Not a natural cook and out of ideas... - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 02-14-2010, 10:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm a SAHM with my 8.5 mo old DS. Even though I am home all day, I just can't manage to get it together for dinner when my DH comes home. I am not a natural born cook. I can make things for myself to eat (I'm satisfied with just grazing all day), but I'm a vegetarian and I eat most everything organic--stuff like quinoa, hummus, tofu, tempeh, and my husband doesn't like that "strange" stuff I eat. He can't cook and doesn't eat very well on his own, despite working out 7 days a week. I've told him about the importance of nutrition, but hate to nag. I can follow a recipe book, but don't have the time (or want to) to spend an hour or more in the kitchen.

So, back to my original issue...my DH comes home around 5:15pm, which coincides with when I need to feed our LO and nurse him a bit to tide him over until bedtime, which is between 6:30/7pm. He starts to get fussy sometimes as early as 5:30/6pm. So, with all that going on, I am stressed about dinner. Plus, my husband goes to bed at the same time as our LO because he has to be up at 4:30a, so that doesn't offer the option to eat later either. I frequently will make my husband some whole wheat spaghetti , stirfry, or a handful of other things (though that is getting boring), and I will either eat standing up while cooking knowing that if the LO is crying, one of us will need to hold him so the other can eat. So, we don't have nice, easygoing dinners where we all sit down together and eat. I am hoping that will change once LO starts eating regular foods. We are still on homemade purees. Though my main issue is that I still don't know what in the heck I am going to make us to eat as a family.

I won't cook with meat, and our LO will be raised a vegetarian. I also don't like to rely too much on frozen dinners since they are so high in sodium, though I will have them occasionally for a lunch.

I'm sure there are fast recipes out there. I suppose I can find a 30 min or less veg cookbook. It never seems to only take 30 min though. There's the prep, clean up, etc.

Certainly there are others out there who don't cook. What do you do for your family?
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#2 of 20 Old 02-14-2010, 10:15 PM
 
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Well here is the thing about prep - it does not have to happen right then. A lot of SAHM I know end up chopping/prepping everything on grocery day so that cooking is just that, the cooking part.

Google took me to: http://www.veggiemealplans.com/

Make one new meal a week and if you both like it add it into your "rounds." If you are wiling to cook meat have chicken breasts around and even chop/cook them all on grocery day and add a scoop of chicken breast to his portion of whatever you cook after you take out the stuff you/baby will eat.

Especially in winter a slow-cooked soup all day could be lunch and dinner for you and DH, you could do the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day and have a fresh loaf of bread ready at 5 when he comes in and he can add cooked chicken to his soup if he wants meat.

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#3 of 20 Old 02-14-2010, 11:58 PM
 
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The only reason I know what's for supper is because I have made a list of all the things I know how to cook, and create a calendar of what's for dinner. My grocery list is based upon what I plan for dinner for the coming week.

As for ideas, I love the versatility of black beans and lentils. I use black beans in my tacos and enchiladas. Lentils are used for honey baked lentils, lentil pie, snobby joes, and soups.
Recipezarr is one of my favorite sites for recipe ideas.

I agree with a pp about prep work before the "witching hour". Maybe prep work could happen during the afternoon nap.

Good Luck!

Twin boys (2/05) and little sister (10/07)
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#4 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 12:25 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Great ideas! Also, as for prep work during naps, my son won't take naps unless he is nursed to sleep, and generally it's only one afternoon nap if I'm lucky. If I leave, he generally senses it and wakes up anywhere from 10 min to 45 min later. I'm usually trying to get other stuff done during that time like showering, eating and laundry.

I don't know how working parents do it! I have a newfound admiration.

Also, my husband is fine without meat at home and he rarely eats it out. I just don't know how to plan an entire meal.

I can just eat a sweet potato with some sour cream and call that a dinner, but he has a huge appetite (probably from all that exercise) and I never know how to make a complete meal for him. I don't know how my mom would make a main course and a couple of sides and frequently dessert to boot, all while being a nurse. So, I'm struggling with the whole concept of a "proper" dinner. Where is my inner Rachel Ray?
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#5 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 01:03 AM
 
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Something like a double batch of soup, or pasta/grain/bean salad that you could do once a week and then have to supplement meals might work well for you and your dh - a lot of lentil soups are very hands-off, grain or pasta salads can be very simple with just 2-3 veggies that need cutting up. You'd have something around then that'd be easy to add to a meal.

