Cheater Lasagna and Other Weeknight Survival Tips

Cheater Lasagna

Sometimes the weekend feels like a break from a busy week. Sometimes work feels like a break from the weekend. One thing is constant though  . . .  weeknight dinners are ALWAYS a challenge–especially on those nights where one of the girls has an after-school activity. I know that I’ve talked about this before, and I know that I’m not alone in struggling to get dinner on the table during weeknights. I think it can be a daunting task, whether you have kids or not.

I thought I’d share a few of the tips that have been helping me cope over the past few weeks, along with a few of my current favourite recipes that help keep me sane. (Okay, I guess this is a matter of opinion.)

  1. Cheat as often as you can . . . in the kitchen of course. Look for recipes that are an easier and faster version of your favourite time-consuming dishes. My cheater lasagna is a family favourite, so I’m sharing it with you below. To make it more weeknight-friendly, you can make the meat sauce in advance and use store-bought preshredded cheese. Another option is to follow tip #2, and make a double-batch of the meat sauce in advance and freeze them so that you have a key ingredient for this recipe on stand-by in case of emergency.
  2. Go big as often as you can.Cook large batches so that you can freeze the left-overs for the next week or later in the month. I find that it takes just as much effort to make a large portion of many dishes, as it does to make a small one. Here are a few of my favourite high-volume recipes:
  3. Use a crock pot for some of your old stand-bys. Have you tried making your favourite soup in a crock-pot? I’ve found that you can easily make your favourite soup recipe in the crock-pot without altering the recipe. The key to making it work on a weekday is to do the chopping the night before and then throw everything into the pot in the morning. Set your crock pot for low and slow, and away you go. Dinner will be waiting for you at the end of the day. Here are the soups I’ve tried in the crock pot so far:
    • Fassolada
    • Tortilla Soup from Ali at A Few Stories — I made this last week and we loved it. I just didn’t add any chilis so that it wouldn’t be too spicy for the ponytails.
    • My long-time favourite Split-pea Soup from Epicurious. Just made a double-batch in the crock pot without the bacon with our left-over ham from Thanksgiving; it worked beautifully — it took about 8 hours on high.
  4. Keep it simple. Make dishes that can be put together quickly on a week-night. Here are a few of my current favourites.
    1. Sloppy Joes from Betsy at bits and breadcrumbs— Actually I haven’t made this yet…but I’m planning to try it later in the week since sloppy joe’s are a regular weeknight meal for us. 
    2. Peanut Noodles
    3. Shrimp and asparagus stir fry from Norma at Garden to Wok   — I’ve also substituted snow peas or broccoli for the asparagus because the ponytails like these veggies better.
  5. Plan for your left-overs. Make something like a roast chicken on the weekend, while planning for a second meal with the left-overs. See my recent Lemon & Herb Spatchocked Chicken post for more details on this idea.
  6. Take at least one night off every week. Order in . . .  or, if you’re on a budget, throw a frozen pizza in the oven. The thin crust pizzas are ready in 12 minutes or so . . . and they’ve saved me many times when I’ve realized that something I thought I had in the cupboard or fridge wasn’t there!
  7. Share your tips with friends! Please leave me a comment with one of your weeknight survival tips and I’ll continue to update this post with your ideas below, so that we can all learn from one another!

Cheater Lasagna

Adapted from Sandi Richard, Fixing Dinner

  • 500 grams mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tin 680 ml + 1/2 tin of 398 tomato sauce (plain)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp each garlic and onion powder
  • 1 340 oz bag broad egg noodles
  • 2 cans reduced fat cream of mushroom soup (or reduced fat cream of broccoli)
  • 1 can soup filled with 1% milk
  • ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Cook for 4 minutes, then drain and rinse with water to remove starch. Set aside.
  3. Brown sausage until browned, then add tomato sauce and spices (oregano, basil, parsley, garlic and onion powder).
  4. Whisk together soup and milk in a medium-sized bowl.
  5. In large lasagna pan, layer ½ soup mixture, 1/3 cooked noodles, ½ meat sauce, cheddar cheese, 1/3 cooked noodles, remaining soup mixture, remaining noodles, remaining meat sauce, then finally mozzarella cheese.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned.
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56 Comments on “Cheater Lasagna and Other Weeknight Survival Tips”

  1. Wow, this looks fantastic.. it doesn’t look at all like a “cheater” recipe. Such a great post.. week days are getting crazier and crazier around here!!

