I've been thinking a lot about meal planning lately. Last year took on a life of it's own with the brand-new-recipe-every-single-day-because-I-am-absolutely-bonkers challenge.
But it's 2009. And 2009 seems to be the year that we (global along with personal 'we' here) go back to basics. Basics are good.
I fell in love with the slow cooker because of how I could stretch meals, and make-do with pantry staples. I've slow-cooked and re-purposed with the cooker this past week or so, and would like to share.
Last Saturday, my mom hosted a breakfast to celebrate a visit from our Scottish relatives (not these ones; different ones, yet still related!) I made the Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole, but mixed it up a bit. Mom didn't want meat. So I cut the meat, added mushrooms and another bell pepper, and upped the seasoning to make up for flavor since there wasn't any sausage. It turned out great.
On Sunday, I made Tilapia in Foil Packets, served with quinoa and broccoli. Instead of using cheddar cheese, I used shredded Parmesan--it was fantastic, and the kids each ate two servings.
Yesterday (Monday), I made Taco Soup. Taco soup is still the hands-down go-to meal when I want to ensure the kids eat a hearty meal. Adam took leftovers for lunch today, and we still have 1 quart left for a planned leftover night.
Today I've got lasagna bubbling away in the cooker. It's raining BUCKETS, and I have no interest in going to the store, so I made due with stuff we had in the cabinets and freezer.
For pasta sauce, I'm using Trader Joe's Vodka sauce. For meat, I've cut up 3 frozen chicken and apple sausages (Aidells) and 5 gluten-free Italian Meatballs (Coleman Natural, purchased at Costco).
We didn't have any ricotta in the house, so I left it out, and used leftover mushrooms from the Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole, some spinach, and chopped broccoli from Sunday night's Tilapia dinner.
For cheese, I used shredded Mexican blend (not Italian, oh no!) I bought on sale to go with the Taco Soup. I also used 2 string cheeses.
And for the pasta: I only had 3 Tinkyada lasagna noodles in the house, so a few of the layers are with brown rice penne from Trader Joe's. I didn't follow my own recipe AT ALL. But this will be a good dinner, I can already tell---and it was "free."
updated 3/5: we DID like this, but decided that it wasn't lasagna, just a casserole.
Wednesday is leftover night. I always throw in a leftover night (lots of times 2!)----we clean out the fridge and make-do with stuff already in the house. Sometimes I re-purpose leftovers and make fried rice. If I make anything "fried" tomorrow, it will be fried quinoa, because I still have 2 cups leftover from Sunday.
On Thursday I'm going to make Cheeseburger Soup, and try to figure out why the cheese is separating on people. It may mean I'm going to try just stirring in the cheese cubes at the end. I'll let you know.
updated 3/5: okay, I tried it with adding the Velveeta and milk at the very end, and it works just fine that way. There is plenty of moisture in the pot from the broth and browned meat to cook the potatoes. The milk and cheese melted almost instantly, and by the time the table was set, it was good to go. I tried blending a bit with a stick blender to thicken the broth. it worked.
also, I made the Not-Too-Spicy Bean Dip for an afternoon snack. I didn't have taco sauce in the house, but I did have buffalo wing sauce (I kind of always have buffalo wing sauce. it's probably not normal), so I added 2 capfulls into the bean blob. I also stirred in about 1 tablespoon of sour cream for some added moisture, and a handful of shredded cheese (still left from Taco Soup night). The kids loved it, and ate a lot. The buffalo wing sauce provided a slight tang and kick without being spicy.
Friday is the school's pasta feed (I will bring pre-cooked brown rice penne in a tupperware) that I somehow agreed to oversee. hmm.
Saturday is Brown Sugar Chicken--- always a big hit in our house (updated 3/5: it looks like we've been invited out on Sat, so this will be shoved into next week's plan.)
and on Sunday, I'm going re-make the Fish Chowder. This is my older daughter's most-requested meal, but I got a hilarious email about how it stunk up Sherri's house--I'm so sorry Sherri! So I'm going to try adding the seafood at the very end to keep sensitive noses happy. :-)
We will probably start the next week with a leftover night and will eat additional leftovers for lunch.
The crockpot is your friend, use it! Feel free to leave any and all frugal crockpotting go-to meals your family loves in the comments, I'd love to see them, and I'm sure many others would, too.
To get started meal planning: My Totally Together Meal Planning for Dummies, or for Normal People post.
For more money-saving ideas: Save Money By Using Your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker
For more meal planning inspiration: Erin Chase, of $5 Dinners and Laura, at I'm An Organizing Junkie
For a printable grocery list and meal plan, here are free downloadables.
For clean-out-the pantry/freezer meals, try:
3 Packet Pot Roast
16 Bean Soup
Cream Cheese Chicken
Sausage and Vegetable Medley