Meal Planning Monday ~ Thanksgiving Countdown

Happy Thanksgiving Dinner countdown is on and it’s time to get those menus planned! Hello, it’s Heather from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. Every year I anticipate Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a time to gather ’round the table with loved ones and remember how grateful we need to be for all that we have. It’s also a time I agonize over the Thanksgiving Dinner menu. I love planning and making this meal and narrowing down the array of side dishes and desserts isn’t easy.


I am not going to lie, I especially love Thanksgiving dinner tables loaded down with food. Every year as we make way too many dishes, I am reminded afresh of how blessed we are to be able to enjoy a table full of family, love, and food. The two biggest things I have found that help fill that table with less stress and a more frugal budget, is to keep the dishes simple and have everyone bring a favorite dish. This also helps keep the meal easy prep! Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving dishes that make it to the table every year.


All About the Turkey

What is better than a beautifully roasted turkey with crispy flavorful skin? Here is my favorite roasted turkey recipe and a few prep tips for making that bird the main star.



Bountiful Sides

Amish Mashed Potatoes

Easy Healthy Sweet Potatoes

Gluten Free Sausage Cranberry Stuffing

Easy Lemony Asparagus – roasted with a little olive oil, salt, and the juice of 1/2 lemon squeezed over top

Creamed Corn (I confess, from the can)

My mama’s crescent rolls

Green Bean Casserole ( My favorite way to make it is to dump a 16 ounce bag of frozen green beans in a casserole dish and mix with a batch of homemade mushroom soup, then bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.)

Homemade Cranberry Sauce (see easy recipe below)



Delicious Desserts

Homemade Apple Pie

Cranberry Ginger Crumble Bars

Pumpkin Pie



Homemade Clementine Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce has always been that one dish that can’t be left off the table. From cans of jellied cranberries to this homemade clementine cranberry sauce, the color and flavor has to be on my plate. This clementine cranberry sauce has all the tartness of cranberries with sweetness from the sugar and clementine to mellow it out, yet still have bright flavors. Enjoy!




  • 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

  • 1 clementine

  • 3/4 cup sugar


  • Zest and juice clementine, keeping both the juice and zest for the sauce.

  • Put cranberries in a wide-bottomed pan ( sauté pan or wide bottomed stockpot works)

  • Mix sugar, zest, and juice into cranberries.

  • Cook over medium heat, slightly chopping up cranberries once they get soft. (Use a hand masher or immersion blender.)

  • Heat until thick and bubbling.

  • Transfer to a bowl and chill before serving.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: Approximately 2 cups



Heather McCurdy 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 ~ Thankful for YOU!

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I just wanted to take a moment to say that I am so thankful for all of YOU who read my Meal Planning Monday blog and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  I love sharing my meal planning and money saving tips with you and am glad you find them helpful enough to stick around and hang out with me!

This week, I’ve got a great round-up of great Thanksgiving recipes, just in case you’re still scrambling to put together your menu or trying to figure out what to bring to Grandma’s house this year.




The Holidays Are Coming!

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

The  Holidays are coming!  The Holidays are coming!  That’s right – only one month until Halloween, two months until Thanksgiving, and LESS than three months until Christmas!!  Are you panicked yet?  Well, don’t be.  I’ll tell you the secret weapon you need for a less stressful 2013 holiday season.  Planning!

Most of us – me included – tend to wing it when it comes to shopping, cooking, and decorating for the holidays.  In the same way that meal planning reduces the cost and stress of putting dinner on the table, investing a little time in advanced planning for your holiday celebrations NOW will pay big dividends later.

Find the Right Tools ~ I found this awesome and FREE Holiday Planner which has handy sheets for keeping track of your gift list, holiday expenses, and activities.  It’s geared towards Christmas, but you could make a copy for each holiday to track decorations, crafts, travel plans, food, and more!   I like that it includes a budget, which increases the likelihood that I won’t overspend on my holiday fun.

Narrow It Down ~ I’ve been collecting ideas for Halloween on Pinterest and there is NO WAY that I will be able to make and bake everything on that board!  So now is the time to narrow it down and decide what I can reasonably accomplish based on the time and money I want to spend.  Think about what traditions your family really looks forward to for each holiday and make sure you allocate time in your schedule.  This way you won’t be carving pumpkins at midnight, pulling your pumpkin pie out of the oven an hour before you’re supposed to be at Grandma’s house, or facing an all-night wrap-a-thon on Christmas Eve.

Build Your To-Do & Assign Dates ~ Once I decide what I’m going to do for each holiday, the next thing to do is figure out when.  By looking at my schedule for October, November, and December, I’ll be able to figure out when is the best time to indulge in some baking and crafts.  In past years, I’ve always waited until the last minute, which means half of what I wanted to do goes unfinished.

