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Exhausted mom needs cook ahead meals for family or quick suppers for grab and go sports crazy kidss

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Situation 1: From time to time, I am out in the evenings. I love to cook, but if I am not there to put it on the table, I need something that my DH can take out of the oven to serve to the family, or leave on the counter for room temperature. Problem is: DH complains about stews (claims not to like braised food) and while he'll eat a casserole from time to time, it's not his favorite. In addition, his dislikes include cooked fruit, eggplant, cilantro, mint and dill. Need ideas for cook ahead and leave in the oven/serve at room temperature.

Situation 2: 3 nights a week, my children have sports and scouts which are scheduled at my usual meal time and I am often driving a hour round trip when I need to cook dinner. I am reduced to feeding them at from 5 - 5:30 p.m. when our family dinner time is usually 7 p.m. when DH arrives home. On these nights, I need a grab and go meal to serve 11 yo son and 8 yo daughter.

I am exhausted from trying to come up with new ideas. I'd appreciate any suggestions!

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  1. Feed your kids and let your husband cope for himself -- if he doesn't like stews or casseroles, then show him where the bread and ham are kept....

    ...but he needs to understand that you are under a huge time constraint, you have kids who need healthy, balanced meals, and that he simply cannot hold the entire family hostage because of his pickiness.

    I would heartily suggest you get a crockpot for the crazy nights -- it's the best solution out there for feeding a family in shifts -- even better than the oven, because stuff doesn't get dried out and tough in a crockpot.

    He's the adult, therefore he needs to cope or be quiet.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      I totally agree sunshine and I also think the OP should just stick with the basics for grab and go. Sandwiches, fruit, oatmeal cookies--is that so bad?

      1. re: sunshine842

        I was going to say the same thing. Husband's limited palate shouldn't affect the entire family. Crockpots & braised meats are an easy solution for the OP.

        I often have homemade meatballs & sauce in the freezer. These can easily be warmed in the crockpot in the morning and then Husband can boil pasta in 10 mins. You can also have meatball hoagies w/ melted provolone cheese. Pair it with a salad and there ya go.

        I also have this recipe for southerwestern braised brisket. It requires some up front work, but you can shred it and put half of it in the crockpot (and freeze the other half for later). My kids love this brisket served on soft corn tortillas w/ a little raw onion and shredded cabbage and avocado. http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/01/sou...

        My kids have practice at dinner time too. They have a good snack after school and then we usually don't have dinner until after practice at 8:30pm (when we can sit down together). They don't like eating dinner beforehand and then having to run around on a soccer field w/ a full belly for an hour and a half. But different strokes for different folks.

        Escondido is right though, as long as the sum of the parts equals healthy,satisfying choices, it doesn't matter what you have for dinner. Sandwiches and salads and fruit - it's all good.

        1. re: lynnlato

          fried-egg sandwiches were a favorite for us when we had 3-5 football practices a week. Easily digestible protein on wholegrain bread for some long-burning carbs.

          So that before practice, then some yogurt and fruit when we got home -- it was a balanced meal, just not all at one time!

        2. re: sunshine842

          I totally agree, and I have rarely liked anything I've made in a crockpot! Still, it is the best solution for multiple mealtimes and I use mine frequently during busy weeks.

          1. re: sunshine842

            I agree. Feed your kids and have food in the house for your DH. It won't kill him to make himself a sandwich or warm up a bowl of chili. You can have a talk with him; he needs to hear your point of view. He needs to understand that you can't do it all. Nor should you have to try. On the days when you aren't rushed, you can make a nice family meal. And, these days of frantic activity don't last forever. Someday, you will really miss those kids running around your house leaving sports equipment all over the place.

            I also agree that you could come up with a couple of reliable slow cooker meals. Good meals from the slow cooker should be prepped ahead of time though. I didn't use the slow cooker because I didn't have time to do that kind of prep work in the morning. If you can make it work, then I'd try that.

