Most of us are stretched to the limit during the holidays. With kids, work, housekeeping, holiday shopping, baking, and decorating, who has time to cook supper?
As tempting as it is to order in pizza or pick up burgers from the fast-food window, your family and your budget will fare better if you take a little time to put together meals at home.
These meals do not have to be elaborate -- just warm and nourishing.
Convenience Food Tricks
Canned soup, frozen vegetables, jarred sauces, and baking mixes conspire to make cooking easier than ever.
Scan the recipes on the back of the boxes of your favorite products for ideas. These recipes are developed in large corporate test kitchens and are generally reliable and always easy.
Make old favorites such as chicken or tuna noodle casserole with cream of mushroom soup. Dress up macaroni and cheese by spreading it in a casserole and topping it with tomatoes. A quick stint in the broiler or oven just before servings results in a crusty, cheesy treat.
Pour pasta sauce over chicken breasts and add some bread crumbs and grated cheese for a tasty casserole.
Hot, toasty grilled cheese sandwiches or homemade tuna melts are good choices to serve with bowls of tomato soup or clam chowder.
Mix-based biscuits or cornbread, served hot and fresh, dress up a simple meal. Or top canned vegetable soup with crusty croutons and grated Parmesan cheese.
Spaghetti and marinara sauce is a good and easy meal, and one that always pleases the kids. Buy a baguette and spread it with softened butter or olive oil, mixed with crushed garlic. Bake it for about 15 minutes and make everyone happy!
Use the Take-Out Stores
If your budget can handle it, a main course purchased at a deli or take-out counter can save a lot of time. Augment it with frozen vegetables, quick-cooking rice or a green salad.
Buy a rotisserie-cooked chicken, baked or poached salmon, cooked chicken breasts, or meatloaf.
Custom-made soups and stews from the local specialty or gourmet store are great ideas for take-out. Heat them up once you're home, toss a salad and go!
The Old Standbys
On those nights when you and the kids want pizza, go for it -- but order one with toppings you don't usually select and then take the time to make a green salad. Serve the pizza on plates rather than eating it out of the box.
Ditto for burgers. Put the fries on a platter and serve them family style. Everyone will be happier and a take-out meal will feel more like a family supper.
Don't Forget Dessert
While you don't have to have dessert every night, a juicy clementine, a bowl of peppermintstick ice cream, or some festive Christmas cookies round out any meal nicely.
Taking time to sit down to a meal with the family provides a calm port in the wild storm we call the holidays!