Menu Plan Monday ~ Aug 15/11

Hi y’all.  So as I’ve been sitting here going through one recipe after another trying to find a few for this week’s menu, I got to thinking about the supper cheaters I use to speed things along.  Now those who know me know the kitchen is not my favorite place to be.  My goal is to get in and get out quickly and efficiently while still serving up some healthy delicious grub for my family.  Believe me it can be done.  A little advance prep means the recipes I choose set me up for success.  I’ve got a recipe criteria that I follow and it helps.  This is why menu planning matters to me and has made such a big difference in my life.  Without it I’d be scrambling come dinner time day after day and I can guarantee my time in the kitchen would double or to speed things along I’d be serving up fast food or frozen cardboard pizza every night.  Blah, no thank you to that!  Although, don’t get me wrong, we still occasionally eat frozen pizza even if it does taste like cardboard 🙂


image credit: shutterstock

I really was going somewhere with this before I got off on my little tangent there.  Oops.  What I wanted to say is that even though I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible there are a few cheater foods/products that are a must for me.  I’m sure everyone has some.  You know what I’m talking about….those sanity savers that make things easier for you in the kitchen.   I won’t judge you, if  you won’t judge me 🙂

For instance, I always use pre-chopped garlic.  I love garlic and was finding before that if a recipe called for chopped garlic, I would just end up leaving it out because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of mincing it myself.  And yes I have a tool that does it for me but I hate using it.  Another thing I always use is jarred spaghetti sauce.  I just add stuff to it, like ground beef and some additional spices, but not having to start from scratch means the more likely hood for supper success for me.  Now how about onion.  Sorry, I’ll admit I’m way to lazy to dice my own but I’m also too cheap to buy pre-diced because around here it’s like crazy expensive.  What do I do?  I almost always just leave it out.  I just find it doesn’t make that much of a difference and of course the kids aren’t huge fans so I simply say forget about it.

I’d love to know what your cheater foods are?  Do you use pre-shredded cheese (my 14 yr old daughter is the official cheese grater in our house), bagged lettuce, pre-cooked bacon, etc.   You never know, I might pick up a few tricks 🙂

Okay so on my menu this week.  Have a terrific week friends!!

Monday:  Beef and Black Bean Taco Bake

Tuesday:  Smart Pork Pasta Toss

Wednesday:  Caesar Chicken Burgers

Thursday:  Church potluck ~ dessert – -> Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars

Friday:  Cowboy Kabobs (I’ll use mushrooms instead of the onions) served with grilled potato packets

Saturday:  Grilled Bacon-Tomato Sandwiches

Sunday:  Picking night!


Menu Plan Monday guidelines and banner selections are here.

Filed under: Menu Plan Monday


42 Responses to Menu Plan Monday ~ Aug 15/11

  1. 2
    Kelli @ 3 Boys and a Dog says

    Sweetie, your site is still not handling the MPM traffic well. I had tor efresh about 15 times because I kept getting a 500 error.

    Just thought you would want to know. 🙂

  2. 3
    The Happy Housewife says

    I use shredded cheese because it is usually cheaper than the blocks! I know that is crazy, but lately it has been on sale. My other cheaters would be canned spaghetti sauce. I made it from scratch once and it was a disaster… my kids like the canned stuff so why work so hard for something they don’t care about!


  3. 4
    [email protected] says

    Thanks for hosting Laura! Enjoy your week! The Cowboy Kabobs would be a hit at my house.

  4. 5
    Lynn says

    I buy bagged lettuce all the time. Yes, it costs more, but it is so much quicker just to grab and eat that way. I think we all have at least a few shortcuts that we use. Or at least I hope we are not the only ones. 🙂

  5. 6
    Char says

    For a while I used the pre-shredded lettuce for our taco nights – until I realized that it literally takes two minutes to shred half a head of lettuce for a fraction of the cost. Pre-cut garlic is worth the money in my opinion.

    I posted this week even though I have no menu to show for it. You have to come read why though. In the mean time I am going to check out everyone’s menus this week and start collecting ideas for next week so I don’t lose my mind.

  6. 7
    SnoWhite @ Finding Joy in My Kitchen says

    We use dried onion flakes — and I LOVE them! Real onion left me with an upset tummy and heart burn, so we switched to onion flakes and they add a wonderful taste to dishes, they are super easy and cheap (we buy them in bulk from sams/costco). We recently went over to trying dried minced garlic too. I just don’t like peeling real garlic… takes a lot of time – so I’ve been tempted to try the fresh peeled garlic that I can just press into my garlic press.

