Category: Meals

Family friendly meals that are quick, easy, and inexpensive.

Simple Ideas for Easy Holiday Meals

Simple Ideas for Easy Holiday Meals

This year things were different for our Thanksgiving because of all the changes that have occurred in recent weeks. I was still determined to make the holiday great. I wanted the boys to have a positive memory from this holiday time AND it will be the last Thanksgiving where they will all be living under one roof.

We had the opportunity to visit with family for the holiday, but we opted to stay closer to home. With that in mind, I was determined that they would have the same cornucopia of options they would find at any large family gathering.

Thanksgiving Plan 2017

Main Event

  • Turkey
  • Ham


  • Green bean casserole
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Green salad
  • Spinach balls
  • Smashed potatoes
  • Yeast rolls
  • Stuffed mushrooms
  • Dressing
  • Gravy


  • Chocolate pie
  • Peanut butter pie
  • Egg nog cheese cake
  • Pumpkin cake

  • Cooking this much is not as much of a challenge as it would have been before I started doing once a month cooking. I just go into it with a plan based on the length of time each item needs to cook (and I start developing a plan for what to do with the leftovers – or, as I prefer to call them, PLANNED overs).

    My biggest mistake was waiting too long to get started on the prep work. Had I been more prepared, then I would have only had to make one trip to the grocery store. Well, technically I did only make one trip. I sent my husband and my oldest for round two and three.

    What I would normally have done was look at all of my dishes, pull out all non-perishable ingredients, and add any missing items to my grocery list.

    I didn’t do that this time. I know better, but I chose not better. That is a perfect metaphor for how I often end up in trouble in my life journey as well.

    I saw all the social media posts that others were sharing about the food they were making and I felt guilty. Not guilty enough to get up and get started myself, but guilty enough to keep adding items to my list.

    On Thursday morning, I woke up a little late, but still early enough to hit the ground running just before 6 am (which was my designated start time). I prepped the turkey and got it started, then began working down my check list.

    Prep, cook, and clean time was less than six hours.

    Complete Thanksgiving Lunch for 2017

    Main Event

    • Turkey
    • Ham


    • Green bean casserole
    • Dijon Brussel sprouts
    • Tossed Green salad
    • Spinach pie
    • Smashed potatoes
    • Refrigerated yeast rolls
    • Dressing
    • Homemade Cranberry Dressing
    • Gravy


  • No bake Peanut butter pie
  • No bake Reese’s pie
  • Apple Crisp
  • Egg nog cheese cake
  • Pumpkin cake

  • What Changed and Why

    I have never been great at following recipes, so I often just do what I need to do to get done. Since I knew I was cooking for the long term and not just for one meal, I made some adjustments.

    1. Out with the mushrooms. I LOVE stuffed mushrooms, but I am about the only one in my immediate family that does love them. I had time and space to do the mushrooms, but just made the call to let them go this year. NOTE: Next time, go ahead and make a full batch of mushrooms then cook up a few but freeze the rest for future meals.
    2. From Spinach Balls to Spinach Pie. As I contemplated my game plan for the next day, I determined that the spinach balls – which are designed to be a finger food/appetizer – could easily be turned into a pie instead. I already knew the pie crusts I had for the baked pies were not going to be used. It worked out great and my spinach lover declared it to be the best spinach he ever had. NOTE: Next time, use the filling to make TWO pies instead of one – that way the filling will get firmer and crisp up on the top without worrying about overcooking the crust.
    3. The chocolate pie and peanut butter pie became no bake versions. My family LOVES the no-bake version, so why mess with a good thing.
    4. Apple crisp was added to the mix. We had a large number of apples and my middle son wanted to do something with them. A crisp was chosen over a pie because originally it was going to be cooked in a crockpot.

    The meal was a complete success. The boys filled up on the sides and dessert was something we were able to enjoy at a later time during the day.

