In a Dinner Rut? Some Quick Fixes

Are you tired of eating – and cooking – the same exact meals night after night, week after week?  Does it feel like you could cook each night with your eyes closed?

Here are some easy solutions:

 (1)  Re-create your restaurant favorites

Let’s face it.  We often eat out because need a break from cooking.  But, we also eat out because we like the food.  Yesterday, I had no idea what to make for dinner and thought about some favorite meals when I go out.  I really enjoy a lot of restaurant salads and decided to re-create Barbecued Chicken Salad, a meal I have ordered at several different restaurants.  It’s always on a base of regular house salad – lettuce, cucumber, tomato, shredded cheese.  Then, there’s usually corn and black beans, so I open up a can of each of those (and rinsed the beans).  Then, I coated 2 chicken breasts with a favorite barbecue sauce and grilled them on the George Foreman grill.  To top it off, I put a little barbecue sauce in to a bowl with ranch dressing.  Voila!  I had barbecue ranch dressing without having to buy an entire specialty bottle.  I also made my version of California Pizza Kitchen’s BLT pizza a couple weeks ago.  It was just as tasty, a ton cheaper, and added some variety to our dinner menu.

Try re-creating some of your favorite restaurant meals at home.  Think about the different toppings you have had on pizzas, the different ways you have seen pasta prepared, and the restaurant sandwiches you really enjoy.  Bring those in to your own kitchen.

(2)  Flip through those cookbooks

If you’re anything like me, you have a huge stack of cookbooks.  Open one of them, and flip through it.   You don’t have to make anything in it, but I find it tends to help me generate a lot of ideas to help mix things up.  I may see 2 ingredients combined in a way I never would have thought of, such as a pork and nectarine stir fry I came across.  Sometimes, I also come across a recipe that will remind me of a dish I used to make, before I entered my current rut.

(3)  Turn on the TV

I can’t watch the Food Network for a half hour without seeing some new technique or cooking method that I have never tried.  I have picked up such ideas as roasting cherry tomatoes to put on salads or pasta and boiling green beans with my pasta (same water at the same time) and then tossing them both with pesto.  (Although mine comes from a jar, not a food processor.  Sorry, Rachael!)

(4)  Take matters in to your own hands

I have a friend who recognized she was in a rut and asked for help.  She sent out a note to several of her mom friends on Facebook and asked us what we have been cooking lately.  She asked us to send her recipes for favorites in our own rotations that she could add to hers.  Not only did we help her out, but we also got to read what everyone else was making to expand our own cooking repertoire.

I also subscribe to daily emails from

These recipes have been posted by home cooks, and many of them are reviewed.  They feature a recipe each day, and at least half of them seem worth trying.  I love having new recipes to try, and I love it even more when they’re tried and true successes.

These methods certainly work for me!  Have your own tips or methods?  Please feel free to share them here! 

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Menu Planning for Moms on a Budget

Before Goose’s arrival, when we were a family of two, there was no such thing as planning meals in advance. After work, we decided on what we wanted to cook and someone went to the store, or we either hit the drive-thru or pulled out the take-out menus. We might have eaten anywhere from 6 to 10 pm. It was definitely not the most cost- or time-efficient method of feeding ourselves, but it worked just fine for a double-income, no kids couple. Now that I stay at home, our food budget is definitely tighter, but I still manage to feed my family very well on the money I have to work with.

For the first few months home with Goose, we ate a lot of takeout and meals my husband could throw together when he got home from work (he seriously ran the household during the newborn stage, bless him, while I was basically tied to the couch nursing day and night). After a while, I realized that we were putting a serious hurting on our budget as well as our health and all of this fast food and takeout would have to stop. I knew I wasn’t going to be capable of cooking a meal from scratch every night, but something had to change. I remembered how my mom, who needed to feed five kids and two adults on a tight budget herself, would make a weekly menu to plan our dinners. Then she would do one major shopping trip, the idea being that getting all of your groceries at once eliminates daily trips to the grocery store, which as we know can really add up. Adopting my mom’s strategy was my first step towards eating on a budget. I was proficient at cooking back then, but I wasn’t as into it and didn’t have a large repertoire of go-to recipes to pull from as I do now, so we ate a lot of repeat meals throughout the month, but we weren’t eating takeout daily anymore and we weren’t making multiple trips to the store, spending $30 here and there.