During those difficult-to-find-time-to-make-dinner stages here, some of my favorite & fastest meals were things like honey-baked lentils, baked potatoes with canned veg chili, egg cheese and spinach sandwiches, or doctored-up canned black beans (with some onions, peppers, spices) tossed in a tortilla.
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#6 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 01:25 AM
 
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I am a natural cook, and I find it really challenging to get any cooking done now that I have a baby. So don't beat yourself up!

How I come up with "what to cook" when I'm not inspired to cook anything in particular is to think of it as a kind of column system:

1 protein
1 starch
1 cooked vegetable
1 raw vegetable

Then I just fill in the blanks based on what's in the fridge/freezer/pantry. We eat meat, so that might look like:

chicken breasts in honey-mustard sauce
jasmine rice
steamed broccoli
salad

Or I can combine columns or leave them out, if I'm desperate. Like:

grilled cheese sandwiches (starch+some protein)
tomato soup (this totally counts as a cooked vegetable, haha)
carrot and celery salad

When I'm doing more one-pot/casserole/crockpot meals (which I love for the time savings, but I have to plan them in advance, I can't just start cooking 40 minutes before we want to eat), I think of it more like:

main dish
starchy side
something with vegetables

So that might look like

black bean soup
corn tortillas
salsa

I agree with the PP that it's a great idea to make a list of everything you know how to cook, and just stick it on the fridge. You might even sort it into literal columns, and put how long it takes to cook behind each item. Then when it's time to cook dinner, if you haven't preplanned anything, you just grab one from each column:

curried dal
flatbread
steamed cauliflower
cucumber salad

For instance.

You mentioned that you like sweet potatoes (so do I!) - they are such a great dinner item. You might serve them with a protein and a veggie, and a really quick version could be:

sweet potato with sour cream (10 minutes in the microwave)
cheese omelet
steamed broccoli
salad (tear open bagged salad, toss with vinaigrette)

For something like this, all you'd have to do would be the potatoes, either in the microwave (wrap them in foil afterward, they'll stay warm for a while) or toss them in the oven in advance. When your husband gets home, you hand him the baby and steam the broccoli, toss the salad, and cook the omelet. Under 10 minutes from when he walks in the door to sitting down to dinner.

Do you wear your son? Mine sounds like yours: he wakes up a lot if I leave while he's napping, but if I just put him in a carrier and do prep, he'll often either tolerate it or fall asleep.

And, about sitting down to dinner: it's important to us that we sit down to eat whenever we can, but our little guy often declines to be put down. So, um, he's had some food dropped on his head. Them's the breaks.

Science-loving mama to one little guy (11/09).
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#7 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 01:32 AM
 
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My son is a little younger then yours and our family setup is similar, I;m vegan, my son is being raised veggie and my husband is a "opportunistic meat eater". I do love to cook, but with my son and everything else i need to do, i can't do a lot of cooking like i used to do. As far as meal planning, i do tend to keep try to keep it short and try to break it up throughout the day. Babywearing, esp when he is asleep really helps too.

I generally change it up every month, but my general approach is to have a 'theme' for each night and go from there. I also have a few super fast meals- like red lentil soup- which i try to always have stuff for when i run out of time. Also, i do try to double things like sauces, soups, pie crusts and pizza/bread doughs and put stuff in the freezer. I also always make at least enough for us to eat both dinner and the next day's lunch. When we clean up, i pack my husband's lunch and it saves money and i know he is eating better.

some of the stuff i make and keep on hand on weekends: marinated tofu- if you use it in a day or 2, boil it and throw new tofu in. i make seitan and my own fake cheeses b.c they don't have them locally, they don't even sell morningstar farms in our local grocery, and cook up 2 or 3 dried beans but most people could stock their pantry with these things for quick meals.

Some of the themes i can think of that I do: breakfast for dinner, roasty night (roasted veggies- so easy, can add marinated tofu if you want, or do a diff protein and starch), soup night, pasta night, rice and beans, stir fry, pizza (i use my bread machine to make the dough, maybe do calzones or pizzas), burger night, stuffed baked potatoes (we love them with baked beans and a side of kale, but sometimes i do twice baked style, or calconnan style), crock pot night (i often just sup seitan for a chicken crockpot recipe), salad for dinner(one of my faves, but in winter my hubby isnt a big fan) and of course left over night!

