Category Archives: Meal Planning

Comfort Food: Chicken and Dumplings

Hey guys!

I mentioned before in How To Start A Meal Plan how I labeled each day of the week to make it easier to plan out meals. Well, Tuesdays is Home Cooking Tuesday or Comfort Food Tuesday, or…. I really need a good alliteration for this day of the week. If you think of one, please leave it in the comments so I can stop going mad over here.

Tuesday is the day that I am able to pull together 4 generations of knowledge and love and make meals that have been passed down through my family. If you have ever sat on the counter and watched your grammaw cook, you know what I mean. All the measurements are eyeballed and you can tell by looking at it if it is the right consistency and you won’t know it is done until it smells right. These can be some of the hardest recipes to master but they are by far my favorite.

My grammaw is the matriarch of my mother’s side of the family and her food has brought our family together year after year, holiday after holiday. Many of my comfort foods were first experienced in her kitchen. One bite reminds me of home and that’s all that matters.

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Yesterday I made Chicken and Dumplings. I don’t think you can have a food more comforting than that. I’ll warn you now that I do not make Chicken and Dumplings the way many people do. I do not roll out my dough and cut out dumplings. I like big, fluffy balls of dumplings. An upside is that my dumpling dough is easily convertible to the roll out (“roll out!” in my best Ludacris voice) method if you so desire.

In true home cooking fashion, we won’t even bother with recipe cards. No worries folks, there are literally five ingredients to these Chicken and Dumplings. There are seven if you include salt and pepper as ingredients.

Step One: Get large pot and fill half way with water. Place pot on stove set for high heat. Place 4-5 frozen chicken breasts (I told you I use frozen chicken for almost everything) in the pot. That is going to be doing its cooking and eventually boiling thing while you are busy making dumplings.

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Step Two: I bet you can’t guess what step two is. I’d lose that bet, you guys are pretty smart cookies. It is dumpling making time! In a large bowl pour about 2 cups of Self Rising flour. I know almost all of my other recipes say All Purpose but PLEASE make sure to use Self Rising flour for this one. Dumplings just wouldn’t be the same. I’ll be honest I am completely guessing at measurements right now though. Bare with me because it is definitely going to be based on consistency. You will add a little milk at a time mixing it into the flour until it feels like a firm dough.  Don’t pour too much because then it will be like doing eye makeup and trying to make them even and everything spiraling down from there. The dough, however, should be a bit dryer than bread dough and you should be able to easily pick it up like a softball without it being sticky.

Step Three: Check on your chicken. If the meat looks like it is getting pretty close to cooked, I take the pieces out and cut them into bite size pieces. This is a personal preference. You can have big chicken if you want it (no judgement). Once returning the meat to the pot, you can now turn down the heat to medium low. Now pinch off quarter sized balls from your dough and just plop them into the pot. My family absolutely loves these things so I make a ton of dumplings.

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Step Four: As your dumplings cook, you’ll notice they float to the top. Cut one stick of butter into Tablespoons and add the whole stick to the pot. Before you go thinking I’m some sort of Paula Dean wannabe, please remember the no judgement above. Comfort food isn’t meant to be extremely healthy. No one ever wanted to curl up with a salad when they didn’t feel good.

Step Five: Add salt and pepper to taste. I also will mix flour with cold water in a small bowl until all the lumps are out and then add that to the pot to thicken the broth.

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That’s it! Wasn’t that super easy? Five ingredients folks. That’s it! So as the weather starts cooling off (everywhere but here in Florida), you’ll want to have meals that will stick to your bones and keep all those wind chilled faces warm and smiling. Homemade Chicken and Dumplings is just the meal to bring the family together and make life taste a little sweeter.

Comfort Food: Easy Chicken and Rice

       Hey Guys!

I was meaning to post yesterday but life happened. So, in honor of not having time to do the things we really want to do, today I am sharing the easiest and fastest meal I know.

       Let’s face it, not every night do we feel like going to the store and getting fresh ingredients and making some beautifully delicious meal. I may be a stay at home mom now, but I wasn’t for a good six years. I would work a nine-hour day with a 45 min drive time each way. When I got home, I barely wanted to stand let alone cook.

