At the end of every summer, I look forward to getting back into routines. Usually, without sturdy schedules, mealtimes get a little lax, and so does my planning. Sometimes I skip breakfast because I can’t figure out what I want, and lunch is often delayed until two or three o clock in the afternoon. I always make sure Amelia has something to eat at the right times, but it’s often at the expense of getting enough protein or a real meal myself. I’d like to get better at that. We always have a decent dinner together as a family, and that is mostly thanks to a little bit of planning on the weekend.
With school about to start again, balancing a couple of jobs now, and the need for more routine to make it all easier, I thought I’d put together my best tips and recipes for feeding your family well even during the busiest seasons. Hopefully you will find this helpful!
6 Tips for Feeding Your Family When You’re Busy
1. Cooking for the freezer/ batch cooking. OK, I am not someone who formally batch cooks, but I rely heavily on certain recipes that I can make ahead and freeze.
Every other week, I buy about four pounds of ground beef and make a big batch of Chelo Kebabs. I freeze them and then they are my fall-back for when I need something quick. I can broil them from frozen in about half an hour! And leftovers are also great– I slice them up and serve with an assortment of things I tend to have on hand– tahini sauce*, roasted peppers, olives, etc.I just ordered some ground turkey to use for making these Asian Chicken Patties. This will be the same as the Chelo Kebab strategy, but with Asian flavors. I plan to cook them off in the oven and pair with Cauliflower Rice, Spiralized Zuchinni Noodles with an Asian dressing, or add to homemade chicken stock, along with veggies and fresh herbs, for an Asian-style meatball soup. I’ll probably also slice them cold and add them to salads.I also do this with Apple, Leek & Bacon Breakfast Sausages. They are quick to whip up in a food processor, can be flash-frozen and cooked to order in the oven. Pair with fruit or another kind of breakfast starch, you are set!Basically, anything (especially protein) you can make that is easy to reheat from the freezer in individual portions, is a good idea and worth doing. Especially if it’s a quick recipe. This way, you are also cutting back on giving your family leftovers too often, as you only need to cook the amount for that meal, and nothing is wasted. All three of these recipes are easy enough that you could delegate them to an older kids, spouse, or someone who is offering to help you out.
2. Veggie Prep. It is SO worth taking some time on the weekend to wash your produce and do some prepping for the week. This will save you a ton of time and make the idea of cooking dinner a lot less daunting every day. We pick up our order of produce on Friday, and on Saturday I try to get it all washed, prepped, and put away. The produce you work with will probably vary according to the seasons and where you live, but here are some of the things I do.
Each week, I slice my red peppers into thirds, and roast them on a baking sheet in the oven until their skins blister. Then I peel the skins off, and we have plenty of roasted red peppers for the week to add as a side, put into salads, etc.
Cauliflower is washed and chopped in the food processor for making Cauliflower Rice– I store it in a ziplock bag in the fridge for the week, and one cauliflower is usually enough for at least two meals. When I cook it up, I can customize it to complement the flavors of whatever meal I am making that night.I like to wash my salad greens, put them in a dishtowel, gather the corners and then swing it around outside to “spin” the lettuce. When the excess water is removed, storing it in that dishtowel is perfect– it stays nice and crisp for days, and is ready when I need to make the salad. You could also pre-chop and store them the same way.
For leafy greens like kale and chard, I slice the center stem out and chop it up, and store is separately from the leafy parts. I can use this in soups like any hard vegetable, or I saute it with onions until soft before I add the greens to the pan. As for the leaves, I chop those up into ribbons and store in a ziplock bag. When we need greens at dinner, it’s so quick to just throw them into the pan with some sauteed onions and cook quickly.
Which brings me to the next tip…
3. Pre-cook sauces/ sides for the coming week. This is so worth doing! It only takes a little time, but you will thank yourself all week. And some of these last forever or can be frozen, so you could also be thanking yourself a month later. I love to “pay it forward” to myself.
Sometimes this pre-cooking happens while I’m prepping my veggies– if I have a lot of cucumber, tomatoes, and peppers during the summer, I’ll just whip up a batch of Gazpacho in the food processor that we can enjoy during the week.
In the winter, I may go ahead and make a vegetable puree* out of squash, cauliflower, or root vegetables by steaming with broth*, and pureeing with butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Here’s a video tutorial on how I do that:
Another life-saver is making compound butter* that I can throw onto steamed vegetables, or cooked meats– like a flank steak*– in a hurry. It provides so much flavor. And you’re in luck, I have a video for that one (and other sauces/marinades), too!
Whenever I make Shakshukah, I double or triple the recipe, and keep enough for later in the week in the fridge, and freeze the rest. When it’s time to cook it up, I just add some sauce to my pan, crack in my eggs, and let it simmer a few minutes until it’s ready. So much flavor for a weekday morning!
*While most recipes I mention here can be found on my blog, these ones with the asterisks are found in my cookbook.
4. Marinate. Marinades are the best. Once you learn to make a handful of marinades, you will always have a flavorful meal at your fingertips. Along with batch cooking, one thing I love to do is whip up a couple of marinades, then apply it to my various meats and throw them in the freezer. Then I just need to move it to the fridge the night before, and I can quickly cook the meat up. Because of the way we get our meat (once a week, or every two weeks) this is super important! Whenever I freeze meat without first treating it with some flavor, I am SO reluctant to pull it out of the freezer. I know I’ll have to defrost it and then do something with it right away.
But if I can take a marinated Spatchcocked Chicken out, and then just broil it at dinner time, no problem!Here are three more recipes that you can use for making marinades:
- Garlic & Herb Greek Lamb Kebabs
- Spring to Life Chicken
- Thai Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass, Basil & Lime
And you can definitely double a batch of marinade and freeze half for future use. Are you picking up a theme here?
5. Cook double, whenever possible! Why not get twice the amount of food for roughly the same amount of time and effort? I know that some people do not like leftovers, but they are so practical. Most of my lunches are made with leftovers– often using last night’s protein into a big salad. Jeff packs his leftovers in glass containers to take to lunch, and it’s great. If your family doesn’t like repeats, then at least save it for a few days before serving again. Better yet: re-purpose.
- Make two Roasted Chickens. Serve one whole for dinner, then pull the meat off of the rest and shred for soups, making chicken salad, or adding to green salads. Use the bones for making chicken stock to make soups with that week. Usually when we have a whole chicken (either roasted whole or spatchcocked,) We eat the legs and wings for the main meal and I save the breast meat to chop up for salads, soups, etc.
- Turn a vegetable puree into the base for a soup by adding more broth, veggies and some leftover chicken/meatballs/etc.
- Lighten up a stew and turn it into a good soup by adding broth, fresh veggies and herbs.
Put together a mezza-style meal with various leftovers that would taste great together. (We do this all the time! These are some of our favorite meals.)6. Lastly, go for slow cooker/ one pot meals. I love it when I can throw a few items into a pot, set it over low heat, and have a truly delicious meal ready a few hours later. One of my favorite recipes for this is this Easy Moroccan Beef Stew. It’s so delicious, and honestly feels like cheating, for the small amount of effort required to make it. And following my own advice, I ALWAYS make double so we can enjoy it again.These are the things I do all the time while I am cooking. I look for ways to cut down on the amount of time I am cooking, and to use everything up in efficient and creative ways. A little forethought and my freezer are my best friends. I hope you have found some great ideas and recipes here! I love sharing really practical, unique meals you can easily make for your families.
Do you have a great time-saving tip for feeding your family well when you’re super busy? I’m sure we’d all love to hear it!