Meal Planning for Busy Moms, part 1 {the why}

by Edie Wadsworth on January 14, 2013

This is part 1 of a 4 part series. Read part 2 (the where), part 3 (the how), and part 4 (the conclusion) to get the full picture of how to integrate this meal planning guide into your normal routine!

meal planning for busy moms

This month our theme here is time. How can we better use our time to serve others?
This is part one of a three part series on meal planning that will help start your year off right and save you lots of time and stress!

At the bottom of this post, I link to a few online recipes.  Would you pick your  one favorite online recipe and link to it in the comments?  I’d so appreciate it!

It was ten years ago and I was standing in the middle of my kitchen at 5pm  with four hungry kids pawing at my legs and a hungry husband who would soon return home from work.

I had just graduated from residency and was working part time at the ER on the weekends but most of my days came to a climax in this very spot, at this very hour, in my kitchen.  This particular day something shifted inside me and I decided that 5pm, when everyone’s tired and hungry and whiny, is not a good time to think about what’s for dinner.  I also decided that it was high time I started taking this job, that I was apparently going to have to think about every day, seriously.

At first I was angry and thought,  ”How dare them get hungry at this very time every. single. day.”  (Doesn’t it seem like they’re always hungry?)

And then I began to realize that of all the things I could spend my time and effort doing, learning to cook well and plan meals is probably among the  most important for a busy mom.

So, I made myself a student of the Food Network and  of cooking magazines and the more I learned about cooking and practiced it myself, the more I began to love it.

We tend to dislike things we’re not good at and many of us have a disdain for cooking and meal planning because we haven’t yet tackled that area of our lives.

I’m here to convince you that it’s so worth it!  I’m still figuring it out but I want to bring you along with me so you and your family can start reaping the benefits of this.

Rome wasn’t built in a day so be patient with yourself.  Take baby steps but take steps!

There are so many benefits to cooking at home and having some semblance of an idea of what you’re gonna cook.

1.   It reduces stress.

I had come to hate the bewitching 5 o’clock hour back then.  It was like a daily reminder to me that I didn’t have it all together.  The guilt would ensue and then I’d start making all kinds of excuses for myself.   “I have four kids, for crying out loud.  Do you expect me to keep them alive and cook TOO?”  or   “That’s just not one of my spiritual gifts.  Some people cook every day.  I don’t.”

And don’t get me wrong, there are some seasons in life where it feels impossible to put meals on the table.  I know.   But all the more reason to have a plan.   Any plan.  I promise you that when you put some effort and thought into this daily, recurring stressor, it will pay dividends.  You won’t be nearly as stressed and you’ll have a sense of control over your life that is very empowering.

2.  It’s healthier.

Cooking at home with a plan has so many advantages, healthwise.   You know what you’re eating and you can control how much salt, sugar, and fat there is.   You can also be in control of buying more local produce and eating seasonally.  (Better yet, start a small vegetable garden this spring and eat as local as possible!)   When we eat out, we almost always eat more calories and we often eat on the run, losing the benefits of the ‘family around the table’ and also impairing digestion.

3.  It costs less.

Eating out is terribly expensive.   Learning to cook at home with some sort of purpose of plan will save you lots of money.  I’ll give you examples tomorrow of how it works but you probably already sense that it’s true.  And just think of all that you could do with that money you spend on mediocre food.

4.  It’s  a great way to serve your family.

I know, I’ve said it before but hospitality begins at home.  And what better way to serve the ones we love than to feed them well.  Meal planning is a great way to keep you accountable.  You’re not tempted to eat out all the time if you have a plan for what you’re eating.  These beautiful people?  They like to eat.  Regularly.

 meal planning for busy moms

 Things to consider–

Now you’ll have a different list but here’s what I take into account when making my meal plan:

1.  Schedule—-I usually make something  easy-ish on Mondays.  Mondays are frought with enough resistance.  Often, we have soup because I can cook it in the morning and let it’s flavors meld together.   On Tuesdays, my girls have an early ballet class so I try to make something that can be made ahead of time and reheated easily.  On Wednesdays, there’s no dance and I have more time to cook so I’ll do more gourmet-ish things.  You get the picture.  You have to figure it out for your family’s schedule.

2.  Variety—- I don’t always succeed but I try to vary the meats, the textures, the flavors, etc.  I try to vary the method of cooking and use seasonal items as much as possible.  I wish I could say that I shop only the sales and then make my meals based on that but I don’t always do that either.  I think finding a system that works for you, no matter it’s limitations, is better than the ‘winging it’ that most of us have always done.

3.  Flexibility—–One of the reasons I’ve resisted long range meal planning is because I’m SO fickle.  How can I decide today that I want to have cheese tortellini soup two weeks from Monday?   I might totally change my mind.  I might die at the thought of cheese tortellini soup on that particular Monday.

Side note:  I had the same trouble as a child.  I could NEVER agree to picking out my clothes the night before.  These decisions change moment by moment.  Who could possibly know the night before which outfit might be ‘right’ for this given day???

I get around this by giving myself room to change my mind whenever my little heart desires.  But in three months, I could have a wonderful year-long meal plan.

And that?  Gets me very excited.

Don’t worry, tomorrow, I’m bringing the nitty gritty.

Today, think about how you might start to implement a plan.  I recently started using Google Calendar and will tell you step by step how I do it but that might not be a good fit for you.

Give it some thought and come back tomorrow for details!

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I wanted to leave you with some tried and true recipes that you can scan and see if they’ll be a good fit for your family.   You can add these to your Calendar and I’ll show you exactly how I’ve been implementing mine tomorrow.  If you don’t have any ideas for this week, this will get you started.

 Skillet pork and peppers

Cheese Tortellini Soup

 Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken

 Chicken and egg soup with Pastina

 Beef Stew

Ruth’s freezer meals

 

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Don’t forget to link up at the end of the month with your post on time management.  How are you finding strategies to make the most of your time?  What is your favorite ‘time hack’?  We’ll meet here January 30th!

