9 Easy Family Meals We’ve Loved to Death

I was emailing with my friend Mindy the other day and signed off the way I always do with certain friends…

“What’s for dinner tonight?”

As a food writer, I’m in the business of family dinner, so it’s a good way to discover new and exciting dishes that my husband and teenage kids might like. Mindy works full time, has three daughters and is a great cook, so she’s usually reliable for some inspiration. This is what she wrote back:

We are having the dreaded Chili Mac. I can’t eat a bite because I’ve been making the thing for soooo many years, but the girls love it because it’s both chili and mac and cheese and it fuels the swim practice. I’ll give you that one, if you give me your easy recipe that you hate!

I knew exactly what she meant, and I immediately replied with a link to Diana Henry’s Mustardy Baked Chicken. In 2015, we had this so often in my house that it became known as, ominously, “The Chicken” before we agreed as a family to suspend it from the rotation. I made The Chicken at least once a week for a year because I always seemed to have the ingredients on hand, and the high return on investment (i.e., its mega-deliciousness) was completely out of proportion to how quickly it came together. Wow, was it a crowdpleaser. But what’s that they say about too much of a good thing?

Mindy’s idea got me thinking. Just because we’re all sick of making our own easy family dinners doesn’t mean our friends would be. In fact, if a meal was hated by a great cook only because it suffered from overuse, it was probably a pretty solid indication that we were actually in the presence of a genius weeknight meal. So, I started asking everyone I knew: What’s the easiest family meal that you’ve loved to death? As predicted, the replies came back fast and furious.

From our Joanna: Simple chicken quesadillas or spinach quesadillas. “They take two seconds to make, it’s easy to leave certain ingredients out for kids, and of course everyone loves them. But omg I’m so sick of this dinner.” (My reaction: Totally making this tonight.) “We also make tons of scrambled eggs,” she adds.

From magazine vet Pilar Guzman: an old Emeril recipe for Moroccan chickpea stew. “I still crave this dish weekly,” she says, “It’s my kids who are sick of it because I make it so often. It’s delicious and infinitely riffable.” And don’t let the long ingredient list fool you, she says. “You can skip the celery, eliminate chickpeas even. It’s all about those spices and tomatoes.”

Chowhound’s Hana Asbrink hasn’t quite reached the breaking point with her family’s favorite dish — chilled zaru soba noodles with a simple tsuyu sauce — but she’s definitely worried about it. “It’s so easy to throw together,” she says. “You can add scallions and wasabi to amp up the ‘soup.’ I’m hard pressed to find refreshing dishes to eat on muggy New York days, but I better come up with something else soon because I know the clock is ticking.”

Chris Morocco, senior food editor at Bon Appetit and father of two young kids replied, “Ours are pasta and meatballs, chicken katsu, or tacos filled with Amy’s refried beans and cheese (and nothing else). Those are in such heavy rotation, I am sick of everything, HELP!”

And it’s hard to imagine Smitten Kitchen‘s Deb Perelman getting tired of anything that appears on her table, but she’s got one: chicken milanese with escarole salad. “I probably make this once every two weeks, which is way more than I ever would if I were single,” she says.

For a dinner enthusiast like me, it felt like my birthday! Or like I was hosting a giant clothing swap, and here was a friend giving me that perfect black cocktail dress in exchange for my tired old Levi’s.

Easy Family Meals I Hate

Take ’em! Please!

So, what are you dreading for dinner tonight? I’d really love to know.

P.S. A Trader Joe’s breakfast hack and family dinner ideas.

(Photo illustration by Maud Passini.)

  1. Katie says...

    Pioneer Woman’s Miracle Mangno Chicken….EASY! YUMMY! CHEAP!

  2. L. says...

    From Tokyo — In Japan every home cook’s easy meal is curry rice. You use a packaged roux (I use one without msg) and for a family of four only need 300g beef, 2-3 potatoes, an onion, a carrot. Pair it with rice for a one-plate meal. Serve an easy salad on the side if you like. Kids love it, men love it. Many people have this once a week, but in order not to get sick of it, I find I have to limit it to once every two-three weeks.

    • Lindsay says...

