Dinner diva: school night supper shortcuts

Dinner DivaBy Leanne Ely

During the summer, meals tend to be a lot more relaxed than they are during the school year. That just tends to be the nature of the beast.

With autumn comes routine, as those school days tend to add a lot of activities to the family calendar. Not only does one have to do all of the planning, grocery shopping, chopping, peeling, roasting, boiling, eating and cleaning related to the evening meal, but they also have to make sure that everyone gets to where they need to go, not to mention homework.

One is pulled in hundred directions at once on any given day—wouldn’t it be nice to have a little house elf to take care of dinner?

Now, don’t get all excited. I haven’t found any colonies of house elves. But I do have a secret weapon that helps make meals magically appear on the table. And guess what? You have one too. It’s called the freezer.

Freezer meals can save a ton of time in the kitchen on those chaotic school nights. One will not believe how much easier life can be. All that is needed is a plan.

 Plan around what’s on sale

When one happens upon a fabulous deal on meat, buy a bunch of it. Chicken, pork, beef—whatever is on sale, buy as much as the budget allows. Prep the meat into a variety of meals to pop into the freezer (meatballs, chicken strips, marinated drumsticks, or pork tenderloin). How easy will that be when the time comes to thaw something out for dinner? Exponentially easier than dealing with a frozen stiff chunk of ground chuck, I’ll tell you that much!

Each week, do a meal plan. I find Sundays a good day for this—before the hectic week gets going—but pick a day that works for you. Identify which nights are going to be too busy to worry about cooking. Make a note on the calendar to pull out one of your freezer meals that morning to thaw. Then, when supper time comes, just cook it. Easy peasy.

Freezer safety

You don’t want anyone to get sick. So, there are some safety considerations when freezing/thawing/cooking meals like this. I’ve shared these before, but they’re worth sharing again.

  –Always wash your hands before and after handling raw food.

  –Thaw your food in the fridge and never at room temperature. To quickly defrost your meal, put it in a water tight bag and place the bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water ensures that your meal stays cold, prohibiting any bacterial growth.

  –Don’t use the microwave to thaw food. This may be a fast method of defrosting food, but microwave oven power levels vary between different makes and mod-els. This can lead to foods not actually being thawed within safe temperature zones.

  –Always use the bottom shelf of your fridge to thaw raw meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. This will prevent juices from dripping down onto other foods. If you can put the item on a plate, even better.

  –Always keep raw meat, poultry, and fish away from other foods.

  –Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, fish, and poultry.

  –Store cooked foods in your fridge below 40 degrees F.

  –Foods that are stored in the fridge are safe for up to four days if stored below the recommended temperature. Foods containing seafood can be stored in the fridge up to two days.

  –Foods stored in the freezer are best used within two to four months but can be stored longer. Please keep in mind that food quality will suffer greatly the longer the item is kept in the freezer.

  –All foods should be heated to an internal temp of 165 F.

  –Allow cooked foods to cool completely before putting them in the freezer.

  –Don’t put glass containers directly from the freezer into the oven.

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