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{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ruth @ Living Well Spending Less January 14, 2013 at 7:18 am

Oh girl, I have to laugh this morning because I literally JUST finished writing my post for this morning on freezer cooking. I gotta admit I am slightly terrified by your color-coded computer schedule–I don’t think I love my family quite THAT much–but so right there with you on all the reasons it makes sense to plan ahead! Happy Monday my friend! xoxo

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2 edie January 14, 2013 at 7:58 am

well, happy monday sweet dear! and i just added you to my internet list:))
thank you for all the great advice this weekend and mostly the caring shoulder to lean on!
xoxo,
edie

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3 Kirsten January 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

You so sweetly requested we comment, so I will. I love to cook but do it so seldom because of the whole planning-part and never knowing in advance what I/we may be in the ‘mood’ for. So, I’m quite interested in seeing how your ‘strategy’ might work in giving my family great meals around an inviting table with a mama who isn’t all stressed and struggling to enjoy everyone. Maybe that will all change, and I’ll sure give it a try because memories of making the dinner hour a sacred hour are really worth it.

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4 Amy Avery January 14, 2013 at 7:28 am

This is an area in which I struggle with on a daily, monthly, yearly bases. I don’t know why, but planning a menu has always gotten the better of me. I cook and all for my family, but it stresses me out to the max at times. I appreciate this meal planning post so much as it gives me an insight as to how someone else does it. It is well organized and has helpful suggestons and recipes to boot! I never wanted to ask someone else, “Now, how do you do family meal planning?” I was just too embarrassed I guess to ask. I am all reved up now to do this family menu planning thing! Thanks so much Edie, as always! oxox

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5 edie January 14, 2013 at 7:56 am

You are so awesome to share your thoughts and fears, Amy! We’re all in the same boat. We assume everyone else has it all figured out. But what joy when we admit we don’t and help and encourage each other. I hope you find something valuable here, from all my years of struggling with it!
xoxo,
edie

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6 Southern Gal January 14, 2013 at 7:29 am

I’m looking forward to it!

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7 Southern Gal January 14, 2013 at 7:58 am

Somehow I’m getting all the comments as they are posted on your last three posts. I don’t know how that happened. I see manage subscriptions, but I’m wondering if I’ll be removed from email notifications about your posts if I do that. Any ideas?

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8 edie January 14, 2013 at 7:58 am

I’ll be working like mad to get it done, Renee!
Hope you are well :)))

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9 edie January 14, 2013 at 7:59 am

No, that won’t affect your post subscriptions, that’s just for comments subscriptions!

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10 Southern Gal January 14, 2013 at 8:37 am

Got it!

We celebrated my daddy’s 69th birthday yesterday. Wonderful time.

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11 Ruth January 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

This is definitely an area that I have struggled with. I have found myself in the same place as you with no idea what to cook and it was dinner time. I have been trying to implement some form of a meal plan even if it is only one week at a time.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s post.
BTW, I love your beef stew and cheese tortellini soup recipes.

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12 edie January 14, 2013 at 7:57 am

We’ll learn together, Ms. Ruth! I’m learning and tweaking mine all the time!
xoxo,
edie

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13 Kerri January 14, 2013 at 7:59 am

Edie you make me laugh! I love it! Because of you I am learning so much. (Does it matter that it took me 40 years to do it? ). Although I have to admit I am behind on my book club reading. And cooking for my husband and two girls IS very stressful because my three year old is super picky and I am tired after being in a classroom with kids all day! I am going home tonight and creating a calendar! oh, I always make your cheese tortellini soup! it is a favorite of mine! XO

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14 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:02 am

Not at all, Kerri, it took me 43 years and I’m still trying to figure it out!!!
Picky eaters are hard! The more you introduce good food and have them try it, the easier it gets I think. I would try to avoid constant confrontation about it but it’s so hard!
This calendar thing seems to be such an awesome way to do it because you can have the meals set up to repeat how ever often you want—-but wait, that’s tomorrow’s post!
Happy Monday!
edie

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15 Beth January 14, 2013 at 8:01 am

This post is perfect timing because right now I am online doing my regular Monday-morning-search-for-what-to-eat-this-week. I hate it. I guess we all struggle with this! I never thought to use my online calendar to plan the whole month. Brilliant!

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16 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

I know, isn’t it the cats’ meow??? My husband was the first person to tell me to do it. Men have such logical ways to solve problems. And if you set your favorite meals up to ‘repeat’ on your calendar, pretty soon you have a year’s worth of food planned! I keep giving away tomorrow’s post:)))

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17 Mary Beth January 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

This has quickly become one of my fave recipes online : http://ohsheglows.com/2012/11/30/black-bean-sweet-potato-and-red-quinoa-soup/ … have made it several times for a crowd and it is so healthy and satisfying!

I started menu planning when my third child was born, I knew I could not pop in and out of the store several times a week with three littles in tow. Though it takes time and effort, it really does make the whole process of cooking for your family more pleasant! Thank you for your inspiration!

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18 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:25 am

Thanks so much for the link, Mary Beth! Looks delish!
xo,
edie

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19 Jen January 14, 2013 at 8:09 am

I just wrote out this week’s menu. I have never done it longer in advance than that. All of the reasons you gave for planning are spot on. Thank you!

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20 Christi {Jealous Hands} January 14, 2013 at 8:11 am

I used to do great with meal planning, but fell off the wagon when we went through some unemployment & couldn’t consistently buy groceries. Since then I have just never gotten back into the swing of things!

Our fave meal right now is PW’s White Chicken Enchiladas. Fantastic!!

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21 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:27 am

Yes, one thing I learned from the fire is that it takes a lot of stability in your life to be able to cook regularly. It’s nice to have people to bring meals during times like that and a good reminder to be taking meals to those in crisis!
And I LOVE all of PW’s recipes:))

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22 Marie at the Lazy W January 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Oh I agree it takes stability to cook regularly AND it lends stability too. When we couldn’t cook at home for different reasons we missed it within a few days. Even with the fun of travel, restaturant glamour wears off quickly. Great series Edie!!

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23 Vicki January 14, 2013 at 8:13 am

I’ve tried several times to be a meal planner! My issue is that I plan the meals, make the meal, make my family eat them, but find I’m not in the mood for the meal of the day! My family doesn’t have a choice because its what’s placed before them, and well, we are not a meal options kinda family. In other words, you will eat what is set before you because I do try to fix meals I know they typically enjoy. But then I’m sneaking my own little meal without bring obvious because I’m the mom and can do that. I can’t wait to read thru your ideas this week! And I’m also that girl that can’t plan out my outfits for fear I may wake with a bigger rear tomorrow and therefore need a longer sweater or it might snow and I’ll need something more appropriate to wear with boots or (oh please Lord, I’m begging) I wake up and am not bloated and want to wear a fitted tee! Have a blessed week sweet lady!

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24 Gretchen January 14, 2013 at 8:17 am

I LOVE cooking and this post was right up my alley! So to say it again…I LOVE cooking but I am finding it hard in the season I am in with two boys (5 and 6 yrs) to put a meal on the table that EVERYONE is going to eat. I feel like a short order cook most of the time. I have had to put my foodie expectations (cooking gourmet meals regularly) aside to be able to feed my family somewhat healthily while also keeping my sanity intact. I am definately learning as I go.

A few things I have implemented recently…
1. I meal plan Friday night for the week ahead (that’s about as far ahead as I can go right now). Then on Saturday morning my husband and I along with our boys head to our local Giant Eagle. At Giant Eagle we are able to drop our kiddos off at their wonderful Eagles Nest where our boys can play while we grocery shop (and this “babysitting” is FREE)! Since my husband and I both enjoy cooking and since we are not able to go out for “date nights” often this is our time to be together doing something we both love!
2. I have also started trying to make our family meal times more of an event. I have my boys helping me set the table and we try to set it as beautifully as we can. I have lots of polish pottery that for years has sat very lonely in my cupboards. I have started taking them out and using them more. Yes – this means more dishes to wash but this is another way I can serve my family. I try to set the mood with dimmer lights and beautiful, soothing music in the background. So far these changes seem to be working and our family meals are becoming more enjoyable. I recently started letting my oldest drink from a lovely adult glass and he told me the other night how special he feels drinking from it! All these things help!
3. The last change I am trying to work on (with not much success) is getting my boys in the kitchen with me to help prepare the meal. I have visions of one of them becoming an Iron Chef some day…watch out Bobby and Mario! This area has been the slowest to progress but I am not giving up!

So that’s where we are right now and I am enjoying this journey immensely! Thank you, Edie for another great post! You are an inspiration!

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25 Kimmie January 14, 2013 at 8:26 am

I print out a blank monthly calendar and then fill in the after-school events for the month. This helps me see what the afternoons/evenings look like (yes – I’m a visual person!!) then I figure out the menu. I love to “cook once – eat twice”, use what’s in season and try new recipes. I also hang on to the monthly calendar and recycle the menu planning – no need to strain the brain to think of what to fix for the next month! :)

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26 sarah January 14, 2013 at 8:27 am

I like the google calendar idea! I’ve been using a simple blackboard in my kitchen but I might have to try this and see. look forward to your next post!

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27 Tracey H. January 14, 2013 at 8:55 am

Oh how you are speaking to me this morning!! I am attempting to do a week ahead for my family and the challenge is something different each night(like not Mexican or Italian back to back) and trying to remember to not have hamburger or chicken used 3 nights in a row:0) I love soups, but it is 80 here today, so I just can’t do a warm and toasty soup while having the air on, I think it’s another weird issue of mine!! I am so looking forward to some great ideas of how to accomplish this task of meals once and for all!! Thanks and Happy Monday, it’s Chicken Tetrazini for my peeps tonight!!

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28 April Wright January 14, 2013 at 8:55 am

Yeah! I’m ready for Edie University. ;)

Really, I love gleaning from other women and implementing tips that will work for our family.

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29 Ashley Johns January 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

Edie!
I’m so glad you started this. I am a big fan of planning ahead (but like you, change my mind often) and I haven’t been as dedicated about it lately. I planned most of December out of sheer necessity and was reminded how much it helps. I’m excited for the new recipe inspiration! One question, the Pork and Peppers recipe…do you find that the pork is “well done” with no pink in the middle when cooked according to that recipe? We are strange well done meat eaters here. All the recipes looks delicious! Thanks!

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30 Maureen January 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

Meal planning is such a challenge. I have one daughter who is a strict vegetarian, one who is following Weight Watchers (and is down 50+ pounds!!!), a husband that could eat a house, and my – the picky eater!! One of my favorite go to meals is my mom’s chili. I can make it for the meat eaters and a half batch substituting vegetarian ground beef for the real thing for the vegetarian. It makes big patches, freezes well, and I usually can get 3 meals out of it! http://www.redcottagechronicles.com/baking/chili-canadian-new-year/.

I think the hardest part is that living in a household of 4 adults, I get a bit resentful having to do all the planning! But it certainly would make my life easier! Looking forward to part II

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31 Tara @ Unsophisticook January 14, 2013 at 9:21 am

I am so bad at meal planning, but I know it’s something I need to start doing regularly. With 5 kids all involved in sports, it’s all I can do to get dinner on the table some nights, and we end up eating out far more than I’d like!

