I know that we aren't the only family that struggles with making dinner every night. By the time I get home from work it's usually 4:30, and then Mr. Swell is usually home at 6. That gives me an hour and a half to get dinner ready, but with a 12 month old who likes to cling to my pants and pull everything out of the cupboards, I can sometimes only get a pot of water on during that hour and half. Then Fin goes to bed between 6:30 and 7:00, so we have half an hour to finish cooking and shove in dinner before she starts losing her mind and is ready for her bath. The days of making risotto standing at the stove stirring for half an hour are long gone. I have hope that one day they will return....
I have run across many websites and blogs that have tons of make ahead meal recipes, but almost all of them seem to involve the slow cooker. In the middle of the summer I have absolutely zippo desire to pull out my slow cooker and eat pot roast. I wanted the ease of make ahead meals, but without the slow cooker. Oh, and they also needed to be semi-healthy and be easy to cut up into bite size pieces for the kiddo.
Leave it to Rachael Ray to come up with my solution. After much Googling, I found a page on her site that has a one month make ahead meal plan (see it here). Basically you spend one day making some of the building blocks for the recipes, and then each meal only needs a few more ingredients and is super quick.
Before I show you what we did, I must mention that this post is in no way sponsored by Rachael Ray. She has no idea who I am (hahah, as if!!). I just found the whole thing helpful for my family and thought I'd share in hopes that it might also help yours.
Over the course of a weekend (when it wasn't sweltering and we could tag team) we put our chef hats on and cooked all of the building blocks. It was one pork roast, a bunch of chicken breasts, butternut squash, roasted peppers, tomato sauce and a rice pilaf....and it was a lot of everything. We had food everywhere.
Once everything was cooked, we then measured out portions (as per the meal plan) and sealed in plastic freezer bags.
After the weekend of cooking, our usually barren freezer was looking fully stocked.
As for the meals themselves - they were really quite delicious. Usually Rachael Ray stuff is.
One Meatless Monday we cooked spinach, veggie and ricotta calzones. It was way too hot to turn on the oven so I used the BBQ. A slight disaster with a lot of smoke blowing towards our neighbour, but they still tasted delicious (even if they were a little charred).
Our other favourites were the chicken and polenta (we are a polenta lovin' family).
Using the building block freezer bags, most of the meals took about 15 minutes to cook/assemble each night. I'll admit that some were definitely better than others, but they were all better than eating egg sandwiches every night, which is usually our 'in a pinch' meal.
The other bonus to this meal plan is that it seemed to save us money. We have a budget of $240 every week for groceries. Some weeks when we have to buy diapers, shampoo, etc, that budget can be a challenge. When we decided to try this meal plan for a month we bought all of the building block food, took that total and divided it by 4, and then subtracted that amount from our weekly budget for a month. Hang in there with me, I know...you didn't sign up for math today, did you? We spent just over $80 on all of the building block foods, so we lowered our budget to $220 for the 4 weeks. Using the recipes in the plan, the $220 was a breeze. We had money left over every week. Who knows if that was from that actual food we bought, or because we ate out less (since we had a plan and all), but whatever it was I liked it. It left extra money at the end of the week for me to go garage sale shopping - which is always a win-win for all parties involved.
So, would I do it all again? Yes, but probably not for another year. Although the meals were good, they weren't as healthy as I would have liked all the time. I also like to rotate what we eat quite a bit, so I wouldn't want to finish the month and then start right up again.
How about you? Do you have any awesome make ahead meals that you go to in a pinch? Please share!