Growing up I lived with my single mom, and two sisters. We were a relatively small family and often didn’t eat home cooked meals. Our meals were out of a box or fast food. However, my aunt and uncle have five kids, making them a very large family, and the exact opposite of our small family. I loved listening to a big family and all about their lives. I would hear about a home with a mom and a dad, plus brothers and sisters, and it was always entertaining.
On occasion we would go to my aunt and uncle’s for dinner, and every time they served spaghetti. I would eat the heck out of their spaghetti, but my cousins would all groan and complain. When I asked one of my cousins why he hated spaghetti, he told me they ate spaghetti several times a week. I used to think about what he said. I never understood why they ate spaghetti all the time. We’re not Italian… maybe it was Aunt Tammy’s favorite dinner? I love it, may be she does too?
Now that I have a family of my own, and understand budgeting and how expensive groceries are, I can also understand and how cheap spaghetti is. I can usually find a box of whole wheat pasta noodles for $1 and sauce just as cheap. I still love spaghetti, and would eat it once a week. However, I often hear grumbles from my kids.
There are two things I got to thinking about with spaghetti dinner. 1. We can’t eat it every week without someone getting bored. 2. We don’t eat enough spaghetti to make up a full box. Usually we eat three-quarters of the box, making an odd amount left unused. I always keep the extra and combine it the next time we have spaghetti. It’s weird to me though. Sometimes I will have fettuccini noodles, and the next time thin spaghetti noodles. Therefore I’m not always combining the same type of noodle. Is it just me, or does everyone find it weird to eat two different kinds of noodles at once?
One day I was getting ready to make spaghetti for dinner. When I looked in the pantry I literally had a quarter box of thin noodles, rotini noodles, ziti noodles and elbows. That’s a lot of boxes taking up space in my small pantry. I got the idea to still serve pasta, but turn my normal spaghetti dinner into a pasta bar!
Luckily a pasta bar isn’t any more difficult to prepare than a normal pasta night. I still have to boil noodles, warm up the sauce, and make a protein. However, the kids see pasta night differently when it’s a pasta bar. Bonus: it uses those left-behind portions of pasta and costs next to nothing!
Depending on what I have in the fridge, freezer and pantry is what I have on the “bar”. This week I have a quarter box of rotini, penne, and a bag of frozen tortellini (I’ll use only half this round). I also have homemade marinara sauce left over from our baked spaghetti last weekend and homemade alfredo sauce in the freezer. To complete the meal, I picked up day old Italian bread from the bakery (79 cents, chi-ching!), and a salad from the store. For a protein we’re having chicken breasts.
Pasta Bar Ingredients:
-Pasta: Whatever you have in the pantry!
-Sauce: Homemade or jarred sauce (try to have two or more options)
-Protein: Seared chicken breasts
-All the Fixins’: Parmesan cheese, bread, and side salad
-Gather your pantry/fridge ingredients! We have:
- Rotini, Penne, and Tortellini pasta
- Chicken Breasts
- Alfredo and Marinara sauce
-Cook pasta to package directions (when using multiple types of noodle I bought a divider for the pot. This allows me to cook 4 different types without them mixing – Type A personality here.)
-Cook sauce (warm up sauce) as directed
-Chicken: Sear chicken breast on the stove top while sauce and noodles are cooking (I butterflied the chicken breast so it cooked quicker, drizzled a small amount of olive oil and sprinkled Italian seasoning on the chicken breast. Next I seared the chicken breast on both sides in a pan on the stovetop. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. When butterflied, the chicken took 5-7 minutes on each side on medium heat.)
-When all ingredients are cooked, place them in their own bowls. You could use a buffet-serving platter, however I just use individual bowls.
-Butter the bread, and mix up the salad.
-Place all dishes on the dinner table or on a counter (truly buffet-style) and allow the kids to serve themselves.
This is a great idea to save money using left overs or pantry only meals. We have a weekly pasta night, and usually have enough for a pasta bar once a month. Just like our left over buffets, I try to have some fresh sides (bread, veggies for the toppings, salad, applesauce) to breath new life into the meal. Lastly, allow the kids to serve themselves. This is what makes the meal fun – everyone gets involved!