    Making the Holidays Simple

    • Crockpots. I cooked three of my side dishes in the crockpot which left plenty of room for the other items that had to go into the oven. The green bean casserole, Brussel sprouts, and potatoes cooked wonderfully. Just be sure that you plan in the time the crockpots will need to cook (usually around 4 to 5 hours on low for many items).
    • Do make a schedule. Look over the recipes and determine what needs to go into the oven and when. Be sure to take into account any “sitting times.” Things like cranberry sauce and cheesecake need time to settle or set up. The meats should be allowed to rest before they are carved. Also think about PREcook times – like how long the dough needs to rise before you can make the rolls. Write down the schedule so you can keep up with what you are doing and what you need to be doing next.
    • Clean as you go. Do as much of the washing, drying, and putting away as you possibly can. You might even want to add that time into your schedule. You will be able to enjoy the holiday more if you know there isn’t a sink full of dishes taunting you from the other room.
    • Make it a team sport. I started letting my sons cook the sides when they were big enough to see the stovetop and reach it safely. They would choose the sides and we would find recipes together. They also helped with desserts. Now, we are able to work together (safely even) in the kitchen. Cooking and cleaning goes so much easier when we do it together.
    • Think about tomorrow. There are always leftovers after a big holiday. There were years when we had turkey and dressing until either the dressing or the gravy ran out (somehow there was always plenty of turkey). Now I plan dishes around the leftovers and I will even precook or prepackage the PLANNED OVER dishes so they will be easy fixes down the road.
      1. Turkey Pot Pie – perfect way to reuse veggies
        Turkey broth – I use the HUGE pot we had for deep frying the turkey to boil up some broth for the days ahead.
        Turkey soup – just add noodles to your turkey broth.
        Ham and cheese strudel – chopped ham with some shredded cheese rolled up in puff pastry . . . perfect for a relaxed morning meal (or for an easy dinner as well).
        Ham hash – another great morning treat.

    The key to enjoying the holidays is to plan to enjoy it and then work the plan so you can enjoy it. It is not about the food, or even about the day of the month. This holiday, like all days, is about the people around us. Invest in those relationships first – make them the priority – and no matter how the turkey turns our (or even if it gets away) you will still have a blessed holiday to remember.

    Time for Planned-Overs

    • Thanksgiving Pot Pie – normally I would have made turkey pot pie, but I completely forgot to set aside some potatoes to cube for this dish. So, I improvised. I layered a deep dish pie crust with turkey, made another layer of green bean casserole, added in some carrots (saved and frozen from a previous meal), stirred in some raw garlic (because . . . garlic!), smothered in all in gravy, and then topped it off with a mashed potato crust. Turned out good and was a nice change from just repeating the meal from before.

      Confession Time: I really only made this because I had a leftover pie crust that I had to use because I forgot to put it away. It was still good though and will definitely be a repeat in the holidays to come.

    • Ham and Cheese Strudel – all you need is some puff pastry sheets (found in the freezer section usually above or around the pie crusts). Let the pastry sheet thaw over-night in the frig. Roll it out until it’s thin. Spread out a layer of diced ham to within an inch of the sides. Spread out a layer of shredded cheese on top of that. Dampen the edges of the dough (this will help seal the strudel shut) and then begin to roll it up like a log. Put the strudel on a baking sheet – seam side down and then puncture the top with a fork (about 12 holes should be plenty – you are just giving steam from the cooking a place to escape). Cook at 375 F until golden brown.
    • Green Eggs and Ham

      My son came up with this little gem. He started by scrambling some eggs and before they were done he threw in some of the chopped up spinach pie. Fry up a couple of pieces of ham and you have a great breakfast to start the day after Thanksgiving.

    • Chefs Salad. Save a few of your boiled eggs from the Deviled Egg line and you can throw a healthy lunch together in a flash. Make it a T-day special by layering green salad, chopped turkey, chopped ham, chopped boiled egg, and then use home-made cranberry sauce as a tart dressing for your salad (you can even create an actual salad dressing with it as your base).

    Enjoy the holidays but also let the day or two of holiday cooking be a time that you can use to prepare for the weeks ahead. Things can get crazy this time of year, but if you are prepared and have a plan you can find a way to keep it simple.

    Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite holiday time savers?

    How to Power Boost Your System with a Red Smoothie

    How to Power Boost Your System with a Red Smoothie

    Eating healthy sometimes means drinking healthy. Adding foods that you won’t normally eat to a smoothie can give you the nutrients you seek without having to “learn to like” the food that is not at all appealing.

    # # #

    I have never been fond of beets. My disdain for the vegetable probably goes back to my first diet at 14. It involved lots of beets – and was one of those eat this for three days and you will lose weight fad diets.

    It may have caused me to lose weight because I struggled to choke down the beets required.

    Since that time, I have not done anything with beets. The canned cranberry sauce even caused me to look away because it reminded me of those beets from the fad days.

    Today, I made a change, and I believe it will be for the better.

    I tried a red smoothie for the first time.

    Green smoothies and I go way back, and my whole family will delight in the green smoothies. Granted, the smoothies are rarely green, but they do include a high dose of a green veggie.