I don't know if that's helpful, but i hope it is. Sometimes reading what others do gets me all revved up and full of new ideas, i hope it does for u too.

also my meals are gen a starch a veg (or two or more) and a protein
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#8 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 02:48 PM
 
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I plan out meals once a week. Once it's on the menu, we might not have it the night planned, but we'll have it that week. This means less trips to the store, and most importantly, I don't have to *think* at 4pm!!

I do a lot of prep work earlier in the day, then throw it together closer to supper time.

I hope you figure out something that works for you!
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#9 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 04:03 PM
 
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I just wanted to throw out an "I totally feel you!!" message... I'm in the same boat! DH comes home from work starving because he only eats salad for lunch and often comes home late. If he gets home and dinner isn't ready to go on the table, he's cranky and hungry and it's not pretty for either one of us. Sometimes I'll just have some little appetizer ready to eat right when he gets home, so he doesn't starve while I'm finishing dinner. That way he can nibble while he's holding DD, and I have two hands free to cook. Cheese and crackers, little triangles of toast, baby carrots and dip, chips & salsa, a bowl of nuts - whatever. I usually make him open the wine while he nibbles, too.

DD rarely naps during the day, too. But now that she's 9 months, she'll tolerate playing on the floor nearby while I cook, as long as I don't leave her too long. I start planning dinner right when we wake up, thinking through all the steps it will take to get the meal on the table by evening. Then, every time I have a spare moment, I can slip off to the kitchen and do something to help the process along: chop an onion, slice carrots, wash lettuce for salad, whatever.

I also second the PP's suggestions of babywearing - by the time DD was 8 months, I could wear her on my back to cook. (Just watch for grabby little hands near knives and cooking pots! We've had a few close calls...)

DH isn't a big fan of "weird" food, but I've slowly convinced him to try things by adding them to stuff he's already familiar with. Quinoa doesn't seem so strange when it's tossed into a vegetable soup, for example, and he loves tofu as long as it's fried. The important thing is to keep the flavors "normal" and predictable. DH has learned to trust me when I put new things in front of him, because I've taken the time to learn what flavors he likes (and doesn't). Sushi, for example, was a disaster that I've never repeated with him. I miss making it, but I'll have to save it for some time that he's not home, because he can't stand the stuff.

So, here are my go-to suppers (we're veggie, too):
  • vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and salad: I make a big pot of soup with whatever's in the fridge, throw in a can of beans or some red lentils for protein, then freeze the leftovers in quart containers to be reheated for emergency I-forgot-to-plan dinners. Sometimes if we don't have cheese, I'll just make toast.
  • tofu-vegetable curry, brown rice and yogurt with cucumber: I find Indian food to be some of the easiest cuisine for us. I'll make a big batch of cucumber raita, then serve it for a couple of days, rotating out the curries and rice as necessary. You can do a lot of the prep for the curry at night after everybody else is asleep, then throw it together to simmer during the day.
  • tofu scrambler, mashed potatoes, and steamed green beans or broccoli (you can buy tofu scrambler mix at the supermarket in a box, if you don't want to risk mixing up the spices yourself)
  • curried chick peas with tomatoes, sauteed spicy green beans and brown rice
  • pasta with red sauce from a jar (I throw in 1/2 can of beans or a handful of dry TVP for protein), salad, and garlic bread
  • falafel on pita bread with cucumber-tomato-feta cheese salad and hummus (you can buy really easy falafel mix at some specialty stores - just add water, allow to soak for 15 minutes, then shape into patties and pan-fry)
  • tostadas (I chop up onions, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, hot chili peppers, open a can of refried beans and a bag of shredded cheese, zap a handful of frozen corn kernels, and pan-fry a few corn tortillas - then we build the tostadas ourselves, pop in the microwave to melt the cheese, and eat with chips and salsa.)
  • pancakes, eggs and vegetarian sausage (why not breakfast for dinner? It's a nice change)
  • a big giant salad with tons of toppings - nuts, chopped fruit, beans, artichoke hearts, pickled beets, whatever. And some bread.
  • polenta topped with black beans and salsa, with some kind of vegetable.

