School Lunch Roundup {No Lunchmeat!}

School Lunch Roundup | no lunchmeat #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

It’s time for a School Lunch Roundup! I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m trying to get re-inspired on packing school lunches. We still have TWO MORE MONTHS of school left, so I’m looking at another 126 lunches to go. My kids are super tired of sandwiches, and since we can’t have peanut butter (allergies), I’ve come up with some new healthy alternatives to lunch meat.

I’m also trying something new–packing lunches while I’m preparing dinner, whether that’s at 8am or 5pm–and it’s working. I feel less rushed as they’re getting ready in the mornings, and since I’m half brain-dead on the mornings I drive my son to 6am swimming, it’s one less task to do. Yay!


Whole Wheat Pita Pizza | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

These Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas have been so easy to make and are the clear new favorite by my kids, who would like to have them once a week. I found mini whole wheat pita breads at Trader Joe’s, and while I’m making dinner or doing other kitchen tasks, I make up some Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas using either leftover spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce I make from tomato paste. I put a piece of wax paper in between so the pizzas don’t stick together in our Easy Lunchboxes. Add some fruits & veg, and you have a super healthy real food lunch!


Finger Foods Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

I call this the Finger Food Lunch because it reminds me of eating appetizers at a party. There’s lots of little bits of foods the kids like: celery and tomatoes for dipping in hummus, cheese and multigrain crackers, a hard boiled egg for protein, and some cold peas leftover from dinner the night before. I use Silicone Baking Cups to separate the foods, they’re easy to wash and store and have replaced baggies for us.


Beans and Rice Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

Beans and Rice is a weekly favorite. I heat up cooked brown rice (leftover from dinner) with black beans, salsa and a sprinkle of cheese in a Thermos Funtainer. This time, I served it with tortilla chips and yummy Greek yogurt guacamole dip I found at Trader Joe’s (they have it at Costco too). Add some strawberries or other favorite fruit in a Lock & Lock Square, and it’s done.


Salad Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

This Salad Lunch is easy to prepare while chopping vegetables for dinner. While prepping tacos, I chopped extra lettuce and tomatoes and set up the lunchboxes alongside dinner prep. That makes the mornings smoother! With this salad, I added chickpeas and olives, some dressing in a little spillproof container, a cheese stick and some crackers. To keep it all cold, I use these Fit & Fresh ice packs. They stay frozen well through lunchtime, and my girls have the last lunch of the day.
Snacky Lunch | School Lunch Roundup #realfood | MoneywiseMoms

This is another Snacky Lunch. My kids are not terribly picky eaters, but I do have a hard time keeping track of who likes what during any given season. Why do kids suddenly hate a food they’ve happily eaten for five years? By giving them little bits of this and that, they don’t have to suffer through a large serving of something that’s not a favorite. Along with the cheese & crackers, I’ve put carrots and Ranch dip (ugh, not ideal but everything else is healthy), some apple and a whole wheat brownie. We make our own trail mix since we can’t have peanuts in the house. This one has almonds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), cashews, and dried cranberries. My kids take water in reusable Funtainer Bottle instead of juiceboxes or milk.
Linked up to Real Food Recipe Roundup at Musings of Housewife

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How I do Meal Planning {the 2014 version}

I’m teaching a class on Meal Planning this weekend, and it occurred to me that it’s been ages since I actually posted a meal plan here on MoneywiseMoms. Why? I’ve changed how I do meal planning over the past year, when I started using master meal lists. It saves me the “thinking” part of meal planning, which saves me time and stress. Since we’re eating the same things time and again, it seemed silly to post that here each week. But I’d love to get your thoughts–do you want me to post meal plans occasionally? I was thinking about sharing more cooking strategies for how to make (any) meal plan work for a busy family.

How I do meal planning (the 2014 version) | MoneywiseMoms
How I do Meal Planning now:

So this new method– I make a seasonal master meal list to work from–like my 30 Easy Meals for Fall, which I reused each month to make my life easier. I updated the list in December to include more cold-weather dishes like stews and casseroles, with 30 Easy Winter Meals. Now that it’s spring, I’m moving away from casseroles and other oven dishes for cold salads and lighter fare that I know will help us come swim team season. I’m also trying out some new recipes to see if they’re worth putting in the regular rotation.

