“What’s for dinner?” It’s a common question most parents hear on a daily basis, whether they are asking it themselves or being asked by their family members. After a long day at work or getting home late, putting a healthy meal on the table that is quick and that everyone likes can seem like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be!
The following meal planning strategies can make all the difference in your day (and week) by eliminating your “what’s for dinner?” stress.
1. Take advantage of the slow cooker. Like many parents, I’m often pressed for time after working and picking up my children from school or other activities, so the slow cooker is a lifesaver. Many people associate slow cookers with soups and stews, but they are really quite versatile. Dump-and-go recipes tend to be the easiest and are therefore my favorite type. I shy away from recipes that require a good deal of cooking before the ingredients go into the slow cooker.
2. Cook once, use twice (or more!). I prefer recipes that make leftovers that can be re-used in many different ways so my children don’t even realize they are eating leftovers. Leftovers may also be frozen for quick meals in the future.
The following recipe for Beef and Bean Taco Meat utilizes both of these strategies. Beef and Bean Taco Meat is easy to make in the slow cooker, is extremely versatile (it can be used as taco or burrito filling, a baked potato topping or a taco salad topping) and yields a large amount, perfect for repurposing leftovers into multiple meals or for freezing extra for quick dinners in the future. Additionally, it is healthy, particularly if you use lean ground beef, and it incorporates beans, which are packed with great nutrients such as protein, fiber and many vitamins and minerals. Beans are also inexpensive, so adding them to more costly ingredients like beef, helps me stretch my grocery budget.
While taco seasoning can be purchased, I prefer to make my own so I can control the ingredients, particularly when it comes to sodium. I generally have all of the seasonings on hand anyway and I can tailor it to my family’s taste buds.
Beef and Bean Taco Meat
Yield: about 10 (½ cup) servings
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
½ cup water
1. Combine all ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker and stir well.
2. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until meat is cooked through and temperature is at least 165 degrees F. While it is best to stir occasionally while cooking to break the meat up into crumbles, if that is not practical, stir well at the beginning and towards the end of the cooking period.
3. Adjust seasonings as needed before serving.
Note: Ground turkey breast can be used in place of beef if preferred. Also, any type of bean, such as pinto or great northern, can be used in place of black beans.
Yield: ½ cup + 1¾ tablespoons
3½ tablespoons chili powder
½ tablespoon chipotle chili powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons cumin
4 teaspoons coriander
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Mix all seasonings together well and store in an airtight container.
Note: if you don’t have chipotle chili powder, use an additional ½ tablespoon of regular chili powder instead.
Try out this recipe the next time you find yourself unable to answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” With any luck, you’ll find that your family – and you – both like the answer!
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