Aug 6, 2011

Meal Time When you Don't Have Time

One of the best parts for me about summer is the laziness of dinner time.

Sometimes we order pizza to the pool.

Sometimes we grill out.

Sometimes we decide at the last minute to get together with friends at a restaurant.

But most of the meals are unplanned.

Sure, I *try* to have a rough idea of what we will have that week, but it's always flexible and always changing.

Once the kids start back to school and all the activities etc. that come with that, meal-time takes on a whole new kind of flexibility.

It then becomes the kind that's 'eat whatever you can in the car between activities'.  Unfortunately, if you haven't planned well, that can mean fast food and junk most of the time.

But believe me, I'm not judging!  I have been down this road many times too.

But I know there is a better way.  And when I actually DO plan ahead and stick to it, it makes for a much happier momma, which translates to a much happier family.

So here are some tips for dinners that have to be quick, easy and budget-friendly:

-Cook on the weekends!  I know you have heard this over and over, but that's because it's true.  Take an hour during the week to plan out your meals for the next week.  Try to plan stuff that will use a lot of the same ingredients.  there are TONS of great sites out there to help you plan meals!  An example menu would be:

       Monday:  Roasted Chicken, Baked Potatoes, and Broccoli
       Tuesday: Spaghetti, Salad and Bread
       Wednesday: Chicken Tortilla Soup
       Thursday: Turkey Burgers, Potato salad, and fresh veggies with dip
       Friday: Tacos
      Saturday:  Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole, and Salad
      Sunday:  Pizza

Then, what you would do as far as cooking:

On Sunday, (if you decide to make that your cooking time), brown 2 lbs. of ground beef and separate.  Add spaghetti sauce to 1 lb. (buy extra sauce for the pizza night!), and taco seasoning to the other.  Freeze both.  Also, go ahead and roast 2 large chickens.  Once cooled, shred the meat off of one whole chicken, separate into two bags and freeze.  Refrigerate the other.

On Monday, all you have to do is re-heat the unfrozen chicken, bake the potatoes (make about 3-4 extra!), and broccoli (make an extra bag here too!).  After dinner that night, refrigerate the extra broccoli and make the potato salad with the extra potatoes, (recipe here!). 

On Tuesday, defrost the spaghetti sauce, reheat and add to cooked noodles, and add a salad and bread.

On Wednesday, defrost and reheat 1/2 the shredded chicken and add to tortilla Soup (Recipe here!).

On Thursday, Make Turkey Burgers and add the already made potato salad and fresh veggies and dip.

On Friday, defrost and reheat the taco meat and add tortillas and toppings

On Saturday, defrost and reheat  the rest of the shredded chicken and make the chicken broccoli and rice casserole, (recipe below!)

On Sunday, make pizza with the extra spaghetti sauce!

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it is seriously a HUGE time saver in the end.  Also, it saves money!  You could also change around the order of the meals according to which days were busiest for you.  For example, if Tuesdays and Thursdays are super busy, make those nights the taco and pizza night.  Each are less than 20 minutes to make! 

Now, if you have mastered the art of making meals for a whole week ahead, then push yourself a little further and try Once a Month cooking!  I know this sounds scary, but it actually works!  A while back, Once A Month Mom guest posted and if you didn't read about it then, I encourage you to check out her site and give it a try.  Even if you decide once a month cooking isn't for you, there are GREAT meal ideas on her site, especially for busy familes and kids! 

Another tip:  Keep last minute, (semi at least) healthy stuff on hand for when crazy stuff happens and you absolutely don't have time to make a meal.  I try to keep turkey deli meat, baby carrots, grapes, lean cuisine meals, tuna packets, peanut butter, cheese and wheat thins on hand for us.  Find out what works for your family.

As far as eating on the go:  Instead of grabbing fast food, think of it like you are packing for lunch.  Pack a lunch box or paper bag that has a drink, ( juice box or water bottle is what we use most!), a piece of fruit, a sandwich or other  'main' item, and a treat (like a cookie).  This is a much healthier option and quicker than running through a drive-thru.  For more good ideas on lunch box ideas, see this post!

One more Dinner Tip:  I know it's hard working around everyones schedule and it might seem impossible for you all to have dinner together.  But Make It A least once or twice a week.  This is such an important time for families to come together catch up, and really see whats going on in each others lives.  Plus, it's a family building time.  You want your kids to know the time you have together as a family is valuable, and just as important (if not more!) than everything else you do. 


This is where life gets the most tricky in my house.  I would much prefer extra sleep over breakfast.  But you ALL need a good breakfast to start the day off right and stay healthy.  Some suggestions are:

Keep it simple.  Don't think that a good breakfast has to take a long time or include a lot of stuff.  A piece of fruit and some yogurt is good on days when you are running late.

Make extra pancakes, waffles and muffins on the weekends when you DO make a bigger breakfast for the family.  Freeze and reheat when you need them during the week!

I hope these tips help you as you try to navigate meal time with your family during this busy season!!

Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole Recipe

cooked,shredded chicken
8oz. cheddar cheese
2 10.5 oz. cans cream of chicken soup
4 cups of cooked white rice
12 oz. frozen chopped broccoli (cooked)

Mix all ingredients together and bake in a 13x9 pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  (Freezes great too!  Just mix all the ingredients and DON'T BAKE until ready to eat!)

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