Tag Archives: Shepherd’s Pie

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 forĀ  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!

 

 

Advertisements

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A freezer full of food

27 Aug
Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

At the beginning of last month, I helped out a young woman at our church who had recently had some surgery that left her on “light duty” for 4-6 weeks. She’s got a new baby and several other children, one of whom is a toddler himself.

You can laugh. A mom…on light duty. I know what you’re thinking.

Impossible right?

That’s what I thought too, so I sent her a message to see if I could help her out at all by making a few meals that she could just reheat. She said absolutely.

I had asked her because the next day I had some time to myself, just a few hours in the afternoon where I could run to the store and pick some things up and prep her a few meals. It wouldn’t take much time and at the moment, I was able-bodied with older kids who’d be away for part of the day, so I was able to help out.

That afternoon, I picked up my supplies and spent some time in my kitchen, cooking up ground turkey for Shepherd’s Pie, boiling pasta for a pasta bake and cooking some chicken for chicken noodle soup. As I stood there at the stove, stirring my various meats and pasta, I got to thinking, “I really need to do this for us before school starts, put some meals into the freezer early on.”

So often throughout my parenting life, I’ve had these moments of “Why didn’t I think of that sooner??” and this was one of those types of moments. Now clearly, I know how to cook ahead, I know how to freeze meals, but oftentimes I don’t do it soon enough. Like in the summer. I’m so carefree in the summer as compared to the school year, that the last thing I’m thinking about is dinner for the first month of school.

This had me thinking though. I was going to try to do better. Each year I find that I’m just a little more organized than the last year. Each year, I get better. As a friend joked with me recently, by the time my oldest goes to college, I’ll be all set, totally prepared and organized.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I've got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I’ve got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

A few weeks later, I sat with one of my daughters who loves to menu-plan and we made two lists: the first list was a list of make ahead meals we wanted to make and the second list was a shopping list of all the things I’d need to pick up in order to make anything ahead; things that would be above and beyond my normal two weeks of meals shopping list.

On our list for the grocery store included things like multiple pounds of ground turkey, multiple bags of chicken tenderloins, multiple boxes of pasta and a jar of sauce (in this case I was not using our homemade sauce).

As the summer progressed I kept these things in mind, and as I planned out my meals, I tried to think of things I could make double of, eating one that night and freezing one for another night. One night that wasn’t too hot to bake, I cooked up enough ingredients for two chicken pot pies. I used the recipe linked here and used chicken instead of turkey. I also only use a top crust on my pies, so one box of two refrigerated crusts will equal two pot pie meals. One Sunday, my husband made a double batch of American Chopped Suey and we ate a batch and froze a batch. Now we had two frozen meals.

We were on a roll.

The weekend before school began, we did a shopping and picked up a family pack of ground turkey which contained three pounds. I split it into one pound and two pounds and cooked them up in two separate skillets, shown above at the left, where I was also hard-boiling eggs for the fridge for the first week of school breakfasts and lunches.

Into my one pound of ground turkey, I added a packet of Taco Seasoning. I had a packet on hand, but you can also make your own, which I’ve done in the past. I split that pound of taco meat into two half pounds and froze them. I now had enough taco meat for a taco meal and lunches of taco salads, or two taco meals or two sets of lunches with taco salads. Either way, I was set for a little bit with taco meat. All I needed to do now was thaw it and use it.

Into my second skillet containing two pounds of ground turkey, I put two cans of creamed corn for a Shepherd’s Pie. We found that we need two pounds for one pie, given the size of our family. It also provides us leftovers for another time.

I put those into the freezer with the taco meat.

The night before school, I made Chocolate Chip Muffins for the first day of school breakfast. After they baked, since the oven was already on, I cooked up an entire two-pound bag of chicken tenderloins. These I froze for future dinners, salads, lunches ( chicken caesar salad is a popular choice). I was making real progress.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids' choosing, and frozen for lunches.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids’ choosing, and frozen for lunches.

And finally, the thing I’m probably most proud of that I’d been wanting to do: my make ahead sandwiches for the freezer. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend who I get a lot of great ideas from in my menu-planning had the idea herself. Her thought was that if Smuckers “Uncrustables” could work for lunches, couldn’t we use our Pampered Chef Press and Seal tool to make our own and freeze them? I tried it a couple of times last year and it worked out fine, but I really wanted to make up a whole big load of sandwiches. I had two loaves of bread waiting for me.

The night before school, I got my supplies together: creamy peanut butter, crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jelly, grape jelly, Nutella and Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter. I got a cutting board and a whole bunch of knives (no cross contamination!) and got to work. It took about one minute before my two kids who were nearby saw what I was doing and wanted to take over the project for me.

Excellent!

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

I got a second cutting board and they both got to work.

In under an hour they’d done both loaves of bread, creating and sealing any kind of sandwich they personally liked or knew someone else liked, and I bagged them and labeled them. Done. I put three in the fridge for the next morning and gathered the rest.

I was so excited. I went downstairs to my freezer and cleared a spot on the door for them. I looked into my freezer, so proud. We were ready to star off the school year right: a bit more organized and prepared than before.

I can’t promise that I can maintain this through the busiest parts of the year, but I feel like if I prep it during the slower parts of the year, then I can be ready when those crazy times hit, which for us is just prior to the holidays and during the last two months of the school year. We’ll see how it goes. For now though, we are better off than we were! My general philosophy is “anything I do is better than doing nothing at all” and I do believe that. One step ahead is better than being three steps back.

