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Monday, September 23, 2013

Home-Cooked Meals Made Easy

Recently I was chatting with a friend of mine about how stressful it can be to cook when you are gone to work all day.  You don’t have to be a gourmet to enjoy the health benefits of eating home cooked meals, nor does it have to take hours of your already busy day.  Here are a few time saving menu tips. 
Frozen bread loaves or rolls. 
  • They have whole wheat and white and if you keep some in your freezer, you can pull some out in the morning, put them in a greased pan in your fridge, then when you get home from school, pull them out of the fridge, and when they look nicely raised, preheat your oven to 375 and 30 minutes later or so, you have fresh bread. 
  • If a loaf is too much for the two of you to eat, then try tossing 4 or 5 rolls into a loaf pan and letting it raise.  I might be a bit of a bumpy looking loaf, but will be just as tasty. 
  • You could also just put them in a pie tin and let them raise as separate rolls. 
  •  Also, you could put some rolls in the fridge in the morning, then after school, roll them out flat, and make individual pizzas.  This really is super easy – a bottle of pizza sauce lasts quite a while in the fridge, you can keep grated cheese and pepperoni in the freezer, and pull some out, sprinkle on your mini pizza dough and bake at 425 for 15 – 20 minutes.  You can even open a can of sliced olives, and keep the rest in the freezer, as well as pineapple tidbits and Canadian bacon.  

Pre-made pizza crust
  • For the times when you don’t want to roll out and deal with pizza dough, keep a boboli in the freezer.  Pizza is a great way to use leftovers: leftover taco fixings become Mexican pizza, leftover barbeque chicken = bbq chicken pizza, leftover bacon = blt pizza.  

Crockpot with leftovers planned into the menu
  • Pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes is a great meal, but don’t chuck the leftovers.  Before you put that clean crockpot away, add some tomato juice, a bay leaf, a rinsed can of white or navy beans, maybe some pearl barley and a little beef broth.  Put that on low while you’re at work and come home to a hearty soup.
  • Toss some chicken breasts or tenders into the crockpot with your favorite barbeque sauce.  When you get home, add some fruit and a salad and you’ve got a great meal.  When cleaning up dinner, shred that chicken and put in the fridge for the day after tomorrow (you may not want 2 BBQ meals back to back).  Pull a pre-made pizza crust out of the freezer before work.  When you get home, top with BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, some frozen corn and Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with a salad and you’ve got a delicious meal with very little effort.  

Salad Spinner
  • I’m not one to go for every kitchen gadget know to man (mostly because I don’t have the space).  But the salad spinner can be a very healthful gadget.  Whether you are buying a bag of salad, or harvesting your own from your garden, the salad spinner not only helps clean and dry the salad, but it is a great storage solution that will allow you to eat salad all week.   
  • Salad stays fresh for days and you can just pull some out to add to any meal.  For example: Monday you might want taco salad.  Keep the leftover greens in the salad spinner and the next day you can add a side salad to your crockpot chicken menu.  Maybe the following day you can have a salad-topped pizza (another use of the pre-made pizza crust).  And to use up the last of your salad, it might go into BLT wraps the following night. 

So for the someone trying to eat at home 3-4 times per week, the grocery list might look something like this:

            Bag of salad

            Bag of baby carrots

            1 container cherry tomatoes

            Couple (depending on family size) potatoes

            1 onion

            In season melon or fruit of choice

            1 package chicken tenders or chicken breasts (depending on family size)

            Small roast or small pot roast
          1 bottle barbeque sauce
          1 bottle salad dressing
1 can reduced sodium white or navy beans

1 can tomato juice or 1 can crushed tomatoes

2 cans reduced sodium beef broth

            1 premade pizza crust

            1 bag frozen whole wheat rolls (dough, not baked)

            1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese

            1 bag frozen corn

The menu & recipes would look something like this:

            Monday: BBQ chicken, salad, fruit & rolls

In the morning (3-5 minutes) – Turn the crockpot on high, put the chicken in the crock pot and pour ½ the bottle of bbq sauce over chicken.   Put rolls onto greased pie tin and place in fridge.  Before leaving for work, turn crockpot down to low. 
After work – set out rolls, preheat oven to 375.  When preheated, bake rolls for 20 – 25 minutes. Wash and spin bagged lettuce, wash cherry tomatoes and wash and slice melon (or fruit of choice).  Serve with chicken.  After dinner, shred the remaining chicken before putting in the fridge.

            Tuesday: Pot roast with rolls and fruit

In the morning (10-15 minutes) – Turn the crockpot on low, peel and cut onion into wedges, scrub and cut potatoes into large pieces.  Layer potatoes, ½ bag baby carrots, onion and top with roast.  Pour 1 can beef broth over, cover and let cook on low.  Set out rolls as before.
After work – Preheat oven, and bake rolls at 375 for 20 minutes.  Pull out fruit and serve with rolls and pot roast.  After dinner, shred pot roast before putting in the fridge.

            Wednesday: BBQ chicken pizza

In the morning – nothing!
After work – Preheat oven to 425.  Pull out premade pizza crust, spread with barbeque sauce, top with shredded chicken, some frozen corn and mozzarella cheese.  Bake 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and pizza is hot.  Meanwhile, pull out the salad, top with cherry tomatoes slice or grate baby carrots.  Serve with pizza. 

            Thursday: Tomato beef and bean soup, breadsticks

In the morning (10 minutes) – set out rolls in a plastic bag and place in fridge.  Turn crockpot on low, add leftover pot roast & veggies, drained and rinsed beans, some frozen corn (maybe ½ cup depending on family size), can of beef broth and can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce.  You can toss in a bay leaf, and black pepper or other seasonings according to your preference.  Cover.
After work – take roll dough out of fridge, roll each roll out into a long rope and place on a greased baking sheet.  Preheat oven to 375.  Bake breadsticks 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with soup and any leftover fruit or salad. 

 There are certainly more ideas out there, but the point is to just start with something that will make eating at home a more convenient, delicious and healthy part of your routine. 

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