You may remember my post about a month ago about my quest to Simplify My Life … well, one sure fire way this Smarty plans to do that is to tackle the dinner dilemma. It is super important to me that we have family dinners – the sit-down-at-the-kitchen-table-and-talk-about-our-days kind. I realize that might get more tricky as the kids get older and the evening activities really ramp up, but for now, I strive to preserve that special family time. I also try to avoid the drive-thru temptation and opt for home cooked meals whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the occasional drive-thru – some days truly warrant it! But I do try and steer clear (no pun intended) as much as possible. So what’s for dinner? The age old question that I think gets asked between my husband and I more than any other question that crosses our lips. Lucky for me, many fellow Smarties had some great tips on my first post – I’ll include them again here for a great reference.
I am a HUGE fan of the meal prep places. My current fan fav is Mr. Food No Fuss Meals. They prepare everything for you and all you have to do is pick it up. They keep many meals already prepped in their freezer for drop-ins, and they also offer delivery if you prefer. My family has enjoyed almost every single meal we’ve gotten from them. They include codes with each of their meal descriptions to let you know cooking method, kid friendliness, healthy options, vegetarian, etc. Their food is nutritious (they even provide the nutrition info on their website) and easy to make.
Jen P loves Simply Fresh to You – I’ll let her tell you about it: When you log on, you might think it seems to expensive. But when you really calculate how much you spend on your F-O-U-R weekly Harris Teeter trips which I’m sure you don’t get out of there under $100, you come out ahead with this service, or at worst, break even. And that doesn’t calculate a value on your time – which again, is precious. SFTYou delivers right to your door, it’s healthy, easy and from fridge to table, takes 20 minutes. So now we can enjoy soccer practice or gymnastics and never be tempted to run through a drive-thru b/c I have a healthy, delish dinner waiting for me at home. I have been ordering for 14 months and it’s the best thing ever! Also, you have to play around with how much you really need to order to feed your family. For example, my family has two adults and 4 children (only one big eater). So if we order a baked ziti meal, I order three adult portions and that feeds us perfectly. If we order salmon, I only order for myself and my hubby and maybe I’ll feed the kids hot dogs or spaghetti that night. I can’t speak highly enough about Marc & Patti Liersaph – for all of you working moms out there, this will save your life, pinkie swear!
Now, on to some recipes. Here are a couple of my family’s favorites. I’d love to hear some of yours too!
Easy Dinner Quiche
This is actually my favorite breakfast casserole that I modified for an easy dinner that my kids devour!
1 can Pillsbury crescent roll sheet
1 package crumbled bacon (the real stuff, not bacon bits)
Frozen broccoli florets, warmed in the microwave
¾ c milk
Salt and pepper
Line the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with the crescent rolls, making sure to press any seams tightly together. Layer the crumbled bacon, broccoli, and cheese. Mix together the eggs, milk and salt and pepper. Pour over the cheese/broccoli/bacon. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes or until the eggs are set. Cut into squares and enjoy with fresh fruit.
This recipe can EASILY be adjusted to suit your own tastes! I’m thinking ham or sausage vs bacon … different veggies, or cheese … you pick!
I always keep a back of the easy peel shrimp in our freezer (purchased on VIC special, of course!) – they thaw in a matter of minutes in a bowl of warm water and as the name says, are super easy to peel. I don’t have specific measurements for the recipe, as it is something that has evolved over time. But it is quick and can be adjusted or doctored up to suit your family’s taste. Here’s the basics:
Uncooked, peeled shrimp – qty would depend on size of your family and how big the shrimp are. I usually make 10 or so medium size for Matt and I and around 5 for each of the kids.
1-2 T butter
White wine or chicken broth (about a cup or so depending on how much you’re making – enough to deglaze the pan and create a light sauce)
Roma tomatoes, diced
Spaghetti or whatever pasta you have on hand
Cheese to top (I like fresh Parmesan or Monterey Jack)
Cook the pasta per package directions. While pasta is cooking, saute the shrimp with the butter and garlic until cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the wine and/or chicken stock to the pan and simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Add the diced tomatoes and simmer a few more minutes. Add the shrimp back to the pan and top with a little light cream (maybe a tablespoon or so) to make a nice creamy sauce. I’ve also used fat-free half and half for a slightly healthier option – works okay, but not the same as cream! Serve over spaghetti and top with cheese. For a little zip, add crushed red pepper flakes while cooking the shrimp.
This is a recipe out of my Weight Watchers “Five Ingredient, 15 Minute Cookbook”. When cooked to directions, it’s only 8 points for you counters out there. My kids really like the crust (ok … so do I) so I do a top and bottom crust with this recipe.
1/2 pkg (the whole pkg if you’re doing a top and bottom crust) of refrigerated pie crust
2 c chopped cooked chicken breast
2 c frozen mixed veggies, thawed
1 can reduced sodium, fat free cream of chicken soup
1/4 c skim milk
Preheat oven to 450.
