Make Ahead Dinners - Casseroles

Our family is always on the go. In addition to school and work, during the week we have soccer practice for Cadence and Gabriel and voice and piano lessons for Cadence. I am also training six days per week for a half marathon in November. We have very limited time to spend together in the evening so we make the most of that time. In order to maximize the time that we have together, we try to plan ahead as much as possible when it comes to dinner time.

The first thing I do is plan my menu for the week. I have a dry erase board on my refrigerator where I write each day's meal along with my training schedule and any other events that are coming up that week (soccer practice, school project deadlines, etc.). It is a great tool! The kids can look at the board and figure out what we are having for dinner each night. This keeps that constant "What are we having for dinner?" question from coming up 438298490384 times during the week. Also, I've found that if the kids are prepared for what will be served they are less likely to say "I don't want that!" 38395 times during the week.

Now for the actual meals. There are so many types of make ahead dinners - too many to fit into one post, so today I will focus on casseroles. I try to focus my meals around my couponing. I do not like to have to go to the store to pick something up that I didn't pay for with a coupon and/or find on a really great sale, so our menu always varies greatly depending on what it is in the freezer.

This week I have pork chops, so one of the dishes that I will be pre-making is a pork chop casserole recipe that I found on I'll still need to heat up a veggie and make some rice, but that takes no time so I don't mind. When pre-making a casserole, I line my bake ware with a sheet of aluminum foil, assemble my casserole and pop it in the freezer. Once it is frozen, I remove it from the freezer and pop it and the aluminum foil out of the casserole dish. Then, on an index card or piece of paper, I write the reheating instructions as well as which casserole dish I used when I froze the dinner. I wrap the casserole up in plastic wrap and attach the card for easy reference later.

Each morning I check my menu board. If that night's dinner was a frozen pre-made dinner, I remove it from the freezer and unwrap it. I find the casserole dish that I have listed on the card, pop the frozen casserole back into the dish, cover it lightly and leave it out to thaw. After work the casserole is thawed enough to bake. I follow the baking instructions on my card and viola! dinner is served.

The aluminum foil method is especially helpful if you do not have a lot of bake ware and can't stand the thought of throwing away money on those disposable pans. The cleanup is fairly simple as the majority of the mess stays on the foil.

When planning your dinners, I definitely recommend using the ingredient search on I can't begin to tell you how many times I've looked in my kitchen and thought I had nothing for dinner and wound up making a delicious meal out of things I already had.

Here are some links to a few great casseroles that I would suggest as make ahead dinners for your family:

Chicken Florentine Casserole
Pizza Pasta - Great for picky kids. We used turkey pepperoni
Baked Spaghetti - This one is a bit different than traditional baked spaghetti. It was a tad bland to me when it came out of the oven, but some red pepper flake spiced it right up and it was quite tasty.
Delicious Chicken Casserole - Cadence loves this one!
Baked Ziti

Next time, we will discuss crock pot dinners.

Our Summer

I have been very slack about blogging this summer - probably because we've spent so much time doing other amazingly fun things! Here is the recap.

For 4th of July, I made two sets of yummy grilling-out-themed cupcakes. One was corn on the cob and the other was hamburgers. They were a big hit!

The weekend after the 4th, we traveled to Canada to visit our family up there and to celebrate my mom, my aunt Judy and my step mom's birthday. We were so glad to be able to spend some time with everyone. We had a wonderful time relaxing at my dad's; visiting extended family and swimming at my aunt and uncle's house; visiting Marineland; and, spending the day doing the touristy things around Niagara falls. I even got to meet two of my mommy friends in person on the trip. One lived close to where we were staying and we detoured on our way home to visit the other.

Cadence rode her first real roller coaster on this trip. She LOVED it! I was so proud. It was a very nostalgic moment for me. When I was almost exactly her age, my mom coaxed me onto Dragon Mountain for the first time. At that time, Dragon Mountain was the world's longest and tallest steel roller coaster. Those titles have since been taken by newer coasters, but Dragon Mountain is no joke. It is over a mile long at 5500 feet. It has 4 loops, 2 tunnels and a cyclone. Cadence rode it three times!!

Liam is growing so quickly. It seemed like he started the summer as an infant and now he is thinking about growing into a toddler. I'm still not ready for that.

A few weeks ago, we took the kids to a Drive game. We told them that we were going and the first thing that Cadence said was "Do we get the room again?" Apparently we spoiled her by having a private box during her first baseball game. There was no box this time, but there was a playground nearby and that seemed to make up for it.

This was the first year that I let Cadence pick out all of her own clothes for school. She did really well and was happy with her choices. Hopefully, this will limit the arguments in the morning about what she wants to wear versus what I want her to wear. ;)

Over the last year or so Cadence has become very close to her friend Skylar. Cadence was very happy to spend the last evening of summer vacation at the pool with her.

The next day she was off to second grade. Gabriel starts kindergarten next year. I can't believe how fast they grow!!

Mommy's New School Year Resolutions

August marks the beginning of a new school year and School Year Resolution time for me. This school year I have some big resolutions.

I resolve to log my at-home hours before school instead of after it which means 4:30 a.m. alarm clocks and 9:00 p.m. bedtimes. It also means more free time in the afternoons. Sure, I'll still have the occasional phone call or email that needs an immediate response, but for the most part, I'll have more time to help Cadence with her homework.

I resolve to work with Gabriel to ensure that he is ready (maybe even ahead?) for kindergarten next year. I resolve to read more to the kids.

I resolve to plan ahead. This means making meals on the weekends and freezing them for during the week. It means packing school lunches the night before and making sure book bags and school projects are ready to go before bed in order to avoid a little voice from the back seat crying, "Oh no, Mommy! My is at the house!" as I'm about to let her out of the van in front of the school.

I resolve to speak less and listen more to my kids. I resolve to not yell so much. I hate yelling at them.

I resolve to get Cadence involved in an after school music program of some sort. She loves music and we really need to encourage that love.

I resolve to fit some me time in there.... somewhere.