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After writing that first food-focused post, a rush of ideas came to me for more. I must have jotted down at least 15 through the day today and I can’t wait to tickle the keyboard to share them with you.

But I promised to tell you how I upped my game to manage good dinners despite a hectic family schedule. So here goes.

We keep a shared Google calendar that all three of us can access anywhere online, including on our smartphones. I always take a look to see which days could be tricky for getting people fed before I plan the week’s dinners.

It’s a given that I’m not home at suppertime two nights of the week when I teach at the Y. So I’m already in the habit of having a casserole ready for H or D to stick in the oven, a slowcooker meal that’s ready to serve, or sometimes leftovers.

This fall, there’s a third night dedicated to French class, so I’d been taking the same approach – leaving something that’s either ready made or easy to finish preparing.

But that Sunday when I looked at the Google calendar, I realized leaving something ready to pop in the oven wasn’t going to cut it. The window of dining opportunity was so short every single weekday that there wasn’t time for anything more than microwaving.

What we needed was fast food. But not deep-fried, greasy fast food. I’m talking good, tasty, homemade fast food. So here’s what I did.

First, I invested in a wee bit of new equipment. I found snazzy red single serving casserole dishes at Winners.  A set of four was $9, I believe, so I got two sets. I also got Pyrex dishes about the size and shape of frozen dinner containers, but with spiffy red plastic lids. They were $7 each at Sobey’s. (Did I mention I like red?)

Then I whipped up my menu plan and shopping list on Evernote – I’ll tell you more about this handy app another day – whizzed through the grocery store, and headed back to the kitchen. I cranked up the iTunes – because it’s so much more fun to bop while you chop – and proceeded to cook an entire week’s worth of meals in one night.

Here is the menu I chose for five weeknight dinners to feed three busy people (left to right in the photo):

You’ll notice some extra servings in the photo – these went to the deep freeze to patiently await being called to service during a future busy week. You’ll also notice a few other things in the photo:

  • Across the top, three extra containers of rice, ready to serve as sides.
  • Next to the rice is a container of cooked macaroni, ready to turn into a casserole.
  • Top right, the other half of the dump chicken recipe.
  • Below the dump chicken are bags of chopped ham and grated cheddar for adding to biscuit dough.
  • All of these extras went into the deep free except the loaf of chocolate chip banana bread at bottom left. My chocoholic peeps would murder me if I did that.

A productive night, indeed. And it was easy peasy for everyone to eat a good dinner at whatever time they needed it through the week. Not every week requires this much full preparation in advance, but doing most or all the prep on the weekend sure as heck makes the week a lot less stressful.

I’ll do some step-by-step instructions for this kind of make-ahead mania in another post. In the meantime, here’s mom’s baked mac and cheese recipe to warm you up on a crisp fall night. I don’t know where she got the recipe and I don’t care. Once you’ve had this cheesy baked deliciousness, no other mac and cheese will do. It’s my ultimate comfort food. I’ve lightened it slightly, and I like to serve it with tomato slices sprinkled with freshly ground pepper.

Mom’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Hot, cheesy deliciousness.

1 7-oz package of macaroni
2 cups fat-free cottage cheese
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1 slightly beaten egg
2 cups grated light cheddar cheese, divided
Dash of pepper
Sprinkle of paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. Drain and return to the pot. Mix in cottage cheese, sour cream, egg and 1 ½ cups of cheddar. Pour into a 9×9 pan prepared with cooking spray. Sprinkle remaining cheddar over the top, and finish with a sprinkle of paprika. Bake for 45 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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