By Nicole Perkins
In this era of rising food and gas prices, we as mothers are forced to find ways to cut corners. We compensate by clipping coupons, drinking cheaper wine, buying in bulk, riding our bikes more – all for the sake, these days, of just maintaining. Our wages certainly aren’t rising!
But once in a while, that pre-cooked chicken at the grocery store calls to me. I know it’s not the most cost effective, but no thawing, seasoning, cooking – it’s too hard to resist sometimes. Just separate and serve (and our dog loves the skin!). So here are some quick and easy meals – and you can usually get a couple out of it. And remember, these are just the building blocks, your own seasonings and additions will make these meals a hit every time – especially when time is the last thing you have!
1. First and foremost – burritos. A package of tortillas, some cheese, a can of fat-free black beans, and some salsa make this one of my favorite stand-bys. For extra flair, mix the chicken with a green chile sauce and let it warm up with the chicken first. Buy an avocado, some lettuce and/or tomato, sour cream, and you have a meal that the kids love to assemble and eat too! Or try it cold and call it a wrap.
2. Pasta. Any whole wheat pasta with your favorite sauce, tossed with some chicken is such an easy go-to dinner. I’m a fan of the purees too, so I usually throw in some butternut squash or carrot puree too – no one even knows! You can also bake it, with tons of cheese mixed in and then warmed at 350 for 10-15 mins.
3. Rice Mush. I know, it’s not pretty, but for some reason this is what my family has termed this quickie. When you have your water boiling (add extra 1/2 cup), toss in the rice with a can of Cream of Chicken, a can of french-style green beans and the chicken – delicious. I’ve also made this with quick-cooking barley and it is just as good – just use a fresh veggie like bell pepper.
4. Meat and Potatoes. Nothing makes my husband happier than a heaping pike of chicken and potatoes – whether it’s mashed, baked or packaged au gratin. For a veggie, I’ll chop up some carrots or cukes to dip in Ranch and everyone’s happy and healthy.
5. Chicken Pitas. Grab some pita pockets, feta and a sauce like tzatziki (cucumber based – Trader Joe’s has a good one) or thousand island dressing. Add some lettuce, bell pepper or red onion – whatever your kids will eat – I find enough sauce will get my kids past almost anything!
6. English Muffin Pizzas. I must give my mother-in-law credit for this. English muffins aren’t that cheap, but sometimes my store has buy-one-get-one deals. You can do the regular tomato-based sauce with the chicken and cheese, or try a jar of alfredo, some olive oil or pesto too. Either way, the kids love sprinkling the cheese and that they get mini pizzas.
7. Elephant Chicken – because elephants like peanuts. Brown rice, steamed broccoli or bell pepper, chicken and a jar of peanut sauce from the Asian foods aisle is soo yummy! Toss in some unsalted peanuts for crunch and extra protein. Try experimenting with other flavors too, like teriyaki and hoisin.
8. Salads. Obviously there are a thousand variations, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s hot out and there’s nothing better than a cold dinner. Watch the sales and pick up an assortment of dressing, as well as different nuts, fruits (dried cranberries, mandarins, apples), specialty cheeses – those sort of things that make a salad unique and can be kept on hand for a while. It’s so easy with pre-cooked chicken – just toss and serve. Try lettuce wraps too. Grated carrots, diced celery, a can of water chestnuts or bamboo shoots, some chow mein crunchies and a ginger dressing are just a few fillers.
9. Sandwiches. Another obvious one, but for some reason, the kids just think it’s hysterical when we have sammies (as they call them) for dinner instead of lunch. You usually have everything you need for it at home anyhow, but there’s something about fresh chicken that makes it special. Try making a simple chicken salad with relish and mayo or melt-style such as chicken parmesan with mozzerella, a dab of tomato sauce and a loaf of crusty bread.
10. Soups. I know I know, obvious, but it’s a great one pot deal – I love it! Just choose your theme and run with it. Two to three cans of chicken broth will feed a family of four well and all you need to do is add what you’ve got. Some suggested ingredients are canned tomatoes, beans (kidney, black, cannellini), frozen veggie medley, potatoes, pasta, even rice (just be sure to compensate with some more water). The key is to bring all to a boil and then simmer for at least 20 minutes to let all the flavors meld together. Keep garnishes ready too – paremsan, scallions, sour cream, or bacon bits.