Baseball season is upon us, which for us, means track season too...I cannot wait....I could try and tell you how much I love watching our kids play ball and my daughter run, but I can't even put it into words. However, with our busy season coming and some favorite establishments down the road and around the corner from the baseball field, it usually means too much eating on the go and fast-food...and that part I don't love. For many years, I've had the excuse of being tired, of being up all night catching babies, that led me to grab fast food in the midst of ball season...but not this year. This year, is the second year I've not taken call as a midwife. I left a job as a midwife with crazy hours, to be with my family more in 2017. Before that, I was "here" a good bit, but I wasn't actually PRESENT. Do you know what I mean? Often, I was here, but sleep deprived...grumpy...juggling a thousand things and trying to make it all stay together. On the outside, it was a pretty picture, but on the inside, I really hated not being PRESENT as much as I wanted to be. In the midst of my trying to decide if I wanted to step away for a while, a colleague said "I really don't think your kids are missing out on anything"...my teary response..."but I am killing myself trying to make that happen". Truth is, they were missing out on something...and that something was me. I still go to work, but 4 days a week, and I never have to drive in the middle of the night to race to the hospital and feel hungover the next day, trying desperately to find even just half an hour to take a nap. Some days, honestly, I'm not sure what I want to really be when I grow up...and this year I find myself in the midst of some unexpected changes too, but honestly they are for the best and I'm getting excited for a new adventure. Enough rambling from me...I get side-tracked too easy...back to meal planning for the busy season in your life!
This past week I got up, grabbed a couple of my favorite cookbooks and recipes, used Pinterest a little, and pulled a shopping list together that would stock our pantry and help me freeze and prep as many meals as possible ahead of time. I put up (with some kid's help) over 40 meals...I spent about $500, so do the math...it's much cheaper than eating out and with almost every meal here, there are enough leftovers for at least a couple of folks. I meal prepped most of the meat on day one, and finished everything else up the next. I did this last year and the difference in how much we spent eating out during ball season was amazing. This year, I'm determined to make that difference even better! It's not just the money, but the health aspect of it. It's hard to keep up with exercising and eating right...eating out will derail me in a hurry...planning is the key! I won't lie and tell you that these casseroles are the healthiest meals out there...but I guarantee you that they're healthier than any meal for the kids from those establishments down the road. I often eat more along Whole 30 ideals, and I've prepped things for me too, but this post is really about meal prepping for the rest of the family.
First, I'll tell you a few things about how I do this. First, I buy bone-in chicken breasts and boil them in the crock pot for several hours or overnight. And, don't get me wrong, I see the recent posts from those in love with the This Is Us series...maybe you've thrown out your crock pot already...so for you, just boil them in your big stock pot, but for the crock pot faithful, I highly recommend it. I boil the chicken until it pulls from the bone and apart easily. DO NOT THROW OUT CHICKEN BROTH...I'll repeat that for those who just pour this golden liquid out when their chicken is done...DO NOT THROW OUT CHICKEN BROTH! There are so many uses for it...I often use it for grits-and-greens casserole, chicken and rice, chicken and dumplings, other soups...it is so much better than any can or box broth you'll buy. Secondly, I shred all of the chicken and use whatever I need, but whatever I have left over, gets evenly distributed in quart size freezer storage bags and labeled...make sure you use the freezer type, not just plain storage bags. It's so easy to thaw out a bag of shredded chicken to use for chicken salad, chicken and rice, chicken tacos...you name it, you already have the hardest and most time-consuming part ready...now stalk your cabinet and make whatever you have on hand:) . This time I did the same with ground hamburger and sausage, browning and freezing individual bags for other uses. Third, just so you know...when any of my recipes say ground beef...for me this time, it's actually ground venison. It's what we have on hand without buying a ton of ground beef, so thanks to Carson for that food as he's the only one in the house that actually killed deer this year...three to be exact. Last, I use the aluminum pans with aluminum lids, and label them with a sharpie on top - be sure and date them, so you know how old they are when you're pulling a meal out. I stack the heavier casseroles on the bottom, so the lids don't smash in at all. Using those pans decreases your dirty dish load too...when you're all done with dinner, either store leftovers in the fridge, or when the pan is empty, just toss it:)
This is the inside of my pantry cabinet door...it's painted it chalkboard paint, so I can write my lists here. This list is my meal prep list...it's easy for one of the kids to look inside and choose something they'd like (it makes them feel powerful;)) I change the lists as my meal prep changes, and I usually mark off those cooked as we cook them. With those that I've made multiple of, I just decrease that number on the chalkboard so I know what I have left in the freezer.
