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Meal planning to the rescue

Story and photos by Angie Sutton

www.mothersapronstrings.com

I love this time of year because it seems like we have an excuse for eating in a different way. Often we find ourselves dining at the picnic table outside or grabbing a bite on our tailgate at the ballpark. The central theme to these meals seems to be ease of preparation, portability and quick to eat.

It would be easy to talk ourselves into the local drive-through menu or make a call to the pizza place. I find myself giving the same speech many times and it goes something like this, “just because we are rushed doesn’t mean we can’t eat healthy.” I wistfully watch as we pass by the drive-through option on the way the softball game. Eating healthy can be a challenge and when you are a mom juggling a summer schedule it can be especially tough.

I make it work in our home by shaping a weekly meal plan. A solid meal plan means no more mid-week grocery trips or last-minute pantry meal concoctions based on whatever is on hand. I rotate meals based on different types of meat and protein. Once I have a weekly plan organized, I put it in the rotation for the future. This system can save you both time and money at the grocery store!

Tips to help streamline your meal planning:

1. Carve out 30 minutes to make a meal plan for the week ahead. Slow cooker meals, casseroles and grill recipes work well. This eliminates the stress associated with last minute decision making. Anticipate activities on each night so you know the amount of time you have or if your family will be eating in shifts. Slow cooker meals are perfect for shift eating and casseroles that can be assembled the night before and simply baked the next night are best for tight timelines.

2. Craft a menu that allows you to stretch one meal to two meals. For instance, pork loin on Monday night and use the leftovers for shredded pork tacos on Tuesday night.

3. Purchase ground beef in bulk and brown it on Sunday night. Refrigerate what you need for Monday’s or Tuesday’s meals and freeze the rest in one pound portions. Season the beef according to your recipe as you brown it to save even more time.

4. Buy convenience starters such as chopped frozen onions to save preparation time. Most freezer aisles offer all types of chopped vegetables as well as seasoned mixes to get you on your way quicker. If you have a garden, dice and freeze your own to save money!

5. Build your own 3-ring binder recipe book with recipes and meal plans that work well for your family. Make notes on the recipes indicating how you altered the recipe or what you’d like to add or change the next time. This book can be your go-to resource. I have another section in my book for recipes I’ve clipped or printed that I’d like to try.

6. I sketched a map of my local grocery store and over the course of a few trips compiled a list of what items are in which aisles that are typically on my weekly shopping list. Then I organized the list on my computer and have an electronic grocery checklist to click on as I build my weekly meal plan.

7. How often are you asked, in triplicate, “What’s for dinner?” At Sutton Central I post the menu for the week ahead. My family seems satisfied to know what they will be eating and less apt to suggest eating out. They can even note if they are eating later so I can save an extra plate.

A few of our family favorites make an appearance more often. Here are a few tried-and-liked recipes.


Tuna and Noodles (from scratch)

I like this recipe because it does not use canned soup mix. We like solid white Albacore tuna and you can add sliced mushrooms to step 2 if you like but continue to cook about 5 minutes longer.

1/2 c. butter, divided
1 (8 oz.) package uncooked medium egg noodles
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 (6 oz.) cans tuna, drained and flaked
1 1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
3 Tbsp. bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes, and drain. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in onion, celery and garlic, cook for 5 minutes, or until tender. In a deep skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan, whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk and continue cooking 5 minutes, or until sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in tuna, peas, vegetable mix and cooked noodles. Transfer to baking dish. Melt remaining 2 Tbsp. butter in a small bowl and toss with bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the casserole. Top with cheese. Bake 25 minutes or until bubble and lightly browned.


Chicken Pot Pie

This pie is loaded with vegetables. Each pie makes about 4 or 5 servings.

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
1 c. sliced carrots
1 c. frozen peas
1/2 c. sliced celery
1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. chopped onion
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
2/3 c. milk
2 (9-inch) unbaked pie crusts

Preheat oven to 425 F. In a medium saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas and celery. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and transfer to a bowl. Set aside. In the same saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and cook onions until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, salt, pepper and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Place one of the pie crusts into the pie pan and press down firmly. Add the chicken mixture evenly on bottom and then pour the hot liquid over the top. Cover with the top crust, seal edges and flute. Make 3 slits in the top crust with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Bake for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.


French Onion Pork Chops

This recipe is straight from “Cooking for Comfort” put together by the National Pork Board. I serve the kids’ portions without the onions. This pairs well with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob!

4 (4 oz.) boneless top loin pork chops, about 1-inch thick
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. halved, thinly sliced onions
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. tap water
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 c. beef broth
1 (1 oz.) package onion soup mix
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Stir in the onion. Stir in the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the water and sugar, reduce the heat to very low, and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray an 8- by 8-inch glass baking dish with non-stick spray. Arrange the onions in the bottom of the pan and the pork chops on top. In a small bowl, combine the broth, soup mix and pepper, then pour the mixture over the pork. Cover tightly with foil and bake until internal temperature of the pork reaches between 145 F and 160 F, about 45 minutes. Remove chops from pan and let rest 3 minutes. Serve the chops with the onions and pan sauce spooned on top.


Beef and Bean Burritos

My friend Debbie Sells gave me this recipe. We love these burritos because each person can customize as they like. I triple the recipe and freeze them so the kids have something to grab when they need a quick lunch.

6 flour tortillas (more if you like less filling)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4 c. tomato puree (I use Mexican version)
1 (16 oz.) can refried beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. garlic
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Brown ground beef; drain if necessary. Add seasonings, tomato puree and beans. Combine thoroughly. Steam tortillas or heat over a warm dry griddle. Place tortilla on plate and fill center with desired amount of meat mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top. Add any additional ingredients you like such as shredded lettuce. Roll tortilla and serve with sour cream or top with salsa.


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