Author Archives: Deanna Michaels

Easy Meal Plan

chalkboard with the word meal on it.

This week was a strange one! We’ve only had 1 of our kids for almost all of. Let’s just stay it’s been abnormally quiet and a lot more picked up around our house. (The last time I’ve had one child at home was over 6 years ago when our second was born!) We met up with the grandparents for an outing and then the big two went on home with them. They come back tomorrow. My 3 year old has done so well being alone (for her first time ever) but I think she’ll be so excited for her siblings to be around.

Because we just had the 3 of us, I wanted to tackle some projects around the house so meals were extra simple. No great markdowns or deals this week, either.

If you are new to the world of meal planning, be sure to check out this post on 7 different methods you can try! And obviously it’s even okay to switch up your methods for different period. 

And I have to ask, is it soup weather where you are at yet? I’m looking forward to making my first soup of the season soon! It’s been so hot for so long.

Easy Meal Plan

Saturday
(This is the day we were gone with Shaun’s parents)
Mexican Restaurant
Freddy’s

Sunday
Cereal (yep, that’s what happens when you are short on kids)
Pizza at small groups

Weeknight Suppers:
A bowl with teriyaki Chicken, roasted brussel sprouts/broccoli/onions/bell pepper, & brown rice x 2
Leftover pizza and veggies
Chorizo, Scrambled eggs, and sauteed veggies
Homemade Pizza (the kids are back)

Breakfasts: Pancakes

Weekday Lunches: Salads for Shaun and myself (with assorted veggies and some meat), PB sandwiches/butter toast with veggies and fruit for Reagan

Snack Options: Grapes and pretzels

What’s on your menu this week?

Must Have Kitchen Tools

Stainless steel skillet on a cutting board with a cooked egg

Don’t we all have those favorite things in our kitchen? Those must have kitchen tools that we always want to use? Sometimes, using them even makes you happy! Typically they make your life easier or work so much better than most.

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In my last post I shared my list of kitchen essentials. These are the things that are pretty much a necessity, even if you kitchen is tiny. I also tackled my favorite kitchen appliances here.

Today I’m filling you in on my favorite must have kitchen tools! Most of them are all essentials and some of them are brand dependent. I use these items week in and week out and often times day in and day out. (Be sure to check out the list of small kitchen appliances to know what else I use often!)

Good Pots and Pans

Several years ago we upgraded our pans to a stainless steel Calphalon set from Bed Bath and Beyond. I love them. They can also go in the oven (with the lids) up to 450 degrees. My set has 8 pans and pots plus lids. So much better than the really old, falling apart set we were using. 🙂

If you don’t cook a lot or are limited on space, I’d recommend an 8 and 10 inch skillet, 1.5 quart sauce pan, 3 quart sauté pan, and a 6 or 8 quart stockpot depending on your family size or if you’ll be cooking for groups. You can always add more later, but if you have limited cabinet space, these are the essentials. If you get a non stick pan, get an 8 or 10 inch skillet.

I recommend buying good quality cookware. You are going to have these things for a long time so you want to love them. Cheaper pans tend to warp and not cook evenly. When we were shopping, our top brands we considered were the higher tiered Calphalon products and All Clad. They are expensive so that did mean it took us a few years to purchase them.

Rubber Spatula

I have the classic scraper from Pampered Chef and love them. Would recommend having two. (Don’t tell anyone, but I actually have three and there are times when they are all dirty at once!) Don’t buy the cheap ones. They will fall apart way easier and not work nearly as well. I use them for cooking, baking, and scraping.

Kitchen Tongs

Buy the ones that lock (by pulling up the head not with the sliding ring)! These are great for flipping meat on the skillet, serving salad, removing corn on the cob from hot water and so much more. I have this one from OXO.

Kitchen Shears

I love using kitchen shears. They are perfect for snipping fresh herbs, green onions, or chives. They are also used weekly to cut my daughter’s pizza into bite sized pieces. You can use a pair for cutting meat into chunks and another for slicing your homemade cinnamon rolls to put in a pan.

Mini Cutting Board

This gets used all the time in our home. It’s perfect for a small job – cutting an apple or grapefruit in half, rough chopping a small amount of veggies, mincing just a clove or two of garlic. I love how little space it takes up. Great size to put in the cooler or slide under a car seat to take on a road trip.

wooden spoon and whisks on a counter

Cheese Plane

The cheese planes for hard and semi hard cheeses are awesome! You can slice cheese in a perfect thickness. No more overly thick slices of cheese for sandwiches, grilled cheese, or crackers. A block of cheese will go much further. This gadget might just save you money.

Flat Risotto Spoon/Saute Paddle

This wooden spoon is perfect for sauteing, browning meat,  and stirring anything you are cooking. The flat edge helps scrape the bottom of the pan much more effectively than a spoon.

Good Knives

You don’t need a block of knives. Instead get fewer but better quality knives. This is something I’d do over again if I could. We registered for a knife block when we got married and they are all very dull. We started replacing our knives with the Wusthof brand. Next I need to get a good sharpener. I would buy 2 Chef’s knives, a paring knife, and a bread knife to start. Do you have a favorite knife brand to share?

Mini Serving Spatula

These are the perfect size to serve any dessert made in a pan. We use it all the time for sweets and main dishes. When mine broke a few years ago it was something that I immediately replaced.

Pancake Turner Spatula

This gets used for pancakes, quesadillas, grilled cheese and other such items in our house. Whether you get stainless steel or silicone or nylon will depend on if you use non stick surfaces to cook your pancakes on.

Pizza Stone

If you make homemade pizza, this is a must have! I have two and they make the best pizza crusts. Well worth the investment. I have the large round stone from Pampered Chef but you can find them many places.

