Tag Archives: make ahead meals

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Busy? Me too! Meals for on the go schedules

14 Jun

I feel like I must look like this by the end of the school year, every June. Most days, I barely know what day it is.

Happy Wednesday!

It’s finally stopped raining, at least temporarily, so we’re cancelling our plans to build an ark and have instead started the final countdown to the end of the school year. We have just about a week to go.

I always compare this time of year for teachers, students, parents and those of us in the education world to what I imagine the tax season to be like for accountants. It’s crazy-busy for all of us, and we’re spread thin, trying to put ourselves in several places at once. This year, I am especially thankful that we have a third driver, which has helped our situation when we aren’t able to clone ourselves to be two places at once.

Busy? Absolutely. Still need to cook and eat? Absolutely.

Normally during much of the year we plan our meals two weeks in advance and shop for them two weeks in advance as well. However, since after the April vacation week, we have only been able to manage to plan and shop a week at a time for much of May and June. It’s been working out, and this week I am particularly proud of our meal planning because we were able to prep so much of it in advance. It meant a lot of work, particularly on Sunday night, but we had the time to spend that evening, and it’s nice to know we’re set for this week, the final full week of the school year for all of us. Like everyone else, we’re battling with the culminating events for  sports and school and work and other extra-curriculars, but we get through it, just like everyone else does, just like all the other years, and then it will be summer and we can breathe again.

I told someone just the other day that during the rest of the year our schedules are busy, but doable because everything has a designated slot on the schedule and when left as is, it all works out. There may be a lot of it, with five schedules and only seven days in a week, but everything fits. November/December and May/June are the months that throw things off because all of the activities choose new, additional slots on the schedule in which to place their seasonal events. So our Saturday morning slot also goes into a slot on Monday and on Tuesday night, for example, but yet we already have something in that slot on Monday. And on Tuesday. Our Monday and Wednesday slots decide to put their event on a Saturday and on also a Sunday, and still on Monday and Wednesday too. Things that are normally contained within the school day curriculum, like band for one, or chorus for another, or theater for the other, or even recognition events for all, suddenly need night time slots for everyone. As adults we are also required to attend many of these same events at other schools for our school-related jobs as well as for our own three kids, so the chaos multiplies quickly for us here. It gets all mixed up for a good month and then it goes back to normal again, but for those weeks of the year, twice a year, we are definitely over-scheduled, over-worked and overwhelmed before normalcy and calm returns.

We use our summer to decompress. We don’t over-schedule and we don’t have to worry much about competing events because we don’t do a lot, and for both of us adults, work slows down to a more normal, regular pace. I take the time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t from the past year and make adjustments by August for the upcoming year. I also look at ways we can be more organized as a family, every summer. Last year I instituted the Cozi app, and have loved that and will definitely keep it going for the next year. The year before, I instituted a great allowance system, and have kept that going as well. Summer is always a great time for reflecting, making changes and improving our well-oiled machines.

So, in preparation for all of your upcoming busy weeks ahead, here is our one week of meals, instead of two, but they are great for making ahead, cooking once and eating twice, and for having to grab and go.

ONE WEEK OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie: This was our plan ahead, shop ahead and cook ahead day, and even though the daytime hours were full of obligations, we cooked into the evening hours and ate our dinner late that night in order to be ready for the week ahead. The kids used the time wisely and played outside until well after the street lights came on. See the recipe here. Make a big batch, eat half the first night and save the rest for a leftovers night later in the week.

Monday: Quesadillas: This night we had a PT appointment for one, a dance class for another and a fashion show rehearsal for all three, all after school, so we needed a literal grab and go dinner. (Thankfully, no one had any homework.) As a shortcut, I used already cooked chicken strips as my chicken and cheese fillers for these. I made plain cheese, spicy chicken and cheese, and plain chicken and cheese, and I bagged them all up, labeled and ready to go. When made with corn tortillas, these are also gluten free. They’re better served hot, but they’re edible cold as well, and when you’re hungry, cold will do just fine. Find the recipe here. As an added bonus, these make a great lunch, so I was one step ahead Tuesday morning as well.

