I have always really liked cooking. Making dinner was something I never minded (ahem, before kids…), and I often spent weekends trying out fancy new recipes. However, that has all changed in my five years of motherhood. Cooking has taken a backseat for sure these days, and for awhile, we started relying on take-out an awful lot. Expensive and not terribly healthy.
What has saved me tons of aggravation and money is meal planning. I used to buy a bunch of staples at the store (e.g., ground beef, chicken breast, rice, veggies, etc.) mostly based on sales but not have a really clear “plan” for the week. Each night, 5:30 pm would arrive, and I’d be panicked and trying to combine ingredients into a balanced meal while my children melted on the floor in front of me. So, I started meal planning.
I know many people who say meal planning isn’t for them because they don’t like to cook. I’d argue meal planning is especially for people who don’t like to cook! Meal planning often means less cooking and prep work, and more convenience and free time. Below is my meal plan for next week with basic recipes. I now start each week with a list of seven dinners, then inventory what I need to buy to make those seven dinners happen, and make a grocery list based off that. The best part is we pretty much always have leftovers for lunch, saving even more money by not buying lunch or dinner. So, here’s my week:
The first step is to think of seven meals your family likes. Not easy, I know. I started keeping a master list of meals to pull from on days when I simply could not think of seven meals. Make sure they’re things you can easily make or make ahead of time, and post the list in the kitchen so you don’t forget the options.
Disclaimer: I’m not Italian. My husband isn’t either. We’re northern european folks over here, and so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this recipe. But it’s tasty! 🙂
My whole family loves lasagna. I buy the no-boil noodles to save time:
I make lasagnas on a day I don’t have to work since it takes a long time to bake. However, one lasagna gives us dinner for two nights.
I mix 32 oz of part-skim ricotta with one egg and half a cup of shredded mozzarella. I season it with black pepper, parsley, garlic powder, and parmesan. Then, I simply follow the directions on the back of this box, layering sauce, noodles, ricotta mixture, browned sausage, and cheese until the pan is full. I make two, because I like to keep one in the freezer for a dinner emergency, and it’s not really any more work to just make two (hence the motherlode of ricotta listed up there!). I bake both; freeze one.
Because I try to save money when I can, I usually make pizza dough using this recipe. It only takes 30 minutes to rise, not hours, and it costs less than $1 to make. If I’m super busy, I buy dough from the grocery store. I then roll out the dough, top with sauce, cheese, and whatever veggies and/or meat I have available, and bake.
Crock pot meal! Cube a raw chicken breast into small pieces. Place it in the crock pot with a quart of low sodium chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles, and a dash of cumin and black pepper. Cook on low for 8 hours. When you get home, about 20 minutes before dinner, add a can of black beans and a can of corn. Serve with tortilla chips and guacamole.
Tikka Masala with Rice:
I am in love with this sauce. This is another crock pot wonder. Cube two raw chicken breasts and put them in your crock pot with this delicious jar of sauce:
Add about a quarter jar of water to thin the sauce. Cook on low for 8 hours. When you get home, make some basmati rice (takes about 20 minutes). Serve the chicken and sauce over the rice and top with cashews. Note: This is also great with chickpeas instead of chicken. You don’t need the crock pot for the chickpea version– simply cook in a sauce pan for 10 minutes and serve over rice.
BBQ Chicken with Sweet Potato Fries:
Can you tell I love my crock pot?! Place two whole, raw chicken breasts in the crock pot and cover with this sauce, thinned with a little water:
You can add some optional pepper and paprika if you want to. Cook on low for 8 hours. When you arrive home, preheat the oven to 425, and bake up some frozen sweet potato fries. Right before serving, shred the chicken with two forks in the crock pot. Serve the shredded chicken on whatever kind of roll you like (we are on a big pretzel roll kick these days!) with sweet potato fries on the side.
For this recipe, you could make your own alfredo sauce ahead of time if you’re that fancy. I’m not, so I buy this one:
I buy a steamer bag of whatever veggies are on sale (broccoli and squash work really well for this), and cook them in the microwave according to the directions on the bag. Boil whatever kind of pasta you like while the veggies cook. Drain the pasta when it’s cooked, and pour the veggies over the top of it in the cooking pot. Pour your alfredo sauce into the same pot, gently stir, and cook over low until warm. Voila! Dinner in about 15 minutes, start to finish.
…and of course, “leftover night” is the most relaxing night of them all!
Enjoy! And hope you find a new working-mom friendly recipe to try here! 🙂