This creamed corn casserole is one of my family’s favorite side dishes: http://unsophisticook.com/creamed-corn-casserole/

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32 Julie Ann Blevins January 14, 2013 at 9:32 am

Hi Edie. I love your sense of humor! I am excited! xxxooo

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33 Christine January 14, 2013 at 9:42 am

I can’t thank you enough for this. This has been my biggest challenge. I can put on paper what I want us to eat, but fitting the cooking into a schedule is another thing!

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34 Matilda Joyce January 14, 2013 at 9:48 am
35 Kathleen January 14, 2013 at 9:54 am

This is one of my resolves for the new year. I am onto week 2 of planning and cooking and I love how it takes the stress and guesswork out of my day. I write the menu on my chalkboard for the week so everyone can see what we will be having. My 7 year old loves it. I plan a night for leftovers and I ask my family for menu ideas….it is working out really well !

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36 Randa January 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

Hard to pick a favorite…but here’s a recent fave (involving beef…man friendly!).
Very simple. On a hoagie with some cheese and banana peppers…yum!!
http://pinterest.com/pin/191191946652296042/

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37 jodi @ back40life January 14, 2013 at 10:05 am

Edie – I am so looking forward to this series of posts! This is an area I have struggled with for years – I loved how you said “We tend to dislike things we’re not good at and many of us have a disdain for cooking and meal planning because we haven’t yet tackled that area of our lives.” — YES & AMEN!

We are trying to work on eating more healthfully and I know our love of eating out has not been helpful to our middles at all – this is a huge goal for me this year!

One thing I have definitely learned is that I’m not a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” kind of girl in the kitchen – I do much better when I have a recipe to follow…lessens the stress factor for me tremendously!

One of our family faves is Meg’s enchiladas – I often make them without the tortilla to keep the carbs down and they’re still fabulous!
http://megduerksen.typepad.com/photos/recipes/img_6666.html

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38 amber January 14, 2013 at 10:32 am

I started meal planning a couple of months ago and it is such a stress reducer! One of my favorite recipe’s is Pioneer Woman’s Cajun Chicken Pasta: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/09/cajun-chicken-pasta/. I also love her Butter Chicken: http://tastykitchen.com/recipes/main-courses/butter-chicken-2/.

Sorry I know that’s two. She is my go-to girl for delicious, easy recipes.

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39 The Domestic Fringe January 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

I’ve been avoiding planning meals for the past 15 years of marriage, but it’s something I know I need to do. Thank you for this kick in the pants.

Here are a few recipes I like.
http://thedomesticfringe.com/2012/03/12/a-rustic-stew-for-march/

http://pinterest.com/pin/115827021636203267/

http://thedomesticfringe.com/?s=meat+pies+&submit=Search

~FringeGirl

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40 Sandra January 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

Still at the, “how dare they be hungry again” stage – need this.

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41 Kristen January 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

Love your blog, Edie! Now food is one of my favorite subjects! But I don’t like the meal planning system I currently use-it takes me a couple hours each week to plan for the next-and I would love to find a way that is more efficient.

Every single thing I have made from Elise Bauer’s site, Simply Recipes, has been wonderful. I have no idea how to get a link to show up in the comments section, but I’m sure everyone knows this site anyway.

My favorite online dessert is Salted Caramel Pie from Food & Wine magazine. You can access the recipe at their site. To die for and I know better than to make this pie without somewhere to take it.

Can’t wait until tomorrow!

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42 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Haven’t heard of her site, Kristen, so can’t wait to check it out :))

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43 Holly January 14, 2013 at 10:47 am

My favorite online recipes are yours, Edie! You are the soup goddess! My family loves your Rocky Top Chili, Chicken and Dumplings, Spicy Tomato, and Pumpkin Chipotle (made this last night!). We have your soups on a regular rotation – thank you for sharing them!

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44 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm

oh you sweet darlin’! i hope to do a soup cookbook someday!
you know i like to call myself the soup whisperer?!?
mucho love,
edie

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45 martha January 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

Years ago I was a young mother with 3 hungry kids and a very tight budget. The only way I could survive was to make a monthly food menu. Actually, is was about 12 different meals that I rotated.The older the children got the more pasta and rice was included to fill those monster appetites. I find myself appalled at how much younger families eat out now. You are so right, it is not only expensive, but not healthy. I am excited to see the trend now to go back to planning home cooked meals. My daughter teaches and has a long commute, but she has been working towards the goal of total home cooked meals, she sees the value of planning ahead and also to allow a little flexibility. I am finding it much harder now to cook for just my husband and myself. He is a good sport about some of the wacky,last minute meals we have, but I realize I must begin a new routine and menu for this challenge.

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46 Tiffany B. January 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

Ruth’s freezer meals, plus I have made many of your soups and LOVE them. Thanks Edie!

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47 Tonia January 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

All I can say is….thank you!!!!! I am loving your post!!

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48 Susan January 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hi Edie,your posts are the first ones I look at and they never fail to make me think a little more and more important usually make me smile. But I have to say that my fantastic hubby is the cook in our house and I LOVE it ! I do take credit for sometimes printing a recipe and then he will cook it :) You have no idea how your blog is so encouraging and GOD BLESS you for it .

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49 Gina January 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

I guess I can consider myself fortunate because my mom planned meals in advance so I always have. :) I really can’t even relate to the “stress” you speak of. ;) I think my hardest challenge was a picky husband! Ugh! My children weren’t picky though so I made what satisfied him for the majority of meals and then he ate a bologna sandwich ;) when I made something he didn’t like. Don’t worry he didn’t mind. :) Now I am an empty nester so meal planning is super easy and I look forward to my daughter visiting so we can cook meals I don’t normally. Here is a super easy and delicious meal I had “pinned” http://www.mapleleavessycamoretrees.com/2012/09/roasted-chicken-and-vegetables.html that I made a couple of days before Christmas. I used rosemary instead and served steamed broccoli and homemade bread with it. :)

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50 Debbie January 14, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hi Edie, my favorite online recipe is for Chicken Parmesan. It is super easy and can be made ahead of time and put in the frig. The video is worth watching, it is delicious!

http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2008/02/end-of-chicken-parmesan-as-you-know-it.html?m=1

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51 Kelly January 14, 2013 at 11:59 am

We love Rachel Ray’s Greek Burgers. Here’s the recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/rachael-rays-spanakopita-burgers-139612. One thing we do differently is that we grill them rather than cooking them in a pan.

