Sunday, October 06, 2013

Make-Ahead Meals and Miracles

Several times a year my job takes me away from home for a few days at a time and I like to prepare meals for my family while I’m gone.  This week I’m heading to Orlando, Florida for the annual Children’s Miracle Network Celebration, an incredibly moving conference celebrating children who are battling or have overcome serious illness or injury.

The most rewarding part of my job at Dairy Queen Canada (and my favourite part) is the work I do to support Children’s Miracle Network – a non-profit agency that raises funds for children’s hospitals across North America.  DQ has a number of initiatives throughout the year to raise funds for these hospitals in Canada (the biggest being Miracle Treat Day) and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team that makes these programs happen. 

I also have a personal connection to Children’s Miracle Network as I’ve had to draw on the expertise of my local hospital, McMaster in Hamilton, many times.  From B’s specialized care by an orthopaedic surgeon after a bad break in his arm to O’s first days in the neo-natal intensive care unit and several trips to emergency, McMaster has provided us with incredible care and service. 

Now, back to the meals!  Today I spent a couple of hours preparing dinners for my boys to enjoy while I’m gone.  Don’t get me wrong, Jason is more than capable and willing to cook meals in my absence, but I like to make things at least a little bit easier for him while he’s single parenting for a few days (note I did NOT say babysitting!!).  Not to mention, cooking is really my “thing” in this family and it makes me feel like at least they’ll still have a little bit of my love when I can’t be there with them.

So, while I’m applauding and wiping tears as I watch the Champion children tell their stories and receive their medals, here’s what the boys will be eating:

Tuesday:  Lasagna and steamed broccoli
Wednesday:  Mexican Pasta and green beans
Thursday:  Crockpot Chicken Stew
Friday:  Take out!

These are really easy meals that are no-brainers.  Truly. They simply take a bit of time, that’s all.  No expertise required.

First up, lasagna.  Do I really need to write about it?  I mean, who hasn’t made a lasagna before?  Take the easy way out and buy oven-ready pasta and a jar of sauce if you want to.  I usually have some home made tomato sauce in the freezer for just such occasions, so that’s what I used today.  Cooked some ground chicken, mixed in the sauce, some cottage cheese (shhhhh don’t tell the teen!) and then layered it all with some mozzarella.  Seriously easy. And lasagna freezes well. When Jason puts it in the oven to finish cooking, he'll grate some more cheese on top and cook it uncovered for about 30 minutes. 

I don’t really like to have pasta more than once a week, but it’s fast and easy and it’s not going to hurt anyone once in awhile to have it twice one week.   So, next up is Mexican Pasta.  We had this for dinner one night last week and knowing that I was going away this week, I made a double batch.  Again, super simple.  Ground chicken (or turkey), cumin, chili powder and garlic powder; just cook it all together (I wing it with quantities for spices but if you really want specifics go for say a tbsp, a tbsp and a tsp respectively).  Add some black beans and frozen corn then about a cup of salsa (I much prefer the fresh salsas you can find in the deli section of the grocery store).  Add in some already cooked elbow macaroni (approx 2 cups cooked) and then grate a bunch of Monterey Jack cheese into the mixture and stir.  Cheddar would work too, but the Monterey Jack we buy from the market is so good and worth every penny.  Top it with some avocado slices, some more grated cheese and some sour cream if you like.  Cook a green veg on the side or have a salad and call it dinner.  

Chicken Stew is next on the list.  I just wing this one too – no real recipe, but here’s what I do.  Peel and chop two carrots, two parsnips, one small rutabaga, two potatoes and put it all in a large bowl. Add some salt and pepper and some frozen peas.  Cut up a couple of chicken breasts into small bite-size pieces and add to the vegetables.  Crush up a chicken bouillon cube into the bowl.  Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme.  Stir it all up and put it in large freezer bags.  When it’s time to cook it, dump it in the crockpot (frozen is OK) with a cup to a cup and a half of water, stir it and let it cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.  About a half hour before you’re going to eat it, turn the crockpot to high.  Mix a tablespoon of flour with 2 tablespoons of cold water and add to the crockpot, give it a stir and let it bubble for about a half hour.  This will thicken it a bit, but this step is totally optional.  Done like dinner.  For real.

Making meals with real ingredients isn’t that difficult, it just takes a little bit of time.  To me, it’s super important to meal plan, eat dinner as a family and make fresh meals.  You can do it too.  It’s really pretty easy as I hope these meals have shown you! 

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