Food

What Dinners Can I Make in Less Than 20 Minutes, and Other Burning Questions

What Easy Dinners Can I Make in Less Than 20 Minutes and Other Burning Questions

Greetings everyone and happy fall! As days get shorter, apples get riper, and we start spending more time in the kitchen, I wanted to address three reader questions that I am guessing are on our collective minds…

Q: Full-time working mother with insane job. Three kids: 7, 5 and 3. No joke: 20 min from walking in the door to serving. Just links, don’t even need recipes. HELP! (Zero dietary requirements, other than: FOOD.) — Kathryn

This question cracked me up. Kathryn! I think we can all feel your pain. Without knowing the particulars of your kids likes and dislikes, here are two things to keep in mind when it comes to quick weeknight dinners. I hope you have time to read them!

1) Pick a Rotation of Recipes You Can Make on Auto-Pilot. Remember, at family dinnertime, no one is grading you on your dinner-making prowess or how innovative your food is. I remember posting a recipe for breakfast burritos on my blog and many people commented things like “Thanks for keeping it real!” and “Thank you for posting recipes that other bloggers wouldn’t.” I was a little perplexed. Why was eating a breakfast burrito (a wing-it recipe made with fresh eggs, refried beans, salsa, cheese and sliced avocado) for dinner so surprising and, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, kinda considered subpar? Easy, healthy, deLISHous recipes like this are the reason I’ve been able to keep up the family dinner ritual for as long as I have. We wouldn’t have survived without falling back on the kinds of recipes that you don’t need recipes for: French bread pizzas, smashed avocados on toast with a fried egg, spaghetti tossed with any roast vegetable (broccoli, butternut squash, cauliflower, onions), beans on toast, salad pizzas, super simple white bean soup (sauté onions, carrots, celery, canned white beans, then add broth and puree); plus a few recipes that are super easy to memorize: Avgolemeno (a Joanna favorite) and Pasta Con Ceci, notable in that it doesn’t ask you to chop a single ingredient.

2) Choose Vegetables Strategically. “Keeping things interesting” can be reserved for the weekends or for five years from now when you can catch your breath a bit. (It’s coming, don’t worry!) For now, cook with vegetables that require minimal washing and prepping: Toss carrots and broccoli in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes at 400°F; slice tomatoes, top with crumbled feta, and drizzle vinegar and olive oil on top. You hereby have permission to think of leafy greens that require you to break out a salad spinner, or green beans that require you to trim their ends, as strictly Saturday food until you get to the phase in parenting where removing the stem from the kale isn’t going to send you into a tailspin.

Q: I like to try new recipes, but I often find myself buying herbs, cheese, etc. and having so much left over that I don’t use and end up wasting. Any advice for cutting down food waste? Any recommendations for how to use those one-off ingredients purchased for a particular recipe? — Alison

I love this question because it’s something I’m trying to be better about myself. I hadn’t realized until fairly recently how directly food waste contributed to climate change. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, one third of food is wasted globally, contributing eight percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. I decided to turn to Adam Kaye for advice. He’s the former culinary director at Westchester’s revered Blue Hill and co-founder of The Spare Food Co., a company dedicated to addressing the food waste crisis.

For leftover herbs and greens — whether that’s parsley, tarragon, chard or arugula — Kaye recommends pesto. “There’s pretty much no herb or green that hasn’t ended up in one of my pestos,” he says. “Plus, they freeze beautifully — and can be something to have on hand for a last-minute pasta.” In a small food processor, whirl your herbs with any random nuts and seeds, add olive oil, a smashed garlic clove, and maybe some acid (lemon juice, vinegars) and see what you come up with.

One of Adam’s most versatile solutions for the extra-ingredient problem is a frittata. “Master the art of frittata making and you’ll find a home for just about anything,” he says. “Those two lone scallions wilting in the back of your fridge? The single potato starting to sprout? Random cheese ends? Half a can of black beans… you name it. Just make sure you have some eggs on hand and you’ll be fine.”

Thank you so much, Adam. (For more practical advice and an intro to food waste issues, he also recommends Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders.)

Q: What are some ways to make a dinner party feel carefree? I feel confident in my cooking but sometimes feel my efforts come across forced or stiff. I love a challenge and worry it looks like I’m trying too hard when I really just want people to enjoy themselves and the food! — Sarah

I used to worry about this, too, and would end up picking a menu that could be made entirely in advance (spaghetti and meatballs, braised short ribs, stews, soups, grain salads, shredded pork for tacos, etc), setting the table, filling water pitchers, even smearing the insides of Solo cups with peanut butter in anticipation of my two Boston Terriers acting really loud and annoying. (Licking the peanut butter cups distracts them for up to an hour and is the single most life-changing tip I’ve ever received.) The older I get, though, the more I realize that no one is paying attention to my dinner-party-induced stresses except me. Pick a recipe you feel comfortable making (even if it means you have to finish it up in the kitchen while a friend hangs out with you), ask your guests to fill in the holes (dessert and wine are always good things to outsource) and repeat this to yourself: My friends are so happy I’m cooking for them.

What other questions do you have? Please share in the comments!

P.S. More burning questions, three weeks of family dinners and nine easy meals we’ve loved to death.

(Photo illustration by Maud Passini.)

  1. Claire says...

    Question from a dairy loving lactose intolerant:
    I can find lactose-free whole milk for bechamel and other recipes, but it’s impossible to find lactose-free heavy cream or whipping cream. Is there anything I can do/substitute for recipes (like chocolate mousse, my favorite) when whole milk just won’t cut it?

  2. Meredith says...

    Here’s a new burning question –
    We have a lake house about 2.5 hours from our apartment. We usually go up once or twice a month on Friday night and we often have guests with us. Is there a dish that I can reliably make for hungry travelers only with ingredients that I can LEAVE up at the lake for weeks on end? Looking for something tasty, quick, reliable for Friday night dinner, but only using supplies that I can leave in the pantry/freezer in between visits. Maybe I can bring a fresh item or two from home in the car but I don’t want to have to bring everything every time when I’m worried about all the other stuff I need to pack.

    • Susannah says...

      This is so random (and I hope you get an *official* response!) but one of my major go-to’s in this sort of situation is Linguine with Clam Sauce. You need parsley and garlic (which is kind of a pantry staple? or you could use the kind that lives in the fridge, I guess). Boxed linguine, 4 canned minced or chopped clams, a ton of minced garlic, a bunch of parsley, chopped, olive oil. Sautee garlic in olive oil until golden, add clams with juice and stir to reduce. Add parsley at the last moment and toss al dente pasta in the pan. Fin. Also bonus: cheap and easy to scale up for like 20 people.

  3. Megan says...

    I made a TON of freezer meals before I had my baby. My husband was absolutely dreading having to take them all out-as mentioned in above comments he was afraid they would all taste freezer-burned/”off”. I was very selective in what I would freeze for this reason. I have to tell you-he was quite surprised with how well everything turned out and is now hugely supportive of the freezer meals. Our baby is now nearly 6 months old and we always keep our freezer stocked. When my mom comes to visit she likes to make double recipes and leave me with a well-stocked freezer. I have found two keys to success in this:
    1. As much as possible, freeze things uncooked-I think this really helps with the “off” taste
    2. For the love of God-make an inventory of WHAT THE HELL IS IN THE FREEZER-especially if your freezer is quite unorganized. I keep a running list of what is in there, quantity, and the date by which it should be consumed (generally try to eat within 3 months but have definitely left things longer and they have been ok); also on that list, note anything additional you will need to get (bread, cheese, etc.). Meals that I have had success with are:
    1. Lasagna (freeze without cooking)
    2. Any kind of soup (frozen in individual servings already cooked; my husband does NOT like this)
    3. Italian beef (frozen in individual packages; already cooked for 1 sandwich at a time)
    4. Pulled pork (frozen individually; already cooked)
    5. Chicken pot pie
    6. Buffalo chicken taquitos (cooked then frozen) https://life-in-the-lofthouse.com/baked-buffalo-chicken-taquitos/
    7. Buffalo chicken sliders (freeze ingredients in bag-uncooked)
    8. Hawaiian ham and cheese sliders (freeze without cooking)
    9. Smitten Kitchen rigatoni with tiny meatballs (complete all the steps except for final bake, omit milk until baking time)
    10. Homemade burritos (breakfast (eggs) or dinner (bean+rice+cheese); these can also be heated in a casserole dish topped with red or green sauce and cheese-enchiladas
    11. Enchiladas https://centslessdeals.com/sour-cream-chicken-enchiladas-recipe/print/
    12. Any kind of meatball (we like Smitten Kitchen’s chicken marsala meatballs from 2nd cookbook, but i use turkey)-cook and freeze in sauce; make noodles fresh

    • Megan Parpart says...

      Also-meatloaf; Google Paula Dean’s cheeseburger meatloaf, sounds gross but is really good (freeze the unbaked loaf; bake and make sauce fresh-you don’t need the parsley)

  4. Jenny, your breakfast burritos are in regular rotation in our house! We have them at least twice per month!! :)

  5. janine says...

    Hahaha, oh, distracting the dog with peanut butter is key. A babysitter gave me the tip that you can fill a Kong with peanut butter, stick a treat in it, and pop that in the freezer for a few hours – it makes it last even longer/is more challenging for the dog! I also have a DOG PUZZLE that I put treats in and let my dog “solve”.

    • Charlie says...

      Love this trick too! Let’s use the reusable Kong. (Not single use plastic cups) :)

  6. Alison says...

    THANK YOU so much for answering my question!! It was so exciting to pop on here tonight to catch up on CoJ and see my question featured! Joanna and Jenny is a duo I was really happy to see come together here and you made my night picking my Q! Definitely using your tips going forward :)

  7. Alicia says...

    My teenager has been asking for more vegetarian meals. And I just want to say thank you to the commenters for so many quick meat-free recommendations. Saving, saving, saving.

  8. Allie Meyer says...

    Question: Can you do a post for vegetarian toddler meals? I have an okay handle on my own meals but need new inspiration for my 15 mo!

    For the adults dinner is mostly TJ hacks:

    – Frozen veggies, tofu, rice
    – Frozen mahi burgers on toasted bun and corn or potato chips
    – Bagged salad topped w mahi burger or beans or black bean burger
    – Breakfast tacos
    – Egg and veggie scrambles
    – Pasta w a cracked egg, pepper and cheese
    – TJ premade lentils w hummus and mini cucs
    – Repeat.

    • Mina says...

      Really have to recommend the new cookbook Little Green Kitchen. So many great vegetarian recipes for families. And follow @GKstories on insta.

