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Category: From My Kitchen

Experimenting with a Two-Week Menu Plan

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I'm changing things up around here a little in order to strive for more efficiency. Not only am I experimenting with doing much of my cooking ahead, but I'm also trying my hand at planning two-week menus instead of one-week menus.

Kate, from , asked if she could make a sample month-long menu plan for me to try out and review so I'm basing much of this two-week menu plan off of that. But I'm also adding in things I already have cooked up in the freezer and other items I have on hand which need to be used up.

I printed and jotted down the full menu. However, since I don't like to be completely "boxed in" when it comes to menu plans, I wrote it in pencil! I'm going to do my best to stick with what's written here, but I'm sure there will be some adaptations as I go along.

I'm also going to be making some cookie dough and baking mixes to freeze this week. I'm finding that cooking ahead is benefiting me so much, I'm looking for other ways to maximize my efficiency in the kitchen. If my efforts turn out satisfactorily, I'll be blogging about them later on this week.

By the way, if you have any great Baking Mix recipes, I'd love to have the links or recipes. I've never done something like this before so I haven't a clue what I'm doing. But I might as well jump in and try, right?

Here's the plan:

Week 1 Breakfasts:
, apples, orange juice
Blueberry Banana Smoothies
, apples, orange juice
Southwest Scramble (scrambled eggs with hashbrowns, cheese, peppers, onions, and tomatoes), fruit, orange juice
Cereal x 2
, orange juice

Week 1 Lunches:
Cheese quesadillas, spinach
Homemade mac & cheese, applesauce
Baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese
Egg salad sandwiches, carrot sticks
PB&J sandwiches, applesauce
Leftovers
Bean and Cheese Burritos

Week 1 Dinners:
Chicken Tetrazinni, homemade applesauce, peas
Dinner at Grandma's house
Ziti, homemade bread, green beans
Turkey Sausage Corn & Broccoli Bake, fruit, banana bread
Homemade Barbecue Chicken Pizza, fruit, chocolate chip cookies
Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore over noodles, fruit, homemade bread
Leftovers

Week 2 Breakfasts:
Peanut Butter Toast, fruit, orange juice
Yogurt, Fruit, and Granola Parfaits
, fruit, orange juice
(without pecans), fruit
Cereal x 2
French Toast, fruit, orange juice

Week 2 Lunches:
PB&J, carrots
Homemade mac & cheese, peas
Egg salad sandwiches, carrot sticks
Cheese quesadillas, fruit
Lunch at Grandma's house
Leftovers
Cheesy Rice and Broccoli

Week 2 Dinners:
Country Breakfast Pot Pie, fruit
Ziti, homemade bread, green beans
Chicken Tetrazinni, applesauce, carrot sticks
Hamburger Vegetable Soup, homemade bread, cheese, apples
Homemade Barbecue Chicken Pizza, fruit, chocolate chip cookies
Dinner out
Leftovers

Snacks
Apples
Carrot sticks
Homemade Bread



Apple Pie
Applesauce
Cheese and crackers
Banana Bread
Chocolate Chip Cookies

See more menus for this week over at .

Guest Post: Maximize Your Freezer’s Potential and Minimize Freezer Burn

After I live-blogged my Baking/Cooking Day last week, there were hundreds of questions asked about methods of freezing. I’m hoping to address many of these in future posts, but while you’re waiting on that, my friend Amy from offered to write a quick guest post on a creative way she’s discovered to maximize her freezer’s potential and minimize freezer burn. I think those of you who feel like you don’t have space or pans to pull off Cooking Ahead might just re-think that after reading her guest post!

Freezing meals ahead of time for busy days sounds like a great idea, in theory. But what about freezer space? What about pans? What about freezer burn?

A technique that my high school home economics teacher shared with us many years ago has stuck with me and served my family well when it comes to freezing meals. Here’s what works for us:

Prepare freezer meals in 8×8, 9×9, or other smaller pans. Anything that will fit in a gallon-sized freezer bag will work. Before filling it with food, line the baking dish with aluminum foil or freezer paper.

 

Fold the foil over the top and freeze the meal.

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Once frozen enough to hold its shape, pop it out of the baking dish. Seal the meal in a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible.

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When you are ready to use the frozen, there are two options: you can either remove the wrapping while the item is still frozen and place the food back into the original pan to thaw and bake. Or, you can just slip the whole thing (still wrapped in foil) in a pan and bake it making clean up a snap!