I love this post and can’t wait for your next 2 parts! :)

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52 Dana @ Cooking at Cafe D January 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Edie,
Glancing at your calendar above, it looks like today you are making Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. I have a great recipe for Avgolemono here. http://www.cookingatcafed.com/2012/05/avgolemono-soup-greek-egg-and-lemon.html

If you try it, please let me know what you think :)

~Blessings,
Dana
Cooking at Cafe D

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53 edie January 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm

thank you so much, dana, love your site:)))

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54 Dana @ Cooking at Cafe D January 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

ah, shucks. thanks.
*rubs toe in dirt*

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55 Kathryn C January 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Made this the other week and it was SO easy and delicious! http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/02/25/recipe-the-best-whole-chicken-in-a-crock-pot/
I have done meal planning for a long time – it certainly makes life easier, but you have to be flexible (like you said) – sometimes the meal planned just gets vetoed! Also important to think about tomorrow’s meal the night before – so you can pull whatever from the freezer (always forget this one…oopps!) or do a quick run to the store if out of an ingredient. LOVE to do meals that have leftovers – I’m always trying to get one in a week, then you have a “free” cooking night. Or cooking up a big batch and freezing – great for those nights when you are too tired to function. Forward thinking…always important ;)

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56 kristin January 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thank you so much for this! With all three boys out of school for 3 weeks I am ready to get back on track with meal planning, this was perfect timing. Here is one of my favorite soups and it all goes in the crock pot :)
http://myuncommonsliceofsuburbia.com/eating-clean-a-soup-recipe/

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57 Alana in Canada January 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I plan my meals a month at a time so I can shop at 10% off the first Tuesday of every month for meat and pantry items. To make planning easier, I have one night for chicken breasts, (all Mondays) for example, one night for Fish (Fridays, why not?), etc. That doesn’t mean that is what I cook, necessarily. Last week I switched Thursday and Friday because I’d forgotten to marinate the chicken thighs in time.

My favourite on-line recipe–Chocolate Chili. My kids (who never usually like the same thing) and husband love it too.

http://www.theclothesmakethegirl.com/2009/02/22/my-favorite-chili-recipe/

Oh and we just tried her Five Spice Pork Spare ribs–a crock pot meal. Fabulous!

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58 Ginger January 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I’ve really renewed my love of cooking and while I don’t have a link to a favorite recipe, a friend recently gave me one that is too good not to share. It’s a crock pot dinner too, so super easy to throw it all in and forget about it. Not too fancy, but easy and the kiddos love it.
BUFFALO PASTA CHICKEN

1 pound chicken breasts, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce, we use medium
1can rotel
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 cups penne pasta, cooked
Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker. Add chicken soup, buffalo sauce, and rotel; stir. Cook low 4-6 hours, or high 2-3 hours. Stir in cheese, ranch, and sour cream. Add pasta and stir well.

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59 Karen S. January 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I am really trying to start using a meal plan. I know it will makes things so much easier for me. I loved this post. I have been experimenting with more freezer meals and am loving it. Here’s one of my favorite recipes and this entire site actually ~ healthy wholesome food.
http://www.skinnytaste.com/2011/02/turkey-chili-taco-soup.html
I also add a can of pinto beans and adjust the chicken stock ` usually adding more. This recipe makes a lot and once the chopping is done it cooks up really fast, and it freezes well.

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60 Stacy January 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for your ideas and inspiration. I am a meal planner for all the same reasons you gave. With 5 teenagers living at home and often a few stray ones dropping by it is imperative that I have something planned. In a pinch, Little Caesars pizza and Ramen Noodles keep us alive.We LOVE your Cheese Tortellini Soup! Another of our favorites is Ree’s Marlboro Man Sandwich. It is quick, has just a few ingredients and delicious. You can find it here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2007/06/marlboro_mans_f/.

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61 Christy January 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Funny, I spent yesterday afternoon planning our week’s menu. I love it when I plan. It makes life so much easier. Have you ever used the free recipe/menu planning site, Ziplist? It’s wonderful. There are a ton of wonderful recipes to chose from on the site, but once you load the Ziplist Recipe Clipper, you can clip a recipe from any webiste or blog on the net to your recipe box and grocery list (much like pinning with Pinterest.) You can then fill your meal planner with your favorite recipes and schedule them days and days ahead of time. The really cool thing is that you can click the link to post the recipes to your calendar (google, ical, etc.) There is a free ap you can load on your phone so that you can shop with your organized grocery list. It’s amazing! I can’t believe it’s free. Can’t wait to read more about how you use Google Calendar tomorrow. :)

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62 edie January 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

okay, you have just changed my life forever!!!!!!!
i love ziplist. i’ll be doing hitch kicks all night!
i’m adding it to my third post on menu planning.
this is SO GENIUS! people are so blimey smart.
thank you so much for sharing:))))

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63 Christy January 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm

You’re welcome! :) I can’t believe it’s so great…and that it’s fuh-ree!! :))) Happy clipping!

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64 Marie at the Lazy W January 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

omigosh this is the second time today someone has suggested ziplist. it IS free, trying it now! : )) Thanks ladies!!

