March 30, 2015

Important Lessons in Blogging

For a change of pace, I thought I would give you a look at the blogging side of my stay-at-home mom life.. The first year has brought many ups and downs with much trial and error. Having a pregnancy and new baby threw me for a loop. Really, I'm still learning about this big, complicated bloggy world. Isn't that how life normally goes? Just when you think you have a handle on things, you find  something knew to learn. It keeps things exciting. Even though I've been a writer, editor, publications manager, and professional communicator for years, blogging opened a whole new world I hadn't expected. Truly, I didn't know what all I was in for and didn't have all the preparation I thought I did.

Here are the top things I've learned about blogging.

Blogging takes lots of time
Sure, you can quickly write a post and put it up on your blog. But it's not likely to get many views and your readership won't grow. Decide if that matters to you or not.

If it does, you need to put time into writing, editing, and photos-- all with the same style and branding. Spend more time promoting your posts. Pin them, tweet them, Facebook them. Not just on your personal Facebook page, but on one dedicated to your blog. That Facebook page, Pinterest, and Twitter account also needs honing and love. None are a love 'em and leave 'em type of medium. More time needs to be put into networking and promoting your posts that way. Each post, between planning, writing, editing, photos, and promoting takes more time than you'd expect.

You won't get far in the blogging world without networking. Plus, it's just plain lonely without friends. Join groups and boards to meet other bloggers. Help and support them and in return they'll help and support you. It's about building a community. All those people are in the same boat as you. No one else understands why you must put in so much time for so little money to start. Or why you have to stay up until 1 a.m. to knock out the next blog post or plan future ones. They'll also be the ones to help you figure out why Google Analytics ate your stats and refuses to spit them back out. Blogging takes a village. Find your village.

Stick to It
Sticking with blogging when you are spending lots of time on it but not getting tangible results yet is difficult. It's down right discouraging. You have to do it anyway. When life happens, writing articles according to your schedule can easily get pushed to the side. It happens once, then twice, then before you know it you haven't blogged in months. At that point, you're back almost at square one and may not want to keep going. Pick it back up anyway. Better yet, push yourself so you never get to that point. Blogging is not easy. Networking, planning, and scheduling help you to keep going. Setting attainable goals is helpful so you can see your success as you go while staying motivated.

Plan Posts
Make your editorial calendar your new best friend. It is truly a life saver. You can plan out your articles in advance that way while balancing topics. Committing to posting a topic on a certain day helps hold you accountable. It's also great to battle writer's block as you can add ideas as you have them and when you're dry, you've already got yourself covered. You can also plan the photos you need for each post.

Schedule Time
With all the work a blog involves, scheduling time to do it all is beyond helpful. Find a schedule that works for you and get into a groove. Setting aside time, even if it's just 15 minutes at various points of the day, really helps you to get through all that needs to be done.

Focus on Content
Content is the backbone of a blog. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. Find your voice and your style. Focus on good writing and grammar. If you don't have that, your content won't matter. The old adage of writing what you know holds true. Just as important to writing is editing. Edit everything, then edit it again. When you think you're done editing, edit one more time. Look at other blogs in your niche so you know what topics are over done. If they've been done a million times, and you don't have anything new to add, a new angle, or a fresh voice, avoid it. 

Photos are equally important. Balance the number of photos to amount of copy. Watermark them. Work on having quality photos. All pictures should support, not detract from, your words.

Very importantly, don't steal content and give credit where credit is due. Be careful not to use copy-righted photos. They're not yours, leave them alone. If you do a round up, link back to the original sources. If you're going to share an article on your blog, make sure it's clear that it's not yours and link back. It's extra nice to let the author know you're sharing their work.

To bring it full circle, let's go back to learning. You can never know too much about blogging. Each of those social networking promotion platforms I mentioned take learning, as does writing original content, editing, managing a site, monetizing, taking good pictures, editing pictures, water marking, SEO, and so, so much more. Take advantage of that network you establish to ask them questions and to keep your eye out for new things to learn. Check out the Associated Press Stylebook (the editor's Bible) and a few good grammar books, such as Stunk and White's The Elements of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual. All of it makes for a better blog. And a better blogger.

