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A large part of living simply is using what you have on hand.  Our grocery carts are primarily filled with things we cannot grow or produce here on the farm, such as flour, sugar and other baking supplies.  Our freezers are a little different.  Since we put up all of our own beef, chicken, and the majority of our pork products, we have quite a bit of ‘main dish’ items on hand.  It is from those stores that I pull from to create meals for my family.  But let’s face it.  Sometimes, the same old roast beef, steak or baked chicken gets old, and I am ready for something different, but all too often I just don’t feel like cooking.  I’d rather have something fast.  The Country Boy says it this way: “I want a high-quality, inexpensive meal.”  Which means I can’t really get away with frozen pizza.

It is amazing how many of the pre-packaged foods we buy can easily be made at home.  Even the old standby t.v. dinners can be put together and popped into the freezer.  I recently found some of the plastic containers with lids that have three separate sections, reminiscent of the foil trays that most t.v. dinners came in.  Considering I would much rather have a home cooked meal, rather than a frozen concoction that doesn’t really have much flavor is a no-brainer.  Time, however, to prepare a meal like that every single night, just isn’t always available.  So I use these containers to do the next best thing with the leftovers from a previous meal.  Busy night?  No problem.  Just pull one out, thaw, and either transfer the meal on a foil-lined tray and pop it in the oven, or pop the whole thing in the microwave.  A home cooked meal in minutes.  Perfect.

An even better thought is to cook things that have multiple uses.  A baked chicken can be a great meal, and leftovers can be used for a casserole, sandwiches or chicken salad.  Bake a roast one night, and use the left overs in soup, or chop up and add barbecue sauce for a great sandwich.  I keep this very concept in mind when I am making meatballs.  I usually double the recipe, since I will already have all the ingredients out, just to make sure I have plenty.  The first ones go into spaghetti sauce.  The rest I put in a freezer bag and toss in the freezer for later use.

What else can you use meatballs for?  Let’s start with a meatball sub.  A great hot sandwich for a cold winter’s night.  Add them to a barbecue sauce in a slow cooker and you have a ready appetizer for a party.  Around here, we just heat some up and eat them as snacks.  You could also get creative and design your own casserole using them as the foundation.  Add some spices, pasta and maybe some cream sauce or cream of mushroom soup and you have your own original main dish.

If we ever stopped to really look at what we have in our pantries, refrigerators and freezers, we could probably come up with enough meals to feed our families for a week.  If we used the leftovers creatively, you could conceivably add another week or better to that number.  Considering how much we hate grocery shopping, this is something we often do.  It amazes us just how many different dishes we can come up with.

Want a head start?  Why not meet me over in the kitchen and I will share my recipe for homemade meatballs.  You may not have home-processed Italian Sausage in your freezer, but what they have in the stores runs a close second.  If you find you like them, next time you grocery shop stock up on several pounds of it.  Overall, the versatility of this little ball of meat is a great way to stretch your budget and offer you some diversity in your meal planning.