My bag of quesadillas, ready to conquer dinner and then lunches, in one fell swoop.

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey: This was a meal we made ahead on Sunday night as well. Sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives filled our kitchen with a delicious aroma as we cooked, and thanks to that little teaser, now everyone can’t wait for this meal. We need to be at the kids’ fashion show by 5:30, so this will be an early meal, but will fill everyone’s bellies sufficiently before we go. Additionally, this will be something that will leave leftovers for our leftovers night. I don’t have a recipe we follow for this, it’s just sauteed ground meat (we use turkey), veggies of your choice, cooked pasta and sauce topped and baked with cheese. Ours is gluten free.

Wednesday: French Toast: This is my favorite go-to meal: breakfast for dinner. It’s fast and French Toast is my favorite meal for breakfast, despite my love for other types of morning treats. We have an after school meeting for one, piano lessons for one, dance class for one, a band concert for another, plus a work event for one, all before 7pm so this time, everyone will eat when they can, before they need to go, or when they get back, or both. It’ll be ready to eat, gluten free and not, for whenever it’s needed.

Thursday: Leftovers: On this night, all the kids are home, and finals start in the morning for our highschooler, so it’s crunch time for sure, but now both adults have to work. Normally we try our hardest to avoid both being out simultaneously for work at night, especially since I can set my own schedule more easily, but this week is an exception. It is graduation week here in our city and I cover three of the four high school graduation events, so my being out can’t be avoided, and neither can his. So, we planned our leftover night for this night because everything can be reheated from earlier in the week. If no one likes that, there’s enough other choices that they can make on their own easily enough, but we’ve done what we consider to be our parental due diligence and provided good meal options.

Friday: Homemade Pizza: Only I have to work on this night, graduation event #2. So I’ll come home at the end of the night and enjoy some yummy homemade pizzas. We enjoy homemade more than the pizza we take out, Don makes the absolute best pizza around, so this is a treat we all look forward to.

Saturday: Dinner event: We have a birthday party for one child early on in the day, and the final graduation event during the day for me as well, and then we are all heading to a dinner event that night, so our final meal of the week is planned for us, thankfully.

We will (hopefully) have made it through the week unscathed and having our meals planned out and mostly ready to go will have allowed us to enjoy the moments as we get to them and through them, and to enjoy the end of the year as it comes. It was a relatively inexpensive set of meals too, so that has been a little bit of a break for our grocery budget as well, when all else is so much more costly at this time of year.

May you all survive the busy seasons in your own lives, families and occupations. If this isn’t your busy season, save this post for when you’ll need it most!

 

 

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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

12 Nov
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted our two weeks of meals menu, and I always get great feedback from readers when I do. Therefore, I’m sharing our current menu plan with you today. Hopefully it will provide you with some dinner ideas and inspiration.

If you’re a new reader, this is how we generally try to plan out our grocery shopping every two weeks on pay day. We create a two week menu and try to stick as closely as we can to it. It almost never stays 100% on track, so we almost always have some carryover for the next two weeks of meals.

We have found that this is the best way for us to stick to a budget and to always have a (relatively) healthy, homemade meal for our family to eat together every night. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s better for us than not planning at all.

Week 1:

Sunday: Corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots

Monday: Tacos  *This lends itself well to taco salad or seven layer dip with chips for lunches the next day. This time around it was the dip, last time we had them, I did taco salads.

Tuesday: Lasagna

Wednesday: Pork chops and applesauce (homemade)

Thursday: Choice of hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken burgers

Friday: Pot luck dinner at Girl Scouts

Saturday: BBQ Ribs

Week 2:

Sunday: Dinner at friends’

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie (this was a ‘cook once, eat twice’ extra Shepherd’s Pie frozen from a previous month)

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey pasta bake

Wednesday: Lemon Basil Meatballs and egg noodles (this is from the make ahead meals Pampered Chef party that I attended in September)

Thursday: Dinner out, Girl Scouts are touring a local eatery, so we’ll be eating there afterwards

Friday: Pizza

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Soup for everyone

5 Nov
Three soups that are quick, easy and can all be done simultaneously.

Three soups that are quick, easy and can all be done simultaneously.