      Hi! I haven’t been able to find a brand without MSG. What brand do you use? Thanks!

  3. Liz says...

    The rigatoni with gorgonzola and caramelized onions on CoJ a little while ago – OMG! We usually use a lentil or chickpea pasta to boost the nutrition. My mouth waters just thinking about it, and I’m dreading the day I cook it to death.

    I’ve also made a super simple quinoa pilaf with goat cheese, onions, and lemon. Couldn’t be easier and so delicious. But cannot look at it!

    In case it helps, here’s my Compell’d list of my favorite recipes (including those two):

  4. ashley says...

    This is a dinner for one idea but can easily be scaled up

    I don’t know what to call it but it’s basically an orzo skillet. I start by boiling a few cups of water (scalable for the amount of orzo you are cooking) in a wide skillet, adding a handful of cherry tomatoes (that I’ve sliced in half or even just punctured so they don’t explode) and some minced garlic as it boils. My favourite variation right now is to just add a bit of “better than bouillon” (the chicken version) to make it into an easy chicken broth, but I’ll also sometimes just sub in about half the water for beef broth that I’ve gotten from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, or if I have frozen broth on hand I’ll use that instead. The chicken bouillion paste works fine though.

    Once the water/broth is boiling, I add my orzo. Cook until 90% cooked through – I leave it drier or with more liquid depending on how I feel. If I’m sick I might leave it more soupy. I do leave it kind of on the wetter side though – I think of it like a really easy “risotto” texture – so it flows across the bowl like magma.

    When it’s 90% cooked through I add a bunch of spinach. Then I serve it up and add Maldon salt on top – I love the crunch it adds. Always topped with sriracha as well.

    This is endlessly riffable – different types of stocks, different types of veggies. Could go with cheese on top, lemon zest, add meats – I’ll sometimes start by crisping up some pancetta before I add the water, which is also delightful. When I go that route I’ll usually also top with cheese.

    I basically think of it as a quick and easy “risotto” type meal

    I can go from door to table in <20 mins with this and it's largely pretty hands free, too. Best part is I can add as many veggie/meat leftovers from the fridge, etc. I've always had trouble adding enough veg to my diet and this ensures I get some tomatoes and spinach at least. The tomatoes are great because they soften and help flavour the broth but if you don't have them you can skip it, etc.

    • Ashley says...

      As a follow up – actually had this again tonight and was feeling a bit unwell and had a lot of extra frozen beef pho broth so I just made it into a soup. So quick and comforting.

  5. Denise says...

    Late to the party, but the recipe we’re sick of is Skinnytaste’s meat ragú

    We rarely make the spaghetti squash, instead we eat the ragú with GF pasta. Our whole family is obsessed with it, especially since how simple it is! Highly recommend.

  6. Ling says...

    Old thread but felt the need to share my go-to favorite, especially w/ cooler temps upon us:

    I load it with zucchini &/or chopped kale or baby spinach & swap carrots in place of sweet potatoes since they hold up better to stewing. Serve it with rice/naan or just as is. Make it for my girlfriends all the time and we are obsessed with it. Beware of the kind of fish sauce you use though: different brands have different intensities.

  7. Aly says...

    As a kid my mom ALWAYS made porkchops and instead of breading them with breadcrumbs (since we never had them in the house or never bought them) she would use Cheez-it crumbs. When my dad remarried I had to explain to my step mom that I can never eat pork chops ever again because I had enough as a kid to last me forever.

  8. A says...

    I love these food posts. I would love to see a post about toddler meal ideas – especially vegetarian. I want to give my little one a good food base and not focus on things like grilled cheese and nuggets (not that those aren’t ok sometimes!).

    • Graciela says...

      I hear you!

  9. Allie says...

    I think I’m finally ready to come back to Greek Salad topped with Trader Joe’s dolmas and avocado. My husband and I ate it so often last summer that we had to ban it over the winter months.

  10. Audrey says...

    When growing up, we used to eat bread every morning for breakfast. I moved out at the age of 19 and never had bread for breakfast ever again! Cereals are my best friends now.

