Friday, April 18, 2014

5 Favorite Make-Ahead Meals

It's no secret that dinner time around our house can be pretty chaotic.  What with Mr. M sitting at my feet crying his heart out because I'm just not moving fast enough to Mr. A and C Puddins duking it out in the playroom while that sweet BabyGirl sits quietly coloring at the table.

Those are the moments that I (fleetingly, 'cause teenagers) wish we had three girls instead of three boys.

And honestly, next to the morning get-to-school rush, the dinner preparation hour is the most stressful time of my day. Everybody's hungry and wants a snack.  Everybody is keyed up from nap time. Everybody just wants to sit down and eat a peaceful meal in complete silence...ok, not everybody, but that's definitely what the parents want.

So what's a busy, tired mommy to do?  Make meals ahead, of course! I'm sure you have used the same tactic to spare yourself that dinner-time drama, so please share your make-ahead favorites in the comments below or on the Facebook page. I LOVE adding new recipes to the rotation. 

Here are some of our favorites:

1) Chicken Pesto Stuffed Shells

I got this recipe from another blog and have used it to stock our own freezer as well as for giving new-baby meals to friends. Super easy and freezes great! TIP: Just add a little chicken stock before baking to keep the shells moist.

I actually made some of these the other night, one for dinner and one for the freezer!




2) Taco Stuffed Shells

Are you sensing a theme here?  I like to stuff a shell with ingredients and freeze it, 'cause I'm boring that way.  These were actually a creation inspired by a meal some friends brought to us.  My recipe  calls for ground beef, black beans, corn, tomatoes, plain greek yogurt, chips and cheese.  Cause everything's better with cheese, right?

I posted the recipe for that one here

3) Red Chili

This one is super easy to throw together even as a non-freezer meal, but I do like the ease of having everything ready so I can pull it out of the freezer to thaw overnight, and then just pour it in a pot to heat up before dinner.  I just follow the recipe on the spice packet, or if you make up your own spices, it's just one can each of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, pinto beans and black beans. Add in some ground beef and you're all set!

I like to serve this with cornbread, which I mix up adding sour cream and colby jack cheese so it's moist and delicious.  My kids devour this meal!

Chili and Shells, ready for the freezer.





4) Crustless Cheesy Spinach Quiche

We can't leave the breakfast foods out! I've shared the recipe for this one on the blog before, so you can click the name above to check it out.  I don't freeze the quiche, but make it ahead the night before brunch. Just stick it in the fridge instead of baking it off, and pop it in the oven the next morning.  Definitely a crowd-pleaser. 

5) Slow-Cooker Cashew Chicken

Not to be left out, let's include a crock-pot make-ahead meal. This one is from my Yummy Things board on Pinterest (not to be confused with my snobby Whole Foods board) and straight from my go-to recipe site: Six Sisters Stuff.  Chances are, if you have a food board on Pinterest, you probably have a pin from their site.  This dish is great over rice, and is always happily scarfed down by all the Crazies, both old and young. 

Bonus Meal:
6) Order a pizza.

Ok, ok, so it's not exactly a make-ahead meal, but it's definitely yummy and clean-up is a cinch.

Your turn!  What are your favorite make-ahead meals?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cheesy Taco Stuffed Shells [A Recipe]

Taco Stuffed Shells Recipe

Mornin', y'all! Or, Evenin'!...good afternoon?  Anyway, welcome to the blog! Today I've got a yummy recipe for you that my kids absolutely devour: Cheesy Taco Stuffed Shells! I just love this recipe and usually double it so I can freeze a batch for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Here goes nothin'.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients

16 pasta shells, (+ a few extra just in case)
1/2 lb ground beef, cooked
1 can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 packet taco seasoning mix (or make your own!)
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt

Topping:

1-1/2 cup Shredded Colby Jack or Monterey Jack Cheese
1-1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips

Extras:

Sour Cream and Salsa

Cook pasta shells according to the directions on the box. While those are boiling away, brown ground beef and drain.  Add diced tomatoes, black beans, and frozen corn and simmer 5 minutes until corn is cooked through. Add taco seasoning packet and greek yogurt stirring until incorporated.  Set filling mixture aside to cool. Drain shells and add cold water to cool.

Fill shells and nestle them into an 8x8 casserole dish (or similar sized baking vessel).

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Then, remove foil, top with shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips and place under the broiler for 2 minutes until golden brown (don't burn it though!).



If freezing, top with shredded cheese, cover with foil and pop dish into the freezer.  When ready to use, thaw in fridge overnight, then bake per directions above and add chips last (don't freeze the chips, 'cause, gross).