  9. Ellen says...

    Each of these questions spoke to me on a deep level, lol. Thanks, Jenny!!

  10. Holly says...

    I’m so much less stressed when dinner is mostly made ahead and I just have to assemble. I could do a different version of shredded chicken every week for a month: bbq, pesto, curry, and tinga. It does take a few hours for the chicken to get falling-apart tender, but once you’re done you have enough for several nights (or to stash in the freezer). Then you just have to reheat and assemble into something- a taco, sandwich, rice bowl, or on top of a bagged salad, etc. My plan is to just rotate through the different versions so that’s two nights a week plus leftovers that I won’t have to think about.

  11. Natalie T. says...

    Sandwiches can sometimes do wonders: tomato, cheese, meats, canned tuna or salmon, etc. Grilled cheese also good. Get the older kids to toast the bread. Great for a pinch on a busy night.

  12. Marcy says...

    We have luck with udon noodles (they cook quickly!) with butter, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Cut up veggies and/or chicken on the side. Everyone likes it. (Get a rotisserie chicken and the whole thing is on the table in 20 minutes)

  13. Rachel Coleman says...

    For feeding hungry kids (and parents) in 20 minutes, two suggestions:

    First, “Green pancakes” are a HUGE hit in my house.
    https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/01/swiss-chard-pancakes/
    We eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and the batter comes together in minutes in the blender. (Even faster if you have pre-washed greens.) You can make the batter in advance and store it the fridge until you’re ready to fry, or you can make the pancakes in advance and store in the fridge or freezer. I keep them frozen, which is a lifesaver when you have a 17 month old screaming “PANCAKES!!!!!” and it’s not even 7am. (Insert face palm emoji.)

    Second, salad nicoise is super fast and I’ve learned to make it all in one pot. To save extra time, find small potatoes (so they cook quickly) and pre-trimmed green beans. Boil the potatoes in a big pot with plenty of water. After the potatoes are mostly cooked, add eggs to the pot. After 4-5 minutes, add the green beans to the same pot and cook 2-3 minutes more. Drain it all, then slice the potatoes and peel/slice the eggs. Put everything in a big a$$ bowl, add good quality tuna (I buy jars of it packed in olive oil), olives and cherry tomatoes. Dress with salt, pepper, lemon and/or vinaigrette and eat with crusty bread! Super easy to make and easy to adapt for dietary issues.

    Good luck and god speed to all the hard-working mama chefs out there!!!

    • Erin A O'Connor says...

      I love your Nicoise salad idea!! I never make it because it seems like so many steps, but this is genius. Thank you!

  14. Krysten says...

    My kiddos are a little older and so most of my recipes take a little longer, but a relic from our 20 minute days that we still use all the time is the vegetables before dinner plate. While cooking (when whining inevitably sets in) I’ll slice up or pull from the fridge a plate of raw veggies (sliced bell peppers, baby carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes etc), if we have fresh fruit I might also slice up an apple or a pear. I leave this unannounced on the dinner table while I cook. This food is scarfed down almost every time. Before dinner. And when we get to dinner and they don’t want to eat their asparagus or peas or whatever noxious vegetables I serve them, they’re asked to try a bite and we move on. Because they’ve already eaten veggies. It’s made our dinner time so, so much better.

    • Christin says...

      this. is. GENIUS.

    • Nora K. says...

      This is the most brilliant idea!!!

    • Mina says...

      We do this as well but with the addition of hummus. I make a big jar of it on Sunday and it comes out almost every day during the week.

  15. Kelly says...

    I totally agree with Allison! So many tiny leftovers. For left over cheese (probably from a cheese board) I use this recipe: smittenkitchen.com/2012/12/fromage-fort/. It tastes a bit different every time depending on the cheese you have, but nothing is better than wine cheese and butter combined into a dip!

  16. Karyn says...

    “…is the single most life-changing tip I’ve ever received” — Jenny, you are so awesome, and that’s a really good tip!

  17. Kathryn says...

    HOLY COW, THAT’S MY QUESTION!!! (I’M KATHRYN!!!)

    CRYING TEARS OF RECOGNITION OF JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA!

    @COJ & @JENNY ROSENSTRACH: VERY POSSIBLY NOT FELT SO HEARD IN MY ENTIRE, CHILD-BEARING (8) YEARS!!! A very special thank you xoxo.

    [Please note the lead time between reading post & replying, maybe 36 hours+? Because life. Massive thanks for this post & loads of mama love.]

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, you’re the sweetest!!!!! :) :) :)

  18. annette says...

    to the Full-time working mother with insane job: We have found the following helpful.
    bhg(dot)com Tomato tortellini soup / Recipentrest: creamy bacon and garlic pasta / pillsbury: cheesy chicken noodle and broccoli soup / yummly: bacon bbq grilled cheese sandwich / yummly: ham pizza snacks / chindeep: gracie’s grilled cheese roll ups / delish: buttered noodles / life in the loft house: blt pasata salad / dinnerthendessert: cheesy taco pasta
    Hopefully that will help others too. We have a almost 5 yo and a 3.5 yo so it has to be easy for us.

    • Kathryn says...

      This! A very big thank you xx

  19. Rebecca says...

    “. . . until you get to the phase in parenting where removing the stem from the kale isn’t going to send you into a tailspin.” Thank you. Just thank you.

    • Phoebe says...

      I literally came here to make this exact comment. That line perfectly describes my current phase of life/parenting!

  20. Green says...

    I learnt from a friend (and now practice religiously) that the best way to impress guests with your cooking in a good way is to pull out interactive food when hosting. Dishes like tacos, summer rolls or bao require some assembly on the part of the guest, which make them reliable dinner party winners. Stop serving stiff portions of duck breast or soufflé that you might be able to pull off but that end up really just intimidating your friends. Instead, make tortillas from scratch or present inventive summer roll fillings – it’s a much more friendly (and stealthy) way to impress and entertain guests. The meal (and conversations) last longer this way too!

  21. Andrea says...

    Love love love this thread. Will be coming back to it repeatedly. Came here to sing the praises of a panini press and an air fryer if you have the room for appliances. Although the instant pot has a couple saving graces, I don’t think “instant” is one of them. If you’re going for fast, an air fryer preheats in 3-5 minutes and I’m kind of obsessed with it for bacon, veggies, frozen foods, chicken wings, etc. It’s actually amazing for chicken wings – best wings ever. It’s also aaaaah-mazing for reheating pizza – much faster than the oven and much better than the microwave – heats evenly instead of cold center with melted edges! And you can have frozen tater tots ready in 10 minutes flat vs. preheating the oven for 20 minutes and then baking for another 25 minutes. As for the panini press – this is super fast and also great for using up whatever you have in the fridge as others have mentioned. My best tip here is getting the par-baked bread from the grocery store. We never go through bread before it molds and I’m throwing it away, but the parbaked ones freeze really well and finish baking in the panini press. I just wrap a frozen one in a paper towel and microwave for about 60 seconds. Then slice, throw whatever you want on it, and put in panini press until you hear the cheese sizzling. I don’t even bother brushing tops with butter. My fave is rotisserie chicken, granny smith slices, brie, and either fig jam or a drizzle of honey. But honestly – anything with cheese makes a good panini! The press is also great for quesadillas or grilled cheese without having to heat the oven or dirty a pan. And it wipes clean with a damp paper towel.

    • Andrea says...

      …and I should have specified by par-baked “bread” – I use the ciabatta rolls, not a loaf. They’re the perfect panini size and you can take exactly how many you need out of the freezer without having to thaw the whole loaf!

    • Angela says...

      PREACH about the instant pot. I feel so mislead!!

  22. Lindsey says...

    My entertaining tip is to unabashedly serve ready-made or make-your-own desserts. A jar of Nutella and some pizzelle cookies with a spreader makes everyone smile, and store-bought ice cream bars or pops passed around the party are always a hit. For a sit-down dinner, affogato (store-bought vanilla ice cream or gelato with a shot of espresso on top in a small dish or mug) is just as elegant and satisfying as it is simple.

    • Sophia says...

      Yes! Nutella and pizzelles are my secret trick too. I serve them with rainbow nonpareils to either top them open face or make cookies sandwiches and then roll the edges in the nonpareils so they stick to the oozing Nutella. It’s my go-to bake sale cheat as well and always sells out since it’s something different from cupcakes and brownies. A decent nonhydrogenated canned frosting like Simple Mills or Miss Jones works great in lieu of Nutella and is a non-chocolate option.

  23. sarah says...

    This post needs to include a video of the dogs licking their peanut butter. I would love that.

  24. Ari says...

    For quick and easy meals —
    I’m a big fan of fish or shrimp because it cooks so quickly. If you are serving a crowd, you could get a fish filet like salmon cut into smaller pieces (at the fish counter because who has time to prep at home) so that it only takes 8-10 mins to cook under the broiler. Just season with olive oil, salt+pep, and lemon. Serve with whatever veg and INSTANT COUSCOUS THE HOLY GRAIL. Instant couscous is a total game changer.

    Also, I love a grilled cheese with cut up fruit and veg on the side. My dad always made it for me when I was sick, and now as an adult it is a go to comfort meal when I am too exhausted to cook. I would happily serve it to others for dinner.

    Lastly, I feel like all you need for a good salad is a bag of prewashed greens (I love the ones that have herbs included) and some homemade dressing. But when even making dressing is too much, just splash seasoned rice wine vinegar and olive oil on your greens. My mom invented this combo and it is INCREDIBLE and tastes gourmet but costs basically nothing in time and money. Tastes particularly great with feta. When all else fails, a simple salad with this dressing and a baked potato is a life saver.

  25. Amy says...

    Eggs & toast forever! Also, green smoothies can round out my weaker meals.

    We keep one of those lidded, divided vegetable trays in the fridge and restock it in the evenings as needed (cucumbers, peppers, carrots, snap peas, tomatoes…). It goes on the table just about every night and is perpetually ready to fill up school lunches in the mornings. If the kids don’t like what’s for dinner, they can always snack from that.

    • Annie says...

      Amy, this made me laugh – green smoothies can round out my weaker meals. So true! For me, it’s dumping a bag of spinach on a pizza drizzled with balsamic – like the easiest version of Jenny’s salad pizza.

      What kind of vegetable tray do you have? That’s a great idea.

  26. Jenny E. says...

    I love all the ideas!! My fridge clean out favorite is stir fry. Or anything on a tortilla. Thanks everyone for the ideas. I’m going to devote time to reading the comments.

