We all know the way it goes, right? You see a new “Quick and Easy!” cookbook by the latest celebrity chef or Food Network it-girl and you buy it with all the best intentions in the world.
There’s a lot of potential in a new cookbook, but to be completely honest, there’s only ever a few recipes in any book we ever actually use. In a busy family, we tend to go back to the good old staples every time instead of venturing out and trying something new.
Comfort food is great, and there’s nothing wrong with your standbys at all, but sometimes it’s nice to change things up a little bit and add in some new, but equally as easy, weeknight meals. To help you with that, here are a few quick and easy dinner ideas you can add in tonight, or make ahead on the weekend for quick and easy dinners.
An oldie but a goodie. It’s no secret kids love tacos, but why should you have to do all the work? With kids who are a little older (we don’t suggest trying this with your two-year-old!), why not do the prep work and let them put the tacos together?
Grab some stand up shells that are easier to fill, soft tacos are easy for smaller fingers to wrap, or soft taco “boats” with lots of room and add a few plates with fillings. Branch out if your kids are adventurous eaters and go with something a little different.
Try some cod — a nutritious, flaky white fish without a strong flavor — a little lime juice, some creamy, lightly seasoned mayonnaise, lettuce and chopped up tomato.
Hint: You can also put some cucumber and red onion combined for some crunch.
If you’re a traditionalist, cook off some ground beef on Sunday afternoon, chop your lettuce and tomatoes, shred your cheese and toss all the components into small containers in the fridge. Heat up the meat in a frying pan and dinner is on the table in less than 10 minutes!
Don’t forget — no matter what they tell you, tacos aren’t only for Tuesdays.
“Spaghetti” with a Tomato Ragu
Like every parent, you’re trying to get more veggies into your kids.
Try: Spaghetti Squash
A vegetable without a strong flavor, spaghetti squash can be roasted a few days ahead of time and kept in the fridge. The good news is, one squash, even on the bigger size, really only feeds two people.
That’s why I roast two squash on the weekend.
Split the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes until a fork slides into the flesh easily.
After they’ve cooled down, take a fork and scrape out the strands, separating them as you go. While the squash is roasting, brown some ground meat (veal works beautifully, but you could use turkey, pork or beef just as easily).
While that’s working, slice a zucchini in half lengthwise and then into coin slices. Slice some mushrooms and chop up some garlic. Sautee the garlic in the same pan as the ground meat, add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook for just a few minutes until they start to soften. Add a large can of chopped tomatoes with the liquid and let the whole thing simmer while your squash roasts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add some Italian seasoning if you’d like a little more of a spaghetti flavor. Heat up the spaghetti squash, serve with the sauce over the top and not only have you just fed your kids a ton of vegetables, but they’re going to ask for seconds too.
Who doesn’t love Sloppy Joes? Not only that but if you tell your kids they’re called sloppy anything, you know you’ve got a hit on your hands. Ground meats work exceptionally well in this area as well — ground chicken, pork, beef or turkey are all good choices.
Cook some diced onions with your meat of choice, and then stir in an 8oz can of tomato sauce, 2 tbsp chili sauce (can be omitted if your kids don’t like spicy food), 1 tbsp of yellow mustard and 2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce to medium-low and simmer until thickened, approximately 10 minutes.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Pile onto a bun, and you’re three-quarters of the way there! Serve with a side of slaw — grab a bag of coleslaw and a bag of shredded carrots. Toss them together, add some dressing and you’ve got dinner in under thirty minutes.
Parmesan Swiss Chicken “Fingers”
Chicken breasts are versatile, sure, but they can also trap you in a never-ending spiral of stirfries if you’re not careful.
There’s an easy way to cook chicken breasts that will remind your kids of chicken fingers, and remind you of all of the nutritional values you’re providing.
There are a few ways you can prepare these — either as pounded flat like scallopini or into “fingers.” Preheat your oven to 350, and start by preparing at the two shallow dishes for the coating; one with seasoned flour (combine salt, pepper, and flour) and one with bread crumbs combined with a mixture of shredded Swiss cheese and grated parmesan cheese.
Whisk one egg with a tsp of water and then dip your chicken breast into the egg wash, then into the flour, once more into the egg wash and then into the breadcrumb mixture. This will give your chicken a nice crisp coating that won’t fall off while you’re cooking. Tip: to avoid breading your fingers as well, use one hand for the wet ingredients and one for the dry. Heat some oil in an oven-safe frying pan on medium-high.
Turn the heat down to medium and gently lay your chicken breasts in the pan and then leave them alone until one side is golden and crispy and then flip once. By allowing the meat time to sit in the pan, you’re giving the coating a chance to crisp up and also stay on the meat.
Once both sides have browned, pop the pan into your preheated oven to finish off while you make the side dishes. You can put any vegetables you like with this you’ve got on hand. Green beans are particularly tasty. Add a salad, and you’ve got an easy, nutritious meal!
It’s all about the sides
Sometimes, dinner is more about the side dish than it is about the protein. Maybe you found a great deal on a nice cut of steak, but have had it up to here with potatoes. Did you know that rice pilau is a surprisingly quick and flavourful dish?
Dice some onions, and melt 2 tbsp butter in a pot. Saute the onions until soft. Add 1 cup of rice and cook for one minute, allowing the grains to toast slightly and get coated in butter. Stir in 2 cups of chicken stock.
Cover and simmer on low until all the liquid has absorbed. Add in 1 cup of frozen peas, stir and cover. The residual heat from the rice will cook the peas without making them mush. Season to taste.
The best thing about rice pilau is you can add whatever you’ve got on hand, making it one of the more versatile side dishes out there. Frozen mixed vegetables, parsley, asparagus, mushrooms — any of these will work. (If you’re using mushrooms or fresh vegetables, cook them in a small pan on the side before adding them to the rice.)
We sure hope you like these meals, let us know what you think in the comments!