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March 29, 2015

What's for Dinner March 29-April 4? (and printable)

Check out what's for dinner this week.

 Hamburgers with French fries and green beans

 Tuna salad wraps with green salad

Grilled chicken strips with couscous and carrots

Pork chops with rice and mixed veggies

Baked Tilapia with quinoa and peas

Beef roast with corn bread and broccoli

Don't forget the printable weekly dinner menu to help your planning. It's a handy 8x10 size in case you'd like to frame it and use it as a dry erase menu board. As an added plus, there's a spot to note leftovers you have from last week so you can incorporate them this week, and another spot to note leftovers from this week for next. Find out about the benefits of meal planning. 

March 27, 2015

Easter Egg Craft and Easter Basket Alternatives

Easter Egg Decoration Craft
M2 loved doing this craft and is SO proud of her egg. Her favorite part was the stickers. I think all kids tend to be obsessed with stickers so they're always a hit.

1 Giant Easter egg (I found ours at Target)
2 packs Easter stickers of your choice
3 packs small flowers
Hot glue gun
Hot glue

Have your child put the stickers on however they want
Place a small dab of glue where ever your child wants to place a flower
Have your child stick on the flowers, alternating glue then flower so the glue doesn't dry too fast

Be careful not to let your child touch the hot glue gun!

Easter Basket Alternatives

Every Easter, there seems to be so much candy involved. Candy in baskets, candy in eggs, so. much. candy. Kids end up with way more sugar than is healthy. If you mete it out in little bits, it lasts forever and takes up pantry real estate until it's finally gone (or just turns nasty, like some of our candy from last Halloween).

Instead, try limiting the candy and use some of these nifty ideas. There are a variety of ideas to fit any budget and age. Some of the bit pricier ideas you could do rather than having a ton of small stuff in the baskets, or do instead of Easter baskets if your kids are older.

1. Light up chicks
2. Bubbles in a neat package, like these butterflies or turtles
3. Reusable sticker pads, like these house, vehicles, town, or dress up ones.
4. Egg shaped crayons
6. Nifty neon or regular sidewalk chalk
7. Paints, regular colors, neon, or finger paints
8. Coloring books and/or workbooks
9. Books
10. Cute cups, silverware, plates, or bowls
11. Socks
12. Toy cars
13. Jump rope
14. Hula hoop
15. Earrings, bracelet, or necklace
16. Action figures
17. Gift card for a store, Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks, movie theater, or something else your child enjoys
18. Event tickets
19. New outfit
20. Modeling clay in white so you can color it or multi-colors
21. Outdoor toy
22. Small Lego set
23. Doll
24. Little People single dolls, animals, or cars
25. Nail polish
26. Sand bucket, rake, and shovel
27. Sandals
28. Fun handsoap or bath soap
29. Tub toy
30. BluRay
31. Subscription service, like Citrus Lane

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March 23, 2015

M's Three New Dinners Challenge

My kitchen has become way too boring and hum drum. Cooking dinner every night gets stale after awhile. All the same recipes, over and over again. Even with a large variety of dishes to cook, I still get burnt out after awhile. I end up with cook's block -- no idea what in the world to cook because it seems like (because I have) cooked it all so much. Chicken, beef, pork, pasta -- it all seems the same no matter how you cook it. Blech.

Enter the Three New Dinners Challenge. Over the next month, I'm challenging myself to try three new meals to make. Each must be one I haven't done before and has to be at least somewhat healthy (no corndogs, mac and cheese, tatertot casseroles, that sort of thing). Right now, I'm still figuring out all the recipes I want to try. Of course, I never take recipes at face value. I always tweak them to make them my own. They're most likely fine as-is. I simply like to be creative with cooking and put my stamp on it. Hopefully, the dishes turn out to be good so that I can add it to my recipe stash in order to spice things up a bit. If the recipes are good, I'll share them at the end of the month in a wrap up. If they're not good...well, then we'll just pretend those don't exist.

As an added bonus to the challenge, I'm going to bring back recipes I haven't made in awhile, for whatever reason. My rut needs to be gotten out of and that'll help, too.

