen.

 Stay Close to Home ~ If it’s your first camping trip with kids stay close to home. We’re lucky to have a variety of campgrounds within an hour of our city. Just in case our trip becomes too overwhelming, it’s not a big deal to pack up and head home.

 Bring a Few Toys ~ Keeping your kids occupied is a lot easier with a few of their favorite toys. Bring cars, a few dolls, bikes, or any outside toys.

 Remember to Relax and Have Fun ~ I anticipate my kids not going to bed until late and that’s fine with me. (I will have to remind my husband of this though since he’s a stickler for bed times.) I’m hoping the fresh air, hiking, and running around will wear them out but you never know.  Be sure to check out all the great camping ideas and recipes I’ve been collecting on my “Camping” Pinterest board!

Here’s a recipe I can’t wait to try! My packet will contain vegetarian sausage ;)

 

Foil Dinners ~ I got the recipe from Simple Bites

 

  • 8 pre-cooked sausages, cut into thirds.
  • 2 lbs new potatoes, halved and par-boiled
  • 1 small red onion, cut into chunks
  • 6 small sweet peppers, cubed
  • 12 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • fresh herbs, torn, (I used basil and oregano)
  • salt & pepper
  1. Prepare fire by allowing to burn down to coals.
  2. On the picnic table, lay out six squares of heavy-duty aluminum foil, about one foot square, and oil lightly.
  3. In the center of each piece of foil, place four pieces of sausage, a handful of baby potatoes and a few cloves of garlic.
  4. Divide up the onion, peppers, and herbs among the packages. Season with salt and pepper and dot with butter, if available.
  5. Bring opposite corners of foil together and seal. Fold over the seam and seal tightly to make a secure package.
  6. Place on coals (a little flame is fine) and roast, turning occasionally, for about ten minutes. Serve.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Breakfast on the Go

 

 

 

       

           Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but many people feel like they are too rushed to enjoy a hot and healthy meal first thing in the morning.  I used to think that way, until I started applying my meal planning and freezer cooking skills to breakfast, not just dinner.  Even if you’re running around trying to get yourself and your family out the door, you CAN feed them a nutritious breakfast with minimal effort. 

            This past Saturday, I decided to make my version of the Egg McMuffin in bulk and freeze them, so they would be ready to pop in the microwave on busy weekday mornings.  I did this for several reasons.  First, I am trying to eat healthy and I know if I make something myself, there’s going to be less sodium, additives, fat, and calories than the same food from a restaurant or from a package.  Second, as a coupon queen, I like to save money.  Lately, I’ve been buying Special K’s breakfast sandwiches for a quick and low-calorie meal.  The only downside is that they are EXPENSIVE – four sandwiches for $5.80, which works out to $1.45 each.

            I figured I could do much better than that!  Last week at Meijer, I bought several 6-packs of Aunt Millie’s whole grain English muffins because they were on special as a part of the 10 for $10 sale.  I used six organic free-range eggs, which I purchase at the co-op for $3.50 per dozen.  For the cheese, I used Sargento’s Thin Slices (cheddar), which work out to be 15 cents each, if I don’t have a coupon.  I lightly buttered the toasted muffins before assembling my sandwiches.  So, my homemade Egg McMuffins only cost me 60 cents apiece versus $1.45 for the Special K variety.  My hubby and I both ate one for breakfast, and I put the remaining four in the freezer, each in its own sandwich baggie inside of a larger freezer bag.  When I’m ready to have one during the week, I’ll pop one in the microwave for about 1 minute and 30 seconds in a paper towel, and then let it sit an additional minute, while I nuke my turkey bacon or sausage.

         

The great thing with making your own is that you can customize your egg sandwiches any way you like!  You can make your eggs scrambled or fried or egg-whites only.  You can add turkey or sausage to your sandwich and put your favorite cheese on them.  And don’t limit yourself to English muffins!  You can use sandwich thins or bagels or regular bread.  It doesn’t take much time at all to make a few extra sandwiches to freeze while you’re making your breakfast on the weekends.  I also apply the same principle to pancakes, waffles, and muffins.  This way you cook (and clean up) once, but get to eat a hot breakfast multiple times!  The best thing about these sandwiches is that you can heat one up and eat it on your way out the door.  No more excuses about how you don’t have time to eat breakfast!  ;)