If I'm feeling really ambitious, I'll try to plan ahead a bit while I'm cooking. Here's a good example: if I'm making something with loads of veggies in it, I'll put all the peelings together in a pot with an extra onion, some garlic, a bay leaf and some celery, cover the whole mess with a bunch of water, and simmer all afternoon. Then I have a whole pot of vegetable stock to use when I make soup the next day. Easy, healthy, and less wasted food. Another good example would be: if I'm making tostadas, I'll deliberately cut up more veggies than I need, then I can mix them into a big salad the next day.

If all else fails, eat cheese and crackers for dinner, then make a big batch of popcorn later in the evening and eat it while you watch a movie. My DH is pretty forgiving of this particular meal planning strategy, especially if I accompany it with a six-pack from the corner store.

I'm traveling the world with my kids without ever leaving home and blogging about it -- watch, taste, and share our adventures at TheGlobalStayCation.com!
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#10 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 04:10 PM
 
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Dinner time can be so stressful with kids are cranky and hanging on you while you try to cook. I find the days when I use the slow cooker so much easier. I throw the food in in the morning and by dinner time, it's ready to eat. We're not vegetarians, but I know there are tons of slow cooker recipes on the internet and some good slow cooker cookbooks out there. There was even a thread on MDC awhile back where people posted their favorite slow cooker recipes and I'm sure there's some good vegetarian ones on there.
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#11 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 04:35 PM
 
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Re: prep.
I started doing this because veg goes bad here really quickly and I was throwing alot of stuff out. It's proved so time-saving though too....
I finely chop a couple of onions and keep them in a ziplock in the freezer, sometimes along with some minced garlic or herbs if they're laying around. Take out a handful as needed.
This week I sauteed a big lot of mushrooms that were on sale, just in garlic and olive oil. Again in a bag in freezer.
Also like to roast peppers, de-skin them and keep them in the fridge for a couple of days. So versatile for adding to pizza, soups, roasted veg and grilled cheese sandwiches, as a side with chicken breasts etc etc

Dh is a picky eater and used to love french fries. Before he gets home I'll chop some regular and some sweet potatoes into wedges, leave skins on, add a glug of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and some herbs and spices. (He loves Mrs Dash salt free onion garlic). 20-30 mins before he gets in I throw them onto a pre-warmed tray in the oven and serve with anything.

I will say that 8-12 months was a hard time for me with DS at witching hour. It got so much easier when I started doing things with him like washing the carrots, playing with potato peelings. Jobs often took twice as long but he was happy and I was less stressed.

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#12 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 04:43 PM
 
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Me too! I've been really struggling with this since leaving the nest actually. My parents loved cooking and had a fully stocked kitchen, but the habits I picked up living in college have resulted in now having a snack bar as opposed to a kitchen lol.

It seems I go to the grocery store and buy a bunch of healthy stuff on their own merits, but somehow none of it is a meal.

And then, even if I do get motivated to make a meal, I don't have the right utensils, pans, spices, cooking ingredients, etc on hand at that moment.

So I am going to watch this thread....

Mama to expecting Babe 2
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#13 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 05:03 PM
 
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I was thinking about this more, and remembered that in my more-organized pre-baby days, I was dorky enough to keep an Excel document where I planned our meals. I would plan a week in advance, shop once a week specifically for those meals, and try to do at least one new meal a week. Which we would then rate on a scale of 1-10. If it was a winner, it would go into the permanent rotation.

Like I said... dorky.

Also, when we first got married, I asked my husband to give me a list of his favorite meals. So if I couldn't come up with something for Thursday night, I'd just pull something from that list.

Indian food is the easiest+fastest food for me to make when we're having a meat-free night: make a pot of rice, make some raita, and then make a curry with a can of chickpeas and whatever veggies you have in the fridge. Serve with some mango pickle from a jar and it seems like you actually planned a meal in advance instead of panicking at 30 minutes to dinner.

ETA: you can ask your husband to hold the baby and do a bunch of veggie prep on Sunday evening, that can really help. You could, for instance, chop a bunch of onions and keep them in the fridge and just grab a handful to go in any kind of curry/stirfry/soup/stew you make. Or chop celery and carrots and peppers: they can go in other dishes, or be served raw in a salad or as nibbles. And have some washed lettuce ready to go.