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65 Mary-Beth January 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

A friend made this meal for us last year and it’s been in our monthly rotation ever since. It’s an easy entrance into Indian cooking because it’s mild and delicious; even my two year old devours it. I typically use whole milk in place of cream and omit the cashews for picky guests, but this meal is perfect for serving family style. I plan meals weekly but am still overwhelmed when I think of planning out a month at a time. Edie, you have introduced me to so many fun things…you even have this southern non-Lutheran believer listening to Issues, Etc. :)

Veggie Korma, best with a big pitcher of sweet tea!
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/vegetarian-korma/detail.aspx?event8=1&prop24=SR_Title&e11=veggie%20korma&e8=Quick%20Search&event10=1&e7=Home%20Page

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66 Heidi of Operation Organization January 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

A crowd pleaser that I LOVE to make when company is coming (and my whole family loves it for everyday as well – those are really the best, right?) :)

Dixie Pork Chops:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/dixie-pork-chops/

baking time varies per size of chop – I usually bake for 45 min rather than the suggested hour they’ll get too dry.

Meal planning is not my favorite task, but the benefits are worth it! :)

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67 Heidi of Operation Organization January 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

A crowd pleaser that I LOVE to make when company is coming (and my whole family loves it for everyday as well – those are really the best, right?) :)

Dixie Pork Chops:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/dixie-pork-chops/

baking time varies per size of chop – I usually bake for 45 min rather than the suggested hour or they’ll get too dry.

Meal planning is not my favorite task, but the benefits are worth it! :)

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68 Terry A. January 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Mel of Mel’s Kitchen Cafe always inspires me, and here’s one of her “best” recipes that we enjoy:

http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2012/02/the-best-broccoli-beef.html

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69 Andrea January 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I love to cook and bake but I relate in having a difficult time doing any sort of long-range planning. I can manage a weekly meal plan but reserve the right to change my mind on what to cook from day to day. :) also, your cheese tortellini soup has become a staple in our house. Thank you! Here is my newest find for an easy, healthy but very tasty dinner. http://anewdayrises.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/turns-out-i-really-like-brussel-sprouts/

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70 Heather January 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Inspired by you once again. Love, love, love you.

You truly are an intentional mother, wife and woman. Hospitality should be my middle name, yet you have certainly put me to shame!!!
You are a powerhouse of woman!!!

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71 edie January 14, 2013 at 9:16 pm

as i sit here with my sickie girl, anticipating (dreading) another long night, you just made my day. bless you, heather!

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72 Heather January 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I’m glad – you deserve it! You have no idea how you have inspired me to be more intentional with my faith!!! It has opened my eyes to quite a bit that I didnt understand about myself!!

I understand the sickie! Hope she feels better soon! Had one down for 6 days last week! another one of my 4 home sick today!!! I, myself, am fighting a low grade fever! This too shall pass!

I Put that chicken pastina egg drop soup on my schedule for tomorrow night! Can’t wait! I love soup!

I have a delish/easy chicken tortilla soup…I will send it to you when I am “flu-less!”

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73 Leigh Rhyne January 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I also have 4 kids They play football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, and cheer. Here is an super easy meal that everyone loves. (The chances of everyone liking what I make are very very slim!)

Dump 1 bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (still frozen) in a large slow-cooker.
Pour one medium jar of Pace ThickNChunky salsa over it.
Cook on low 8 hours.
Shred chicken with forks. Add it back into the slow-cooker with the salsa.

That”s it. We have it over tortilla chips or wrapped in a tortilla. Add your favorite toppings – black beans, grated monterrey jack cheese, sour cream, avocados, etc.

Enjoy!
Leigh
Houston, Texas

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74 Nikki January 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I am a huge planner of my family’s meals. I make a schedule. I also have a blog of my own devoted to simple and delicious recipes that have been tried by me, family, or friends. I loved reading your blog post today. I hope it helps others. Here is the link to my food blog: http://www.theserendipitybistro.com/

God bless!

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75 edie January 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

love it, nikki:))

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76 Andrea January 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm

This is one of my very favorite (besides Pioneer Woman) online recipes…..
http://www.bloomingonbainbridge.com/2012/08/easy-chicken-pot-pie.html

I love it for a couple/three reasons….1. I have modified it to suit us…no celery…no veggie all (I add our favorites or what ever is availabe in season 2. I can make 2 at a time….we eat one and freeze one for later 3…I roast extra chicken for another meal….or purchase an on sale rotissarie chicken…… LOVe that!

can’t wait to see more……..I do see the value in this and have tried to be more planful…can’t wait to see your ideas !

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77 Kristen @ Joyfullythriving January 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I never thought of creating a Google calendar for my menus. Who couldn’t use more time, and better help with menu planning? Here are a couple of my favorite breakfast recipes – all of which can be frozen ahead of time. Nestle Tollhouse Coffee cake is great for company (http://www.joyfullythriving.com/2012/10/nestle-toll-house-coffee-cake/), as it makes a 9 by 13 pan. I like Baked Oatmeal (http://www.joyfullythriving.com/2012/09/baked-oatmeal/) and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins (http://www.joyfullythriving.com/2012/10/peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-muffins/) any day. I’m looking forward to this series of yours, as I do everything you share!

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78 edie January 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

thanks, Kristen! they all look great:))

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79 Sara Demoiny January 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I just found this one on Pinterest. It was really good, and I made my own Alfredo sauce as suggested.

Chicken Alfredo Roll-Up: http://www.therecipecritic.com/2012/05/chicken-alfredo-roll-ups.html

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80 Mindy January 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Divine timing! I resigned from my job last week to be home with my littles, and I told my husband one of my goals was to improve my cooking. I figure if I have to do it every day, I might as well enjoy it. I can’t wait to read the rest of your series!