Once planning a weekly dinner menu became routine, I realized I could probably save a lot more money by creating my menu based on what was on sale at the grocery store rather than just whatever tickled our fancy at the moment. Step two towards becoming my mother – now I was scoping out the circulars. For example, if boneless, skinless chicken breasts and diced fire-roasted tomatoes are on sale, I know I can make a crock pot full of chicken tortilla soup (see below) for next to nothing, so that goes on the menu. When frozen tilapia is super cheap, I plan on oven-fried fish. Proteins are usually the most expensive component of a meal , so I generally look for sales on those foods first, then see which pantry and produce items are marked down that week. Not all of our meals come from the circular items, but by purchasing a little extra meat, pasta, and canned goods when they are on sale, I fill in with meals we want even when their ingredients aren’t wallet-friendly that week.

 I’ll pause here and admit I don’t have much patience when it comes to coupons. I live for online sale codes and I do scope out coupons for things like diapers and razors, but my coupon clipping and collecting doesn’t go much farther than what’s available in the Sunday paper, mainly because we buy a lot of store brand items that are cheaper than name brand even with a coupon, but also because I’m just too lazy to sort and keep track of coupons and sale cycles and all of that. There are lots of online communities and blogs devoted to streamlining the process and I know they are an excellent resource for lots of people but right now I am just not into it. I think couponing would be more worthwhile to us if we had more pantry space to allow us to really stock up, but we don’t, so my eat-mostly-what’s-on-sale approach is just more efficient for now.

 There are a couple of tips that have made the process even easier for me. First, take the time to compile a master list of all of your favorite, go-to main courses in Excel. I have mine divided into categories: beef, fish, chicken, pork, vegetarian, breakfast for dinner, pasta, soup, and miscellaneous (things like, um, chili dogs). Having this list really helps when your mind draws a blank when it comes to dinner ideas. I update it every time I try a new recipe that gets the thumbs up from everyone. Second, and this works for me but might not for everyone, is to go shopping by yourself (or send the more financially responsible partner). When I have Goose and my husband in tow, it seems like we spend a good 20% more than when I shop alone. I’m pretty good about sticking to my list aside from a treat or two, and my husband…is not. It’s not like I NEVER let him do the shopping (he had to when I badly sprained my foot a while ago, and the bill was astronomical, but I was grateful to not hobble around the store on crutches), but for the most part, that’s my gig. Besides, I go in the evening after Goose is in bed, when the store is generally pretty quiet, and I really enjoy my hour and a half of peace – it’s like my weekly little bit of zen. I do understand that some people like grocery shopping to be a family affair, though. I like the act of shopping as a family, just not the cost.

 Menu planning does take a bit of time – now that I’m accustomed to it, I spend maybe an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning reading weekly store ads online, asking my husband what he’d like to eat, writing up my menu, checking the cabinets, and then making my grocery list. But when you consider all of the trips to the grocery store saved, not to mention the money, it’s worth it.

 Here’s a little bonus recipe for a really easy and delicious (if inauthentic) crockpot chicken tortilla soup. My husband isn’t crazy about soup in general but has requested this often since I first made it, and Goose even devoured a bowlful the other night. It’s a fairly spicy soup but you can make substitutions if your family prefers something milder.

 Chicken Tortilla Soup

adapted from Tasty Kitchen

serves 8

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

15 oz can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes with jalapenos (or just plain diced tomatoes in juice)

10 oz can red enchilada sauce

2 cups water

14 oz can low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock)

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)

10 oz bag frozen corn

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 or 2 bay leaves

 Mix all ingredients minus the black beans in the crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours (I usually cook on low). An hour or so before serving, pull out chicken breasts, shred, and return the meat to the pot. Add the black beans and let cook until heated through. Beans can be added at the beginning, but they seem to make the soup less starchy if you toss them in at the end. Top individual bowls with broken tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, avocado, guacamole, and/or a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!

