Friday, October 10, 2014

Freezer Meals (AKA Saving Time, Money AND Sanity!)

JWe have officially been in our own home (first time on our own!) for two years now. 25 months, to be exact. Just a couple months after moving in we got engaged and spent the next year and a half planning a wedding. With both of us working full time, coming home to tend to the needs of our very energetic pup, maintaining a house & lawn, budgeting and providing dinner for more than just one mouth, we found the unhealthy and financial pitfall that is eating out.  A couple weeks ago, I found out about the fabulous world of freezer meals. Mind BLOWN.

That Sunday, I spent a couple hours on Pinterest and searching blogs for good recipes that weren't JUST pinned, but also attempted. I picked the ones that received the best reviews that also sounded good to us. I made a shopping list after scouring the cabinets for things I already had on hand (i.e. spices, sauces, canned goods), paired up what I could with coupons and headed off to the store. The initial research was the biggest time consumer. I look at it as an investment that was WELL worth it. And now YOU can benefit from me having done all the research for you!

If we both were purchasing lunch at work just three times a week, that's at least $60. And if we ordered out or went out for dinner just twice a week, that's another $80 easy! That's $140 for three lunches for each of us and two dinners. Not to mention the weekends, or groceries for breakfast and other dinners/lunches, another $100/week, for a grand (minimum) total of $240. The end result of my freezer meal trial run was $108 (I saved $62 by using coupons and buying sale items!) for everything needed to create 8 freezer meals. Each meal was enough to serve both of us a hefty portion for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day. Still with me? So one dinner and one lunch EACH. Meaning $108 would feed us EACH eight dinners and eight lunches. Over one week's worth of yummy, healthier food for less than half as much as we were spending before. Some meals even produced enough for us each to have 2 lunches!

So what were our favorites? The following are recipes we will definitely put into regular rotation! If forgot to take pictures, so I'll update this post next go 'round!

Creamy Italian Chicken


Creamy Ranch Chicken


Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo


Chicken Taco Bowls


Honey Teriyaki Chicken


Chicken Fajitas


***If you don't have a programmable slow cooker, you may want to consider using chicken thighs instead of breasts for less dry chicken when cooking times are longer than suggested.***

Creamy Italian Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS cooking longer makes chicken dry)   
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened 
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 dry packet of italian seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Creamy Ranch Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened
2 cans cream of broccoli
1 dry packet of ranch seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo (Low 4-5 HOURS)
Label and add in the bag:
3 Chicken Breasts
1 Jar Alfredo Sauce (after adding sauce, fill empty jar with water half way, shake and pour in bag.
half bag frozen mixed bell peppers
2 cans mushrooms
During last hour or two of cooking, add half a bag frozen chopped brocolli
Added to slow cooker during last 30 minutes:
1 box rigatoni (boiled al dente on stovetop) 
8oz block of cream cheese.
Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily.
Sauce will thicken if left to stand 20 minutes with slow cooker turned off and lid removed.

**OUR FAVORITE** Chicken Taco Bowls (Low 7-8 hours)
Photo credit from original recipe source, Budget Bytes.
Label and add in the bag:

3 chicken breasts
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 can black beans, drained
1 can (or half bag frozen) corn
1 Tbsp chili powder
½ Tbsp cumin
½ Tbsp minced garlic
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
to taste cracked pepper

Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily. 
Cook on stove top 1 bag Saffron (spanish) rice (or 2 bags to make this recipe feed up to 8)
put rice in indivudual bowls and top with large scoop from slow cooker, top with cheddar and fresh cilantro (and hot sauce, sour cream/guacamole if desired)
This is also amazing in tortillas or without the rice atop tortilla chips for nachos!
**You can easily feed 10-12 with this cheap meal by adding 2 chicken breasts and 1 each salsa, corn, black beans. GREAT for gameday nachos!!
If you don't have all the spices, just buy a package of taco seasoning ;-)

Honey Teriyaki Chicken: (Low 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup honey teriyaki sauce
1 cup water
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
a few sprinkles of ginger
We serve on brown rice and broccoli
I personally think this recipe is better with thighs.

