Planning = Staying on budget

Planning ahead not only keeps healthy options in the house, but keeps you on budget. When you plan and write a list, you should have an idea of what you’re spending. You can look at the list and maybe find places to save.

A great way to make this easier is to use online shopping. You don’t have to do it all the time, but it’s a great resource. You can put in your list and see exactly how much you are spending. This also eliminates any impulse buys 😉. Is it perfect? Nope, but it is helpful for many people. They also save your list making it easy the next time you order.

Personally, I go to several stores when I’m shopping; but not everyone has that availability. I have found planning the freezer crockpot dinners has me using BJs more often. I’m buying in bulk and using it all quickly.

I’m also using more frozen vegetables in the crockpot prep (you don’t have to prep to use them, they can just be thrown into the crockpot). Frozen vegetables are a great way to save money and eat healthy!

There is also the aspect of knowing you have the food and dinner is ready. I don’t know about you, but we HATE throwing out food. There’s hardly a time we will go out to eat if dinner is planned. This doesn’t mean we never eat out, it’s simply part of the plan.

Do you find planning ahead easy? What is the hardest part?

You can check out my meal planning post (with printouts) here

5 Ways to Use Herbs

I love fresh herbs! I try to keep them in jars on the counter, making the house smell good as they wait to be used.


I LOVE using fresh herbs in marinades, but admittedly I do this more in the summer when they are abundant in my garden. Recently, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of using them during the winter.

Here are two of my favorites:

Cilantro lime chicken (I added some minced garlic)

Garlic roasted chicken with rosemary – I often use this as a base for marinades too – sometimes I use thyme or oregano and then grill the chicken (no broth or wine for marinating)


Herbs are delicious on salads. I had seen people say this and actually tried it by accident. We love it! You can also use them to make salad dressing 🙂


Cilantro is always a go-to on tacos or anything Mexican. Of course you can sprinkle basil and/or parsley on many different dishes. You can even put them on your eggs!


Basil is usually the king of pesto, but you can also use parsley or cilantro. I’ve even seen recipes that use a mix of herbs, as in whatever you have hanging around 😉


Here cilantro reigns supreme, but other herbs can be used too. I’ll throw bruschetta in this category too, just because it’s tomatoes and basil. This is another great way to add fruit or veggies and herbs to your meal.

Looking for ideas? Check out my Pinterest board with dressings, pestos and salsas here

How do you incorporate herbs in your cooking?

Simply Kid Chefs: Black Bean Empanadas

  Last week, we wound up with a much needed quiet weekend and our oldest took over the kitchen.  He thumbed through Carla Hall’s cookbook and decided to make black bean empanadas.  Funny as he hardly ever eats black beans when I cook them 😉

The recipe makes both the pastry and the filling, which is a black bean picadillo.  We gave it our all, but had some trouble with the cream cheese dough.  I should have checked the recipe before committing, but I didn’t.  It calls for a stand mixer and we don’t have one.  We were able to fudge our way through with strong arms ;). Ultimately, we made four rounds and used tortillas for seconds. 

The filling was really easy and the chef was able to do most of it (I sliced the garlic).  He is really learning his way around the kitchen and I am filling more of a supervisor/photographer role.

Here’s the chef hard at work… 


The empanadas were rich and not our youngest’s favorite.  He’s anti-beans so it wasn’t too surprising.  The chef enjoyed it, but wound up breaking it in half to have a little less dough.  I think in the future we would try a different dough or use tortillas. 
Most importantly, it was fun spending time with the chef as he worked in the kitchen. He has gained a lot of confidence and rarely needs me to reach anything for him 🙂
Do you like black beans?  What is your favorite black bean recipe?