To recap, the Three New Dinners Challenge is:

1. Three new (at least semi-healthy) dinners over the next month.
2. Each dinner has to be something you haven't made before.
3. Extra credit: Bring back a few recipes you've made before, but haven't had in awhile.

Are you up for joining me on this challenge?

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March 22, 2015

What's for Dinner March 22-28? (and a Free Printable)

What's for dinner at your house this week? Here are some ideas for you, based on what we're having.

 Ranch chicken strips with peas and baked potato

 Chicken salad on bread with mixed greens salad

 BBQ bacon chive baked chicken with brown rice and mixed veggies


Roasted fresh mushrooms, green peppers, corn and carrots over quinoa 
This one is part of my Three New Dinners Challenge. Read about it tomorrow!

Whole roast chicken with French bread, green beans, and lettuce salad

Don't forget the printable weekly dinner menu to help your planning. It's a handy 8x10 size in case you'd like to frame it and use it as a dry erase menu board. As an added plus, there's a spot to note leftovers you have from last week so you can incorporate them this week, and another spot to note leftovers from this week for next. Find out about the benefits of meal planning. 

March 20, 2015

How to Keep Your Marriage on Point

In over four years of marriage with A, I've learned much (and am still learning). I've recently come to the conclusion that marriage is like a triangle.

No, not a love triangle. A support triangle. Seriously, follow me here a moment. You are in one bottom corner. Your partner is in the other. You each have your own corner, yet are connected and supporting each other to form a solid foundation. Your marriage is at the top with both of you supporting it. If you don't make sure you're solid in your corner, supporting your spouse and doing your part for your marriage, and he/she isn't doing the same, the top of the triangle -- your marriage -- crashes down.

The triangle is a very basic, watered down way to show how support works in marriage. Much more can't be put into a simple graphic. For starters, the triangle can't show you that sometimes, you need to put in more effort to support your spouse. And sometimes, they need to put more effort into supporting you. Each of us go through our own difficult times. For me, having B was a difficult adjustment. Healing also took time. During that, A had to be more supportive of me. When his mother died just over a year ago, the roles were reversed. He needed more support at that time. Christmas is a hard season for both of us, so both of us need extra support then.

When life is on an even keel, the support is more about balancing the give and take relationships need. Daily communication, saying good bye in the morning before work, asking about each other's days, taking turns to help out with the kids--it all counts and matters. I try to support A by having good, relatively healthy meals planned and prepared with extras for his lunch. He supports me by giving me a break at least one night a week and doing the cooking. I take care of the kids, keep the house running, paying bills, doing errands--the usual stay-at-home mom stuff, while he supports us by going to a job outside the home. On his days off, he lets me sleep in when possible since that is something that really helps me for so many reasons. He takes out the trash, I dust. All those simple little things may not seem like they matter, but they do. Each and every one supports each other and by default our marriage.

Just as important as supporting your spouse, you need to support yourself. Keep yourself solid and strong in your corner of the triangle so you can provide the stability your part requires. That means taking breaks at times for some "me" time. Have your own work, hobbies, and interests that are just yours, yet add to your marriage because you have something new to bring to the table. I have this blog and being a stay-at-home mom as my work, while A has his own job. I love reading chick lit books, while A loves sci-fi and fantasy novels. I'm a history geek, he loves math. Supporting yourself also means growing. Be open to feedback from your spouse so you can improve yourself. Don't just stay set in your ways, try something new. I tend to voice my frustrations of the day as soon as A gets home. It drives A nuts. I've realized that and try to be better about it. A tends to put things off, which drives me nuts. I know he tries to improve on that. There are many little examples like these. When you live with someone, for the rest of your lives to boot, things crop up that drive the other nuts. Taking your spouse's feedback into account and working to better yourself goes a long way to support your marriage. Change doesn't happen overnight, keep with it. You'll start seeing results.

