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Busy parent Meals

I work part time and have three active kids. They play multiple sports, etc. I find my self out of the house from 5-8 most nights of the week. I am home for time inbetween after dropping someone off/picking them up. So, it works out usually that two kids will eat at 6 and when the other gets home will eat at 7. Then it flips around the next day.
So, I am looking for meals that I can make ahead when I get home from work around 2pm. I make a lot of soups, casseroles, sandwiches, things like that which can be made ahead. I'll make a pot of turkey and white bean soup to eat later on, so things like that. I do own a crockpot and have mixed feelings about it. I probably only use it once a month.
Anyone have some good recipes to share? I am getting tired of my regular rotation! Thanks CHownders!

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  1. If you do a little searching using relevant terms, you'll find the multiple threads on this topic.
    Here's what "make-ahead meals" yields: http://www.chow.com/search?query=make...

    1. The crockpot can be a great help if you allow it. I make chicken tortilla soup, chili, beef stew, and braised meats for pulled-protein sliders, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc.
      I also marinate proteins during the weekends, so it's ready to grill or cook the day I want. I make large family dinners during weekends, so that there's plenty of leftovers for during the week.

      1. We have a similar household with evening activities several times a week. My kids don't really eat casseroles so we don't usually use the slowcooker, but I do use my oven timer. We do some make ahead things like lasagna in individual baking dishes so they can go in the oven at different times and chicken legs which they eat hot or room temp. Or some short order things like omelets, panninis (love the pannini maker, also for quesadillas) and occasionally some quick fried beef strips.

        2 Replies
        1. re: waver

          I've had a pannini maker on my wish list for a while! Glad to hear you use it. Unfortunately, my oven does not have a timer! That would be great if it did! I think I will finally buy the pannini press. Just hated adding another appliance to my myriad of appliances!

          1. re: master815k

            I hesitated for quite some time before getting one but then saw one that had interchangeable plates for making waffles and decided to go for it! We use it several times a week. I keep meaning to make an extra batch of waffles for the freezer for quick toaster meals but that hasn't happened yet...

        2. I like to do a lot of the prep work for salads ahead of time, so that I can just throw them together when I get home. Washed greens and sliced veggies can keep for a quite awhile in the fridge, as long as you don't dress them first. I usually just dress them with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Cooked sausage keeps well in the fridge, and gives some body to the salad.

          Making a big pot of rice is pretty easy (especially if you have a rice cooker) and reheats well in the microwave.

          A roast chicken (or rotisserie, if you're too busy to roast) can be shredded and used for tacos and salads. Boil the carcass when you're done and throw in any veggies that are starting to look sad, and you've got a soup that should keep pretty well. Pairs well with a salad. You can turn it into chicken noodle soup by reheating as much as you need on the stove along with some noodles (make sure to add the noodles right before you eat the soup, otherwise they get soggy. But you can do this on a per-serving basis).

          Most soups and stews taste better after they've sat for awhile. If you've got polenta, rice, or mashed potatoes in the fridge, you have a meal. If you don't have something to put the stew over, noodles cook really quickly.

          Can the kids be in charge of dinner for the family one night a week each? That cuts your days of work from 7 to 4, plus the kids get some cooking experience. I don't have kids, but my mom had me doing simple things like topping pizza at around age 9 or so. If you've already got the dough and sauce made (which you can easily do ahead), it just needs to be topped with mozzarella and toppings and baked. If the kids are too young to slice toppings, they can be done ahead of time too. My brother and I both loved the responsibility of cooking dinner for the family in high school: he made (and still makes) the most fantastic steaks, while my go-to was poaching a chicken and shredding for tacos or homemade chicken pot pie.

          1. defrosted meat, chicken, fish really don't take very long to cook - try dumping salsa or duck sauce or some other prepared sauce over a protein and stick in the oven. macaroni is also a magical ingredient - one night's side dish of mac is tomorrow night's main with some chicken bits thrown in.

            1. I've found the crockpot to be helpful on nights when everyone's eating at different times. One meal that works well is chicken fajita potatoes. Wash and wrap in aluminum foil however many baking potatoes you need. Put them in the bottom of your slow cooker. Then, in a pouch made out of foil place bs chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces, chopped onions, peppers, seasonings, etc. (really, whatever protein or vegetable you want/need to use up). Seal the pouch and place it on top of the potatoes. Cook on low 8 hours. When people are hungry, they take a potato, top it with the chicken/veggies, and add any toppings they want (sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, etc.--can be as sinful or healthy as you'd like). It would even work well to make a few different pouches of chichen/veggies for the groups who were eating together (or one for each individual).

