20 Aug 2014
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Easy Mini-Meals You Can Make in a Muffin Tin

These meals are portable, easy to freeze in bulk and super-simple.

The holidays consume so much of our brains this time of year, especially since this season feels rushed thanks to a late Thanksgiving. That means something has to fall through the cracks and it's probably your daily cooking routine. Maybe you're sleepwalking through breakfast because you're up late wrapping presents, or dinners are a mess because you have to run to yet another holiday event at your kid's school. Either way, a little help is in order.

Muffin tin meals are the perfect fix for this time of year when it feels like we're just getting by between the holidays. Put some extra mileage on your muffin tin or cupcake pan by making complete meals in it that are portable, easy to freeze in bulk and make life easier. Serve at breakfast, lunch or dinner throughout the week. Before you know it, your muffin tin will join the workhorse ranks of your  crock pot.

While practically anything's possible in a muffin tin, you don't have to stretch your imagination at all—just make your go-to recipes like meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas, or stew. About half an hour in the kitchen this weekend will save you hours next week. Not to mention how good you'll feel knowing the kids got healthy home cooked meals when you haven't touched your oven in days.

Here's a simple muffin tin recipe how-to that will inspire some time-saving meals:

Step 1: Choose Your Filling
You can put practically anything into a muffin tin as long as the ingredients work well together. Ground chicken, beef and pork are particularly easy to pair with vegetables and herbs. If it's the first time your making a muffin tin meal, choose your family's favorite meatloaf recipe to start.  

Breakfast option:
Jazz up breakfast muffins (like the pumpkin versions pictured above) with ham or bacon. Or consider making a classic ham, egg and cheese mini meal with potato. 

Step 2: Make the Shell
Make a traditional pie crust or buy a ready-made version for your shell. If you have more time on your hands, get creative and layer thinly-sliced potatoes in the tin. Feeling a little short on time? You can skip to step 3. 

Step 3: Prep Your Muffin Tin Pan

First spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with flour. Next, if you're not using a food crust, skip to Step 4.

If you are working with pie crust, use a circle-shaped cookie cutter or drinking glass to make your mini shells. Then, place in the muffin tin pan.

If you want to go the distance and make a few meals at once but you're short on muffin tins, you can add on with ramekins and tart molds.

Step 4: Add Your Fillings

Muffin tin meals are the perfect opportunity to pack your child's meal with some non-negotiable vegetables (this means good riddance to questions like, "How many more bites do I have to take?").

Ground beef mixed with fresh sage and breadcrumbs pairs well with broccoli. Layer spinach into mini lasagnas. Or mix up peas, carrots and mashed potatoes to dollop on top of meatloaf.

Tip: If you start with frozen vegetables, let them defrost and drain the excess water before adding them to the mix. 

Step 5: Add an Egg Base
If meat is your base, skip to Step 6. Otherwise, all quiches require a base of eggs beaten with milk or heavy cream. If you're making a vegetable muffin tin meal, this base is especially important—with or without a pastry shell. 

Step 6: Top it Off With Pie Crust...
Decide if you want to add a pie crust topping to your meal....

...Or Shredded Cheese 

If you opt for cheese, add it toward the end of your cooking cycle, which depends on your filling, so it doesn't burn. If you went with a pie crust topping, brush it with some milk for a beautiful color.

...Or Leave it Uncovered

Or leave your mini muffin tin meal to cook without a topping. 

Step 7: Bake Away!
Depending on your oven, bake at 350 to 375 degrees F. The cook time depends on your ingredients, but vegetables can cook as quickly as 25 minutes. 

Step 8: Enjoy!
Enjoy the all-in-one meals you've made over the course of the week. Send kids to school with one or two for lunch, or enjoy them at breakfast and dinner. 

This article is part of Mix It Up, an editorial series created in collaboration with AOL's Kitchen Daily and Huffington Post. It is dedicated to making the lives of mothers easier through articles, videos and slideshows focused on simple and creative solutions to everyday challenges. From healthy recipes to exciting ideas for a more balanced lifestyle, this section aims to become a resource for moms everywhere. 

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