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Back to School Menu Planning

August 30, 2013

Whoa! I haven’t posted here since school got out.  Not surprising, given our family’s schedule of the past three months.  I have one child away at college, another one enrolled in college but living in the basement and three girls set to get on the bus to the middle school on Tuesday. 

Remember how last summer I became the master of the $50 per week grocery budget? Ah, that didn’t happen this summer.  This summer I blew the food budget on a regular basis, despite my best intentions.  In the past few weeks, though, we have been deliberately eating down what we have had taking up space in the cupboards and fridge.  If you’re overwhelmed with your budget, or the disorganized state of your kitchen, I highly recommend taking a week or two long “Use it Up Challenge!”  Things that are decent quality, unopened and not past their sell date may be very welcome at your local food shelf.

After working down the food stash (using up, tossing and donating), I did a decent sized stock up this week.  I bought a month’s supply of things like dry cereal, sandwich bread, applesauce cups, crackers and granola bars.  They were on good mark downs and will come very handy in packing school lunches X3 plus my husband’s lunch.  Buying the nonperishables (the bread went in the freezer) for the month gives me a better idea of what our actual cost will be, as opposed to restocking everything on a weekly basis.  Again, YES I was intentional last summer with the switch to buying fewer groceries at a time – stocking up less.  As with everything — pay attention to your family’s needs  What works great now may not work great in six months.  Change things up when necessary!

So I’m happy to report that my spending will be minimal next week.  Here is my grocery list, with a little menu planning on the bottom.  I made this list template years ago, when we were ardent Cub Foods shoppers.  The columns went in the order of the grocery store. It was more than brilliant.  Also genius: adding a date stamp so I can easily see the last time I edited the document.

How about you?  How has your summer menu planning gone?


grad party menu

June 23, 2013

My son graduated from high school this spring, and we celebrated in a big way this past week. Despite this being “The Year of the Taco” for graduation parties … our taco menu was one that we really enjoyed. Several people have asked me for recipes, so I’m putting them all here in one place.

Many thanks to those who were able to come celebrate Jordan with us. One of the things that I want most for my kids that they have a solid group of people surrounding them as they grow into adulthood – not just peers but also adults who will mentor them … do life with them. We are blessed beyond measure – thank you!

Now, the menu 😉 ~

tortilla chips — Jordan made them the day of the party – cutting corn tortillas into wedges, frying them til crisp them giving them a shake of salt and other seasonings.

gluten free blue corn chips

flour tortillas

shredded pork — Coat pork roast with seasoning, roast in oven or slow cook in crockpot. Shred and serve (or shred and freeze)

vegetarian black beans

picante sauce

salsa verde

sour cream

shredded cheese

shredded lettuce

chopped tomatoes

hot sauces

watermelon salsa — we used fresh peaches instead of mangos

cole slaw with cumin-lime vinaigrette — the leftovers – undressed – are going into fried rice soon

orange brownies

frosted brownies

butterscotch nut bars

rice krispie bars

gluten free brownies




cream, sugar, sugar substitute, assorted coffee syrups

chocolate covered espresso beans

Menu Plan – Week of April 15 (happy tax day?)

April 15, 2013

Monday:  Sticky Chicken.  One of my 10 year olds helped me prep several of these a few weeks back, which gave her bragging rights at school the next day. Apparently stuffing onions up chickens’ butts is a big deal in grade 5.

Tuesday:  Vegetarian Sliders.  this is a new one for us, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m subbing cooked brown rice for quinoa, because that’s what I have.  Cooking brown rice ahead and freezing it in quart size bags is a huge time saver for us.  My oldest doesn’t eat meat – and I like to incorporate everyone’s needs/preferences into what we’re buying and preparing each week.  It only makes sense to me to provide Team Clark with good nutrition that works well for each of us (some weeks we do far better at this than others …).

Wednesday:  Burritos.  These work so well for everyone and the kids love making them.  I just put a bag of frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs in the crock pot a little while ago, and will season it up in a few hours.  We’ll probably put these together tomorrow night, doing some with beans, some with chicken, some without the tortilla (burrito bowls!) and then add cheese and Spanish rice.  We’re making an extra big batch of these to go in the freezer.

