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Quick and Easy Meals

Spaghetti and meatballs, cooked veggies, and Italian Cheese Bread

After seeing our lunch of hamburgers, Lyn asked:

I wonder if you have any other good ideas for quick meals. Sometimes I only have enough energy for a very short time in the kitchen. Thanks. 

Lyn, thanks for asking! 

Taco Salad is one of my staple last-minute meals, especially since it's a favorite of Joshua's. :) Tammy's Chicken Rice Bake involves very little preparation (it has a long baking time though!) and I think it's yummy. :) Grilled cheese sandwiches are another fall-back on busy days. :)

I used to make a Homemade pizza with a pre-baked crust (crust can be frozen until needed), which, when using a bread machine to knead the dough, was a quick-prep meal. Now, I've gotten fast at making Tammy's Easy Pizza and it's another last-minute, less-prep-time solution for me. :)

Another thing I consider when searching for a quick meal to make, is this: What leftover ingredients do I have in my freezer or refrigerator that can be used for a fresh dinner?

If I have leftover chicken or cooked ground beef, I often make a simple gravy-based meal, like Chicken Gravy over Egg Noodles, or my Simple Beef Gravy Supper. Cheesy Chicken Vermicelli is very quick to assemble if you have leftover chicken to use. I have a page devoted to leftover ideas (which is in need of updating). :)

Here is an index of all of the recipes on this website that I've termed "quick and easy". There's quite a variety, and I think most take between 15 and 30 minutes to make. Trying a new recipe usually takes me longer than normal, though, so even a "quick" new recipe may not be extremely efficient.

Since I cook mostly from scratch, I don't have many 5-minute main dish recipes. Most of my "quick and easy" meals are actually meals that I planned and partially prepared ahead of time. Here's some more info about how I utilize "cooking ahead" to fit our needs.

For example, today we had spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. I boiled some pasta, and heated up some (homemade, frozen) meatballs and sauce. Because I do most of the work ahead of time, spaghetti and meatballs is a very quick meal for me to prepare.

So the two main ways I achieve homemade, from-scratch, low-prep meals are:

1. Cooking ahead and/or freezing leftovers
2. Using leftovers 

This is just what works for me and our family. :) Does anyone else have any other tips or recipe ideas for Lyn? Thanks!

Veggie side dishes

Charlette wrote to me and asked,

Could you tell me how you prepare your side vegetables (the broccoli, carrots etc) that you show often with the main dishes? They look so bright and inviting. I'd love to know your recipe and how you prepared them. Thank you.

Charlette, thanks for asking! Most of our meals involve at least one cooked vegetable, and most of the cooked vegetables I serve are prepared very simply.

My main tip is not to over-cook vegetables. I used to add salt and pepper to our cooked vegetables, but I somehow got out of that habit and we still enjoy them. It's one less step for me! :)

Here's a run-down of the veggies we eat:

I always buy frozen green peas. We can't stand the canned ones! We eat peas several times a week, because we both love them. We also buy a frozen carrot/cauliflower/broccoli mixture from Aldi.

We eat either canned or frozen green beans and corn. These garlic green beans call for frozen green beans; this easy green bean casserole uses canned green beans. Of course, when we have fresh green beans from the garden, I use those in either recipe. :)

We like broccoli best when it's freshly boiled/steamed to crisp-tender. Frozen broccoli just isn't as good, in my opinion!

Carrots taste best when they're freshly coooked, too. I love cooked baby carrots tossed with butter and salt!

We also eat some seasonal veggies from the garden -- asparagus (almost always prepared as Asparagus and Onions), cabbage (here's my quick and easy fried cabbage recipe), yellow squash (usually cooked accrding to this recipe, but also in this summer squash casserole), and sugar snap peas (cooked until crisp-tender, or added to egg noodles).

This time of year (March), you're seeing a lot of frozen peas, cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli on our plates. I remember last June/July, almost every meal that we photographed had asparagus on the plate. ;)

Our lunch: Last-minute guest menu

Cheesy Potatoes and Chicken Vermicelli, along with some cooked veggies

Today was busy, but fun! The children and I were eating our breakfast this morning when a friend of mine called and asked if she and her 3-year-old grandson could come for a visit. Thankfully, I wasn't planning to go away or anything today, so I said "sure!" and invited them to stay for lunch, as well.

I had leftover oven-roasted chicken from yesterday, which I had de-boned and was planning to use for something. When I found out we were having guests for lunch, I started some water for pasta, and made a dish of Cheesy Chicken Vermicelli -- a quick and easy casserole that usually goes over well.

I also had some potatoes in the fridge that Joshua had cubed for me, which I had cooked and planned to use for cheesy potatoes. In a matter of minutes, I had a dish of Cheesy Potatoes to put in the oven with the vermicelli.

I cooked some canned corn and some bagged frozen peas, and rinsed off some fresh grapes that I got at the grocery store yesterday. And that was our lunch!

I did prepare most of it while our guests were here, since it was on short notice (and I spent most of that 45 minutes tidying up the house, getting dressed, and caring for the children!).

I was reminded of why I prefer to have the food already made when company comes. I am practically incapable of cooking and visiting at the same time. Is that odd? I can generally multi-task quite well (what mom can't?! ;D) but I always have difficulty entertaining guests while trying to prepare the meal. :)

Weekly Menu -- January 28, 2007

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

  • My Mom's Easy Fried Chicken (I have a bag in the freezer from the last sale! Usually I don't have room to freeze extras. :D) with rice and cooked veggies on the side

Wednesday

  • Try-a-new-recipe day :D

Thursday  

Friday

Saturday

  • A new make-ahead recipe (still deciding)
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Weekly Menu -- January 14, 2007

Sunday

Monday

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Weekly Menu -- December 10, 2006

Sunday

Monday

  •  Leftover taco pizza (Yay! A break from cooking!)

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday 

Friday

Saturday

  • Guests are coming; menu still being decided! :D
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