      This is one of my son’s favorite dishes and is considered comfort food in our home. It is easy and relatively fast. It also doesn’t require many ingredients so it is also inexpensive and I usually have all of these ingredients on hand anyway. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to make this meal healthier and I’d love to read your variations of this dish in the comments.

      For easy meals, I usually always pick up a bag of frozen chicken. There are just so many dishes you can whip up quickly with chicken. Some may use breasts and I do on occasion but I am a dark meat fan. I get a bag of thighs and find that the meat stays juiciest that way.

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Is that really a pot of frozen chicken? Yep.

      Another staple is boil in bag rice. I have many talents but one of those talents is recognizing when I don’t have a particular talent like boiling rice. I’ve tried doing regular rice because it is cheaper but it doesn’t pay off if it turns to mush or burns on the bottom so I spend the little bit extra to have it in little easy to boil bags. I guess that is considered cheating but again as a busy parent or just an overworked exhausted adult, it makes putting dinner on the table so much easier. Life is hard enough without having to worry about burning the rice. Also, for this recipe, there will be enough liquid from the chicken broth and cream of mushroom soup that a little overcooked rice could easily turn into mush if not careful. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let your meal turn to mush!

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“Life is hard enough without having to worry about burning the rice.”

     Start by putting three to four pieces of your frozen chicken in a pot and cover in water. You’ll want to bring it to a boil until your chicken is cooked completely through. Pull out your chicken and set aside to cut into bite size pieces. Set aside a little bit of the chicken stock as well. Now you can either dump the rest, save it or, do what I do and boil your rice in it. I boil two bags of rice for 3-4 pieces of chicken. While that is boiling, get a large mixing bowl to put your chicken in. I like to grab the one with a lid because it will be the same container the leftovers stay in after dinner. Once cooked (it only takes a few minutes), add the rice to the chicken and pour can of cream of mushroom soup over. It will be a bit globby at first but as you mix, it will cream up. Add salt and pepper to taste and if the mixture seems dry add some of that saved chicken stock. 

That is it folks. Three ingredients and you have yourself a meal in about 15-20 minutes and that’s only because of the chicken. It is inexpensive, so easy to prepare and a meal I don’t have to bribe the little one to eat.

This is not a “pretty” meal. This is not one that you present to your in-laws the first time you have them over. Chicken and Rice is a comfort food. It is what you want when you are sick and achy or when your cramps are getting you down. It reminds you of home and fills your tummy with familiar warmth. Even without Grandma’s presentation, this meal is still able to make life a bit more enjoyable. You could even say that it makes life taste sweeter. 😉

3 Tips To Make Your Monthly Meal Plan Work

 

Hey guys!

Before we dive head first into my recipe book (like I actually use one of those ;)), I wanted to share a few more tips I’ve learned along the way in making this monthly meal plan work. There is a lot of information out there and sometimes we get sucked into believing things that may be true for some but don’t typically work for the average Joe. For example, I have always lived on some sort of budget. I don’t mean this nice and neat pie chart thing that tells me I have x amount of dollars to spend on groceries that month. I mean the type of budget that I think many Americans live on these days; the type of budget where you aren’t a hundred percent sure you will be able to pay your electric bill and your car payment and go grocery shopping all in the same week. We aren’t exactly poor but we still have that looming worry over our heads that prevents us from making financial decisions without considerable thought. Not to mention if any unexpected expenses arise along the way and put a huge hiccup in our plans.

I’ll be the first to tell you that monthly meal planning is not for everyone. I, by no means, want to persuade you to do something that you have no interest in doing or feel isn’t right for your family. I only recently discovered monthly meal planning myself and I am always looking for new ways to provide for my family and save money.

 

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Tip One: Decide what is most important to you and your family. Are you looking to save money or are you looking to create your meals from all organic material? Do you have the space to buy in bulk or are you willing to travel in order to get specific ingredients?

