I've only just started using a family meal planner and I can't believe it's taken me until now to fully embrace it. I guess I've always had a rough idea of what we would have on maybe 3 of the nights in the week but it was still flexible and frequently, I'd realise too late that I'd not got the right ingredients - nothing more frustrating!
But now we work from a menu of about 5 multi-purpose dishes that I rotate regularly. Hands up, it's not extensive and it's not particularly adventurous but it's all largely made from scratch with a good helping of vegetables (hidden and visible) and my kids eat it all. Can't complain about that! So on this blog post, I'm going to share a few of my reliable recipes, along with some killer freezer tips for busy families.
Ragu that becomes Spag Bol & Lasagne
I'll start with my children's favourite - ragu. I've used a version of Delia's recipe for ragu for over a year now and once a week, I make a massive pot of it. It's SO easy to make and can be tweaked and changed if you don't have exactly everything on the list. It's best made in advance and slow cooked so I sometimes do it at the weekend or in the evening after the kids are in bed.
750g pack of beef mince
500g pack of pork mince
1 pack of pancetta or streaky bacon (optional)
2/3 big cloves of garlic
Half a head of celery (optional)
1 jar of sun-dried tomato paste (not a problem if you don't have this - just use lots of tomato puree)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 carton of passata (tinned tomatoes can be substituted here)
Beef Stock Cube
Water/wine - either - a glass full
Handful of chopped fresh basil (dried works just as well)
Salt & Pepper
Cook off both your minces in a separate frying pan and drain off the fat in a sieve. While doing this, fry your onions, celery and garlic in a large casserole with a lid, then add the pancetta (if using) and colour. Add the cooked and drained minced beef and pork.
Add all the other ingredients and mix, bringing back up to a bubbling heat. Add additional water or wine to make sure there is sufficient liquid to keep the dish from drying out during the slow cooking.
Bung in the oven for 2 or 3 hours. I often put it on for 2 and then leave it in the (cooling) oven overnight before putting it in the fridge the next day until I prep for dinner.
This can be used to make 2-4 dishes (depending on how big your family is). I always get 2 generous dinners for 6 - a spaghetti bolognaise on one day using the ragu as it is and just heating up as much as I need and serving with wholewheat spaghetti. With the remaining ragu, I layer it in a large lasagne dish with dry lasagne sheets. Pour over a jar of white sauce (or you can make your own using flour, butter and milk). Sprinkle cheese (parmesan or cheddar) on top and pre-cook it for 30 minutes, ensuring it doesn't get too coloured on top (use foil if necessary). Then it goes in the fridge until we need it, at which time, I cook it for another 30-40 minutes with foil over it. The double cooking is the secret to AMAZING lasagne.
Soup that turns into Curry Sauce
My next double up recipe is a red pepper and sweet potato soup, which makes an amazing chicken curry. We usually eat the soup as lunch at the weekend but I always make a double quantity. The soup is really easy - just 4 ingredients & season to taste.
4 Red Peppers - cut into chunks
2 Onions chopped
4 Sweet Potatoes - cut into chunks
1.5 litres of Veg or Chicken Stock & .5 litre of boiling water.
Fry off the onions for a couple of minutes, throw in the peppers for a bit, then the sweet potatoes (no need to peel - just cut off any rough bits). Then add the hot stock and simmer until all the veg is soft. Add more water/stock as required. Blitz with a blender and serve with crusty bread (see freezer tip below).
I keep a tub of any leftover soup then and a few days later, I fry off some chicken in a large wok, add a couple of dessert spoonfuls of Korma paste then as much soup as necessary to make a nice consistency. The EASIEST curry ever and it's chock full of vegetable goodness!
The last dish that features every week is our leftover rice. It's basically a paella style recipe that uses up anything that's left in the fridge - chicken, sausages, chorizo, prawns - and it's one of the few dinners that I can whip up when there's literally nothing left as it's a proper store cupboard & freezer dish.
2 x Peppers (any colour)
2 cups of Brown Rice
4 cups of Stock
Leftover cooked meat or a bag of frozen prawns
Frozen Peas and/or Corn
Fry off the peppers and celery and/or onions with some olive oil. Add the rice, stir in the tomato puree and then immediately add the hot stock. Reduce the temperature and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Stir the dish and add more stock if necessary. Add the frozen peas, prawns, chicken etc. heat through and serve. This is great with some sweet chill sauce or for the older members of the family, good old Tabasco.
Family Freezer Tips
I'm finishing with a few freezer tips to help make the weekly dinner dilemma even easier. Your freezer is your friend when it comes to feeding the family:
- buy chopped frozen onions, peppers, herbs and garlic. They're not that much much more expensive than fresh, never go off and make prepping dinner even faster.
- always have a bag of frozen prawns at the ready. Add pesto, cooked pasta & toasted pine nuts for another quick dinner.
- Iceland have the most amazing range of frozen breads that can be baked for 10-15 minutes. Best of the range are the crusty round rolls and the ciabatta loaf.
- freeze any leftover dinners in single portions. Then once every few weeks, you can have a mix and match dinner where everyone choses their favourite dinner from the leftover portions. These single portions are also great for nights when not everyone is home for dinner.
- if you've a bag of potatoes about to go off, don't let them! Simply peel, quarter, parboil, toss in oil and freeze in a bag. They will make perfect roasties, cooked from frozen for about 40 minutes until crispy.
- Nothing to do with dinner but keep a bag of marshmallows in your freezer - they make an AMAZING ice pack with the bonus of being a yummy treat to make whomever's been injured feel better :)
Happy healthy meal planning!