    I read about red smoothies when I was looking for something to sooth my son’s stomach. The red smoothies include a raw beet. That alone was enough to cause me to pause. But beets are supposed to be a super food (they contain lots of vitamins and minerals including carotenoids, lutein/zeaxanthin, glycine, betaine, dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus, while also being a source of beneficial flavonoids called anthocyanins) so I decided to give it a go.

    I started out with a recipe from the Food Network – because rarely has the Food Network steered me wrong.

    If you have known me for very long, you know I say “started out with” because I have trouble following a recipe. And since I was trying to pack this red smoothie with as much immune building and distestion soothing punch as I possibly could, I pretty much ignored most of what the recipe suggested and just tossed lots of things into a blender.

    NOTE: if you have never tried something before, you might want to follow the recipe first – just trust me on this.

    So, roughly this is what I did:

    1 med beet, peeled and then cubed
    1 med apple, cored and cubed
    Two lemons, juiced
    2 cups Northland Blueberry Pomegranate juice
    4 pitted dates
    1 cup frozen cherries
    1 cup frozen strawberries
    1 cup of Stoneyfield Vanilla Yogurt
    3 tbls Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar
    ¼ cup raw (local) honey

    I blended it well and then had a heaping cup with breakfast. My breakfast also included grits (with raw garlic added) so I should be wired to kill any bad guys that may approach or that may be roaming through my body.

    The red smoothie was not what I would call a shouting success, but it was tolerable. The whole time I was drinking I couldn’t decide if it was too tart (from the ACV) or two sweet. In I think it was too many flavors all at once.

    Do you have a favorite red smoothie recipe? Share in the comments below because I still have five more beets I need to do something with!

    Make the Most of Mealtime with Crockpot Meals

    Make the Most of Mealtime with Crockpot Meals

    | Four entrees – One Pork Loin |

    We want to provide our families healthy, preferably home-made meals. We want to balance our household budgets. And we want to do all of this while keeping the house in order, taking care of ourselves, and also getting the kids where they need to be when they need to be there.

    | Bring on the Crock Pot |

    Crockpot Island - TraveLangs
    Can you ever have too many crockpots?

    I have always been a huge fan of “leave it” meals. The kind I can put in a pot, walk away, and it will be ready when mealtime rolls around.

    One year, just before Thanksgiving, our oven died. We didn’t have time to replace the appliance before the big holiday, so I improvised. Almost every dish (we got a smoked turkey that year) was cooked in crock pots or other electronic appliances. I discovered I could LITERALLY cook anything in a crockpot.

    So I did.

    | More Meals from Less Money |

    The more I used my crock pots, the more recipes I found to use my crock pots – and the bolder I got in creating my own recipes. I also found that I could prep my crock pot meals, freeze them, and then all I had to do was put them in the crockpot the night before and I would have a great lunch or dinner when the time was right.

    About this same time, I discovered that our local Foodland Plus sold pork loin that was two feet long – which divided perfectly into four meals.

    (I keep an eye out for any big sales on meats. When they come along – and they do – then I pack them up to freeze for later).

    It’s like someone was watching out for me and helping me get this meal thing in order (and under budget).

    | The Crock Pot Meals |

    I set up freezer ziplock bags – one for each meal I’m going to work on. Then I add the meats, top with the other ingredients, seal the bag, label and date, and then freeze. When it comes time to cook, I cut the bag open and dump the whole frozen concoction into the crock pot.

    Cinnamon Pork

    2.5 lb pork loin
    ½ cup chopped onions
    2 tsp ground cinnamon
    ½ tsp coarse salt
    ½ tsp pepper
    1 cup beef broth
    1 tbsp chopped garlic (cause is it possible to have too much garlic?)

    Ginger Pork

    2.5 lb pork loin
    2 tsp ground ginger
    ½ cup onions
    1 tbsp chopped garlic
    ½ tsp coarse salt
    ½ tsp pepper
    ¼ cup honey
    1 cup beef broth

    Barbeque Pork

    (this is absolutely the easiest recipe)

    2.5 lb pork loin
    ½ cup chopped onions
    1 tbsp chopped garlic
    ½ tsp coarse salt
    ½ tsp pepper
    1 bottle barbeque sauce

    Traditional Pork Dinner

    2.5 lb pork loin
    ½ cup onion wedges
    1 tbsp chopped garlic
    ½ tsp coarse salt
    ½ tsp pepper
    1 ½ cup chopped carrots
    1 ½ cup chopped celery
    1 ½ cup baby potatoes (or 1 inch cubed)
    1 cup beef broth

    | Make it Work for You |

    I’ve shared some of the recipes I have used, but I should tell you that these measurements are guestimates on my part. I RARELY measure anything when I’m creating crockpot concoctions. A little salt, a little pepper, some onions, and some garlic and then I just add flavors I think will work.

