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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Busy? Me too! Meals for on the go schedules

14 Jun

I feel like I must look like this by the end of the school year, every June. Most days, I barely know what day it is.

Happy Wednesday!

It’s finally stopped raining, at least temporarily, so we’re cancelling our plans to build an ark and have instead started the final countdown to the end of the school year. We have just about a week to go.

I always compare this time of year for teachers, students, parents and those of us in the education world to what I imagine the tax season to be like for accountants. It’s crazy-busy for all of us, and we’re spread thin, trying to put ourselves in several places at once. This year, I am especially thankful that we have a third driver, which has helped our situation when we aren’t able to clone ourselves to be two places at once.

Busy? Absolutely. Still need to cook and eat? Absolutely.

Normally during much of the year we plan our meals two weeks in advance and shop for them two weeks in advance as well. However, since after the April vacation week, we have only been able to manage to plan and shop a week at a time for much of May and June. It’s been working out, and this week I am particularly proud of our meal planning because we were able to prep so much of it in advance. It meant a lot of work, particularly on Sunday night, but we had the time to spend that evening, and it’s nice to know we’re set for this week, the final full week of the school year for all of us. Like everyone else, we’re battling with the culminating events for  sports and school and work and other extra-curriculars, but we get through it, just like everyone else does, just like all the other years, and then it will be summer and we can breathe again.

I told someone just the other day that during the rest of the year our schedules are busy, but doable because everything has a designated slot on the schedule and when left as is, it all works out. There may be a lot of it, with five schedules and only seven days in a week, but everything fits. November/December and May/June are the months that throw things off because all of the activities choose new, additional slots on the schedule in which to place their seasonal events. So our Saturday morning slot also goes into a slot on Monday and on Tuesday night, for example, but yet we already have something in that slot on Monday. And on Tuesday. Our Monday and Wednesday slots decide to put their event on a Saturday and on also a Sunday, and still on Monday and Wednesday too. Things that are normally contained within the school day curriculum, like band for one, or chorus for another, or theater for the other, or even recognition events for all, suddenly need night time slots for everyone. As adults we are also required to attend many of these same events at other schools for our school-related jobs as well as for our own three kids, so the chaos multiplies quickly for us here. It gets all mixed up for a good month and then it goes back to normal again, but for those weeks of the year, twice a year, we are definitely over-scheduled, over-worked and overwhelmed before normalcy and calm returns.

We use our summer to decompress. We don’t over-schedule and we don’t have to worry much about competing events because we don’t do a lot, and for both of us adults, work slows down to a more normal, regular pace. I take the time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t from the past year and make adjustments by August for the upcoming year. I also look at ways we can be more organized as a family, every summer. Last year I instituted the Cozi app, and have loved that and will definitely keep it going for the next year. The year before, I instituted a great allowance system, and have kept that going as well. Summer is always a great time for reflecting, making changes and improving our well-oiled machines.

So, in preparation for all of your upcoming busy weeks ahead, here is our one week of meals, instead of two, but they are great for making ahead, cooking once and eating twice, and for having to grab and go.

ONE WEEK OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie: This was our plan ahead, shop ahead and cook ahead day, and even though the daytime hours were full of obligations, we cooked into the evening hours and ate our dinner late that night in order to be ready for the week ahead. The kids used the time wisely and played outside until well after the street lights came on. See the recipe here. Make a big batch, eat half the first night and save the rest for a leftovers night later in the week.

Monday: Quesadillas: This night we had a PT appointment for one, a dance class for another and a fashion show rehearsal for all three, all after school, so we needed a literal grab and go dinner. (Thankfully, no one had any homework.) As a shortcut, I used already cooked chicken strips as my chicken and cheese fillers for these. I made plain cheese, spicy chicken and cheese, and plain chicken and cheese, and I bagged them all up, labeled and ready to go. When made with corn tortillas, these are also gluten free. They’re better served hot, but they’re edible cold as well, and when you’re hungry, cold will do just fine. Find the recipe here. As an added bonus, these make a great lunch, so I was one step ahead Tuesday morning as well.

My bag of quesadillas, ready to conquer dinner and then lunches, in one fell swoop.

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey: This was a meal we made ahead on Sunday night as well. Sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives filled our kitchen with a delicious aroma as we cooked, and thanks to that little teaser, now everyone can’t wait for this meal. We need to be at the kids’ fashion show by 5:30, so this will be an early meal, but will fill everyone’s bellies sufficiently before we go. Additionally, this will be something that will leave leftovers for our leftovers night. I don’t have a recipe we follow for this, it’s just sauteed ground meat (we use turkey), veggies of your choice, cooked pasta and sauce topped and baked with cheese. Ours is gluten free.

