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Column: Planning ahead makes mealtime easier

During the summer most of the family cooking is done outside on the grill but once school starts there is so much that needs attention. I see parents going home and the pizza car is right behind them several times a week. Stop at the deli around closing and parents rush in for meals or you see them going through the fast food lines. Not only are meals like this boring, unhealthy and expensive but they take time from a short hectic evening.

With a little advance planning and the slow cooker you can go home to a healthy relaxing meal. I recently read parents are asking for dinner suggestions like grandma used to make. They remember the vegetable beef soup, chicken dumpling soup, hotdishes, stroganoff, stews or chowders. With the convenience of the internet, finding a recipe is so simple and fast just like grandma made when they were young.

I don't enjoy grocery shopping, so I check what I need, check the weekly ads, plan the meals for two weeks, make a list and get in and out of the store. When the children were home I'd shop once every two weeks except for milk and maybe bread. When I got home I'd wash and clean the vegetables so they were ready to use either as a snack or at meal time. Meat would be divided or browned and ready for the slow cooker or oven depending on the item.

Several of our favorites were meat loaf with baked squash and potato. Who ever got home first would put it in the oven so when I came home it was almost done. I'd put a chart on the refrigerator so they knew the temperature, time things went in. I'd prepare cole slaw and divide it in half adding a can of white and yellow corn for something different. Sometime I'd add crushed pineapple and miniature marshmallows while other times just serve regular cabbage or broccoli cole slaw. Another salad was the cucumbers and onions in a cream sauce. Sliced tomatoes with a marinade and fresh parsley was requested often.

The five hour stew was so good and is so simple to make. Put stew meat in a roaster. Layer potatos, carrots, and onions. Sprinkle two tablespoons of minute tapioca and pour one can of V8 juice over.  Bake in 250 oven for five hours. When the children were young, I'd dice up a rutabega but they promptly picked the pieces out. If I didn't add it they wanted to know what was wrong so I par boiled it and put it through the blender. They never asked after that. My mother in law added celery and peas to her five hour stew.

Another favorite was beef stroganoff over either egg noodles or rice. This was in the slow cooker all day and ready when we came home. Cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers were easy to make and well received at meal time. The porcupine meatballs were a little more time consuming for the slow cooker but well worth the extra effort. Of course we had the chilli, tacos, goulash and baked potatoes with a choice of toppings on the table.  The zucchini hotdish, chicken and rice bake or a tuna bake were some others that were healthy and simple to make.

Desserts were mostly fruit, maybe a peach or apple crisp/cobbler, strawberry shortcake, apple sauce or a quick bread made in the miniature muffin tins. It wasn't a priority or even something they asked for.

Home cooked meals are so simple to make, healthy for the family, inexpensive and gives families a chance to try different foods. While the farmers markets are still open and produce still reasonable, try planning meals for your family for the week. You will be surprised.