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Meals for many: Busy moms share recipes that will fill tummies, not break the budget

By Sean Clancy

This article was published April 19, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette family meal illustration.

Easy Enchiladas, shown here topped with a sprinkling of cilantro, can be doubled or tripled as needed.

Fiesta Ranch Chicken is prepared in a slow cooker, leaving the cook free for other activities.

Peoples’ Pork ’n’ Beans combines two types of beans, smoked sausage, corn and salsa for a quick and satisfying meal.

It's hard enough sometimes just to make supper for yourself, but what happens when you have to feed a bunch of other hungry faces each night? That's what many families with four or more children encounter at suppertime.

Buying groceries without breaking the budget, cooking, dealing with picky eaters, cleaning up is all part of a busy family life for many. It's also a time when memories are created and bonds are shared -- over a meal with people you love. Even if they are family.

Morgan Lassiter of Floyd is a mother of four -- ages 13, 7, 5 and 20 months -- who balances work as the office manager at His Kids Christian Academy in Searcy with making sure her children and husband Philip have supper on the table.

When, of course, they're at the table together. Between the kids' athletic endeavors, church services and Lassiter's fluid work shifts, family time at supper can be a rarity, but everyone still needs feeding.

"Two days a week, I work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Lassiter says during a lunch break earlier this month. "Those are typically the days that I'll do Crock-Pot meals because I don't get home until later."

On the other days, when her schedule has her arriving at work earlier and home before 5 p.m., she'll use the oven or have leftovers. On Wednesday evenings the family attends services at Valley Baptist Church and also eats there.

Philip will pitch in by making salads and also fires up the grill, says Lassiter, 36.

"We do a lot of Crock-Pot meals, a lot of beans and cornbread, lots of recipes with chicken," she says. "And if I make any kind of pasta dish -- lasagna, chicken spaghetti -- I'll usually try to double it and freeze one."

The same goes for soups and chili, which can be stretched over a couple of days, she says.

Another standby at their house, and a dish that gets the double-down treatment, is Broccoli Chicken and Rice.

"It's another one of my kids' favorites and it's good but, man, it takes forever," she says with a laugh.

Fiesta Ranch Chicken is also a regular in the Lassiter rotation.

"They really like it and I do, too. It takes five minutes to get in the Crock-Pot. You let it cook all day and all I have to do when I get home is cook some rice and throw it over that."

When it comes to a weekly menu, Lassiter usually wings it.

"I'm not that organized," she says. "I don't write anything down, I just have in my head what I'd like to make over the course of the week. I usually shop once a week and we try to go to Sam's Club once a month for lunch-type stuff to send with the kids to school."

Jan Peoples of Fort Smith who -- with husband Brent -- also has four kids at home, endorses the buy-in-bulk approach.

"We have an OK Foods outlet store here and they sell 40-pound bags of chicken leg quarters for $10-$16, sometimes. I'll buy two of those," says Peoples, whose children range between 12 and 21 years old. All that chicken is kept in one of her family's two freezers.

"We used to live out in the country, but now we live in town, so our buying habits have changed," she says. "Once a month we'll do what we call our big shop, when we'll buy the bulk of our food and the staples."

Pasta and peanut butter are high on the list.

"I'm always going to buy at least five pounds of pasta," says Peoples, 45, who runs her Sew Sew In Love fabric design business from her home. The peanut butter is mostly for her oldest son, who apparently has a pretty serious jones for the spread.

"I don't see how he eats it anymore," she says with a laugh. "It's like in college eating Ramen noodles, you know?"

And she always keeps an eye toward meals she can serve in bowls.

"Whatever I can serve my family in a bowl is something I really like to do, like spaghetti, chili, any type of soup."

With a youngest son who loves hunting with his grandfather, venison is a regular protein at the Peoples' supper table.

"We process it at home, because I don't like the way commercial meat processors do it," she says. "One of the main things we make with it is chili. It's just like regular chili but with deer meat."

Friday nights are usually reserved for homemade pizza, she says, and it's also the one night a week they have sodas with supper as opposed to the usual water or Kool-Aid.

"I really encourage water, especially with my younger ones who are so active outside."


Kathryn McElderry's children, all nine of them, are grown and out of the house, but each evening when they were growing up was spent eating together as a family.

"We'd talk about the day," McElderry says of suppers with her schoolteacher husband, Dan, and their brood. "Some of the fondest memories and stories we like to tell are incidents that happened at the dinner table. ... It's an informal way of imparting a lot of values and information. Eating food and sitting around talking, it's a very positive thing."

Getting that meal on the table, though, was part of her job of keeping house.

"I wasn't working," she says, "and I viewed my job as taking care of the home, and running a home is just like running a business."

She followed a tight budget and stuck to a planned menu each week, often making enough to stretch into two meals so she wasn't cooking every night.

"I would feel real picked-on if I had to make a new meal every night," says the 65-year-old McElderry, who now works for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Little Rock. "I'd make beans one day and re-fry them the next day and make burritos."

To stretch her budget, she used lots of beans and lentils, and skipped big cuts of meat for cheaper hamburger, chicken and tuna. They also drank water at supper, not tea or juice and certainly not soda pops.

"Once in a while we'd have Kool-Aid, but it was mostly water," she says.

Pizzas gained a foothold among the McElderry clan.

"I got pretty good at making homemade pizza dough. It's so easy. And some of my kids still make homemade pizza."

Beef enchiladas were also well-received.