1) If you're looking at that list, Manwich is first on the list...you laugh all you want. When I make this, my kids think I'm a better mom than you. They LOVE it...it's not my favorite, but Cullen will put away five of these sandwiches before you can even blink. It's easy. For me, the meat is already browned, I'll just lay it out in the morning, by afternoon, it's thawed...add sauces, heat and serve...you'll go to bed a winner with your kids. Chips or oven fries is an easy, kid-friendly side.
2) Second on the chalkboard is White Chicken Chili. I'd like to tell you that I have a go-to recipe for this, but truth is, I usually see what I have in my cabinet ,and work from there. This time, I did sort of go by a recipe, but I did tweak it a little, so I'll post what I used today. I cook until completely done, then cool and use gallon size Freezer storage bags to lay flat and freeze--easy to thaw and warm on a busy day.
- 2-3 cups shredded chicken
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 2 cans (15-ounces each) great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can (4-ounce) green chiles, diced
- 1 can (15-ounce) whole kernel corn, drained
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
3) Whole 30 Taco Salad--this is my go-to healthy meal that I could eat EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. Brown ground beef (or venison in my case), add 1 Tbsp ghee, 2 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp dried oregano, and salt and pepper. Serve over greens, tomatoes, sliced avocado, chopped green onions, chopped sweet pepper...basically, I go to what I have in my fridge for salad. I make Whole 30 Dump Ranch from Whole Sisters blog site...it is amazing! Eat with organic Plantain Chips that I actually can only find at Wal-Mart. Find the recipe for the ranch here at https://www.whole-sisters.com/#!Dump-Ranch/c1v9p/551c04330cf21e26bac67eb2 I probably eat this several times a week.
4) Chicken and Yellow Rice--this is simple--all that chicken you've shredded and bagged in freezer storage bags...take one of those and one of those ever-so-valuable chicken broths out and thaw them. Using chicken broth for your chicken and rice is the key, and again that fresh broth rather than boxed is so much better! Cook rice per directions - I like my chicken and rice a little more "soupy", so I add more broth than what the packet of rice would call for. When rice is done, add shredded chicken and warm through. Taste test before adding any additional salt.
5) Tater tot casserole - this is a childhood casserole that my sweet Aunt Linda used to make...my family loves it...ground beef, tater tots and cheese...what's not to love?! I usually make some canned green beans as a side, or a big tossed salad. I try to find ways to shove green stuff down the kids, green beans or salad is one that none of them argue about too much.
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 small package tater tots
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups shredded cheese
6) Chicken Alfredo Lasagna Roll Ups - I hesitate to post a recipe that I haven't actually tried, but it's on the list, so I feel like I should include it. It looks like a great freezer meal that kids would have no trouble loving. I found it on Pinterest on Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats...find it on her blog at http://www.sweetandsavoryfood.com/2013/03/chicken-alfredo-lasagna-roll-ups.html
7) Stuffed Shells with Beef and Spinach--this again, is a recipe that I haven't tried, but looked like something the kids would like and it's something that can go in the crock pot. I did add ground beef to this recipe, because frankly, my family likes meat...I can't imagine serving them only vegetables or even pasta without some protein in it. I, honestly, could live mostly on veggies, but not the rest of the crew in this house. I'll go back to my theme, adjust the recipe as to what you like or what you have on hand...this recipe would be equally as good without meat, with shredded chicken or even ground sausage. I found this on the official Hamilton Beach blog at https://everydaygoodthinking.com/2016/02/03/slow-cooker-stuffed-shells-with-spinach/.
8) Chili--I know everyone out there has a favorite chili recipe...ground beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, onions and bell peppers if you like that in there too. We like to top ours with shredded cheese and sour cream...and if I have time a warm batch of skillet cornbread would be perfect! I cook until the chili is done then cool completely. I freeze in gallon size Freezer storage bags by laying flat in the freezer. It's super easy to lay out in the morning or the night before, warm quickly and eat when we are on the go!
