School’s back in session or just about to be and its back to those crazy days and hectic nights. With their active school-time lives, it even more important for kids to get a nourishing dinner. And research shows that kids who eat family dinners together regularly do better in school and are less likely to participate in risky behavior. But getting a meal on the table every (or most) nights can be challenging. Check out what one of my fellow writers at my sister site, Living on the Cheap, does.
On Friday night, I planned the menus for the following week. On a sheet of 8 ½-by-11-inch paper folded in half, I wrote the menus on one side and the grocery list on the other. I always planned a “multiple meal” for Sunday dinner, so we’d have leftovers for Monday (or another) night. Maybe a roast beef or chicken. Then I’d plan the rest of the meals so I could start the next night’s meal while heating up the current night’s meal.
It might go something like this:
Sunday: Roast chicken with onions and carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls and dessert. Prepare for Monday night by removing remaining chicken from the carcass and storing it in a covered container.
- Monday: Leftover night. Reserved chicken meat goes into a quick casserole, soup, enchiladas or burritos; or make a chicken salad in lettuce cups (summer). Heat leftover vegetables or make a fresh one (like green beans). Serve leftover dessert. Start Tuesday night’s dinner by thawing 2 meals’ worth of ground beef or turkey.
- Tuesday: Taco night. Brown ground beef or turkey with seasonings and shred lettuce; chop tomatoes and other toppings. Use salsa from a jar, grated cheese, whatever you like. Heat refried beans for a side dish. Start Wednesday night’s dinner by making meatballs; cover them to refrigerate. (If you have time, you could even brown the meatballs and get a bigger start on Wednesday night.)
- Wednesday: Spaghetti and meatballs. Brown meatballs and pour a jar of your favorite marinara sauce over them (doctor it up to taste). While heating, cook pasta and make a salad. Start Thursday’s dinner by thawing chicken thighs.
- Thursday: Teriyaki chicken. Cut chicken thighs into strips and marinate in teriyaki sauce. Meanwhile, start brown or white rice and cook some snap peas. Grill chicken outdoors or indoors on skewers (cooks quickly that way). Start Friday night’s dinner by thawing fish.
- Friday: Fish and chips. Keep it healthy by lightly breading the fish with panko crumbs and sautéing in a minimum of fat. Oven-bake the fries; frozen are easy but fresh-cut are cheaper and better. Spray with some olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before putting in oven. Make coleslaw (easy and way cheaper than buying it premade).
- Saturday: Pizza night. Buy frozen or fresh pizza dough and put on your own toppings. Or give yourself a break and order a pizza. You’ve earned it. A nice salad rounds out the meal. If there are good leftovers from the week, Saturday night also can be potluck night, and everyone can have something different.
Remember, these are just some ideas. Change menus to reflect your own family’s tastes.
Caution: Be sure to always thaw meats in the refrigerator. Taking them out of the freezer the night before expedites the process. Don’t put meat in the coldest part of the fridge – it’ll thaw better on a top shelf. Be sure protein is well wrapped so it doesn’t drip juices on other foods.
Try to get everything you need for the week in one grocery outing. Extra trips to the store take time, put you off schedule and make you more prone to impulse buys. If you look at your menus, you’ll know exactly what you need for the week. Check the grocery store flyers to see what’s on sale. If chuck roast is on sale, make roast beef (and enough for a second meal of, say, barbecued beef sandwiches). If chicken parts are on sale, roast them instead of a whole chicken. If you’re going to the trouble of making lasagna, make two and freeze one for another day.
This method keeps you organized and saves you both time and money – I guarantee it. You aren’t tempted to buy expensive fast food or take-out. And best of all, you have a nice dinner for your family so you can sit down together every night for a few minutes, anyway. What price can you put on that?
What are your tips and favorite recipes for quick, cheap family dinners?
You might also like to check out where kids can eat Free & Cheap for those nights you want a break from cooking.