I remember all too well the days when I regularly put 300+ miles a week on my car driving them all to their various activities. I also know how very easy it is to blow the budget on unhealthy, prepared or restaurant take-out meals during times like that.
But over the years, I learned some tricks to avoid that.
One of them that I’ve mentioned many times before is totake a look at the week ahead and plan your meals according to what’s scheduled. If it's going to be particularly busy, you can choose meal options that accommodate that.
One thing you can do is plan a slow cooker meal for one or two days during the week if it's going to be particularly late and hectic near dinnertime.
Almost any oven or stovetop meal lends itself to slow cooking, so go right ahead, throw the ingredients in from a recipe of your choice and give it a try.
Just get the ingredients prepped, as needed, the night or weekend before, load them into the cooker before you go out the door in the morning, and you have a meal that is ready to go when you walk in the door, starving, at dinner time.
Or, if you know it’s going to be a particularly crazy week, then cook extra on the weekend so that you have a meal ready to go on the days you’re dashing in the door at 5:55 pm or later, and nobody’s willing to wait the typical 40-45 minutes to get a meal on the table.
The few minutes it takes to reheat the food in the microwave and make a fresh, tossed salad is all it takes to get the food ready.
When I was going to grad school, working full time, and running my household, I used both these methods a lot.
On grad school nights I didn’t even get home until 9pm, and there was no way my family could wait until then to eat, so you bet I had to plan and make the meals ahead of time.
Being the frugal person I am, I cringe to think what our food bill would have been if we had relied on fast food take-out or expensive prepared meals during those years.
If you cook in quantity, you earn time savings as well as dollar ones.
There’s a reason most of my recipes easily accommodate a couple of meals for a family of 4, and even more for a couple or single person; I believe in making the most of my time in the kitchen, and if I can get two meals or more for the time and labor it takes to make one, then I am going to do that.
And then, once we’ve had enough of the leftovers for the week, I freeze some of them to have on hand to pull out when I need a quick meal at some later date.
This approach has been a major sanity saver for me over the years, so I urge every stressed household manager to give it a try.
So that’s one method you can use to avoid the fast food trap – planning and prepping ahead.
Another one that I recommend is to pick up a package or two of frozen, sauce-free ravioli or tortellini when it goes on sale, and have it on hand in your freezer for emergency meals.
These pasta entrees are a healthier, cheaper option than some of the more heavily processed, prepared meals that you find in the grocery store or Costco.
Serve the ravioli with a very quick, basic sauce you make by combining some spices with a can of crushed tomatoes, and heating it up for about 5-10 minutes on the stovetop.
You have a meal in minutes without blowing your budget much at all.
The key to this approach is to make sure you don’t make a habit of these prepared meals.
They’re fine for every now and again and definitely better than restaurant meals, but they’re typically still much more expensive than cooking from scratch. So keep their use to a minimum as much as possible.
And it’s a big family favorite besides.
Plan meals like this in your weekly menu for those evenings you just know you’re not going to get home in time to cook, or for nights when everyone is arriving home at different times.
It’s perfect because everyone can quickly make up their own plateful of food, and add or leave out ingredients as they see fit (more greens, added or different vegetables, more spices, etc.), and eat it nice and fresh.
It also has the added advantage of being a recipe that doesn’t heat your kitchen up much on those scorching summer days, so it’s a great meal for summertime as well.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 8-10 large tortillas or 4-5 servings
Prep Time – Approx. 10 minutes
Start to Finish Time – Approx. 10-15 minutes
Total Recipe Cost – Approx. $10.00
Total per person meal cost – Approx. $2.00
1 8-10-pack of large tortillas (whole wheat suggested)
15-16 ounce (2 cups) can or jar of crushed tomatoes
2 cups of salsa (homemade or store-bought)
2 cans (15-16 ounce size) of kidney and/or black beans
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15-16 ounce can California olives
¼-½ pound cheddar, Monterey Jack, or other brick cheese
1-2 cups of store-bought pre-grated cheese
About 2-4 packed cups of regular or baby spinach or other loose-leaf greens, or 8-10 large leaves of romaine or other head lettuce
Recipe continues after pictures
- Pour the 28-32 ounces of crushed tomatoes or home-made salsa into a medium pan and place over low heat.
- Stir the 2 teaspoons of chili powder, the 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, the 1 teaspoon of cumin, and the 1/2 teaspoon each of black and red pepper into the pan, cover, and allow to heat through.
- Meanwhile, cut or tear the greens into smaller pieces, as desired (baby greens will probably not require this step) to make 2-4 cups. Wash the greens in a large bowl of water, scoop them out and transfer them to a colander to drain. Repeat the process as necessary to get the greens clean of garden residue.
- Give the colander several good shakes to help remove any excess water. Or you can pat them dry between two clean towels. Set the greens aside on a plate.
- Meanwhile, grate the ¼-½ pound of cheese onto a plate.
- Open the 2 cans of beans and rinse and drain them in a colander.
- When the tomato mixture in the pot is bubbling gently, add the beans. Stir and re-cover the pan. Leave it to heat through for about 5 minutes over low heat.
- Meanwhile, open the olives and drain them. Slice the olives, or cut them into small pieces, and place them in a small bowl.
- Put the tortillas on a plate.
- Remove the bean mixture from the stove and place it on a heat-proof surface.
- Set up an assembly line with the plate of tortillas, the pot with the chili bean mixture, the spinach, the cheese, and the olives in a row.
- Have each person make their own tortilla(s) by spooning about ½ cup of the chili mixture onto one side of their tortilla, topping it with spinach, cheese, and olives to their liking and rolling it.
- Place the rolled tortillas in the microwave for 1-2 minutes on medium power to heat through and melt the cheese, if desired.
- Serve as is, or with a fresh, green tossed salad for a quick, delicious and easy meal.