"I still make those a lot," she says.

The Recipes

These first five recipes are from Morgan Lassiter. "I usually double all these recipes so I have enough for leftovers for the next day or so I can freeze for a later date."

Fiesta Ranch Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed

1 (11-ounce) can Ro-Tel, drained

1 (12- to 16-ounce) can whole kernel corn, undrained

1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese

1 (1.1-ounce) packet Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch Dip mix

Hot cooked rice, for serving

Place chicken breasts in the bottom of a slow cooker. Add the beans, Ro-Tel, corn, cream cheese and ranch mix. Cook on low for 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice. (Editor's note: We shredded the chicken after cooking.)

Recipe from Morgan Lassiter

Broccoli Chicken Rice Casserole

2 or 3 chicken breasts cooked and shredded

3 cups cooked broccoli

3 cups cooked rice

1 can cream of mushroom soup

2 to 3 cups grated cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling

1/2 cup butter

1 packet of onion soup mix

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Spoon mixture into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with extra cheese. Bake 30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

Recipe from Morgan Lassiter

Lassiter usually serves this meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans and bread.


1 pound ground chuck

1 cup oats

1 egg

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

Picante sauce (see note)

Ketchup (see note)

Chili sauce (see note)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Spoon meatloaf into loaf pan and press to keep it firm so it won't fall apart when it's finished. Bake one hour, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Note: Lassiter does not measure these, but says to use equal parts of each until mixture is a nice consistency -- not too dry, but not too wet.

"A fresh salad or green peas, carrots or green beans goes great with this," Lassiter says.

No Peek Beef Tips

2 pounds stew meat

1 packet onion soup mix

1 packet brown gravy mix

1 cup water

1 can cream of mushroom soup, optional

Hot cooked rice or mashed potatoes, for serving

Put all ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.

Paula Deen's Pinto Beans

1 pound dry pinto beans

1 teaspoon chile powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 pound ham hock or ham pieces (see note)

1 onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

4 cups water

Rinse and soak beans in cold water 8 to 12 hours. Drain and rinse then dump into a slow cooker. Add chile powder and oregano. If using ham pieces, just add to the slow cooker. Then add onion, salt, pepper, garlic powder and water to cover. Mix together well, then cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours. Serve with cornbread.

Note: If using ham hock, soak in water for at least 2 hours or in refrigerator overnight, depending on how salty you like your beans.

Recipe from Morgan Lassiter

McElderry says this enchilada casserole can be doubled or tripled as needed.

Easy Enchiladas

1 pound lean ground beef

1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 cups shredded cheese, plus more for topping

12 corn tortillas, torn in pieces

Chopped onion, sliced olives, corn, diced red or green bell pepper, optional

Shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, picante sauce, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a skillet, fry ground beef and drain.

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients and mix well. Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. If desired, sprinkle the top with more cheese. Bake 30 minutes. Serve with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and picante sauce.

This pizza recipe can be doubled or tripled to make as many or as few pizzas as needed.

Homemade Pizza


1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon oil, plus more for coating pan and hands

21/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided use

Dash of salt

For the pizzas:

Pizza or spaghetti sauce

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, plus more as needed

Desired toppings such as sliced pepperoni, cooked sausage, cooked ground beef, ham, Canadian bacon, anchovies, sliced salami, sliced bell peppers, sliced olives, sliced mushrooms, sliced onion, sliced tomatoes and/or pineapple

In a large bowl, combine water and yeast. Add sugar and oil. Stir in 2 cups of flour and stir until smooth. With floured hands, knead in ½ to 1 cup more of the flour, rubbing sides of bowl and working in flour until you have a smooth ball. Dough will rise in bowl while you prepare the toppings and oil the baking pan.

Lightly coat a dark-colored cookie sheet or pizza pan with oil.

With well-oiled hands, press dough onto the pan to the edges. Layer the dough with sauce, cheese, meat and vegetables. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is starting to toast and the crust is toasty on the bottom.

Recipe from Kathryn McElderry

Peoples' Pork 'n' Beans

1 smoked sausage, sliced

1 (12- to 15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed

1 jar salsa

1 teaspoon cumin or to taste

6 cups cooked rice

In a large skillet combine sausage, corn, beans and salsa. Cook until heated through. Season with cumin. Serve over rice.

Recipe from Jan Peoples

Baked Mac 'n' Cheese

1 pound macaroni

1/2 cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

Garlic, to taste

Salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

4 ounces cream cheese, cubed

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup grated cheddar or Colby jack cheese

1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Cottage cheese, optional

Sprinkle of parmesan

Cook macaroni to al dente according to package directions. Drain.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in flour to make a thin roux. Stir until all lumps are gone, but do not brown. Add milk, and stir until it is heated through, and then add garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream cheese and sour cream. When it's all melted and smooth remove from heat and set aside.

Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray or butter. Put in just enough sauce to cover the bottom. Layer half the macaroni, a cup of grated cheddar or Colby jack and a half cup of mozzarella. (If she has cottage cheese on hand, Peoples will add a little of that in, too). Pour half of the sauce over contents of pan. Repeat with the second half of the macaroni, cheddar or Colby jack, mozzarella and sauce.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly. Before serving, sprinkle with parmesan and return to oven until top starts to brown.

Recipe from Jan Peoples

Food on 04/19/2017

Print Headline: Meals for many: Busy moms share recipes that will fill tummies, not break the budget


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