With school starting, it’s always a good idea to have some super simple meal ideas in your back pocket for those busy weeknights. Between homework, soccer practice, and getting your kids to bed at a somewhat decent hour, I don’t know how you parents of school agers get dinner on the table without ordering pizza or Chipotle every night (though no judgement here, if you do). With a preschooler and a baby myself, I definitely find it a challenge to make dinner. Inevitably, there is always someone crying and the kitchen is a mess from the 10 different pots and pans required to make the meal. Below are some easy peasy meals to have at your disposal. They meet my three essential “easy dinner” prerequisites; minimal prep, kid friendly, and somewhat healthy. Without further ado, here you go:
1. Homemade Burrito Bowls – Look, I could eat Chipotle burrito bowls every night of the week. Fortunately for my wallet, I’ve found a way to replicate it at home. The kitchen workhorse, also known as the crock pot, makes this meal super easy. It makes a ton, it’s pretty cheap, and the kids love it. I always use this recipe for the base, and then serve over brown rice that I’ve sprinkled with some lime and cilantro (sorry, Sara). Toppings include: salsa, gauc, sour cream, shredded lettuce, and cheese.
2. Homemade Calzone Night – Can we get a “hallelujah” that Trader Joe’s is finally in the Denver area? I love TJ’s for so many things, but for the purposes of this article, I love them for their pizza dough. They have white, whole wheat, and (my favorite) garlic herb for $1.20. Give everyone in the family a piece of the dough for their own personal calzone and recruit the kids to help fill the dough with sauce, cheese, and toppings (our favorites are pesto, peppers, broccoli, pepperoni, and pineapple). Fold over the dough and pinch the sides and bake seam side down, per dough instructions. Serve with salad and sweet potato fries.
3. Panini Night – another “make your own meal” idea. Use whatever bread you have handy (though sometimes we go crazy and spring for ciabatta bread) and create your own sandwich. Topping ideas include: avocado, turkey, bacon, spinach, cheese slices, peppers, pesto, tomato, onion, etc. No need for a fancy panini press–just grill them up on a George Foreman. Serve with salad or zucchini fries.
4. Chicken pesto bake – Use up your basil from your summer garden to make batches of pesto to use throughout the year. This chicken dish couldn’t be easier–it’s just 3 ingredients! Take some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, smother with pesto and bake at 350 degrees until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top and continue to bake until the cheese is melted and chicken is all the way cooked through. Serve over brown rice or spaghetti.
5. Skillet Lasagna – The one pan meal is a lifesaver. It makes such a difference when you can throw all your ingredients in one pan. I love this recipe, but I do a few things differently: the refrigerated ravioli can get pricey, so I just buy frozen ravioli and let it simmer a little longer, and I use an oven safe skillet and stick the whole pan under the broiler for a few minutes at the end, to get the cheese nice and brown.
Other tips to keep dinner time running smoothly:
Meal Plan– sit down on the weekend and plan out the meals for the week (including sides!). I made meal planning fun by getting a cute chalkboard menu planner to hang in my kitchen, so I can see and remember what I’m making every day.
Shop your Pantry– See what you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer before you go grocery shopping. Allrecipies has a feature that lets you type in ingredients and they find recipes for you. Genius!
Frozen Veggies– Frozen veggies are typically just as nutritious as fresh, and they are already pre-chopped for you to thaw and add to meals. I always use frozen veggies to add to our homemade pizzas/calzones, omelets, and soups.
Shred Chicken in the Crockpot– Get this ready at the beginning of the week, then use the chicken in soups, tacos, chicken pot pie, casseroles, etc.
Make extra to freeze– It’s not much more work to double your recipe to freeze for later. Two birds, one stone.
Have a staple meal– Something easy that you always have on hand. Ideas include: spaghetti and meatballs or breakfast for dinner. If you ever find yourself out of food, you know you always have these ingredients to whip up a quick meal.