One of the most challenging tasks with a family is coming up with great meals that are quick and easy to make and won’t cost a ton. Of course one major way a lot of families waste money is by letting ingredients they purchase spoil and throwing them away, so I want to share a great solution.
There are a few go-to meals that are staples in our house and most require us to buy items like potatoes and carrots and meats–things that are far cheaper when purchased in bulk but are easily forgotten until they are rotten. How do we fix this to reduce food and money waste? We use it all of course.
Below you will find a list of our Top 5 Family Meals. My recommendation is to use this as a starting point for meal planning and finding out how to incorporate the same ingredients in your meals throughout the week for five days then make enough to eat leftovers on your two busiest days. You may think using the same ingredients a lot would get boring, but you can cook each differently and add or take away ingredients to make it interesting!*If you are on a vegan diet, this list is not for you, BUT get creative with the ideas and use this as a guide to creating healthy, easy meals without having to throw things away!
1. Beef Stew/Pot Roast–this dish is great because you can cook it in a Crockpot, it is a very flexible meal, and it will use some of your key ingredients for the week–potatoes, carrots, and onions! Make it a Slow Cooker Sunday; I don’t like doing a lot of cooking on Sundays so this meal is perfect because it’s just toss-together and take-it-easy. Pair it with some fresh bakery bread and you’re good to go! Need a recipe? Check out my Savory Beef Pot Roast!
2. Chicken Garden Salad–this meal is easy to make and very flexible. Chop up a head of lettuce, toss on some tomatoes and other veggies, maybe a little cheese and some dressing and top with some baked or grilled chicken (or eat that on the side.) While you’re at it, you can make some homemade croutons with leftover bread from the pot roast, they’re simple! Cut the bread into cubes, toss with a little olive oil and some seasonings (I love garlic salt, oregano and black pepper), spread them in one layer on a cookie sheet then bake on a low temperature, flipping them over every 5 minutes or so until they are crisp.
3. Tacos–I know a lot of people have Taco Tuesday and you already have lettuce and tomato from the salad, so this is a great option. Make a little taco bar and set out soft or hard-shell tacos, some cooked hamburger meat, tomatoes and some of that lettuce from the salad the day before, some cheese and sour cream, and anything else you’d like.
Wednesdays are another busy day for us so I would put a day of leftovers here–maybe another salad or some reheated pot roast.
4. Chicken Soup–this dish is so simple to make with very few ingredients–chicken broth, chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, barley (optional) and seasonings. You don’t need a whole container of chicken breasts to make this, so you can use one or and save the rest for another meal a little later in the week and the same goes for the potatoes, carrots and celery. Need a great recipe? Check out my Basic Barley Chicken Soup! Chicken soup freezes well, so if you have leftovers you can freeze them to have on a day you do not have time to cook a homemade meal.
Friday, in this case, I would probably use as another leftovers night or make it a fun meal for Family Night so we do not have soup two nights in a row; however, chili (below) is a little bit different than a regular soup, so it still can be enjoyed the next day and have leftovers later in the week. Tacos would make a great leftover here–maybe toss together some chicken tacos like my Salsa Fresca and Chicken Tacos or make a taco salad to make it a little different than Tuesday.
5. Chili–this is another meal that is simple to make in a pot on the stove or in the slow cooker. Mix together some tomato juice, leftover ground beef, tomatoes, celery, onions, beans, maybe some julienne carrots, and some spices (the chili seasoning mixes work great if you want something easy.) Go ahead and serve it up with some homemade french fries from any extra potatoes (you can find great recipes online–essentially you make them the same as the croutons, until they are tender) and extra sour cream and cheese from Taco Tuesday. Chili is another meal that freezes well!
To Recap: This week uses only a handful of key ingredients to make a wide variety of dishes (notice I alternated between red meats and chicken to keep your taste buds intrigued.) Potatoes are sneaked into 2-3 dishes, carrots into 2-4 dishes, onions into 3-5 dishes, celery into 2 dishes, tomatoes into 3 dishes, chicken into at least 2 dishes, ground beef into 2 dishes, fresh bread into at least 2 dishes, and sour cream and cheese into at least 2 dishes. That’s a whole week of meals using 10 key ingredients (give or take) and there are so many more meals you can make with the ingredients leftover, just get creative (I.E. Chicken Tortilla Soup, Sandwich Wraps in Tortillas, Chili Dogs, Hamburgers and Fries, Loaded Nachos…the list goes on.) So many tastes, little to no waste. Did I mention this also makes for fewer trips to the grocery store?! And if you make enough you will have some frozen meals to reheat at a later date when life gets too busy!
Bonus Tip: Another great way to prevent food waste is to pre-prepare as much as you can. I do wait to cut up potatoes or anything that turn a brown color after a while until it is time to make that certain meal, but I like to keep cutting up that initial day as the meal is cooking. Cut up all the carrots you need the way your recipe calls for and put them in plastic containers or baggies in the refrigerator to use later. Chop up the celery and do the same (I usually add some water in with the celery and drain it later; it keeps the celery fresh and a vibrant green.) Cook all the chicken then set some aside for the next dish that uses it. Cook all the hamburger meat then add it in when you’re ready to cook with it. Cut up all the onions and save it all in a container. The more you can get done in one pre-time, the faster your cooking will be the rest of the week saving you time, energy, and ensuring you will actually make the meals allowing you to eat healthy and preventing you from throwing away your hard-earned money.
Thanks to Kristin W. for suggesting the topic of this week’s High Five Friday–do you want to suggest a Top 5 topic? Leave a comment below, contact me on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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-What’s your favorite family dinner?