Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crock Pot Meals

Yesterday's post (Crockpots in a Microwave World) was the perfect inspiration for me to discuss cooking for a large family.  Many of you have asked me about our meal times, specifically wanting to know how we feed our large family.

I shop at Sam's Club! :-)  Sam's offers a free "Click 'n Pull" shopping service online, so every Saturday, I put all of the items that I'll need for that week into my online shopping cart and checkout.  Then, I go to Sam's every Monday to pick up the items from my Click 'n Pull order.  It's a wonderful service because all I have to do is walk in and ask for my order.  They bring it to me on a cart, scan my order bar code, take my payment, load it up for me, and in a matter of minutes, I have a full week's worth of groceries loaded into my vehicle!  It's fabulous!

A typical weekly order at Sam's includes 7 gallons of milk, 2 large bags of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, 2 packages of ground turkey, one beef roast, frozen fish fillets (Tilapia or Flounder normally), frozen shrimp, fresh produce (grapes, bananas, strawberries, apples, spinach, carrots, etc.), bread, cereal, lunch meat, peanut butter, Chex mix, and a myriad of other items.

Sawyer (our 10yo bio son) has severe food allergies (allergic colitis), and Matt is allergic to beef and pork and also has Diabetes (along with ulcerative colitis), so those two are served different meals than everyone else.  I prepare Sawyer's meals for the entire week, and keep those stored in the refrigerator.  (Mattie helps me prepare Sawyer's meals.)  I cook for Matt each night for dinner, but he prepares his own breakfast and lunch.

Breakfast around our house is usually "on your own".  (I'm NOT a morning person, at all, so the kids know that Mom's brain doesn't function well in the mornings!)  Breakfast choices include cereal, oatmeal, frozen waffles/pancakes, bacon, sausage, and fruit.  Lunches usually consist of leftovers and/or sandwiches.  Dinners are usually a meal prepared in the crock pot, most often a casserole type meal.

I have a confession to make:  I LOVE MY CROCK POT!!!  Seriously, it's a very rare moment to walk into our home and not see a crock pot cooking on our counter top!  I just don't have time to stay in the kitchen to prepare meals for hours each day, so the crock pot does that job for me.  Many times I don't know what meal I'm going to make for dinner, but I always have meat cooked in the crock pot to convert into some type of meal.  Our kids devour whatever is served, so it's nice that they're not picky.  We always have salad (spinach) and bread with our meals (to fill tummies!), and most of the time we have a fruit as well.

My favorite thing about using the crock pot is that meat (even frozen meat), if cooked long enough, will shred with a fork, making it perfect for casseroles.  No matter what type of meat it is, I just toss it in the crock pot, add some seasonings (and a little broth or water), and let it cook on low all day.  (Or sometimes I'll put the meat on the night before and let it slow cook all night, then I'll shred the meat the following morning and add fresh veggies (carrots, potatoes, etc.) and let it all cook together for the day.)  When I'm ready to prepare dinner, the meat is already prepared.  All I have to do is take the lid off the crock pot, shred the meat using a large fork, and then decide what type of casserole/dinner I'm going to make.  Casseroles stretch the meat, so more mouths can be fed for less money.  Oh, and did you know that you can also cook ground meat in the crock pot?  To make the meat sauce for spaghetti, I plop a mound of frozen ground turkey into the crock pot, smother it in a jar of our favorite marinara sauce (Newmann's Own), put the lid on the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.  I use a large spoon to break up the meat about 2 hours into the cycle, and it turns out delicious because the meat absorbs the flavor of the sauce.  Yummy!

I rarely follow a recipe for main dishes.  I just concoct casseroles in my head using ingredients we like and hope it turns out yummy!  Here's a list of some of my kiddos' favorite meals:  chicken pot pie, shredded chicken quesadillas, French dip sandwiches, King Ranch casserole, chicken fettuccine Alfredo, shrimp linguine, lasagna, spaghetti, spinach and chicken Florentine, chicken and rice casserole, breakfast casserole (served for dinner), chicken and dumplin's, chicken noodle soup, Mexican stew (similar to chicken tortilla soup), venison stew, taco soup, chili and cornbread, green chili chicken chowder, shredded BBQ sandwiches, pulled pork, tacos, and Chinese chicken/veggie mix served over rice.

I would LOVE to get more crock pot main dish recipes.  Please share your favorite main dishes by leaving a comment!

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