Simply Kid Chefs: Paella with chorizo, chicken, shrimp and mussels

Our youngest took over the kitchen at the end of a fun-filled weekend.  I brought him cookbooks to thumb through while he was snuggled in the living room.  He yelled into the other room, “I picked seafood paella”.  My immediate thought was, from which cookbook?  I was hoping it was Carla Hall’s cookbook because she gives great instructions and I was going to need it!  Thankfully, it was Carla’s book.
I was a little nervous about this one on different levels.  First, I wasn’t sure I could cook a paella myself, let alone help an 8 year old.  Then there was the issue of everyone eating it.  It would be a lot of work and a lot of food if the kids didn’t eat it.
All along, I have decided to let the kids try a recipe even if I thought they wouldn’t eat it or it looked difficult, so we went for it!  We wrote out the list and were able to find everything except the rice.  We used arborio rice and substituted chicken thighs for the whole chicken in pieces. We also followed Carla’s tip and used turmeric in place of the saffron 😉
We read the recipe several times so we understood the timing and prepped everything before turning on the stove.  The chef did most of the work.  I chopped the onion and slit the chorizo to peel the casing (we were not perfect with this one, but it worked fine for us), and I cut the habanero chile (we used 1/4).  He did most of the cooking but I stepped in to remove the chorizo and chicken.  I also helped nestle the chicken back in and place the seafood.
Here’s the chef…

I was surprised at how easy the dish turned out to be.  Like everything it helps to be prepared.  We were able to move along and follow the timing pretty easily.  I was a little worried about the rice and it came out perfectly.  We have an electric stove and I was weary of the blast of heat at the end.  It absolutely worked!
The dish was delicious!!  The chef loved the mussels and went back for more.  Both boys found the chorizo a little spicy, but the beauty of so many meats, there was something for everyone.  The oldest focused on the chicken and wasn’t the biggest fan, but he ate it.
There was a ton of leftovers!  This is definitely a great dish for a bigger group and won’t keep you trapped in the kitchen 😉
Have you tried a paella?  What’s your favorite cookbook?  Do like cookbooks that give thorough instructions?

Simply Kid Chefs: Bahamian Coconut Fish Fingers and Mango Feta Dip

As you know, we just returned from an amazing cruise in the Caribbean (in time for the impending blizzard :()! While we were perusing tourist shops, we came across a cookbook, “a Taste of the Caribbean” and the boys wanted to check it out. Our youngest has been really enthusiastic about trying some recipes and luckily, it was his turn to cook.

He selected Bahamian coconut fish fingers and mango feta dip with walnuts. He felt they would go well together (I added a salad). We know that fish of all types is enjoyed in the Caribbean! Here’s my flying fish sandwich in Barbados and my fish and chips in Antigua. I also enjoyed blackened yellowfin tuna and a tuna burger – I didn’t take pictures though 😉


Our chef learned a lot on this adventure! He asked a whole foods employee how to pick a ripe mango and it was an adventure finding creme de coconut (it was in the International section). He also decided to use cod as that’s the common white fish around here.

Preparation was mostly a team effort. I cut up the mango and sliced the lime. He manned the food processor (his favorite) and the walnuts. I cut the fish, but he did everything else! He even cracked the eggs himself. He was hesitant after his last attempt and then extremely proud to be successful!

Here’s the chef

We found some of the instructions a little lack luster. We fried the fish for 3 minutes a side as we had some big pieces and it worked out perfectly. The dip was delicious on the crackers, but also on the fish.

Here’s the recipes


The meal was a success! Our youngest loved it and it was nice to be reminded of warm weather as they predict massive snowfall!

Are you preparing for snow? What’s your favorite way to eat fish? Have you ever been served an entire fish for fish and chips?

What an amazing week ~ Carla Hall, my birthday and a cruise!

It has been crazy around here in an amazingly fun way! We spent last week on a cruise through the Caribbean (plenty more about that coming in later posts – SO many pictures), I had my birthday and Carla Hall shared my blog post – EEK!