Bumps in marriage do happen. Life is difficult and throws curve balls. That's when the triangle of support is even more important. You need to work extra hard to keep the solid foundation and to keep your marriage from slipping. Of course, there times occur when it does slip. For us, moving was very stressful. We needed to find a house in a short amount of time and couldn't even look together due to crazy schedules. M2 was tiny, making things even rougher. A few times, we argued about--you guessed it--one of use not offering enough support to the other. We talked it out and both walked away with ways we could improve ourselves, thus better supporting the other. The key is to continue being there for your spouse, no matter how hard things are, and for them to do the same. As long as you have that, you can face any obstacles -- together, forming a strong foundation for your marriage.

I wrote this article as part of a 31 Day Marriage Challenge collaboration, co-hosted by Melissa Ann of The Eyes of a Boy and Carrie of Huppie Mama. Follow along with the challenge for many more inspiring articles on how to create or enhance an awesome marriage.

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March 18, 2015

5 Simple Ways to Make or Save Money

Making and sticking to a budget can seem daunting. Especially sticking to it. (A more in-depth post on budgeting is in the works.) It's helpful to look at new ways you can save --and make-- money in order to make it easier to accomplish. I've rounded up a few articles from various blogs to help on that quest.

Before starting the round up, here are some of my own tips and tricks:
Easy Money Saving Tips Parts 1, 3, and 4
Saving Money on Kid's Clothes
Easy Money Saving Tips Summer Edition

1. The Penny Hoarder suggests mystery shopping as a way to make extra money and even lists the best companies to work for from someone who has done it for many years.

2. Have you ever considered coupoining but didn't know where to start? Cook Craft Love teaches you how to be successful at couponing, starting with couponing 101.

3. Kids' toys are so expensive now. I'm always amazed at prices when I go into the stores. Momless Mom shares tips on how to save on toys.

4. Often, but not always, owning your own home can help you save money and stay within budget. More than a Coupon Queen helps you figure out if buying a home is something you can afford.

5. As as stay-at-home mom, finding new ways to make money seems to be a never ending quest. What Mommy Does has some great suggestions.

Thank you to all the bloggers who let me share their great tips!

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March 15, 2015

What's for Dinner (and a Printable)

Here is a printable weekly dinner menu to help your planning. It's a handy 8x10 size in case you'd like to frame it and use it as a dry erase menu board. As an added plus, there's a spot to note leftovers you have from last week so you can incorporate them this week, and another spot to note leftovers from this week for next. Find out about the benefits of meal planning. 

I am loving our new range. I look forward to testing it out with baking this week for St. Patrick's Day. Even more exciting, I am trying out a new product to help me do that baking. Next week a review (my first blog video) goes up along with a giveaway of the product (also our first).

Baked herb chicken thighs with carrots and green beans

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 
Corned beef with parsley buttered potatoes, white corn, and cupcakes

Green salad topped with leftover chicken, shredded, and French bread

Soup and grilled cheese with green salad

Baked spiced tilapia with baked potato and corn

Slow cooker pork roast with jasmine rice and mixed veggies

Fettuccine Alfredo mixed with broccoli and cauliflower

March 13, 2015

Lucky Shamrock Magnets Craft

For St. Patrick's Day, M2 and I made shamrock magnets. They don't take many supplies, are adorable, and best of all, M2 loved making them.

1 piece dark green felt
1 piece light green felt
Googly eyes
Hot glue gun
Stick on magnets
Glitter glue
Green pompoms

Cut the green felts into shamrock shapes (I did freehand, it's essentially four hearts with the tips connecting in the middle and the stem at the bottom). The light green should be a bit bigger
Glue the dark green onto the light green, forming a border, with the hot glue gun. Parents should do this step

With Eyes
Help your child glue on pompoms by putting a dab of hot glue onto the felt where they want to put the pompom to make a mouth then have them stick the pompom on

Do the same with the googly eyes. Do not let kids touch the hot glue gun!
Let your child decorate the shamrocks with glitter glue
Stick magnets on the back

Without Eyes
Help your child glue on pompoms by putting a dab of hot glue onto the felt where they want to put the pompom then have them stick the pompom on

Let your child decorate the shamrocks with glitter glue
Stick magnets on the back

Check out this St. Patrick's Day wooden clover wall hanging craft, too.