9) Hamburger Gravy--this is an old recipe that my grandmother and my mom have made for years...it's actually probably one of my brother's favorites. I can remember him eating so much of it he would have a belly ache. It's not a super quick meal, even with prepping, only because it needs homemade mashed potatoes and biscuits to make it the best! However, with the gravy already made, it's still doable on a weekend day when we have a couple of practices, but won't necessarily be at the ballfield til dark.
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- 1 small tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 cup water
10) Meatloaf Patties - I don't know about you, but when I've made meatloaf in the past, I hate it being so thick, and I can never tell when it's completely done...not to mention what a nightmare to cut it...so a few years ago, I started making meatloaf patties...I actually think my mama may have been the one to do them first, but nonetheless, it's what I do instead of a true meatloaf. Grab your favorite meatloaf recipe and mix it all together then make patties, just like you were making hamburger patties. Bake them at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Then mix together 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 brown sugar and 1 tsp mustard and spread evenly across the patties...I usually make more of the ketchup mixture because my kids are convinced they have to have a bite of that mixture with each bite of beef. Bake for an additional 5 minutes. Again, homemade mashed potatoes are the best with this, so it may not be the meal choice on the night you're getting home at 8:30, but on a weekend, it's perfect when we usually have a little more time to add side dishes.
11) Texas Hash - As a kid, I turned my nose up to this stuff so many times I couldn't count. If I knew then, what I know now, I would be the first one to the dish...thank goodness our taste buds change and we usually end up eating things we never thought we would before. Effie LOVES this stuff...I would've never guessed she would eat it, but she might just fight you for the last bowl:)
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1-2 sweet onions, chopped
- salt & pepper
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 can tomatoes
- 1/4 cup uncooked rice
- 2 Tbsp. ketchup
- 1/2 tsp. mustard
12) Hawaiian Roll Ham and Cheese Sliders - We found these during the college football playoffs...they are amazing, and would be a quick meal to throw together while kids are showering after practice. Follow this recipe on King's Hawaiian website...you will not be disappointed! http://www.kingshawaiian.com/recipes/hawaiian-ham--swiss-slider/
13) Crock-pot Potato Bacon Corn Chowder--Again, if you haven't thrown out your crock pot after the last episode of This Is Us, then drag that bad boy out and throw this together one night before bed, or before you go to work. It's so easy, that Carson has made it before...even peeling potatoes himself. I think it's important for kids to do as much in the kitchen as possible, so find a way to make them feel like they are feeding the family...play some music in the kitchen, dance around, sing...pour yourself a glass of wine and drag out another glass and pour some gingerale in a glass for the kid helping you:) . I like to let them use my crystal glasses...they like to feel fancy too. And I promise, if they break it and you don't flip out, they'll just remember their getting to be fancy like you:) . https://www.spendwithpennies.com/slow-cooker-recipe-bacon-corn-chowder/#_a5y_p=5837584
14) Buffalo Chicken and Blue Cheese Grilled Panini - I wish I could remember where I got this recipe from, and I wish I remembered to make it more often. And, it's probably not really a panini since I don't own a panini press...probably more like a grilled cheese, but panini sounds fancy, so the kids think they're getting gourmet food. Some of the kids would rather not have the buffalo sauce, so I will substitute ranch dressing and chicken...adding bacon would also be a plus. Great meal with some homemade tater chips if you have time for that;) I go ahead and buy my french bread and freeze it so that I have everything to make these sandwiches without a trip to the store. If you have to stop by the store and grab bread, it just makes you more likely to derail your plan:) . Or, maybe you're determination is stronger than mine, but honestly, I don't want to test the temptation to put other stuff in my buggy knowing I have meals ready at home.