              The potatoes work well in the crockpot, so sometimes I'll just bake several potatoes that way and top them with protein and vegetables we have on hand.

              2 Replies
              1. re: egging

                What a great idea! Do you do the potatoes on high or low? And for how long? You just rocked my world...baked potatoes in the crock pot! I love it.

                1. re: birdmonkey

                  I'm so glad! I cook the potatoes, wrapped in foil, for 8 hours on low. It would probably work in less time on high but I've never tried it. The potatoes come out a bit differently than they would in the oven (they're a bit more moist, and they don't get a nice crusty skin), but we really like them.

              2. We don't own a crockpot and are not too big on soups, but are big on eating together as a family. Wednesday night is the only night that we absolutely can't manage it, so that's designated fast food or quick serve night.

                Our major rule is that the parent who isn't running around has to, at a minumum, prep dinner and get everything ready to start cooking when everyone else gets home. Other than that, we rely heavily on boneless chicken breasts and thighs. They cook quickly and lend themselves to all kinds of preparations from Italian to Asian to Mexican, etc. Fish also cooks quickly, either steamed or sauteed, and doesn't require too much of a sauce to taste great.

                I don't do too much make-ahead foods, but goulash and Cajun chicken stew have gone over well. I make those after dinner and plan to serve a day or two later. I frequently keep pizza dough from the 5 minute a day pizza book in the refrigerator, so throwing together a few pizzas is a fast proposition. The same with tacos and burritos. They cook quickly and lend themselves to being filled with all kinds of leftovers. Add salsa, cheese, and veggies, and there's a better-than-fast-food dinner.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rockycat

                  I am in the same boat a couple of nights a week. I recently roasted a salmon fillet and boy, was that quick and tasty! Paired with salad, bread or rice/pasta. Generally on those nights, I tend to do the big portion of cooking early and reheat separate portions later for straggling family members.

                2. breakfast for dinner! pancakes or waffles with scrambled eggs and bacon.

                  1. i make a sauté with veggies and rice. i take leftover rice and sauté with all kinds of vegetables and meats. sometimes it's chicken or chicken apple sausage. some nights it's like a biryani and i put in raisins and curry powder. some nights i put some tomato sauce/paste and it's an orange rice. i always start with some diced onions and olive oil. tonight, i put onions, cabbage and corn as the base. i then tossed in leftover rotisserie chicken from costco. i can make it ahead and just reheat when it's time to eat. you can even reheat and put an egg on top. it's great way to get veggies in as well.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: trolley

                      Love this idea! My husband works 80+ hours a week, so it's usually just me. I really think it's important to do dinner together, but a lot of times, it is not possible. I always eat with my boys, no matter which combination of the three it is. All 5 of us might not be together at one time, but the combinations make it work. Thanks everyone!

                      1. re: master815k

                        thanks. we have this meal at least 2x a week and it never gets old.it's a great way to eat leftovers too. you can make it "asian" by using soy sauce, mirin and a sprinkle of sugar with ginger and garlic. i like to use baby bok choy too. it's a good way to get rid of the last carrot or the butt end of an onion or any scraps in the fridge. we don't eat nuts but you can do curry with cashews and raisins etc. the combinations are endless. ok, maybe not endless but you have a lot of ways you can go :) during the summer my husband works about 80 hr a weeks as well so feel your pain. but i only have one little guy and he's only 3 so no sports quite yet. you can make it ahead of time and reheating is super easy. good luck!

                    2. Now that I'm an empty-nester (Well, my youngest did move back home after college to save $$$ while she is working, but that doesn't count), I can look back on the activities I had with my three kids. Baseball. Soccer. Lacrosse. Field Hockey. Irish Dancing. I was out and about every evening. My crockpot was my saviour. There are so many easy dishes for the crockpot and what is great is that as the kids get older (high school), they can serve themselves on their schedules.
                      On Mondays, it was red beans and andouille made in the crockpot, I would just make a pot of rice earlier and keep it on the stove until they needed to eat. I've literally thrown in a bag of lentils, chicken cut up into quarters, salt, pepper, thyme and a bay leaf, covered it all with water and ended up with a great dish. Pot roast with potatoes and carrots is another easy one. You can make just about anything, and I'll tell you it is much better than processed food that you zap in the microwave.