I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for healthy, but efficient ways to feed my family, especially during the school year. I enjoy cooking and baking, but let’s be honest, the 5:00 p.m. witching hour is no time for mama to practice her hobby. There are hungry kids, a grazing husband with his hand in a bag of tortilla chips, and a stove with three working burners. My goal at dinner time: Git ‘er done!
Feeding the family does not have to be a seven-course gourmet event, but it does not have to be five spoons and a large can of Chef Boyardee either. In our family there is a small window of time for dinner to work, or else it is mayhem. So, if food is on the plates between 5:30 and 6:00, we are doing well. Travis sometimes has meetings after 6:00 (he had two this week), so dinner lands a little bit closer to 5:30 on those days. Judson shuts down around 6:30, and by 7:00 he is absolutely done and ready for bed.
How to Make Dinner Work
- Meal Planning
This does not need to be a whole thing. If I don’t meal plan then a.) I spend a lot more money b.) I serve a lot more processed food, and/or c.) I don’t know what to cook. So meal planning for me is more of a time saver than a time or money waster. The easiest way to meal plan is to look at weekly grocery ads (I shop at ALDI and Kroger, and Tuesdays I shop at Fresh Market for their $2.99 meats), shop the pantry (see what you have that you can use for meals), and clip coupons (most of the mailer coupons are garbage, but the grocery store personalized coupons are usually pretty good). From there all you need to do is “build your list.” There are a lot of apps and such that are supposed to make grocery shopping easier (and for some they may do that), but I find that a good ole pen and paper do just fine.
Something to consider with meal planning:
- What will THEY eat? You may have a picky eater, or two. There may be allergies, or other dietary needs to consider. So before you look through cookbooks and Pinterest, keep this in mind: cook for YOUR family, not for other families. I once made Meatless Lasagna, which I substituted mushrooms for the meat. My husband does not like pasta and my kids are not fools. So that dish was an obvious bust. I still experiment on them, but there are recipes that I know will not work for my crew.
2. Early Dinner Prep
I got this tip from my mom: Get the bulk of dinner ready before noon. Brown your meat, chop your veggies, make your sauce. This will save time around that dreaded witching hour to attend to cranky kids and weary husbands. Also, if you have to pick up kids from soccer practice or music lessons, you will not have to stress about cooking dinner, because the bulk of it is already made.
3. Use a Slow Cooker
We wear our Crock Pot out in the fall and winter, but there are meals that can be made in the slow cooker in the summer as well. Some of our faves are Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore, Garlic Beef Stew with Cauliflower Mash, and Taco Soup just to name a few. You can find these recipes and others here. The slow cooker is the ultimate time saver!
Happy and Healthy Recipes
I love receiving and sharing tried and true recipes. Below are a few that are what I am calling good “Back to School Fuel Foods”.
I am the first one up usually. Well, Judson is, really, but I am a close second. 😉 I need that first cup of coffee in the morning, but I just cannot stand a strong cup of coffee on an empty stomach. So I try and have something to munch on with it. Sometimes I just grab a piece of toast with strawberry preserves or a banana, but there are those days when I get ambitious with breakfast. Here is a simple, healthy, but delicious recipe that can be made the evening ahead or the morning of. If your mornings are super hectic, then you can bake these the evening before and refrigerate them. They stay fresh that way, and then you can warm them up the next morning.
Lemon Blueberry Scones
- 4 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 4-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold butter
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, divide
- 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- lemon zest (from1 lemon)
- In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a bowl, whisk eggs and 3/4 cup milk; add to dry ingredients just until moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; gently knead in the blueberries and lemon zest.
- Divide the dough in half. Pat each portion into an 8-in. circle; cut each into eight wedges. Place on greased baking sheets. Brush with remaining milk. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Serve warm. Yield: 16 scones.
I’m going to post two lunch recipes, because this is when my kids will usually eat the most, and are generally the hungriest.
Kids love mac and cheese. My kids love mac and cheese. But let’s be honest. I don’t care how many organic labels are on the box with the powdery orange stuff. Boxed mac and cheese is still boxed mac and cheese. There must be a better option. Here is a recipe that is not all that clever, and may not look the same as the orangey stuff, but it gets the job done.
Healthier Mac ‘N Cheese
- 1 box elbow macaroni
- 1 cup of spinach, or frozen spinach
- Splash of half and half
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- Grated Parmesan cheese
*Omit half and half and use less butter if you substitute creamed spinach for plain spinach
- Boil water and cook pasta.
- While pasta is cooking, chop your spinach, or microwave it if using frozen.
- Once pasta is cooked, strain it, and place back into the warm saucepan.
- Toss spinach, half and half, and parmesan into the saucepan and stir.
- Sprinkle with more parmesan and serve.
Better For You Lunchables
The shiny yellow boxes with compartments are so appealing, and my girls love them, but we try and avoid processed meats as much as we can. I came to realize that besides the cookie or Reese’s cup, the real appeal for my girls at least was the novelty of building their own lunch. They enjoy “cooking,” and Lunchables offer two things they enjoy: playing and eating. Don’t we all?!
- 2 or more cheese squares (I just buy the sliced cheese and rip them in quarters- more affordable)
- Saltines or Ritz crackers
- Deli meat (ALDI carries nitrate, hormone, and antibiotic-free deli meats for a fraction of the cost of name brands’ meats)
- Lay it out, serve it up! Your kids know what to do. 🙂
There are a lot of easy dinner options. One of our favorites is chicken pot pie. The recipe I use comes from Taste of Home. It says that it makes two pies, but I can usually make three from this recipe. I usually make two of them, and freeze the leftover filling. All I would need is one more box of pie crust and that is dinner for another night.
Favorite Chicken Pot Pie
- 2 cups diced peeled potatoes
- 1-3/4 cups sliced carrots
- 1 cup butter, cubed
- 2/3 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1-3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 2 packages (14.1 ounces each) refrigerated pie pastry
- Preheat oven to 425°. Place potatoes and carrots in a large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, covered, 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender; drain.
- In a large skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Stir in flour and seasonings until blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken, peas, corn and potato mixture; remove from heat.
- Unroll a pastry sheet into each of two 9-in. pie plates; trim even with rims. Add chicken mixture. Unroll remaining pastry; place over filling. Trim, seal and flute edges. Cut slits in tops.
- Bake 35-40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.
Freeze option: Cover and freeze unbaked pies. To use, remove from freezer 30 minutes before baking (do not thaw). Preheat oven to 425°. Place pies on baking sheets; cover edges loosely with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven setting to 350°; bake 70-80 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown and a thermometer inserted in center reads 165°. Yield: 2 potpies (8 servings each).
Those are just a few of my “go-to” dishes. Remember, meal planning and preparing does not have to be a hassle. I am learning actually that this whole process saves me in the long run, and in more ways than one. Because after all, there are better things we can do with our time than sweat in the kitchen. You can follow my recipe boards here, and feel free to share your happy and healthy recipes with me so I can pin some new dishes and can get back to school with good fuel without the fuss 🙂