I hope everyone has a great fall, and a great school year!

 

 

 

Resolutions and Recipes: Shepherd’s Pie

2 Jan

Shopping on a budget takes practice!

Yesterday I shared with you a recent goal that we set to pay off all of our debt in a relatively short time and how it affected our grocery shopping, but not our cooking or eating. I promised to share with you some tips and recipes this month that have helped us maintain our goals of eating good, homemade meals while sticking to a lean budget with a large family.

The first thing I’ll share with you today is this: when we were pregnant with our third daughter, my husband was working full time and in school for his masters degree full time, and I was working my home-based business with a toddler and a preschooler at home with me. I had this feeling of panic before the baby came (some might call it nesting, I call it panic, like a tornado was coming,) and I decided that I needed to prepare ahead as much food as I could for those crazy, early weeks after the baby came. That led me to creating a list of everything I could think of that we ate for our dinner meals so that I could also make sure I had the necessary staples on hand that I needed, since I knew I’d have my hands full and Don would still be working days and in school nights. No matter what our situation, I knew we’d still need to eat three meals a day.

I share this with you because even though I’m no longer expecting a baby, that period of panic/nesting actually turned out to be very helpful. When I made my list of all our meals, it lasted me for seven weeks before I had to start back at the beginning of the list again. That didn’t include leftovers, breakfast for dinner, or eating at someone’s house, for example, so really the list lasted us for about eight weeks of meal ideas. But, more importantly, what I noticed when I studied my list was that if I had some very important staples on hand at all times, I could make almost anything for dinner.

For example, I always make sure my pantry has white rice (bought in bulk) and brown rice as well as boxes of rice pilaf, couscous, rice-a-roni (all generic brand) and my potato bin has red potatoes, mashing potatoes and baking potatoes. I keep several boxes of pasta on hand, as well as wide egg noodles. This way, no matter what meal I make, I have a starch to go with it. You can use white or brown rice as a “bed of rice” under a main dish, or on the side. I keep a taco kit on hand as well as soft tacos (which allows us to have tacos, spaghetti tacos and/or quesadillas as meal options.) I also make sure I always have packets of brown gravy mix and boxes of chicken broth as well as both chicken boullion and beef boullion.

When I shop I always buy a large amount of ground beef, a pack of stew meat, a large bag of flash frozen chicken tenders, a bag of frozen shrimp, a bag of frozen white fish like flounder or tilapia, pork chops, pork tenderloins, and ribs for bbq.

I buy a few blocks of cheddar cheese, salsa and food for salads as well as fresh fruits and veggies and frozen bags of veggies (2 each of frozen corn, broccoli, and green beans. One bag of corn or green beans lasts us two meals, the broccoli lasts one meal.)

And yes, all of this and more still only costs $225 every two weeks.

One of my favorite make-ahead meals using several of the above listed items is Shepherd’s Pie. To make a Shepherd’s Pie is kind of a lot of work but it’s a one dish meal and my entire family likes it and I can make two–one to eat and one to freeze.
From the list above I need mashing potatoes, cheddar cheese, approximately 3 pounds of ground beef, and a bag of frozen corn as well as butter and half & half. (Additionally, I want to note that if I’m using our bulk amount of ground beef all up on Shepherd’s Pie this pay period, then the next pay period I might use it to make one and freeze one of meatloaf or a lasagna instead.) I must also note that this meal is NOT incredibly health conscious, but it IS incredibly delicious.

Here’s the cooking process the way that I do it, and I apologize in advance for not having a “recipe” to share.

1) Dice a pot of potatoes for mashing, approximately 10 depending on the size. Usually they’re about the size of my fist. If they’re bigger, use less. My Shepherd’s Pies are made in two 9×13 glass baking dishes. Set them on to boil. Once they come to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes.

2) While cooking the potatoes, put the 3 pounds of ground beef into a large frying pan and cook it all the way through. Drain the meat when it’s done.

3) In a second frying pan, throw in one bag of frozen corn, a half cup of half and half, salt, pepper and about a half stick of butter. Cook that all together until the corn is no longer frozen. Mix it together with the ground beef and pour into the bottom of the two 9×12 baking dishes. If your frying pans are not big enough to hold all of the meat PLUS all of the corn, split it up between the corn frying pan and the meat frying pan so that you have two frying pans of meat with corn.

Kids can be cheese graters

Kids love to be the cheese graters for this recipe!

4) In the meantime employ a child to grate a block of cheddar cheese onto wax paper or into a separate bowl. If your child is too young to grate cheese, you’re on. You’ll need this cheese to go into your potatoes as well as on top of the Shepherd’s Pie that you’re cooking for that night’s meal. When you freeze the second one, do NOT put cheese on top. You’ll need to do so when it bakes in the future instead.

5) Once the potatoes are done, mash them with butter, half and half and some of the cheddar cheese, remembering to save enough for the top of the pie.

6) Layer the potatoes over the tops of both Shepherd’s Pies.

7) Set one pie aside to cool and be frozen. Put the other in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Everything is already cooked through but this baking time sets it all together.

8) Change the oven setting to broil and take the pie out, sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top of the pie and put it back into the oven.

9) Out of your pantry grab a packet of brown gravy. Add one cup of water and mix until it boils. By then your cheddar cheese will be appropriately crisp and your pie will be ready to come out of the oven.

10) You’re ready to eat. If’ you’d like an additional vegetable, add a green one or a salad or both.

Enjoy!