Is it dinner time again already? Top Tips for quick family meals.

I can't believe it. It's just after lunch and already I'm thinking about the next meal. Not because I'm a greedy cow who is always hungry - though that to be fair is true - but because in our house responsibility for the planning, shopping for and preparation of meals largely falls to me.

teenager cooking http://www.madmumof7.comActually nowadays I am lucky. I have four teenagers. No, that doesn't make me lucky. That makes me  stressed from all the exam prep and emotional issues with cuts in my feet from all the treading on eggshells. I am lucky having four teenagers because they all can throw together a meal of some sort if needs be.

But if I want them to eat more than Pasta 'N Sauce, fried eggs or super noodles (all of which stink the whole house out and anyway, eaten alone, have very little nutritional value) I have to at least plan and shop for the meal if not actually cook it.
So here are my top tips for lazy busy mum's suppers in order of desperation.

1. Bit late after school clubs, unexpected visitor or being distracted by Candy Crush after school run.
Fish fingers and potato products. I console my self with the thought that since I always buy fish fingers with white fish fillet not minced fish they are at least getting some nutrients. I always oven bake my potato products so that's not too bad. And I always try and add beans or frozen sweetcorn as a nod to vegetables.

2. Horribly late after stopping for a cuppa after school at a mate's and not realising the time until the kids start whining and I realise it is actually dark outside.
Time for eggs. Scrambled with beans, toast or crumpets is their favourite. Boiled with soldiers is also acceptable. Mixed into pancakes and apparently I'm the best mummy in the world. All a bit like 1950's nursery teas so must be OK.

3. Almost bedtime, or knackered after a full days housework. OK, more likely a full day's shopping out with my friends. During which we almost certainly stopped for a snack or two. And lunch. And a cake. So consequently can't be bothered to think about dinner as I'm not hungry.
That would be pasta then - the dried stuff we always have in. Plus a jar of something tomatoey tipped over topped with grated cheese if it's not too mouldy.

Oddly this is one meal just about all my children like, especially if I find some garlic baguettes in the freezer. Although I do feel guilty about my husband's mournful face when he realises yes I really am passing that off as his dinner. You could liven the meal up by stirring in pesto, chopped chorizo, sundried tomatoes, anchovies or smoked salmon and creme fraiche but since my hoard seem happy with simple passatta and Cheddar why complicate things?

4.Blue A*sed Fly day/Fibromyalgia flare-up. 
If I know a day is going to be particularly busy, with children coming and going at different times or I feel a flareup coming on and know from experience that by 5pm I will be bedridden I rely on my old friend the slow cooker. I buy suitable meat when I see it reduced in price at the supermarket and freeze it ready for slow cooking when needed. Barbecue pork or pork and apple are particular favourites along with lemony chicken, savoury mince and sausage casserole.

kitchen equipment

I usually do an internet search for a recipe with the ingredients I've got and adapt as necessary. Almost all slow cooker stuff goes well with microwave rice or microwaveable frozen mash. (which is delicious nowadays by the way - and can be used to thicken watery stews too!)

Slowcookers are great because you can lob random stuff in in the morning (I never bother with browning or such nonsense) and the children can dollop out what they want to eat when they are in. Slow cookers are ideal for days when choir practice ends for one child just before another has to go to work. They can just help themselves to a plateful from the cooker which keeps the meal hot for the whole evening if necessary.

Sometimes I freeze leftovers, or even have been known to slow cook leftover veg with the bones from the Sunday joint and whiz it in the food processor to make soup from it (after removing the bones of course!) Then I freeze the soup in individual portions in sealable pots (leaving room for expansion) and reheat, adding cream or creme fraiche for a luxurious lunch. Add bread fresh from the bread maker for extra smug housewife points!

5. Total meltdown days - or parents evening which amount to the same when you have seven children and lots of teachers to speak to!
Admit defeat and reach for the phone and the takeaway menu! There's no shame in it!

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