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.