  27. Callie says...

    Avgolemono!!!! The very first time I ever heard about it was from you (probably Joanna linking it). I’m pretty sure you said something about your kids slurping it down and angels singing or something along those lines, but MAN, talk about the best recipe AND EASIEST ever… easy as Campbell’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole Poss-i-bil-i-ties (YES I MAKE THAT AND LOVE IT).

  28. Tera says...

    I LOVE the solo cup tip! Our lab loses her mind when guests show up, which always feels like a terrible welcome (basically me yelling at the dog to calm down/quit barking) to tour home

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      YUP!

  29. deannagabriel says...

    I CAN NOT second the “take whatever leftover herbs you have and make a pesto” idea enough. I do this with leftover herbs ALL THE TIME. I freeze them in these little silicon cubes and turn them into “flavor bombs” and use them all the time. Thaw and mix in a little acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and I have a quick salad dressing. Thaw and throw in with scrambled eggs, done! Use them to make an easy sauce for a roasted veggie buddah bowl and you’ve got a quick and delicious dinner! Easy pasta sauce! Uses are endless. These are a serious game changer and meal maker for me. I freeze mine in these little silicon trays with lids that Ball made a few years ago. I’m not sure if they make them anymore, but would recommend silicon none the less. Easy to get out, doesn’t hold the flavors, and easy to wash. I store my “flavor bombs” in ziploc bags in the freezer. HIGH, HIGH RECOMMEND.

  30. To take care of waste (and it’s also a quick meal) we have Tiny Bites once a week. The idea is a plate full of tiny portions of leftovers, even if it only amounts to one bite a person. You can mix hot and cold food. Favorites include: halved meatballs, cubed cheese, three carrot sticks, a dollop of hummus, slices of apple, a small pile of peas, a cracker with butter, raisons no one ate from their lunch, yogurt with leftover herbs, that half of cucumber you for some reason didn’t include in last night’s salad, a sliced beet, last bits of chips from the bottom of the bag. Arrange it all together on a plate and it even looks a little fancy.

    • joy says...

      I love the idea of Tiny Bites! I usually just call this Grab Bag and it’s a free-for-all in terms of who gets what and portion sizes, but Tiny Bites is much better branding and marketing.

    • Mary says...

      I love this!

    • AM says...

      This is awesome!

    • Emily says...

      We do this too! My mom called it “bits for dinner!” growing up and now we do it in our own house.

    • Di says...

      Over here, we call it a snack dinner!(In fact, I think we should have it tonight.)

    • Jen says...

      We call it picnic dinner and it is the best! I put it all on a big wooden cutting board and give the kids toothpicks to make it feel special and fancy.

    • Diana says...

      We do the same but call it snack plate and it is usually my daughter’s favorite dinner. We only do it when my husband is away because he needs a whole lot more calories than snack plate can provide. But I sure do look forward to the cooking break when he is gone.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love this, emma!

  31. Caitlin says...

    We had snack dinner while growing up only we called it party dinner and we lost our minds when it was party dinner night! We loved it.

  32. Suzanne says...

    Corn tortillas spread with canned refried beans and topped with anything! Pop under the broiler for 1-2 min. Eat!
    -leftover chicken and leftover roast veggies. Top with guac after they sit under the broiler!
    -leftover roast beef or pulled pork. Top with salsa and greens

    Each person can customize if they want spicy hot sauce or cheesey or tons of veggies.
    So fast! So cheap! So easy! So yummy!

  33. Tina L. says...

    Working mom here with three kids, and feeling like I need to feed my family 5 nights a week – we go out one night and get takeout one night to keep it sane. On the regular we do:

    Tacos (ground beef, ground turkey, chicken, shrimp, fish, whatever protein I have.) Favorite easy taco night – buy boneless skinless chicken thighs, dump two pounds in to the slow cooker with whatever mild salsa verde cans/jars (1 for each pound of meat) you have, set to high 2-3 hours, low about 4 hours. House smells amazing when you return (get a timer if you’re away longer than that) and heat up tortillas, set out whatever toppings you might have (grated cheese, green onions, avocado, tomatoes, lettuce.)

    Breakfast for Dinner – we make egg scrambles, omelettes, french toast, pancakes, breakfast tacos and burritos (great for using up vegetables and old bread.) Favorite b fast for dinner: Challah french toast – buy Challah bread, slice into thick slices, dip in whisked egg mixture of eggs and dollop of milk or water and sprinkling of cinnamon with a pinch of salt, fry in butter until golden. Serve with maple syrup. Sausage or bacon on the side, if more protein needed. Also usually served with fruit (which I consider good enough as my vegetable for the night :)

    Vegetable soup – I make this almost weekly. I saute onion, celery, garlic and carrots (if I have them) in olive oil. I then throw whatever veggies I have that need to be used (cooked or raw – such as potatoes, broccoli, green beans, kale, etc….) chopped, into the pan. I add vegetable or chicken stock, and whatever spices and herbs I feel would be good (basil, rosemary). Sometimes I throw in diced tomatoes for color. Once vegetables are soft, it’s done. This can be eaten as a main (add some rotisserie chicken or not), eaten as side instead of veggies (one less dish to prepare), a first course in place of a salad, or taken for lunches.

    Paninis – my MIL gave me a Panini maker a few years ago. It languished in my cupboard until we discovered the magic of fried sandwiches…my kids and husband love them. Adult favorite: Tomato/mozzarella & basil. My kids love ham and cheese. Get good sliced bread, butter outside of both slices, turn bread slices over and layer ripe tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese, and add a couple of basil leaves. Put sandwich together with the buttered sides on the outside into the Panini maker and lower the lid, smashing sandwich together, until cheese has melted. My kids also like to put apples or pear slices in their ham and cheese sandwiches. This is something everyone can get involved in too.

    Curries and stews – Favorite in our house: Jar of curry, add coconut milk (Lite or full fat), add whatever protein or vegetables, or both. Make rice. Done.

    Pasta, or rice, or baked potatoes and meat sauce – I usually do ground turkey browned with garlic and onion (you can buy both pre-chopped, if no time), add jarred tomato sauce or make your own, but I love the Mezzetta pasta sauce Whole garlic and Sweet Basil marinara. The ingredients are very clean – tomato, garlic and basil.

    Lastly, I love a rotisserie chicken. I can use it for the meat in whatever I am making, use it with a salad or veggies as a main, use it for sandwiches, and then at the end, I might throw it into the veggie soup or make my kids’ favorite – chicken noodle soup, which is also very handy to have around. I make my soups on auto pilot for the most part. Saute onion, garlic, celery and carrots in olive oil, add chicken carcass and whatever meat was leftover, all the congealed stuff at the bottom of the carton (flavor), and then add water and chicken bouillon cube or chicken stock itself to cover everything. Sometimes I throw in zucchini, or green beans,or asparagus too. Cook until all vegetables are done and chicken is falling off the bones. Take carcass out and make sure to get all the bones out as well. Add the noodles to the pot, with a little extra water or stock. Cook until the noodles are soft. I let my kids choose the pasta (favorites are wide egg noodles, fusilli, shells, ditalini, and tortellini.) If I am out of pasta, I have thrown in potatoes, or rice for a change of pace (not because I am too lazy to take a trip to the store – ha!)

    • Cg says...

      I have to second the Mezzetta brand of pasta sauce. It’s literally the one jar sauce I’ll get. No sugar, tastes real. If the store is out, we’ll have something else for dinner.

      Also jarred curry sauce or the curry in blocks are huge time savers!!

    • Betsy says...

      So many good ideas!!

    • LGogs says...

      These are all so great! A tip to make rotisserie chicken soup even easier – tie it up in cheesecloth. That way you don’t have to fish around for the bones! You just take the whole chicken parcel out, pick off the meat and toss the bones. Easy peasy.

  34. Molly says...

    Another tip – if your oven has a delay start, it can be your best friend. You can scrub and put in potatoes in the morning and set it to start baking before you get home. Or if you are making something quick in the oven (eg., a sheet pan dinner like roasted salmon with asparagus), but the preheating is the longest part, set the delay start so the oven is 100% preheated when you walk in the door and all you have to do is throw the food in.

  35. Maywyn says...

    Please, what easy meals balance protein and carbs? After talking with a nutritionist, I try, but fail by having more carbs than protein. Like baked sweet potato for evening snack…carb. Sigh.
    Thank you

    • KC says...

      Eggs are magic, as are canned beans, for quick, cheap protein. Hardboiled eggs: snack (and when left in the fridge in-shell, they last for a surprisingly long time, so you can cook a batch and then eat them at your leisure). Fritatta or omelette: dinner/snack/breakfast. Fried egg: can be put on top of almost any carb and takes very little additional time. Canned beans can be herbed/spiced up and added as a topping to sweet potatoes (or regular potatoes, or rice, or toast, or whatever), turned into quick soups (can of diced tomatoes, can of beans, some veggies from the fridge or freezer, herbs or spice mixes of your choice, bring to a boil, done [or, if you add pasta or rice or diced potatoes for more carbs, bring to a boil until carbs are cooked – in that case, hold off on the added veggies until they won’t overcook in the time left – just before serving for fresh fridge greens, but a bit earlier for frozen cooked veggies or more-sturdy fridge veggies – carrots can be either thinly sliced so they cook fast or added at the start] and you’ve got dinner that night and lunch the next day), blended up into dips or spreads to go with your carbs, used as burrito augmentation as-is, etc. Good luck!

    • Alexandra says...

      Maywyn – If you haven’t already, Google or search Instagram for people counting macros (frequently hashtagged with #iifym which stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”). Many of the accounts will be by people who are extremely into sports/fitness – and if that’s not you, don’t be intimidated – there’s still a ton of good info out there on protein sources (since athletes are basically always trying to find ways to get in more protein), and tons of bloggers/IG accounts with easy to prep meals that cover the spectrum from vegan to paleo.

  36. Sarah says...

    We eat a lot of protein+veggie+carb/starch meals. This seems to minimize food waste because it’s simple and easy to buy exactly what you need. We’re happy with preparing most things really simply: olive oil, salt, and pepper, maybe garlic and red pepper, on most veggies and proteins. Salmon + spinach + minute rice, grilled chicken + sliced zuchini + corn, steak + asparagus + sweet potatoes, ham + green beans + potatoes, etc.

    • Lizzie says...

      Love this.

  37. Louisa says...

    We have an insane deep freezer, and in it is a small fortune in seafood, chicken, a quarter of beef, and elk (my husband is a hunter). Almost all are in 1 – 2# servings. Remove in the morning, put in the fridge.

    Dinner 4 nights a week takes 20 minutes: rice (programmable rice cooker) + protein + veggie side. Or biscuits (I’m from the South) + protein + salad. Or smoothie + protein + potato (microwave until soft, finish in the oven with the protein). Etc.

    Last night was roasted salmon, rice, and broccoli. It took 20 minutes. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016146-broccoli-salad-with-garlic-and-sesame (marinate for an hour? not a chance!) The night before was lamb, biscuits and a spinach salad. Tonight is tuna melts :) – my daughter’s request.

    • Meredith says...

      I’m coming to dinner at your house sometime! Lemme know when it’s Elk night :)

  38. A says...

    Mother of 4 yr old,2 yr old, and 4 month old twins popping in to say Kathryn’s question, Jenny’s encouragement, and all the comments with further ideas, made me feel like a member of such a fabulous tribe I didn’t even know I got to be a part of! I think I thought everyone else was having beef bourguignon on a Tuesday? As their children happily waited with cloth napkins neatly folded on their naps? So, thank you all!

    And, may I humbly contribute…. fondue! Get the premixed cheese/garlic blocks and melt in electric fondue pot (or stove). Serve with veggies (perfect use for a half eaten veggie tray), chunks of bread, and leftover deli meat if available. Can evolve into mini bite-sized sandwiches for little ones if that’s more their speed. You’d be amazed how many veggies and how little cheese the kiddos go for with this as it’s an activity….And it is SO FUN for them. Melted cheese! Sticking things (if age appropriate)! Choices! Autonomy! Cheers everyone – you’re doing a great job!

    • Shannon says...

      Love this!

    • Leah L Strothman says...

      You have 4 kids under 4 and you’re making fondue??? KUDOS to you.

    • Lindsey says...

      Hi friend! I am also a mom of a 4 yo, 2 yo and 3 mo twins!

      It is currently almost 3am and I am feeding my baby girls and sending you good luck juju that your kiddos sleep in for you a bit tomorrow morning. Isn’t it crazy how even an extra 15-20 mins can feel like a gift?!

      We got this. ::high five::

  39. jenny says...

    I love to entertain and – not to brag – but I’m really good at it. The big secret in my opinion is DON”T have everything ready when people get there! The big time consuming stuff, yes. But making a vinagrette for the salad/setting the table/putting together a cheese plate? Save it for when people arrive. You can delegate tasks, people who maybe don’t know each other that well can do it together & get to know each other better, and it sets the tone of ‘you are my family and this is going to be a fun relaxed evening of eating great food together!’

    • Jennifer Yarbrough says...

      This is brilliant! I love when people put me to work as a guest….why have I never done this? Going to start.

  40. Taylor says...

    My parents made us what they call “beans and weenies on bread”. I hate baked beans yet I love this meal even in my late 20s. Cut up french bread and place on a baking sheet. Mix together 8 cut up hot dogs, 2 cans of baked beans, half a cup of ketchup, and a squirt of mustard. That fed a family of 5 so adjust as needed. Put mixture on top of french bread pieces and stick it in the oven on broil. Typically it’s 5-7 mins in the oven for us but depends on how toasty you want the bread.

  41. Abby says...

    At the end of last summer I bought a ton of basil and made several batches of pesto (and to Jenny’s point, use any herb for the pesto!). Then I poured it into ice cube trays, and once frozen, transferred to a freezer bag. Those frozen pesto cubes lasted almost all the way to the start of this summer! They defrost in just a couple minutes, and become such an awesome way to jazz up scrambled eggs, pasta when you don’t have sauce, toast with beans, etc.

    Frozen pesto cubes are now in my forever arsenal!

  42. Amy says...

    Pasta bakes are our go-to favorite. Can easily prepare ahead of time: Mix par-cooked pasta with whatever sauce you want, any veggies and/or protein, put in a pan and top with cheese. Bake and eat! I also have three littles (4, 2, baby) and I enlist my older two with helping to cook. A) They love it, B) I want them to learn to cook, C) meal prep is easier because they are happily and productively occupied and aren’t causing mischief elsewhere in the house. Toddlers can whisk or stir, and tearing basil leaves or similar is another toddler-friendly kitchen task.

  43. Kara says...

    In the winter when I have a semblance of being an organized person I do the following:

    Weekend: Make 1 meal that allows me to freeze an extra serving. Soups, stew, chili, Mexican lasagna, etc
    https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/01/chicken-chili/
    https://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2016/11/22/everyday-lentil-soup
    https://pinchofyum.com/healthy-mexican-casserole-roasted-corn-peppers
    https://www.skinnytaste.com/quick-and-deliciouso-cuban-style-black/

    Weekdays: I always try to create a meal-plan that is realistic with my anticipated workload (ie if I have a ton of deadlines we are totally having pasta twice or delivery once and there’s no reason to buy groceries that pretend that’s not happening.) I don’t assign days to food, but if we are eating meat it will be on a Monday or Tuesday because I don’t want to deal with defrosting and pre planning. I figure out which I will cook on my way home. If it’s 15 minutes later then normal I’ll go for the easiest item and if it’s 15 minutes early I go for the most “complicated”.

    To cover the remaining 5 days I usual pull 5 meals from some combination of the following:
    -Sunday freezer meal made on a previous week (so we’re not eating the same thing twice)
    -Noodles. However you like your carby goodness.
    -Taco night. Store bought guacamole + veggies of choice and beans sauted with cumin and garlic + cheese + black olives + tortillas + https://houseofyumm.com/ready-the-chips-its-salsa-time/
    -Something with rice.
    https://www.skinnytaste.com/chipotle-cilantro-lime-rice-4-pts/
    + black beans (I’ll cook them in leftover salsa with cumin and add some spinach or kale near the end)
    https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/basmati-rice-pilaf-with-dried-fruits-and-almonds.html
    + a can of chickpeas
    – Panini night
    -Pancake night or scrambled eggs
    http://foodieandfabulous.blogspot.com/2013/09/cinnamon-oatmeal-banana-pancakes.html#more
    https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/01/swiss-chard-pancakes/
    -paninis + smoothie (I precut costco baguettes and keep them in my freezer for this)

    • Erin says...

      I meal plan using themes:
      Monday – soup or salad
      Tuesday – tacos
      Wednesday – something in the crock pot
      Thursday – stir fry or teriyaki bowls with chicken or salmon
      Friday – pizza or pasta
      Saturday – BBQ or go out
      Sunday – nicer dinner like steak or halibut

      Makes life so much easier to have a go-to menu. I usually chop & prep the night before.

  44. Marlena says...

    From my days as a single working mother of three comes the following easy favorites:

    1) Frozen burritos – lay them out in a glass pan. Mix together cans of Stagg chili and green enchilada sauce, then pour over the burritos. Top with cheddar jack cheese (or whatever you like). Bake at 375 until bubbly. Top with sour cream. NOM.

    2) Cheese quesadillas with shredded chicken. With guac, a side of black beans, and whatever salsa you like on the side. This one is great for movie nights.

    3) A loaf or two (or three!) of delicious crusty dipping bread with small plates of olive oil and balsamic vinegar sprinkled with pepper (My kids always loved this and thought it was soooo fancy. But honestly, dipping bread in oil is the EASIEST meal ever). Add some grapes on the side and shredded chicken to pick on. And voila. Dinner. My kids loved the dinners that you can pick at while we chat at the table.

    As long as we were able to sit down and laugh at the end of the day, I never stressed about making anything fancy for dinner, and still don’t. It must be easy, quick, and have a few colors from the rainbow. That’s it. No stress ladies. It’s just food.

    • Verona says...

      Love this comment! And this post is a treasure trove of good ideas, thanks so much! I’m writing a list while reading.

  45. Whitney says...

    One of my go-to quick meals is a take on Skinnytaste’s Spicy California Shrimp Stacks. We just call them: Shrimp Bowls.
    And everything comes from Trader Joe’s! I use their frozen microwave rice, frozen shrimp, avocado, cucumber, and top with mayo + sriracha/hot sauce. If I have them on hand, I’ll crush up some wasabi seaweed snacks on top. Maybe a little soy sauce. The part that takes the longest is running the shrimp under cold water to defrost. Otherwise everything else can be chopped/prepped in the 3 minutes it takes the rice to microwave.

    Here’s the original recipe:
    https://www.skinnytaste.com/spicy-california-shrimp-stack/

    • Emily says...

      I have had this on my list to try FOREVER, but for some reason it never occured to me that I could just put it in a bowl rather than making the stack. Thank you for freeing me!

  46. A says...

    If you are worried about food waste (or even if you are not), I HIGHLY recommend Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal”. It takes you through all the steps for how to use the bits and bobs of everything that you buy, in a very simple and straightforward way. Plus, she is a fantastic writer and it all comes across like poetry.

    Also, Judith Jones’s “the Pleasures of Cooking for One” is another excellent resource that gives nice clear instructions on how to use what you make for leftovers/for later and reduce your waste. I used this cookbook when I lived alone, but I use it even more now that I am married! The recipes are excellent and also cherish the easy, simple, straightforward stars that you will eat again and again [a la roast chicken, etc etc.]

  47. Cece says...

    Our emergency go-tos are deeply unimaginative but they work! And my almost 4 year old will eat them so I’ll take it

    – Quesadillas. Any leftover veg or black beans + cheese, salad and/or or packaged ‘Mexican rice on the side
    – Puff pastry tartlets. Cheese + veg + puff pastry (ideally pre-rolled) + oven
    – Spaghetti puttanesca
    – Spaghetti with broccoli, anchovies, breadcrumbs and lemon juice
    – Fish finger tacos
    – pasta with beans (cannellini is good) and veg
    – Thug Kitchen roasted chickpea burritos. Maybe a smidge over 20 minutes but minimal work
    – Steak sandwiches, yaaaass

    • LEE A HILLHOUSE says...

      How do you make those steak sandwiches?

  48. jane says...

    For Kathryn – if there is a husband really he should step up and handle either dinner or the kids. If no husband then, seriously, you need to hire a local personal chef to meal prep FOR you and fill your fridge on the weekly with pre-prepped, ready to go meals – you are too busy already to do it all yourself – give yourself, and your kids, a break!

    I know a personal chef sounds fancy but it is not – they are a huge help, doing the shopping and covering basic meals. I used to do this for all sorts of families and was so grateful for the employment as well as knowing I was making a difference. On your end it’s an investment in sanity and well-being and you can go back to doing it yourself when you’ve had a breather.
    The other option is to spend Saturdays making meals for the week ahead.