Here are just a few of the reasons I love freezing meals this way:

* The smaller pans prevent leftover burnout (If you have a large family, just pop two pans in the oven.)
* Several meals can be in the freezer while favorite baking dishes remain handy.
* There’s no need to purchase lots of expensive aluminum pans (or clean them!)
* Foil and freezer paper can often be found on sale with a coupon.
* Wrapping the meal and then sealing it in a bag prevents freezer burn.
* This method maximizes freezer space since the baking dishes aren’t stacked up.
* And, in light of yesterday’s post, it’s also worth mentioning that your freezer bags can be reused when food labeling is done on the foil or freezer paper.

Amy is a Tiny Town coach’s wife and mother of three convinced that the offer more joy than anything money can buy. 

How to Live on Beans and Rice for a Week

Live on Rice and Beans for a week! This frugal meal plan is SO creative!

We use a lot of beans around here; they’re inexpensive, they’re filling, and they’re nutritious. Pair them with rice (we prefer brown rice) and you have a complete protein.

When I read on how to live on beans and rice for a week, I thought it’d be fun to try and come up with my own version. While we’ve never tried to just have beans and rice all week long, Ruth inspired me to come up with an almost-week-long beans and rice menu plan, too, using some of our favorite legume recipes. Maybe we’ll have to do this sometime!

Day One:
Cook up a big ole’ pot of beans (I do mine like this. You can add in seasonings, onions, etc. if you prefer). I’d recommend cooking black beans, pinto beans, and chili beans. Mix equal parts of the beans and make chili (we like to add onions, diced tomatoes, tomato juice, spices, hot sauce, pickle juice, and anything else that strikes my fancy that evening! You can add some browned ground beef if you like.). Serve over brown rice with cheese and hot sauce.

Day Two: Take the leftover chili and make “haystacks”–set out bowls of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, corn chips, rice, cheese, sour cream, olives, and hot sauce. Let everyone pile things on and make up their own “haystack”.

Day Three: Mash up some of the black beans and pinto beans (you can make them refried like , if you like) and mix with a little salsa and chopped chicken. Roll up in tortillas, sprinkle with cheese and heat through.

Day Four: Make pizza crust and top with mashed/refried beans, salsa or diced tomatoes, onions (if you like) and cheese. Bake. If you have leftover lettuce and tomatoes from Day Two, you could sprinkle them on top of the baked pizza. If you have any leftover chili, you could also make “Chili Pizza” using chili and tomatoes and cheese as the pizza topping.

Day Five: Use any leftover chili, beans, or mashed beans you have left to make Mexican Lasagna (like or or –only substitute most of the meat for beans.)

Those are a few of our family favorites. I could probably come up with more, but five days of beans is likely about all we could take around here!

What about you? What are your favorite ways to cook beans and rice? If you were to try and subsist mostly on beans and rice for a week, what would you serve?


Baking Day: Lasagna, Ziti, and a picture of the fruits of my labors

After the girls went to bed last night, I quickly whipped up three pans of lasagna and three pans of Ziti.

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The lasagna recipe was a new one ( to see it) that highly recommended. I'm curious to see how it tastes. It was easy to make and less expensive than usual lasagna since I can often get cream cheese for $0.50 per package (with a sale and a coupon)–which beats the price of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese that I'd usually use in lasagna.

I don't have a recipe for the Ziti because I just made it up on the fly using ground turkey, pasta sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, noodles, and spices. I've learned that a great way to be frugal in the kitchen is to learn to be creative and flexible with ingredients!

After finishing up the pans of Ziti and Lasagna, I called it a day. I didn't get to quite everything on my list, but I did get a lot done yesterday–and that's a very good feeling! In fact, I was surprised at how much I'd gotten done when I laid everything out on the table to take a final picture:

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5 batches of Whole-Wheat Waffles
3 bags of browned ground turkey (we'll use this for homemade pizza or possibly pair it with pinto beans to make chili)
1 bag of cooked chopped chicken
1 batch of
5 bags of cooked Pinto Beans
3 pans of
3 pans of Ziti
3 meals of Chicken Tetrazinni
1 bag of Southwest Roll-ups

It was about seven hours' worth of work total to make all of that and I'm figuring it will make at least 20 dinners and 8-10 breakfasts. That is totally worth it to me for seven hours of work. Plus, it means I don't have to worry about "What's for Dinner?" many nights for the next month nor do I have to mess up my kitchen as much!