Earlier in the school year I did quite a bit of food preparation ahead of time, making and freezing foods for future use. One thing I’d wanted to do but hadn’t had time to do, was make and freeze some soup.

Recently when I had one child home sick for an extended amount of time, I had an afternoon where I’d have a couple of hours to make some soup. The only question was, what kind of soup? Everyone has a favorite. I love cream of broccoli and creamy cauliflower soup, as does my oldest daughter, who happened to be the one home sick. But, my other daughters and my husband, they love the cream of tomato soup that I’ve been making lately and my middle daughter in particular had been asking for it quite often.

When I thought about the recipes though, they were all pretty similar. Other than the actual vegetable for each soup, namely broccoli, cauliflower and tomato, the base ingredients and instructions were all pretty similar: onion and chicken broth. The tomato soup had a few extra spices thrown in, and the broccoli soup had celery added in and some milk and flour at the end, but ultimately I realized that I could actually make all three at the same time, almost like an assembly line: cut up all the onion, divide it into the soup pots, cut up each veggie and add them in, and then simmer. If any additional steps or ingredients were needed, it wasn’t all that hard to do. Nothing was complicated, expensive or time-consuming. In an hour I’d be done. The tomato soup has an option to put in tortellini and shrimp at the end, but this time around I was doing it without those last two ingredients mostly because that is what had been requested.

Just like that...three soups, done and everyone's taste buds were happy!!

Just like that…three soups, done and everyone’s taste buds were happy!!

Although I cried a lot of tears cutting up all those onions, overall it was a great experiment and all went off as planned. I had enough soup for whoever wanted whatever kind they wanted over the next couple of days, and then using quart-sized bags, I froze the rest. We already had a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon where a few of us had soup for lunch from the freezer, and there’s still more for whenever we need it, whether it’s for an after school snack, a lunch or a dinner where someone doesn’t like what’s on the regular night’s menu.

Since these soups have already been featured on my blog, I’m putting the links below so that you can refer to them if you’d like to make any or all of them for yourself. The weather here is starting to cool down and it will be nice to have some soups for the upcoming chilly days and nights ahead!

Here are the links for you.

If you’d like to make the Cream of Broccoli Soup, click here.

If you’d like to make the Creamy Cauliflower Soup, click here.

If you’d like to make the Creamy Tomato Soup, click here.

Enjoy!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: How to plan ahead

10 Sep
Throw it all in, throw it all in the microwave, throw it all on the table.

With my Pampered Chef deep covered baker, cooking a chicken is so easy. I throw it all in, throw it all in the microwave, and throw it all on the table.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about my make ahead meal posts that I’ve written the past couple of weeks for my WFDW posts. I’m glad that they’re inspiring others to make some meals ahead. I wish I could take all the credit for this freezer meal inspiration, but I’m just sharing something I’ve read along the way too. Everyone helps everyone out by sharing what they’ve learned, read or tried, and I’m glad my posts are helpful.

I had a couple of people comment to me that the whole idea of planning ahead is just so overwhelming, they can’t even wrap their heads around it. I know I’ve written before about how we try to menu-plan ahead of time, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d do a quick recap once again, to coincide with my make ahead meal series.

My husband is paid every two weeks and I am paid at the end of every month, so we try to plan our menus and our grocery shopping trip for our “big shopping,” as we call it, two weeks at at time. We try to go as soon as we can once he’s been paid, and most of the time we try to create a menu first which spans the two weeks.

Besides thinking about what we all like to eat and don’t like to eat, when planning our menu, we also look at our calendars and map out which nights one of us may have to work, or nights that are tight because the kids need to be somewhere early or right after dinner, or whatever the case may be. We cross off any nights we’re not eating at home, which doesn’t happen often, but on occasion there are some, and we try to plan fast meals for busy nights, big meals with leftovers that can be used for another dinner or lunches, on not-so-busy nights, and we try to stick with the menu plan as much as possible.