            Otherwise, egg dishes are generally fast. Omelets, frittatas, fried eggs come to mind. Toasted cheese sandwiches with fresh veggies. Potatoes that bake all day in the slow cooker, and are eaten as baked for supper. Soup made on the weekend and stashed in the fridge. Hamburger patties on the stovetop grill. Also, Trident makes a good salmon burger which can be grilled the same. Tuna melts served with raw baby carrots and celery sticks. Sauteed chicken breasts are fast, and can be served on a plate with a salad and whole grain chips, or they can be served sandwich style.

            1. re: sueatmo

              on really, really crunched weeks, I sometimes prep the crockpot the night before and stick it in the fridge. The next morning I drag it out and put it in the heating compartment -- not optimal, but better than dinner that came through a window.

          2. Oh jwg, I do sympathize. The husband is pickier even than the kids, and while I would love to tell him 'just cope', not only would I feel like I wasn't keeping up my part of the bargain...he'd be, um, displeased, and probably want to share his displeasure with me. A lot. Not sure which I prefer, guilt on my part, or grumbling on his...
            My method right now is to prep the heck out of dinner and then go into overdrive the minute I walk through the door (right now the fridge contains blanched green beans, cubes of pork, chopped onions, and some sliced mushrooms and I have rice rinsed & ready in the pan on the stove & a packet of green curry paste with the scissors next to it on the counter...the kids will get a stir-fry of the pork & a few of the veg with rice, and then I'll add the curry to the rest of the meat/veg mixture for the grown-ups. Since the rice is going to take 20-30 minutes, I'll be cutting it close, but if we get back through the door by 6:30 I'll make it). Anybody got any ideas, I'd love to hear them, too. I DO use a crockpot, but the kids don't like stew, the husband doesn't care for casseroles, and we all get sick of chili & pulled pork after a while.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tonifi

              We'll assume that you don't have the crazy schedule 7 nights a week...

              ...go for sandwiches as escondido mention -- one or two sandwich nights a week isn't going to kill anyone -- and you could even have hot sandwiches...pre-prep, then wrap in plastic. When you get home, preheat the George Foreman and fire 'em up.

              ...Cook ahead -- lasagna, chili, something that can be microwaved and is sometimes even better the next day

              ...at least cook the rice ahead! Precook the rice so all you have to do is warm it up -- use minute rice -- use the microwave rice --

              ...search this and other boards for crockpot recipes -- there's a whole lot of food out there after you take chili and pulled pork off the list

              ...quesadillas -- cooked, sliced chicken breast, shredded cheese, and some veggies -- drop those in the George Foreman, too -- kids **love** these.

              and while it's unfortunate that hubby is pickier than the kids -- for one or two nights week, he needs to suck it up and be the dad....or learn to cook so he can help you out. Parenting is a 110% partnership -- not a "I don't like what you're making to try to keep our kids healthy and well, so I'm going to crab and moan until you find an extra hour to add to the 24 you're already using to keep my house, raise my children, do YOUR job, and feed me."

              Because it's just not fair that you're already stressing over having so little time to get everyone fed, and that you have to dance around his picky in the process. Or say fine -- I'll make something you like, but YOU do the driving for the evening.

            2. First.. in situation 1 , I wouldn’t worry too much about your husband’s complaints. It’s what we do. He just wants to go to work and then come home and live like a king. What?... it could happen. It’s right there on page 37 of the “Man Club” manual. He will whine and then he will eat what you left him.
              You need to stock your pantry, fridge and freezer with the following:
              Canned soups
              Boxed rice kits
              Pot pies (for the freezer)
              Smoked fully cooked sausage (for the fridge)