A Target Debit Card = Money in Your Pocket

If you’re anything like me, you may think of Target as your mothership.  I am there all the time, and I buy basically everything at Target.  This means I spend serious money there.  If you’re a Target regular like I am, you know there are regular offers to sign up for a Target REDcard.  I have always said “no,” because a credit limit at Target would be oh so very dangerous for me. 

Then, one morning, right before Christmas, this angel in red spoke to me from behind the cash register.  She told me about the Target Debit Card (also a Target REDcard).  It is not a credit card, requires no credit application, and takes money directly out of your checking account.  And, it comes with a 5% reward.  Every time you use the Target debit card, you save 5% off your purchase – instantly.  You can also register your Target debit card in the Take Charge of Education program, and Target will donate 1% of your purchase to the school of your choice. 

I got my card a few weeks ago, and the savings are racking up.  5% off every purchase is awesome!  And, enrolling is super easy, too.  I only had to give the cashier a blank check and answer a few questions while standing in line with my purchases. 

The Target Debit Card is reason #1,200,001 why I love Target.

For more information on the Target Debit Card, see https://redcard.target.com/redcard/content/rcw_benefits_tgt_rewards.

Some Ways to Combat Cabin Fever

Last night was the BCS National Championship game.  For Dear Hubby and I, that means dinner in front of the TV.  To pull that off with the wee ones, we had to get creative.  Our solution is one that I think a lot of families can use, especially this time of year: a living room picnic.  We laid our picnic blanket down on the floor, used paper plates, and ate finger foods to minimize mess.  The Big Cheese was so excited about our picnic, she was contemplating the menu most of the afternoon.  And, the girls and I baked a special batch of cookies to make our picnic extra special.   

When the weather makes you spend more time inside, don’t let that take all the fun out of your family time.  Just get creative.  In addition to our living room picnic, we’ve had hot cocoa in front of the fireplace (in sippy cups, of course!) for a special family story time, and we’ve also increased the frequency of our board game playing.  Have any boxes left over from all the Christmas loot?  Turn them in to art projects, dog houses, baby beds – the possibilities are endless.

Hamburger Helper/Tuna Helper/Chicken Helper Coupon

Guess what, readers? Pssst…General Mills sent the Moms a coupon to share with you!

35 cents off Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, or Chicken Helper Home Cooked Skillet Meals here.

We’ve moved!

Gen X Moms is movin’ on up to the East Side! We now have our own shiny domain and some fun stuff on the horizon. Please join us at www.GenXMomsBlog.com. See ya there!

Conveniently Green Presents…Cloth Diapers: A Beginning Guide for Beginning Beginners Part 1

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When I mentioned the words “cloth diapers,” my mother gave me this look that said, “Are you out of your mind?” Well, actually her look said, “I love you, you’re my daughter, I’m not going to tell you how to parent, and you have some kooky ideas sometimes, but ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR EFFING MIND???”

I know, it’s a lot from one look, but I’m telling you, it was there.

And no, I’m not out of my mind. We use cloth diapers. And you may be surprised to learn that cloth diapers are nothing like what our moms used. Now I know a lot of you in the audience are familiar with cloth diapering, but many of you are beginners. And the world of cloth diapering can be very confusing and intimidating, so I am creating a Beginning Guide for Beginning Beginners. If you don’t consider yourself a Beginning Beginner, then go ahead and forward this link to a friend who is!

So I can hear you from here–where’s the Convenient part of this Conveniently Green, Scriv? Because cloth diapers seem like a whole lotta work. Well, they are and they aren’t, but here’s some food for thought. First, take a look at how much you’re spending per diaper for your disposable diapers. For argument’s sake, let’s say you’re paying 25 cents per diaper. Now, you can buy a single one-size diaper (which is just like it sounds–one size and it grows with your baby)–just ONE diaper, and use it every night. Say you purchased one of the popular brands like the BumGenius one-size diaper for $17.95. Using one disposable diaper at 25 cents per diaper every night for a year will cost you $91.25. Now subtract the cost of one (that’s right, ONE!) cloth diaper for use at night, and you have a net total of  $73.30. Yes–you can save $73.30 by using ONE cloth diaper a day! Hot Damn!