I guess I think of this kind of cooking as modular: you have five things in the fridge and you just combine them in different ways. It's not elegant, but it gets the job done.

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#14 of 20 Old 02-15-2010, 05:11 PM
 
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Tacos/Mexican food are my fastest food. Heat a can of refried beans, some tortillas, shred some cheese, chop some veggies, add salsa and sour cream, and you're good to go. If you just have cheese and tortillas (and frozen spinach is good), you've got quesadillas. If you have chips, it's nachos. And, if you are feeling ambitious, and you have enchilada sauce around, you can make enchiladas.

I have a stir-fry sauce we like (4 T soy, 2 T rice wine vinegar, 1 T dark brown sugar), and so I can make stir fry over rice quickly, too. I usually keep a can of cashews in the pantry just for this.

I think adding a couple of quick meals that really feel like meals, instead of snacks, would help, too. Even better if they are made out of pantry staples you always keep around.
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#15 of 20 Old 02-16-2010, 10:59 AM
 
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I'd like to suggest http://www.amazon.com/Moosewood-Rest.../dp/0609609122 . A few meat recipes but mostly veggie.

And just so op knows, my dc are 2 and I still struggle with dinner! Planning ahead has made a world of difference. I write out 5-7 meals before I do my grocery shopping. I also start thinking about dinner in the morning and doing any prep as time arises. Too many things can go wrong at 4 pm.

 Single mama to two wild and sweet toddlers 2/08
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#16 of 20 Old 02-16-2010, 12:08 PM
 
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[QUOTE=lkmiscnet;15069891]Great ideas! Also, as for prep work during naps, my son won't take naps unless he is nursed to sleep, and generally it's only one afternoon nap if I'm lucky. If I leave, he generally senses it and wakes up anywhere from 10 min to 45 min later. QUOTE]

This is completely off topic, but might help. Are you swaddling your baby? I advocate swaddling to encourage more restful sleep. Mine were still swaddled at a year. Past that significantly, actually. Anyway, it's a thought.

Twin boys (2/05) and little sister (10/07)
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#17 of 20 Old 02-17-2010, 06:33 AM
 
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Dinner time can be stressful here too, so I've learned to just do everything earlier in the day. DS naps most late AM/lunch so I have time to do quick prep. Eating out isn't an option because the only place close to us is greasy burgers.

We use our crockpot once or twice a week for soups.

I often prep and bake the meal over lunch and then just reheat at dinner time.

Freezer meals-I do these on weekends when DH is home and can watch DS. When it's a rough day, I just take one out and pop it in the oven.

When we have leftovers that I know we're not going to eat right away, I put it in a small container and freeze. On rough days, we can take them out and reheat. We may not both eat the same thing, but it's something hot and home cooked.

Skillet-I can whip up chicken fajitas in five minutes, so easy especially if everything is already chopped up and ready to go. I most always have these ingredients frozen and chopped in my freezer.

If all else fails, I do spaghetti.

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#18 of 20 Old 02-17-2010, 12:30 PM
 
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Just a little suggestion, but baby led weaning saved me a TON of time and hassle making seperate meals or purees and removed the time spent feeding baby. By 7months my second dd was sitting in her high chair shovelling handfuls of spaghetti or whatever else we were eating into her mouth while we ate in peace. She still eats 200times better than her elder sister who was given homemade purees.
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#19 of 20 Old 02-17-2010, 02:30 PM
 
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Start reading recipes - from reliable sources. Then make it a game! Cooking can be very fun and satisfying if you don't look at it as a chore, and your children are more likely to eat something well prepared than if mommy can't cook / hates doing it.
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#20 of 20 Old 02-18-2010, 12:46 PM
 
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Can you "wear" the baby while you prep and/or cook? I learned how to cook with one hand when my dd was small because I'd always have to wear her while preparing our meals (turned sideways so she couldn't get burned over the hot stove- hence the one hand only).

Have you thought about quiche? I don't know if you eat eggs but my veg friend does eat eggs and she LOVES quiche. They are easy if you buy the pre-made crusts. You can even fill them with frozen veggies when you are in a pinch. She uses lots of cheese.

Casseroles are also good as a whole meal and usually pretty easy to make.
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