Chicken Fajitas (Low 4-5 hours)
Label and add in the bag:
1 bag frozen bell peppers
1 onion cut in strips
3 chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken broth
taco seasoning packet
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and serve on tortillas with cheese, sour cream, guacamole, rice, whatever you'd like!

To recap, I spent:
3 hours doing initial research, creating a shopping list and couponing
45 minutes at the grocery store
$108 at the grocery store (and earned $.40 off each gallon of gas!)
1 1/2 hours labeling/stuffing bags, cleaning up prep items and putting away groceries.

All in all, this process should now take no more than 3 hours on a Sunday to get my list, coupons, shopping and freezer meals done and in the freezer! 3 HOURS on ONE DAY and I can now reclaim my weeknights!

I'm hosting a freezer meal workshop on November 2nd. If anyone is interested in starting their own journey to eating better and having more time to spend with your family after work instead of slaving away in the kitchen, let me know and I'll send you the info! I'll need to know by October 18th at the latest!


These recipes were originally found on the following blogs, although I've tweaked the ones above based on how they originally turned out.
Making Our Marx
Budget Bytes

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Honeymooners!

Yes... This post is coming before the wedding post. Mainly because our wedding was in April and reception in May, and I have SOOOO much I want to say about the whole experience that I haven't been able to find the time to put it into words! (Not to mention the thousands of pictures to sift through!) But since we JUST returned from our honeymoon, I'm going to lay this out while it's fresh in my head ;-)

Originally, the plan was to honeymoon in November at the Hard Rock Resort in Punta Cana. However, after the excitement and emotional and physical exhaustion of the wedding trip and reception (and craziness that the end of the school year brings) we decided kind of last minute to cruise the Caribbean (yet again) and treat ourselves to some fun and relaxation. So we browsed some itineraries, found one we loved and contacted our TA, Jen Crivelli at Cruiseweb ( to book it. We were all set to hit the western caribbean from July 5th-12th!

This time, we embarked from Miami on the Carnival Glory and visited Cozumel, Belize, Isla Roatan (Mahogany Bay, Honduras), and Grand Cayman.

We were at sea Saturday evening and all day Sunday. The first thing we did when we boarded the ship was head to Guy's Burger Joint for lunch and then grabbed an ice-cream cone.

We filled up our cups and headed off to our room. If you've never cruised, this is what an ocean view room looks like on the Carnival Glory. (Ours was room 1301).

We also decided to try the ship's steakhouse the first night to get our free bottle of wine. I am now forever an advocate of the steakhouse experience! Yea, the food in the dining room is great, but where else are you ever going to spend $35 and get a 4-course 5 star meal that includes an 18oz beautifully cut and cooked steak?! The appetizers we each got were wonderful, the salad (spinach and mushroom) was delicious, the steaks were THICK and melted in your mouth! And the dessert... oh boy! A 14oz slice of AMAZING cheesecake! I was very uncomfortable that night, but it was well worth it!

Sunday's full day at sea started with breakfast in the dining room, where Brian got Fruit Loop crusted french toast! It sounds ridiculous, but is super yummy (and way sweet!) 

We hit the hot tub and instantly missed Sinbad Gump and the rest of the drunken pirates that previously accompanied us in the hot tub! Apparently, once you cruise with 20+ people, you'll never cruise the same again! So naturally, we took a selfie for our distant amigos! Then, we hung out at a shaded table behind the hot tub overlooking the water trail left behind by the ship.

The rest of our night consisted of tea time, (which was cute) dinner in the dining room for the first of two formal nights with the fabulous wait staff and new friends we had the pleasure of dining with every night (SHOUT OUT to Brittany, Wes, Davor, Kristy, and fellow honeymooners Ryan and Dan!). We capped the night off with a Dive-In Movie (which we found is now one of our favorite relaxing activities on cruises). That night's movie was Grown Ups 2. The movies are poolside, which is the perfect place for honeymooners to learn how NOT to parent. 

