The weekend is a two-day bonus for busy moms. Not only do you have a little time to rest and recharge, you can use that time to spend a few hours making healthy meals for the weeks or months ahead. Plan out the meals you want to serve your family then double and triple the recipe amounts and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for later.
To quickly fill your freezer, casseroles provide the biggest payoff. You’ll have numerous one-dish meals at the ready with just a few hours of cooking, and you’ll still serve nutritious meals to your family. You are also able to take advantage of staples already in your kitchen, such as condensed soups, crackers, butter, sour cream and fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Give your chicken casserole a boost by altering the ingredients. Keep the can of low-sodium chicken soup and the cooked, chopped chicken, but add variations, such as low-fat sour cream, dry ranch seasoning mix, poppy seeds and crushed buttery crackers. If you aren’t a fan of meat, add a hearty twist to the classic green bean casserole by adding distinctive ingredients, such as low-fat sour cream, almonds, pimentos and shredded, low-fat cheddar cheese. Don’t forget that your signature lasagna freezes beautifully for those future busy nights or a friend with a new baby or a broken leg.
Soups and Stews
Take advantage of sales on broth or stock, then double or triple your usual chili, chicken soup and beef stew recipes. If you’re feeling a bit like a four-star chef, make your own stock from leftover beef or chicken bones and chopped-up vegetables. Make a basic vegetable soup with your family’s favorite vegetables cooked until tender in a tomato-beef or tomato-chicken broth. Freeze the soup in meal-sized portions; when you retrieve a package on a busy homework night, incorporate leftover chicken, turkey or beef into the soup. If you love seafood, make an extra-large batch of crab meat and corn chowder that incorporates basic vegetables, such as celery, bell pepper and onion, and basic spices that won’t overpower the crab and corn duo. Your kids’ favorite sloppy Joe recipe freezes beautifully and can be reheated by teens waiting for mom to head home from the PTA meeting so dinner awaits her.
Take advantage of specials on meat to minimize your busy weeknight cooking time. Buy what you can afford, then spend a couple of weekend hours cooking then freezing meat in meal-sized portions. Don’t forget to label and date each package. Ground beef sautéed with onions and seasoned pepper and salt is a good canvas for a beef and barley soup or an addition to spaghetti sauce for a bit of protein. Shredded or cubed chicken can be defrosted and added to a salad with creamy dressing or stir fry. You can also add it to a delicious Indian- or Thai-inspired sauce for a spicy dinner served over rice. Ensure that you follow the USDA’s guidelines for using frozen meat within a few months of freezing. Once you plan the week’s menu, enlist your kids to help chop up vegetables and mix together spices for each night’s meal. When you get home from work, pull out the appropriate packages and start cooking.
The Secret Is in the Sauce and the Coating
Many home cooks already freeze leftover spaghetti sauce for those nights when cooking just doesn’t make it onto the to-do list. But consider prepping other sauces for minimizing your cooking time, such as a spicy peanut butter sauce that incorporates honey, soy sauce, sesame oil and spices that can be refrigerated or frozen in batches then added to stir fry kits purchased at the store. This can also be used as a dipping sauce for chicken fingers. Spend just 10 minutes to make crumb coatings for chicken breasts or fish by incorporating bread crumbs, shredded cheese, toasted almonds, sesame seeds or dry seasoning mixes. Alternatively, make a stuffing-based crumb mixture to coat the poultry or seafood or to dust on sautéed vegetables, whip up a heart-healthy macaroni and cheese or add to ground beef for meatballs.
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- “Southern Living 2007 Annual Recipes”; Editors of Southern Living; 2007
- University of Nebraska; How To Make a Casserole From What’s On Hand; Alice Henneman
- Iowa State University: It’s Fall and Soup’s On
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Freezing and Food Safety
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images