Wednesday: French Toast: This is my favorite go-to meal: breakfast for dinner. It’s fast and French Toast is my favorite meal for breakfast, despite my love for other types of morning treats. We have an after school meeting for one, piano lessons for one, dance class for one, a band concert for another, plus a work event for one, all before 7pm so this time, everyone will eat when they can, before they need to go, or when they get back, or both. It’ll be ready to eat, gluten free and not, for whenever it’s needed.

Thursday: Leftovers: On this night, all the kids are home, and finals start in the morning for our highschooler, so it’s crunch time for sure, but now both adults have to work. Normally we try our hardest to avoid both being out simultaneously for work at night, especially since I can set my own schedule more easily, but this week is an exception. It is graduation week here in our city and I cover three of the four high school graduation events, so my being out can’t be avoided, and neither can his. So, we planned our leftover night for this night because everything can be reheated from earlier in the week. If no one likes that, there’s enough other choices that they can make on their own easily enough, but we’ve done what we consider to be our parental due diligence and provided good meal options.

Friday: Homemade Pizza: Only I have to work on this night, graduation event #2. So I’ll come home at the end of the night and enjoy some yummy homemade pizzas. We enjoy homemade more than the pizza we take out, Don makes the absolute best pizza around, so this is a treat we all look forward to.

Saturday: Dinner event: We have a birthday party for one child early on in the day, and the final graduation event during the day for me as well, and then we are all heading to a dinner event that night, so our final meal of the week is planned for us, thankfully.

We will (hopefully) have made it through the week unscathed and having our meals planned out and mostly ready to go will have allowed us to enjoy the moments as we get to them and through them, and to enjoy the end of the year as it comes. It was a relatively inexpensive set of meals too, so that has been a little bit of a break for our grocery budget as well, when all else is so much more costly at this time of year.

May you all survive the busy seasons in your own lives, families and occupations. If this isn’t your busy season, save this post for when you’ll need it most!

 

 

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Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

Fun Friday: “The Cowarts take Manhattan” and what was for dinner

5 May

April was incredibly busy, and here is the rest of why!

Last week in my What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I promised you that I would share more of what had been keeping me from posting recently and I also promised you some weekly meal inspiration with a twist. Today’s Fun Friday post is all of those things wrapped in one.

As you’ll see in this week’s Cranston Herald feature article, we took a whirlwind trip to New York City and the surrounding areas, including Jersey City, Hoboken and Brooklyn, just to name a few. It started out as a college tours trip primarily, but because we had never taken any of the kids to NYC, and because they all wanted to visit so badly, we decided to try to make it a mini family vacation, on the cheap rather than one adult taking one child to New York and everyone else staying home.

Super cheap.

We accomplished that goal by using our camper, although very early in the camping season, and despite the fact that we wouldn’t have a ton of time for prepping for the trip due to work obligations and the Easter weekend. One of the ways that we made it work was by eating many of our meals in and only eating a few special things out, as we visited the city. We had extra money and we could’ve spent it all on eating out, but we didn’t want to. We opted instead to choose a couple of extra-special eating adventures and to choose a couple of extra-special sightseeing adventures too, giving ourselves the best of both worlds.

Our camper has a full kitchen with a microwave, oven and stove as well as a refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Therefore, we could plan meals as extensive or as simple as we wished. We decided to go simple. We knew we’d be out a great deal of the time and the last thing we wanted to do was come home and spend an hour and a half cooking. We also knew that simple meant cheap, and if our meals were inexpensive, that was more money we could throw into our travel budget from our normal grocery budget.

Because the weekend before the trip was Easter (an expensive, busy weekend in itself), we did have some leeway in our meals leading up to the trip and we were not eating at home on Easter Sunday. Therefore, my list of meals starts with Monday, the first night we arrived at Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina. Here’s what we ate while we were away:

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Monday: Quesadillas (extras became lunch the next day) with Spanish rice and corn. We also had chips and salsa for appetizers when we arrived because it had been a five hour ride and we’d eaten lunch in the car earlier in the day.

Tuesday: Chicken burgers and hot dogs, fresh sugar snap peas, sauteed.

Wednesday: Macaroni with Chicken Parmesan, (chicken cooked in the cast iron skillet). Today we also used some of our spending money to have treats at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, the original bake shop featured on the TV show, “Cake Boss.”

Breakfast on Wednesday morning: Carlo’s Bakery sweet treats

 

Very inexpensive, delicious and a fun end to our trip to NYC!

Thursday: We opted to eat out that night, experiencing NY Style Pizza, $1 a slice, in Times Square at 2 Bros. Pizza. DELICIOUS.

Friday: We were home again by Friday night and we had French Toast for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is fast and easy and a good meal to make when you get home. It was a breakfast option we never used on the trip so we had all the ingredients ready to go.

For the second week of our two week cycle, we tried to choose meals that were still inexpensive and that used some things we had at home already

Saturday: Homemade chicken and rice soup (perfect for what ended up being a cold, rainy, raw day)

Sunday: Pork Chops and homemade applesauce (I brought applesauce to dinner on Easter Sunday, so I made a triple batch that day, freezing one batch for our trip. We never used that meal on the trip, so we had it Sunday night instead.)

Monday: Zucchini shrimp Scampi (recently featured in this blog post)

Tuesday: Taco Bake (recipe here)

Wednesday: Chicken, Broccoli and Pasta

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

5 Apr

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Has two weeks already gone by?
I can’t believe it’s already time for a two-week menu list for you. The weeks are flying. We have made it through February and March, which tend to be rough, so onward to and through April!

Here are two weeks of menu inspiration for you from our last meal cycle. We did have to make some on-the-spot changes and revisions, but this was our original list:

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Tuesday: Antipasto

Wednesday: BBQ Ribs and Cole Slaw

Thursday: Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Friday: Taco in a Bag (this was a birthday party dinner)

Saturday: Shaved steak sandwiches with cheese, onions, peppers and mushrooms

Homemade pizza is the best and we like to mix up the varieties from time to time. Here are our ingredients for the Hawaiian and veggie pizzas.

Sunday: Whole chicken dinner

Monday: Grilled Kielbasa

Tuesday: Chicken Marsala

Wednesday: Pork Chops

Thursday: London Broil

Friday: Homemade pizzas (This week we made one Hawaiian pizza, one veggie pizza, and one cheese pizza.)

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a tribute to a team player

15 Mar

He’s always outnumbered by the strong-willed women in his life, but he is our biggest fan and we are his, and he is an amazing team player in our family.

Recently, my kids were showing me an online video of a man who surprised his girlfriend by getting down on one knee and proposing to her during a photo shoot. I was misty-eyed watching her reaction and his proposal. I was telling my kids afterwards that when my now-husband and of course, their dad, Don, proposed to me, he asked if he should get down on one knee, but I said no, that instead I wanted him to sit down on the bench next to me in the gazebo where he’d chosen to propose. I wanted us to be equal, at the same level.

Now, more than 20 years and three kids, several dogs, multiple goldfish and one frog later, that equal level, that partnership and teamwork still stands. I don’t think we could make it through a day or a week if it didn’t. As I sit and  write this, it is International Women’s Day and I am reflective and thankful for my chosen partner in life, my best friend and all he does to support me and to support us. He will literally do anything that we four women ask him to do or need him to do, even things that are considered traditionally to be a “woman’s job.” In a day and age when so many are not so privileged as we are to have such support, when women’s rights are being taken away on a daily basis, or have yet to exist at all, I am grateful for my own personal situation, my teammate. I could be married to this guy, or some of the many men in our world just like him, or someone much, much worse.

This week’s menu is brought to you by my husband Don. We usually both sit down together to figure out the family’s schedule and the coordinating menu for the upcoming two weeks, and most often he then goes and does the shopping. He often cooks at least half the dinners. This past week was so busy that we didn’t have a chance to sit together and figure it out, so he created the menu AND did the shopping. I appreciate all he does, very much. Our system would not be successful here if we weren’t both equal partners, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Here is Don’s list of meals for you for two weeks of dinner inspiration:

Sunday: Homemade Chicken Soup (now made with gluten free pasta)
Monday: Paninis
Tuesday: Pork Chops with Homemade Applesauce
Wednesday: Shepherd’s Pie
Thursday: Pasta with Tuna Sauce
Friday: Homemade Pizzas
Saturday: Tacos
Sunday: Chicken Pot Pie (not homemade this time, but here is a recipe for homemade if you’d like it)
Monday: Steaks
Tuesday: Cobb Salad (This is new for us. It’s a salad with bacon-we use turkey bacon, hard boiled eggs, avocado, and grilled chicken, in addition to the usual lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers.)
Wednesday: American Chopped Suey
Thursday: Stir Fry
Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Corned Beef and Cabbage

Thanks Don!

Don and all his ladies, looking fierce.

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

1 Mar
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

It’s Wednesday! We are officially halfway through the first week back to school after our February vacation week, and what a busy week that was! I think I needed a vacation from the vacation. We had visits from family and lots of appointments all week long, and the week flew by. Because we had family in from out of state, our menu was reflective of that, and we ate a few things we don’t always have, special items our guests can’t always get to eat where they live. We also took a ride down to the beach one afternoon, and even though it was too chilly to actually be IN the ocean, it was certainly a beautiful sight to see and reminded me that summer isn’t too far away!

With that thought in mind, here is our two week menu for you with links to the recipes if I have them.

SUNDAY: Chicken with garlic wine sauce and mushrooms. Recipe is here.

MONDAY: President’s Day holiday and the day our first guest arrived. We opted to eat dinner out that night. We ordered in, and everyone got what they wanted at the various restaurants on this particular street. One restaurant, Mosaic, is new to our area and offers Middle Eastern fare, so that was our gift to our guest, and something she doesn’t get to have very often. Those who didn’t want that option ordered in Chinese and Mexican. It was a very culturally diverse dinner table for sure!

TUESDAY: Chourico and peppers. There are many different versions of this Portuguese recipe. My husband’s recipe is made with peppers and tomato sauce. This is great in a sandwich or on the plate. It is something we don’t get to have often so it was a treat for us too!

WEDNESDAY: Hot dogs, chicken burgers, tater tots

THURSDAY: Baked fish with crabmeat and crumb topping, gluten free

A special dessert to cap off a week filled with special meals

A special dessert to cap off a week filled with special meals

FRIDAY: Our second guest arrived. We had a big family dinner of pasta, meatballs and Chicken Parmesan,  with both sides of the family at the table, and we got a special dessert from a local ice cream restaurant, Newport Creamery, which is unique to our area. The dessert was a Jimmy Roll. Jimmies are chocolate sprinkles and the ice cream roll is made out of French Vanilla and Chocolate ice cream.

SATURDAY: Marinated London Broil with red roasted potatoes, coleslaw and broccoli. Marinade recipe is here.

SUNDAY: Lasagna, both gluten free and regular versions were made

MONDAY: Grilled kielbasa with a potato and egg omelet. The omelet used the leftover potatoes from Saturday’s dinner.

TUESDAY: Teriyaki Chicken breasts cooked on the grill with rice and salad using a gluten free sauce

WEDNESDAY: Leftover lasagna

THURSDAY: Honey Sesame Chicken in the crock pot. Recipe can be found here.

FRIDAY: Liz’s Meatloaf Burgers. Recipe here

SATURDAY: Dinner out on the way to a weekend event. Time to plan another two weeks of meals!

Just seeing it reminds me that summer is almost here!

Just seeing it reminds me that summer is almost here!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a new recipe for you

8 Feb
This was a recipe we tried out a couple months back and loved, so we put it on the list again this menu cycle.

This was a recipe we tried out a couple months back and loved, so we put it on the list again this menu cycle.

The weeks are flying by! Today I have a two week menu for you, and a new recipe that we recently tried, loved for Loaded Baked Potato Soup, and therefore, just made again. In fact, it is my lunch today, left over from last night’s dinner, as I write. I know that I mentioned last time that I love the Skinnytaste blog, and although I don’t usually share from the same spot so many times in a row, I’m going to have to make an exception in today’s post, which really shares more than one new recipe with you. Thanks to Gina for making such delicious healthy recipes!

Without further ado, here is two weeks of menu inspiration for you.

Sunday (Superbowl): Don’s Chili, Teriyaki Wings, Buffalo Chicken Dip, and Baked Zucchini Rounds with Marinara (her recipe calls for sticks) Here is an alternate recipe for Baked Zucchini Fries from our lunch at the White House that we also love.

Sticks or rounds, using gluten free bread crumbs, these are a favorite treat at our house.

Sticks or rounds, using gluten free bread crumbs, these are a favorite treat at our house.

Monday: Baked Potato Soup from the Skinnytaste Blog. You can see her recipe here, which also calls for the addition of sour cream as a topping option. We did use turkey bacon on ours.

Tuesday: Hot Dogs and Potato Puffs (Mom’s out on this night, this is NOT my favorite dinner. At least the hot dogs are turkey hot dogs! And there is at least one of my kids who is of the belief that Potato Puffs aka Tater Tots, are a root vegetable. That’s another issue for another day.)

Wednesday: Paninis

Thursday: Steak Lettuce Tacos I shared this recipe on my last two weeks of meals post. I won’t say whose recipe this is…any guesses? Click the link and see!

Friday: Homemade pizzas (This and Nachos are often our go-to Friday night meals.)

Saturday: Chicken nuggets and mac and cheese (all gluten free) not homemade, tonight is a kids’ night in, parents’ night out for a 7:30 theater show, something we very rarely ever get to do, and we have a final end of season basketball game until 5:30, so desperate times call for desperate measures! This is probably one of their favorite meals when it comes to the not-good-for-you kind of meals, but this is real life. It’s not all good for us all the time. The mac and cheese is a white cheese, organic kind, and the nuggets are better than some we have found, as good as we can get in a frozen, breaded, gluten free tenderloin. And to boot, I have no idea what or where we parents are even are eating, given our time crunch. So there’s that.

Sunday: Baked chicken dinner, a Sunday favorite of ours which uses one of my favorite Pampered Chef  bakeware items.

Monday: Chicken, veggie and rice soup (homemade, gluten free with white rice)

Tuesday: Tacos

Wednesday: Pasta with meatballs

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: First night of school vacation week, so dinner is currently TBA