- 1 loaf French bread
- salted butter
- 2 Tbsp. blue cheese salad dressing
- 6 Tbsp. cream cheese, softened
- 4 Tbsp. crumbled blue cheese
- 2 Tbsp. cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup shredded chicken breast
- 3 Tbsp. buffalo wing sauce
15) Homemade pizzas - This is an easy dinner that kids can help with and can be done a thousand different ways. You may be tired of hearing this, but again, I go search the fridge and the pantry and see what I have. If I have marinara and pepperoni or sausage, I may do a traditional pizza. If I have alfredo sauce, chicken and spinach, I'll do a Chicken Alfredo pizza. Ranch and bacon is another good option...jalapenos, banana peppers, fresh tomatoes, any of these are a great addition. I buy the Mama Mary's crusts - the larger ones come two to a pack, the smaller ones are three to a pack, and those are perfect for kids because they can make their own. Picky eaters? They WILL.EAT.EVERY.CRUMB when they make it for themselves.
Just take whichever crust you like and spread a thin layer of sauce over the crust...then, spread whatever toppings you like over the sauce...top with shredded mozzarella cheese, then cook in 375 degree oven until cheese is completely melted and bottom of crust has browned slightly. Cool just a little, cut and enjoy. Perfect with a tossed salad that you can make up ahead of time too! I have made these when we have company and make 4-5 different types of pizza, that way I know there's something everyone will love.
16) Tacos - this is super self explanatory and an easy, super quick favorite when you're in a time crunch. Brown and season your hamburger meat ahead of time (this is where those pre-cooked, frozen bags of ground beef are handy). I like to use seasonings from my cabinet rather than a seasoning packet, but each to his own. Prep your veggies...shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, shredded cheese, whatever you like. If you're like me and running in from the ball field or a busy day, heat the meat and get started making tacos for your little ones. If yours are like mine, they eat them as fast as I can make them. If you don't mind a little mess, let them make them for themselves. Mine like soft tacos, so I just buy soft taco size tortillas. They add a variety of salsa, taco sauce, ranch and sour cream to dress their tacos up a little. One of mine would like to declare every Tuesday, Taco Tuesday, but it certainly doesn't happen every week:)
17) Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas - This is always a hit at our house, and it's almost always out of the freezer. Winner Dinner's blog posted this and when I make it up I leave out the olives (no one is really a fan at the Ward residence). This recipe usually makes at least 2-3 casseroles for the freezer. Thaw it the morning before dinner, and it's easy to pop in the over for 30 minutes while kids are showering and getting ready for bed. Plunder through that fridge again and dig out the sour cream, shredded cheese, jalapenos, diced green onions...whatever you have on hand for toppings. http://www.winnerdinners.com/sour-cream-chicken-enchiladas/
If you have time, make up the Spanish Rice recipe from Laura's same blog...it's delicious! If no time for that, and you have to have rice, call ahead and order a side or two of rice from your favorite Mexican restaurant...it's usually inexpensive and can help complete your meal. http://www.winnerdinners.com/spanish-rice/
18) Taco Soup- This one is easy to toss in the crock pot, or I make it ahead then store in freezer storage bags. If you lay flat and freeze, they are easy to thaw the morning before dinner and heat through for dinner. If using the crock pot, grab one of those browned beef bags you've prepped ahead of time and thaw it out, so all you have to do now is throw it all together and turn it on. Top with corn chips, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese. My kids love this with a cast iron skillet of corn bread!
- 1 lb. ground beef, browned, drained
- 1 can whole kernel corn
- 1 can Rotel with green chiles
- 1 can black beans
- 2 Tbsp. taco seasoning
- 2 Tbsp. dry ranch mix
- 3 cups beef broth
19) Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup - This is pretty quick and easy as long as you already have one of those handy-dandy shredded chicken bags prepped and frozen in the freezer (even better is you have that frozen container of chicken broth too). It is delicious and very filling! A creamy soup on a cool night and it just doesn't get better. On the go to the field?...drag out your thermoses and pack some plastic spoons...it's good watching baseball too:)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups shredded chicken
- 1 package long grain and wild rice
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 stick butter
- 2 cups heavy cream
20) Chicken Penne Alfredo - This is best with grilled chicken fresh off of the grill, but even for a freezer meal it is one of our favorites, and it still beats fast food, hands down! I more than doubled this recipe to make up three casseroles for the freezer. Make it up just like the recipe instructions, then freeze for later. Again, just lay it out the night before to thaw or the morning before dinner. Make up a tossed salad ahead of time, and within half an hour, you have a fantastic meal!