    We always make our own spaghetti sauce, but I make it in the crockpot in a HUGE batch and can it/freeze it, so it’s kind of like having my own cheater right there when I need it.

    I don’t mind pre-shredded cheese, if it’s a better deal, but I won’t use it in a soup. The coating they put on the cheese does not melt nicely in soups.

    I’m excited to check out the smart pork pasta toss… it looks like a great recipe.

  7. 8
    Tammy @ Skinny Mom's Kitchen says

    I don’t think a mom could survive without cheater products. I use preshredded cheese, would love to shred my own but have not gotten around to it. I also by frozen veggies and frozen fruit. For some reason we don’t eat fresh fruit fast enough and I HATE throwing it out. Oh and canned beans. I want so bad to make beans from scratch because I know it is somewhat easy…but I never get around to it and always buy canned. Same with refried beans.

    But one thing that really saves me is putting together freezer starters. For example, yesterday I made 8 cups of brown rice in my rice cooker. Using a rice cooker you just dump it in, place start, and 1 1/2 later you have rice. Then I let it cool and package it into 1 cup servings. Super easy.

    Or I make meal starters like seasoned beef or shredded chicken. This has made it much easier in the kitchen.

    There is much more I do for meal starters but that is just to give an idea.

  8. 9
    Nicole @ The Daily Dish says

    Mmm…. that all looks so yummy!

    Yes, I have a few cheats, but I try to keep them to a minimum. Yes, shredded cheese is one of them but not always.
    I thought it was funny that you referred to the bag salad, because I will never buy that. One of my daughters LOVES to make salad, so she is the official rinser and tearer and tosser. 🙂

  9. 10
    Jenny says

    Bagged lettuce and refrigerated pie crust, both tips from professional chefs.

    But life is too short to eat crappy pizza!

  10. 11
    Tammy says

    Yes, I use pre-shredded cheese, onion powder or minced onions, boxed organic salad & spinach, jarred spaghetti sauce most of the time. I do make my own sauce for lasagna.
    I’m including breakfast now, too, since my 1st born is in K now. He wanted to eat lunch at school today, so I hope that he likes it!
    Aug. 15th –
    Breakfast – cinnamon rolls, eggs, biscuits, cereal, vegetarian breakfast burritos, pancakes, Fiber One muffins, snacks
    Lunches – leftovers, wheat penne with garbanzos, tomatoes, and corn, pbj, chicken nuggets, veggies, spaghettios, grilled cheese sandwich, quesadillas, eggs, tuna salad or melts, pizza, soup, mac & cheese, loaded nachos
    Crudites for us are generally carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, & red bell pepper strips
    Snacks – fruit, dried fruit, yogurt, boiled egg whites, nuts, applesauce, cheese, cookies, popcorn, cottage cheese, crackers, Goldfish crackers, nutella or pb
    Salad & crudités available during lunch & dinner,
    Sun. – Grilled steak, squash (from our mini garden), green beans
    Mon. – T’s 1st day of K! His choice – pizza (frozen bbq chicken and mushroom & spinach pizzas or takeout)
    Tues. – Crock pot bean & veggie burritos, leftover grilled chicken
    Wed. – Chicken Florentine burgers, black-eyed peas
    Thurs. – Veggie pasta (use beef broth from freezer)
    Fri. – Leftovers after play date
    Sat. – Nachos (filling from freezer) or out?

  11. 12
    April says

    We all use some type of cheater food, at least all the cooks I know do. Shredded cheese is the biggest one for me. It’s lots cheaper then the block kind in my area. I also use chopped garlic from a jar, and dried onion flakes. Using fresh onion upsets my stomach, but the dried stuff doesn’t.. I also keep cooked ground beef and shredded chicken in my freezer. It makes cooking so much easier for me.

    Thanks for hosting MPM Laura, and have a great week!

  12. 13
    Brennan's Mom says

    It is like you wrote your post just for me… I’m having a difficult time creating my menu because I’m tired of the ‘same old, same old’ but was lacking for inspiration. I had never thought of creating a criteria list to help me refine and find recipes! It seems so simple to do and I’m so glad you’ve brought forth the suggestion this week! Thank you!

    As for cheater foods – although my husband doesn’t cook, he doesn’t like anything “pre-prepared” so I, 99% of the time, use the long process of prepping my own stuff… The notable exceptions are pasta sauce (I too jazz it up with lots of veggies and spices) and I can sometimes squeak in instant mashed potatoes (on a week night anyway). I do use “instant rice” but that’s because I am too impatient to wait for long grain to cook (and yes, I had a rice steamer but found it a huge pain so I gave it away).

    Thanks for hosting!

  13. 14
    Katrina says

    My cheats for cooking are powdered onion and garlic. They save me loads of time and powdered onion is easier on the stomach if you have an ulcer.

    I use cocoa for drinking in place of cooking cocoa. It’s so much cheaper (especially up here).

    I use canned beans and just rinse them, and I use canned spaghetti sauce as well. It’s more frugal to buy these predone since our produce is insanely expensive up here.

  14. 15
    Tiffany says

    Thanks for linking to my Beef and Black Bean Taco Bake. I love your cheats. I have quite a few too, but mine are different. Whatever works, right? 🙂

  15. 16
    Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

    What a great topic, Laura! It’s really interesting to see what everyone’s “cheaters” are. I use the garlic, too – I LOVE it – but when I want a dish to be really garlicky, I do take the time to peel (but I have one of those rubber tubes for peeling, which actually do make it easier!).

    But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE onion and actually add more than is usually called for – I can’t believe you don’t notice a difference! That said, I do occasionally use dried onion – mainly because my daughter complains about seeing onion in her food. 😉

    I have a garden, so every fall I make up huge batches of Roasted Tomato Sauce ( that I freeze in jars that I use the rest of the year – that’s my pre-jarred spaghetti sauce. 😉

    But I don’t like the texture of preshredded cheese and the way it doesn’t melt as nicely because of the coating it has, so I don’t buy it unless it’s dirt cheap. 😉

  16. 17
    Gretchen says

    I make my own cheater foods. I dice up a ton of onion with my food processor at once and freeze it to throw in dishes later – same with green onion, celery and so on. I do sometimes use pre-chopped garlic or if I’m really lazy garlic powder or salt. Thanks for hosting!

  17. 18
    Manager to Mom says

    I use curry pastes (both Indian and Thai) and usually get boxed organic spinach. Great topic! 🙂

  18. 19
    Deanna West Piercy says

    I no longer have children at home or work outside the home so I have more time to cook. Usually. I do a lot of volunteer work and some weeks (like this one) I have a lot of busy afternoons/evenings. While I prefer to do most things from scratch, I do have a few short-cuts for busy nights. I buy organic black beans by the case from Amazon and can easily whip up a Mexican meal from them. This week I’m making black bean tacos, for instance. I can cut up an onion or mince garlic in seconds so I always do those myself but I do buy some salad greens in bags. In part, this is because in our rural area that’s the only way I can get a variety of greens instead of just iceberg.

    Like others mentioned, I buy pasta sauce in a jar and jazz it up with herbs, spices and a splash of wine. I don’t bake a lot of pies but when I do I use the refrigerated pie crusts. I take the time to make a pretty lattice top and everyone assumes I made it from scratch. And while I prefer to bake our bread, when life is crazy or when we are having 100+ temperatures, I buy our bread from a small, local organic bakery. It’s not as good as mine but it will do. 😉

  19. 20
    Kelly says

    I live in Lima, Peru, so the variety of cheater foods available is pretty minimum. If you go to the market you can buy little plastic baggies of minced garlic or aji (chili pastes) for cooking, and you can also buy pre-cut bags of carrots, peas, and other basics used in soups and dishes. The nice thing is that these are all natural – the ladies sit right there at the market chopping up the items and putting them in baggies that are just the right size for whatever it is your making.

    I rarely buy them though – I find it doesn’t really take me that long to mince a clove of garlic or peel and chop a carrot. I’ve gotten used to using all fresh stuff so it doesn’t seem like a chore for me.

    As far as running out of recipe ideas – I sat with the hubs and the kid and we made a list of around 40-50 main dishes that we all like and that I like to cook. Each Sunday, I just go through that list and pick out things that sound good to me for making my menu that week. Every once in a while I’ll run across something on the internet that looks good and I’ll had that to my “go to” list.

  20. 21
    Julie Canudo says

    Just wanted to say Hi! I’m new here. Tried to submit a newbie comment last week, but not sure if it took or not. Glad to be here!

  21. 22
    Living the Balanced Life says

    Hmm, I like kitchen cheats too, but I am also big on as fresh as possible, so I do use onion and garlic. I do buy bagged shredded carrots for my “salad bar”, and I buy shredded cheese and jar spaghetti sauce as well. I use powdered bouillon or on occasion use canned beef or chicken broth. Never make my own stock, ever.
    Resources for managing your home, family and life

  22. 23
    Kaylene says

    Thanks for hosting, as usual! This is my third week.
    I’ve still not perfected the art of meal planning. I always end up able to cut out a night due to more than planned for left overs (It’s just hubby and I eating now, as little one is only 6 months old). I hope to get better soon.

    I used to use bagged lettuce, but not any more. I found a store where organic leaf heads are pretty decently priced and much more flavorful, IMO.
    I don’t use pre-cut garlic, although that’d be a lot easier! I probably won’t switch though because I like being able to cut it however small/large I want.
    I use pre-made red sauces but will, as you said, add my own stuff to it… Totally works great.
    I use shredded cheese, all the time. It has been on sale here…
    I use Season Salt. Sorry, but I do. Much easier than mixing several of the separate ingredients together.
    As a previous poster said, I use canned beans. I have no desire to cook my own. I make semi-home made refried beans though…canned beans, but mash/season/cook myself.


  23. 24
    Jennifer says

    I use pre-shredded cheese – I buy it when it’s on sale and stash it in the freezer. I also buy bagged salads since they’re so much easier to divvy up into containers for my husband’s lunches. Whenever I buy meats in bulk, I portion them out into meal size portions and freeze them, generally with some kind of marinade. If I can do a whole bunch of prep work at once, then freeze, it’s super easy to pull out a frozen bag of meat and marinade to thaw in the refrigerator during the day.

    I can’t believe you leave out onion and garlic though. We go through TONS of onions, and I almost always add onion and garlic to every savory dish if I think it will work, even if it’s not in the recipe. Sometimes prepping the onions is a pain, so I’ll do a pile of them at once, and freeze them either chopped or sliced. I use the frozen onions in dishes where texture doesn’t matter so much – soups, casseroles, because I find them to be a little mushier after freezing.

    I stopped using garlic in a jar because a) I didn’t really like the taste of it and b) someone mentioned something about botulism being more common. I know garlic stored in oil is a NO NO, and I am sure there are preservatives and such in jarred garlic, but I really don’t like the taste of it, so even if the botulism thing isn’t true, I would rather chop my own garlic anyway. I put the cloves under the wide part of the blade of my chef’s knife and give them a good whack with the heel of my hand. The skins pop off and the garlic is already partially minced.

  24. 25
    Christy says

    I buy a bag of Vidalia onions when they are in season. Then I chop them up in the food processor, and bag them up and freeze them. When I need some, I just measrue out what I need from the bag.

  25. 26
    [email protected] says

    Garlic in a jar, pre- shredded cheeses, bagged salads and bottled lemon and lime juices.

  26. 27
    Karissa says

    Hi! This an awesome! One of my friends told me to put my menu online, then suggested that I link up with you. I think I did it right, except I didn’t put my blog name, just my first name. Please let me know if I need to fix anything!

    The Cowboy Kabobs & Pasta Toss look great!


  27. 28
    Queen of the House says

    Yes, I use “cheater foods”, but I guess I don’t think of them that way… 😉
    I was thrilled when I found frozen diced onions! Who knew?! Much easier, and no more tears for me! I often used minced onions too….and I’m not ashamed to say so! Haha!

  28. 29
    Carrie says

    Actually, I always use pre shredded cheese! I think it’s cute that you think of it as a “cheater” food…when I’ve never grated cheese myself. Jarred pizza sauce is one of mine, too. Thanks for the good recipe ideas this week.!

  29. 30
    Kathy says

    Shredded cheese and bagged lettuce are my two big cheaters. And I’ve convinced myself that the lettuce doesn’t cost that much more. First of all, I usually buy it on sale (and there’s almost always a store that has it on sale), plus a whole head often goes bad before we eat it all. So, paying more for food we can eat rather than toss in the compost bin is a bargain to me.

  30. 31
    Liz @ Wonder Woman I'm Not says

    Thanks for hosting. I’m not to different from everyone else in that I use shredded cheese, Paul Newman spaghetti sauce (it’s less processed than some of the other stuff), lettuce (except it comes in a container instead of a bag) and beans. Once in a great while if I need a lot of sliced mushrooms for something I’ll buy cut mushrooms instead of whole mushrooms. I had to laugh, garlic is one of the things that I prefer to do myself!

  31. 32
    Janet says

    I use jarred spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and sometimes bagged lettuce.
    The beef and black bean tacos look yummy.

  32. 33
    Natanya @ Fete & Feast says

    What a great topic. I raid the salad bar at my grocery store for fresh pre-prepped veggies. I’m also a big fan of refigerted pie crusts. My grocery store sells a great store brand whole wheat baking mix with no funky addatives so I use it for drop biscuits, dumplings, pancakes, and waffles. Finally, I buy organic beans, whole and refried, so I’m sure we get enough of them in our diets.