    I do this with chicken as well.

    Most of my crockpot beef dinners involve ground beef and are more casserole than anything else.

    The more I have played around with the flavors, the more options I have discovered.

    What is your favorite crock pot cooking tip? Be sure you share in the comments below.

    The Mom

    Coming Soon!

    I’ll walk you through my idea of “once a month” cooking and share how putting the prep work in all at once paves the way for quick and easy meals.

    Tempting Veggie Tots that Made Cauliflower a Welcomed Visitor

    Tempting Veggie Tots that Made Cauliflower a Welcomed Visitor

    The Travelangs have been making an attempt to eat more vegetables and a wider variety of vegetables. That should read “The Mom” is making an attempt, but the rest of the TraveLangs are caught up in the journey.

    It all started when the Father-In-Law needed a change in diet. We started preparing all his meals and taking them to him. We wanted to make sure he had fruits and vegetables, so salad became a staple.

    It was only recently that he mentioned to my son that he has trouble chewing salad. I knew he had trouble with other things, but this information was new.

    I made it my goal to provide a full meal without salad as an option (fruit is only a rare option because of high blood sugar).

    So here we are. This week we have had zucchini chips, cheesy tomatoes, spinach loaf, butternut squash, roasted squash, green beans, and ratatouille (which included eggplant, a first for this mom) . . . and it’s only Wednesday.

    Today’s experiments . . . I mean recipes . . . involves a veggie I have never ventured into on purpose. Cauliflower and I have never talked. I’ve seen Cauliflower at parties and it has even visited some of my side dishes at restaurants. But I have never had an initial encounter.

    The Dad LOVES Cauliflower – which is once again proof positive that God does have a sense of humor.

    I will make a confession here. Several years ago, you couldn’t have paid me to make broccoli. It had just been a party companion to cauliflower. One day, my son asked if we could try it. So I did – because when your kids start ASKING for healthy choices you bite the bullet and make the healthy choices. Now I LOVE it.

    After a search for some veggie recipes, I decided I was going to have to extend Cauliflower an invitation.

    | The Cauliflower Saga |

    After my fiasco with ratatouille last night, I decided I should read the whole recipe I had downloaded for the cauliflower dish. The recipe for “Cauliflower Tots” came from and looked simple enough.

    Full disclosure: “recipe” simply offers a starting point for my cooking. I, in no way, believe it is a directive – kind of like most people driving along Hwy 431 in Alabama feel about road signs and driving laws.

    | It Starts with a Pan |

    Not only does it start with a pan, but my goal for every meal is to keep it to one pan. That way there is less for me to clean up. We probably should buy stock in aluminum foil with as much as we use in our cooking (not to mention crockpot liners and parchment paper).

    The recipe called for softening the cauliflower in a skillet. Now, I’m prepared to invite Cauliflower into our home, but I’m not quite prepared to go out of my way for it. I decided to roast Cauliflower in the oven (and for those who are wondering I did have some great punchlines).

    Something else you need to know about me is I rarely measure things. I am a full-on “pinch, dash, splash” kind of cook

    I threw the roasted (and obviously happy) Cauliflower in the food processor, added some onion (what was left in the refrigerator of a sweet onion), about a tbsp. of garlic (because Garlic is ALWAYS invited), some salt and pepper, and chopped.

    After they were chopped together, I stirred in some seasoned bread crumbs. I had about a cup leftover of the Full Circle Italian Style Bread Crumbs I had purchased on Saturday from Foodland Plus in Guntersville (I really like these because they are not as fine as the store brand bread crumbs). I added in two eggs, stirred everything well, and then put the “tots” on the same pan that I had used for the Cauliflower roast.

    Finally, I baked at 425 degrees F, because that was what the oven was set to from the roast. I think the 400 degrees F suggested by the recipe might have provided a crisper finished product.

    | The Verdict |

    veggie tots for lunch

    It’s usually a good sign when everyone is popping the bites in their mouth when they walk through the kitchen. If Cauliflower continues to show up with such flavorful fanfare then Cauliflower will be welcomed in our home!


    The Mom

    P.S. Cleanup only took about 10 minutes total!

    What are some of your veggie favorites?