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The Coupon Lady: Meal planning for busy families

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I love this time of year. I was a flute player all through high school and played in the marching band. Over the course of five years of attending every football event, I became a fan of the game. There was nothing quite like cheering on your friends and schoolmates on Friday nights. I’ve spent many nights huddled under blankets, eating nachos or sour straws and booing the opposing team when they scored or the referees when they made a bad call. Some of my best high school memories happened on the bus rides to and from the away games with my other band members.

When I started college, I left my band days behind me. However, I went to football games whenever I could manage a break in my school and work schedules. That love of football has remained with me to this day, and now I enjoy making Saturday nights at my house a time to cheer on our favorite football teams.

Although it’s tempting to just grab a pizza for game day, it’s easy for my family to spend $50 on pizza if family or friends join us. Instead, I prefer making things for that extra touch. Crockpot chili or dip, wings, hoagies and appetizers are quick and easy. My favorites are low-calorie appetizers from the Hungry Girl cookbooks.

During this time of year, I know a lot of parents are challenged for time. Between homework assignments, orientations, booster meetings, picking up your kids from practice and trying to get a few more weekend getaways squeezed in before winter sets in, it always seems we could use at least a few more hours each day to get everything done. When our lives become busy, it can be very tempting to resort to take-out or the drive through, but those trips can bust your budget quickly.

I’m not completely immune to the pull, but I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that balanced nutrition comes out of a happy meal box or from behind a counter.

So I’m sharing a few tips on how to combat those busy night supper dilemmas.

One of the biggest ways you can save both time and money is to use a meal plan to shop. There are several different methods and you can use the one that best suits your family.

I have one friend who plans week-to-week based on what she has in her pantry. Another friend rotates six weekly meal plans that contain her family’s favorite meals. I use a meal-planning service called Emeals. My meal plan and shopping list are delivered to my e-mail account each week, and they feature seasonal produce and meat sales from the store of my choosing.

However, I admit that the best made plans sometime don’t work out as intended, so I also like to have a backup. I try to keep a stock of a few homemade freezer meals in my deep freeze. These are homemade “place and bake” casseroles that can go straight from the freezer to the oven. Making these meals gives you an extra layer of protection.

I have several resources for freezer meals. My new favorite resource for thrifty freezer meal recipes comes from Pinterest. Doing a quick search for freezer meals will give you hours of inspiration. I plan on two freezer meals every week for busy days.

Another way to save time is to use double-duty recipes. These are main courses that you fix once and serve, then use the leftovers to make a different meal. You can freeze the second meal for greater flexibility.

So, if you are a participant of high school or college football, cheerleading or band, then I wish you all the best. Moms and dads, thanks for all you do. These athletes couldn’t do it without your help and sacrifices. Now, let’s watch some football!


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