In my family, I look for the best deal. However, I hate the stress of the store and being in a new town, I don’t like to travel outside of a 15-20 mile radius from home. I also can’t stand to go to too many stores so you will not find me sale chasing. In fact, I don’t even look at sale papers or coupons anymore. What?! I know.  I know. But here’s the thing, I did do that for a while. I had six sales papers laid out in front of me and I use to find solace in the actual cutting of the coupons. I get it. I love the rush of getting a “deal” or “bargain”. But unless you are an extreme couponer and have the space to store all of it, coupons typically only save you about 25% off of your regular grocery bill. I didn’t grab those statistics from the internet. I went on grocery trips and calculated it each time. I even used coupons at the dollar store and the result was still the same.

I shop at Aldi and will sing their praises all day long. I do not get the excitement of finding an unbelievable price in a sales ad or opting into a buy one get one at Publix. I don’t clip the coupons and try out products I never knew I wanted until I had a coupon for them. I just shop at a store that has exactly what I need at a minimal price. Could Wal-Mart have better prices? Maybe, but the change I might be spending at Aldi is far less than the impulse purchases I would make at Wal-Mart. I have to know myself. I have to know that I don’t like stress and I don’t like temptation. If you have the will power for it, more power to you.

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Though Aldi is my primary store it is not my only store. I also shop at Sam’s Club for meat and tortillas. Aldi has both of these but not exactly what I am looking for. Both breakfast burritos and lunch burritos are made in the monthly meal plan and regular old flour tortillas just weren’t good enough for me. Sam’s Club has a pack of tortillas that has added fiber and protein and makes me feel like those breakfast and lunch burritos are more like meals.

Sam’s Club also has fantastic prices on meat. Since I have a monthly meal plan and know that if I need the meat for this month, I will also need the same type and portion next month, there is never a question of how or when it will get used. A large skinless salmon purchased at Sam’s Club is enough to make four full dinners. That is potentially four months worth of salmon. However, buying in bulk like this does require a place to store it, which brings us to number two.

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Tip 2: Find a way to store your food. Obviously making food last for a month in a place as hot as Florida is not always an easy task. Your deep freezer will be your best friend. All the meat goes in the deep freezer almost immediately except for the hamburger meat. The hamburger I will portion off into one pound increments or make into patties as needed for the month’s recipes. Fresh vegetables like onions and green peppers get diced and put into one cup increments in Ziploc baggies. These I keep in my kitchen freezer for easy use while cooking. Now, in our family, sometimes milk doesn’t get used quite as frequently as expected either so I will portion that off into recycled plastic jugs (mayonnaise jars work great) and freeze that as well.

The freezer isn’t just good for the raw materials. I also freeze leftovers or go ahead and marinade some meat and veggies and freeze those too. Like I said, your deep freezer will be your best friend.

What to do with all the non-freezable stuff? I am very grateful that Captain Cupcakeasaurus built me a large shelving space in the hallway that we call our pantry. I hope you have a large pantry or shelving space or hallway (though pantry is preferred) as well. Remember that thrill you got when finding a sale in the ad paper? Well, a similar thrill rolls through you when you see your pantry at the beginning of the month. All the shelves fully stocked and awaiting my use remind me of the pantries they show on Top Chef or Chopped.

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Whether you are buying in bulk, monthly meal planning, or couponing, you will definitely need a place to store it. There is nothing worse than buying a month’s worth of food and then not having room to fit it all in your refrigerator or have half of it left out on your counters.

Tip 3: Make your shopping day and your prep day two different days.  Some may think this is a no-brainer. Well, I didn’t. I thought that if I could get all my shopping done in one day, then I could also get all my prepping done in the same day. Voila, I would have everything done in one day and not have to worry about it for another month. I must be delusional. Trust me, you will want these to be separate days. The idea is to reduce stress. You save money to reduce financial stress. You only shop once a month to reduce social anxiety stress. You prep on a second day to reduce… well, I’m not sure what that stress would be called but we are reducing it, dang it!

Also, prep day can be fun if you make it so. I have had prep days where I laugh with my fiancé while chopping onions. I have had prep days laughing with my bestie, Jujube, on speakerphone while chopping green peppers. I have had prep days watching Netflix on my phone and drinking Moscato while precooking ground beef. Please notice that my prep days include laughter with those I love, Netflix and wine. What could be less stressful than that?

Those are my tips to help you stay sane as you start out on your monthly meal planning journey. Let me know if there are any other hurdles you’ve faced while meal planning or any additional tips you’d offer to others starting. Thanks for reading and helping make life taste sweeter.