              For emergencies, you can always get the soup and bread out or you can nuke some pot pies. The canned soups and bread are a good option for when you come home from scouting or whatever and the hooligans have the nerve to want to eat again. Your DH will, begrudgingly, want to join too. The other thing you can do is slice some sausage and throw it in with the boxed rice kit and make a salad. Hey, your husband may even eat the salad. Even if he doesn’t eat the salad, he gets the nutritional benefit from it because it was there (as quoted from page 40, paragraph 2 of the “Man Club” manual.
              On the days that you can cook, make a huge casserole to make sure you have leftovers. You may have to only serve half the casserole to ensure this. Store the leftovers in single serving sizes so they can be reheated in the microwave. You will probably have to do this twice to make it through the week.
              Here are a few suggestions:
              Some kind of meat and rice casserole
              Swiss Steak (he can’t mean he doesn’t like Swiss Steak)
              A chicken and pasta casserole
              Make a batch of spaghetti with sauce just for the fridge
              Make a batch of chili and just put it in individual serving containers.
              Make a salad bar in containers for the fridge. You can always get the containers out on the table and remove the lids.
              Oh baked potatoes with chili or some soups poured on top are great.

              1. Remember that your oven has a delay timer - they all do, even mine which is 30 years old and from Montgomery Ward. So you can set up something like meatloaf or chicken parts to bake and tell him when to take them out. I'm a single mom and used to use this for baked potato night.

                But, as others have said, you're in a partnership and he needs to take some of this responsibility. Ask him to cook one or two nights of the week, and pick the nights that are best for you. If he doesn't lilke casseroles and the kids don't like stews, then he can make hamburgers. Add some sliced fruit and veggies and you have an easy acceptable meal.

                1. Some of these posts are reminding me to be thankful that 1) my husband isn't a picky eater and 2) he helps (although "help" is not the best word choice because I'm not "helping" when it comes to taking care of the family so when he does, it's not either. It's responsibility). Whew, got that off my chest. Now as the question goes...

                  1) sandwiches are great. Even better get a panini maker. Add soup and frozen vegetables and you have a meal. Along the same idea--quesadillas are also good. Don't just think bread--waffles can be made savory.

                  2) Make dough on weekends (or buy frozen dough). The night before, wrap up roasted veg, eggs, assorted cold cuts, etc in it and refrigerate. Bake the next morning, or the night before.

                  3) Make up big batches of things like chili, curry, pasta sauce and meatballs on the weekends and freeze. Put in crockpot in the morning and let it heat up. Get a rice cooker and make rice in the morning. Or microwave potatoes and serve sauce over potatoes. Pasta and meatballs over rolls.

                  4) Do breakfast for dinner. It's so quick to put together breakfast.

                  5) For my completely lazy dinner, I put rice and stock in a rice cooker w/ vegetables. Top w/ sausage. Cook. Everyone gets a hot meal when they come home.

                  6) Host a casserole party. My friends and I would make enough casserole (small 9x9 pans, so they fit in the freezer) to exchange. We'd get together and have a party and exchange casseroles so wed all end up w/ a bunch of different casseroles. Directions are written on top, along w/ what to serve it with (rice, bread, etc.). Great way to try something new and out of the box.

                  I thought I'd take that idea one further and had everyone e-mail me what they needed for their dish. I combined them all into one and everyone took a group, eg. xxx pounds of cooked ground beef, yyyy pounds of cooked chicken, zzzz cups of cooked onions, etc. The less labor intensive were the most costly so it was fair. We got together and had a party and assembled our casseroles, based on the recipe but also on what our families would like. It was like a Dinner Done, only cheaper. It was really fun but I have to say, pretty exhausting for me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    chowser, I'm stealing idea #6. Also, it reminds me: I have a friend who does a weekly dinner swap with a neighbor where one night she prepares twice as much food and takes half over to her neighbor's house. And one night a week, her neighbor brings dinner over to her. I think real simple mag did a blurb on this. Let me see if I can find it.

                    Aha! Here it is: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe...


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I love that there are recipes for that. We did it with my son's playgroup when they were babies. They're now heading for college in a couple of years! It was really nice having all those meals frozen and knowing we were set for a couple of weeks. Plus, we all have regular go-to dishes so it was nice to have something different.

                  2. For grab and go meals for he kids, layer taco fixings in individual containers. Tape a fork to the top and good to go. Beans, shredded chicken, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, whatever they like..

                    I make calzones with store Bought pizza dough. They can be heated up by husband for dinner. Serve with salad and vegetables, or include veg in the calzone. Also good for kids on the go.