Salad Spinner

This in an item I’d say depends on your salad eating habits. If you make large quantities of salad, you are going to want this. Getting your lettuce dry is so much simpler and it lasts longer. I prepare a large quantity of lettuce for us to use for salads during the week every Sunday and this makes it a breeze. My spinner is one of the push knob kinds.

Microplane

Use this to add garlic, ginger, or nutmeg to a dish. It’s also perfect for zesting citrus fruit. If you don’t do a lot of cooking with fresh garlic or nutmeg you can skip tool and simply mince it with a knife and cutting board, but the microplane is amazing. 😉

USA Pans

I only discovered these a few years ago but I am obsessed! They use a silicone coating and are nonstick. I first made egg muffins in these and was amazed when the eggs popped right and I hadn’t treated the pan at all. They are more expensive that your basics pans, so I have been building my stash slowly. I have the mini muffin tin, regular muffin pan, mini loaf pan set, and one larger loaf pan.

What are your go to, must have kitchen tools? I have one I’m wanting to try and honestly, I hope I get to update this list with it.

Between this list, the kitchen essentials and favorite kitchen appliances, you’ll have a pretty stocked kitchen that you’ll want to spend time in!

Sharp knife on a wooden cutting board

My Favorite Kitchen Tools! You will want to make sure you have these in your kitchen: cheese plane, rubber spatula, good pots and pans and more! Great ideas for my kitchen or a wedding registry.

Originally published April 3, 2014. Updated August 29, 2019.

Easy Meal Plan

This week was a simple week when it comes to meals. Most of my shopping was done at Aldi. We grabbed lettuce at Wal-Mart and bell peppers that were on sale at another local store. We are eating almost the same thing Monday-Thursday. I’m okay with keeping things easy because our days always seem to go by quickly and it’s going to keep getting busier until the end of the year! 

If you haven’t done much in the way of meal planning, be sure to check out this post on 7 different methods you can try!

This week there weren’t any spectacular finds in the grocery ads and I didn’t find any markdowns I wanted to buy. A little sad but it makes me appreciate the weeks I do even more. 🙂

Easy Meal Plan

Saturday
Chocolate Chip Pancakes (The kids were so excited! We haven’t made pancakes for a while)
Taco Salad

Sunday
Nachos
Pizza

Weeknight Suppers:
Roasted Veggies, raw bell peppers, and Chicken Drumsticks x 2
Roasted Veggies, raw bell peppers, and Sausage
Chicken Drumsticks, fresh veggies, and chips
Homemade Pizza

Breakfasts: Bagels (marked down and put in the freezer – I told them they need used up this week!)

Weekday Lunches: Salads for Shaun and myself (with assorted veggies and some meat), PB sandwiches/butter toast/ x 3, leftover pizza, mac and cheese on Friday 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?

Easy, Delicious Mango Lassi Recipe

Mason jar with a straw filled with a mango lassi

You need to put this mango lassi recipe on your “need to make asap” list!

It’s creamy, refreshing, and super simple to make. This post will tell you how to make a mango lassi. (And let me be honest, it really isn’t that difficult. 🙂 )

It’s no secret that I enjoy Indian food (as evidenced by these recipes: Butter Chicken, Naan, Peas Pilau, Spicy Indian Chicken Sandwich, and Indian Layer Dip). Side tangent: My sister makes amazing Indian food and it’s always fun to eat her cooking when we visit. She makes authentic Indian food – it’s the real deal and exceptional. My “Indian” recipes are Americanized – made simpler and adapted to our life. 😉

I also love yogurt and mangos so when you put all three things together you know it’s going to be a hit! Mango lassi is a wonderful, easy, and healthy treat.

It’s a refreshing drink perfect for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

(Side story. I can only think of one time I’ve had a mango lassi and not enjoyed it. That time was at an Indian restaurant for my sister’s rehearsal dinner. I’m sure the drink in and of itself was great, but the fact that it was served in glasses hot from the dishwasher made it sub par. So be sure you don’t use warm glasses. 😉 )

This easy mango lassi comes together quickly and is good for you! No refined sugars or added ingredients. My kids enjoy this as much as I do!

This will make 2-3 servings depending on how big you want them. This mango lassi recipes is also super easy to double (or triple)!

Ingredients:

  • Yogurt (I use my homemade yogurt. You could use store bought or even a dairy free yogurt.)
  • Ripe, fresh mangos – peeled and pit removed.
  • Ice cubes: optional depending on your temperature preference
  • Milk (Cow milk or dairy free). If you want a super thick lassi, you can even omit this all together or cut it back.
  • Sweetener. What you use and the quantity is completely up to your and your preferences. You can try sugar, maple syrup, honey, or a tiny bit of stevia.

Now, here’s the recipe! It really is as simple as it seems.
Mangos and a glass filled a mango lassi on a table


Mango Lassi
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups plain yogurt
  • 1 cup chopped mango (1 mango)
  • Honey/maple syrup/sugar to taste (1-3 teaspoons)
  • 3 ice cubes, optional
  • ½ cup milk, optional (may want if you use a really thick yogurt)
Instructions
  1. Place yogurt and mango chunks in the blender. When smooth add sweetener to taste.
  2. Add ice cubes and or milk if using. Blend well so completely smooth.
  3. Serve immediately.

 

How do you make a mango lassi? It would be fun to add berries or pineapple for a twist!

Linking up to these fun parties!

2 glasses of mango lassi and fresh mangos on a wooden table

So good! Easy, Healthy, and Refreshing Mango Lassi. I Love this drink. #mangos #yogurt

Originally published August 22, 2014.

 

 

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. 🙂 (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. 😉 )

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. 😉

[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. 😉

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!)