- 3-4 grilled chicken breasts
- 1 small package penne pasta
- 1 stick butter
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 2 Tbsp. cream cheese
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
21) Sausage and Grits Casserole - This is a super quick and absolutely delicious breakfast-type casserole that we often have as a dinner. For this to be quick for us, I have browned sausage bagged up in freezer storage bags to thaw quickly. I never measure grits...which took me a long time to get up the courage to do, but it works for me. However, I've thrown together my version of this dish for those who hate cooking grits and worry about the consistency.
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups quick cooking grits
- 1 pound ground sausage, browned
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
22) Spaghetti Casserole - For this recipe, it's super complicated...I mix a ton of ingredients and freshly grown herbs together and simmer for hours until it's perfect and has the kitchen smelling like downtown Italy...GOTCHA! I can remember my mom simmering spaghetti sauce and it was delicious, but honestly I never have. My magic?...whichever spaghetti sauce is on sale at the grocery store when I get ready to make up casseroles...that's it. I usually use a basic sauce or a basil and tomato or four cheese sauce...just because that's what my family likes best. I boil pasta until it's still slightly firm to the bite since I prep for freezer casseroles. For making to eat right then, I cook according to the package directions. For every box of pasta I use, I use two jars of pasta sauce and 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef. Mix all together and spoon into a greased casserole or aluminum pan. When it's time to cook, just put into oven at 350 degrees and cook until heated through. If desired, you can sprinkle shredded cheese on top of the casserole. My kids would rather have it without cheese so I usually don't add it, but know that you can. Not a bite of spaghetti ever gets tossed out at our house...my kiddos and husband are fantastic about eating leftovers and for that I'm so very thankful.
23) Lasagna - Lasagna is fairly pricey to make, however when buying in bulk, I honestly don't think it costs much more to make 3-4 lasagnas than it does just the one. Since it takes a little longer to put it together, I never make just one. I make extra and freeze them for later. Thaw completely before cooking, and it will be perfect and seem to others that you've been in the kitchen all evening. I've tried lots of different recipes over the years, and ultimately tweaked different ones until I came up with one that is perfect to me. So, if you're meal prepping for the busy season in your life, go ahead and make several of these to enjoy later.
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 4 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 1/4 lbs. ground beef/pork mix
- 44 ounces (1 large and 1 small can) crushed tomatoes
- 2 jars Vodka sauce
- fresh basil
- 12 lasagna noodles
- 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Italian cheese blend, shredded
24) Brunswick Stew - This is my all-time favorite for a winter soup. Some years ago, my parents obtained this recipe and it's fantastic...I like it sweeter, so I add more BBQ sauce to my own little bowl...my dad likes it coated with cayenne pepper. Whichever way you like it, use the smoked chicken and smoked pork for sure. The original recipe made a huge pot, this is my version for a large stock pot size. I have doubled or tripled it before. We usually eat some the day I make it, then freeze the remaining in an amount that is enough for a dinner for all 5 of us. I love cornbread with soup, so if time allows, make that cast iron skillet cornbread and enjoy!
- 1/2 lb. smoked chicken, shredded
- 1/2 lb. smoked boston butt, shredded
- 1 lb. ground beef, browned
- 1 1/2 cups sweet onions, diced
- 4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 large can tomatoes, chopped
- 1-2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
- 1 can pork and beans
- 2 cans baby green lima beans, drained
- 2 cans green peas, drained
- 1 can hominy corn, drained
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 can (8-oz) tomato sauce
- 1 Tbsp. hot sauce
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp. vinegar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1-2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
I will say that making all of this in the 1 to 2 days that I worked on it, IS A LOT OF WORK, but we are at the end of the first week of baseball practice, and we haven't eaten out once...it really does make a difference. The kids are eating it, there have been leftovers every day, and the bank account is happier. For a family of five, it's super easy to grab fast food and drop $40-50 for just one meal . That may be ok for some folks and families to do several times per week, but it's a hard hit for us to do on a regular basis, and honestly I like my home cooked food better. There are other things that I put on my menu list from time to time, and some of these that I may leave out. When the season is warmer here, I certainly don't do as many soups. Soups can be eaten in the summer, but I love a hearty soup the best when it is cold outside...it's just very cozy. I hope this is helpful to your family in some way. Happy prepping!