Rising food prices have sent many of us back to the kitchen to save money. And while there are many benefits of a home cooked meal, preparing dinner from scratch still takes valuable time from our busy schedules. But it can be easy to prepare simple entrees at home, saving you both time and money. So move beyond burgers and fries and fix one of these dishes tonight! All are easy to prepare and ready in about 30 minutes.
Soups: Soup is one of the easiest, most wholesome, well-received family meals. Unfortunately though, most canned soup offerings are high in salt and chemical preservatives and lack any distinguishable flavor. You can do better. Start with either low sodium broth or a combination of water and tomato juice. Don't worry about exact measurements - you can always add more water later if necessary. To the soup pot add; chopped or instant minced onion, cut up cooked meat or drained, canned beans, your favorite frozen vegetables, a handful of rice, barley or pasta, and dried herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, bay and/or marjoram for flavor. Simmer until heated through and the rice or pasta is cooked, 20-30 minutes. Just before serving add a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar and season with freshly ground black pepper. To make a soup extra special, top with dumplings, serve over a slice of toasted French bread or serve in a purchased bread bowl. Cost: Deli soup $2.59, Homemade $1 per serving.
Stir Fries: Stir-fries are a great way to use up odds and ends of leftovers. Heat olive or peanut oil in a skillet. Quickly cook small pieces of chicken, beef or shrimp and add cut up vegetables like carrots, zucchini, broccoli, bell pepper and green beans. Make a simple but flavorful sauce by mixing together broth or water and orange or pineapple juice. Add a dash of cayenne pepper, your favorite herbs and a little cornstarch. Stir the mixture until the sauce thickens, adding more water if necessary. Serve over rice or noodles. Cost: Lunch counter rice bowl: $5.49, Homemade $2.50.
Casseroles: Mom was right. Casseroles are easy to prepare and money saving too! Start with cooked rice, pasta or millet. Use brown rice instead of white rice or pasta shells or ziti in place of spaghetti noodles for variety. Stir in cooked, chopped meat and your favorite vegetables. Peas, carrots and corn are especially good choices in casseroles as they maintain their flavor even when baked at high temperatures. Mix everything together with a thickened broth or a can of low-fat, low-sodium cream of celery soup. Add herbs for flavor. Top the casserole with dried bread or cracker crumbs and grated cheese and bake until hot and bubbly. Serve with a tart relish, chutney or dill pickles on the side for a complete meal. Cost: Food court baked ziti $3.49, Homemade $1.
Sandwiches: Traditionally considered lunch food, sandwiches are now a dinnertime favorite too. Keep whole-wheat sandwich rolls or pita bread in the cupboard to make your own Hoagies, Grinders or Italian sandwiches. Start with a flavorful mustard (Walla Walla Sweet Onion by AJ's Edible Arts and Seadog Beer Mustard by Raye's Mustards are good choices) and stuff with deli meat and cheese, prepared hummus, chicken, tuna or egg salad. Add slices of bell pepper, tomato, spinach, avocado, olives and pickles and top with a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. For an even heartier sandwich, add marinated artichoke hearts, pineapple chunks or grilled eggplant slices. Cost: Sandwich shop grinder $6. Homemade: $2.
Stick with simple meals and dinner will be ready in no time. Better yet, you'll save money and have a healthier family too!
Renee Pottle is a Home Economist and the author of I Want My Dinner Now! - Simple Meals for Busy Cooks and The Happy Lunchbox - 4 Weeks of Recipes and Menus. She can be reached thorough her web site: http://www.winebarrelgourmet.com