  33. 34
    Ashley says

    I love using precut garlic, pie crusts or biscuits for crusts or on hamburger pie, and prewashed/cut veggies when I know it is going to be a hectic week…

    I’m new to blogging. I like your grocery list template. I also have one on my site that has some checkboxes for things you buy regularly. Feel free to check it out and if you like it link to it at:

    Let me know if you are ever interested in a guest post from, and I would be happy to feature you as well. Love your site! Thanks!

  34. 35
    Renee says

    I love cooking and I still use “cheaters.” I always used jarred minced garlic (I don’t even think it counts as cheating. haha!)
    Also, I have an amazing plastic vegetable cooker thing from pampered chef that steams raw vegetables in the microwave in about 3 minutes. No water, no stove top. Easy as pie.
    Bottled Lemon/lime juice – more for your money
    My husband chops the onions. 1 or 2 per week depending on what we’re having and puts them in a tupperware. Then I just scoop out however many I need whenever I need them 🙂 best “cheater” deal in our house.

  35. 36
    [email protected] It With Glue says

    I adore cooking, but I also work long hours out of my home and commute there and back so cheats are the only way I can guarantee to make proper food!

    I use:

    Pre-chopped Frozen onions (I get these from a “bargain” freezer store – the meat quality from there is appalling but the veggies are fine and the end cost is on a par with fresh unprepared onions) – when I’m cooking them I add a pinch of salt so they don’t go soggy or burn.

    Pre-chopped Frozen Peppers (these are CHEAPER than buying fresh here) – I bung them in many of the dishes I cook to up the veggie quotient (ditto frozen spinach).

    Canned beans/pulses. I can and do use regular dried from time to time, but opening a tin and rinsing is so much easier!

    Pre-Shredded Cheese. I have to be very careful with the quantity I eat and it’s easier to weigh out when it’s already shredded!

    I also pre-cook a great deal so things are sitting ready in the fridge or freezer on a day I’m more pushed for time (or just when I’m coming in the door, ravenous).

    Did you know you don’t need to peel garlic to put it through the press? Just pop the clove of garlic out the bulb (leave the papery stuff behind) and stick it in the press, pull the skin back out using the point of the same knife you scraped the garlic off of the press with into the pot. If you do it that way and just stick the press into hot soapy water immediately it’s no bother to clean off (just about the same bother as the spoon you’d use to scoop out the pre-prepared stuff). Thank you Jamie Oliver for that tip – it’s a breeze and no more smelly fingers.

  36. 37
    Verena says

    I buy parmesain, cheddar and mozzarella cheese on sale. Then my daughter shreds it in the food processor for me. You can do all three types at one go (bagging them individually), and then just throw the dishes in the dishwasher. We start with the parmesain, because it is the least messy, then the cheddar and lastly the mozzarella which is the most sticky. Just bag them in ziplocs or Tupperware and throw them in the freezer, ready to go when you need them.
    Jarred pasta sauce is a must though :).

  37. 38
    Kendra says

    My menu plan sometimes has to include frozen pizza, just nutty work schedules, etc..

    But let me assure you, if you buy the Cheese pizza, Wal-mart brand, and try it, you will never think of cardboard again. I swear they put some kind of heaven-sent sauce on that thing, it is T.D.F!!!!!

    • 38.1
      Laura says

      Oh I’ll have to look out for that kind. Thanks!

  38. 39
    konofry says

    I am so excited to try the beef and bean taco’s my family loves Mexican night and I am always looking for new Mexican dishes to make.

  39. 40
    Kim B. says

    Sorry if this is a repeat! I too HATED chopping onions until I got myself the onion chopper from Pampered Chef. Now I know some people think it’s too expensive, but you can get it cheaper on ebay & it is TOTALLY worth the price. It really is EASY to use & you can also use it to chop nuts, brocolli, etc too. And no, I AM NOT a Pampered Chef consultant, just a HUGE fan of their products 🙂

  40. 41
    Dee says

    I always used jar sauce, and I am half Italian. I don’t use jar garlic, don’t like the taste and the same for bagged lettuce, it always seems to have a funny taste to me. Maybe it is what they wash it in.
    I do buy the 6 pound loaf of mozzarella, we use a lot, at Costco and slice it up into 2 inch wide chunks, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge. When I need pizza or caserole topping, I defrost one and shred….so much cheaper and worth the effort to me since we use a lot.

    Please try the onions and garlic in foods, just once or twice, I couldn’t imagine ever leaving those two ingredients out!!!! Be brave, you can do it LOL


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.