Fast-Fix Meals on a Back-to-School Budget

One of the great conveniences of the big box grocery store in late summer days is the availability of the back-to-school supply list for all of your local elementary schools, parked right by the carts in the front of...

One of the great conveniences of the big box grocery store in late summer days is the availability of the back-to-school supply list for all of your local elementary schools, parked right by the carts in the front of the store.  Those lists seem to get longer every year, though, and when you're on a tight family budget, you shouldn't have to choose between hearty meals and sturdy backpacks for your kids.  So here are a few fast-fix meals to stretch your grocery budget a little further this fall, take up less of your time, and leave you with more to spend on outfitting your kids for a successful year.

*Savory Bean Soup*

Bean Soup
Bean Soup

This is a favorite because it is easily adaptable to personal tastes, is quick and easy, and rings up at under $1 per serving.  Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 can of light red kidney beans,
  • 1 can of navy beans, 1 can of chick peas,
  • 1 can of pinto beans,
  • 2 large cans of diced tomatoes,
  • 2 cans of chicken broth,
  • 1 pound of ground Italian sausage - browned, with the fat rinsed off,
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Directions:

To prepare this simple dinner, just mix all of the ingredients in a nice large pot, start it on medium-high, and pop back into the kitchen to stir occasionally, while it produces an aromatic welcome that will have your mouth watering before you can get the table set!  When the soup begins to boil, it is done.  Adding a nice pan of cornbread rounds this meal out to make a quick, family pleasing dinner.  (And it's even faster if you brown, rinse, drain and freeze your sausage ahead of time!)

This makes about 8 servings, but don't count on leftovers as it usually results in everyone getting seconds!

*Flash Omelettes*

Kids love having "breakfast for dinner," and omelettes can be surprisingly filling.  Prep is the key to this awesome, readily adaptable meal.

Here's what you need for each omelette:

  • 1/2 cup of finely diced multicolored peppers,
  • onions and celery,
  • 2 large eggs,
  • 1/4 cup of milk,
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese,
  • crumbled bacon bits or pre-browned ground sausage,
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to taste.

(I keep bacon crumbles and browned ground sausage in the freezer, and a bowl of chopped fresh veggies in the refrigerator for tossing into any number of recipes.)

Directions:

  1. To prepare the omelette, whip the eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray and heat it to medium high heat.  Then pour in your eggs and let them begin to solidify, working your spatula up under the edges to ensure that you don't over-brown as the omelette forms.
  3. Next, sprinkle the cheese, veggies and your choice of meats evenly around the pan.
  4. As the cheese melts, and the egg white solidifies, carefully fold one third of the egg onto itself, and then the next third, until you have a nice, smooth rolled omelette, which you can easily slide onto a plate.

Because these are individually prepared, they are ideal for adapting to finicky feeders. You can add mushrooms for your adventurous teenager, and tomatoes for your special spouse, or leave out the meat for your vegetarian guests.  If your prep work is done in advance, you can whip these up in about 5-8 minutes each.  Let your kids put the toast on while you plate them, and enjoy a cheap, quick and surprisingly tasty dinner in a flash!

*Snappy Chicken Salad*

These days, school starts back long before the heat of summer has released us from its sweaty grasp, and it can be hard to psych yourself into slaving over a hot stove after a hard day at work.  That's why this super-simple chicken salad recipe is so nice.  There is no heat involved!

Chicken Salad
Chicken Salad

The key to making this fast, easy and inexpensive is your shopping time.  Most major groceries now prepare rotisserie chicken in the deli, which typically shuts down long before the rest of the store.  Around 9 p.m., you can usually get a nice, fresh, whole cooked chicken for half the normal price (lemon-pepper chicken is particularly tasty in this recipe).  These can be taken home and de-boned and refrigerated or frozen for future use.  You probably shouldn't keep one refrigerated for more than a day, but the next day is a great day to turn your cold, chopped rotisserie chicken breast into a lovely chicken salad.

Directions:

Add 2 whole, chopped chicken breasts to 1/2 finely chopped Vidalia onion, 4 finely chopped celery stalks, 1/3 cup chopped pecans and 1/2 cup halved seedless red grapes, blended with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste.   You can prepare this salad in advance, and scoop it into lettuce cups, or onto toast for a tast y, heat-free solution to dinner, that is sure to please your kids.

As you can see, the key to speed at dinner time is often prepping in advance.  Whatever short-cut you take, any dinner that results in sitting around the table with your family instead of hitting the drive-through is a good thing!  For other great meal ideas, contact us!