 

Why I Monthly Meal Plan

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I shared last time that my family and I use a monthly meal plan system to feed our family healthy, delicious meals each month. However, I didn’t really get into the reasons why we chose to go this route.

I used to be a full-time working single mom who completed online classes and managed my household all on my own. I was familiar with living on a budget and barely making ends meet. I was also very comfortable making all the decisions without consideration for anyone but my son and me. Things change, as they often do, and now I am a stay at home mom with a bread-winner partner and I must make considerations for the entire family. The new role was difficult for me to adjust to at first. I couldn’t help but feel controlled and I hated the idea of being “taken care of”. In order to feel better, I had to change my thoughts about it. So I approached being a stay at home mom like a job. I was a home manager now. I created a household binder and developed a family budget and monthly meal plan. I took over keeping track of schedules and bills and knowing the ins and outs of our household. Making what I do a job was the only way I could get my mind wrapped around my new role and really embrace it.

Captain Cupcakeasaurus was used to living the bachelor life and spending what he wanted when he wanted. Must be nice, right? Well, he now had a partner and child to think about and we were more expensive than I think he realized. We have some debt we want to pay off and a wedding to plan so we developed a budget that would allow us to do just that. Our monthly grocery/food budget is $400. I will warn you, the first month this will be hard to match. There will be things you don’t currently have in your pantry or your primary store won’t have all the ingredients you thought they would. It is inevitable so don’t beat yourself up too bad if you go over. The next month will be easier, I promise.

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I was developing our plan over the summer so I was figuring three meals a day for three people. Now, that my son is in school and eating breakfast and lunch at school, I don’t have to account for nearly as much. As mentioned in How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan,  we accounted for dinners six nights a week and the ability to eat out at least two times per month. The way I separate the budget for groceries is $325.00 for groceries and $75.00 for eating out. Of the grocery portion, $300 is used at the beginning of the month and $25 is saved for the mid-month milk and bread run. Are these numbers exact? No. Will the cost of eating out and groceries be the same for your area? Probably not. Can you manipulate the budget to fit your family’s needs and the prices for your area? Absolutely. If you need help doing so, please just ask. It isn’t easy managing a home or staying on budget or trying a new system out without helpful resources. I read a ton of information online and then tweaked their suggestions to meet my own needs and still had some adjusting to do once put into practice.

Now we can all whip out our handy-dandy calculators to really show the benefits of monthly meal planning. $325 divided by 3 people equals $108.33 per person for the month. To estimate on the larger months, we will say a month has 31 days and that would leave $3.49 per person per day. Three meals a day would then give each person $1.16. What? No way! I can’t feed someone a delicious and nutritious meal for $1.16! The vending machine costs more than that! Yes, you can feed your family for that amount and I’m going to show you how. But, just for giggles even if your monthly grocery budget was $500 straight for groceries, you’d still only be spending $1.79 per meal per person for a family of three. It can be done and once you start, you won’t ever want to eat out again. Where can you feed a family of three for $3.50? That trip to McDonald’s will seem ridiculous because you’ll be buying junkie food that doesn’t even really taste good and paying nearly ten times as much for it.

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I do feel like I should add a disclaimer. My family, in an effort to live healthier, decided to primarily drink water. So we do not spend money on soft drinks. Some juices are purchased but not many. We also do not include alcoholic beverages in our grocery budget. A decent rule of thumb is if food stamps doesn’t cover it, our grocery budget doesn’t cover it. Groceries also do not include any paper products, cleaning products, or our cats’ food.

So the real reason I monthly meal plan is all in the numbers. I take pride in knowing I can feed my family for less than $5 a meal for everyone to have a tasty and nutritious dinner at home. Family is created at the dinner table. Take a look at the history of holidays and cultures around the world. People celebrate the people they love with food. Every night I can bring my family around the dinner table and listen to their day, I know I am blessed. I know that I am doing my job as home manager and making the system work. I am saving our money to provide for our future, I am feeding them meals that will nourish them and comfort them. I know my son will one day tell his children about these dinners and think of me. That is why I monthly meal plan.