  11. Marie says...

    We have Taco night once a week and I am just WAITING for someone to get sick of it. So far, so good. I always make a veggie component for me (which Husband usually shares), but the kids are good with ground turkey (I make my own seasoning), cheese, avo, tomatoes + cilantro.
    The recipe I love that my house is sick of: Pinch Of Yum’s caramelized salmon. It is so, so good. I always serve it with rice and steamed broccoli (the one vegetable my kids will always reliably eat).

  12. AroseG says...

    I always tell my boyfriend that if Trader Joe’s goes out of business, I won’t know how to “cook” dinner anymore. (But if there isn’t a TJs near you, with a little bit more effort, all these meals still work.) Our quick dinner staples include:
    1. TJ’s sweet potato gnocchi + any kind of chicken sausage + spinach
    2. TJ’s veggie fried rice + TJ’s frozen chicken wantons
    3. breakfast for dinner – TJ’s frozen roasted breakfast potatoes and peppers + fried eggs
    4. “crockpot salsa chicken” (4 chicken breasts, 1 can of salsa, 1 can of low fat condensed chicken soup, 1 taco seasoning packet) + TJ’s mexican style roasted corn.

  13. Amanda says...

    In most Trinidadian/ Caribbean households, stew chicken is a staple for Sunday lunch after church. My grandma and mom made this for us every Sunday for probably 16 years. It got to the point where my teenage sister would have borderline temper tantrums not wanting to eat it anymore! It’s now been ten years since we’ve put a stop to stew chicken Sunday, but I think it’s finally time we revive this recipe.

    It’s honestly very tasty and easy for anyone looking to change up their chicken styles:

    • Sara says...

      Oh wow! That looks so so good.

    • Kristen says...

      Amanda, I had to come back to this post 3 months later to thank you PROFUSELY for the link to this Caribbean Stew Chicken recipe. I just made it for the first time; it came together so easily and it tastes SO SO SO SO good. My husband & I couldn’t stop singing its saucy, slightly sweet, slightly spicy praises; and my 3 year-old even finished his whole serving (no small feat)! New household staple, for sure. I am forever grateful! (and thank you, Joanna, for posting such an ingenious premise for a recipe article!)

  14. Ariana says...

    I Frankenstein monstered two BA recipes – their salmon burgers, but instead of their sesame mayo sauce, I use this avocado-tahini-lemon -cilantro dressing, which I put on a bunch of different things. Also, the salmon burger recipe calls for blending some of the salmon in a food processor, but that’s not necessary. Just a fine dice and being gentle with the pan flip suffices! It’s a weekly staple in our household.

  15. EG says...

    Chickpea stew link not working – help, it looks so good!

  16. julia says...

    It’s funny you mention mustard chicken because my mom made it so much growing up that at the age of 34 the thought of it turns my stomach.

  17. Jen says...

    I am so happy about this post and comment section! Tomorrow I’m making fish tacos. Pan-fried tilapia (just taco seasoning or salt and pepper) with quick pickled onions and whatever other toppings we have/want (salsa, lime, cilantro, cabbage, radishes) with a side of rice and beans (saute onion and garlic, then add rinsed canned black beans, cover with broth, add some cumin, cayenne, bay leaf and simmer). Not our easiest week night meal, but so delicious and very weeknight doable.

  18. Sarah says...

    I want this to become a series! My partner and I just came home from pacing the grocery store trying to get ideas….not our best strategy ?‍♀️

    My partner’s easy weeknight dinner is Veggie Stew, which we eat about once a week during the winter and love ❤️ but it’s time to retire it when summer rolls around. To make, you chop zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes into a pot, add enough water to cover, salt well, then set to medium high for 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. We grab a sleeve of saltines and call this done.

    It’s easy to swap in whatever veggies your picky eaters like. I recommend keeping the tomato and carrot though — they give the broth its flavor. I love adding yellow bell peppers. My partner loves adding kale.

  19. Amy says...

    what a brilliant idea! I’d love to see more of this type of roundup!

  20. Keri says...

    My current favourite on high rotation is the “Kale Sausage Beans” featured a little while back on the blog. I’m Obsessed.
    Another quick favourite of mine is chorizo rice. red onion, smokey paprika, sliced chorizo, cooked rice, and can of diced tomatoes. The longer it simmers the better it is.