30 minute meals
In keeping with last week’s topic, menu-planning for busy weeknights, it is helpful for busy parents to have a back-up plan for when find yourself unprepared. Although a menu-plan will help keep you organized, sometimes you will eat in one meal what you thought could stretch into two…sometimes company drops in, a child is home sick, or you will forget to thaw meat. These things happen. But how can you get everyone fed without resorting to the most expensive alternatives: drive thru or take out?
Stockpile some quick fixes
Whenever you have small portions leftover, consider freezing them for quick weeknight meals. For example, a cup of leftover rice might be frozen then later combined with leftover beans, some seasoning, and reheated to make burritos or enchiladas. Toss together a quick salad and you have created a quick, balanced meal that costs virtually nothing extra. Compare this to a $40-50 take-out meal. If you can reduce the number of times you eat out, you will be doing your budget a real favour.
Some other quick fix ideas include keeping Ziploc bags marked in the freezer for different kids of soups. Rather than throwing out portions of mashed potatoes and vegetables, save them for hearty weeknight soups. Do the same with leftover meat, and be sure to incorporate soups into your regular menu-plan to avoid overwhelming your freezer.
The incredible, edible egg
Breakfast for supper is an affordable option that can be written into a weekly menu-plan, anytime. Even if you haven’t planned on it, breakfast-type meals can bail you out when you find yourself stuck with no supper prepared. Bacon, ham or sausage thaws quickly in the microwave while omelettes can use up odds and ends from the fridge. Pancakes or French toast are ready in minutes and can be served with a dish of fruit for fibre and nutrients. Leftover baked potatoes can be fried with omelette ingredients and topped with cheese all in the same pan for a delicious, low mess pan scrambler. When you find yourself in a rush for food, do a quick survey of what you have on hand and make the effort to feed your family at home.
Wraps, stir fries and buns
If you’ve kept some portions of leftover meat in your freezer you can quickly thaw them in the microwave to use in wraps, sandwiches or stir fries. Cans of ham, chicken, tuna and the like can also be mixed with mayo for a cheap and easy sandwich filling. If you’d rather go meatless, washing and slicing vegetables does not take long and can be done while rice or noodles cook. Quickly sliced French bread or buns baked with sauce, pepperoni and cheese make mini pizza the kids will love. You may prefer a meat and potatoes meal to end your day, but if you are out of time and ideas these options will get you through a hectic evening so you can try to do better tomorrow.
One Dish Wonders
It sure saves time if you can prepare a meal in one pot. If hamburger helper is not your thing, you can improvise with your own pasta creations. As your pasta cooks, add your preferred vegetables to the pot to cook. Drain when the pasta and vegetables are tender. At this point you can add whatever precooked meat, sauce or cheese you have on hand for an incredibly fast meal. The same can be done with rice.
There are dozens of other quick meal ideas out there, too many to list. Look online for meals that suit your taste. The point is not to tell people what they should be eating but rather to give them the confidence that they can throw together a meal that is not terribly unhealthy, does not cost much, and does not take much time or effort to prepare.
Everyone has those days where things didn’t go according to plan. Maybe you worked late, the game went into overtime, traffic was bad, you veered from your menu-plan, or the cows got out. The fact is, these things happen. When everyone arrives home, tired and hungry, there needs to be a way to feed them and get them to bed so you can do it all again tomorrow.
By keeping some emergency food on hand (preferably leftovers that might otherwise go to waste) you are enabling yourself to prepare quick meals on the go without ordering in. Some pantry staples like soup and stock, noodles, rice, tomato sauce and pasta will help you through busy evenings. Keep your fridge stocked with basics like eggs, milk, butter and cheese plus your preferred fruit and vegetables.
Keep some essentials on hand so that, even at your busiest, you can eat affordably at home.