I still stick to my $500/month grocery budget, and we do eat out 1-2 times a month, always with coupons or Kids Eat Free. I use less time each week planning out my meals; I just look at the list and pick some that work with our schedule, then check my pantry/fridge/freezer to see what we have on hand. Then I write a grocery list, and try my best (!) to shop just once a week. It’s the cooking strategies that really make it work, which is why I thought I’d write more posts about those, rather than just list what we’re eating each week.


Want to try Meal Planning?

Create a Master Meal List–start with what your family already eats/you already cook. I like to fill my protein categories to be sure I have enough variety and that we don’t eat the same things every month. That’s where Menu Plan Mind Mapping comes in handy! For example, when I buy the 4-pack of pork loin roasts at Costco each month, I have 6 favorite recipes to choose from. If it’s spring/summer, I’ll skip the ones that need the oven and stick with stovetop or crockpot cooking. By having a number of meals to make from ground beef/turkey, chicken, pork, and vegetarian, I can skip the thinking part of meal planning each week and just make a shopping list.

Check your fridge/pantry/freezer–as you’re writing your shopping list, take a look at what needs to be used up or what you may have stocked up on. Before you spend more money, use what you have! Rather than say “we’ll eat hamburgers this week,” I choose meals off the list that use food we already have, a big money-saver.

Set aside time weekly–start with 30 minutes a week to plan out your meals and shopping list. It will get faster as you gain more experience. When my girls were in preschool, I did the plan and shopping on Friday mornings; now I do it Sunday afternoons so we’re prepped for the week ahead. I also use a number of cooking strategies (like doubling up & freezing a casserole) to help me get dinners ready faster on busy weeknights.

Think through breakfasts, lunches and snacks–for years, I focused on the dinner recipes and would easily forget the staples that our household runs on. Between keeping a list on the fridge and training my husband and kids to write down anything we run out of, and thinking through our routine, we stay stocked on staples which helps avoid extra trips to the store and extra expenses.


Where are you in your meal planning routine? How can I help?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Turkey Parmesan Pasta {Easy Stovetop Meal}

Looking for a quick, healthy dinner recipe? Look no further! This Turkey Parmesan Pasta recipe is very similar to my Chicken & Tomato Pasta recipe, but it doesn’t require a Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker. It cooks right on the stovetop, in just one pan. Gotta love that!

Turkey Parmesan Pasta | Easy stovetop #recipe for family dinner | MoneywiseMoms

4.0 from 2 reviews
Turkey Parmesan Pasta
Serves: 6
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with Italian spices (or add your own)
  • 2 cups uncooked whole wheat pasta
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 cups low-sodium beef broth (I use jarred Better Than Bouillon)
  1. In a large skillet over medium/high heat, saute the onion and green pepper until soft.
  2. Add the ground turkey, breaking up into small pieces. Once cooked, remove from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings/juice. Set the meat mixture aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the heat and add the beef broth, tomatoes, and pasta. Stir to coat all of the pasta. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
  4. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes, or until pasta is tender.
  5. Return turkey vegetable mixture to the skillet and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese. Heat through.
  6. Serve with remaining Parmesan sprinkled on top.

This recipe can include any vegetables your family likes. I use zucchini rather than pepper in the summertime when we have garden zucchini.

Linked up to Real Food Recipe Roundup at Musings of a Housewife and Pinterest Foodie Linkup at Real the Kitchen & Beyond.

Spring Inspiration for School Lunches

Spring inspiration for school lunches | Liven up your kids' lunches with new combos, more fruits & veggies | MoneywiseMoms

I know we’re not the only part of the country finally climbing out of the winter funk. It seemed like the longest winter ever! I am finally putting away the coats and boots, the snow shovel and salt, and pulling out the short sleeves and shorts for the kids to try on. It’s going to be sunny and 70 degrees this week–just heavenly! One of the ruts I fell into this winter was packing lunches, especially on those super-early mornings that I take my son to swim practice. “I can do it in my sleep!” and I was proud of that, except that I was packing the same darn thing every day, and we’re all really tired of it. I’m ready for some spring inspiration–how about you? I found two sites with great inspiration for school lunches:

EasyLunchboxes Gallery | Spring inspiration for school lunches  | MoneywiseMoms

The EasyLunchboxes Gallery has 40 pages of ideas for lunches for kids of all ages, plus moms and dads. I especially like the ideas I get for using up leftovers and ideas for non-sandwich lunches. I just ignore all the Bento-style shapes and fancy stuff; it’s hard enough packing lunch for three kids daily, so I just keep it simple. Each gallery photo has a link to the original blog or recipe so there’s a lot to see.