I thought taking the week away and being unplugged would leave me with a plethora of posts ready to go, but instead I read a book, well 1 1/2, which as a mom is pretty awesome! I read Misty Copeland’s autobiography, Life in Motion and loved it!! Of course, I needed some serious beach reading and am halfway through an Elin Hilderbrand book.

As I sat down to write I was a little overwhelmed. Where do I start? I feel like a kid in a candy store. I’ll start with Carla Hall and share everything else later this week!

Last Thursday, the 8th, I was packing and getting everything ready for our early flight the next day when my phone alerts me that Carla Hall has mentioned me in a tweet – WHAT?!? No way!! Of course, I pause packing and check facebook – OMG she’s shared me there too!! I take the obligatory screen shots and share like crazy!

Back to packing and checking social media. Up early the next day, I send a thank you to Carla Hall’s team and we are in the air for hours. I still have comments to catch up on as we left the Internet behind.

As our ship is getting ready to depart, my mom (who is feeding our cats) text messages me the boys have a package from Carla Hall. They are beyond excited! We go to dinner on the cruise ship and they had a Top Chef menu. You guessed it there was a dish created by Carla Hall. It’s safe to say, we have become even bigger fans.

We get home and the boys tear into their package. It was a variety of her petite cookies and a note from Carla! It’s funny how a simple gesture can go so far!!

The boys have been excited and certainly encouraged to keep cooking. On our trip they tried many new foods and even bought a cookbook. They are ready to be back in the kitchen!

Thank you again Carla! It has really inspired the boys 🙂

What are you reading? Do you get star struck?

Simply Kid Chefs: Mini Meaty Pitas with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

Not surprisingly, our oldest found another way to cook with ground beef :). This time, there is a bit of a back story…

Back in October, I attended Fitness Magazine’s #FitBlogNYC with my blogging friends. I mentioned in my recap how impressed I was with Carla Hall. At the time, I didn’t get into my full meeting with her.

We were lucky enough to meet and speak with any of the guests and you can bet I wanted to talk with Carla. She was gracious and really talked to each person as if no one was waiting.

We talked about the boys and their cooking. I mentioned that our oldest was looking forward to trying his own recipes and mixing up spices, but could use some guidance. She told me about her new cookbook, Carla’s Comfort Foods. Not only does it feature recipes from around the world, there is a guide to different regions and what spices they use together.

I couldn’t wait to buy the cookbook for the boys. I knew they would love everything about about it! We decided to wait for Christmas. It seemed a little lost in the shuffle, but then I found out they were excitedly telling our family and friends about it. They couldn’t wait to get cooking!

Our oldest found the burger section and wanted to try her Persia influenced burgers. If he wasn’t excited enough, the foreword for the recipe had him giddy. It turns out Carla worked for a family in Falmouth, MA (where I ran last week’s New Year’s race) and they had inspired this recipe. What?!? Mom met her AND she spent time on the Cape ~ too cool 😉

We ventured off to the store and found everything we needed. Once home, he set to work making the sauce. I peeled and seeded the cucumber, he did everything else. Initially, he was a little overzealous in his zesting, but it had stuck to the grater and we adjusted how far to zest (no white pith).

We didn’t find pocketless Pitas, but found the edges stayed together when we cut them. As for cutting the bread, we didn’t have a round cookie cutter. We improvised with a water bottle. It took some elbow grease, but we took turns and it worked perfectly!

The chef was able to prepare the burgers himself. Of course, it was closely supervised! He also learned to roll the lime before cutting it, helping to loosen all of the juice.

I flipped the burgers and we broiled the Pitas. Here’s the chef hard at work…

Here’s the recipe from Carla’s book…


The meal was amazing!! We served it with cucumber, celery, carrots, pita scraps and hummus. Everyone loved it. The flavors mixed perfectly. We even used the leftover mint and cilantro on chicken with garlic, lime and cumin. I can safely say, we will be making these again and continue to play with the flavors!!

Have you cooked with these flavors? Did you give or receive any cookbooks over the holidays?