Giver + Menu


With every passing Christmas, I get more and more excited, thanks to my children. They really make Christmas so much more fun. The Christmas season is always so busy and long for us. My parents and Josh’s are divorced, so that means extra houses to visit, extra presents, and more time on the road. Anderson sure doesn’t mind extending the season of giving. Watching my children hunt for their elf every morning, looking for their star from church, and the excitement on their faces Christmas morning is worth it all.

At heart, I am a giver and hostess. I love to decorate, wrap, and see it all come together. I like to decorate my mom’s house at Thanksgiving for Christmas, just to get it started. Decorating for me is a stress reliever and fun, when I can do it without a kid on my hip. It can be very stressful to get it all done make my vision come to life, but I manage. I try to put my meal prepping skills to use and do a lot of things behind the scenes, when my children are asleep or a little bit here and there.

I am a little too “Martha” sometimes. I put all the expectations on myself for gatherings to be “just-so” and stress myself out. My husband will remind me that I am putting it on myself, that I don’t HAVE to cook all the things, DIY all the decorations, and go so big…but it is what I like to do, so I do it. As a hostess, you don’t want your guests to want for anything, but you also want to enjoy yourself. Often times, this leaves you wishing you would have sat down and had a conversation with your guests instead of refilling the vegetable tray and drinks.

Christmas morning we always have two different casseroles. I am not one to spend my morning in the kitchen Christmas day, so just like I meal prep for the week, I meal prep for Christmas day. After the kids have gone to bed I get the food ready, set up the living room, and spend my night tossing and turning with excitement. I sleep very little Christmas Eve, I am too excited to sleep. When I wake up I put the casseroles in the oven before the kids wake up. Then, I sit patiently waiting on them to wake up so I can see the look on their faces when they turn the corner to see if Santa came or not.

While I laid awake waiting for the hours to turn into minutes and Christmas morning to come, I thought a lot about how grateful I am to be in the position that I am in. I thought about how excited my children and husband would be and wondered what gift they would like the most. I wondered if what I did was enough or too much if I had put too much emphasis on gifts or gotten the balance just right. I wonder whether they will notice all the small details that I stressed over.

all the details

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what came from Santa and what didn’t. It is all what you make it. Scarlett got strep-throat, right after both kids and my husband having the flu. She and I had to sit out on one Christmas gathering until she was no longer contagious and man it was sad. She and I just sat there at the house alone, finishing up some wrapping.

The extra early gathering that might normally feel like a chore was sorely missed. Once something is taken away from you, you realize how much you actually appreciate it. No matter how chaotic things are, there is a sliver lining that you look back fondly on. I hated not being there to see Anderson’s face when he opened his gifts. I hated that I had to miss all the excitement of his first Christmas gifts.

These days are precious and go by so quickly. I am limited to the years that my children still find Christmas magical and loudly ooh-and-aah at every little gift. I am limited to the number of years that Anderson cries (literally pitches a fit) for me to wash his new pajamas to wear the same night that he gets them. The years of Scarlett wanting chocolate over toys are probably endless, but for now, it is funny and sweet. I am happy to be a little too “Martha” as long as I can keep it under control and more behind the scenes, so I don’t miss out on all these magical memories.


Best Super Easy Penne


Slow Cooker Herbed Chicken and Rice Pilaf

Apple Butter and Sage Pork Chops  + Balsamic Parmesan Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes

Souper Creamy Lemon Butter Cheesy Zucchini Orzo + Chicken

Best Super Easy Penne

I am super excited to try this dish. I am going to use carbanada instead of regular pasta to make it more macro friendly for me. I won’t use all of the oil that it requires or my macros would be completely wasted on oil.

*Changes I make to meet my macros

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
*spray olive oil
25 to 30 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated 
1 tablespoon dried oregano plus fresh oregano, for serving 
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 24 ounce jars marinara sauce
Kosher salt and black pepper
3/4 pound spicy ground Italian sausage or chicken sausage
*ground beef
1 pound dry penne pasta
grated Parmesan cheese, for serving 
*low fat parmesan cheese 20 grams per serving


The spaghetti sauce I use is adapted from a bolognese lasagna sauce. It is a thicker sauce, with lots of meat and vegetables.

To make the sauce, dice the onion and bell pepper, and saute’ with the minced garlic until soft. Add the mushrooms to the pan (mushrooms are not in the lasagna). Once the mushrooms have cooked down, drain any excess water. Add the vegetables to a large pot, along with the canned tomatoes. Once the meat has cooked thoroughly, drain and add to the tomatoes and vegetables.

Stir in the milk and wine, if you are going to put those in. Let the spaghetti simmer on low. Add the tomato paste to thicken the sauce if needed. The amount of tomato paste you add depends on how thick you want your sauce to be. I use to add the whole milk and wine but have recently opted out of putting it in. It is delicious with or without the wine and milk.