School Lunch Roundup at 100DaysofRealFood | Spring inspiration for school lunches | MoneywiseMoms

100DaysofRealFood has five School Lunch Roundup posts with great ideas for increasing the amount of fruits and veggies in your kids’ lunches. There are also loads of ideas for alternatives to lunchmeat, which I’m always looking for. I went through the photos with my girls and they picked out a few new lunches to try, like this homemade pizza lunchable. With the nicer weather, we’ll have better produce in stores and our own garden running soon, so I’m encouraging the kids to eat more colorful foods.

Where do you get inspiration for school lunches?

7 Easy Tilapia Recipes {that the kids will like}

7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that the kids will like | MoneywiseMoms

Do you include fish in your meal planning? Tilapia is a great alternative to meat for your family meals, and since it doesn’t have a strong fishy smell or taste, it’s a great first fish for kids (and their parents). I’m trying some new recipes to find keepers for our regular rotation. These 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes have a variety of flavors, with something for everyone to like. Tilapia is so quick to cook, either sauteed on the stovetop or baked, that it’s perfect for busy weeknights.

Garlic Butter Baked Tilapia from The Better Baker | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Garlic Butter Baked Tilapia Fillets from The Better Baker
Butter and garlic is a classic combo that makes anything taste good. This is how I started my kids out on tilapia, since they were familiar flavors that make the flaky fish taste so good. This takes just minutes to prep, then you bake.

Honey Lime Tilapia from MelsKitchenCafe | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Honey Lime Tilapia from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
My kids have always preferred lime to lemon (no idea why), and this honey lime marinade is a great combination of flavors (you can marinate for as little as an hour for flavor). There’s a thin layer of flour (use gluten-free if needed) for a nice coating on this healthy dish.


Baja Tilapia Fish Tacos from Redomesitcation | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Baja Tilapia Fish Tacos from Redomestication
After a quick saute and taco seasoning, tilapia becomes delicious tacos. What a great way to add novelty to our Taco Tuesday! This post includes an awesome recipe for fresh pico, but until summer I’ll just use jarred salsa to make this a quick weeknight dinner.

Baked TIlapia Parmesan from The Best Blog Recipes | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Baked Tilapia Parmesan from The Best Blog Recipes
The combo of mayo with lemon juice and Parmesan is tangy and irresistible. It’s so easy to mix and bake, just prep some rice or pasta while it’s in the oven, add a vegetable, and you’ve got an easy meal done.

Lemon Garlic Tilapia from Andrea Dekker | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Lemon Garlic Tilapia from Andrea Dekker
It doesn’t get any easier! Just layer thawed tilapia in a baking pan with lemon slices and spices. You can even add frozen veggies right to the pan. This simple recipe gets dinner on the table within a half hour.

Almond Tilapia and Broccoli Slaw | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Almond Tilapia and Broccoli Slaw from MoneywiseMoms
This tilapia recipe is a favorite with my kids because of the crunchy texture of both the almonds and the veggies in the slaw. The tart vinegar in the slaw is a great contrast to the nutty flavor of the fish.

Healthy Chili Lime Tilapia from First Time Mommy | 7 Easy Tilapia Recipes that even kids will like

Healthy Chili Lime Tilapia from First Time Mommy
This tilapia is made quickly on the stovetop with some citrus juice and a few spices. So simple and such a great topping for a salad or chopped to use in tacos. Remember that you can thaw frozen tilapia quickly by running the wrapped filets under cool water for a few minutes.


How do you like to serve tilapia?

Linked up to Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster, Tasty Tuesdays at Red Cottage Chronicles and Tasty Tuesday at The Comforts of Home.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots

Looking for a simple recipe that will look and taste outstanding on your holiday table? Whenever I make Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots, it gets rave reviews (even from the kids!), and it’s so easy to pull together. This would make a great accompaniment to your Easter ham this year.

