If you are like most parents in our busy society, you have a hard time getting dinner on the table during the week. Between soccer practice and karate classes and other sports and recreation activities, not to mention helping kids with homework, parents are pulled in so many directions during the dinner preparation hour. So, what do you do? You stop at the fast food drive through on your way home or you order a pizza to be delivered. These are okay alternatives once in a while, but even you know that it is not the most nutritious choice. And, it is also quite expensive night after night.
So you’re searching for some quick alternatives you can pull together. And they should be nutritious and cost effective. And, you need something everyone in the family will like! What’s a busy mom to do? I’ll tell you what! I’ve got some tips that have worked well for my busy family.
The first thing I suggest is that when you do cook a meal, cook double the amount your family will eat. It doesn’t take double the time to prepare double the amount when you do it all at once. It only takes a few extra minutes in most cases since you already have the ingredients assembled and ready to go. You may have to chop just a bit more of an ingredient or mix two pans instead of one but this time is minimal when compared to the time you are already spending.
This method of double cooking works especially well for casseroles or lasagna or other dishes that have to be baked. I do this when I make baked macaroni and cheese, turkey noodle bakes and ziti casseroles. Prepare the food as you normally would and put it in two pans. Freeze one pan for another night when you will be very busy. All you’ll have to do is to pop the pan into the oven and bake. If you leave the pan to defrost in your refrigerator all day, it will normally take between 45-60 minutes to cook through. The time depends on how thick the casserole is. What could be easier than that? I would suggest using a foil pan for the pan that you are going to freeze. If you do this, you will not have to put a glass or ceramic pan into the freezer since you may need it for something else another day. Besides a foil pan is simple clean up for a night when you’ve already had a very busy day!
Another method that helps on busy nights is to spend an hour or two over the weekend preparing meals. If you go grocery shopping on Saturday morning, you can buy meat and chicken that you will come right home and prepare. Here are some examples:
1. You can bake boneless chicken in the oven, marinated with something simple and versatile like Italian salad dressing. This chicken can be cooled then cut up into squares and frozen. When you are ready to prepare dinner some busy evening, you simply defrost the chicken in the microwave. It can then be used in any dish from a quick stir fry to salads, to fajitas or casseroles.
2. You can brown ground beef and freeze the cooled meat in Ziploc bags. When you get home from work after a busy day, you pull out the cooked ground beef and set it in the microwave on defrost for 5 minutes. In the meantime you boil some pasta, drain it and add the beef and a jar of spaghetti sauce for a very quick, home cooked dinner! Or, you can use the defrosted ground beef for tacos or even added to canned soups in a pinch!
3. You can roast a whole chicken (or better yet two!) or turkey breast. Once cooled, you can slice it and freeze it for a ready made dinner. Just add mashed potatoes and a vegetable and you’ve got a perfect quick meal!
4. You can marinate and broil a London Broil. Slice when cool and freeze. It can then be eaten as is or you can use the meat in a stir fry, a dish like beef and broccoli or beef enchiladas.
These are just a few of the simple meal suggestions you may choose. Decide what your family likes and prepare accordingly. Add some pasta or instant mashed potatoes plus a vegetable and/or salad and you will have a balanced family meal that everyone will enjoy, especially the cook!
If you simply take an hour or two on a weekend when you are not so hurried or you double up your meal preparations on nights when you have a bit of time, your busy weeknights will be much easier and you will be able to enjoy dinnertime with the family. Eating dinner with the family is such an important event that it shouldn’t be ruined because no one wants to cook. With a little planning and pre-preparation it will be a much more relaxed event!