The kids are headed back to school, and that means schedules will be hectic again this fall. Afternoons will be filled with homework and extracurricular activities, leaving little time for cooking delicious meals for dinner.
Without some advanced preparation and planning, your first inclination after a busy day is going to be fast food. Resist the temptation! Here is a sample meal plan and shopping list to get you started on your way to the organized world of make-ahead meals.
Remember that you will likely be doing all of your shopping and prep-work on your days off. Don’t get too fancy, or you will quickly fall out of the notion to continue. Just think about some easy healthy meals or dinners that are family favorites, and find ways to prepare parts of the meal ahead of time. Plan your weekdays as assemble-and-serve days.
Monday-Friday Sample Meals Menu (feeds a family of four or five)
Tuesday Spiral-sliced ham, scalloped potatoes, vegetable
Wednesday Turkey burgers and French fries
Thursday Taco salad
Friday Cream of potato soup with ham
1 pound dried pinto or kidney beans
3-lb. bag onions
2 pounds ground turkey
1 package of hamburger buns
32 ounces of pureed or diced tomatoes
Butter or margarine
5 pounds potatoes
12- to 16-ounce bag of your favorite frozen vegetable
32 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
I can black olives
Family sized bag of plain tortilla chips
8-ounce container of sour cream
Gallon size Ziploc freezer bags
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Once you have all of the above ingredients, you are ready to organize and prepare your meals for the week. Start with the ground turkey. Use 1 to 1.5 pounds of the meat for make-ahead burgers. Shape into patties, season lightly with salt and pepper, and carefully slide into a Ziploc freezer bag. Be sure to make enough burgers for each family member. Carefully place this bag on a shelf in the freezer where it can be easily accessed later in the week.
You will use the remaining ground turkey in the chili. Go ahead and brown it in a pan with one large, diced onion. Drain off any excess liquid. Place the cooked meat and onion mixture in a separate Ziploc bag and freeze for later use.
Open the spiral-sliced ham and divide into meal-sized portions. Freeze each of these portions in a separate Ziploc bag and freeze. If the ham has a center bone, freeze that in its own bag to use for soup another day.
Peel and thinly slice enough potatoes to feed your family. The rule is typically one large potato for each adult and one small potato for each child. Now add two or three thinly sliced potatoes to ensure that you have leftovers. Peel and dice a large onion, and place in a bowl next to the sliced potatoes. Finally, set a tub of margarine or stick of butter on the counter next to the potatoes and onions.
Grease a casserole dish and begin layering potatoes, onions, and butter. Sprinkle with flour, salt, and pepper, and start the layering process again. Continue this method until you use up all of the potatoes. Pour milk over the entire casserole until the potatoes are almost covered. Be sure to leave at least a half-inch of space at the top for bubbling and cooking. Place the dish in a 350-degree oven for an hour. Putting a cookie sheet under the casserole dish is a good idea, just in case the milk bubbles over the top. When the top is brown, remove from the oven and allow it to cool. Cover with foil and freeze for later use.
Start the Work Week
Soak the dry beans Sunday night and drain Monday morning before work. Add browned meat and onion mixture, canned tomatoes, and seasonings. Cook all day in the crock pot while you are at work and the kids are at school. Serve with crackers or warm bread.
Thaw a Ziploc bag of spiral-sliced ham in the fridge Tuesday morning before work, as well as the frozen casserole of scalloped potatoes. Warm them both in the oven when you get home, the ham on an oven-safe plate covered with foil. Microwave your favorite frozen veggie for a complete meal.
Wednesday evening, pull the turkey burgers from the freezer and begin cooking them on low in a greased skillet. While these are cooking, peel and slice potatoes into fries. Toss into hot oil and cook until tender and brown. Drain on paper towel and serve with burgers. Add a plate of lettuce leaves and sliced onions as extra condiments.
Thursday is easy and fun. Microwave the leftover chili from Monday night while you place on the table separate bowls of sliced black olives, shredded cheese, and shredded lettuce. Set out the salsa and sour cream, along with a big bowl of tortilla chips. Family members can assemble their own taco salads for an enjoyable Mexican meal.
Friday is another leftover night, but the presentation will fool your family into thinking it is something brand new. Toss all of the scalloped potatoes from Tuesday night into the food processor. Puree and reheat, adding more milk until it reaches a soupy consistency. Stir regularly, adding more milk, if needed. Shred some of the leftover spiral-sliced ham into the soup for added flavor. Serve with crackers and a top each bowl of soup with Friday night’s shredded taco cheese (if you had any leftover).
Congratulations! You made it through the week quite nicely with just a little planning and preparation. Apply this idea to all of your family’s favorite meals for a stress-free work week all year long.