    • M says...

      Hmmm. I am not sure that many people have the resources to consider a personal chef even if they wanted one. And while I (like many working moms) have a husband, he doesn’t get home until 1-2 hours after I do, and far too late to contribute to making dinner (and it is definitely not a matter of him needing to step up). No way my littles could wait until gone 7.30pm for dinner. I get in the door with the kids at 6pm and need food in their tummies by 6.15pm or all hell breaks loose…

    • Abesha1 says...

      Laughing all the way to the bank on this comment….

  49. Nicola says...

    1) Eggs: fried to top just about anything; frittata’d with just about anything; scrambled for breakfast tacos; poached if you want to feel fancy with little effort; boiled ahead of time to smash or slice atop toast, add heft to a salad, or simply eat with salt and pepper.

    2) Beans: add to garlicky pasta with wilted greens and leftover sausage or bacon if you have it; add to soup (even canned!) with a handful of greens, add leftover noodles or rice (and more liquid if needed); chickpea salad (smash chickpeas and add everything you’d normally add to tuna or chicken salad), then make sandwiches, top a salad or eat on crackers.

    Tortillas wrapped/topped with leftovers count as dinner.

    Freezer pasta sauce, frozen meatballs (with spaghetti OR make a sandwich/sub!)

    Grocery store roast chicken. Leftovers make for additional sandwiches, soups, salads, tacos.

    Takeout is not admitting defeat.

    As my mother always said after she made dinner, “Another miracle performed!” For busy families, most days just eating dinner is a win.

  50. Lisa says...

    Kathryn is living my life. Similar situation- both my husband and I work full time, two toddlers. It used to be that the babies would eat before we got home and we would eat after they went to sleep, but the oldest kept on asking to eat with us so now we all eat together. I have to cook super fast as normally the younger one is hungry.
    What has worked – grilled fish with rice and veg, veg and noodles with fish or chicken, pasta, shakshuka, cod fish fingers with potatoes, peas and sweetcorn. We’re still trying to figure out the timing but I am enjoying having dinner together at the end of the day, and not having to eat dinner at 10pm

  51. Katie Larissa says...

    I meal plan for 3 weeks at a time, make a gigantic trip to Costco, then dash out once a week to buy fresh veggies at the farmer’s market. It works well.
    My meal plan the last set:
    -sheet pan fajitas
    -sheet pan Mediterranean chicken, with naan bread, hummus, and cucumbers + tomatoes
    -turkey burgers w/veg side
    -roasted salmon over a big salad
    -pasta and meatballs
    -taco salad
    -oven roasted chicken breasts on salad
    -fish tacos w/rice and a fresh slaw
    -chicken stir fry w/rice noodles
    -ground pork wraps w/homemade teriyaki sauce and steamed (frozen) dumplings on the side
    -oven roasted pork tenderloin w/veg on the side
    Then, rinse and repeat whatever nights you liked, until the next Costco/stock up trip!
    I buy all of my meat at one time, section the fresh stuff (ground beef, chicken thighs, pork loins) out into 1 lb portions and freeze, and I buy a lot of it already frozen. (Chicken breasts, salmon, tilapia, turkey burgers.)

  52. Anna says...

    for leftover herbs like chives, parsley or mint i trim the stems and put them in a glass of water in the fridge – they last for weeks that way!

    • Colleen says...

      This! In addition–once in a glass, put one of those green “produce bags” from the grocery store over the top of the whole thing. I’ve had even very picky herbs (like fresh dill) last over a week this way.

  53. Sarah says...

    Kathryn’s delivery is perfect. It cracked me up, too. I feel you!

    This was perfect, too:
    Those two lone scallions wilting in the back of your fridge? The single potato starting to sprout? Random cheese ends? Half a can of black beans…

    Also, I’ve been trying to get my kids involved in dinner prep more. At 4 and 2 (and 9mo) they’re not super helpful (baby so unhelpful) but I feel like it’s a long term investment… if they’re involved and feel like can be useful now, hopefully it will feel like something they can have ownership over in time. Also while they’re in the kitchen they’re not fighting in the living room and are hopefully distracted enough to wait a minute for dinner. And they can always nibble on chunks of cheese or carrots while they help. Pressing pulse on the food processor, mixing, setting (the unbreakable parts of) the table, flipping the measuring spoons over after I pour… all within their little abilities!

    This article about having kids help really hit home:
    https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/09/616928895/how-to-get-your-kids-to-do-chores-without-resenting-it

  54. Ally says...

    My dad is Greek Cypriot and he always made us Avgolemono when I was growing up. To this day, it’s my ultimate comfort food. Though I’ve yet to make it as perfectly as my dad. I also love that it’s sort of a two-person recipe. My dad would always make me stir the pot while he slowly added the egg mixture in. So delicious and so comforting!

  55. Michelle says...

    My son constantly requests Spicy Chicken
    While the rice is cooking in the rice cooker I heat oil in a wok/ skillet add some minced garlic and depending on how spicy a teaspoon or more of chili garlic paste. Then add a pound of ground chicken and stir fry until browned. Add a tablespoon each of fish sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Keep stirring until chicken is cooked. If you like a wetter sauce add more of the sauces. We usually serve it with edamame in the pod.

  56. Re #1: Make double batches of everything and freeze half. That way you just have to take something out of the freezer and heat it. Even better: take it out in the morning before you leave the house and put it in the fridge to defrost slowly. Three minutes in the microwave and you’re good. Of course you have to cook sometimes, but this cuts your cooking days by half.
    Re #3: yes, use your know-by-heart recipes. But I also like to do recipes that my guests aren’t familiar with. Something a little exotic. For one thing, they don’t have any idea whether it turned out right. For another thing, since they always like it even though they’ve never had it before, I have developed a reputation as an adventurous cook, a coveted invitation. Just aim for things you can do ahead, 90%.
    A cheese soufflé will make jaws drop and mouths water and is far easier than its reputation lets on.

  57. Sam says...

    Make this. It is one of the best things I know how to make and yet also one of the easiest:

    http://tastykitchen.com/recipes/soups/chorizo-lentil-stew/

    I use spicy Italian sausage instead of chorizo, and I use water instead of broth (and don’t miss it ONE BIT). You can leave out the greens in case your eaters are picky, and double the goat cheese in case you’re like me and want it all for yourself.

    You only get one pot dirty, you don’t have to chop a single thing, the cook time is brief and hands-off, and except for the goat cheese (which (a) lasts rather a long time unopened in the fridge and (b) could of course be left out) all of the ingredients are shelf-stable. I really think this recipe is from god.

    • Sam says...

      Also it freezes flawlessly.

  58. Carolyn says...

    Another working mom with two little kids chiming in to say some good dinner options are what we call:

    – Snack Dinner: it’s literally …. snacks, for dinner, but the healthy kind. So like, veggie straws, cheese cubes, crackers, hummus, veggies …. sometimes this is eaten on the floor, like a picnic. Twice as fun!
    – Tapas Dinner: LEFTOVERS but called TAPAS!!!!!
    – Backwards Night: we do a bath first, then pjs, then dinner, which is (DRUMROLL): BREAKFAST!!!! It’s all backwards! My very process-driven five year old LOVES this so much, I think she feels like she is breaking rules, which is very exciting for her.

    • LBD says...

      All of this. Amazing!

  59. K.Jo says...

    Tuna tacos! Put some canned tuna on a tortilla shell add a line if mustard down one side a line of relish down the other. Maybe sprinkle some lettuce over the top if your quick enough & roll it up. Our son would eat the these Everytime when he was little and I laugh now thinking we were making wraps before wraps were cool

  60. Awads says...

    That pasta con ceci is in regular rotation in my house. I bet it’s the meal my son (one day far, far in the future) comes home from college and requests!

    re: “smearing the insides of Solo cups with peanut butter in anticipation of my two Boston Terriers acting really loud and annoying”. Brilliant! I have an annoying BT, too, and this sounds like just the ticket!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Awads, nice to see you over here!! As a fellow Boston terrier owner, I know you feel my pain (embarrassment?). I think I actually stress more about my dogs misbehaving than I do getting dinner on the table. On the other hand, they are super helpful after the guests leave by licking all the platters clean on the floor. We call it the pre-wash.

  61. Emily Cook says...

    For Kathryn: my kids are similar in age. This is what I do:
    M: pasta night
    T: Tacos (80’s style old school tacos – I make taco meat, open a can of beans, the rest of the toppings are super easy)
    W: Tofu night (I get put tofu + veggies on a sheet pan on the oven & make white rice first, it might take 30 mins but easy & worth it – or I buy Wildwood premarinated tofu and it take 20 because of the rice)
    Th: Q night! Our invention. Quinoa + Quesadillas – Quinoa is the base, then we use leftovers in the quesadillas. Oddly, this is often the yummiest night for the adults ;)
    Friday: Pizza night!
    Dessert: berries or fruit. My kids are in charge of this.
    Also, when in doubt: I use the Dinner a Love Story (!!✨✨) formula: anything + broccoli is a win.
    Having a Waldorf-style dinner rhythm completely transformed our lives. We make a new one in the summer to avoid too much monotony.

    • Angela says...

      Amazing! Thank you for sharing this!

    • Mia says...

      This is brilliant! I just took a screenshot of your comment to start using for our household. Big Thank You!

  62. liz says...

    saute chick peas, onion, spinach, and bell pepper — put on a tortillas and add cheese and avocado. healthy + delicious +filling + FAST veggie tacos

  63. Sadie says...

    Quesadillas! This is a go to for me … keep tortillas and cheese in the fridge. Throw in whatever you have around .. canned black beans or refried beans, leftover chicken cut up with scissors, any leftover veggies, some torn up spinach.
    Also, for veggie sides, green beans, broccoli, and peas can be thrown in a shallow bowl with some water and nuked for 5-10 minutes. No preheating required. Top with olive oil, salt and pepper, or a bit of grated parm from the fridge. That’s our veggie side just about every night, and leftovers can be chopped up and put in the quesadillas!

  64. Kirsten says...

    One of the easiest, most satisfying dinners I make on the regular came from this very blog: https://cupofjo.com/2018/10/easy-kale-sausage-beans/ I use a bag of chopped kale (eliminates any washing and chopping) and can dump everything in one-handed while I hold my hungry 2-year-old, who loves this dish :)

    • Emily says...

      I was wondering when KSB was going to show up in the comments. Easy fave in our house. You can also use baby kale to avoid the kale stem situation (which I thought only sent me over the edge, but have now discovered IS A THING).