  2. Aaah cheating on these little things makes all the difference my friend, I love that this looks so incredible 😀

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  3. Tandy says:

    Even without the stress of kids I like to have meals in the freezer for when I don’t have time to cook 🙂

  4. Saskia (1=2) says:

    LOVE this post Barb. That Cheat’s lasagna looks and sounds fab! My boys hoover lasagna, so will definitely be trying it. I love ‘soup cheat’ recipes. I freeze pumpkin soup in batches. Mixed with a bit of light cream, it makes a yummy pasta sauce in 5 minutes (sprinkle with toasted walnuts if you have the inclination!). I also use just about any kind of stew in quick little pies, or a family pie – thicken with a bit of corn-flour if necessary, add a (store-bought) puff pastry lid. Voila! Also love roasting double the vegetables, to use the leftovers in a tart or quiche, or on a pizza. Sorry… I’ll stop now! Going to check out your Tex-Mex Taco Bake recipe now 🙂

    • Thanks so much Saskia. I’m a big fan of ‘soup cheat’ recipes too, as you can tell. When I first found this recipe it called for tomato soup, but I couldn’t bear to use it since it doesn’t have the same flavour as tomato sauce. I’ve modified the recipe quite a bit and now I’m really happy with it.

      I’m going to update the post with the ideas put forward — like your pumpkin sauce for pasta. Do the kiddies like it? Never would have thought of that! Actually don’t stop…keep the ideas coming…I absolutely love this type of exchange. Who couldn’t use a few more helpful tips to keep interesting and healthy meals on the table — without a lot of fuss???? I’m so glad to have connected with you!

      • Saskia (1=2) says:

        The kids love the pumpkin soup pasta sauce. I serve it on fettuccine and my youngest calls it ‘cheesey worms’ (he has no idea the orange colour is actually imparted by the pumpkin). I sometimes add chopped bacon, or chives. LOVE these recipe exchanges too. Very glad to have connected with you too Barb.

  5. erika says:

    Great tips! The tex mex taco bake looks yummy–I will have to try modifying that to be vegetarian sometime soon!!

  6. Eva Taylor says:

    Great tips Barb, and even without the kids weeknights are stressful not just to make dinner that night, but to have something for lunch the following day. I agree about increasing the volume to get more servings out of it. And the crock pot is a great time saver plus you get the added benefit to coming home to the aroma that someone has been cooking all day (cue: dust flour on your brow just before the hubby gets home!).
    One pot dishes are always great. I love to make my version of Susur’s Singapore Slaw, I usually make 6-8 servings so we can have it as a side, a wet slaw with shredded chicken, or shrimps, and changing up the dressing can make it a different flavour altogether.
    I love the sound of that tortilla soup (my favourite Mexican soup) so I’m putting it on the list this week but I’m making it in the crock pot. Thanks!

    • I really am going to have to try out the flour dusting routine one of these days….just wondering who would fall for it though???

      Great tip about Susur’s Singapore Slaw. Is his recipe online? I’m going to add all the tips to the post, for those who may not read the comments. You’re right — I think it is a challenge for those with and without kids to get dinner on the table! (Especially if you want to be healthy!)

      I really recommend the tortilla soup — the recipe is for the crock pot and it works well. The all recipe version will give you the conversions … I loved it with lime, coriander and the crispy tortilla bits….yum!

  7. I’m all for cheating in the kitchen when you’re pressed for time and patience. Great tips!

  8. Ali says:

    Thanks so much for sharing my recipe, Barb! Much appreciated! xxx
    More so, I am glad you enjoyed it…I loved the tortilla chips too!! (I must remember to start showing both Imperial and Metric measures in my recipes)….I think I got this one off a US site and converted it to Metric…Tortilla soup is virtually unheard of here in Australia! Which is such a shame!
    Split-pea and ham soup is one of my favourites….and a great one for the crock pot or slow cooker.
    I am a big fan of buying pre-shredded cheese….and I freeze it if I don’t use the whole bag. If it’s my turn to cook and I know I’m going to have a busy week/weekend, I’ll cook something that can be cooked the night before and re-heated. We keep left-overs for lunches or also to put in the freezer for nights we are too busy/tired to cook! It can be a challenge to eat at home every night, but we’ve done fairly well this year.
    Have a good week 🙂

    • I think it is a nice touch to show both imperial and metric measures, but not necessary. I’m afraid I’m not the greatest at the conversions so I flipped back and forth between your version of the soup and the original recipe. The can/tin sizes can very between the U.S. and Canada, as well as other countries so it can be a bit tricky at the best of times. The flavours of the soup are just fantastic, so it’s so nice that it is easy to make in the crock pot.

      Good for you to try to eat at home most nights — it is quite an accomplishment!

