This past January, I decided to take a few months off from work to be home with my kids, so I’ve been living the stay-at-home mom life for the last six weeks. While the pros and cons of this decision are plentiful on both sides of the aisle, in general I’ve really enjoyed the change.
That said my weaknesses as a full-time mother are glaringly obvious to me. Not the least of these weaknesses is my ability – or rather, my inability – to prepare dinner on time.
No one else is responsible for this chore in my household. The job is mine and mine alone and it’s one I need to fulfill almost every single day. So why – oh why – do I continue to be surprised when five o’clock rolls around and, inevitably, one of my kids asks me what’s for dinner and I can’t answer them!?
I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, but I also don’t want my family eating frozen pizza or take-out every night. So, in an effort to make this question at least a little easier to answer every afternoon, I culled some easy recipes and practical tips together. These are far from earth shattering, but each recipe has been kid-tested and is very simple to make using (mostly) ingredients I already have in my cupboard and refrigerator.
Enjoy! And if you’d be so kind as to provide me with a little feedback by answering four quick questions at the end of this post, I would really appreciate it!
Dinner doesn’t get easier than this. Here’s what you need:
- Beef broth or bouillon cubes.
- Thinly cut roast beef. (One pound makes about 9 small sandwiches.)
- Small, round dinner rolls.
- Any sliced cheese of your choosing.
Cut each dinner roll in half and set aside. Heat up the broth in a saucepan. Once it’s boiling, drop the roast beef in, one slice at a time. The beef cooks very quickly – just 30-60 seconds is enough time to cook it through – so you don’t need to keep it in the broth long. Place one or two slices of roast beef on each roll, add cheese as desired, and serve. Done and done.
My husband doesn’t eat seafood, so I rarely cook fish, but my kids and I love these fish tacos from the Trader Joe’s cookbook.
- 6 flour or corn tortillas.
- 1 box of breaded cod fillets like the Oven Ready Breaded Cod Fillets from Trader Joe’s.
- 3 cups of shredded white cabbage.
- 1-1/2 Tbsp of refrigerated Cilantro Dressing
- Juice from 1 lime.
- 1 cup of chopped tomato.
- Fresh cilantro for garnish.
Bake the fish fillets according to the instructions on the box. While they’re baking, toss the cabbage with dressing. (You can add lime and tomatoes to the cabbage mix at this time, or later after the tacos are made.) Place one fillet on each tortilla, add the vegetables, and garnish with cilantro.
CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
My Louisiana-born girlfriend, Jill, is a fabulous cook, so I was surprised when she said her kids’ favorite dinner is “really easy” to make – and it turned out to be true! This is comfort food, for sure, and although I’ve only made this for my family twice, it’s quickly become the most requested meal in the house. (Warning: this is not for the carb-averse!)
- 4 cups of water.
- 3 cups of cooked chicken, chopped or shredded (I just use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken).
- 2 10-3/4 oz. cans of Cream of Chicken soup, concentrated.
- 2 teaspoons of chicken bouillon granules.
- 1 teaspoon of pepper.
- 2 cans of refrigerated biscuit dough (like Pillsbury).
Combine the water, Cream of Chicken soup, and bouillon in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring often. Separate the biscuits and cut each biscuit into fourths with kitchen scissors. (Optional: round each quarter of dough into a ball.) Drop the biscuit pieces into the boiling mixture, one at a time, stirring gently after each biscuit is added. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Add chicken, stir, and let simmer another 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm.
TIME-SAVING TIP: Put your kids to work as sous chefs! Giving your kids a job that is safe and isn’t messy is fun for them and can free you up to work on other parts of the meal, saving you time.
Get kids excited to help by buying them aprons in their size, like these darling, hand-crafted aprons from Celebration Aprons in Asheville, North Carolina.
SPICY CAULIFLOWER STIR FRY
Served on the side or as a vegetarian entree, this dish can also be made as a non-spicy version if your kids can’t handle the heat, like mine.
- 1 whole head of cauliflower.
- 2 Tbls of vegetable or avocado oil.
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced.
- 2 Tbls of soy sauce.
- Juice from one whole lime.
- 2 whole green onions, sliced.
- 1 Tbls. Sriracha.
Break up the cauliflower into small florets. Heat the oil in a large skillet, then add the garlic and cauliflower. Once the cauliflower is browned, reduce the heat. Add juice from the lime, the soy sauce, and most of the sliced green onion. (Set some of the onion aside for a garnish.) Cook the cauliflower through and remove the portion you don’t want to add Sriracha to. Add Sriracha to taste, stir until it’s evenly distributed, and serve.
HONEY MUSTARD CHICKEN
Another great recipe from Trader Joe’s…. I have a difficult time getting my two younger children to eat meat, but they love this chicken.
TIME-SAVING TIP: Vacuum-sealed meat like these chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s will last up to 10 days in the refrigerator so you don’t have to freeze them and wait for them to thaw.
- 4 chicken breasts.
- 2 Tbls of olive oil.
- 1/4 cup of flour.
- 1/4 tsp of salt.
- 1/8 tsp of black pepper.
- 1/2 cup of honey.
- 1/2 cup of Dijon mustard. (I use a 50-50 mixture of regular Dijon and the Boar’s Head deli style mustard.)
- 2 Tbls of fresh basil, chopped.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Combine the honey, mustard, and basil, and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and pepper. Coat each chicken breast with seasoned flour and place on the skillet to brown. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish. Pour the honey mixture over the chicken and bake for 30 minutes, turning the chicken over once midway through.
Chili is a reliable crowd-pleaser in my house. My favorite chili recipe is an all-day process, so I tend to only make it once or twice each year. But this recipe is almost as tasty and takes minutes to make. (*For the sake of this post, I threw all the ingredients into the slow-cooker and let them stew all day. The results were about the same.)
- 1-2 lbs of ground turkey.
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups of chopped onions.
- 1 tsp ground cumin.
- 1 Tbls olive oil.
- 1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes.
- 2 15 oz. cans of black beans.
- Optional: chopped jalapeno peppers.
TIME-SAVING TIP: When making something like chili, double the recipe and store the half you don’t eat that night in the freezer to be reheated another night.
Saute the onions in oil over heat in a saucepan. Add the ground turkey and cook through. Add the cumin. Combine the beans and tomatoes (and jalapenos, if including) in a pot and add the turkey. Heat and serve with sour cream or shredded cheese.
I hope these tips and recipes take some of the guesswork out of dinnertime and make your evenings a little smoother! And if you have simple recipes you want to share with me, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put them on the blog.