It's the perfect marriage of flavors and one you'll be happy to keep stored in the freezer too.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 Ways to Take Care of the Care Takers


I mentioned last week that we are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. I don't say that because of the destination per se, but mostly because, for the first time since our honeymoon, we're taking an extended vacation that does not involve visiting family members--and we're doing it all by ourselves.

No kids. No diaper bags. No stollers. No sippy cups. No crying...

...except maybe some happy tears.

And don't get me wrong, we LOVE our Crazies like nobody's business.  They keep us going, and going, all day long.  And all those little-people giggles make the completely nutty part so worth it.

But let's just focus on that nutty part for a second.  Nana, Granpa and an Aunt have been so gracious as to offer their child-wrangling services while we are away (which is like, huge), so I thought I'd put together a little list of the things one might do for those amazing care takers to make keeping the Crazies just a little bit easier.

Like a teensy tiny, minuscule bit easier.

I came up with seven ideas, but please feel free to add more in the comments below.  There's still time for us to get it together before we leave!

1) Make the meals ahead of time.

Brush off that casserole dish, scrape together some pinterest freezer recipes, and go to town.  'Cause we all know when meal time rolls around there will be at least one Crazy crying at your feet; it's best to limit the insanity during that wonderful (italics are the new sarcasm font) time of day as much as possible so that your care taker will still like you (and/or your kids) when you come back. I'll let you know which meals we prepared later this week, and you can keep an eye out for that post here or here.

2) Give them the schedule low-down. 

So I'm not much for micro-managing and I did make the whole flowchart for a generic idea of what might happen, but when it comes to all the little quirks and oddities about our kids I think it's best to over-communicate. Did I forget to mention that the baby has to have 3 pacifiers at bed time, not just one? Or, that the only way to get the two-year-old down for nap-time (this week, at least) is to rub his back for 3.4 seconds, and then refuse him after the tenth request of 'one more time'?

So many details. And that's just the little things!


I put together a binder with our daily schedule to include school drop-offs/pick-ups, meal options, activities, as well as the exact hour at which the heavens will burst open and choirs of angels will sing the hallelujah chorus in perfect harmony while chocolate and sunshine and glasses of wine rain down from the sky. That magical moment is also known as bedtime. Very important, this knowing when bedtime will arrive.

3) Lay out the kids clothes for the week.

Really, it's the only way to avoid those mornings-before-school meltdowns. And to make sure the Puddins isn't wearing big brothers undies. Or nothing at all. 'Cause boys.

I just line up a little stack for each kid in a place where they can't reach it, even for the big kids.  Because my Mr. A, who is five years old, mind you, STILL has trouble locating his own socks.  And while his reasoning on the subject quickly leads to the position that socks just aren't necessary when you can't find them, I'm pretty sure his school begs to differ. And so do his shoes.

So let's just skip the mayhem and get those little socks and pants and shirts ALL lined up and ready to go.

4) Leave some cold hard cash.

While this may encourage said care takers to rent a getaway car or purchase a passport so they can disappear to Mexico, I'd like to think they'll see it more as a bribe way to purchase pizza (which is on the meal schedule) as a special treat, or cover any additional costs that may pop up.  We run out of milk on the hourly, so I just want to make sure they'll have anything they need.

And yes, Mom, I know you have money. It's the thought that counts, right? 

Please don't run away.

5) Make the room your care takers stay in as nice as possible.  

Clear off dressers and tables so they'll have a little room to spread out.  Maybe even leave a nice little gift bag for them. Nice smelling soaps? Favorite chocolates?  Just a little gesture that says, "hey, I know I'm leaving you alone with the Crazies and you may not sleep for a week, but I really do love you, 'cause I left you these chocolates."

Chocolates go a long way.

6) Get those activity boxes prepped and ready.

I've given you guys the skinny on those amazing activity boxes here, so head on over to the dollar store and refill those bad boxes with some new treats for the kiddies.  
Some favorites around here include coloring books, brand-spanking new boxes of crayons (like the 50 cent type), granola bars, bouncy balls, and whatever else looks highly durable. You know, your standard dollar store fare.

These little boxes are life savers when the kiddos are bouncing off the walls and you just need a second to stop and catch your breath.  Lots of novelty for the kids (new stuff!) and a little quiet table time for the care taker. Win-win!

And last but not least:

7) Clean out the van. 

'Cause even though my neat freak hubby just detailed it last week, you KNOW there will be cheerios and colored pictures and who knows what else strewn throughout the car. Give that care taker a car they can be proud of.  Or at least tolerate.

There you have it, my list of items for taking care of the kiddos' care takers. Anything I missed?  What else would you add?
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