  65. Linda says...

    So I’ve been cooking kale WITH the stems for years before realizing that chefs trim them off. Whoops! (My husband introduced me to kale when we were dating, and that’s how he cooked it.) Leaving them on makes prep a lot easier, gives you extra fiber, and reduces food waste. (My toddler refuses to eat the leafy parts, so removing the stem won’t help me there either.)

    • dana says...

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one who also leaves most of the stem on. I think the key is giving it a good rub with a little bit of olive oil and salt. It makes it so much softer and more palatable, in my opinion. =)

  66. Sarah Beth says...

    I have two constants: I refuse to spend my precious weekend hours meal prepping (I have a 3yo and 5mo and work full time, I want some uninterrupted weekend!), and I make dinner every.single.night. (well I mean, we obviously occasionally order pizza or thai.) I keep on hand and shop for only two kinds of meals: things that go in the slow cooker, or things that can be made in 15 min.
    Slow cooker favorites: salsa chicken, bruschetta chicken & mushrooms, beef burrito bowls, chili, spaghetti sauce with ground beef/turkey and every veg in the fridge, mushroom barley or split pea soup
    15 minutes: sushi bowls, bbq chicken quesadillas w salad, eggs!, grilled cheese and tomato soup, chicken sausage with pasta and broc or peas (probably my signature meal), salmon with cous cous and rice, flank steak with (microwave) baked potatoes.
    And on Sundays, I make a big pasta salad in summer or soup in winter that will last us a couple of lunches and at least two dinners.
    I don’t make anything that needs a recipe, I almost never make a new grocery list, I have a ton of frozen veggies and chicken breasts from costco, and I get to keep my weekends free from chopping. Even if I had a lot of meals prepped in the freezer, I wouldn’t have time to cook them between getting home and feeding my kid! This system really works for us, and is so easy that it’s not even stressful anymore.

    • Jorden says...

      Thank you for the shopping and quick meal ideas. I feel like you just granted me the permission I needed to toss the weekend prep out. More family (see: UNO!) and reading time! Hear, hear!

  67. Yulia says...

    I like to add leftover herbs to green (or non-green) smoothies. I reason that if they’re packed with flavor they’re probably packed with nutrients. (And even if they aren’t nutrient powerhouses, they whizz down to nothing in a smoothie so it’s basically like adding an extra handful of spinach.) If you aren’t a smoothie fan you can make a “shot” of herb juice with a couple handfuls of herbs and a bit of lemon or lime juice and water, blend it together, and then just down it like a shot. If it didn’t taste great that’s okay–you threw it down the hatch and it’s already over! Of course, this is based on the premise that you’ll do something good for yourself even if maybe it doesn’t taste the most amazing. (Although in my opinion “health” tastes amazing, and I actually LIKE a half dozen sprigs of cilantro in my smoothies!) Rosemary’s the only thing I can think of that won’t work, but its shelf life in the fridge is legendary.

  68. Bec says...

    As far as food waste, I have learned a lot from NY-based chef Max La Manna. You can follow him on Instagram @maxlamanna . He just came out with a cookbook and also shares a ton on his Instagram.

  69. Jasmine says...

    Love these tips! For the pesto, I would avoid doing this with cilantro. I hate that I always have trouble getting through the whole bunch, so one time I tried making it into pesto. It turned out TERRIBLE — I get now why some people think cilantro tastes like soap. Maybe others have had more success, or other tips for using up cilantro!

    • Ess says...

      Salsa! Add it to pre-made, or make your own.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Oh no! I love pesto-ing cilantro, especially since their stems are so tender you don’t have to trim anything — just rinse them and shove in the food processor without even drying. Maybe try processing with pepitas, garlic, lime, olive oil, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Barring that, whirl in a few dollops of yogurt and a pinch of cumin and it’s a delicious salad dressing or sauce for a roasted/grilled chicken.

    • Neela says...

      Cilantro, garlic, cashew, chilli, sesame oil pesto is legendary, and tastes phenomenal with shrimps and pasta!

    • Danielle says...

      I love cilantro for pesto or salad dressing. It blends up so nicely. This recipe is my absolute favorite for using up some that is far past it’s prime (or when you feel very wasteful tossing out all the stems). So good! http://orangette.net/2008/10/your-work-is-done/

      Now that I see the date on that blog post I realize I’ve been making that soup for 11 years! Time flies!

    • Kara says...

      Check out @garlicpressjess on Instagram and her Green Sauce story on IG TV….this stuff is SO TASTY and SO EASY and takes anything you’re eating to the next level. (She’s an awesome account in general for people who want to become “intuitive” cooks, ie those people who can make a (often quick) delicious meal out of anything in their pantry.)

    • Dina says...

      What I do with cilantro, is chop it up in a food processor with garlic and lemon juice, than I divide into ice cube molds and top with olive oil, and freeze. I keep a bag of these in my freezer at all times, and take one or two out when ever I cook – it works as a base for almost anything – eggs, pasta, veggie stews, soup. The possibilities are endless.
      I usually do this on the weekends, but have now got this down to a science, and the whole process takes me about 7 min.

  70. Makens says...

    It may seem obvious but my greatest dinnertime coup is deciding to loosen the reins on screen time and let my 4 year old and 2 year old watch a show while I make their dinner. I still have to get something on the table in 30 minutes, but I can do it without having to worry about dropping a paring knife onto my son’s head as he attempts to use my pants/legs as props for a self-taught aerial yoga class.

    • Angela says...

      Yes! Screen time occurs during dinner prep and clean up in our house too. Granted there are some times they do want to help out with prep, but it is such a win for us all. They are thrilled when I tell them they can have “tablet time” and I am so much more at ease.

    • Camila says...

      Cracking up here Makens, this is my life!!!

    • Katy says...

      This made me laugh out load – my 2 year old just developed the dexterity to literally climb me!

    • Mallory says...

      I do the same thing. 30 minutes of screen time is likely not going to rot their brains, and 30 minutes of peace in the kitchen is a mental health WIN.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Ha. I don’t think this tip is obvious for a lot of people. I did this a lot when my daughters were that age. It actually helped me enjoy cooking more and, obviously, the kids were thrilled.

  71. thank you SO MUCH for this, Jenny!!! everything you wrote is so helpful and very timely (i’ve been starting to become more conscious of how wasting food affects climate change as well). As always, thank you!!!

  72. Elizabeth says...

    I’m not usually one for pre prepped freezer meals, but I came across this post via instagram and was intrigued: https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meals. The soups especially looked good to me. I made two last weekend and they are in my freezer awaiting a rainy day!

  73. Nora B says...

    THESE COMMENTS ARE AMAZING. THANK YOU all.

  74. Julie says...

    Re question one: If you can do a little weekend prep for your meals, some easy go-tos I’ve been enjoying are:

    1. Grilled veggie tacos, grill veggies on Sunday and save for the week. Pull out tacos, avocado, store bought salsa, some sour cream, and everyone can make their own!

    2. I keep cauliflower pizza crusts in the freezer along with perogies. Buy a bag salad and call it a day (or whatever veggie is easy).

    3. If you’re willing to pre-make a sauce, this eggplant sauce from Smitten Kitchen is delicious. Just make pasta and add sauce (I blend in spinach because you can’t taste it and extra greens!!) https://smittenkitchen.com/2008/01/rigatoni-with-eggplant-puree/ (and no, i dont even add the cheese or pine nuts, still good!)

    4. Tomato soup + grilled cheese. Or butternut squash soup.

    5. Rotisserie chicken + bag salad.

    6. Hummus + pitas for dipping along with mini tomatoes and cucumber. You could do it as a salad like here, but honestly dip is great.

    https://smittenkitchen.com/2017/07/hummus-heaped-with-tomatoes-and-cucumbers/

    • Christina says...

      Julie, I’ve just written down and/or pinned ALL of this. You rock!

  75. Andrea says...

    Am I the only person who finds homemade food stuck in a freezer unappealing? It always is terrible upon defrosting, heating and eating. I’ve stopped freezing leftovers or anything more complex than broth.

    • Jo says...

      +1
      I find defrosted, re-heated food unappetizing and wilted.

    • Bonnie says...

      I thought I was the only one!

    • Jen says...

      I have a very limited list of things that I’ll freeze and reheat and they mostly have to be saucy: bolognese, curries, minestrone (with no pasta yet). However, I have found sometimes if I defrost overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat in toaster oven I can freeze even crispy things like homemade chicken fingers.

    • Sam says...

      Eh, I think it’s all relative. Frozen/re-heated leftovers are the only way I can have lunch at work that isn’t chik-fil-a, and they’re def better than that.

    • Jill says...

      I only have success with a few items: homemade meatballs & red sauce, chili, Thai soup (coconut milk/broth combo freezes beautifully), and everything else in the freezer is just frozen ingredients for meals that will need to be assembled. Leftovers go in the fridge, not the freezer (for us).

    • Agnes says...

      You’re not alone. I hate my own frozen food too… grossness. I suspect, though, that the reason why it’s gross is that I haven’t cooled it enough before freezing and it gets all watery. I don’t care to test my theory though because I just don’t make 3 tons of one thing anymore, and it gets eaten either immediately or the next day or two. After one or max two times of eating the same thing, I’m done.

    • Nicola says...

      Agreed that not everything is freezer-friendly, but some things work super well: tomato-based pasta sauce, meatballs, stews, shepherd’s pie, chili, etc. If you still hate those, then, yep, the freezer is not your thing :-)

    • Hilary says...

      Andrea-

      Have you tried assembling the meal, freezing, and then cooking from frozen? Something like this: https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meals

      That way you can prep and just pull out when needed!

    • Anna says...

      no i can’t do it. really makes me queasy.

    • Cynthia says...

      Agreed. EXCEPT for homemade lasagna. I make a huge pan which yields 12 large portions. We eat two the day it comes out of the oven and then individually wrap the remaining 10 and freeze. We pull out to thaw in the morning and then reheat in our toaster oven at dinner time. With a fresh salad it tastes as good as DAY ONE. And a fancy meal at that!

  76. Lia says...

    The two meals we fall back on in our house for nights when come home late, exhausted and starving (another working mom with a six year old and twin two year olds) are cheese quesadillas (which take two minutes, start to finish, literally sprinkle cheese on tortillas and throw on a skillet or in the oven) with “crudites” – a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, snap peas, avocado chunks, or cukes thrown down next to the quesadilla. OR “breakfast for dinner,” a fan favorite – toast frozen waffles/pancakes, scramble some eggs, and throw together a smoothie if you are feeling extra, or sliced fruit if you are barely hanging on. Even my husband, a Breakfast Enthusiast, gets excited over this one. Ironically, these thrown-together meals are the ones consumed with the most gusto by my crew. Go figure!