                    Sautéed chicken. Brown thin chicken cutlets. Add vegetables, simple sauce. Can be stored in a Pyrex in the fridge. I can give you more specifics if it seems like something your family would enjoy,

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Excellent idea, the taco salad to go! I do burritos frequently for grab and go meals but that is genius.

                      1. re: tcamp

                        It's something different than a burrito but just as easy. I used to prepare it for my husband on nights when I had school.

                        Also... Homemade tortilla chips. Might be messy for the car but soooo good.

                    2. Can DH pick up a rotisserie chicken on the nights when he has to "cook"? You prep baked potatoes or baked sweet potatoes and salad, or steam-in-the-bag veggies. Voila, dinner.

                      Or can he at least sit down with you and plan some ideas for those nights? Maybe MYO pizza or tacos with the kids? If he's going to balk at your homemade make-ahead meals, and isn't going to spring for takeout on those nights, then he needs to brainstorm stuff that will be easy and palatable for everyone.

                      My idea for grab-n-go dinners, other than sandwiches or wraps, is to do nibbly things. Cheese, crackers, gogurts or mini containers of cottage cheese, cut-up fruit and veggies with dip, hummus and crackers or pretzels, sliced veggies, tortilla roll-ups (ham, cheese, cream cheese, or whatever), chicken or tuna or egg salad with crackers or rolls, lettuce wraps, etc... you get the idea. Think Lunchables only homemade (cheaper, so much better, and many kids love to eat that way). Nuts, trail mix (again homemade if you like) or snack mix.

                      Make a batch of smoothies (my kids and I both love choc-p.b. smoothies: cocoa powder, p.b., tofu, milk, vanilla, kale or spinach, and sweetener) and pour into water bottles or pint canning jars. Great for the road.

                      Hope this helps!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: VikingKvinna

                        +1 to the rotisserie chicken. Sliced with 'taters & veggies for the 1st go round, then shredded for tacos or fajitas as left-overs.

                      2. What does your husband like?

                        Situation 1: Some type of roasted meat. You can roast a chicken, a clod of beef or meat loaf.
                        Veggies steam quickly in the microwave.

                        Another quick meal is sloppy joes or tacos/burritos/nachos.

                        1. Yup this time of year, we have games and practices all over the dinner hour, so a lot of these suggestions will be useful Another thing I do is cook some sort of meat or tofu ahead (baked tofu slices, chicken legs, salmon - anything that tastes good cold or nuked) and make a sturdy green salad and then when we get in its easy to throw dinner plates together with a piece of bread or pasta salad on the side. I love kale salad for this as it benefits form a bit of wilting.

                          Also quick breads jazzed up with whole grains and less sugar.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: waver

                            I just realized I need an oven with a delay timer! Wow, I didn't even know something like that existed. That would be SO PERFECT for no-knead bread. I've also realized that my oven must be truly, truly old. (I'm sorry, oven, you're wonderful, but this new-fangled contraption has me a-flutter). jwg...I wish we could carpool our kids. (One person drives, the other cooks...the perfect trade-off. You bring me my kid, I give you a pork roast).

                          2. Casseroles don't have to be the typical chopped things mixed together. It can be pork chops or chicken pieces set on top of a rice and veggie mix. Smart rice cookers can very useful too, and can keep things warm for a long time, just like a crock pot. Thai curry is surprisingly quick and easy to make with a can of curry paste, and can be reheated easily. My kids are younger, but eat a lot of breakfast burritos - scrambled eggs with cheese and corn in a tortilla. I do a lot of soup too, and you can always make big batches and freeze some. Red beans and rice is another favorite make ahead favorite.

                            1. Burritos! Make 'em on the weekends, freeze 'em, nuke 'em for a few minutes. Not gourmet, but delicious. Straight refried bean, or shredded beef, or whatever you like. These are good, if you're feeling more adventurous.


