Friday, April 25, 2008

Mix and Match Your Dinner Tonight!

So, how do you pull it all together on those nights when one child has scouts, one has lessons or a game, you have a meeting, and everyone needs to eat - really quick? My answer is to mix and match!

I (almost) always have some make-ahead entrees in the freezer to pull out and microwave. Using make-ahead entrees makes dinner prep quick and easy. It is just a matter of cooking some vegetables or making a salad. Once-a-month-cooking is one technique for this where you cook entrees for the whole month at one time. It is a tough day and you will be pooped at the end of the day but you'll have your dinner entrees just waiting for you in your freezer. Cookbooks are available to help you get started; they will have menus, recipes, grocery lists, and even work plans! If you don't have a frozen entree in your freezer, grocery stores will have a great selection for you.

Another alternative to frozen make-ahead entrees is to bake once - eat twice. Ham, beef or pork roast, chicken, or turkey come to mind here. You can also make meatballs or soups. Just think of the possibilities when you have a ham in your refrigerator. I think the trick to bake once - eat twice is to make each entree different. Some suggestions are roasted chicken then bar-be-que chicken sandwiches; baked ham then chef salad or ham / potato soup; turkey breast then turkey tacos or tetrizini - the list just goes on and on!

Using the slow cooker can be a great solution to quick meals. Just remember to start the cooker before you leave in the morning. We have all come home to an uncooked dinner in a cold slow cooker because, in the rush of the morning, we forgot to plug in the cooker. Most recipes can be used in the slow cooker as long as the amount of water is reduced. I love the taste (and smell) of a chicken cooked in the slow cooker. I just put a whole chicken in the pot, add 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper and I am done. Carrots, celery, and onion can be added for additional flavor. A roast with a packet of dry onion soup mix sprinkled over the top and 1/2 cup water added to the pot is just wonderful when cooked in a slow cooker. And of course, both chicken and roasts can be used for the bake once - eat twice alternative mentioned above.

Carry out and home delivery is a whole lot more than pizza these days! Companies sell already prepared meals that are either fresh or frozen and shipped directly to you. This is a wonderful idea for young families who don't have the time to cook or seniors who can't always cook for themselves. Almost every restaurant offers carry-out these days and you can even call ahead to order so it will be ready when you arrive saving you precious time. Sandwiches, pizza, you name it, can be delivered right to your door these days.

Grocery stores have fabulous choices for meals-to-go and so do many gourmet cooking stores. You can select your dinner from a meals-to-go bar making meal prep quick and easy! I laugh about the Christmas when my husband was in the hospital and I did my 'Christmas baking' at the grocery store on the way home from the hospital one evening when company was stopping by.

I just love the advertisement for the chicken restaurant where you can pick up a bucket of chicken on the way home for dinner tonight. You see, the important thing is to eat together, as a family, not that you fixed the whole meal from scratch.

These and other suggestions can be found at

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