Friday, July 10, 2015

3 Gluten-Free Casserole Meal Ideas for Busy Families

During the school year I was getting away with last minute meal prep for my family.  I would get so busy (or distracted) that by the time 5:30 rolled around, I'd find myself panicking.  That was around the same time that my kids' tummies would begin to rumble.  That's also when Little Buddy, who could happily eat 24 hours a day would yell out, "Hey, Mom!  What's for dinner?"

Dinner?  

He can't be serious, I'd think.  The kid just ate snack...  

I'd slowly glance at the clock and realize...TWO hours ago.  

Oh, no!  Dinner!

Dang it.  

I did it again, I'd mutter to myself. 
Mom, what's for dinner?
Um...
You'd think that I'd have this making dinner thing down.  I've been making and serving dinner for our family of seven for a long time now.  But, once again, I'd get caught up in something else and lose track of time.  It would be a race against the clock to to thaw some meat, to figure out what to do with it, and to begin the prep work for whatever sides I thought could go with the meal. 

Happily, none of the food I'd end up throwing together last minute tasted terrible.  Quite the opposite!  They were some of the best dinners I'd ever made and garnered lots of compliments--even from my pickiest eater!  But who wants the pressure of racing against the clock to get a meal on the table with five hungry, hungry hippos underfoot?  Not this mama.  

I knew that I needed to make some changes.  

First, was to plan my day better.  Next, was to actually plan a dinner menu each week instead of going by the imaginary one I ignored in my head daily.  Third, was to follow through on those plans.  As I tippy toed into making some positive changes, I could see that things were going to be better.  

Our schedule was smoother, and I wasn't feeling so rushed.  Dinners were plated sooner than usual, and they tasted even yummier than before.  In fact, I was able to add some new dishes to the mix.  Now, before you think I added more work for myself and spent too many hours thinking about what to make, I promise that I didn't flip through tons of cookbooks or scan through hundreds of online recipes to find new meal ideas.  Since I am a work in progress and admittedly, somewhat lazy in the kitchen, I just threw what I already had in the fridge into a casserole dish.  

Casseroles?  How have I forgotten how easy those were?!

Casseroles...yes!  

Here are three of those casserole dishes--all gluten-free, that we rotate (sometimes twice because they taste so YUM) during our busy week:

Chicken Chicken
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
6 chicken breasts
1 jar mild salsa (we are wimps, the milder the better)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


Directions:
Preheat oven
Cut the chicken into cubes and place in a casserole dish
Toss a jar of salsa onto chicken cubes
Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the chicken and salsa
Mix ingredients so that chicken is covered with salsa and cheese
Bake at 350° for 50 minutes 

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Chicken Chicken with a side of organic rice, a garden salad, gluten-free tortilla chips (we like this brand), and organic sweet corn.

Optional:  
Add a dollop (or three!) of sour cream to the chicken; serve Chicken Chicken in hard taco shells (we like this brand).

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Cheesy Meat
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
3 pounds of ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 jar mild salsa (again, we are wimps, the milder the better)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven
Brown the ground beef
Once browned, add packet of taco seasoning to meat (we like this brand)
Place meat in a casserole dish
Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the meat, and then mix
On half the casserole, mix 1/2 jar of salsa into the meat (not all of my kids like the extra flavor of the salsa)
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes  

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Cheesy Meat with a side of organic rice, a garden salad, gluten free tortilla chips (we like this brand), and organic sweet corn.

Optional:  
Add a dollop (or three!) sour cream to the Cheesy Meat; serve in hard taco shells or use tortilla chips as a spoon to gobble the tasty goodness up.

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Super Noodles
Measurements are for my family of 7; adjust recipe according to your family's needs

Ingredients: 
2 pounds ground beef
Salt
Pepper
Garlic
Basil
Oregano
2-3 jars of marinara/red sauce (or your own homemade red sauce)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package gluten free noodles

Directions:
Preheat oven
Boil noodles (we like this brand)
When boiled, drain and pour noodles into the casserole dish
While noodles are boiling, mix spices with ground beef (I don't measure--not because I am lazy, but because I've always eyeballed how much is just the right amount. If you are the measuring type, I would guess a 1/8-1/4 tsp of salt and pepper and 1/2 tsp of garlic, basil and oregano)
Brown the meat in a medium sauce pan
Once browned, drain the fat
Add red sauce to the meat and mix
Place meat in a casserole dish on top of noodles
Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over the meat and noodles, and mix
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes  

Serve:  
To make it a full meal, we serve Super Noodles with a side a garden salad, fresh organic green beans or brocolli, and oven warmed gluten-free bread (we like this brand) dipped in organic olive oil on the side.

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Those meals, all named by Little Buddy and as organic as we can make them, plus a regular taco night, plus an Italian night (or two) like spaghetti and noodles or lasagna, plus a barbeque night (or two), plus a pizza night (gluten-free, of course) makes for over a week's worth of healthy and yummy meals for us.  
  
Now, these dishes may not be that exquisite or be culinary magazine worthy, but they require more discipline on my part (something I welcomed), and they continue to receive great reviews from each of my children.  The extra praise is nice, and the planning ahead has been good for all of us.  

Planning ahead is loads better than running around like a crazy woman in the kitchen.  Being the crazy woman can be fun every now and then.  But it's never fun when the kids are hungry, when a tired husband who's worked all day is on his way home, and when something as simple as starting dinner thirty minutes earlier can make for a smoother transition to the evening.  

Since life can still get in the way, on that days that I do get dinner started later than usual, or when things get overwhelming, I'm not afraid to toss in the (kitchen) towel and turn making dinner into a game.  My kids love to eat, and they love games, too.  


While I quickly whip up breakfast for dinner,
 the kids run around like silly gooses
looking for food and zombies.  

Those night don't happen very often, but when I tell the kids to hunt for their food while I get a quick dinner made, well, those nights are never boring.  They are actually a lot of fun.

Here's to fun.  

Here's to happy.

And here's to making more yummy dinners!

xo, Cat


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P.S. I'd loved to have added a picture of each meal, but each time that I make those dinners, we eat them too fast to capture them on film!  I'll add some photos when I can. :) 

I am in no way affiliated with the brands/companies linked in this blog nor am I receiving any compensation for mentioning their products.  


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