We have three young children who are home with me all day, and due to special diets, I have to cook practically all our meals from scratch. I don't do a lot of "freezer meals" (though I'll freeze leftovers if we happen to have a lot of them), and can't seem to get into the habit of planning a week's meals in advance, but I've figured out an overall plan that seems to work okay. My #1 tip: Since my energy and patience are pretty much spent by late afternoon, I've found that things go MUCH more smoothly when we make breakfast and lunch our main meals. Some people believe that it's healthier to eat this way -- having a heavier lunch, and a lighter dinner -- but in our family's case, it's definitely more convenient as well.
Breakfast is usually eggs, fruit, and plain yogurt or cottage cheese. For a change, sometimes I'll make oatmeal, or savory waffles or muffins (reduce the sweetener to practically nothing, and add diced fresh or dried onion, grated cheese, etc. to the batter). On the weekend, we'll have the same type of thing, with extra treats such as sausage or bacon.
Lunch is the sort of thing most people have for dinner. Depending on how far in advance I'm preparing it, it could be any of the following:
Crock pot: Pot roast, chicken soup, Irish stew
Oven: Meatballs, baked fish & oven fries, baked chicken thighs, meatloaf, salmon loaf, tuna casserole, homemade mac & cheese
Stove top: hamburgers, salmon burgers, pork chops, lamb shoulder chops, beef stew, clam chowder, stir-fry, split pea soup with sausage
If the meat or fish is frozen, I don't thaw it before cooking (unless the packaging is sticking, or I need to make meatballs or something). I just add some extra time, and keep checking until it's done; it always seems to come out tasting fine.
To repeat what others have said, our "side dishes," if any, are just plain vegetables and grains, and they're cooked in an electric steamer or a rice cooker. The timer and auto-off features are wonderful features for those of us who tend to get distracted.
Dinner is served early, around 5:00, and it's pretty much an afterthought. I just serve up any odds and ends that are left over from lunch and breakfast, along with some sort of quick and easy child-friendly food, e.g.:
- Oatmeal, if we didn't have it for breakfast
- Baked potato (or sweet potato) topped with ham/tuna/etc.
- Cheese on toast; tuna or salmon melts; quesadillas
- PB & J
- English muffin pizzas: ketchup, sliced veg & meat, cheese
- Bread with homemade liver pate
- Baked beans & sliced nitrate-free hot dogs
- Homemade cream of vegetable soup: carrot, squash, potato, etc.
- Black bean soup: homemade stock, canned beans, sour cream
- Pasta with frozen peas, cheese, & a little cream
- Trader Joe's refrigerated pre-cooked lentils, frozen rice, & plain yogurt
Before the children went gluten-free, they sometimes had Amy's frozen burritos, which are pretty cheap at Costco -- even cheaper if they split one.
If that doesn't look like enough food, I'll add some of the following: milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, dried fruit, canned fruit, vegetable sticks, guacamole, whole grain crackers. Basically, I just keep shoving food at the little munchkins until they're full. This can take a surprisingly long time, especially if they're extra hungry from playing outside (or from having turned up their noses at lunch
). My 3 yo DS, in particular, is like a gannet. "I'm stiw hung-a-wee!!!"
After the children are in bed, DH and I will often have a grown-up treat such as some special cheese and sliced fruit, and possibly a relaxing beverage, LOL.