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81 Nicole January 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm

As a homeschooling mom of four (including a newborn!), I need to get back into this habit (& the exercising one, too!) to preserve my sanity. I love this winter minestrone soup (have made it vegetarian too). It’s light, easy and so filling with a crusty loaf of bread:
http://www.goodlifeeats.com/2011/11/winter-minestrone-with-swiss-chard-and-sausage-holiday-recipe-exchange.html

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82 Jenn A January 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I have been planning my meals one week at a time for a very long time. Otherwise I’d never know what to buy at the grocery store! Here is a favorite online recipe from Pioneer Woman: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/03/bbq-meatballs-comfort-food-to-the-max/ and here is a great one for overnight cinnamon rolls from Our Best Bites:
http://www.ourbestbites.com/2009/05/overnight-cinnamon-rolls/

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83 Kelly January 15, 2013 at 8:41 am

I feel the pull of three little ones on my legs and the thread of sanity unraveling with my hunk of burning love about to walk through the door after I’ve spent a long day in the ER too…I know it’s got to get better and with some time up front this is a way I could serve my family and guests so much better – and free up mental space to allow the LORD to leave this frazzled mom more grace filled. We rarely eat out but I rarely make sense with what I’m cooking. I’m looking forward to figuring out a way to make this work for our family but I have the same “what if I don’t feel like fish tacos tomorrow” feeling – I guess this is another of those discipline areas I could grow in. Thanks for sharing how you make this work. My only set recipe that gets me through is crockpot oatmeal with double boiler method so the bowl goes in the dishwasher http://www.mommyskitchen.net/2009/01/overnight-crock-pot-oatmeal.htmlor baked oatmeal for breakfast… http://budgetbytes.blogspot.com/2011/09/baked-pumpkin-pie-oatmeal-277-recipe.html

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84 Marielle January 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Creamy-Chicken-Pasta-Soup-102457

Because we’re visiting Colorado and it’s been very cold here, this long-time favorite Creamy Chicken Pasta Soup immediately came to mind. From a 1999 Bon Appétit. The final step addition of fresh lemon juice puts this one over-the-top. The sugar snap peas are optional–i’ve really only added them twice over the years of making this soup. Enjoy!

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85 Kristi January 15, 2013 at 11:18 am

Of course I had to go back and read Part 1! I CRACKED up because I had those same thoughts years ago when 4:30 would roll around and I had NO idea what I would make for dinner! I do the same thing with ease vs activity nights as well. And we do breakfast for dinner a couple of times a month, always fun and easy. And everyone likes the change!
I knew how to make coffee and toast when I left home. My mom is a wonderful mother, but made us homemaking “invalids” if you will, lol. She did laundry, cooking and when we cleaned our room or hung up our clothes, she would go in after us and “straighten up” what we had done. I love my mother to pieces but I do NOT do that to my children! They clean up and I leave it and consider it done! And I think it’s good for their self esteem too ;) Anyway, I digress! I’m a self taught cook and while I’m no Giada or Ina, I can cook and love learning more about cooking and baking!
Thanks again for your hilarious insight and posts on what we all deal with daily!
Kristi

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86 Kristi January 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

ps I have a few of your recipes in my kitchen you have shared! Your shortbread chocolate chip cookie has made my “christmas cookie” top 5 (I only do 5 kinds) and is a favorite around here! I’m going to post a pumpkin cake recipe in the next day or so, I’ll send it to you. Not exactly low cal, but OH SO YUMMY! :)
Kristi

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87 Carolyn January 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm

It must be that time of the new year… the hubbs just inventoried our freezer and organized the pantry and put a list on the fridge of the frozen and dried goods. And I thought I was the list-maker in the marriage :). We like to meal plan our week starting with our CSA pick-up on Saturday. However, our last pick-up was December 22, so we’ve been started going back to our recipe books/binders/cards/magazines for inspiration. Here is a favorite side dish of ours: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/chipotle-smashed-sweet-potatoes-recipe/index.html

We’re also fans of using spaghetti squash as our “pasta” for a lighter dish: http://www.wholeliving.com/131539/spaghetti-squash-turkey-meatballs?center=136747&gallery=136289&slide=111759
Cheers!

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88 Kelli January 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm

oh my gosh i plan my meals most every week, but i get braindead on what to make. i go around the house asking whoever is around.. what do you want for dinner this week? and they politely say “i dunno” Haha! I’m looking forward to your advice! I have found some really awesome recipes on Pinterest lately! Here is a link to my Recipe board. Just made the Easy potato soup last night; it’s always a hit!

http://pinterest.com/kellitfox/recipes/

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89 Kate January 15, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Love your blog. Here are some of my favs – couldn’t pick just one :) These are some tried-and-true! Bon appetit!

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup (this is great over brown rice)
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Curried-Squash-and-Red-Lentil-Soup-351416

Drunken Steak
http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/2006/05/island-style/ (scroll down for the steak recipe)

Tarragon Chicken Breast With Buttery Leeks
Easy for a weeknight, but also great for company!
http://www.food.com/recipe/jerry-traunfelds-tarragon-chicken-breast-with-buttery-leeks-297800

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90 Vintagesquirrel January 15, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Love this, Edie! And I appreciate the hand-holding. :)

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91 Vintagesquirrel January 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Just had to add: Your kids have gotten SO BIG! Hope all is well. Love you…

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92 Jen (Balancing Beauty and Bedlam) January 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm

With just having launched 10 Minute Dinners, you know this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Now off to read your readers comments, so I can get other viewpoints on how to tackle this.

love ya, girl
Jen :)

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93 Sarah L. January 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I need this. I’ve often considered trying this but never seem to know where to start, plus I like you can’t begin to plan/know what I will want to eat in a month. I seem to have a hard time planning 1 week of meals much less a month. But I am excited to see what insight you will have for us. I know I will gain something from this even if just lots of yummy new recipes to try, that’s always a bonus. I now only use your fudge & I love the Christmas ball recipe. We too have very busy nights with dance & gymnastics & a lot of time in the car. I’m on the search for meals to pack to take to the kids when I pick them up so they can eat.

One suggestion that may have been mentioned already but, have a night the kids cook. Several months ago my son who’s 12 asked if he could pick out our dinner & I said maybe what do you have in mind. He said I don’t know can I look at your pinterest…Haha!- sure why not. So he found what he wanted to prepare & then did so, pretty much by himself. He has since prepared that meal for us 2 or 3 more times. So you could let the girls share a night or alternate weeks as to who cooks. You hang out near by ready to answer questions if they have one and enjoy having someone cook for you without going out. Win, Win!

Thanks again for sharing & expressing such warm hospitality.

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94 Claire @ A Little Claireification January 16, 2013 at 12:16 am

Ohhh I SO wish I could get your posts via email so I wouldn’t be so late commenting on every one. Of course we were in the ER last night since flu is running rampant here, so I am trying hard to keep up this week. I am going to try the RSS subscribe again. I am all about the freezer foods / stockpile (I found you through sweet Ruth at LWSL over a year ago). But I have loved to cook for many, many years… picking an online recipe will be hard but here is one I love and have made several times: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/french-onion-soup-gratinee/
I freeze the soup and can make it quickly by warming and then broiling the cheese on top. YUM.
have a great week! :) Claire

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95 jenny January 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

love this series!
I love cooking and especially love cooking for my family and others we invite into our home. However, I am not the most organized in this area which is strange because i am otherwise, a pretty organized gal! Most days I have an idea of what we are having for dinner that night but then some days, I have NO idea whatsoever!
Can’t wait to get started with your ideas! thanks for sharing! :)

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96 Kristi January 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

http://wwwthethriftygypsy.blogspot.com/2013/01/my-boys-turn-12-and-pumpkin-cake.html

There is the link to the pumpkin cake! I know I probably should have linked a dinner but this was a pleasant surprise how good it was. Considering I never made it before and then made it for a crowd, lol! :)
Kristi

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97 Erin January 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Hi Edie! I love, love, love our blog. You have inspired me in so many ways. Your series on Hospitality has helped me focus on how I can serve others, especially my family (husband and 4 kids ages 3-11). I made the Cheese Tortellini Soup last night. Everyone loved it. Delish! Thank you!

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98 Haley January 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

This crockpot turnip green soup is my grandmother’s recipe and is so delicious! Enjoy!

http://www.haleymorgan.com/2011/11/turnip-green-soup-lemon-feta-chicken.html

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99 Linda BC January 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Thank you for the blog post! I’ve been the mom that says “It’s 5 pm – what should I make for dinner?” I have tried menu planning before but fall off the wagon. This year I’m going to do better!

I’ve just started a part-time shift job – so Sunday menu planning is essential. I go over it with the kids and hubby and, right now, do about 4 or 5 dinners (leaving room for leftovers and takeout pizza lol). We’re not specific with what meal on a particular day because I may not have my work schedule yet. When I’m home to cook I try and do the more complicated dinners, but if I get called in I make sure to leave all the ingredients and recipes on the counter just to help them out. Also, because the girls have activities after school I lay out their dance bags so they are easy to go when it is time.

I can’t wait to try some of your recipes too! Thanks.

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100 Dana @ Cooking at Cafe D January 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

You asked for recipes, right?
My fav recipe is my
Corner Bakery’s Chicken Pesto Cavatappi recipe.
http://www.cookingatcafed.com/2009/07/taste-alike-corner-bakerys-pesto.html

My favorite recipe from a friend is her
Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies
http://thecuttingedgeofordinary.blogspot.com/2012/12/double-chocolate-espresso-cookies.html

Those cookies are amazing!
~ Dana

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101 Kimber-Leigh January 16, 2013 at 7:36 pm

i have loved this series Edie!
here are our two of our family favorites (one winter, one summer):
French Market Stew:
http://new-everymorning.blogspot.com/2012/01/french-market-stew.html
Rosemary Flank Steak with Fig Salsa:
http://new-everymorning.blogspot.com/2012/10/day-17-of-31-in-kitchen.html

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102 Dawn@joyfulscribblings January 16, 2013 at 10:35 pm

These are two of my favorite go to recipes that are easy and made in a muffin tin. I put the recipes on my blog http://www.joyfulscribblings.com/2013/01/muffin-tin-recipes/.

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103 laura January 17, 2013 at 9:25 am

Whoa Nellie, I’m so looking forward to reading all the recipe links and probably trying more than my family might like – they are good sports, but I tend to be the food adventurer, not them.
Always a little late to the party, but glad to come nonetheless, I love to put this on the table with some frequency:
4 Cheese Pasta -farm style! :-)
http://lfchronicles.blogspot.com/2013/01/last-saturday-was-huge-work-day-at-farm.html

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104 Garrett January 17, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Oh my goodnes, now you are speaking my language. I love making lists, except for the weekly menu- it’s exhausting, repatitive, and cooking for our family of 5, especially when my 9 year old often times won’t eat it anyway, isn’t all that fun anymore. This is a brilliant idea- am just now catching up on your series posts and can’t wait to try this out. Genius. Genius. Genius.

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105 Cindy @ Creating at Home January 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I’m working away at getting my google calendar set up (thanks to you, Edie!!) with chores, meal planning and all our other stuff. I’d also like to try preparing a whack-load of freezer crockpot meals for Tuesdays (our “fright night”). Does anyone have recommendations for GOOD (and healthy) freezer crockpot meals, please?

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106 Cindy @ Creating at Home January 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm
107 Cindy @ Creating at Home January 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I’m working away at getting my google calendar set up (thanks to you, Edie!!) with chores, meal planning and all our other stuff. I’d also like to try preparing a whack-load of freezer crockpot meals for Tuesdays (our “fright night”). Does anyone have recommendations for GOOD (and healthy) freezer crockpot meals, please?

Reply

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