Thursday: Pizza night.  We usually get Little Caesar’s or take-and-bakes from the grocery store.  This is, by far, our least nutritious meal of the week. But we are all tired and crabby by Thursday and just trying to make it to the weekend, you know?  On a good day I’ll throw together a big green salad and hope that someone eats it.

Friday:  Honey Bourbon Chicken. This is a little higher sugar than I like, but I use ketchup that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup (which is rare!) and try to add a little more chicken and onion to the recipe than it calls for. 

Saturday:  Crockpot Enchiladas.  This is another new recipe we’re trying this week.  I’m planning to use corn tortillas, and will probably throw in a little leftover chicken from Monday’s Sticky Chicken

Sunday:  LEFTOVERS.  Nothing worse than trying to menu plan and grocery shop on a Monday when your fridge is full of containers of leftovers. Okay, there are plenty of things worse than that. Still – it’s a bummer when that happens. 

Bone Broth

February 19, 2013


Something I’ve been talking about lately with my friends is bone broth.  I’ve made some variation of stock over the years, but lately have been more committed to doing so.  If you poke around the web, you’ll find endless methods that folks use to make their bone broth. You’ll also find plenty of reasons to start making it and adding it to your diet!  Bone broth is nutrient-dense, chock full of minerals and easily made with …. well, stuff you likely are tossing in the trash right now. Truly — what I love most about bone broth is that it’s nutritional gold that you make out of garbage!

I’ve varied how I make bone broth over time, and settled on to this method.  Try it, change what you need to, to make it work well for you.  Nutritional gold, people!  Here’s how I make it:

Save bones from chicken or turkey (you could use other meats, but this is what we eat the most of).  Also save (clean/well scrubbed) scraps from veggies – carrot peels, celery tops and ends, onion skins and scraps.  Toss them all in a labeled freezer bag if you don’t have very many at a time so they’ll be ready to go when you make broth.

Put bones, veggie scraps, a few egg shells (yes, really! They will add to the calcium, glucosamine and chondroitin to your broth!) into a large crockpot.  Fill with water,  add a little cider vinegar (2 tablespoons to 1 gallon water, roughly), which will help pull the minerals out of the bones and egg shells.  Simmer in crock pot overnight.  Cool broth, strain through a tea-towel lined colander.  Refrigerate broth for several hours, then remove solidified fat that has risen to the top of the broth.  If you are going to freeze your broth, be sure to label and date it.

That’s it, folks! If you don’t want to make your broth in the crock pot, you can make it in a large stock pot in your stovetop instead and let it simmer away all day. Make it so that it fits into your lifestyle.  We use bone broth in soup and casserole recipes. I also use substitute it for water when I cook brown rice. It’s an easy way to boost the nutritional value of just about anything!

Square One

February 10, 2013

A friend of mine recently told me that the only advice her mother ever gave her was this, “get comfortable with square one – you’re going to be visiting it often.”

This week has been all about square one for Team Clark.  We spent more than we should have the previous week, bought groceries for a Super Bowl shindig (let’s be honest, the menu is always going to be the most important part of the event) and didn’t save a single receipt.  Therefore …. no grocery shopping this past week. 

Our saving grace may have been that Rob spent the weekend with teenagers from church, on a youth group retreat, and brought home the leftover groceries – sandwich fixings, bread and milk.  All things considered, we’ve managed to get creative and eat pretty well!

Some things that we’ve eaten lately:

Fish and Chips (New Basics Cookbook recipe, made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour 

Turkey Wild Rice Casserole (when I cook wild rice I do a lot at a time, freezing the extra) 

Taquitos (this recipe, using this taco meat), Spanish rice and refried beans

Pasta with Bolognese sauce 

We’ve also been eating a lot of homemade Greek yogurt (recipe to come, soon) with granola. My 13 year old has become the granola making expert in the family!

This week we will be back in business again, planning carefully and sticking to the list.  Bad (and expensive!) things happen when we don’t plan our menus and grocery lists!

How Last Week Went

January 31, 2013


Recently I shared about our $50 grocery budget that worked so well over the summer, and how we are working hard to get back that same budget, or as close as possible. One caveat: reduce the budget but not reduce the quality of food that we eat. I’m all for cutting corners where possible and yes, once in awhile there’s more “cheap food” in my kitchen than I prefer, but I’d like for that to be the exception around here, not the norm.

