Thursday, 23 May 2024

The Best ‘Dump-and-Go’ Meals for Busy Nights

If you’re a busy parent, dump-and-go meals can be a lifesaver. These meals are not only nutritious and filling but also budget-friendly and can be prepared in just minutes. The concept is simple: you gather your ingredients, dump them together, hit a few buttons, and come home to a gourmet meal that’s almost ready to serve. All you need is a little preparation and either a pressure cooker or a slow cooker.

Five Tips to Get You Going

  1. Invest in a pressure cooker: While a slow cooker is handy most of the time, a pressure cooker is perfect for those occasions when you forget to defrost dinner. It can thaw and cook frozen chicken to perfection in less than an hour. Plus, pressure cookers also have a slow cooker setting, making them a versatile tool that no busy family should be without.

  2. Pre-organize your ingredients: If weekdays are particularly hectic, try a new kind of Sunday afternoon meal prep. Instead of cooking your chicken breasts individually, pack all the ingredients together in gallon-sized bags. You can include your choice of protein, vegetables, beans, spices, sauces, and any other additions. These bags can go in the fridge if you plan to cook them that week or in the freezer if you’re meal prepping for the month.

  3. Play with your spices and sauces: The gallon-bag strategy allows you to set up the bags in a row and prep them with similar proteins and vegetables. You can then mix up the spices and sauces to create a variety of flavors. For example, chicken and vegetables can have a Mexican, Thai, Indian, or Italian flair, depending on the seasoning and sauce you use. This way, you save money by buying your proteins and vegetables in bulk while maximizing nutrient density.

  4. Take advantage of easy, cheap alternatives: Canned beans are a fantastic protein option, and frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. With rising prices at the grocery store, get creative with your meal prep by analyzing which option is cheaper. Additionally, buying in bulk whenever possible, especially for ingredients like rice that are used often, can save you money in the long run.

  5. Get creative with your serving strategy: Most dump-and-go meals are served over rice or pasta, but there are other ways to make your meals more exciting. For example, shredded chicken can be served over a baked potato, and pulled pork could be used in a sandwich or as a topping for a rice bowl. Almost any meat dish made in a slow cooker can be converted into a nacho platter by topping tortilla chips with the meat and vegetables, and adding salsa and guacamole.

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Three Easy Recipes to Try

Chicken with Salsa

Serves four

  • 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Jar of salsa
  • Can of black beans
  • Fresh or frozen spinach
  • Yellow onion, diced
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • Rice, corn tortillas, or tortilla chips
  • Fresh salsa (diced tomatoes, diced red onion, chopped cilantro, lime juice)
  • Avocado slices
  • Cheddar cheese

In the pressure cooker, add the chicken, salsa, beans, frozen spinach, and chopped onion. Leave it on the slow cooker setting for eight hours. Use two large forks to shred the chicken into small pieces. Serve over rice or strain and use as filling for tacos or nachos. Top with fresh salsa, avocado, and cheddar as desired.

Chickpea Curry

Serves four

  • 2 cans of chickpeas
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • Fresh or frozen spinach
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.5 cups of vegetable broth
  • Optional: chicken or extra-firm tofu chunks
  • Rice

In the pressure cooker, add all the ingredients except for the rice. If you want to cook the rice with the curry, add two cups of water for every cup of rice. Leave it on the low slow cooker setting for 6-8 hours. If the rice is not added, make it separately.

Italian-Inspired Casserole

Serves four

  • 1.5 pounds Italian sausage
  • 4 to 6 servings of penne pasta
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • Chopped onion
  • Fresh or frozen spinach
  • Chopped bell pepper
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • Small jar of pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
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Optional: Sauté onions and sausage together in the bottom of the pressure cooker on the sauté setting, then chop the sausage into pieces. If you’re in a rush, you can skip this step. Combine the sausage, onions, peppers, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, spinach, garlic, and seasoning in the pressure cooker and set it on low slow cooker for eight hours. With 30-40 minutes left before dinner, add the penne pasta. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more vegetable broth since the pasta needs to absorb liquid. Finally, add the mozzarella cheese and serve!

FAQs

Q: What are dump-and-go meals?
A: Dump-and-go meals are a convenient way to prepare nutritious and delicious meals by simply combining all the ingredients in a pressure cooker or slow cooker and letting it cook.

Q: Can I use a slow cooker instead of a pressure cooker?
A: Yes, a slow cooker works just as well for dump-and-go meals. However, a pressure cooker can be handy when you forget to defrost dinner, as it can thaw and cook frozen ingredients quickly.

Q: Are dump-and-go meals budget-friendly?
A: Yes, dump-and-go meals can be cost-effective, especially when you buy ingredients in bulk. Additionally, using canned beans and frozen vegetables can be cheaper alternatives to fresh produce.

Conclusion

Dump-and-go meals are a game-changer for busy parents who want to provide nutritious and satisfying meals for their families. With a little preparation and the right kitchen tool, you can enjoy gourmet meals without spending hours in the kitchen. Try these easy recipes and customize them to suit your family’s taste preferences. No matter which recipe you choose, dump-and-go meals are sure to make your busy nights a little easier and more delicious.

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