                              My husband, who is NOT picky but cannot cook to save his life, recently decided that he wants to cook on weekends. (Usually I cook while he watches our toddler. I think he wants a break.) So two days a week, we have frozen pizza, or hot dogs, or spaghetti and frozen meatballs. All of which are totally fine and no problem to keep around. Also, on my book club nights, I used to do tuna melts and frozen french fries. Won absolutely no awards for haute cuisine, but I could make up the tuna salad earlier in the day and have them done in 10 minutes, and we all got fed.

                              1. Thanks for all the ideas, the recipes, planning tips, and especially for the moral support. I keep on telling myself that I'll only have a limited time (6 more years for my son and 10 more years for my daughter) to teach them to eat and live a healthy life. Then, they are on their own and subject to the college cafeteria!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jwg

                                  How about teaching them how to cook? The eating part comes naturally!

                                  1. re: escondido123

                                    That's what I'm thinking, too! Teach them to help out and they won't become the helpless spouse in the kitchen.

                                2. To all of the fantastic ideas already suggested, I'm a fan of frozen quich and frozen ravioli for the kinds of occasions you describe.


                                  1. I see your husband as a great asset- he isn't all that fussy and just needs to learn how to light the oven, push start button on a rice cooker, and perhaps boil water? Then he can make baked first courses, potatoes or rice and a vegetable.

                                    1. I make a very easy crockpot dinner that usually pleases everyone. It starts out bland enough for picky people, but is easy to jazz up. Don't serve this to your chowfriends, though.

                                      Take a bunch of chicken parts (bones, no bones, with or without skin, it doesn't matter). Brown them if you have time, but don't worry if you don't. Toss them into your crockpot. Over this dump a jar of medium salsa (you can add heat later), a can of black beans, a few handfuls frozen corn. Toss in a little salt. Cook all day. It turns into a soupy stew. You can drain off the liquid with a slotted spoon and serve with rice or tortillas and cheese, or you can ladle into a bowl and scoop out with tortilla chips. You will need a little hot sauce. Very healthy.

                                      1. I'm in the same boat. I rely on pasta salads, fruit, chicken salad, etc....

                                        1. I'm in the same boat with the 7 days of soccer lifestyle. I made shredded buffalo chicken wraps Monday night. Oldet boy was turned off by wrapping it in lettuce, so put it on a bun. Delicious, healthy and easy peasy.

                                          1. Barbecued beef will answer all of your criteria. Make it in a slow cooker, and make the largest quantity your slow cooker will cook. Put any cut of beef in with a couple of 8-oz cans of tomato sauce, some vinegar, some brown sugar, salt, a chopped onion or two, a chopped green pepper, and (this is essential) a teaspoon each of cinnamon and clove. I haven't specified all quantities because this depends on how much meat you are doing but for 3 lb beef I would use about 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup vinegar. Add a tomato can or two of water. Cook for a long time (like overnight) until the beef falls apart. Then either shred it with two forks or lift it out on to a cutting boad and chop it with a knife. Return meat to sauce. Taste sauce and correct seasoning and maybe add a little hot red pepper if the kids will eat it that way. You want the consistency to be a little runny as the meat seems to absorb the sauce as it sits. Now. You can freeze this, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a week, and you can serve it on hamburger buns. Have potato chips with it. You can also make it with boneless pork loin instead of beef (currently pork is quite a bit cheaper than beef). Anybody over age 10 can microwave this to heat it and put it in a hamburger bun. Kids like it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. I can relate to your situation as for years I went to school or worked evenings and while my husband was the best of men, he did not cook. I found the oven to be my good friend. I would leave a meal in the refrigerator that, when he came home, all he had to do was put it in the oven, turn the oven on, and wait about an hour then serve it to self and whatever offspring were around. Food combos will quickly come to mind but some of them will upset the gourmets among us eg chicken breasts with a can of mushroom soup poured over plus a whole sweet potato per person, or ham steak with pineapple slices, or pork chops with Stove Top stuffing----have salad ready in the refrigerator. Or fish sticks and frozen French fries. Or baked beans with a ham steak on top. Or have vegetable dishes that bake eg green bean casserole, yellow squash with onions and cheese, corn pudding. The point of the exercise is that anything that isn't eaten raw (salad) has to go in the oven. All at once.