Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Easy Cheap Dinners for the Warmer Weather

Now that the spring has truly sprung here, the sun is shining and mince & dumplings are off the menu!

Unfortunately, the activities don't let up.  Menu planning takes so long at Acorn Towers due to all of the commitments that seem to occur around tea times at least four nights of the week.  And on the rest, it is difficult to entice the children in from the garden on these lovely longer evenings!

So instead of relying on slow-cooker casseroles or mince-heavy meals, I now am beginning to roll out our lighter yet still cheap and easy meals...

Here are my family's favourite dinners for breaking up the evening's garden play:

with green salad, and either potatoes and coleslaw or potato salad.

Jacket potato bar
bake a potato (or two for older boys and the fellas!) and lay out various toppings. We like to have the following out: baked beans, grated cheese, egg-style salad, tuna-style salad, coleslaw (I make this with shredded red cabbage, carrot, French dressing and chives if I have any) and shredded lettuce or white cabbage.

Fajita bar
lay out the flour tortillas, some grated cheese, sweetcorn, salsa (I use tinned & drained chopped tomatoes with salt, garlic powder, black pepper, whichever citrus I have about from freezer or bottle - a drop of vinegar works if not, olive oil + finely chopped red onion), tinned & drained kidney beans, roasted vegetables (whatever is in the fridge/cupboard; last week this was carrots, potatoes and leeks tossed in olive oil,salt and black pepper), and either hummus or cream cheese or French dressing.  We usually also have potato wedges or tortilla crisps or a ton of popcorn out for this.

Couscous salad 
made with tinned beans, cooked or raw grated vegetables and dried fruits.  This is nice served with either green vegetables or a green salad and coleslaw (with this meal, I like adding nuts, particularly hazelnuts or walnuts, to the coleslaw.)

Plate pastry pies 
filled with whatever we fancy or we have in  e.g. cheese & leek/onion, flaked "tuna" or "chicken" mixed with a white sauce or French dressing/cream cheese + milk with vegetables, couscous salad, or cream cheese and green leafy veg.  These are great served cooled to warm or cold (having the advantage of being able to bake them before afternoon activities) with boiled potatoes and vegetables or salad.

Pasta dishes with salad
Plain pasta dishes like Pasta Napoli or a lasagne can be lightened by serving with salad (we like coleslaw best in a strange mish-mash of cuisines) rather than the green leafy veg with usually eat with them in the older months.  Lighter less mince heavy sauces are best like the above-mentioned Napoli, or cheese and spinach (or other green leaves) which is particularly good in a lasagne, or pesto with green beans and broad beans or butter beans.

Summer casseroles
Lighter casseroles with a tomato base (using tinned chopped tomatoes as part of the liquid) with turnips, carrots, peas and onions and flavoured with a little soy sauce and balsamic vinegar or dark brown sugar.  In even the warmest months, this is lovely with a couscous salad with tinned kidney or frozen broad beans and mint or/and parsley.

Baked Beans on Toast
It isn't haute cuisine. But it's beloved here.  It can be a more wintery dish if served with dark green leafy veg, but in the lighter months it is perfect served with cooked beetroot and, yes you guessed it, coleslaw (or at least a French dressing-dressed shredded salad of some sort!).

I like to bake a loaf cake each day with lighter flavours such as lemon, almond or coconut.  A slice of this with a cup of tea is a nice way to round up a meal.

Otherwise, a fruit salad is something the children like to make: I let them choose from the fruit bowl (typically just banana, apple, pear and kiwi fruit or orange citrus) which they add dried fruit to (usually just sultanas in the cupboard with occasional dates).  They chop and mix and leave it all to steep in its own juices while we eat our main meal.

I like to try to keep ice cream in the freezer once the weather becomes warmer too; or at least a couple of frozen bananas ready to pop into the food processor with a little splash of milk to create a basic and lovely ice cream.  Otherwise, I melt a couple tbsp each of butter and sugar (cocoa powder if wanting chocolate) then pour in 600ml milk and freeze; a few times throughout the day I whizz the mixture in the food processor to break up the ice crystals.  Having a pack of cornets in the cupboard is very useful as less ice cream is served per portion and yet it somehow feels like more of a treat.

What are your favourite fill-them-up dinners that are enjoyable in the warmer weather?

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