You’ll notice that in the paragraph above, I use the word “try” a lot. It’s because you still have to be flexible. Schedules change, so menus sometimes change too. Sometimes we don’t get to do the big shopping and we’re stuck planning on the fly, by the day and picking up what we can, when we can. Sometimes we don’t get to do a menu ahead but we have time to do a quick big shopping and we grab staples we always use in our menus and plan our menu around what we’ve bought.

Either way, my point is that no matter how you do it, planning ahead is worthwhile for organizational purposes, and for staying on budget as well. The less times I enter a store, the less extra items that I just “have to have” that week!

I thought I’d leave you here with the list we came up with for our two weeks of meals, and a few tidbits about how they’ll serve us well on that particular night. I’ve also linked to the recipes on my blog from past posts if I had them.

Sunday: Chicken dinner (we had most of the day to do a big Sunday dinner, it’s one we all love, and it made enough for leftovers for lunches. Two people had chicken sandwiches the next day stuffed with cranberry sauce and stuffing, and one had chicken salad the day after that.)

Monday: Quesadillas (everyone likes at least one variety or another of these and they are great for lunches the next day.)

Tuesday: London Broil (marinated ahead and frozen for a busy day.)

Wednesday: Pasta and meatballs (very busy day, one parent working at night, kids all over at night, and makes enough for leftovers for lunches or dinner.)

Thursday: Pulled pork in the crock pot (same sort of night as Wednesday, everyone likes this, we can eat and run, and have leftovers for lunches or another dinner.)

Friday: Homemade pizza and salad (a favorite meal, three different varieties of pizza for a busy night, and usually we have enough left to freeze some for the future or to use for lunches.)

Saturday: California Chicken with cheddar cheese and avocados (this is a one time only meal. No leftovers. Anyone can make their chicken any way they’d like.)

Sunday: (Eating out with a gift card to celebrate a special event.)

Monday: Chicken Marsala (a family favorite, served with noodles on the side for the one person who doesn’t like chicken. Makes enough for leftovers.)

Tuesday: Nicoise (a favorite French dish, a quick meal to pull together, provides some leftovers for lunch.)

Wednesday: Soup and sandwiches (a crazy night, soup will be made ahead of time using the carcass from the previous week’s chicken dinner, and reheated.)

Thursday: Pasta and Meatballs again! (another crazy night.)

Friday: Payday! Chinese takeout!!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: More Make Ahead Meals

3 Sep
I'm on a roll, what's the next batch of dinners I can cook ahead?

I’m on a roll, what’s the next batch of dinners I can cook ahead?

Ever since I did all my meal prep prior to the start of school last week, I have been looking at every meal with new eyes. Every time I cook something or eat something, I think to myself, “Could I prep this ahead?”  If I determine I can’t prep it ahead, I try to think of whether or not I could even just prep a part of it ahead.

I’ve come up with some good ideas though. We recently had Tortellini, Shrimp and Tomato Soup for dinner, and I realized that I could easily make up some batches of the soup without the tortellini and shrimp in it, freeze it and reheat it, adding the cooked tortellini and cooked shrimp in at the end. Also, having the soup prepared ahead makes a great option for my own lunches, even if I don’t add in the pasta and shrimp. It’s good just as a tomato soup, and in fact that’s how one of my kids eats it; I separate out a small batch for her to eat plain.

That led me to wonder, how many other soups could I make ahead and freeze? And what else is good to make ahead?

We just marinated a London Broil for a future meal, using this marinade. It’s good on steak and on pork. Pork tenderloins and London Broils are super easy to marinate ahead and freeze.

Pasta of all kinds, as well as sauce and meatballs, also very easy to make ahead and freeze.

I’d like to hear from you! What do you think would be a great make ahead dinner to make and freeze for future meals? Do you have any super successful meals you’ve frozen in the past? Anything you would NOT recommend freezing? I once saw a movie where the main character froze absolutely everything, from milk and cheese to lettuce. That’s not me.

Not yet anyway. 🙂

Leave me a comment below if you have some great make ahead meals! In the meantime, check out the recipes I have linked here and enjoy!