BumGenius 3.0 One-Size AIO

But what about the washing? Isn’t that disgusting? Well, if your child is more than 6 hours old, you have already learned new and exciting definitions of disgusting. Is washing a single cloth diaper really more gross than that poo-splosion you had that one time where you had to change your shorts AND your shirt AND your underwear because ew, that was liquid? Or that other time when the projectile vomiting made you just throw that bra away and step directly into the shower? Trust me, Mom. You’ve washed worse.

Cloth diapers these days are not what your mother used. They’re actually easy, convenient, and believe it or not–cute. Let me take you through it.

Diapers need three essential parts: an absorbent layer, a waterproof layer, and something to hold it all together. A disposable diaper is, of course, all of these in one. But did you know that there are cloth diapers that are also all of these in one? And that they’re cleverly called “All In Ones”?

That’s our first category. An All In One (AIO) diaper is just like it sounds–a sewn-in absorbent layer, a waterproof layer, and either velcro or snaps to hold it all together. Many AIO’s also have a pocket where you can add additional absorbent inserts if you like.  It’s basically the same as a disposable diaper, except you throw it in the laundry instead of throwing it in the trash. These are the easiest diapers to use, and the easiest way to convince other caregivers to use as well. AIO’s sound great, don’t they? They are! But they can also suffer from two problems: one, because there’s a very absorbent layer sewn in, they can take forever to dry (and I mean for.ev.er.), and two, sometimes they are hard to customize to your absorbency needs and can get bulky. They’re also on this high end, price-wise.

Our second category is All In Twos (AI2). I know you’re saying, “Scriv, I just got the hang of AIO’s–what’s this 2 thing about?” Well, an AI2 is just like an AIO, except instead of a built-in absorbent layer, that layer is snapped in. This helps with the for.ev.er. washing part, because once you separate the absorbent layer from the rest of the diaper, the whole thing dries a lot faster. However, you can still have that absorbency problem (there are exceptions, but we’re keeping it basic here).

FuzziBunz Perfect Size Pocket Diapers (click image for larger view)

Is there an easy diaper with truly versatile absorbency? Where you can put exactly as much or as little as you need? Why yes! Yes there is! Meet your new friend, Pocket Diapers. No, this is not a diaper that fits in your coat pocket (har har har). It’s a diaper that has a waterproof layer and an inner layer, and in between you can stuff an absorbent insert. You can customize your inserts to be light or heavy, so you can double-up at night and slim down during the day, or whatever. Again, like the AI2 they are quicker to dry than the AIO. If you pre-stuff your pocket diapers, then anyone can use them like an AIO, and by “anyone” I mean Dad, Grandma/Grandpa, Day Care Worker, and, you know, YOU. Lots of people love pocket diapers, including me!

Once you move past the diaper that has it all together, you have the diapers and covers category. This is where the absorbent diaper and the waterproof cover are two separate things. I’m going to start with the diaper.

Kissaluvs V2 Fitted Diaper (click image for larger view)

One style is a Fitted Diaper. A fitted diaper is an absorbent diaper that is already shaped like a diaper (you know, that familiar hourglass shape) and attaches with either snaps or velcro. Fitted diapers often come with a snap-in insert for extra absorbency. Another style is a contour diaper which is just like a fitted except it requires fastening, like with a pins or a Snappi. More on the Snappi in a second.

On the end here, there are the traditional flat and prefold diapers. These are the ones your mother will recognize. They’re either square or rectangular and require some folding and fastening to attach them to the baby. Once attached, they also require a cover. Now I know this sounds very Inconveniently Green, but they are your least expensive option and many people really love them. These are also the diapers you get from a diaper service. We used a diaper service for several months after Mouse was born, and loved it. And guess what? You don’t need pins anymore! Some incredibly smart person invented this thingy called a Snappi. It’s an elastic doo-dad shaped like a T with plastic claws on all 3 ends. You hook the claws across the diaper and it holds it all in place. It’s pretty much the handiest thing ever to happen to cloth diapering. You can also use a Snappi to fasten a contour diaper.

Snappi Diaper Fastener

So that’s pretty much your intro to the different types of cloth diapers. Within these categories, there are many brands and varieties to choose from. In subsequent posts on this topic, I’ll take you through more aspects of the joyful world of cloth diapering. Happy diapering!

The Scrivener

Please also see our Conveniently Green–A Word About Energy and Water Consumption post.