    • Jenny says...

      Don’t wait for them to go to college to use Hello Fresh! They won’t be there to cook it for you!!! My 16 year old enjoys making the Hello Fresh recipes for her 12yr old brother when I’m late home from work. She has learnt some useful techniques and has a feeling of accomplishment and my son will eat more veggies when it’s his sister that puts them on the table. I find the quality of the food is excellent, the portions are generous, there is no food waste and most of all I don’t have to go out and buy the food. If I know I’m going to have a heavy week at work, I’ll get a box. But it is an expensive way to eat all the time.

    • Alison Rodriguez says...

      Fun book I’ve found called “Will it Waffle?” — and surprise, surprise, quesadillas in a waffle iron are faster and easier than before!

  77. Jennifer says...

    I am in the throes of parenting two young kids, working, and trying to pull off nightly dinners. Husband just got a job that requires him to be gone from the house from 6:30 am until 6:30 pm all week long so it’s just me. Helllllo stress. Here’s what I rely on quite alot:
    – at least once a week I rely on a strictly “from the freezer meal”. This week is frozen turkey burgers (cooked over medium for about 16 minutes) and a bag of frozen Alexis (?) waffle potato fries (baked in oven for 25 min). I can manage to get these things going while my oldest does homework and the youngest runs around and tears shit up, and then all I need to do to make it complete is rustle up buns, toppings, etc. Another good one is frozen pot stickers cooked on the stove top (Sprouts has some great ones if you are lucky to live near one), frozen edamame that gets boiled, and easy rice on the side.
    – frittata frittata frittata. My son loves these, and I can use up whatever bits of whatever I have in my veggie drawer.
    – soup and grilled cheese. Super easy. Super filling.
    – Deconstructed salads. When I feel our veggie intake is not enough, I’ll do a salad where the adults get the full greek salad (greens, rotisserie chicken, chopped veggies, chickpeas, feta, olives, dressing), but the kids will get a small pile of chicken, a small pile of cheese, and maybe a few cut up peppers.
    – what not to do: Hello Fresh. Look, I love their meals, but parent-friendly they are not. I still haven’t learned my lesson and still order from them, but it always leaves me cursing as I try to halve delicate cherry tomatoes to make a “burst” tomato sauce while my kids whine that they are hungry. Like stated above, maybe save these for when you have a bit more breathing room at dinner. Like when the kids go to college?

    • Suzanne says...

      Hello Fresh is the WORRRRRST when you have toddlers hanging off your leg!! No thank you!!

    • Summer says...

      Jennifer, I just had to comment, because your line: “while my oldest does homework and the youngest runs around and tears shit up” gave me silent-office-laughter-tears in my cube. I’m so, so sorry you’re going through a stressful time, but it sounds like you’re doing great (and keeping a sense of humor with it). Hang in there!

    • Kara Spencer says...

      I also laughed at the “the youngest runs around and tears shit up”. Because that is the definition of my 2 year old. Hang in there mama! <3

  78. Grace says...

    When I’m not sure what to make, I make a simple spaghetti. I hand crush canned whole tomatoes over a pot, add some garlic and (boxed) white wine, and let that cook for a bit, until my spaghetti is done. I then throw in two handfuls of arugula and call it a day. It’s so simple and delicious

  79. Marcella says...

    Jenny I love your posts! I just got your first book from the library and am loving it :) I moved out of my parents’ house about a year ago and have been getting in the hang of cooking dinner every night (which is hard since I live alone). It definitely made me appreciate my mom making dinner every night after getting off work and sitting down with the family. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Marcella, thank you! Music to this mother’s/writer’s ears.

  80. Raq says...

    I don’t have a kid but I love sesame noodles for a quick meal (when edamame added for protien) that can be eaten cold/hot and reheats nicely!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I actually fall back on cold sesame noodles ALL THE TIME too, but my version involves breaking out a mini food processor (I whirl peanut butter, warm water, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, hot sauce or Sriracha while the soba noodles boil) but I got the feeling that was off the table with Kathryn. (Which I understand and respect!!)

    • Leah says...

      Sometimes I make sesame noodles with my own from-scratch sesame concoction, but I also discovered that Trader Joe’s Soyaki marinade has very similar ingredients to my own version and is a fantastic stand in, for nights when I need them to be just a little easier and faster. I add some Soyaki to cooked linguine noodles and the winning side dishes in our house are precut mango spears and edamame (throw Trader Joe’s frozen, salted edamame in a bowl of water while the noodles are coming together). I drizzle sriracha on my serving of sesame noodles, but the rest of the family prefers them as-is.

  81. Rachel says...

    Never underestimate the power of the microwave baked potato! (Even my husband loves them) piled high with chives, sour cream, cheddar cheese..

    I mentioned this to my niece and she told me that there’s a baked potato food truck near where she lives! I looked up their menu, and sure enough! We do tex mex ones with black beans and corn…super soothing ones with bbq baked beans…and I’ve been known to top mine with those 2 leftover meatballs or fajita filling or even stirfried veggies!

    • Courtney says...

      Baked sweet potatoes, too! I love mine with black beans, bacon, shredded cheese and green onion.

  82. Amelia says...

    Long time reader and fan – These are all great and can I just say I actually started tearing up with gratitude to even see the words “climate change” on this blog? I keep meaning to email to say that as a reader who has ADORED this blog’s wonderful ability to integrate the very real pain of the world with a joyful online presence, I would *love* to see any content related to living / working / parenting in this era of climate change. The strike this Friday would be such a great point of entry (are your kids taking part)? The realities of it are so hard to even comprehend, but we must try – and I find those realities to be the backdrop to thinking about nearly every other aspect of my life these days (parenting a 4 year old, thinking about where we want to live, what it means to be in community, the agency of individuals).
    Ok apologies for this tangent on a very sweet food post! I’ve been meaning to express this and with the strike days away I thought I’d just let myself put it out there (surveys show that many people who are concerned about climate change have few conversations about it with people in their social networks).
    Lots of love for all this team does, and the community of readers.

    • Amy says...

      Oh yes! I would definitely be interested in covering climate change related topics vis a vis parenting

    • Maryann says...

      Just want to second this comment on bringing climate change into this conversation. Thank you for adding this information. Food waste and climate change are both topics that I think about a lot, but I’ve never linked the two.

    • Emily says...

      Yes! Would also love to see this.

    • E. says...

      Signing up for this, too. Yes, please!

    • Cooper says...

      Same! I heard the term “eco anxiety” the other day and have been thinking how much I’d love to hear how others cope.

    • I’m not a parent, but yes to more discussions about climate change!

    • Emilie says...

      I second this as well – I appreciate the balance on this blog of fun posts, happy posts, along with posts about #metoo and family separation because these are unignorable issues. Climate change is one of those too. Love this online family <3

    • Robyn says...

      Yes! I agree, Amelia, and you put it so well. I think about climate change every single day, and would love for my favourite blog – with it’s wonderful, smart creator, contributors and readers – engage with it.

      Thanks, also, Jenny – I had no idea food waste was such a huge contributor.

    • Mims says...

      My goodness YES! I suffer from climate despair, despite doing everything I can think of: stopping at one child, eating vegan, driving a Prius less than 100 miles a month, biking and walking, only buying secondhand. My son is really discouraged about the planet/world systems he is inheriting.

    • Ann-Marie says...

      Agree, wholeheartedly agree!!

    • Julia says...

      For people interested in both climate change and food-related issues, you should check out your local food bank and see if it’s the kind that offers fresh produce! (Many food banks just offer canned or boxed goods.) At our local food bank, we receive tons of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown out, but it takes HOURS of work to process. (For example, every spring we receive dozens of pallets of boxed strawberries, and a small army of volunteers sorts through them, tossing the moldy ones and repacking the salvageable ones, which then go home with very happy clients.) The non-salvageable produce is then offered to local pig farmers, and whatever they don’t take is hauled off as compost/garbage. This system has reduced the role of food in our local garbage stream from nearly 40% to below 25%, in addition to offering healthy produce options to food-insecure friends and neighbors. Donating money to your local food bank is ALWAYS appreciated, but offering your time to processing produce is just as valuable, and I strongly encourage everyone with the time and ability to see if it’s an option in their area!

    • Annie says...

      I agree. I’m struggling with deciding on having a second child, and the climate crisis is a big part of the decision. (And it’s not talked about enough)

  83. Michaela says...

    Any suggestions for meals that can be packed and eaten without reheating? Traffic is terrible in my city, so whenever I have an evening commitment, I never have time to head home and cook dinner first. I’d love to be able to pack a healthy dinner when I leave the house in the morning, rather than trying to snag something quick on the way to an event—sometimes there’s not even time to stop for fast food anyway! My solution has been bringing Perfect Bars or Epic Bars with me, but then I do not feel great after.

    • Hilary says...

      I’m all about the wraps these days! You can make them a few days in advance for the week.
      I used this for a base recipe but heavily modify based on what’s in the house: https://www.foodiecrush.com/italian-chicken-wrap/
      – Tortilla (keep in the freezer so you always have them on hand!)
      – Hummus (hummus freezes well so you can always just take a bit for what you need)
      – Extra protein if you’d like (shredded chicken, salami, turkey would all be good)
      – Mediterranean or Italian veggies: artichokes, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, banana peppers, etc. are all really good
      – Cheese: Provolone or feta are great with these

      Add a piece of fruit and you’re set!

      Quinoa salads:
      https://www.skinnytaste.com/southwestern-black-bean-quinoa-and/

      https://www.skinnytaste.com/grilled-mediterranean-chicken-and/

      Kale and rice salad:
      https://iowagirleats.com/2014/04/16/kale-and-wild-rice-bowls-with-honey-balsamic-vinaigrette/

    • Julie says...

      Have you done quinoa bowl salads? Recent fav, I make quinoa and grill veggies, and pre pack the dinner. I include grilled shallots, zuccini, quinoa, and choice of lettuce greens. Add some feta. And use a red wine vinaigrette.

      Hummus and dip. Hummus + some pitas and veggies for dipping is a very filling meal! And easy on the go.

      I always enjoy a “charcuterie” board for a quick meal. I pack some hard cheeses cubed, crackers, pepperonis, some mini tomatoes, almonds, some berries. Mix and match!

      Sandwiches? Or a lettuce wrap? Pasta salad? Asian noodle dish? Cold pizza?

