Every night at 6:00 p.m., Terri Wetzel of Roseburg, Oregon finds her kitchen table filled with at least four hungry mouths to feed. "When my 21-year-old son, Timothy, comes home, it's five, and if his fiancée or friends accompany him, we make room for more. The entire family knows what time dinner is, and that they'd better be at the table if they're hungry!"

Such scheduling is necessary to keep Terri's busy household running smoothly. "I work at the local elementary school with special-needs children," she says. "When I arrive home, my own children, Joe, 12, and Madie, 10, often need help with homework and preparing for the next day. It can get pretty hectic."

Although Terri's husband, Jim, cooks breakfast, Terri plans and shops for most of her family's menus. She's been told that she can make a meal from nothing and says, "It's important to use what I have on hand to make meals the entire family will eat. And it needs to be fast and easy—I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen!"

To tempt their taste buds, Terri relies on well-seasoned foods. "Vegetables are part of every meal, and my kids love flavor. Plain anything just isn't going to cut it here, so we season our food with onion, garlic, herbs and spices."

You'll find some of those great flavors in Terri's Mock Stroganoff. "Sometimes, necessity creates wonderful ideas," she writes. "When my husband and I were first married, we raised our own beef. I'm not a huge steak eater, but loved the flavor of stroganoff, and using hamburger made it more palatable for me. Plus, it was an easy dish for our children to eat as toddlers. Now, it's a family favorite!"

Good-for-you Lemon Green Beans dress up the plate with their vibrant color. "They're so simple," says Terri. "Just microwave them, throw in your seasoning and ‘poof' it's done. I've also made this on the stovetop with canned beans," she says.

Microwave Apple Crisp is the perfect ending to the meal. "This recipe is as quick as a boxed cake mix and a healthier dessert choice," writes Terri. "My father-in-law had beautiful apple trees, and I would peel, core, slice and freeze quarts of apples each year. Ultimately, the apple crisp became the most popular treat I made. I prepare this a lot in fall, when it seems like everyone has a bag of fresh apples to give away!"


Here's the Plan:

  1. Start water for the noodles; peel and slice apples and prepare the apple mixture.
  2. When water boils, add noodles and begin cooking the beef, onion and mushrooms.
  3. Finish and microwave the apple crisp.
  4. Prepare and microwave the beans.
  5. While beans cook, finish the stroganoff.

TIP: If you want to wait until after dinner to bring out dessert, simply prepare the apple crisp and refrigerate it until you're ready to pop it into the microwave. Consider taking it out of the refrigerator a few minutes before cooking it.


Terri's sharing her tips for fast, budget-friendly meals!

Make It Ahead: "I try to think ahead and prepare some things before I leave in the morning," says Terri. "I like to make a huge green salad that will last several days. I'm not a big fan of pricey 'bagged' salads, so it does take time to wash and dry the greens, but I find it's not such a hassle if I'm only doing it once or twice a week."

Shop Right: "When making a menu, we use what we have. During the summer we freeze or can as much as possible. When pasta is on sale we load up, and when packaged gravy mixes are priced right, I've been known to buy a case. I use them to season stew, meat loaf, pot roast and, of course, the mock stroganoff. I find I can keep my grocery budget down by stocking up on produce in the summer and buying often-used items in bulk when they're on sale."