  9. Who doesn’t love a good cheat?! 😀 Thanks!

  10. Norma Chang says:

    Thanks for the mention Barb, For that recipe, I sometimes “cheat” and use frozen broccoli or frozen peas. I too “go big”, my stand alone freezer is always packed with cooked meals, broth, soups etc.

    • That is a good reminder that it is okay to use frozen veggies in a pinch too. I really have been enjoying that recipe, and I love that it is easy to make on a weeknight. I’ll bet your freezer is really organized…that is something that I could improve on.

  11. I feel your pain. Weeknight meals are difficult. Everyone is always coming and going at different times and trying to keep anything hot and fresh is difficult. that is why this one pan super meals are just perfect, grab and slice and reheat and you are in business… thanks for the tips again- we all need the help we can with kids going in every direction at the same time right during the dinner times. Take care, BAM

  12. That looks good! I too work full time, have 3 kids and am always looking for ways to get dinner to the table fast. I do have a cheater beef stew recipe. Cut up carrots, potato and celery, cook in the microwave until they are done. In a big pot, add the beef stew meat, brown it add some garlic and chopped onion cook for a few minutes and then add the cooked veggies, 3 (12 oz) cans of V-8 juice and simmer for 30 minutes. It’s so good! For the spices I’ll just add salt and pepper and oregano

    • Nice to meet you Jenn! I just popped by your blog and tried to sign up for your posts — not sure if it worked or not. You are definitely a busy lady — it looks like you put a lot of effort into your blog, as it is very professional. Thanks for sharing your cheater beef stew recipe. This is the reason that I love blogging!

  13. Kristy says:

    I couldn’t wait to read this one Barb. My weeknights have become next to impossible the past few months. I find myself scrambling to throw things together. I don’t have many tips and yours will come in very handy. I do tend to make as much food as I can on Sundays to have through the week, but that only works if we’re home on Sunday. I also do the leftover thing. One of my favorite go-to recipes is ravioli. I buy ravioli in bulk from Costco and depending on the flavor just whip up a quick and flavorful sauce often with a bit of protein tossed in. 🙂 It’s usually on the table within 20 minutes. I can’t wait to try this lasagna! It’s one of my favorite meals and a cheater version sounds perfect to me. 🙂

    • Your pasta idea is terrific — I rarely make sauces, but I really should. I also never add protein to the ravioli or tortellini, so that’s another great idea. I always add peas (because the girls like them) with grated parmie, butter and a hint of lemon zest. You can cook the peas for the last couple minutes in with the pasta. It’s also super quick. I’m thrilled with all the ideas that have been shared through these comments. Each new idea can go a long way at the end of a busy day!

  14. So it’s almost midnight and I’m finally getting to read other people’s posts from this past week, and I had to laugh when I started reading your post because our great minds were thinking alike…again! But you said this so much better than I did…the break from work or break from your weekend dilemma. I love, love the idea of this cheater lasagna and don’t know why I haven’t tried my hand at something like this. So much easier than the traditional version and using the curly noodles instead of lasagna noodles, lovely idea. And thank you so much for the mention, too! 🙂 You have some wonderful tips here, and some I need to incorporate. Last week and this week have especially made me search for easy ways to get food on the table. Great post!

    • Hi there Betsy! You really are keeping busy! Yes, I smiled when I read your blog because we are definitely in the same zone (again!). I actually was thinking that I liked the way you told your story better . . . I had planned to make your sloppy joes last night, but I didn’t have a couple of the ingredients that I needed. I hope that you find one of the ideas from the post or comments helpful. There are several ideas from the comments that I’m going to try!

  15. Sissi says:

    Barb, I love your cheater lasagna idea! As well as the other tips for dinners. Sometimes I forget how “weird” our daily meals have become compared to most Western families… We eat Asian most of the time, so my quick weeknight meals ideas are completely different (I always cook more rice than needed, keep in in the fridge), I always have different types of Asian noodles too, I make sure I have fresh vegetables and some meat/seafood that I can quickly stir-fry etc..
    You have made me so hungry for a nice, warming oven dish!

    • Your rice idea is a good one Sissi. It’s just as easy to make a big batch and then have it for several meals….I do this sometimes too (e.g. when making Norma’s stir fry). My girls love Asian, so we definitely don’t think that your meals are weird. I find that I have to make a variety of types of foods, otherwise they lose their appeal if I make them too much. Would you believe that my oldest daughter complains that she gets too much pasta at school? She also keeps asking when we are going to make sushi …I have to get organized one of these days and use one of your recipes!

  16. petit4chocolatier says:

    This looks so good! It looks like you cooked all day! I love all your ideas!