Brussels Sprouts with bacon and shallots #recipe | MoneywiseMoms

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
Serves: 6
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1/2 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth (I use low sodium bouillon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Chop the bacon into small pieces, add to skillet and saute for 5 minutes or until bacon begins to brown.
  2. Remove skillet from heat. Remove the bacon from pan, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan (discard the remaining drippings).
  3. Return skillet to medium-high heat, and stir in bacon, shallots, and Brussels sprouts. Stir frequently to saute for 4 minutes.
  4. Add garlic, and saute for 4 more minutes or until garlic begins to brown (stir frequently so that garlic does not burn).
  5. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes or until the broth mostly evaporates and the sprouts are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat; stir in salt and pepper.

This recipe is a wonderful change from the usual broccoli or green beans side dish. I wasn’t familiar with shallots until a few years ago, when a recipe introduced me to them, and now I just love them! They have such a deep, rich flavor that makes everything taste better. In your grocery store’s produce section, look for bags of 1 1/2 – 2 lbs brussels sprouts. They’re usually near the bagged salads.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots is linked up to Healthy Eating Recipes at Blogging Mamas, Gluten-Free Recipe Roundup at Musings of a Housewife, Recipes and Crafts Party at Close to Home, Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster and The SITS Girls Linky.

Macaroni & Cheese in the Deep Covered Baker

I know I’m not the only one out there who purchased a Deep Covered Baker from a Pampered Chef party with the idea of making lots of quick microwave meals. And I’m probably not the only one who then let this expensive wonder sit in the cabinet for months and months because you weren’t sure what meals to make. I’ve made Chicken Fajitas in the DCB for a few years now, but most of the recipes in the Pampered Chef cookbook are just not my thing–too many ingredients, or foods my kids won’t eat.

That’s why I set a goal for myself in 2014 to get a repertoire of 10 DCB (deep covered baker) microwave meals in my recipe book. And that’s why you’ll see the occasional DCB recipe, like last month’s Chicken Tomato Pasta, on the blog. This Macaroni & Cheese in the Deep Covered Baker has been thoroughly enjoyed by my family the five times I’ve made it, testing out the cooking time and making sure it was delish enough to share with you.

Macaroni & Cheese in the Deep Covered Baker | Great way to use your Pampered Chef DCB in the microwave | MoneywiseMoms

Macaroni & Cheese in the Deep Covered Baker
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni (half of a regular box)
  • I can or 14 oz chicken broth (I use low sodium)
  • 2 cups Half & Half
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 10oz chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
  1. Add the macaroni, broth, Half & Half, garlic powder and mustard to the deep covered baker.
  2. Stir to combine, then cover with the lid.
  3. Microwave on high for 16 minutes. Remove lid and stir. Pasta will not be completely cooked (it will complete in the next step).
  4. Add shredded cheese and stir. Place lid back on baker and let sit for 10 minutes.
  5. If adding broccoli, add at this time.


Since you’re cooking in a microwave, and all microwaves vary, you may need to tweak the recipe a bit by cooking a little longer to make sure your pasta is done. This also needs to be done if you use a whole wheat pasta (which needs more cooking time than traditional). Just add a few minutes at step 3 after you stir, if you feel you need the pasta to be softer.

If you don’t own a Deep Covered Baker or prefer a more traditional Macaroni & Cheese recipe with a sauce you make on the stovetop, try “Real” Macaroni and Cheese. We also love this Baked Mac & Cheese Casserole, which you can make with gluten-free pasta or regular. Clearly, we’re big fans of Mac & Cheese however we can get it.


Find more microwave DCB recipes on my Deep Covered Baker Recipes Pinterest Board.


Macaroni & Cheese in the Deep Covered Baker is linked up to Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster and Talk of the Parent Blogosphere at Type A Parent.

5 Beginner Crockpot Meals {that anyone can make}

You have heard it before–one way to get dinner on the table with no fuss is to use a crockpot. If you’re not sure where to start, or your crockpot still sitting in the cabinet unused, now is your chance! Learn these five beginner crockpot meals and gain the confidence to feed your family easily and frugally. All of the recipes below can be cooked in either a 4-quart or 6-quart slow cooker.

