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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Monday's Menu: Mexican Lasagna (and 5 ways for making dinner preparation easier)

jenmichel@me.com

Does your house, like mine, erupt with a kind of volcanic chaos just when you're making dinner? This is especially true in winter months when it's simply too dark or too cold to send the kids outside to run off some energy. Making dinner becomes a kind of Olympic feat of the most grueling proportions. Today, I'm sharing five suggestions for getting dinner on the table easier, and I also have a great kid-friendly recipe for you. 1. Make your meal plan for the week. Did you read last week's post? Step one for less-stress dinners is having thought through what you're actually making this week. Check your meal plan in the morning in case you need to defrost something for tonight's meal.

2. Assign a dinner helper who's on-call for whatever you need. (I do this for every meal of the day.) Currently, Audrey is my dinner helper. She runs into the basement to get anything I need out of the second fridge or our overflow pantry. She sets the table and serves the meal. She pours drinks, and the best part is, she's also responsible for the last minute, "I need another napkin!" or "May I have more milk?" kinds of requests that are generated all throughout dinner.

3. Plan easy, healthy meals. A great website is mealmakeovermoms.com, the original source for the mexican lasagne recipe below. I think the work of making dinner feels worth it when you know you're preparing something healthy and yummy that everyone can enjoy. Disclaimer: today's recipe is one of the rare meals that everyone enjoys. Generally, at my house, there is one person grumbling at every meal that he or she doesn't like something. The rule is: you don't have to eat it, but there will not be anything else to eat before bed.

4. Thirty minutes before dinner, try to insist on some quiet play. This is worth your time and focused effort. Make this the time kids look at books independently, or color, or listen to music quietly in their rooms. I've finally realized it's OK to forbid running circles through the kitchen just as I'm getting dinner on the table!

5. Light a candle at the table. Make your gathering as a family around the table a sacred time together. Insist on everyone sitting down at the table, and turn the t.v. off.  Lighting a candle and dimming the lights is a visual symbol for the kids of this sacred space you're creating. Make your mealtimes together even more purposeful by prayer, Scripture reading, and great conversations starters like, "What was your high and your low today?"

Happy Monday!

Mexican Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • One 16-ounce jar salsa
  • One 15½ -ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 10-ounce bag or box frozen corn kernels, thawed (about 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Five 8-inch flour tortillas, cut in half
  • One 16-ounce container low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1½ cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Cook the meat and carrot in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Add the salsa, black beans, corn, chili powder, and cumin to the skillet and stir to combine.
  4. To assemble the lasagna, arrange a third (about 2 cups) of the meat mixture in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Layer half the tortillas over the meat, allowing them to overlap. Spoon half of the cottage cheese and 1/2 cup of the Cheddar cheese over the tortillas and spread evenly.
  5. Place 2 more cups of meat mixture over the cottage cheese. Layer with the remaining tortillas and cottage cheese. End with the meat mixture.
  6. Top with the remaining Cheddar cheese and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the lasagna is heated through, about 25 minutes.