Last week I tracked things pretty carefully. We did not purchase meat, because we have quite a bit in the freezer. We eat pizza once a week – last week it was a few take-and-bakes from Walmart, which cost $17.00. There was a small trip to Cub Foods where we spent $8.65 (but I lost the receipt), $37.45 of the Aldi trip was on groceries, as was $21.05 at Walmart. So — just under $80 for groceries last week. One other note – school lunch is not included in the grocery budget.

Focusing on eating up what we already had in the pantry, fridge and freezer, so nothing went to waste, I think we did pretty well! Everyone grabs their own breakfast here — Rob has a protein bar, I have a protein shake, and the kids have whatever sounds good to them that particular morning. We had a few cereals in the cupboard, homemade granola and Greek yogurt ready to go, and a big batch of whole wheat waffles that I made at the beginning of the week for easy reheating. Lunch for the kids is eaten at school, and Rob and I generally have leftovers for lunch (when I’m at work, though, I eat for next-to-nothing, so I eat Macy’s food 🙂 )

Here’s a rundown of what we made last week:

Monday – Roast turkey breast with mashed potatoes, salad, roasted brussel sprouts

Tuesday – Pioneer Woman’s braised short ribs (I actually used country style ribs that I’d found hiding in my freezer) with  polenta, assorted veggies

Wednesday – Baked mac and cheese (I use the store brand of Barilla plus pasta if I’m not going to be eating it, otherwise I use Tinkyada gluten free pasta and sub cornstarch for the flour in my sauce) and cut up fresh veggies

Thursday – pizza

Friday – leftovers

Saturday – nachos with taco meat from the freezer

Some things I made ahead and froze:

Black bean chili

Whole wheat/whey waffles (using whey that was leftover from the Greek yogurt I made the previous week!)

Brown rice

Bone broth (from Monday’s turkey bones)

Tomato and roasted red pepper soup

I heard from quite a few people last week that they were inspired to start eating down what is in their freezer, and minimizing the food waste and getting a better handle on their food budget.  Good for you! Good for us!  How is your week going so far?

Make-ahead Taco Meat

January 18, 2013



I’m always looking for new ways to make the meal prep and planning easier.  Lately, my big thing has been to cook just once a week. Try to cook just once a week, really.  It never seems to work out perfectly.  In theory, though – if I cook 7x the amount on a recipe – one for supper that night and six for the freezer, I should eventually be cooking just once a week. Right?

Taco meat is just about the easiest thing to cook in bulk and freeze for future use.  The last time I did it, I tried a few new tricks and it worked like a dream.  If you’re going to start tweaking your budget and meal planning, this is where I would suggest you start.

I would recommend making a single pound of meat first, to make sure you and your family like it, and adjust the recipe accordingly before you tackle 10 or more pounds of meat. It’s a huge bummer to fill your freezer with food that no one likes!

Here’s the recipe for a single batch:

1 pound ground meat (I get frozen ground turkey at Aldi for $1.39/pound)

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

However, for 10 pounds of ground meat, use:

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons chili powder

2-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

2-1/2 teaspoons onion powder

2-1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons salt

3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon black pepper

Put thawed ground meat in crock pot.  Add ½ – 1 cup of water, to help steam the meat.  Cook on high for a few hours, and then break it apart with a potato masher or fork.  Add the taco seasoning, mix, and cook a few more hours until done (this really only takes a few hours! If you cook it on high all day long, I think it will be too overdone.  This is a good one to have going in the crock pot when you’re not going to be gone all day).

Allow taco meat to cool, then put in freezer safe containers, squeeze out the extra air and seal, and then label and date (you might thing that you will remember what this is and when you put it in the freezer? Trust me, you will not.  Label and date it.  Please).  I am constantly trying to use less plastic in our house, but I do still use quart size freezer bags for freezing taco meat, putting a pound in each bag. Freeze them flat in the freezer, and they stack up nicely, saving space.

Voila! That’s it!  Make a big batch of this, and freeze it in individual pounds portions.  Pull some out once a week (or every night, if you have big taco fans in your house?) for a nearly-done meal.  I promise you, your budget (and chedule!) will thank you!