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Creating meals in a flash (aka: How to break up with the pizza guy)
The Dinner Dilemma
It’s 5:00 o’clock. You’re exhausted after a long day at work. The kids are complaining that they are hungry. You go to the kitchen to see what you can put together for dinner and find little besides a can of tuna, some wilted lettuce, and peanut butter. You reach for the phone to call your BFF—the pizza joint down the street. They recognize your voice instantly. You realize that it is time to make a change. With just a little planning and a few basic essentials you can have a hot home cooked meal on the table in about the same time it would take to have a pizza delivered.
Stock your pantry for the types of foods that you like to eat the most. Sounds pretty basic right? If your go-to is pizza make sure you have the basics on hand for a quick pizza. If you love Mexican food make sure you stock up on tortillas, salsas, beans, etc.
My personal must-haves include the following:
Plenty of fresh and frozen vegetables
A variety of canned tomato products
A variety of pastas
A variety of canned beans
A variety of proteins (lots of chicken and ground turkey)
Plan ahead. Come up with your meal game plan for the week and create a shopping list. If you simply try to “wing it” you will inevitably end up with a hodge-podge, forget a key ingredient, and end up at the drive-through out of frustration.
Clean and prep fresh vegetables when you get home. Spending an hour chopping is the last thing I want to do after a long day at work. A little bit of time and effort at the front end will make things a lot easier during the week.
Look for meals that can be made or assembled ahead of time and frozen. Items such as soups, stews, and casseroles tend to be very freezer-friendly. A few minutes in the oven or microwave and you are set with a hot, home-cooked meal.
The slow cooker (aka: crockpot) can be your friend. At one point my sister and I worked different shifts. Neither one of us really had the time or desire to cook during the week. We would plan our meals and do our weekly shopping on Saturdays. On Sunday we would fire up all the crockpots (we have 5) with different dishes and freeze them. All we had to do during the week was reheat and eat!
Invest in a good Dutch oven. Granted, they can be a little pricy but it is money well spent. One of my favorite things to do is to throw in a bunch of root vegetables drizzled with EVOO, my seasoning of choice and some chicken. In about 45 minutes I have a healthy, nutritious meal. The book Glorious One Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell is a great introduction to Dutch oven cooking.
Create your own “meal in a bag”. Most of us are very rushed in the mornings which can make it difficult to even throw something into a crockpot. Take some time when prepping for the week (see Tip #3) to create your own meal-in-a-bag. Simply put all the elements for a meal in a freezer bag. Put the bag in the fridge the night before you want it so it can thaw. All you have to do in the morning is throw it in the crockpot. All the hard work is already done!
Don’t be afraid to take help from the store from time to time. I know my previous comments may sound like I don’t approve of anything pre-made. That is not the case. For example, I generally use a pre-made crust when making my pizza. There are some tasty ones available now. I use a lot of fresh veggies and put my own spin on things which make it a heck of a lot better than delivery.
A rotisserie chicken is one of the best bargains in the store. They can also be a great time saver. We will break the chicken down when we get home and use the meat in everything from tacos to soup. We can normally get at least three meals from one chicken.
Repurpose leftovers. Use leftover roast vegetables in a soup. Crumble up left over cornbread and add some scallion, black beans, corn, cheese, bacon, mayo, etc. and you have a quick cornbread salad. You save money and have less food waste.
By using the above techniques, I find I enjoy the food more because I use better ingredients; I save money by not eating out and reducing food waste; and I have actually lost a little weight since I have drastically cut my consumption of fast food. Let me know your favorite dinner time short cut in the comments below.