Friday, August 29, 2008

Easy Weeknight Family Food

The school runs are back on; schedules are overcrowded with after school programs and you have little or no time to cook before everyone's at the table looking to eat...

One thing that works for my whole family on busy days is the pasta bake. I've made numerous variations on a theme depending on the old BOGO collection or whats fresh or simply what we feel like eating.

The simple genius of this dish, apart from its versatility, is that you can combine every element of the meal in the one dish, prepare it ahead of time and in 15-20 minutes its ready to eat. By the time the crusty sneakers have been removed and you've unpacked the lunchbox - its done!

I'm a pretty organized cook. I buy chicken breasts in bulk and grill them, slice them and have them ready to go in the fridge. Its far easier to do it this way than cook from scratch every night - I also only have to clean up once! You can do the same with the pasta. Cook a boxful of penne or bowties, rinse in cold water and dress with a little olive oil and fridge it. This makes a really nutritious dinner just minutes away. I've got quite into the wholegrain pastas too - even if you do half & half its a great way to add fibre without a battle.

Here's what I do. Mix the pasta and sliced chicken with a store bought marinara sauce, add vegetables - your choice - my guys like green beans, sweetcorn, carrots and peas - give it a mix and pour into an oven proof dish. Top with grated cheese and bake until bubbling.

Here are some variations:

  • ITALIAN & CREAMY - Whole grain pasta shapes with chicken, alfredo sauce & spinach, top with breadcrumbs & extra cheese.

  • BBQ STYLE - Bowties with chicken; marinara sauce, splash of barbecue sauce & a can of sweetcorn, top with extra barbecue sauce and spicy cheese.

  • ITALIAN & LIGHT - Penne with chicken, tomato & basil sauce, packet of frozen peas, top with skim milk mozzarella & basil.

  • MEXICAN STYLE - Spirals with chicken, spicy tomato sauce, beans, top with mexican blend cheese and French's onions.

I like to let my daughter choose the ingredients, the pasta shapes, the vegetables and the cheese. A little control over what she's eating makes her so much more hungry for the finished product. With this dish I know she's getting a bit of everything good in each mouthful. Dr. Dave and the three toothed one don't complain either!

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