5 Beginner Crockpot Meals | Easy #recipes to get dinner on the table, most with only two ingredients! | MoneywiseMoms

Shredded Tacos

It doesn’t get any easier than this! Combine 2 lbs of boneless chicken or pork with a jar of salsa (or a jar of enchilada sauce or a can of tomatoes w/green chiles), and cook on low all day for 8-10 hours. Turn off the heat and use two forks to shred the tender meat. Serve with tortillas or over rice along with your favorite taco toppings: tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and black beans.


BBQ Sandwiches

Again, choose from 2 lbs of boneless chicken or pork, and combine with a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. If you prefer to avoid processed foods, you can make your own (rather than simmer as in that recipe, just mix in the crockpot before adding your meat). Cook on low for 8-10 hours, then use two forks to shred the meat. Add extra sauce if desired, then serve on hamburger buns alongside a salad or your family’s favorite veggie.


Baked Potato Bar

Not just for parties, my family loves this meal, too. Wash as many baking potatoes (we like Russets) as you need, and prick each with a fork. Wrap individually in foil, then place in crockpot and cook for 8-10 hours on low. Serve with an assortment of baked potato toppings: cooked broccoli, shredded cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, or even chili.


Chicken or Pork Teriyaki

This time, combine chicken or pork with a bottle of teriyaki sauce or teriyaki marinade (if you prefer homemade or need gluten-free, make your own). Cook on low 8-10 hours, and use two forks to shred. Serve over rice with a side veggie. Another option is to toss a bag of broccoli slaw in for the last 30 minutes of cook time.


Pepperoncini Beef

Just two ingredients again–a 3 lb beef roast (such as chuck or bottom round) and a 16oz jar of pepperoncini peppers. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, then shred. Serve over mashed potatoes, in a sub roll, or even on top of a salad. Delish!


Whether you’re a beginner crockpot cook or a veteran like me, easy time-saving recipes are key to getting a healthy meal on the table on busy nights. For more simple recipes, follow my Slow Cooker & Crockpot board on Pinterest.


5 Beginner Crockpot Meals is linked up to Fluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster and Inspire Me Wednesday at MamaBuzz.

Original image from e.t. on Flickr

Dairy-Free Egg-Free Cake and Cupcakes Recipe

As the mom of a child with a food allergy, we’ve had our share of disappointments like the classroom party where my son is the only one who can’t have the treat. If you have friends or family with a severe allergy, it can be hard to know how to celebrate with them. This Dairy-Free Egg-Free Cake and Cupcakes Recipe is a great one to keep on hand for special events. It makes the allergic child feel so special to be included in the festivities, and there’s no harm in the other kids eating non-dairy, non-egg cake or cupcakes. It’s great for adults, too, if you are hosting a baby shower or need a few cupcakes set aside at a wedding or other event. Add this recipe to your repertoire!

  Dairy-Free Egg-Free Cake and Cupcake #Recipe | MoneywiseMoms

Be sure and use cupcake liners if you’re making cupcakes, since this batter is stickier than typical cake batter. And, if you’re using cake pans, I suggest spraying them and coating with flour to avoid sticking. The original recipe came from Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Kid-Pleasing Recipes & Tips, which is no longer in print.

4.8 from 5 reviews
Allergy-Safe Cake and Cupcakes
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and flour or cupcake pans with liners.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla and water. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until well-blended.
  4. Add vinegar and stir quickly to thoroughly incorporate into batter.
  5. Pour batter into prepared cake pans or cupcake tins.
  6. For cake--bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. For cupcakes--bake for 15-18 minutes.
  7. Cool before removing from pans.

As for decorating, be very careful to use allergy-safe frosting or decorations. There are some prepared frostings that many dairy-free kids can eat, or you can search online for a homemade soy version. Colored sugar is a safer bet than sprinkles, or you could sprinkle a little confectioner’s sugar on top. If you’re a dairy-free egg-free mom, we’d love to hear other suggestions for decorations in the comments below!


Dairy Free, Egg Free Cake and Cupcakes Recipe is linked up to Pinterest Foodie Link-Up at Real the Kitchen and Beyond, Tip Me Tuesday at Tip Junkie, the SITS Girls Craft & Recipe LinkupFluster’s Creative Muster Party at Fluster Buster and Manic Monday Linky Party at Serendipity and Spice.