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March 11, 2015

Instilling a Love of Reading in Babies and Toddlers

In our house, reading is very important. There are multiple bookcases of books. Actually, there are also boxes upon boxes of books as we don't even have room to have them all out. I started M2's and B's book collections before they were even born. Reading to kids from the time they are little is so important. It builds a life-long love of learning and books while helping with language and teaching important lessons along the way. Parent/child bonding also happens. Plus, it's just plain fun.
A New, Free Book -- Monthly
When we moved almost two years ago, I discovered a really great program while visiting the local library: Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Each month from birth until age 5, children receive a free book in the mail. To make the child feel even more special, there's even a label on each that says, "A special gift for (child's name)." M2 has gotten some great books this way. The books the kids get are based around his/her current development level. The back flap of each book even includes tips for parents on how to increase the learning aspects in the book. A few have been duds, but for the most part the books are awesome. The program exposes kids to all kinds of books that their parents might otherwise not know about, or even have access to.

M2 loves getting her new book from the book lady (what we call Dolly Parton) every month. She feels really important getting mail and loves the stories. Another plus of the program is that the books are not gender-specific. Boys may get books involving tea parties and girls may get books about trucks. In fact, M2 did get a book about trucks--it is her current favorite. She hadn't had much exposure to trucks so it opened up a new world for her. Another favorite of hers is one involving counting and common irregular plural nouns. I wish we'd been able to sign her up for the program sooner as she missed the first year.

For more info and to see if you live in an area that is partnered with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library (not all counties are) check out the website. Once you sign up, your child finds his/her first new book in the mailbox in about six to eight weeks.

*Image by Sicha Pongjivanich and
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March 9, 2015

How to Determine, Set, and Follow a Budget in 7 Easy Steps

Family accountant is one of the many jobs I have. This means doing the taxes each year, paying the bills each month and --you guessed it-- figuring out and setting our budget. A new budget needs to be set every year. Determining, setting, and following a budget actually sounds much scarier than it really is.

I started from scratch for our new budget last year after I left my office job to be a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader and a stay-at-home mom. There are different ways to budget and some people do things differently. It's a trial-and-error to see what works best for you. Here is a step-by-step on what works for me. A handy printable is included.

March 8, 2015

What's for Dinner? and Printable

New this week is a printable weekly dinner menu. It's a handy 8x10 size in case you'd like to frame it and use it as a dry erase menu board. All you need to do is put in the dates at the top, fill in your main courses and sides for each day. As an added plus, there's a spot to note leftovers you have from last week so you can incorporate them this week, and another spot to note leftovers from this week for next. Find out about the benefits of meal planning.

Bean burritos with cheese, green salad, and jasmine rice

Beef roast with mixed veggies, corn bread, and garlic butter red potatoes

Baked Old Spice Tilapia with brown rice, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots

Spaghetti with meat sauce (using leftover beef roast) and green salad

Italian pork chops with baked potato and corn


Roast chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and stuffing

March 4, 2015

A Range of Surprises

I had a toddler craft post planned for today but it isn't going to happen. The truth is, things have been crazy around here this week so I am behind.

Our Oven has Gone POOF
I noticed that the oven took longer to heat up than usual (by about 20 minutes) over the past week. Then the banana breads I mentioned on Facebook took almost three hours to bake -- yet one was still mushy and the other the bottom didn't bake. A tested the oven and noticed the element wasn't getting red, yet did later when I tried. The next day I tried to preheat the oven, only for it never to get past warm even after an hour. Shutting it off led it to heat to 395. I knew it was gone at that point.
It was nice knowing ya, range!

And it Took the Stove Along
But we still have a stove, right? Wrong. M2 asked for pancakes for breakfast. I put the griddle on to heat up. When I came back, the heat radiated as far as four feet away. The burner was so hot I could barely manage to get the now-discolored griddle off. Standing two feet away it felt like I was in front of a wide-open oven set to 500. The burner wasn't even on high! And the smell, oh, the smell. The horrible this-is-way-too-hot-OMG smell of ick. The top was changing to a lovely rainbow pattern from the heat to boot (we have glass). There's no way I'm even attempting to use the stove after that! Though, it would make a fun game of "Will it not heat up? Not turn on? Or get so hot the devil would sweat?" Place your bets, folks! Gather 'round and maybe you'll see it explode!

