September signals meal planning time

This Beef Stew freezes beautifully and makes for a fast dinner when in a rush. Note, when freezing...

This Beef Stew freezes beautifully and makes for a fast dinner when in a rush. Note, when freezing this recipe, cool completely and freeze in smaller containers that stack well. Or you can freezer in heavy-duty freezer bags. (Sue Reeve/QMI Agency)

Rita DeMontis, National Food Editor, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

Back to school means meal planning gets ramped up full throttle.

Between getting breakfast going, packing lunches and preparing dinner on time, no wonder the stress level starts to climb.

Add in parents on tight deadlines, after-school activities, getting stuck in traffic -- I'm sure cooking a nutritious meal becomes the last thing on anyone's mind!

Let's face it, as the days get shorter and the seasons slip into one another, feeling overwhelmed becomes part of the landscape.

Don't be a hero -- we know getting a full, nutritious meal together on time every single day may be close to impossible.

But not totally out of your league. The key is in planning -- getting breakfast items on the table the night before, making enough pasta sauce to freeze, getting a good slow cooker and relegating some of the other duties, like table setting, or salad making, can ease the anxiety.

Use the front of your fridge as more than a great place to hang art -- put up a big planning board and use it! You'll be surprised how much this will help.

And encourage family mealtimes, with no TVs, no cell phones or iPads. Just some nice quality time with you and the gang.

After all, it is the season.

BREAKFAST: Lay out a fruit, granola, bowls, and spoons before you go to bed at night. In the morning the kids can serve themselves, adding yogurt or milk from the fridge. Even if you're helping little ones yourself, you'll still be ahead of the game with the non-perishables already assembled.

LUNCH: Pack lunches the night before so that each kid can grab a boxed lunch he's ready to eat. No need to wait for the lunch bell here!

DINNER: Set your slow cooker and bread machine to get to work in the morning so that when the day is done, dinner's ready when you are.

-  Courtesy of Simplehomeschool.net

TURKEY APPLE MEATLOAF

Fast and easy to assemble,this tasty, tender meatloaf does double-duty as turkey burgers, or perfect for sandwiches next day. Recipe courtesy of Foodland Ontario.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium apples (such as Empire, McIntosh, Cortland), peeled and diced

1 cup (250 ml) fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup (50 ml) chopped fresh parsley

2 lb (1 kg) ground turkey

1 egg, beaten

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) whole grain mustard

2 tsp. (10 ml) Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 tsp (7 ml) salt

Directions:

In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and apples; cook for about 3 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in bread crumbs and parsley. In large bowl, combine ground turkey, egg, mustard, Worcestershire and salt; stir in apple mixture until well combined.

Press turkey mixture lightly into 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch (22 x 12 cm) loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for about 1 hour or until thermometer registers 165°F (74°C).

Serves 6.

BEEF STEW

I make this stew as it freezes beautifully and makes for a fast dinner when I'm in a rush. Note, when freezing this recipe, cool completely and freeze in smaller containers that stack well. Or you can freezer in heavy-duty freezer bags.

Ingredients:

2 lb (1 kg) stewing beef, cubed into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks

2 Tbsp. (30ml) all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. (15ml) vegetable or olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 sweet onions, chopped

1 rib celery, sliced

1 can (5 oz/156 mL) tomato paste

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) beef stock

1/4 cup (50ml) dry red wine (optional)

1 Tbsp (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

3 large potatoes, Yukon Gold preferred, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup (125ml) fresh button mushrooms, sliced

Salt/pepper to taste

1 cup (250 mL) frozen peas, rinsed in cold water

Directions:

Trim any fat off beef. Toss with flour. Heat olive oil in large, deep pot; add beef and saute until seared on all sides. Add garlic, onions and celery to mix. Simmer on medium heat for five minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to mix thoroughly. Cook additional five minutes, then add beef stock, dry red wine (if using), Worcestershire sauce, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and simmer on low heat until beef and vegetables are tender. Add peas and simmer additional 10 minutes. Stew will thicken as it cools.

Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE: If you want a thicker stew, remove 1/4 cup of hot stew and introduce 1-2 Tbsp. (15-30ml) flour. Whisk quickly to remove any lumps. Slowly add additional hote liquid. Return mixture to stew and stir thoroughly. This recipe is excellent for slow cookers.

RICH, WARM BROWNIE WEDGES WITH JAVA CREAM

Ingredients:

At the end of week, we're all in the mood for a great dessert! Recipe courtesy of Canola Oil Council of Canada (Canolacouncil.org).

Canola oil cooking spray

Wedges:

2/3 cup (150ml) all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled

1/3 cup (75ml) white whole-wheat flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled

1/2 cup (125ml) cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp. (7ml) baking powder

1 Tbsp. (15ml) instant coffee granules, divided

1/8 tsp. (.5ml) salt

1/2 cup (125ml) packed brown sugar substitute blend

1/3 cup (75ml) canola oil

1/2 cup (125ml) egg substitute

2 tsp. (10ml) vanilla extract

Cream:

2 Tbsp. (30ml) water

1 tsp. (5ml) instant coffee granules

4 oz. (115g) fat-free whipped topping

1 cup (250ml) fresh raspberries

1 cup (250ml) blackberries or blueberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Coat a 9-inch (23 cm), nonstick spring form pan or cake pan with canola oil cooking spray.

Combine flours, cocoa, baking powder, 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) coffee granules, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine sugar, canola oil, egg substitute, and vanilla in another medium bowl; mix well. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture, and stir until just blended. Batter will be very thick. Spoon into the bottom of the pan; spread evenly by coating the back of a spoon with cooking spray. Bake for 11 minutes or until slightly puffed. (Mixture will not be completely cooked at this point, but it will continue to cook while standing without overcooking and drying out.) Place the pan on a wire rack, and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove sides of pan, and gently remove from bottom or leave on bottom and place on a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. When cooled completely, store in an airtight container at room temperature.

To make cream, combine water with 1 tsp. (5 ml) instant coffee granules in a medium bowl, and stir until dissolved. Add whipped topping; whisk until a sauce consistency is reached. For thinner sauce, add 1-2 Tbsp. (15 - 30 ml) water or milk. Refrigerate until needed.

To serve, cut into wedges, spoon mocha cream on top, and sprinkle with berries.

Serves 8. 


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