More Time, Stress, & Money Saving Ideas ~  Look over your Holiday To-Do List (which should be posted somewhere you see it often, like the refrigerator) and consider your food and baked goods.  What can you make ahead and freeze?  When I visited my Uncle Paul in August, he was baking pies for Thanksgiving and popping them in the freezer.  What a great idea!  Get started on personalized gifts, Christmas cards, and family pictures now.  I always make calendars full of family pictures for my parents as Christmas gifts.  I hate to admit that I’m always doing this at the last minute, emailing my sisters for good shots of my nieces and nephews to include.  This means I’m usually paying for express shipping to get the calendars on time.  Shopping for both food and gifts during the holiday season can be stressful.  If possible, plan shopping trips during the week in the morning when crowds will be light.  I’ve taken vacation days from work to accomplish this in past years and it’s worked really well.

Have a tip for saving time, money, or stress during the holiday season?  I’d love to hear it!

Meal Planning Monday ~ Five-Star Thanksgiving Leftovers

             Happy Thanksgiving!!  In just a few days, we’ll all be lounging around the house – our bellies stuffed with turkey, watching football, hanging out with our loved ones…  And wondering what we are going to do with all of the Thanksgiving leftovers!  Whenever I cook for family gatherings, I seem to over-estimate the amount of food needed.  My philosophy is that I’d rather have too much food – and leftovers – than not have enough for everyone.

            Have you noticed that when people say the word, “leftovers,” it’s usually in a negative tone of voice?  Not at my house!  I’m a seasoned veteran at creatively re-purposing my leftovers into new culinary creations.  So let’s explore some interesting ways to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers!

  • Turkey ~ Of course you can make turkey sandwiches and turkey noodle soup with your leftover meat, but how about some Zesty Southwest Tacos?  (Recipe below.)  In less than 20 minutes, your family can have a fiesta that’s sure to please!  You could also shred the turkey and toss with BBQ sauce for sandwiches.  I also like to use my turkey meat in place of chicken in my Chicken and Wild Rice soup.  Really, any recipe that calls for shredded chicken can be made with turkey instead.
  • Mashed Potatoes ~ If you use sour cream in your mashed potatoes, they likely won’t freeze very well and no one wants watery mashed potato leftovers!  I found this great blog post with ten creative ways to use up those leftover mashed potatoes, including Shepherd’s pie, mashed potato soup, and salmon croquettes.
  • Pumpkin ~ If you’ve got leftover fresh or canned pumpkin puree, try adding it to baked goods, pancakes, smoothies, or oatmeal with some pumpkin pie spice.  I recently tried this awesome Pumpkin Bread recipe (Thanks Yvonne!), with a few alterations.  I substituted whole wheat flour and evaporated cane juice for the white flour and sugar, and added a scoop of vanilla protein powder for each loaf.  The bread was delicious and super-moist!  I made two loaves and froze one for later use.

Zesty Southwest Tacos  (From First for Women Magazine)

½ cup leftover cranberry sauce

1 small jalapeño pepper, minced

1 lime, zested and juiced

2 Tbs. canola oil

3 cups leftover cooked turkey, shredded

2 tsp. Southwest seasoning blend

12 taco shells, heated

1 ½ cups of shredded lettuce

1 ½ cups shredded red cabbage

1 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro


In a bowl, combine cranberry sauce, jalapeño, 2 tsp. line juice, ¼ tsp. lime zest.  Heat oil in skillet.  Add turkey, seasoning blend, and ¼ cup of water.  Cook 4 minutes or until water evaporates.  Divide turkey mixture among the taco shells.  Top with lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, and cranberry sauce mixture.

            Be sure and tell me if you have an interesting and delicious way to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers!






Meal Planning Monday ~ Thankful for Delicious Side Dishes

Today’s post is by Leah Kelley.

The turkey is the star of Thanksgiving dinner, but let’s not forget the supporting actors – those wonderful side dishes!  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, not only because I get to see my extended family, but also because I love to eat!  I wanted to share a few different ways to spice up your usual turkey day side dishes.

Sweet Potato Casserole ~  I absolutely love this dish!  I’ve always eaten it with marshmallows on top, but when I discovered a recipe that uses pecans and brown sugar instead, I fell in love with the dish even more.  Instead of topping with marshmallows, use this mixture instead: 1 cup light brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1 cup chopped pecans, and 1/3 cup butter, melted.

Green Bean Casserole ~  Instead of using the traditional recipe with canned soup try this grown up, sophisticated version!  It looks delicious and I can’t wait to make it for Thanksgiving!

 Glazed Carrots ~ In my family, we always have carrots on Thanksgiving. My mom steams them then throws a little brown sugar and butter in the bowl and viola! – glazed carrots.  They are super yummy and easy to make.

Mashed Potatoes ~ I know what you’re thinking, “You HAVE to have mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving!”  Instead of the old faithful mashed potatoes why not add a little flavor to them?  Give Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes or Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes a try!

Whatever your family’s food traditions are, have fun with your side dishes this Thanksgiving!