Yesterday I posted a blog about getting ready for preparing school lunches; today, I thought I would post about school dinners. DO NOT click away! This is excellent and engaging stuff! Come on! Don't you agree? Stay with me...
First off, school dinners are an engaging topic and once you read my "Go To" Ingredients List of easy and inexpensive meal suggestions and freezer and pantry must-have ingredients, you will think school dinners are not only an engaging topic but easy too! Yes, you read that correctly. Easy. I dropped the "E" word! Again, DO NOT click away!
In order to win you over, I am going to post my School Dinner "Go To" Dinner Ingredients List now.
School Dinner "Go To" Dinner Ingredients List
1. Pot Pies (Chicken Pot Pie recipes can be easily doubled or even tripled, made in a pie plate or casserole dish (you pick up for cheap at yard sales by the way) and freezes great. Defrost, reheat, serve.
2. Pizza, yes the frozen type, in different serving sizes and types (No judging here and they make fantastic emergency dinners and lunches for when your child is home and you are not.)
3. Frozen ravioli (A personal favorite of mine since they are cheap, come in many varieties and can be boiled and eaten with red or cream sauce, served with browned butter and ricotta cheese, sprinkled with cheese and served with vegetables (don't laugh) and/or made into a delicious ravioli lasagna. Ravioli can even be pan-fried after they are cooked and served as an appetizer.
4. Chicken (Pack away this little darling in all its forms: breast meat, thighs or legs) Make a marinade in a double thickness of resealable bags, label them and freeze away. When you are ready to use, simply defrost the chicken directly in a baking dish in the morning and bake when you get home. I use everything from vinaigrette dressing to barbecue sauce.
5. Barbecue sauce, yes, the premade type, ketchup, mustards. (These sauces are excellent and cheap sauces to use for spicing up a sandwich, making a marinade sauce or for dipping.)
6. Ground meat in all its forms, beef, poultry, pork, lamb (think tacos and of course, burgers, pasta and soup additions, etc.)
7. Cheese, yes, the pre-grated type (Watch for sales and read those packages because some types contain less than the block type, in-particular Swiss cheese. Parmesan cheese can be a good buy. Simply lay the packages flat and freeze.) Cheese makes so many things yummy...
8. Frozen vegetables and fruits (organic if possible) Get cracking because this also means from the garden. Green beans are a high yield and easy to grow vegetable, for example, that freeze great PLUS they detox soil. Simply harvest, wash, dry and freeze. This also means things like herbs (frozen in ice cube trays, leeks, chopped and stored in servings in sandwich bags, berries, etc.) Think dinners, lunch salad toppings, smoothies, desserts, this list goes on.
9. Pasta, in all its forms, spaghetti, elbow, pre-cooked lasagna noodles, ziti, etc.
10. Pasta sauce, yes the premade type, but read the label for sodium content AND canned tomatoes, the best you can afford and in different varieties such as whole, pureed and paste (I prefer to have two types of paste on hand, one in the tube and one in the can to prevent waste.)
11. Bread, in a variety of forms such as sandwich, loaf and rolls, whole grain (don't laugh). Think strata, bread puddings, toast for breakfast, snacks, dinners, etc.
12. Canned beans and broth, organic if possible and low sodium (read labels and compare.) Beans such as: refried, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, pinto (Great for making chili, adding to salads, soups and other dishes, great for purees and rainy days.) Broth can be added to sauces, used to flavor dishes like mashed potatoes, rice and/or pasta and used in soups. Homemade broth freezes great once it has been defatted and you guessed, it double bagged. Just make sure it is laid flat to freeze or it might get stuck in the freezer once it spreads out. Use a sheet pan to lay the bags on and then line them up once they are solid to save on freezer space.
13. Butter, unsalted and salted. Snatch up these expensive little blocks of joy whenever they go on sale and store them in your freezer to prolong their storage time. They are great to pull out for impromptu baking exploits and easy dishes like Pasta with Brown Butter and Herbs.
14. Coffee (It is not recommended coffee be stored in the freezer, no, but who wants to face a parent that has run out?) This is *optional.
15. Homemade extras such as cookies, pie crusts, breads, fruit pie fillings, cake, pasta, etc. (If you are laughing now, you have not seen my freezer. Freezing extra cookies for example prevents you from having to purchase them when you run out of the cream-filled type or receive short notice of a party. You're making them anyway so set a dozen or two aside, double wrap them and freeze them for later. If you are making pie crust, make two and freeze one portion, there is no extra work involved... It is never a bad idea to have pre-made pastries such as: puff pastry, pie dough, phyllo dough, cookie dough, etc. on hand either, I do.
16. Casseroles and soups, I know, I know BUT it's a good idea. This category is not just the obvious of lasagna but even quiche, homemade chili, roasted vegetables, etc. Let your imagination fly free. Do a quick reference on-line for freeze-ability and go for it. Chances are pretty good it can be frozen. Your kids and/or spouse can help with the meal prep and it's really not that much extra work.
17. Nut butters and jams (Nut butters and jams are great for sauces, snacks and desserts.)
18. Soy sauce, low sodium variety preferred
19. Vegetable and olive oil
20. Vinegars (organic, raw unfiltered apple cider and balsamic (Read the balsamic label and make certain it does not have caramel color! If it does, keep shopping!)
21. Flours and sugars, leaveners (On days you are stuck at home, you can still make nearly anything.) This could also be bread, cookies and cake mixes, no judging.
22. Your sanity (*optional)
Well, I'm certain there are many other things to freeze so if you have some suggestions, please post them in comments section and we can keep the list growing together. I hope I didn't lose you along the way... This List will get you started as summer vacations come to an end and I hope help and inspire you to seal and load up some meals of your own.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor