UACES Facebook Busy Nights Call for Easy Dinners
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The ballfields are busy several nights a week. The parking lots are crowded, especially when cars are parked where that is NOT a parking space. School programs are happening most nights. So how do you feed your family on those nights?!?

Busy Nights Call for Easy Dinners

by Katie Cullum, White County Family Consumer Science Agent

retro housewife in kitchen
You don't have to stay in the kitchen all the time to get quick & healthy meals these days!

I really have to plan my dinners during soccer and baseball seasons. Some mornings, I throw something in my slow cooker.  If I’m lucky, we can have leftovers the next night.  Other mornings are way too crazy to think about cooking, so I have some other things on standby.  Why do I bother though?  Because the drive-thru or take-out cost money!  I can feed my family healthier food on less money – but I do have to plan!

So I’m going to share some of my tips and hope you can share some of yours over on my Facebook page!

Slow Cookers

Like I mentioned above, my slow cooker is one of my secret weapons.  I can take a lower-priced cut of meat and it turns out tender after hours of cooking.  Inexpensive cuts of pork or beef can cook long periods of time – while you’re working or going to an early game.  Chicken may not need as long but can still be managed.

Electric Pressure Cookers

This newer appliance can cook food quickly while still giving you tenderness.  I’ve set my InstantPot on to cook a quiche while at the ballgame.  When we got home, it was hot and ready to eat!  It can be flexible also – slow cooking, or quick cooking!  One of my favorite uses (and most frequent) is “boiling” eggs.  They are really steamed, and not boiled.  But the eggs are pretty quick to cook and easy to peel.  I can use the eggs in salads or make deviled eggs. If you need more ideas for using this appliance, check out Carla Due's publication Cooking Under Pressure. 

Prepping Ahead

I like to keep cooked meat or poultry in my freezer. I stock up when I find a good sale.  I can quickly make a skillet meal, a chicken pot pie, tacos, and more.  Check out my Quick Cooking on a Budget video about cooking chicken.  What chicken dishes can you make with cooked chicken?

Chicken Fruit Salad

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Quesadillas

Chicken & Cheese Enchiladas

I’ve also gotten ground beef on sale before. Ten-pound chubs can be a lot of ground beef but they can also feed your family for several nights! 

Here’s how I go about freezing ground beef:

  1. Decide how you want to use it. I usually take out 2 pounds for meatloaves.  That leaves 8 pounds to cook for freezing.  So I get out 8 paper plates and line them with 2 paper towels on each one. Label 8 freezer bags with the date and “1 pound cooked ground beef.”
  2. Get out the big pans! I usually can cook around 2 pounds in my big skillet. I can also get out a big stockpot.  I start cooking one, and then get the other going.
  3. Cook and stir to break up the ground beef (you can use a potato masher or a specialty utensil but I just use a big wooden spoon). I have an infrared thermometer to check the temperature – it needs to get to 160 degrees F.
  4. Once the ground beef is done, I use a big spoon with holes in it to drain the fat in the pan. Then I start putting the beef on the paper plates.  I mostly “eye” it – as I cook, I try to get the same amount of cooked ground beef on each plate.  I use more paper towels to try to get more of the grease out.
  5. Repeat as needed. It takes me about 30-60 minutes to get it all cooked, drained, and bagged.  I put the bags in the refrigerator until they are cold.  To freeze, I flatten the bags and spread them out as much as possible in the freezer so they will freeze quickly and fully. When they are frozen, I can stack them together. 
  6. Now I can use a bag for tacos, burritos, skillet meal, Cheeseburger Pie, etc. 

Please share how you deal with busy nights – whether because of work, kid’s working, kid’s school projects like theatre or band, sports, church, 4-H or other club meetings/events, etc.