Now What
I spent the day quickly researching ranges. Looking at the websites I thought there is an error. The same range seems to appear over and over and over. Yet, the prices and model numbers are different. Nope, not the same. Just confusingly look the same so I can't keep track of which I look at, compare, don't like, etc. Did you know there are now double oven ranges? And that convection is pretty much standard? At least I know I want a smooth top with buttons on the back. Eventually, with keeping a few browser windows open, I figured it out. The choices are narrowed down and I think I found a good deal.

Please Come Quickly, New Range
Tomorrow is going to be spent at the store being sure I like the one I think I will like, trying to get the store who delivers faster to price match, checking the dent-and-scatch pile for a good deal, and arranging for a new range to be delivered. Hopefully this week, as Mama needs to cook! Tonight was pizza. I cheated. Sadly, that trick only works once so I'll need to come up with something I can make in the microwave and on a griddler tomorrow.

You can pretty much count on seeing a review for our new range soon!

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March 2, 2015

DIY Girl's Toddler Room

I showed you what we did in B's room last year. Why not show you M2's room as well? I absolutely LOVE her room.

Back when we first moved in (and in our old house), she had a nursery with an animal theme. She still LOVES animals so that stayed. The idea was to have a nursery that wasn't too babyish so it could become a toddler room easily. Like B's room, the key to keeping the cost down was reusing nursery items. We kept the cost of the nursery down by using furniture and decorations we'd had that were speical.

To go from a nursery to toddler room, we converted her crib to a toddler bed, put in a kid rocking chair vs. the big one we used to rock her, and replaced the changing table with cubby shelving for her toys. All the wall hangings, paint, rug, decorations, and curtains stayed. The initial letter I painted for her has a prominent spot in the room, just like B's in his room.

Many of the animal-theme items you find for kids are either frilly and pink or on the boyish side. We didn't want M2's room to drip with pink. As a result, everything we chose ended up leaning more toward the boy side. To balance it out, we put in dashes of pink and used a girlier paint -- iced mauve by Valspar, to be exact. It's a pink/purple, lighter shade to brighten up the room. The paint was a total accident. I'd asked for a sample of another color on the chip and was given this one instead. We tried it anyway and it was the best of the many, many colors we considered.
M2's reading nook. She has TONS of books. The little chair was mine growing up. The child-size afghan M2's grandmother made. The elephant KinderGlo nightlight on the bookcase is on my list of must-haves for baby and a toddler. M2 has the same AngelCare monitor. I explain more about them in B's nursery intro.

All her teddies on the cubby shelf have special meaning. The fabric cubes moved from the changing table to the cubby shelf. I love how cute they are and fit with the theme. The elephant and lion wall hangings her aunt and uncle gave her. They're fabric to add more texture to the room, while the monkeys are wood. The prints of the parent animal with his/her baby on either side of the bookcase are my favorite wall hangings in the room.

M2's bed is in a cozy corner of the room. She has a convertible Davinci Kalani crib, just like B. The crib is easily turned into the toddler bed. The part rail comes off once she doens't need it. The afghan one of her grandmother's made, the quilt was made by the other. I put in the rug to make the sleeping corner more cozy and to add some more color and interest to the room. The pictures above her bed are canvas and not very heavy, just in case they fall. I love the look of the canvas art. Yes, that is B photo bombing. Isn't he cute?

The chest belonged to my aunt, for whom M2 is named. The lamp is one made by family friends for me as a child. The shelf above the chest (you can't really see it) my dad made for me. Then hand mirror was my grandmother's--M2 was named for her as well. Eclipse thermal curtains look nice and work great to keep in heat in winter, cold in the summer.

How did you decorate your toddler's room? I'd love to hear what you did!

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March 1, 2015

What's for Dinner?

Check out what's cooking in M's kitchen this week.

 Chicken fajitas with refried beans, rice, and green salad

 Steaks with mashed potatoes and corn

Fettuccine Alfredo with broccoli

 Sweet Italian sausages in a bun with baked potato and mixed vegetables

Ranch chicken with couscous and green beans

Beef stew with French bread