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Photo: Becky Winkler

Family-Friendly Recipes for Busy Weeknights

Deliciously easy meals from Caroline Fausel, a Denver-based food blogger and mom of two.

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Is there anyone who doesn’t love an effortless, stress-free weeknight dinner? I enjoy a home-cooked meal as much as the next person, but even as a food blogger, I don’t love spending all night, every night hovering over the stove. I knew there had to be a way to combine healthy, Paleo dishes with the best aspects of batch cooking and freezer meals, but I never found a method I loved, so I put on my apron and made my own. This Prep, Cook, Freeze method originated right in my kitchen, and I’m excited to share it with you and your family.

All recipes serve four on cook night and four on reheat night with the additional fresh ingredients found in the reheat grocery list.

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Best-Ever Barbecue Chicken Pizza

easy weeknight dinners
Photo: Becky Winkler

Prep Day Ingredients:

Prep Day Instructions:

Shred the chicken. (You should end up with approximately 8 cups of meat.) Then, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Cook Night Ingredients:

Cook Night Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. While the oven heats, prepare your pizza toppings: onion, pineapple, and vegan mozzarella.
  3. Combine ½ cup of barbecue sauce with the shredded chicken.
  4. Place your pizza crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet or pizza stone. Lightly brush your pizza crust with olive oil.
  5. Spread ⅓ cup of barbecue sauce onto the pizza dough, then top with the mozzarella cheese, 1¼ cups of the barbecue chicken mixture, red onion, and pineapple.
  6. Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the crust is fully cooked.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.
  8. Freeze the remaining 1¼ cups of the barbecue chicken mixture.

Reheat Grocery List:

Reheat Night Instructions:

To thaw the shredded chicken mixture, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before reheat night, or use your favorite quick thaw method. Once thawed, follow the instructions for cook night.


Don’t Forget to Freeze These!

Herbs

If you have leftover herbs that will go bad before you use them, make an herb oil by blending the herbs and olive oil in a blender, then freeze the herb oil in an ice cube tray. These cubes are great to add to soups, stews, dressings, and other recipes.

Broths & Sauces

Freeze your leftover broth, tomato paste, barbecue sauce, and dressing in ice cube trays as well.


Make-Ahead Enchilada Bake

easy weeknight dinners
Photo: Becky Winkler

Prep Day Ingredients:

Topping Ingredients:

Prep Day Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the beef and cook until it’s browned and cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the beef from the pan and set it aside. Reduce the heat to
    medium and add the olive oil and diced onion, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers. Sauté until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Once the vegetables are tender, add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Return the beef to the pot with the vegetables and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. Spray two 8 x 8-inch baking dishes with avocado oil cooking spray. Add a layer of tortillas to the bottom of each pan. Place a full tortilla in the middle, then cut two tortillas in half and place the flat edge of each against each flat side of the dish (so the round parts will be facing the middle). In each baking dish, add 2 cups of the beef-and-vegetable mixture, then ¾ cup enchilada sauce. Add another layer each of tortillas, beef, and sauce. Then top with tortillas and sauce.
  6. Cover both baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. At the 10-minute mark, rotate each baking dish and swap which racks they are on to ensure even cooking. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove both enchilada bakes from the oven and let cool. Cover both baking dishes with airtight lids or a layer of plastic wrap covered with a layer of aluminum foil. Store one in the refrigerator for cook night and the other one in the freezer for reheat night.

Cook Night Instructions:

  1. Remove the enchilada bake from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F.
  2. Remove the lid or plastic and aluminum foil and re-cover with just the aluminum foil. Heat in the oven until warmed through, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the enchilada bake from the oven, cut it into fourths, and plate it with the desired toppings.

Reheat Grocery List:

Reheat Night Instructions:

To thaw the enchilada bake, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before reheat night, giving it adequate time to completely thaw. Once thawed, follow the instructions from cook night.

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Sweet and Sour Hawaiian Meatballs

easy weeknight dinners
Photo: Becky Winkler

Prep Day Ingredients:

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Meatballs

Prep Day Instructions:

  1. Make the sweet and sour sauce by blending together the jar of teriyaki sauce, jar of Hawaiian barbecue sauce, and juice from the pineapple chunks in a high-powered blender.
  2. Next, in a large mixing bowl, fully combine all the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, mixing them together with your hands. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, then form golf ball–size meatballs and place them on the sheet pan.
  3. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over
    medium-high heat; add the olive oil. Working in batches, cook the meatballs until they are browned on the outside and fully cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side, 6 to 8
    minutes total. Drain the fat from the pot. Add the meatballs back to the Dutch oven and pour the sweet and sour sauce over them. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Once the sauce has thickened, remove the Dutch oven from the heat and allow the contents to cool completely. Divide the meatballs and their sauce mixture in half. Store one half in an airtight container in the refrigerator for cook night and the other half in an airtight container in the freezer for reheat night.

Cook Night Ingredients:

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Meatballs

Cook Night Instructions:

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium- high heat. Add the white parts of the scallions and the chopped bell peppers and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the drained pineapple chunks and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Remove the Hawaiian meatballs in the sweet and sour sauce from the refrigerator and add them to the same pot as the pineapple and bell peppers. Stir to combine and cook until heated through, about 8 minutes. Serve over riced cauliflower, with a sprinkle of sliced greens from the scallions.

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Reheat Night Instructions:

To thaw the Hawaiian meatballs and sauce, move them from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before reheat night, or use your favorite quick thaw method. Once thawed, follow the cook night ingredients and instructions.


Get Ready to Freeze and Reheat

In every recipe, there are instructions to freeze a portion, if not all, of the meal you have prepared. Here are some tips on how to freeze your food:

Cool your food before freezing.

Give your food adequate time to cool before adding it to the freezer. Putting warm or even hot food into the freezer can warm up the freezer temperature as well as the items within it, which can affect the taste and texture of those other items. Additionally, the steam from a dish that’s not cooled first will create ice when it freezes, and water down the food when it thaws (like watered-down soup, for example). Also, do not crowd your freezer—allow for ample space to stack or lay items on top of one another.

Freeze items in the proper containers.

Freezer-proof resealable bags are convenient for cold storage, as you can squeeze the air out of them and stack them flat on top of one another. This method is especially helpful for sauces. Glass, heat-proof containers with lids work well for freezing, so consider investing in a set. Be sure to leave space at the top when you are freezing liquids, as they will expand. If you need to use a storage container
without a lid, first wrap it in plastic wrap and then again in foil.

Label and date.

Be sure to label and date every dish you freeze. You can write directly on a resealable bag or buy painter’s tape and a permanent marker to create your own labels. For reference, most cooked dishes keep for two to three months in the freezer.

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Thaw.

When you are ready for reheating, be sure to allow adequate time when thawing your frozen portion of the meal. I recommend removing the frozen item the night before and allowing it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

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