Meal planning doesn't have to make you wring your hands, stomp your feet and cause you to order pizza in frustration. The solution is simple if you plan a little bit ahead, keep a perpetual grocery list going, utilize easy recipes and keep your pantry stockpiled.
One trick that has always helped me out in a pinch has been to make extra and freeze it. Casseroles are the ideal dish for the freezer as they manage to hold up to the freezer beautifully without losing taste or texture.
So why not make one casserole a week as part of your regular weekly menu plan, and double the recipe? Then you will have a stash of casseroles in your freezer for another time.
But let's take this frozen casserole concept a step further. A little bit of planning for the future costs you nearly nothing in money and time and allows you to reach out and help someone else. An extra frozen casserole is easy stuff and could be a lifeline to a friend or relative in need.
Here's a fabulous recipe (easily doubled!) with friendly freezing tips included:
Chicken and Artichoke Casserole
5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut in 1" strips
4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 4-6 ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
2 tablespoons flour
1 15-ounce can chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, brown chicken lightly in 2 tablespoons butter, add the garlic and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and keep cooking until chicken mixture smells very garlicky.
Transfer browned chicken strips to a baking dish (for your extra casserole, use an aluminum pan that can be tossed after use); arrange artichoke hearts on top.
In the skillet, melt remaining butter and add the flour, whisking to blend (no lumps!). Add broth and cook until thickened and then pour over chicken mixture.
Bake the casserole, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Per Serving: 527 Calories; 17g Fat (29.6% calories from fat); 84g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 560mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 11 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 2 1/2 Fat.
Serving Suggestions: Some brown rice, steamed broccoli and a big green salad.
After the casserole has totally cooled, carefully place your casserole in a zipper-topped plastic freezer bag and remove all air before sealing. Huge 1 1/2 to 2 gallon bags are perfect for this. Here's an important note about freezer bags. This will aid in the casserole tasting fresh. Those bags are designed to take the cold and regular bags are more permeable and will not keep your food as fresh.
Next, mark the bag with what you made (Cathy's Cheesy Casserole, for example) and the date. Add the heating instruction, such as preheat oven to 350 degrees and cook for 35 minutes or until hot and bubbling, etc. Use a Sharpie pen for this task. It's the only pen that will hold up to the freezer without running. To keep your Sharpie from running off with the nearest child, hide your Sharpie in the freezer bag box or you'll never see it again. Remember that this hiding place you will take to your grave. Tell no one.
To cook the casserole, remove from the freezer the night before and place in the fridge to thaw overnight. By the time cooking time comes, it may not be completely thawed, but that's okay. You will most likely need to cook the casserole longer to reheat, but an easy way to do that is give the original cooking time and add the caveat, OR until hot and bubbly.
Getting your casserole dish back can be a hassle, so make sure you make yourself a note so you know where it is!
For more help putting dinner on your table check out her website at SavingDinner.com or her Saving Dinner Book series published by Ballantine. Copyright 2006; Leanne Ely. Used by permission in this publication.
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