Summer is a busy time for our family and we were digging for fast, simple recipes every night last week. Thanks to some creative planning, each meal took 20 minutes or less to prepare and used inexpensive ingredients we had in the pantry or freezer.
My favorite trick is to plan meals that work together throughout the week. Instead of planning five to seven separate meals, use the ingredients from one in one or two other meals.
You'll save valuable time and money doing this. It's also more likely that you'll stick to a meal plan (and be less tempted to order out) if half of the meal is already prepared!
Double-duty meals often mean that I'll throw a few extra chicken breasts or pork chops on the stove or grill.
Having a pre-cooked meat means that sandwiches, Panini, and stews take just minutes to prepare. Double-duty meals could also be planned leftovers double the recipe, and eat twice for the same amount of effort and prep work.
This week's double-duty meal featured a box of spaghetti and a jar of pasta sauce. Pasta can be a great meal-stretcher and a very inexpensive side dish.
I like to serve spaghetti on hectic summer nights where we won't eat until later in the day it's cooler, so we don't mind the warm food or heat from the stove. And because pasta cooks quickly, I can have dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes.
Looking ahead, I knew that the week wasn't going to get much cooler. This was the perfect time to crank up the stove and make a giant pot of pasta! I added a salad and 12 grain bread to round out the meal. The total cost? We spent about $2 $1 for the box of pasta and 50 cents for a half jar of spaghetti sauce, plus a few pennies for the lettuce and bread. Now that's a frugal meal!
Two days later, I pulled the leftover spaghetti out of the refrigerator. It was time for stage two of my double-duty meal: easy Chicken Parmesan.
Chicken Parmesan takes a long time to prepare and involves both the stovetop and oven. "Easy" Chicken Parmesan does not.
In a shallow dish, mix an equal portion of Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. In a second shallow dish, pour a small amount of Italian dressing (a beaten egg will work if you don't have Italian dressing).
Preheat a pan over medium-high heat, with a small amount of oil. After slicing chicken breasts into thin layers (2 to 3 layers per breast), coat each chicken fillet with the dressing and bread crumbs and add to the pan. Turn breasts once, about five minutes on each side.
When the chicken was nearly cooked through, I added some pasta sauce to the spaghetti dish and heated it in the microwave for two minutes. Dinner is served!
Our second meal included one pound of chicken breasts, which costs $2 on sale at our local grocery store. I also used about 25 cents worth of pasta sauce and less than a dollar's worth of bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and salad dressing. This delicious meal cost us about $3 to prepare.
The total of two meals, which each fed two adults with leftovers? About $5.
Now it's your turn. I challenge you to create your own double-duty meal this week.
E-mail your favorites to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I receive some really great ideas, I'll feature your recipe in an upcoming column.