When it comes to feeding a family, there are several competing priorities: time, cost, nutrition, and the ever important "Will the kids eat it?" I have a strong bias toward real food. By real food I mean food that is minimally processed, which eliminates many of the so called convenience foods that I once relied on to get dinner on the table in a hurry. I've learned, though, that it IS possible to make meals out of real food that are ready quickly and taste great.
One secret to my success is planning ahead.
Actually, planning makes it sound more organized than it really is. In my dream world there are menu lists organized weeks ahead, but the reality is different. What I really do is cook and freeze large batches of basic ingredients. Pulling something homemade out of the freezer gives me a head start on a meal, and less temptation to call for take-out.
Roasting a chicken or pot roast is not something that can be pulled off at the last minute. Instead, every few weeks I thaw a couple of good sized pork or beef roasts, or two or three chickens and roast them all at the same time. Dinner that night is a traditional meat and potatoes meal and the extra meat is boned or sliced and put in quart sized freezer bags. This is a time saver on nights that I want to put something on the table quickly and it's economical, too. I package the meat so that there are about two cups per bag. This is plenty when the meat is used as an add-in, rather than the main focus of the meal.
Another economical, make-ahead favorite is dried beans. A bag of beans costs pennies per serving and preparing a batch for freezing is a cinch with a crock pot. Early in the day (or after dinner for overnight cooking) rinse the beans and put them in the crock pot. Use slightly more water than the recommended amount, since you won't be presoaking the beans. Turn the crock pot on low and come back 8-10 hours later. Let the beans cool before putting them in freezer containers. I use quart-size freezer bags, and put about two cups per bag. To freeze bags, lay them flat on a cookie sheet. After they are frozen, remove the cookie sheet.
My Easy Enchilada Bake uses these pre-made goodies.