Combine all ingredients except pie crust and microwave on high for 2 minutes until warm. If you’re doing a double crust, line the bottom of a pie plate with one crust (coat with cooking spray first). If not, just pour the mixture directly into the pie pan. Top the chicken mixture with the other pie crust. Trim excess from around the edges and press to seal. Lightly coat the top with cooking spray. Bake for 28-30 mins or until mixture is bubbly and crust is golden brown.
No recipe here folks, just fill flour tortillas with whatever you fancy, and cook ‘em up! A spritz of Pam in a large saute pan gives a nice crispy crust or you could opt for a grilled version by pulling out the George Foreman. When in a pinch, my kids love cheese roll ups – place a flour tortilla topped with cheese in the microwave for about 45 seconds and then roll it up for a cheesy delight! Even more fun to dip in salsa and sour cream 🙂
Pick up a loaf of some pre-sliced bakery bread.
Butter one side of each slice if desired.
Fill with your favorite lunch meats, cheese, veggies, etc
Stick on the George Foreman for a few minutes … and you have restaurant quality paninis!
Many readers were asking about crock pot ideas. I have one but must admit I don’t pull it out as often as I should. Some recommendations include the “Simple 1-2-3 Slow Cooker Recipes by the Rival Crock Pot Brand” cookbook and www.50plusfriends.com/cookbook/crockpot/index-5b.html for recipes. Please include any good ones you have in the comments!
Finally, I think the best advise is to plan ahead – I find that when I think about my week’s worth of meals, I am sooo much better off. By taking a few minutes on Sunday to check the freezer and cupboards, mapping out a meal plan to use what I’ve already stocked up on, and hitting the Teeter for any other essentials to fill in the gaps, I am able to reduce the stress level a few notches. Some of our readers also have some good ideas for planning ahead:
* One reader comes up with a monthly rotation of meals. She looks at the calendar and plans leftovers for nights with activities and large meals..think baked ziti, etc..on nights with more time to throw in the oven. Another great tip is to double the batch and stick one in the freezer for times when you need to pull something out quick.
* A couple readers have developed and documented weekly meal plans that they rotate through (I love this idea). One is putting together a notebook filled with easy and good dinners. She cuts out recipes she wants to try – if they pass the test, the go in the notebook, if they take too long, they’re out! Eventually she hopes to have 3-4 weeks worth of good and easy dinners that she can rotate through. Another suggestion was to get a blank calendar from an office store and fill that in with main dishes and then supplement with some type of starch and a veggie.
What is your family having for dinner? Even the best of the dinner planners could use some fresh ideas – please share! And then bookmark this post and check back often as you try new things.
Great ideas! I have made the "baked chicken in a crockery pot" from the link that is posted. It is fantastic and so easy, plus my kids LOVE it. The bagged frozen chicken breasts from the Teeter work great with this. Serve over rice, green veggie for a side and you are done!
the thing that has helped me alot lately is I will get 2-3 rotisserie chickens from Costco or HT when they are on sale, shred all the chicken, then divide the chicken into 2 cup servings and use my food saver to make little packets of chicken, suck all the air out of the packets with the food saver and then freeze. Then all I have to do is pull one of them out of the freezer to use in a recipe that calls for cut/chopped chicken, only takes minutes to defrost. Other favorite recipe right now that is fast is a Chicken Pot Pie2 cups shredded chicken1 can cream of chicken soup1 bag frozen mixed veggiesmix all these together and pour in a pie pan greased with Pamtopping1 1/4 cup bisquick1/2 cup milk1 eggmix together and pour over chicken mixturebake at 400 for 30 minutesthe kids loved it!
Chicken StroganoffFrozen skinless boneless chicken breasts (use as many as you need for dinner, for us it is 4)1 can fat free cream of mushroom soup16 oz fat free sour cream1 envelope dry onion soup mixput frozen chicken in bottom of crockpot. Mix soup, sour cream and onion soup mix and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 7 hours. Serve over noodles or rice.This is a weight watchers recipe, the chicken portion is 4 points.
It seems all my friends have a version of tortilla soup. Mine is this: 1 pound chicken or ground beef and 1 packet taco seasonings mix( could use burrito) in the crock pot, 1 cup water for several hours. Then I add 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 can black beans, 1 onion, 1 can of corn. Serve with cheese, sour cream, rice, noodles, tortilla chips or whatever you want. I sometimes leave out the corn or will add frozen. I used ground turkey and ground chicken. It is so easy to add or delete according to your taste. I have also added the cheese soup at the end. So easy and it freezes well!
Hey Tracy! I've been trying to do the same simplification exercise, especially since we're winding down on "easy street" as kindergarten is around the corner in the Fall. So … what's a girl to do? My challenge is that it is just the two of us and cooking for 1.5 is harder than cooking for just 1 since you have to find options which are tasty, kid-friendly and healthy. Uh huh. Good luck. Since I'd rather have 2/3 of that 3 part equation, I tend to go with my new cookbook (http://thepioneerwoman.com/my_cookbook/) and pretty much anything on Ree's site. She rocks. Now, if I could find my very own Rancher!