Side dish recipes are, for me, often the trickiest part of getting dinner on the table.
There are only so many times I can roast broccoli florets with olive oil and salt (my normal weeknight go-to) and instead make one of our side dishes a little more interesting.
The problem with “interesting” side dishes on a weeknight, though? They usually take too dang long. We’re working against the clock here, people!
That’s why I started seeking out some easy side dishes that did double duty as banging freezer meals.
If I could throw a couple together on a weekend and store for later, I knew it would save me time on the weeknights; bonus was it would change up our boring side dish routine!
So here are some of the tastiest side dishes I’ve found out on these there interwebs lately. I’ve saved them to my Side Dishes Pinterest board, where I’m always adding new pins and recipes, so if you dig this list, make sure to follow that board, too!
Bite-sized chunks of carrot are browned in butter and then a lid is added and they are steamed with maple syrup, making these kid-friendly and a great side dish for your weeknight dinner tale. I used peeled, chopped carrots but baby carrots work great, too!
2 tablespoons butter
3 pounds carrots, peeled and ends trimmed
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup water
Chop the carrots into bite sized pieces.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the carrots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots have begun to brown and caramelize in the butter.
Add the maple syrup and stir to coat, then add the water and quickly cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Cook the carrots until the water has dissolved and the carrots have softened through, about 5 minutes.
You’re me, a meal planning expert who has been asked to sit in on a fellow blogger and parenting expert’s Facebook group to talk to her members about how they can Take charge! Simplify! Find routine! Cook dinner without going crazy!
…And your 4 year old choose that night, that very freaking night, to stage a protest about bedtime.
Here are the facts, as we know them to be true:
My daughter’s bedtime: 7:30/8pm.
The time I was supposed to be presenting on Facebook Live: 8:30pm.
My husband’s whereabouts: at work that night til around 1am.
The time my daughter finally stopped appearing in the shadows of her bedroom door with some other inane question or request: 11 pm.
ELEVEN PM. Sweet mother of dragons.
Guys, I nearly lost it. In fact, I kinda did. I was almost 30 minutes late for my live broadcast in Rebecca Bailey’s Parenting Academy private Facebook group, and my 4 year old was parading around the apartment, asking about her Halloween costume for nearly three hours after her bedtime.
I mean, how ironic is it that the night I was supposed to showcase how cool, calm, and collected I was as a working mom, that that would be the night I wound up instead showcasing that my life is just as insane as yours is.
Anyway, at the end of the day, I was able to get on the Live and share my story, ideas, and shortcuts with Rachel’s members. My daughter eventually went to bed. And then we all got up the next day and battled the crazy some more.
It’s real life. Kids are crazy. I’m always tired. But we’re making it work.
Made with mashed butternut squash and a simple white cheese sauce, this Butternut Squash Ziti is comforting, freezes great, and simple to make!
There’s a thing I need to tell you about this easy butternut squash baked ziti.
But first, let’s gaze at its beauty a bit:
There’s the white cheddar and mozzarella layer on top that’s sharp and smooth and pulls away in delicious cheese strands of YES PLEASE I WANT SECONDS:
There’s the creamy butternut squash white sauce mixed in around the chunky ziti noodles.
And the pretty smattering of chopped parsley, natch.
But hey mama, guess what? Guess what’s the best part about it?
This butternut squash baked ziti freezes like a BOSS.
Make it. Put it in the freezer. Then pull it out, get the chill off the glass dish if you’re using one (otherwise it might shatter in a hot oven which would be no bueno), and bake that baby up.
Got a friend who just had a baby? Make her this baked ziti and she’ll love you forever. I mean, forever more than she probably already does.
Got a busy season coming up: your kids is in soccer finals, your husband’s working a big project and coming home late for a week, your calendar is stacked to the nines?
Make a batch of this butternut squash baked ziti in a quiet 20 minute window, and pat yo’self on the back the day you pull it out of the freezer.
Ooh! You know what else you could do? Make this butternut squash baked ziti from fresh and then stand over the stove eating it and burning your mouth while doing so because it’s so creamy and cheesy and delicious and simple to make.
Because if I know anything, I know exactly what that is like. I’ve got the mouth burns to prove it.
Roast the squash beforehand to make this even easier to pull together on the day you’ll be cooking. You can also buy pre-mashed butternut squash in some grocery stores’ prepared produce section; check to see if yours has it ready for you!
