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Easy Family Meals: How to Make Three Dinners Out of Ground Beef, Rice and Tomatoes

by Charity Curley Mathews

Zucchini casserole with feta cheese, stuffed peppers and fresh ravioli with meat and tomato sauce.

Foodlets.com

Want to save time cooking dinner? Cook one base for three different meals. This flexible game plan allows for ample substitutions along the way, offering more chances to cook what you have or swap ingredients when needed. These three dishes are sure to please the whole family.

Prepare the Meat, Tomatoes and Rice

Cook rice according to package instructions or from scratch. (1 cup of rice per 2 cups of boiling water. Bring water to a boil, add rice, reduce heat to low and cover pot. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes.) In a separate sauté pan, brown the meat. Use ground beef, ground turkey or try sweet sausage for a punch of instant flavor. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the meat as you cook.

Once the meat is browned, add tomatoes and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until the liquid begins to evaporate. (Optional: If there are any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, pour in half a cup of white or red wine and scrape up all the flavor from the pan.) Add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is done simmering, reserve 2 cups, which you'll use for the pasta.

When the rice is done, combine it with the remaining meat and tomato sauce. Then set aside.

Fresh Ravioli with Meat & Tomato Sauce

Fresh pasta cooks quickly and has a delicate flavor that pairs well with this basic but hearty sauce, though any pasta from a box would work too.

Boil water and cook pasta according to package instructions minus one minute. Drain.

Work quickly to avoid sticky pasta. Back into the same pasta pot, immediately add the reserved meat and tomato sauce plus the drained ravioli, stirring very gently. Be sure to coat each piece of ravioli in sauce which will continue to cook the pasta for another couple of minutes. To plate, sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper, plus finely chopped basil.

Stuffed Peppers

Paired with a loaf of hearty crusty bread and soft salted butter, this is the kind of dinner you can throw in the oven to cook, never once touching the stove. To make four stuffed peppers, you'll need two bell peppers (any color you like), ½ cup of mozzarella cheese (or any kind you like) and ¼ fresh herbs (any kind you like.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the peppers lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds and tendons from inside.

Prepare a baking sheet with olive oil and place peppers cut side down. Bake for 10 minutes.

Combine 2 cups of the rice, meat and tomato mixture with the fresh herbs and most of the cheese, but hold back about 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top for garnish.

Fill each pepper half with about ½ cup of rice, meat and tomato mixture. There's a little pocket of space at the top of each pepper where the stem was; gently pull on the pepper and fill that up too. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.

Zucchini Casserole with Feta Cheese

Start with shredded zucchini (about 3 cups), ½ cup feta cheese, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano plus salt and pepper.

Reserve about a tablespoon of cheese. In a greased 9x9 baking pan, add a thin layer of the rice, meat and tomato mixture. Top it with a thick layer of zucchini, followed by cheese, herbs and spices. Repeat. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cover the whole pan with foil.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The finished casserole should be bubbling on the bottom and browned on the top. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. Not for tonight? Cool completely and store in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, or in the freezer for one month.

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About the Author

Charity Curley Mathews is a mom, media consultant, food writer and founder of Foodlets.com. Her dream is to help families raise children who eat—and enjoy—real food. You can find her most recent posts, recipes and stories on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.