Thinking ahead makes meals easier Plan: Stocking your pantry and taking stock of your busier life increases your chances of meeting school year challenge.


The reality of homework, lunch boxes and car pools is a rude awakening after 10 weeks of taking things a little easier. Even if you don't have kids in school, you're no doubt getting caught up in the heavier traffic and busier pace of post-summer life.

It's time to regroup: Do some planning, grocery shopping and maybe even a little cooking ahead; a ready-made pot of chili or soup can be a lifesaver on a hectic weeknight.

We've rounded up a workweek's worth of quick main-dish recipes to get you started. Mapping out detailed menus may be too much for you (or me), but it pays to stock up well enough so you know there's something to cook for dinner each night; frantic grocery-store stops are no way to start your evening.

At our house, the basics include chicken breasts, lean ground beef, soy-based ground-beef substitute and Italian turkey sausage; lots of frozen vegetables, including stir-fry mixes; celery sticks and peeled baby carrots for pre-dinner snacking; salsa, reduced-fat jack cheese and flour tortillas for burritos and quesadillas; boiling-bag brown rice (more nutritious than white), tuna, canned beans of all kinds, spaghetti sauce and pasta, pasta, pasta.

Here are three in-a-pinch main dishes that serve at least six. They're fast and fairly healthful, my family likes them, and you almost certainly have the makings for at least one of them:

Everybody's favorite hot dish: Cook a pound of pasta shapes (elbows, ruffles, etc.). Meanwhile, brown a pound of ground beef or bulk Italian sausage along with a chopped onion and a couple of minced garlic cloves. Drain meat and pasta, put them back in the pot, and stir in a 32-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce. Spread the mixture in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, sprinkle with about a cup of grated cheese (any kind) and run it under the broiler until the cheese begins to brown.

Mexican-flavored rice and beans: Cook and drain 2 boiling bags of rice (or use 4 cups leftover rice). Rinse and drain a 16-ounce can of beans (pinto, black, kidney, etc.). Stir together the rice, beans and 1 cup salsa in a 1 1/2 -quart casserole. Cover and microwave on high for a couple of minutes, just to heat through. Sprinkle with about 1 cup grated cheese (jack is good) and microwave, uncovered, for another minute or so, just until the cheese melts.

Mom's tuna-noodle salad: Cook a pound of pasta shapes (shells are nice) for about 6 minutes. Add a package of frozen baby peas to the pot, and stir until the water returns to a boil; the peas and pasta will be done. Drain, return to the pot, and add cold water and ice cubes to cool it down fast. Meanwhile, drain and flake 2 cans of tuna, and stir it together in a large bowl with 1 cup mayonnaise (or 1/2 cup mayo plus 1/2 cup no-fat sour cream or plain yogurt). Add chutney or chopped fresh herbs to taste. Drain the cooled pasta and peas really well, and stir them into the tuna mixture.

Quick beef and cheese burritos

Makes 4 servings

1 pound lean ground beef

1 1/4 cups chunky salsa

8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, cubed

8 flour tortillas, warmed

sliced lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced black olives

Brown the beef in a skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Pour off drippings. Stir in salsa and cheese; heat until cheese melts.

To serve, divide filling among tortillas. Fold bottom edge of each tortilla up over filling; fold sides to center, overlapping edges. Top with lettuce, tomato and olives.

Per serving: 726 calories, 40 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 46 g fat, 56 percent calories as fat, 134 mg cholesterol, 661 mg sodium.

Linguine in mushroom Caesar salad

Makes 4 servings

8 ounces uncooked linguine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced onion

1 pound button mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 cups Italian-flavored croutons

1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese

Cook the linguine in salted boiling water until firm-tender, about 10 minutes; drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Put pasta in large bowl and cover to keep warm.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add mushrooms and garlic, and cook, stirring, until mushrooms give up their liquid, about 6 minutes. Stir in roasted peppers, salt and pepper to taste, and reserved cooking liquid; heat through. Pour over linguine; add croutons and cheese, and toss.

Per serving: 335 calories, 12 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat, 38 percent calories from fat

Pork tenderloin with gingery marinade

Makes 4 servings

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons coarsely grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

16 ounces pork tenderloin

freshly ground pepper

Combine the lime juice, garlic, ginger and maple syrup in a bowl large enough to hold the pork. Mix well. Trim the fat from pork and cut meat into 1-inch-wide pieces. Add it to marinade, turning to coat. Season with pepper, and set aside.

Heat broiler or prepare grill. Cook the pork tenderloin, browning on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes, until it is slightly pink inside, basting with marinade.

Per serving: 200 calories, 4 g fat, 18 percent of calories from fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium, 25 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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