1 large butternut squash (about 5 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white flour
1 cup milk (2% or whole is perfect)
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pound penne noodles
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 400*F.
Prepare the vegetables:
Slice the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the squash in oil and lay the halves, skin side down, on a sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the squash is soft all the way through, about 20 minutes. When the squash is done roasting, turn the oven down to 350*F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then add the penne noodles and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain but do not rinse, then set aside until needed.
Peel and mince the garlic.
Strip away the inner stems from the parsley leaves, then mince the parsley
While the squash is roasting, make the cheese sauce:
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and combined.
Cook the roux (butter and flour mix), stirring often, until it has turned a light golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the garlic and salt.
Stir in the parmesan cheese until smooth and combined, then add the mashed butternut squash.
Stir to combine, then pour the sauce into the cooked penne noodles and stir to coat.
Pour the penne and cheese sauce into an 9×13” baking dish.
Top the ziti with the shredded white cheddar and place the baking dish in the oven. .
Bake until the white cheddar has melted and begun to brown, about 8-10 minutes.
Follow steps 1 through 16, then wrap the ziti and freeze. Thaw overnight before cooking
If you’re feeling stretched and pulled in a million directions, you’re not alone. Here are some of my favorite ways a busy mom can de-stress… that aren’t a freaking bubble bath.
When you’re a mom, whether you work inside the home or out, it’s not always easy to find time for YOU.
I’ve struggled with this forever.
Because sometimes, trying to relax when I know there is a mountain of laundry to fold or bills to pay or dishes to wash and my daughter needs permission slips signed and my son needs new socks but Amazon is a black hole of scrolling and, and, and… it makes it really difficult to actually chill out.
And honestly? Sitting in a bubble bath doesn’t do it for me. Neither does a mani-pedi (I literally get antsy waiting for the polish to dry).
I’m too wound up for relaxing, I used to tell my husband.
Side note, he is REALLY GOOD at relaxing and not doing anything. And nope, that’s not a dig. He just knows how to turn his brain off and it makes me jealous.
But I’ve been on the hunt lately for ideas that work, that don’t require me needing to scrub the bathtub out beforehand or hold hands with a stranger for 20 minutes while she tuts at my lack of cuticle care.
Here are my 7 favorite non-cheesy ways to relax as a busy mom with many balls in the air:
Journal I’ve gotten into bullet journaling lately, and while the activity of journaling my thoughts is not always a soothing activity for me, mindless doodling and coloring makes my brain calm down like no other.
Podcasts and Walk Is the new Netflix and chill, as far as I’m concerned. I rush around a lot in a typical day, but sometimes my favorite way to unwind is a walk/hike in aimless directions with a good book or podcast in my ears. Preferably also with a decent coffee in hand.
Skype with Old Friends My husband and I have moved a lot in our 16 years together, and I feel like some of my closest friends are flung to the far reaches of the planet. Decompressing with an old friend is just as goods as having wine together, and bonus if we are drinking together on Skype/Whatsapp.
Solo Lunch Date In the middle of a busy day, sometimes it’s nice to go grab lunch by yo’self and people watch for a bit. Bonus points if you can go the whole lunch without scrolling Instagram.
Meditate I’ll be the first to hold up my hand and say I am not a woo-woo kinda person, and meditation never seemed my thing. But a friend recommended Headspace to me a while back, and it has been amazing for keeping my head clear! Headspace (and Calm, and a number of other similar apps) take you through guided meditation, often centered around a theme. The meditations are 3 to 10 minutes long (you choose the length) and they are perfect to use in those pockets of time on the train or commute, waiting at school pickup, trying to fall asleep but your mind is racing with your to-do list, etc. Grab it here on Google Play or in the App Store.
Here’s the thing: self care is not a one-off thing you do when you’re feeling stressed to the max. It has to be a regular thing if it’s going to work at all.
Make a promise to yourself that you’ll keep your working mom self-care breaks.
In it, she talks about setting promises to yourself and then keeping them. Think of it this way: what would you think of a friend who constantly promised you they would do stuff with you, and then flaked at the last minute? Treat yourself as no different. Keep the promises of self care, of quiet time, of working out, of you time, because you are as important if not more important than the promises you make to your family and friends.
Sending self-care vibes to you, busy mama bird. You deserve the break!