I like to have options, so a little while back, when I felt I needed to focus on some future goals, such as getting some money into my super account, I pursued a return to work, and applied to study my masters degree. I had thought I would follow through with one of those options, but as fate would have it, both plans have come to fruition and quite frankly, I feel like I’ve gotten a little over my head! I’m particularly worried about how I will fit in cooking nutritious meals after a day of working or study and evening running children to sport and catching up on everything I currently do during the day, which with a large family includes a whole lot of laundry. So I’ve been thinking of some meals that suit the working day chaos.
A very simple trick that I find eases preparation time on those busy nights, involves marinating and freezing ahead. At Ikea (and elsewhere, but Ikea produces affordable products with good design and function and happens to be close to me) they sell a variety of glass storage containers with clip lids (like these). Most of these dishes are microwave, oven and dishwasher safe. I don’t personally use glassware in the oven – after one Pyrex dish explosion I just won’t risk it! I find any dish that requires a marinade time suits this method. Even better if on return from doing the groceries you spend an hour or so prepping those meals straight out of the bag. If you are mindful of reducing your waste, and have established a good relationship with your butcher, fishmonger etc, you can have your produce weighed directly into the container you plan to marinate and freeze in. This saves time, and plastic.
I hate for my weekly menu to be over-represented by one food group, but here is where chicken reigns supreme. I’ll list some of our favourite marinade combinations below. It’s much more liberating to not work with exact measurements, so I will let you play with the quantities.
- extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped garlic, lemon juice and grated rind, paprika – use to marinade chicken drumsticks or thigh fillets. Bake in 200 degree oven for 20 min to 1 hr (depending on thickness of cut). If using thigh fillets, these can easily be cooked in a frypan. Serve with boiled potatoes and greens
- soy sauce, grated ginger, finely chopped garlic, honey, lemon juice, tomato sauce and a splash of tabasco – use to marinade a whole chicken, cut into pieces, or drumsticks etc. Bake 200 degrees about 1 hour. Serve with rice and green veggies
- tomato sauce (ketchup), worcestershire sauce, honey, paprika, dried mustard powder, turmeric, salt and pepper – excellent marinade for chicken wings. Bake in 200 degree oven for 30-45 mins or grill on bbq. Serve with a salad and bread rolls
- buttermilk, lemon juice and grated rind, salt, garlic and thyme – an excellent marinade for a whole chicken butterflied. Bake in 200 degree oven for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Serve with salad, and crunchy oven baked potatoes
- lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, dukkah – use to marinade lamb forequarter chops. Cook under grill or in a frypan. Serve with veggies
- lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, lots of dried mint – use to marinade lamb loin chops – best cooked in a frypan or on bbq. Serve with veggies
Not all dishes require marinating but can still be prepared ahead and frozen:
- hamburger patties – this is actually my eldest son’s recipe, and it makes the most delicious burgers. For our family of 6 (7 when my grown up son joins us – in fact, when he joins us I ask him to make the patties – he just does it better!), I combine 1kg beef mince, with 2 pieces of bread soaked in milk (squeeze out majority of milk), 1 small finely chopped onion, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 2 lightly beaten eggs, then go to town on whatever herbs and spices you have to hand – we often use finely chopped fresh parsley, turmeric, sweet curry powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, smoked paprika. Form into patties. Freeze in containers with baking paper between the layers. Cook in frypan or bbq and serve up in a bun with salad and oven baked homemade chips, on the side.
- meatballs – simply combine beef mince, finely chopped garlic, parsley and shallots, and salt, and form into small meatballs. These can be cooked from frozen, or thawed, on a baking sheet in the oven (see method here). Serve with mashed potato, salad and a sweet relish or sauce, or cook in a tomato sauce and serve with pasta, or serve Finnish style with a dilled cream sauce. Also great cooked as is and popped in the lunchbox.
There will be nights when I will be heading straight from work to kids activities, only returning home when dinner should already be on the table. On these days the slow cooker will be my saviour. I have some favourite recipes that I have adapted to the slow cooker and find they turn out just as well as the original, and sometimes even better. There are also some purpose made slow cooker meals that I have gathered over the years that are delicious, nourishing, and generally frugal, as they rely on the cheaper cuts of meats and daggy root vegetables that stand up to long hours of cooking. Some of my favourites have been found in cookbooks (such as Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious) and on various websites. I particularly love the Quirky Cooking recipe for nightshade free osso bucco. But really, the best recipes are the ones you just throw together because you think it will work.
Of course, I can’t forget eggs! How quick are they to cook, and so many simple recipes that can be committed to memory and just whipped up without fuss. We particularly love eggs with potatoes. They just go so well together – in a Spanish omelette, or fried eggs with crunchy oven baked potatoes – I could do those two dishes alone on repeat, and often do.
I will explore more workday recipes and will share some of our favourites here over the coming weeks.
I would love to know what recipes work for you, and the ways you have managed to feed your family well when life gets a bit crazy?