  17. Beth says:

    I love all your tips – even though I’ve been making after-school meals for quite a while, there are always new recipes to try! Thanks for this awesome post.

  18. Grace says:

    Great tips, Barb. Some of my quick meal suggestions/tips:

    – I make a variety of meatballs and keep in the freezer (some chicken, some beef). Great for throwing together a quick meal, either in soup or pasta dishes. I vary the sauces to throw them in: brown gravy, curry, tomato sauce and also vary the carb substrate (egg noodles, penne, rice, etc.). The combinations are endless.

    – Our absolute fallback quick meal is pasta carbonara, sometimes with bacon (I precook the batch of bacon and keep in fridge for emergency uses like these or use up leftover ham) and sometimes plain or meatless. Cappellini pasta only takes three minutes to cook so I throw in peas with the pasta and I can get this one-dish meal on the table in about five minutes.

    – I get the butcher to cut up the chicken breasts in strips and freeze them in dinner sized servings. It defrosts really quickly and also cooks quickly. Yesterday, I made this simple avgolemono soup for lunch using chicken breast strips. Done in about 15 minutes. http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/avgolemono_soup/

    – Fish is also very easy to prep and cook. Two quick versions: 1) season and wrap in tin foil and throw in the oven (or BBQ in the summer) — good for most fish fillets: tilapia, rainbow trout, halibut, salmon. Meantime, I cook rice and make a veggie dish or salad. 2) salmon teriyaki can be done in about 20 – 25 minutes which is how long the rice needs to cook anyway!

    – One of Dexter’s favourite meals is soft-boiled egg so we indulge by rotating in a breakfast-for-dinner treat during a school night.

    – I also have a list of local restaurants as standby for takeouts when I am extremely busy or just too tired to cook.

    Great post!

    • Wow, Grace thanks for all of your tips!!!! I’m going to try your fish idea tomorrow night. That avgolemono soup sounds really interesting — does Dexter like it??? Also really like the various meatball sauces that you’ve mentioned…for some reason my eldest daughter has gone off meatballs even though I love to make and freeze them. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. It is so great to learn tips from other moms!

      • Grace says:

        Hope your fish experiment turned out! wrt soup: Dex is really not into soup yet, but he liked the idea of egg in the soup and he ate some of the chicken strips.

  19. Nice way to cheat! I am like you, overwhelmed a couple of the days and even on those days I am running from store to store for groceries. Yesterday I ended up buying pre made manicottis, I fell bad doing that but I had no time. I did make some homemade brownies though :). You have to make it easy on yourself sometimes.
    The lasagne looks mighty tasty.

  20. albertocook says:

    I like it.
    For the kids is the tpo

  21. Charles says:

    I’m with Barb (no, not you… the other one (Bamber), lol :D)… this doesn’t look like a cheat-dish at all. Anyway, come on – cheesy, meaty, pasta… how could anyone dislike that? It’s one of the most comforting things I know! 🙂

  22. Anouka says:

    This lasagna looks so delicious! Would love to have a bite!

    LUXESSED

  23. This really looks mouthwatering! Love it!

  24. Hi Barb,

    We have awarded Profiteroles and Ponytails with the ‘Versatile Blogger’ Award 🙂
    http://honeyandlulu.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/nostalgia-versatile-blogger-award.html

    Congratulations – your blog is absolutely fantastic and you most certainly deserve it!

    Have a lovely week,

    Chloe & Sarah

  25. Ameena says:

    We love lasagna and it is actually one of the few things I can make. But my version is really just assembly of ready made ingredients…this looks way easier and way better!!

    Love the crock pot but I am usually at a loss with what to use it for, aside from my usual pot roast. Great ideas!!

    Hope you are having a good weekend so far!

    • I must say that it is pretty easy to make. You could cheat even more in a pinch and use store-bought pasta sauce. There are so many great things that you can make in your crock-pot … including these soups. I hope that you give it a go!

  26. daisyandthefox says:

    oooo this lasagna looks fab! that looks perfect when we can’t be bothered making lasagna from scratch (and still being a family favorite) whilst still being delicious! 🙂

  27. […] the three F’s! When I saw the link to slow cooker chicken tortilla soup on Barb’s blog (Profiteroles and Ponytails) in her weeknight survival techniques post, I was immediately drawn to it. The sound of the […]

  28. […] out to be a hybrid of Rick Bayless’s Sopa Azetca and a recipe that my good friend Barb of Profiteroles and Ponytails posted about some time […]

  29. […] the three F’s! When I saw the link to slow cooker chicken tortilla soup on Barb’s blog (Profiteroles and Ponytails) in her weeknight survival techniques post, I was immediately drawn to it. The sound of the […]


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