      I always like SK ideas, like:
      https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/04/avocado-cup-salads-two-ways/

    • michaela says...

      Living for these suggestions! Thank you, Hilary and Julie!

  84. Jojo says...

    Two of my own responses to those great questions…
    1 (Kathryn): An air fryer is amazing for kids and makes frozen food taste delicious and doesn’t require turning on an oven. Dinner #1: Throw in some frozen potstickers in the fryer, make rice on the side. Microwave frozen edamame or peas. Dinner #2: Throw in frozen fish filets, microwave a few tortillas with a damp paper towel, and mix up a dressing to throw over bagged coleslaw. Fish tacos, voila. Dinner #3: Throw some italian sausages and broccoli florets (drizzle w/ olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic) on a sheet pan, then roast for 25 min at 400. Butter some rolls or egg noodles on the side.

    3 (Sarah): I’m the same way about dinner parties and I’ve discovered the easiest way for people to relax is to have potluck/family style meals– Baked Potato bar with various toppings, Rice bowls with toppings, tacos, etc. Then if you want to use an interesting/fancy recipe for one of the components, go ahead and just have it as one of the options. Another way I’ve found that instantly relaxes ppl is to say yes when they offer to bring something– say, sure a salad/veggie would be great, or a dessert, or appetizer and then it breaks the ice and also forces you (read: me) to let go of a need-to-control the food/party.

  85. mims says...

    I am sure it will get mentioned over and over: pressure cooker and a good cookbook geared towards pressure cooking! I love Pressure perfect by Lorna Sass and VEgan under pressure by Jill Nussinow. 1. I start some basmati rice in regular pot on stovepot , then lentil dal in pressure cooker, in the 15 minutes it takes to finish those, I set the table, make a salad, toast some frozen naan. 2. or pumpkin coconut curry soup: winter squash, can of coconut milk, big dollop of red or panang curry paste, water. serve with bread and salad or steamed greens. Done. 3. clean out the fridge risotto (requires forethought enough to defrost frozen broth): we just did pea and carrot with fresh lemon and while it was cooking I opened a can of garbanzo beans, added some leftover viniagrette and chopped roasted red pepper from a jar and some pine nuts. This time of year these three dishes in frequent rotation and easy to vary with different added veggies, spices. Once you get the hang of it, so fast, economical, easy and delicious

    • Maggie says...

      I have an instant pot and don’t find that it actually saves much time – but everything seems to take at least 40 minutes to come to pressure and cook.

    • Mims says...

      Maggie, I bet you are cooking meat or unsoaked beans or grains.
      All the meals I described above have none of those ingredients, so are fast. Meanwhile, you have to perfect the art of thinking ahead and soaking your farro, or wild rice or beans the morning of cooking (or night before) and then they go fast too! I cannot comment on meat, as I am vegan. I love to cook and eat, and just think about food in general, so this kind of strategizing comes natural to me, I realize not everyone thinks this way. But it can be learned and comes faster with practice, just like many skills. Don; tgive up on your instant pot!

  86. Hilary says...

    Working mama here, and I’ve finally accepted that I can’t plan and make dinners like I used to.
    Part 1: I always meal plan, but now I have a chart for each day of the week (Taco tuesday, etc.) along with 2-3 choices for each night. When planning, I may only choose from those. That cut meal planning down from an hours-long endeavor to 10 minutes. Since I do enjoy cooking and trying new things, Saturdays (weekend!!) are reserved for trying a more complicated dish.
    Part 2: I’ve adopted a cook once, eat twice mentality. On Sunday, I might throw soup in the crockpot and then make baked chicken, a big salad, and chop up fruit. Dinner? Chicken, salad, fruit. Next night: You can have leftovers OR jazz it up. Add marinara and mozzarella to the chicken, for example. Tuesday: Make BBQ chicken (I always keep shredded chicken in the freezer that I toss with sauce), eat it with a baked potato, beans, corn. Wednesday: Make a BBQ chicken quesadilla. Thursday: Pull that soup out of the freezer that you made earlier in the week.
    Part 3: Well-stocked freezer! Extra hummus? Toss it in the freezer. Two meatballs leftover? Toss it in the freezer. Perfect for “snack plate night” or when I just need a few T of hummus for a wrap.
    Part 4: Grilled cheese Fridays (or pizza Friday or whatever)

    • You are a genius.

    • Meghan says...

      I love these tips and we’ve recently adopted something similar to your Part 1 above. Instead of meal planning a week at a time, I made a monthly template in Google sheets with rotating easy options (sheet pan meal, breakfast for dinner, taco/quesadilla/burrito bowl night, pasta night, etc.) and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long accept that this season of life with a one year old is not the time for trying new things and I need to keep it simple!

    • nmr says...

      Yes! I cook after my kids go to bed and make enough for the next two night’s worth of meals. One night per week is Smorgasbord Night — aka whatever the hell is left in the fridge.

    • Hilary says...

      Meghan-

      1 year old toddler here, too! I realllyyyyy resisted going to a more simple meal planning schedule. Maybe just trying to hold on to some part of pre-baby life? Who knows. I’m so much happier and less stressed now that we’ve implemented these changes.

      Unrelated hack on household chores: a chore chart! I was getting overwhelmed with household tasks, but it’s so much more manageable with a schedule. It also allows my husband and I to both see what needs to get done each day without having to chat about it. I’m now a big believer in doing a few chores each day to alleviate an overwhelming amount of chores/mess.

  87. Jena says...

    Love this burning question series!! My question: Any suggestions for meal prep and/or freezer meals for those nights you don’t have the energy to cook and need to pull something together quickly or when preparing for a new baby?? Even suggestions like sauces, etc. that can be frozen and then the meals that can come from them would be super appreciated. Thank you!

    • molly says...

      I love crockpot meals for this. I find most crockpot recipes (the site budget bytes has some great ones) make way more than my little family of 3 can eat in one sitting, and I don’t love eating the same meal 2-3 days in a row. So, I freeze leftover crockpot meals for a super easy meal a few weeks later. Same goes for things like burgers or meatballs – I make way more than we’ll eat in one night, and freeze the extras still raw. Tip – when planning meals for the week, use Siri to set reminders to defrost freezer meals the night before you plan to use them! Total lifesaver.

      I love rana brand fresh pasta, especially the tortellini and ravioli. It freezes really well, so I try to always have some on hand. Some of that, plus steam in the bag broccoli and olive oil, s/p, and cheese is a delicious dinner in my book.

      Finally, biggest thing that made my life easier when I had a newborn – getting my groceries delivered. Totally worth it.

    • Andrea says...

      My husband had major surgery a couple years ago that sent him to rehab for 10 days and kept him on the couch for 8 weeks. We found that ANYTHING can go in the freezer. Most were casseroles, and they weren’t the healthiest foods we’ve ever eaten, but we had dinner every night and he could make it himself while I did the after school runs, even though he was wheelchair bound with one working arm. Particular favorites included: Chicken and stuffing casserole (chicken mixed with cream of chicken soup and covered in stuffing), taco casseroles (rice base, taco sauce, whatever meat we had, browned and tossed in), and cheesy chicken and rice (rice, cream of chicken soup, water, chicken).

    • Hilary says...

      Jena-

      Pinch of Yum just did a great roundup of meals that you can freeze ahead of time: https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meals

      When I had my baby, we stocked up in a couple of areas for the freezer:
      – Quick breakfasts/snacks (that could be eaten with one hand!) like muffins, scones, banana bread, etc. Top with nut butters for some extra proteins and fats!
      – Protein. Beans freeze really well, and we freeze a lot of meats. We make a big batch of plain chicken in the crockpot, shred it, portion it, and freeze. When ready to eat: toss with teriyaki, BBQ sauce, pesto, salsa, spices, etc. for a quick protein source. Meatballs are great for this too!
      – Soups! I know, I know, not exactly “holding a baby” friendly, but I find them super comforting. Pretty much any soup freezes well but we like chicken noodle, chicken chili, corn chowder, black bean.
      – What I call “meal helpers” to help round out a meal: refried beans, cornbread, frozen pre-cooked rice, bread, etc. I could always heat up some soup and add some cornbread, for example, to make it heartier.
      – Frozen veggies: If you can’t get out to the store, frozen (PRE-CUT) veggies were a lifesaver. We always had frozen chopped onions, peppers, Asian stir fry mix, etc. so we could get some nutrients in!
      – Things like meatballs, spaghetti sauce, marinara, pesto, hummus, freeze really well.
      – Treats: I froze cookie dough balls and brownies for treats. Bake off the cookie dough as needed or defrost the brownies.

      In the pantry, we tried to keep things like soups, sauces (BBQ, ketchup, soy sauce, teriyaki), canned beans, pasta, dried fruits, nuts, etc. stocked so we could be pretty prepared to make whatever. Then, I’d just run out for the veggies and fruits.

      Post baby, I’m all about the frozen foods.
      Stir fry dinner: Frozen rice (nuke for 3 minutes), stir fry veggie pack (steam in microwave or saute), add frozen Asian meatballs or teriyaki chicken).
      Tex mex: All of the following can be pulled from the freezer: tortillas, beans, peppers, onions, chicken. Add cheese and you can have quick tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, etc.
      BBQ: Defrost shredded chicken and toss with BBQ sauce. Serve with Trader Joe’s southwest salad, add to a Hawaiian roll, serve over rice or a potato, make a BBQ chicken quesadilla, etc.

    • Yolanda says...

      Here’s my superhero sauce that you can make and freeze and use for everything. Been feeding it too my kids since they were babies. Throw a bunch of large tomatoes, a couple of ramiro (sweet) red peppers and a few cloves of garlic in their paper cases into an oven tray and roast until the skins are charring but not too dry, on a medium heat. No need for oil or anything else, takes literally 3 minutes to prep and about 25 to 35 mins to roast. When they have cooled, peel the pepper skins off and pull out the seeds, peel the tomato skins and squish the garlic cloves out of their cases. You can even do this part later in the day /evening (I normally do). Then blitz with a stick blender. That’s it! I make a huge batch, pour it into little pots for the freezer. We use it as pasta sauce , I pour it over chicken breasts and add a little cheese and then into the oven (my kids love this, keeps the chicken juicy and the cheese gets melty and crispy), it’s our pizza sauce with homemade dough or pre bought bases. I also use it as the base for a light tomato broth into which I add more water, stock cube and herbs, and then angel hair pasta – spaghetti soup. You can throw in some raw spinach at the blitzing stage too if you like. It’s so healthy, super easy to make and has so many uses.