Because school is in, during the next few months there will be plenty of blogs and forum topics by me about the lack of time available. I know I am not alone in this boat, so I have been trying to share as many time-saving tips that I have. And the one area that takes a beating because time is so scarce is dinner time.
It is tempting to skip a nutritious dinner on busy nights in favor of a high-fat quick choice like McDonalds or Taco Bell. Or maybe you have a cabinet or freezer full of processed food like Macaroni & Cheese or TV dinners that you can make in 5 minutes flat. Yes, the kids love it and will eat all of it. Yes, it really is quick to make. Yes, that is your derriere getting larger, your kids getting chunkier and slower, and your wallet getting slimmer. But it really isn’t that hard to get everything done in your schedule AND sit as a family over healthy, home-cooked dinner.
The most important rule when it comes to any meal is making a weekly menu. This heads off the annoying “What’s for Dinner” question. But it also allows you to create a shopping list while you are planning your meals. As I write out my menu, I also write out the ingredients I will need on a separate piece of paper that will become my shopping list. I cannot tell you how important it is to make your weekly menu BEFORE you go shopping, or even how important it is to go with a list. Just those two tips alone will save you lots of calories and money that is wasted on impulse shopping.
Here is an example of a weekly menu, something that my family would most likely have throughout the week. Notice that some days are dedicated to leftovers. It is always a good idea to make more than you need, and to get your family used to eating leftovers. I make sure to have a container of freshly washed, cut up lettuce to make a quick salad to add to most meals. Also, we do most of our more involved meals on the weekends, and save crockpot cooking and easier dinners for the weekdays when we are busier. Finally, we eat a LOT of chicken and a bit of fish. It’s healthier than other meats, and our household enjoys chicken and fish much more than red meat.
Crockpot BBQ Chicken
Chicken Roll-ups (using leftover BBQ Chicken, wrapped in a tortilla)
Zucchini and bell pepper stir-fry (to add to the roll-ups)
Shredded cheese, salsa, and NF yogurt (instead of sour cream)
BLT’s (bacon, tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce and mayo on whole wheat bread)*
*I don’t generally eat bread in the evening, so I actually use lettuce leaves and just make wraps out of this. It tastes incredible, and is extremely easy on the stomach
“Wine Country Meal”* (the kids nicknamed this one. It’s when we make a smorgasbord of foods that don’t need cooking, and arrange them in a special way. We will usually drink sparkling apple cider in wine glasses with it, and may even have lit candles to create ambience)
*This meal will be Caprese (leftover mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with drizzled balsamic), grapes and apples, and crackers with cheese and turkey lunchmeat, or a tuna salad to spread on the crackers.
Crockpot Tortilla Soup
(more on the Crockpot below)
Crockpot Tortilla Soup leftovers
When I make my menu, I try to use a lot of the items I already have in my house so I don’t have to do a huge shopping trip. And I try to buy in bulk those items that I use consistently: tomato sauce, garlic, pasta, etc. We generally go grocery shopping once a week, and our weekly total is $75 – $100. This not only includes dinner items, but also items for all of our lunches and healthy breakfasts, and necessary household items like TP or toothpaste. When you think about how much it costs to eat dinner out, and then multiply that by 7, you can see how tremendous the savings are!
I can’t end this without giving major props to the best invention ever made. Every busy household will agree with me, it’s all about the Crockpot. I love my Crockpot. I still don’t feel like I use it nearly enough. But when I do, I seriously question why I even put it away. It is way too easy to prep your meal in the morning, or even the night before, and come home in the evening to a home that smells wonderful and a home-cooked meal waiting to be served. Honestly, I don’t know how I handled sports and school before the Crockpot. There are so many quick and healthy recipes that can be made in the slow cooker. And with a little bit of extra planning, you can actually be free from cooking meals in the evening and enjoy sitting as a family around the dinner table at a decent hour.
The best website I have come across for slow-cooking is “A Year of Slow Cooking”, by Stephanie O’Dea. She blogged for a whole year, a recipe per day. Her blog is filled with so many great ideas, from Tortilla Soup, to soap, to Christmas ornaments, to BBQ pulled pork. I own several great Crockpot recipe books. But most of my recipes come from her site. She even has a book: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking, coming out next month.