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so I can get
more ideas for my next Baking Day projects! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.

Baking Day: Pinto Beans and Chicken Tetrazinni

Did you think I up and forgot about you? Nah, I just had to take a break for dinner and time with my husband. But everyone went down for an early bedtime so I'm trying to make the most of a quiet house!

Here's what I've done since my last update:

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I bought this big 10-pound bag of Pinto Beans at Sam's Club on Saturday for just over $6 so I used some of it to make a big pot of Pinto Beans. You can read how I cook these up here.

Once the beans cool, I will divide them into two-cup portions in bags and freeze them. Then, whenever I make a recipe which calls for canned beans, I can just use these instead. It's much cheaper and better for you, too. In addition, it's so easy to do.

I didn't have any brown rice on hand, otherwise I would have cooked some of that up, too, and then stuck it in the freezer in two-cup portions as well. It's so simple to then pull out a bag of rice and a bag of beans and thaw them overnight to use for a healthful and very inexpensive meal of beans and rice. (You can set out bowls of corn chips, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese along with the beans and rice and let everyone build their own Mexican dinner on their plates. Or just serve plain beans and rice with cheese.)

In addition to the Pinto Beans, I made a double batch up Chicken Tetrazinni. This is an easy and inexpensive recipe which freezes well:

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(For the record, this looks a whole lot better cooked than uncooked!)
 
Chicken Tetrazinni (serves 4-6)

2 cups spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
1 can cream soup (you can )
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper (or red pepper, as I used this time since I had some given to us from a friend's garden!), chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated

Saute onions and peppers in a little oil. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Cool and put a freezer bag and freeze flat.

When ready to use, thaw and place in a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until heated through. (I like to sprinkle with additional cheese.)

I doubled the recipe and split it into 3 freezer bags as it will be enough for three dinners for us.

Next up: Lasagna and Spaghetti Pie (and I haven't forgotten about the Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins; I just keep procrastinating on those!)

Baking Day: Southwest Roll-ups and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I'm not meaning to leave you all hanging for hours on end, I just find that when I sit down to blog, I lose my focus. So I'm trying to stay off the computer more this Baking Day and just focus on, well, baking!

We also took a break from being in the kitchen to have our afternoon Reading Time. We love reading together and I try to make a point to read to everyone at least 20-30 minutes every day, even on those days when we take a break from our usual routine.

But here's what I've accomplished since I last checked in:

I finished all the waffles! I ended up with a mountain of waffles (five bags!) which should last us for every bit of 8-9 breakfasts. That means we should be stocked on waffles for at least another 5-6 weeks. And that's a great feeling. My picture of all of these will be coming in the final Baking Day photo.

I also chopped up all the chicken I had boiled and made up Southwest Roll-ups. These are one of our family's "staple recipes". You know, the kind that you turn to when you are feeling brain fried in menu-planning or just need a really easy dinner. I've been making these and freezing them ahead of time recently and have found this works well, too.

Southwest Roll-ups (makes 8 roll-ups)

1 can refried beans
1/4 cup salsa
1-2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 tortillas

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Mix together beans, salsa, and chicken.

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Spread 1/8 of mixture onto one tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll up and turn ends under. Stick in a freezer bag or in a 9×13 baking pan.

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When ready to bake, thaw and bake in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Sprinkle with more shredded Cheddar cheese, if desired. Serve with salsa. Serves 4.

I bought this huge bag of chocolate chips at Sam's Club on Saturday so I made some (the recipe is ).

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I've heard there is a canned pumpkin shortage in some parts of the country, but I have quite a few cans which I bought a number of months ago for $0.25 each so I'm well-stocked. And now that I have plenty of chocolate chips, I'll likely be making more of these muffins as they are one of our favorites.

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I made them with all whole wheat flour and I don't think you can even
tell a difference. My husband loves these in his lunches! I stick them
in the freezer once they are cooled and then just pull out a few and
stick them frozen into a baggie into his lunch box. By lunch time, they
are thawed and ready to eat!

PicltLptr
(Picture from )

Next up: Chicken Tetrazinni and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins