Easy Meal Plan

chalkboard on whitewashed boards with the word meal

Happy weekend! For me, that always means meal planning and grocery shopping. The menu is made and the grocery shopping is partly done. A torrential downpour sometimes makes you cut your shopping trip short after the first store. ūüôā (The rain actually first hit when I was a still a mile from home on my run this morning. I was SOAKED! We then got soaked running to and from the car at Aldi a couple hours later.)

Meal planning is pretty simple in my house. It keeps me sane and helps things be manageable. If you missed my post on 7 different ways to menu plan, be sure to check it out here!

I always hit up Aldi, a couple local grocery stores depending on their sales, and sometimes get one or two things from Wal-Mart. Even with all the stops I can be done shopping within an hour. Yay for smallish town living, I suppose!

This Week’s Deals

Some weeks the ads are great and some weeks I find loads of markdowns and others none. Here is a brief summary of what I found:

I was excited to see spaghetti squash on sale this week! Our favorite spaghetti squash recipe is making an appearance on the menu this week. Seriously, it’s¬†so¬†good! It’s a great introduction to adding spaghetti squash to your diet.

I found a few packages of bagels half off. I bought some to have in the freezer for easy breakfasts for the kids.

There was also a rack of baby back ribs marked half off. I bought those and put in the freezer to use later this month.

Easy Meal Plan

Saturday
Community Event
Chicken Thighs

Sunday
Breakfast for lunch (eggs and bacon)
Pizza (we used up leftovers this past Friday instead of making pizza)

Weeknight Suppers:
Homemade Pizza
Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein x 2
VBS
Baked Chicken Thighs

Sides: Roasted veggies, fresh veggies, fruit

Breakfasts: Oatmeal, bagels (marked down and put in the freezer), eggs

Weekday Lunches: Salads for Shaun and myself (with assorted veggies and some meat), PB sandwiches/butter toast (or whatever they are feeling that day) with veggies and fruit for the kids

Snack Options: Grapes, pretzels, homemade banana bread, homemade yogurt, carrots, celery

What’s on your menu this week?

7 Ways to Meal Plan

This topic is one of my favorite things!!! If you haven’t jumped on the meal planning train yet, give it a try!!! There are so many options that one of these ways to meal plan will work for your family.

blue dinner plate with fork and knife and an overlay saying ways to meal plan

Do you struggle with going out to eat or picking up take out more often than you’d like?

Do you find yourself making frequent trips to the grocery store?

Does food frequently go bad in your fridge?

Does your family eat more junk food than you’d prefer?

Are you so busy you don’t want to think about meal times?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I think making a meal plan just might be the answer for you.

I might be strange, but meal planning makes me excited! I’m not stressed figuring out what I’m going to feed my family each night and it also helps me spend less. Our budget is tight enough that frequent trips for even fast food would prevent us from meeting our financial goals.

If you’ve had a failed experience with menu planning, don’t give up! Try again. Maybe attempt another method and keep tweaking until you have it figured out.

Today, I’m going to share a few different methods of meal planning that you can try!

[For some great tips on spending less on groceries, check out this post!]

7 Ways to Meal Plan

filled out printable meal planner on a kitchen counter with words ways to meal plan

Themed Meal Planning

Come up with a theme for all 7 suppers and each week you simply select a recipe for each night that fits with the theme.

Some theme ideas are:

  • Pasta
  • Soup or Salad
  • Grilling
  • Breakfast
  • International
  • New Recipe
  • Slow Cooker
  • Freezer Meal

A pro of this method is that you don’t have to do as much thinking. You already know what kind of recipe you need for each day.

Seasonal Meal Planning

With this option, you come up with an entire month’s worth of meals for Summer, Winter, and Spring/Fall. You then repeat the same menu each month of that season.

The nice thing about this is that you do the work once and don’t have to think about it. On the downside, there’s not a lot of flexibility and you can’t use the grocery sales as effectively.

Freezer Meal Planning

Have all of your meals be freezer meals. You can do once a month cooking or try doing it twice a month. The bulk of your time in the kitchen will be over and done with all at once. Check out The Family Freezer for a ton of (healthy) recipe ideas!

Monthly Meal Planning

Sit down with your calendar and make a plan for the entire month. Leave a few days blank for leftovers or other plans that come up. You can do the bulk of your grocery shopping at once and just make some extra trips for produce during the month.

Bi-Weekly Meal Planning

Exactly the same as above, except you do it for 2 weeks at a time. I did this method for a while. It seemed more feasible for me than monthly meal planning. After a few years I made the switch to the next meal planning method.

Weekly Meal Planning

Each week sit down with the grocery ads and take inventory of what you already have and make a meal plan! It’s easier to take into account what the upcoming week is going to be like when you do one week at a time. This is what’s worked best for me in this season of life.

Meal Planning Service

There are a myriad of meal planning services out there. They send you a list of the recipes you will be making each week (and often a shopping list as well). I have not had a need to use this type of service, but if you do, here are some to check out!

If you are interested in a meal planning service, be sure to take advantage of free trials to see if it is something that will actually work for your family. Also, research and see what sales these companies have done in the past! It might be beneficial to wait to sign up until one starts.

Let’s get going!

Pick a method to try or even combine 2 methods (maybe themed nights with weekly meal planning, for example). Commit to sit down and make a menu plan for next week and then stick with it. Tweak it the following week and keep adjusting until you find what will work.

If you get the hang of meal planning, you should find yourself saving money, eating better, and maybe even being less stressed!

What’s your meal planning method?

brown handled fork and knife on a blue plate with words way to meal plan

The Best Healthy Chicken Spaghetti

A glass pan with healthy chicken spaghetti in it

Healthy chicken spaghetti? Is it even possible? If you grew up eating the classic version of this dish, you might find yourself wondering.

Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I first ate this dish. My siblings were in town visiting and a friend had us over for supper. My brother loved the chicken spaghetti they made. Of course we got the recipe. Her recipe (and I discovered all the typical chicken spaghetti recipes) contains Velveeta and cream of chicken soup.

Cream soups were something my mom never had in the house growing up. In fact, the only time I remember her using cream soup was for beef stroganoff. Velveeta cheese my mom bought once a year to make cheese dip. So neither ingredient have ever been a part of my pantry either.

I decided to try and make this Mexican Spaghetti using ingredients I keep on hand while keeping the recipe almost as simple as the original.

The experiment was a success! This is my recipe for healthy chicken spaghetti without using any velveeta or canned cream soup. Score.

Such a easy meal and it makes a ton – perfect for eating again a day or two later. This would also be a great dish to bring to a church potluck. Serve with salad or veggies of your choice. The most recent time we had it with sauteed zucchini and carrot & celery sticks.

close up of a glass pan filled with baked healthy chicken spaghetti

A couple of comments:

  • Use whatever type of noodles you like – spelt, wheat, brown rice, or gluten free. (These pictures are with brown rice pasta)
  • If you don’t have access to Rotel (a can of diced tomatoes and green chilis), you can make your own! I’ve done it a couple of times. The Humbled Homemaker has instructions here. I like to use some jalapenos and to roast and peel the peppers before I chop them. (I also de-seed the jalapenos)
  • If you or someone in your house doesn’t care for cream cheese, you can’t even tell it’s in the recipe. It just adds a little extra creaminess and depth of flavor. My husband doesn’t like cream cheese and he doesn’t even know it’s in this dish. So be sure to add it!
  • If you don’t have half and half or cream, you can use milk. In these pictures I used 2 cups of whole milk and decreased the stock to 1 cup.
  • Arrowroot. If that’s something that you don’t have on hand, you can substitute cornstarch or try using flour. I’ve even made this with tapioca flour (I used 2 1/2 tablespoons).

Horizontal picture of a pan of baked healthy chicken spaghetti

Healthy Chicken Spaghetti

5.0 from 2 reviews
Chicken Spaghetti (without Velveeta and Canned Soup)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
 
Ingredients
  • 16 ounces noodles
  • 1-2 cups diced onion (I used two)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can Rotel or 1 cup homemade (regular or mild)
  • 2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 cup cream or half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cup diced cooked chicken
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (can use more)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook noodles to al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or a soup pot, saute the onions. Add garlic and cook until tender.
  3. Add Rotel, chicken broth, and salt and bring to a simmer.
  4. Mix the arrowroot powder in the cream and stir into mixture in the pan.
  5. Add the cream cheese and gently heat the mixture and stir to melt the cream cheese and let the arrowroot powder thicken.
  6. After thickened, stir in 1 cup of shredded cheese and the chicken.
  7. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add the cooked noodles to the pot and stir to combine.
  9. Pour into a 9x13 pan (it will be full) and top with the remainder of the cheese.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

This recipe was originally published May 15, 2014. Updated comments and pictures May 2, 2019.

 

A spoon of healthy chicken spaghetti being taking from the baking dishtwo pictures are healthy chicken spaghetti in a 9x13 panscoop of mexican spaghetti being taken from the baking dishChicken Spaghetti without Velveeta or cream of chicken soup! Yay! We love this and the leftovers are awesome.

Comprehensive List of Basic Kitchen Needs

wooden spoons and a whisk on top of a towel for a list of must have kitchen items

How do you know what to purchase for your kitchen when you are first starting out – what those must have kitchen items are? How do you know if a kitchen gadget is really worth buying and taking up space in your kitchen? Don’t worry, I’m going to make your life easier with this list of basic kitchen needs.

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The Kitchen Essentials List You Need to Have

When my husband I were first married we lived in a duplex with a small kitchen. I had no pantry to store excess tools and appliances.

As you move into bigger homes, you have a little more leeway with what you can have in your kitchen. Today, I want to give you a list of the most important items for your kitchen – the must have kitchen items list. Obviously, if you are someone who doesn’t cook you will be able to eliminate several of things things.

After being married over 12 years, these are the kitchen tools I use on a weekly (if not more frequently) basis. Everyone of them except for the first three items under the possible baking essentials list.

If you have a little extra room in your house, I highly recommend you check out the list of my Favorite Kitchen Tools and my Favorite Kitchen Appliances! Not everything on those lists I would consider essentials, but they are all things I love and use on a regular basis!

wooden spoons with black handles on a towel for a list of must have kitchen items

Basic Kitchen Needs List:

Cooking Kitchen Essentials

  • Vegetable Peeler – Don’t get the cheapest one out there. They hurt your hand and break much sooner.
  • Box Cheese Grater¬†– I don’t buy grated cheese so I use this any time I need grated cheese. I also use it to grate carrots for egg rolls, fried rice, etc.
  • Soup Ladle¬†– There not another great option for dishing up broth-y soups.
  • Slotted Spoon
  • Non Slotted Spoon
  • Can Opener – Buy a decent can opener. They cheap ones are a pain. I have this one. My sister has this one¬†and says it is amazing.
  • Kitchen Shears or a Pizza Cutter¬†–¬† I have a pizza wheel with a handle. I’ve had super cheap ones and the one we have now is middle of the road. It definitely cuts much easier. You can also just skip the pizza cutter and use the shears for pizza along with a myriad of other things.
  • Colander – I have a smaller mesh one and a larger pasta one
  • Cutting Boards – I recommend two large ones (one for veggies & bread and one for meat) and a small size one. I’m needing to replace my full sized cutting boards, so I don’t have specific recommendations for these. My mini sized one is from Pampered Chef, though, and I like it.
  • Food Storage Containers – I love my Pyrex set! The perk of having glass is that you can use them in the microwave and they can double as food prep dishes. I also have a set of decent plastic ones that I like. I’ve found that having some mini containers (4 and 8 ounces) has been really useful!
  • Good Knives.¬†Start with just a couple decent knives. A bread knife, a paring knife, and one or 2 chef’s knives.
  • Good Pots and Pans.¬†Start with an 8 and 10 inch skillet, 1 sauce pot, and a stockpot. You can add to your stash after you know what else you will use. I’d recommend stainless steel for your sauce pot and stockpot at least. Your skillets you’ll have to decide on stainless, non-stick, cast iron, ceramic etc.
  • Silicone Spatula¬†You need this! Great for making cookies or things like scraping out pots and bowls or the last of the peanut butter. Mine is from Pampered Chef and it’s amazing.
  • Pancake Flipper¬†Considering my kids are pancake fans, we use this multiple times a week.
  • Mini Serving Spatula¬†These are the perfect size for brownies and bar desserts. I used mine tonight for lasagna too.
  • Blender –¬†This may or may not be an essential. I mainly use mine for smoothies, oat flour, and salsa. (I’d suggest looking for a great deal on a Vitamix or Blendtec.)

Possible Kitchen Essentials:

  • Potato Masher – If you make mashed potatoes or a lot of your own refried beans, this becomes an essential! If not, try without one for a while. I have one of the ones with holes in the masher part but I could see how the ones with the wavy metal base would be easier to clean. Haven’t tried that kind though.
  • Pasta Fork – This is only an essential if you use spaghetti or fettuccine noodles. If you use elbow, penne etc you could just use the slotted or unslotted spoons.
  • Whisk If you aren’t sure if you’d use it, do without. You can purchase one later.
  • Ice Cream Scoop – This is an essential in our home.¬†If you don’t eat ice cream frequently you can use a sturdy regular spoon. My favorite scoop came from Bed Bath and Beyond but they no longer sell it.
  • Microplane¬†You can get by without this by using your knife for mincing garlic and the small side of your box cheese grater for zesting lemon peel, but I do find myself using the microplane frequently.

Baking Kitchen Essentials

  • Airbake Cookie Sheets – Love these! Perfect for cookies, rolls, breadsticks. Get the lighter colored ones.
  • Cooling Racks I think this one¬†looks nice. If you are short on counter top space, check out the stackable ones.
  • Mini Muffin Tins¬†–¬†This is the pan I have. I prefer having 2 12 cup pans over 1 24. I recommend mini over regular sized ones because they make the perfect sized muffins for kids and when you bring muffins or cupcakes to a function a lot of the time people won’t finish an entire regular sized one and it always makes me a little sad when food I’ve made gets tossed.¬†They are also great¬†size for¬†appetizers
  • 9×13 and a¬†8 or 9 Inch Square Pan – I use these all the time. I actually have 2 of each. Unless you know you’ll be using them a lots start with one of each. All of mine are glass (Pyrex) but you might consider getting one set in glass and one in metal. The metal ones are great for taking places – no worrying about breakage! I also recommend that you buy the ones that come with lids.
  • Measuring Spoons – If you are going to cook or bake at all you’ll want a set, maybe even two. Don’t buy a cheap set. I recommend metal over plastic and prefer a set that included 1/8 of a teaspoon.
  • Measuring Cups – The same as the spoons. These are essentials. If you are a baker, you might want two. Don’t buy a cheap set. I have had plastics ones, and¬†they have accidentally been¬†melted. I also have a cheap set of stainless steel ones and the handles are falling off less than a year later (they just happen to be the first set that currently appears on this link).
  • Liquid Measuring Cups – I have a set that comes with a 1, 2, and 4 cup. The ones that that are angled and you can read standing up make things a little easier but I haven’t seen them in glass. A basic set is fine, no need to spend extra on this.
  • Glass and Metal Mixing Bowls – Get a variety of sizes. Our largest one gets used for tossing big batches of popcorn with butter or making pancakes for a herd. The middle sized one is great for cookies and muffins. The small ones are good for whisking an egg or two. One of my metal bowls nestles perfectly into a saucepan for a double boiler.
  • Stand Mixer¬† – If you aren’t a baker, you can skip this one but I use my KitchenAid 1-3 times each week. It definitely makes kneading dough a lot easier. Don’t get anything small than the 5 quart one.

Possible Baking Essentials:

  • Pie Pan – You¬† may or may not want this depending on how many pies you want. It can also fill in for a cheesecake pan like in this recipe. Honestly, I use mine¬†maybe once a year.
  • Jelly Roll Pan We use this for oven fries or roasting veggies. Mine is an old uncoated one. This gets used on a regular basis.
  • Pastry Brush – If you don’t do much baking, you won’t need this. Most often ours gets used for brushing the butter on top of breadsticks. I use one with natural bristles. If you get a cheap one, the bristles fall out way sooner so be sure to read reviews and don’t by the cheap ones. Some people love the silicone brushes.
  • Rolling Pin – ¬†I have a traditional rolling pin and a pizza and pastry roller that I love! Do you make pizza, sugar roll out cookies, or tortillas? Then this will be a must. If not try without and on the rare occasion you need a rolling pin try using a bottle.
  • Bread Pan – This is an essential if you are going to make homemade bread. Otherwise you can just use the muffin tins for quick breads. If you really want bread pans for quick breads I love this size. Otherwise I use stainless steel bread pans for my yeast bread.
  • Wooden Spoon – this is another item you can do without, but I use mine frequently for stirring sourdough, making cookies, etc. One is plenty.

Other Kitchen Items:

  • Silverware – In my opinion there is no need to buy silverware that is $50 a setting. One the other had, don’t buy¬†the the cheap stuff. It bends easily, tarnishes, and hurts your hand. We purchased a middle of the road set that we really liked from Bed Bath and Beyond. Using one of their 20% off coupons made it a great purchase. A service for 12 cost under $200.
  • Dinnerware – Fine china was something that I didn’t want. When you are in a small house you most likely won’t have space for storing plates that seldom get used. I love corelle. They are thin and won’t take up a lot of space in the cabinet.
  • Glasses – If you are limited on space, make sure your glasses will stack otherwise they will take up a lot of space. Ours came from Ikea and they work great. Next time we’ll most likely purchase something a tiny bit thinner.
  • Hot Pads and Trivets – One or two trivets would be plenty. Hot pads or kitchen towels could always fill in on the occasion you need more. You will want at least 2 hot pads.
  • Wash Clothes and Dish Towels – Enough to get you through to the next wash day. I dislike drying my dishes with the cheap microfiber towels. Look for something that will absorb the water easily.

Don’t forget to hop over to the¬†Favorite Kitchen Tools List and my Favorite Appliances List for more fun kitchen tools! (You’ll also get to hear about my all time favorite appliance. You might be surprised. A total splurge item, but I love it. The kids do too. ūüėȬ†)

What items do you consider kitchen essentials?

wooden spoons and a whisk with words top kitchen essentials

 

Kitchen Essentials! The list of must haves for every kitchen. Great for making wedding registries or updating your own kitchen!

Originally published April 1, 2014. Updated list and graphics April 30, 2019.

Whole Wheat Apple Pancakes

whole wheat apple pancakes stacked on a plate with a bowl of apples next to them

Anyone else have kids who LOVE eating pancakes? I think my family would be okay with a rotation of pancakes and waffles for breakfast everyday of the year. In fact, they frequently make an appearance as an easy weekend lunch too. Today, I have a recipe for whole wheat apple pancakes to switch things up a bit. They are still super easy and if you want to use good old all purpose flour, you can. ūüėČ

[If you want a wonderful, fluffy buttermilk pancake recipe, you need to try this one! Or if waffles are more your thing, I have the easiest sourdough waffle recipe here.]

Whole Wheat Apple Pancakes

This apple pancake recipe is fairly standard recipe but with the addition of some cinnamon (yum) and grated apples!

If you prefer chopped apples, go for it. I find taking a couple washed apples, with the peels still on, to a box cheese grater is the quickest way to get it done. If your apples are super large, you might only need one. I ended up using 1 1/2 apples (my 3 year old gladly helped me out by eating the remaining half).

My girls love these pancakes topped with maple syrup. I recommend making extra and keeping them in the freezer to a fast weekday breakfast. Reheat in the toaster or microwave. Yum!

These whole wheat apple pancakes are also the perfect thing to use up those bruised or slightly past their prime apples. You know, those ones your kids refuse to eat. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. ūüėČ

I know this calls for whole wheat flour (and it’s definitely a great recipe to use it in) but as I mentioned earlier you can definitely sub all purpose flour. If you do choose to use whole wheat flour in this apple pancake recipe, I highly recommend using the soft white variety! It really does make a big difference.

I have young kids, so I don’t make huge pancakes (I know all the other moms out there understand that philosophy) and I got 12 pancakes out of 1 batch.

This batter is fairy thick so I spread the batter out slightly after placing it on the preheated skillet.

One more tip before we get to the recipe.

When you are baking with fruit, or other ingredients that add moisture, you often have to turn down the temperature and cook slightly longer to ensure no doughy middles or overcooked exteriors. These really do pretty well but I keep an I on how quickly they are cooking because no one likes a burnt pancake.

close up shot of whole wheat apple pancakes stacked on a plate with a bowl of apples next to them

Apple Pancake Recipe

Whole Wheat Apple Pancakes
Serves: 6-8
 
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I used sucanat)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or apple pie or pumpkin pie spice)
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups grated apples (I left the skins on)
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.
  2. In a small bowl whisk eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir gently. (I just use a fork.)
  4. Fold in the grated apples.
  5. Cook pancakes over medium heat (or slightly lower).
  6. Top with butter and maple syrup.

This post for whole wheat apple pancakes was originally published November 17, 2013. 

whole wheat apple pancakes stacked on a plate with a bowl of apples next to them

 

Easy and healthy apple pancakes! Freeze well too.

How to Set Financial Goals

Notebook and pens laying on the table and words saying how to set financial goals
Do you ever struggle with follow through? Setting financial goals sounds like a great idea, but sometimes it can be difficult to actually accomplish those goals. I want to help you out with some simple tips for how to set financial goals AND actually accomplish them.

One of the big financial goals we set several years ago was paying off our house. It felt huge and a little scary, a little exciting, and a lot “I can’t believe we are doing this”!

Since we achieved that milestone 3 years ago, a lot of our financial goals have been house projects and of course the always the need to put aside money for things like “new” vehicles when the time comes.

If you need help coming up with financial goals you could set, here is a great list of ideas!

I’ve found have a goal and a plan to be key actually getting things done. If you don’t have a budget you need to start there, because I really do think a budget is a key to financial success.

Now, I’m going to share some great suggestions to help you with setting financial goals for your family. I’ll also share some of the process we went through when deciding to pay off our mortgage early.

How to Set Financial Goals:

1. Discuss the Options

Sit down with your spouse and discuss big saving projects you have or any debts that you need to pay off.

Mortgage, loans, car funds, remodeling projects, college funds, retirement fund, emergency fund, investment opportunities, and travel are all ideas to get you started. (For a more extensive list, check out this post.)

2. Pick a project

Let me give you a recommendation here.

If you don’t have an emergency fund, start there! Dave Ramsey says $1,000 but I’d highly recommend $2,000.

If you have an emergency fun be sure to tackle any debt (besides your mortgage) next.

After you both of those things are done, look at bulking up your emergency fund to 3-6 months of basic living expenses before you move on to paying of your mortgage or other savings goals.

We were debt free with the exception of our mortgage. We had recently purchased a new to us mini van and still had a little money in a car fund that we continued slowly adding to in case our other vehicle needed replaced (with an inexpensive vehicle).

Our emergency fun was fully funded emergency funded and we have no known major expenses coming our way. Yes, our retirement fund and kids’ college accounts could have also use more but we¬†went for paying off the mortgage¬†knowing that not having that would free up more money to budget with each month.

3. Look at the Numbers

Start crunching numbers!

  • What is the total dollar amount needed?
  • Rework your budget or find a side job and see what money you can throw at it.
  • When do you think you can have your goal accomplished?

When we knew paying off the house was a huge goal of ours, I spent some time looking at the numbers.

Seeing how much time we had left paying off the house as is and then seeing when we’d be done if we put all of my paychecks and extra money towards it was motivating.

Seeing the numbers and looking at dates on the calendar made it seem real and possible!

4. Pick a Start Date

It can be easy to get stuck in the planning stage! Don’t do that. Move through the first 3 steps quickly and then pick a start date!¬†

Decide when you are going to start and just do it!

Big goals are hard (and often seem scary). Sometimes you just have to make yourself go for it. Maybe you will start today, maybe it will be one Monday, or maybe the first of the month. Don’t put it off more than that or it’s easy to start losing motivation.

stack of $100 bills and graphic for how to set financial goals

5. Know it Will Be Hard

It’s not going to always be easy. It wouldn’t be a BIG GOAL if it was¬†always easy.

Expect challenges, prepare yourself for them, know it’s not going to last forever, and commit to it 100%! Realize there will have to be sacrifices. You will have to say no to a lot of things. Prepare for this ahead of time and realize it’s okay.

6. Have an End

As you are setting your financial goals, be sure to have an end date!

Goals are hard to keep tackling when those hard moments happen if there is no end in site.

You can have two types of ends:

  • time (a date in the future when you’ll be finished)
  • dollar amount

When we paid off our mortgage, I knew both. I knew how approximately how many months it would take to pay off our mortgage and I also saw the dollar amount owed decrease each month.

7. Celebrate the Milestones

Saving up $10,000, $25,000, or $100,000 is daunting! Sometimes, even the thought of $1,000 is overwhelming.

It might seem like you’ll never get there.

To help keep the end in site and the momentum going, break your goal down and celebrate the mile markers along the way.

It doesn’t have to be anything big (you are on a budget after all).

Do something your family would enjoy that doesn’t cost much (or any) money.

8. Visual Reminders

Keep the goal in front of you! Don’t shove it in the back of your mind where you will forget it.

  • Make a paper chain with one ring for every thousand dollars. When you put in $1,000, remove a chain.
  • Draw in outline of whatever you are saving for or paying off and section it into parts. Divide your total needed by the number of parts on your outline and color in a section each time you reach that amount.

Having even simple visual reminders and being able to see the progress can keep you motivated!

9. Plan a Party

Plan something fun that you want to do when your goal is 100% met!

  • Go out to your favorite restaurant
  • Take a day trip to the zoo or amusement park
  • Buy everyone’s favorite foods at the grocery store that haven’t made the budget cut the last year.

Make it fun and something to look forward to. When we payed off our house the kids were just turned 5, almost 3, and I was 9 months pregnant. I was all about keeping things simple. My family loves pizza, so we celebrated with homemade pizza with pepperoni in the shape of a house and a cookie cake the kids helped decorate with a house made from sprinkles. Super simple and cheap but my young kids though it was the neatest thing ever.

Don’t expect it to be easy, but with these 9 steps on how to set financial goals you can select a goals and start tackling it with confidence!

I’m cheering you on. I’ll never forget that moment we sent that last payment and again when it was posted on our lender’s website that we owed $0!

Do you have any tips for successfully setting financial goals? What goals that you are trying to nail this year?

Pens and notebook with words on top for how to set financial goals

How to set financial goals (and succeed at them)!!! Great tips that will help you decide what to set and keep you motivated! (Paying off the house is our BIG goal right now!)

 

You might also want to check out these posts:10 super easy ways to drastically lower your grocery budget! I've saved thousands of dollars doing these over the years. GREAT ideas!

The Secret to Financial Success! Sitting down and doing this as a couple and actually following through as made a world of difference. You'll want to start today!

Financial goals can be scary and exciting! This year we are focusing on paying off our house - here's how we are doing it!

5 steps to go from surviving to thriving

 Linking up to these fun parties!

How to set financial goals (and succeed at them)!!! Great tips that will help you decide what to set and keep you motivated! (Paying off the house is our BIG goal right now!)

Easy English Muffin Bread Recipe

Row of sliced english muffin bread

Do yourself a favor and add this English muffin bread recipe to your repertoire! Bake up a few loaves, slice, toast, butter and enjoy! We love having this with soups and for breakfast. You can turn it into breakfast sandwiches, serve along side eggs, or simply enjoy spread with your choice of toppings.

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I’ve made traditional English muffins before and they are delicious but I’m all about saving steps and therefore saving time! Those minutes add up when we are taking care of our kiddos and trying to get all the things done. That’s where this bread comes it. English muffins without the shaping, griddling, flipping and all that.

Side note, have you ever wondered where English muffins came from? I was curious so I Googled. Wikipedia says that there were references to English muffins as early as 1850. But English muffins were “officially” invented in New York by a man who moved there from England and started his own bakery! This man was Samuel Bath Thomas. Ever heard of Thomas English muffins? Yep, that’s him!

Now, back to this English muffin bread recipe!

This recipe has ingredients you should have on hand. Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, milk, water, and baking soda (to help with the holes in the bread).

This dough is very sticky, it will not be like a traditional bread dough, so don’t add too much flour! You dump it into the pans and spread the dough out.

English muffin bread batter in the pans

See the stickiness of that dough?!

You will need to make sure you have prepared your pans properly, besides you need cornmeal for the traditional English muffin look! I used my USA pans (this set of 4 mini pans), spread with a little butter and sprinkled the bottom and sides with cornmeal. If you want, you could also sprinkle a little on the top before baking.

I like making this in 4 small loaf pans, but you could also do it in 2 regular sized ones. If you don’t use USA pans be sure you butter and cornmeal really well!
A great thing about this English muffin bread is that it comes together quickly! Hooray! I pull out my stand mixer and use the paddle attachment but the dough is soft enough that you can easily make it in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon.

Let’s get to the recipe! I hope you enjoy this as much as we do. Be sure to check out this recipe for Homemade French Bread as well – you will love it!

Sliced English muffin bread on a cutting board

English Muffin Bread

English Muffin Bread Recipe
 
Ingredients
  • 5½ cups flour
  • 2 pkgs. yeast (1½ tablespoons)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 c. milk
  • ½ c. water
Instructions
  1. Measure 3 c. of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, soda into large bowl or stand mixer and mix. Have 2½ additional cups of flour ready.
  2. Heat liquids in pan on stove to 120-125 degrees.
  3. Add hot liquids to yeast/flour mixture. Beat vigorously with wooden spoon until mixture is very smooth, elastic, about 5 minutes or in the mixer using the paddle attachment for 3 minutes.
  4. Add remaining flour, continue beating until smooth. Divide into equal parts.
  5. Grease 2 pans and sprinkle with cornmeal. Put dough in pans. Pat top of loaves smooth with floured hands as well as you can. Let rise 45 minutes. (Covering with a tea towel - no plastic wrap because this dough is sticky!)
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
  7. You can divide the dough into 4 parts and bake in 4 smaller pans - what I like to do, or use 2 regular sized bread pans.

Slice english muffin bread and a partial loaf sitting on a cutting board

 

Creative Ways to Earn Extra Money

table with computer and ways to earn extra money

This post uses affiliate links. See our disclosure page for more information.

When finances are extra tight and a Total Money Makeover seems impossible, sometimes we need to look at ways to earn extra money! It very well could be we have an income problem, not a budgeting or spending problem.

Discouraging, I know! Especially as busy moms, with a lot on our plates, finding ways to earn extra money can seem pretty daunting.

Little bits of extra money you earn here and there add up over the months and years! It really can make a difference in your finances. I know it has in mine. It’s how we paid off our house early, saved up for house projects, and, just this last year, took a trip to Disney World. Has it always been easy? Nope. But all the work really has been worth it. Promise.

Here is a list of ways to earn extra money that will hopefully help get your brain going so you can find something that works for you and your family! Don’t give up – it might take some experimenting!

Another resource to check out is Crystal Paine’s book Money Making Mom!

Ways to Earn Extra Money

Swagbucks

There are several ways to earn with Swagbucks – everything from surveys, games, watching videos, and searching on the internet. You can see some of the details on earning Swagbucks here and here. Sign up using my link and you can get 300 Swagbucks!

When you earn Swagbucks you can purchase gift cards from many retailers. Amazon is one of my favorite ones to buy. I love that you can start buying gift cards with 300 Swagbucks so no waiting for an exorbitant amount of time. Use them for gifts or even supplement or food items!

Part Time Job

I know this one is hard, especially for us moms with little kids. But it is worth looking for a part time job you can work around your husband’s hours. Maybe something as simple as delivering pizza one or two nights a week or finding a seasonal weekend job at a retailer.

Watch the classifieds, ask around, and also pay attention in Facebook groups. You might be surprised with what you find.

Fiverr

Can you write, edit audio or video, record voice work, do graphic design, or any of numerous other things? Check out Fiverr! No start up cost and low time commitment to start up, so it will be easy to experiment with and see what you can offer. My husband does voice on Fiverr periodically.

Virtual Assistant

Skilled at organization, writing sales copy, running social media, editing? There is probably someone out there that can use your help! Check out Moms Work Hard for information.

Babysit

Watch your friend’s kids a couple hours after school until she is off of work. Have date night babysitting you offer monthly.

pile of $1 bills and ways to earn extra money

Present Wrapping Service

I can’t be the only one that is horrible at wrapping presents and gets absolutely no enjoyment out of it. But I know that some of you¬†love¬†it. Sell your gift wrapping skills! Christmas time you could pick up a lot of business and during the year advertise your services for birthdays.

Sell Baked Goods

I enjoy baking and cooking. Some people don’t. If you are skilled at baking bread, Christmas cookies, dinner rolls, fudge and so forth considering selling your goodies.¬†Please research Cottage Food Laws for your state before you get started. Rules and regulations greatly vary. You will also need to register with your state to file sales tax.

Rake Leaves/Shovel Snow

Get your kids involved and depending on the season rake leaves or shovel snow. Weeding would be another option. Print up flyers and hand them out around your neighborhood.

Clean Homes

Do you have cleaning down to an art form? Clean a few houses (or businesses) on the side each week. Businesses you could likely do during the evening hours.

Help with Parties and Events

Especially during the holiday season, but also through the rest of the year, Individuals and business are both hosting parties. If you are a skilled organizer and hard worker, market your services as either an event planner, event host, or an event assistant. Christmas or New Year’s parties, baby showers, birthday parties, work events and retreat and more could use your services.

Photography

Are you skilled behind a camera? Look into doing photo shoots! I know the market can be hard to get into in some areas, but start with your friends and family and give them a discount as you build your portfolio. Even if you just do this once or twice a month, it will add up.

Teach Music Lessons

Can you sing or play an instrument well? Considering giving weekly lessons! Set aside one afternoon each week to teaching. My sister gives lessons each Tuesday afternoon and evening. If you are just getting started make sure your prices are competitive.

Graphic Design

If this is your talent, there are so many people that need you! Whether an individual designing an invitation or large or small businesses. Businesses needs logos, graphics for social media, business cards, presentation and so forth done with a professional look all the time! You can save them time and give them a better result with your services.

Sell Another Skill

Think about what other skills you have. Are there ways you can market your skill and sell it to others? We’ve already talked about babysitting, baking, photography, graphic design and cleaning. That is just the beginning. I know people that are talented artists and get hired to paint murals on bedroom walls. Think about what excel at doing and how you can market that talent.

Sell Stuff

I dare say the majority of us have too many things. What do you have that is quality and something that others will want? Places to possibly¬† sell are Ebay, Facebook groups, declutter.com, or even a garage sale. This is an immediate way to earn money and you will also be organizing and decluttering items you don’t use – win win! Some people take this a step further and find things on clearance or at thrift stores or garage sales that they know they can resell on Ebay for a decent profit.

Donate Plasma

I’ve never done this but I have a sister that has sold plasma to save money for gifts and other fun items she wanted.

Surveys

This won’t make you rich but would allow you to save up a dollar here and there as you take surveys. Swagbucks, as I mentioned above, has surveys but also check out places like Pinecone Research.

Grocery Apps

Here comes some bonus tips that save/earn you money. Try using Fetch Rewards (use referral code: XF5MX to get 2,000 points for signing up) to scan your grocery receipts and earn a few extra pennies each time to head to the store. Check out Ibotta (receive a welcome bonus for using my link) and Checkout 51 for coupons on items you are already purchasing.

Ebates

We love Ebates. Don’t go and buy something you weren’t already planning on but anything you are buying online, check and see if you can go through Ebates. We use it when booking hotels through Hotwire, when we need to make purchases from Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Vitacost etc! It’s nice to get even the small percentage back.

Join Ebates through my link and spend at least $25 and you’ll get $10!

Remember to check every time you are going to order something online! (Or see if you can order online and do in store pick up.)

Find Ways to Save Money

One of the best ways to “earn” money it to find ways to spend less and rework your budget! I’d say it’s one of the easiest ways as well – because it doesn’t involve finding extra hours each week to work. But it does take discipline to say no to those little splurges. Make a menu plan and spend less on groceries, say no to coffee, drink water, have a no spend challenge. Here are some ideas on ways to save even on a tight budget!

What ways to earn extra money are your favorites? Anything else to add to this list? Pick a few of these small ideas and one of the bigger ones and give them a try! See how much money you can earn in the next 6 months.

desk with computer and magazines. Ways to earn extra money

Healthy Broccoli Chicken Stir Fry

plate with broccoli chicken stir fry

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During our recent Whole30 we made this recipe three times. We also served it with brown rice for the reintroduction phase. All that to say, we are fans of this easy, healthy broccoli chicken stir fry! My husband proclaimed it his favorite way to eat broccoli.

Most days I don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen so fast recipes are my favorites. This one is really so simple!

If you are gluten free or on Whole30 soy sauce is a no no, however¬†coconut aminos is an option, but I couldn’t find it in our Wal-Mart and didn’t want to spend a fortune on a small bottle so we did without. Even without soy sauce or coconut aminos this recipe had great flavor.

I recommend that you make this broccoli chicken stir fry without the soy or aminos and instead have the bottle of coconut aminos or soy sauce at the table to use to taste.

If you like an extra kick, I highly recommend serving this with Sambal Oelek chili paste! It’s how I had mine and it was so good. I love the spice and depth of flavor the paste adds. (I also always add it to my serving of fried rice.)

We loved this served with either cauliflower rice or brown rice! Both ways made a delicious meal.

Ingredients:

Chicken. I used boneless chicken breasts each time, but boneless thighs would work as well.
Broccoli. Fresh broccoli is the best for this recipe! I buy a head and wash and cut it myself.
Onion. Half of a fresh onion, diced!
Garlic.¬†Don’t skimp! Get two large cloves of fresh garlic. I love to use a microplane to grate it.
Ginger. Buy a knob of fresh ginger. Keep what you don’t use in the freezer for later. Again, the microplane is perfect for grating the ginger.
Chicken broth.¬†Because this recipe doesn’t use soy sauce, you need broth instead of water to get a good depth of flavor.
Arrowroot Powder. You could also use cornstarch. You just need a little to thicken the liquid slightly.
Rice Vinegar. Rice vinegar is so good! I love using it in pretty much all stir fry type dishes.
Sesame Oil. Another of my favorite ingredients for this type of food (and for Asian style salad dressings)
Coconut Aminos or Soy Sauce. Totally optional. We did without during Whole30.
Sambal Oelek. I love adding this chili paste for an extra kick!
Cooked Rice or Cauliflower Rice. Choice one to serve the broccoli chicken stir fry on. Both are amazing!

plate with broccoli chicken stir fry

How many does this serve? My family of 2 adults and 3 kids got one meal out of this recipe. It would depend, also, on how much caulirice or brown rice you served it on and if you had any sides.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

P.S. The other recipe we ate weekly on our Whole30 were these amazing baked crispy chicken thighs!

Broccoli Chicken Stir Fry

Healthy Broccoli Chicken Stir Fry
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound fresh broccoli
  • 1 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
  • oil for sauteing
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked brown rice or cauliflower rice
  • soy sauce or coconut aminos, optional, for serving
  • sambal oelek, optional, for serving
Instructions
  1. Cut and wash the broccoli.
  2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken and diced onion in the hot pan. Cook a few minutes and then add the garlic and ginger. Continue cooking until the onion is tender and chicken almost cooked through.
  3. Add the broccoli and continue to cook.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the chicken broth, arrowroot power, and rice vinegar. Pour over the broccoli chicken mixture. Cover the pan and cook until broccoli reaches desired tenderness.
  5. Remove from the heat and add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve over prepared brown rice or cauliflower rice with soy sauce, coconut aminos, or sambal oelek if desired!

plate with broccoli chicken stir fry

 

Easy Valentine’s Day Party Ideas for Your Kids

It’s February. In our house that means birthday season begins and Valentine’s Day! Let’s chat easy Valentine’s Day party ideas today!

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I’m not big on Hallmark holidays or gimmicky events, but I have kids and they like to enjoy life. If your kids are in school, I’m sure they have a Valentine’s party or two. We homeschool so our Valentine’s celebrations, beyond what we do as a family, consist of handing out cards in Sunday School and giving treats to some of the elderly members.

After years of talking about it, this year my daughter is going to have a simple Valentine’s party with a few of her friends!

Two things have to happen for this to come together. First, simplicity is a must. I can’t do over the top, time intensive events. It’s not my personality and I don’t have the time to pull it off. Second, an event has to be budget friendly! I’m all about living within your means and finding ways to stick with a budget – even for a party. ūüėČ

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get into these Valentine’s Day party ideas that are¬†both easy and budget friendly! Double win. If I can do it, you can do it – trust me!

Easy Valentine’s Day Party Ideas for Your Kids

Guests

Let’s start with the guests! Coming up with a reasonable number of kids to invite is a great way to keep things simple and frugal. If you have a lot of kids, maybe let them each invite a certain amount of people. If you have one child that’s “hosting” the party, you could just have 3 or 4 other kids over.

Decorations

Keep it simple. The kids don’t need it to be elaborate. Just decorate the table and area where they will be eating and call it good! We picked up some window clings and a banner on clearance a few years ago and the kids love putting them up each February. Pick up a white, red, or pink tablecloth and some candy hearts or confetti to sprinkle on the table and you are good to go! You could set the table with glass dishes for a “fancier” look or pick up themed plates from the dollar store.

Food

If you ask my kids, they would say this is the most important part! They get so excited thinking about what they want to eat it’s comical.

I have two simple food ideas for your Valentine’s party. Let your kids choose between them each year. Remember that less fancy appeals to more palates – especially when your kids are young. So don’t go crazy!

Option 1: Breakfast Theme

Almost every child loves pancakes. Make up a big batch of pancake batter and cook them fresh for the party. You could even get fancy and make them in heart shapes. I know my 8 and 5 year old are obsessed with shaped pancakes.

Of course have syrup set out. If you wanted to get extra fancy, put out a dish of whipped cream and some sliced strawberries.

You really don’t have to even do anything else. Sure, you could add some fruit or bacon or sausage but honestly, it’s a party for kids – so you don’t have too! You can serve juice or water for drinks.

Option 2: Make Your Own Pizza

This will be a huge success! Make pizza dough (my recipe is here) and pizza sauce¬†and prepare all of the toppings ahead of time.¬† Have a pizza station set up on your table or kitchen counter and give each child a lump of dough and have them roll it out. Put it on a baking sheet and let them add toppings.¬† Then it’s time to bake and eat!

They will think this is so much fun. Again, this is a party for kids. Don’t worry about the sides. If you really want something, put out some carrots sticks but I think they’ll be thrilled with just the pizza.

We’ll talk about dessert coming up! It gets to play dual purpose!

Activities

Have one or two simple activities.  Maybe an easy craft and then dessert.

Painting

Pick up a pack of small canvases (5×7 or 4×6 is fine) at Hobby Lobby with a 40% off coupon and a bottle of red or pink paint (or even blue)! Raid your craft supplies for some heart stickers and have the kids make a canvas like this to take home.

Decorate Cookies

Combine dessert and an activity into one. Have heart shaped sugar cookies already cut out, baked, and cooled. Prepare little bowls of frosting (and sprinkles if you’d like) and let the kids all decorate cookies! They can have a few to eat and then also bring a small plate home.

That’s it! With these easy Valentine’s Day party ideas you will be mom of the year!

Simple decorations, some kid friendly food, a few friends and an activity or two and your kids will have a blast!

If your kids are a lot older or younger than mine, adapt the ideas to work! Older kids will know what they do and don’t want to do. A movie night might be more their style or simply hanging out with friends. Kids a lot younger, keep it even simpler!

I hope your party is a success and stress free! Do you have any favorite Valentine’s Day party ideas to share? Leave them in a comment!