I like to add dried oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, parsley, and any other Italian herbs I have on hand. I don’t use noodles anymore with my spaghetti. If you still want noodles, Carba-nada is a great low-carbohydrate noodle option!

Once I tried spaghetti squash I never went back. It really is not that difficult to make. I cut my squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, spray with olive oil and bake in the oven on 425 degrees until I can stick a skewer all the way through the squash to the outside (not through the outside). I allow the squash to cool and then use a fork to scrape noddle-like strands out of the squash. 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash is 42 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.5 grams of fat.

4 cans Fire Roasted Tomatoes 
1 can Tomato Paste (about 1 cup)
3 cloves Garlic
1 Yellow Bell Pepper (diced)
1 Onion (diced)
8 ounces Mushrooms (diced) 
2-4 pounds 80/20 cooked and drained (depending on amount of people serving, I use 3.5 pounds typically and always have leftovers for the kids)
8 ounces Whole Milk (optional)
4 ounces Red Wine (optional)
Italian Herbs 
3-4 spaghetti squash or noodles of your choice

Slow Cooker Herbed Chicken and Rice Pilaf

I usually cook this at least once a month. It is one of the simplest dishes and turns out great every time. Throw everything into the crockpot, set it on low for 6 hours, and you are done. You are supposed to sear the chicken before putting it into the crockpot, but I have skipped this step before and it has still turned out just as good. Josh refers to this as a “modern chicken and rice” like what his Granny used to make. It is 100% a compliment.

I don’t shred my chicken into the dish. I take it out in whole pieces and add it to each bowl in the amounts that I want. This makes tracking my food a lot easier. After taking out the chicken I weigh the entire pot of rice and vegetables, mix it well, and create my servings. Then I top my bowl of rice and vegetables with chicken.

The last time I made this, without chicken factored in, per serving I had 220 calories, 8 grams of protein, 44.3 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.3 grams of fat.

*Changes I make to meet my macros

1 1/2 cups wild rice
* 1 cup
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
* 2 cups 
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
* 11-12 ounces baby carrots 
1 cup wild mushrooms, torn
* 284 grams  
2 pounds bone-in chicken breast and or thighs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
kosher salt and pepper
4 shallots, halved
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Apple Butter and Sage Pork Chops  + Balsamic Parmesan Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes

I was so nervous about the macros the first time I made these. I was not familiar with apple butter, I just assumed it had to be loaded down with carbs like jelly was and then adding apples too! I couldn’t imagine that these would be good for my macros, at all. I just knew that I would be blowing my carbohydrates for the day. I don’t usually calculate macros before I decide to cook a dish, typically I can make some pretty good guesses on what needs to be altered to make things healthier. 

The second time I increased the apple butter and it still did not push my macros to the limit. I was so happy to find a new tasty recipe for pork chops. Just like chicken breast, pork chops get really boring after a while if you don’t mix things up. This is the perfect recipe to mix things up with.

If you have carbohydrates to spare, you can add some rice, make a good salad, or add a sweet potato on the side. I am going to add roasted asparagus and tomatoes, to this meal. I don’t want the extra carbs from a side dish, but I always feel like something is missing when I cook this without a side dish.

*Changes I make to meet my macros 

2 bone-in pork chops, about 1 inch thick
*4-6 pork loin chops 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*zero calorie olive oil spray 
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons salted butter
*1 tablespoon 
12 fresh sage leaves
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons apple butter
*52 grams
1-2 honeycrisp apples, cut into wedges
*2 apples 
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme 

Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes:
1 lb asparagus
2 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar

Souper Creamy Lemon Butter Cheesy Zucchini Orzo + Chicken

I love this new pasta substitute carbanada. It is only 24 carbohydrates per serving, just over 5 ounces of noodles and PACKED with extra protein. I’m in love with this pasta. I had to start ordering it from Amazon because our local grocery store quit carrying it. Bummer, but I am still going to keep getting it through the mail I guess.

The zucchini Parmesan sauce is excellent too. All you need is zucchini, Parmesan, garlic, and basil. Done! No heavy extras and you feel so full without all the guilt of a creamy pasta sauce. I added in chicken so I could get more protein, with the extra protein from the pasta, I only need about 5.5 ounces of cooked chicken to reach my goal. I cut back a good bit on the butter, but if you aren’t worried about your macros then keep it the same and enjoy all the buttery goodness. For the chicken, you can cook it on the stovetop or in the oven, whatever you prefer.

*Changes I make to meet my macros

3 tablespoons salted butter
*1 tablespoon
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 pound dry orzo pasta (use gluten-free, if needed)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 medium zucchini and or yellow summer squash grated
1/2 bunch kale, finely shredded
3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon onion powder
kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup whole milk or canned full fat coconut milk
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
*75-100 grams reduced fat parmesan 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried)
*add-in cooked chicken breast

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