When my kids were young, we had the same menu item perhaps two or three (or more!) nights as week: "Casserole." (If we had lived in Minnesota back then, it probably would have been "hot dish.") However, my goal was never to serve the same meal two times in the same week, and I was usually able to accomplish that. The point is that, for a busy family, these one dish meals can be a wonderful time and money saver without ever becoming boring.
Since my last post focused on chicken and mirepoix, here's the plan using those two ingredients. When you broaden out to pork, ground beef or turkey, ham, and vegetarian options, you could go for weeks without ever duplicating a meal.
The Nutrition Background
By now you've probably heard it dozens of times: Balanced meals should include mostly vegetables, then carbohydrates, then protein--the British call it the "healthy plate." Basically, only a quarter of the meal should be the meat/protein source, with another quarter carbs, and half vegetables (and fruit, with vegetables predominant). Keeping this in mind, here is how some of your "casserole" meals should work out:
A one cup (8 oz or so) container of chicken really does include enough for a family of four, especially if there are other sources of protein included in the meal--glasses of milk, some cheese or beans in the casserole or diced into a side salad, etc.
Think of all the ways you have been served chicken--with rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread. These are the "basic" carbs we Americans tend to use, so you already have at least four different ways to use that chicken.
Here is where a lot of families get bogged down. If any (or all) of the adults in the family are averse to veggies, it will be a challenge to get the kids to get too excited about this part of the meal, but a casserole often provides ways to ease the family into more healthy eating. The mirepoix is actually a good place to start, even if it doesn't provide a full serving of vegetables for each person.
The following list starts with a cup or so of pre-cooked, boned chicken and as much of the mirepoix as you prefer for each dish. If you are starting out with unseasoned chicken, you will be able to add your own preferences to each combination.
These are not recipes so much as ideas for ways to build main dishes adapted to your own family preferences, grouped by the kind of carbohydrate you might use with the chicken.
Chicken, rice, mirepoix, peas or broccoli, with some melted American cheese as the sauce; a splash of Worcestershire sauce can add a little more flavor as well
Chicken, rice, mirepoix, broccoli, snap peas, bell peppers, etc., with soy sauce and other Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese seasonings your family prefers
Chicken, rice, mirepoix, corn, bell peppers, black or kidney beans, and chili powder and/or taco or enchilada sauce
Chicken, rice, mirepoix, French cut green beans or tiny peas or other green vegetables, a basic cream sauce with wine, and some very "French" herbs--savory, tarragon, etc.
Chicken, "mac and cheese" as per your family's favorite recipe, mirepoix, and lots of peas, beans, mixed vegetables, broccoli, etc.
Chicken, fettucine, mirepoix, cream sauce, and green beans or other green vegetables
Chicken, rice noodles, mirepoix, mixed "Oriental vegetables" and soy sauce or other Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese sauces
Chicken, rotini or other fun-shaped pasta, mirepoix, spaghetti sauce, topped with Parmesan--this is a good place to drop in some peas, green beans, or "mixed vegetables" for kids who are otherwise vegetable-averse
Chicken, lasagna noodles, mirepoix, spinach, and the rest of your usual lasagna recipe ingredients
Chicken, sliced potatoes, mirepoix (with extra onions), cream sauce and broccoli or frozen chopped spinach--upgrading your scalloped potato recipe
Chicken, mashed potatoes, mirepoix, some of the chicken stock made into gravy, and mixed vegetables of your choice--turn this into a shepherd's pie by combining all the other ingredients, spreading the potatoes over the top and then sprinkling with Cheddar cheese before baking just long enough to get a golden crust
OR--turn the shepherd's pie upside down--mix the potatoes with some cheese and an egg and spread in a well-oiled dish. Bake until this "crust" turns golden brown while you combine the chicken with vegetables and gravy or a cream sauce. Put the chicken mixture into the crust and sprinkle with seasoned breadcrumbs and/or grated cheese if desired
Chicken, diced potatoes, mirepoix, white beans or lentils, and other "stew vegetables" with some chicken broth and sage, poultry seasoning, or other herbs to make a hearty chicken stew
"Potato lasagna"--chicken, sliced, pre-cooked, potatoes, mirepoix, spaghetti sauce, chopped spinach or broccoli, oregano, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds, ricotta and mozzarella cheese--layer the potatoes as you would lasagna noodles along with the other ingredients. Caution--this will NOT taste like "real" lasagna, but it will suit the tastes of those who especially like Italian flavors
Chicken, finely diced, "raw" mirepoix--grated raw carrot along with diced onion and celery to taste--and perhaps even some finely grated cabbage and/or diced bell pepper, all mixed with your favorite salad dressing to taste and served on hard rolls. (Okay, I know, this is a sandwich, not a "casserole." Still, it's a fine use for these ingredients and yet another meal option.)
Combine this same "chicken salad" filling with some elbow or shell macaroni, perhaps with some black olives, radishes, or hard boiled egg slices, for a summer pasta salad that is, after all, just a cold "casserole," right?
Though not really a casserole, don't forget pizza with chicken as a topping. For this, stir some mirepoix into the sauce to up the vegetable content or just spread it over the top. Include broccoli or other vegetables that your family especially likes as well.
Chicken, mirepoix, in a cream or gravy sauce with broccoli, cauliflower, carrot slices, sugar peas, bell pepper, etc., topped with a biscuit crust
Chicken, leftover (or newly made) stuffing, mirepoix and a cream or gravy sauce with vegetables of your choice. The stuffing can be spread in a well-oiled dish and baked just enough to form a crust before topping with the chicken and vegetables layer, OR the chicken and vegetable mixture can be put in the pan and then the stuffing spread over the top before heating to bubbly in either the oven or the microwave
Chicken, mirepoix, black or pinto beans, chili powder, cumin, corn, green chiles, diced yams or butternut squash, chopped cilantro, and a cream or gravy based sauce, stirred together and layered in a casserole dish with Monterrey Jack or other white cheese and whole wheat tortillas. This one is best if made ahead and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.
By my count, the suggestions above could serve for at least three weeks of non-stop chicken meals--not that any of us would want to do that! Just think, however, how far they could take you if you planned to serve chicken with vegetables and some kind of carbohydrate just a couple of times a week. And while it may seem that the inclusion of mirepoix in all of these is unnecessary, by considering this as an "ingredient" that you can make ahead and have ready in the refrigerator, just think of the time that pre-preparation might save on especially busy nights.
(One more comment: Turkey is easily substituted in just about any of these ideas as well--a good thing to remember when trying to decide what to do with all those leftovers.)
I would love to hear of some of the other ways your family enjoys one-dish chicken meals, along with your own time-saving ideas.