Day three (Monday) took us to our first port of call, Cozumel, Mexico. We planned the Turtle Cove and Cavern Snorkel in Playa Del Carmen, so we had to board a ferry to get there. We learned a lot about the Mexican Riviera. You won't see any rivers because they're underground (and referred to as Cenotes (suh-noh-tays). (From "a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed bythe collapse of surface limestone that exposes ground water underneath,and sometimes used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings.") The Mayans believed these sinkholes were physically and spiritually cleansing. The fresh water was crystal clear and amazingly refreshing! On the way to the cenotes, we passed by a small school house where children were playing outside, holding a rope in a circle. It was a quant little school house back in the woods, and the sign for the school was informal, nailed to a tree, and simply said "escuela", spanish for "school". I wish I'd been quick enough to snap a picture... I can't even find anything comparable on Google!

After swimming through two caverns and caves (where there were bats who thankfully left us alone!) we hopped back in the van and headed to Turtle Beach (Akumal). We snorkeled shallow water and observed sting rays, sea turtles and coral directly beneath us (and undeterred by our presence).

After an amazing and exhausting afternoon, we were transported to another beach where these was a beachfront hut and buffet waiting for us. Everything tasted fresh, authentic and wonderful. With full bellies, we headed back to the ship.

I really wanted a nice bottle of tequila, but the shopping was ridiculously crowded and had no real structure, so we were herded back to the ship. We sailed off from Cozumel and enjoyed yet another delicious dinner in the dining room.

Day four found us in Belize. The coral reef is so high that the ships have to dock out in the ocean and we had to be tendered in. We were so excited to be here and see the tropical paradise where our friend Kim Ware got married. 

We were also excited for our excursion, The Belize Zoo and City Tour. Consisting of only animals native to the country, the Belize Zoo is actually more of a refuge, a shelter in the rainforest, and is one of the only places in the world to observe jaguars in their natural habitat. It was started by a woman in 1983 who was n Belize filming a documentary and found herself with 12 animals needing homes upon finishing. You can read more about the awesome destination and learn about ways to help and adopt native animals at 

We had a blast getting in touch with nature in Belize, but ships do sail... After another fabulous dinner and Dive-In Movie (Frozen - and the dad beside us sang EVERY song ;-) ) we retired for the night and awoke on day five in Isla Roatan, Mahogany Bay, Honduras. We decided to hang out at the beach and bought a package from Carnival for $49.95 for the two of us that included unlimited rides on the "Magic Flying Beach Chair" (a ski lift), two lounge chairs in a clam shell (we welcome the shade at this point in the cruise!), two floats, and snorkeling gear. 

We took in another Dive-In Movie that night (Noah) before heading to bed.

Day six brought us to our last port of call, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, another tender port. Our excursion wasn't until 12:30, so we got off the boat early and did a little site seeing. We found a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) where there were, ironically enough, live chickens roaming around the walkway out front.  

We made our way back to where we had to meet for our excursion, an adventure to the Stingray City Sandbar. And an awesome adventure it was! We held, fed, kissed and got back massages from sting rays! They enjoyed splashing us, too!

This poor little lady below must have had a rough life!

And an ode to my wedding cruise crew, although I must confess... It's only fruit punch!

We arrive back to the ship and prepare for our second formal night. We missed the dance show since dinner service seemed to be running a little slow, but still had a great time complete with a champagne toast with our new friends. And when we returned to our room, our room steward left us a monkey :-)

Ofcourse, we topped the night off with a movie (The Vow) and with about five minutes left in the movie, the skies opened up and it poured! Brian and I remained in our lounge chairs and laughed as everyone else retreated under the awnings of the poolside bars. Even the kids who were in the pool... Good times!

Day seven, our last day and we were at sea all day. It was a nice, relaxing day spent in the steam room, reading poolside, soaking in the hot tub, savoring our last burgers from Guy's and enjoying a few frosty Hurricanes (paying homage to the pup we missed so much!). We also enjoyed tea time , dining room dinner (where our wait staff had a honeymoon surprise for us), chocolate melting cake and Dine-In Movie (Gravity). Our room steward left us a stingray this time!

We took in an amazing sunset just before the movie started. 

We made it off the ship pretty effortlessly after enjoying our last breakfast on board and made our way through US Customs, found  taxi, and headed for Miami International Airport. Our plane ride home was relatively uneventful as we were serenaded by the harmonizing screams of babies. Hurricane was so excited to see us, he peed in the seat of his auntie Mantha's car (HAHA!) We had a wonderful time and can't wait until it's time to cruise again!