Food for a Family, Parenting, Simplifying

Dinner in a pinch

Picture this: You’re driving home with a vehicle full of hungry, irritable monsters. Today has been a long day. You have been a hundred places at once and your brain has done all the gymnastics it can handle. It might be the end of the world if you don’t get some food fast… Btw, is it illegal to leave minors on the side of the road or is it merely “encouraging” them to walk home?

Ok maybe this wasn’t very difficult for you to imagine. Sounds like a regular weeknight during any particular sports season for us! So as we enter yet another busy spring, what’s a mom to do? I bet most of us would admit that the goal is to eat budget-friendly and/or healthy meals and not just on the weekends… While these options are slightly more “processed” than I would prefer, it’s better than takeout or high-sodium frozen meals, so a partial win is good enough for this Momma!

Well I’ve been meaning to make this list for ages and now I’ve got it here in one place and I’m more than willing to share. I’ve rounded up my fave “in a pinch” dinners that please a crowd and don’t cost much. Also, I know how the pantry situation is: there is what there is, you are NOT going the store anytime soon and let’s be honest, you probably don’t have what’s required for the fancy recipe you originally planned back when you thought you had time, so these options are all customizable for what you’ve got on hand. No sweat.

#1 Turkey Cheddar Sliders: No recipe required but here’s my inspiration (and I must give credit where credit is due!) So take a pack (or three!) of Hawaiian Rolls and cut them right through the middle so every roll has a top and a bottom but they’re still in a “sheet”. Place the bottoms on a big piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Then layer the turkey, cheese, tomato, bacon (or meat &cheese of choice) on the bottoms. The thicker the better to fill up those hungry monsters! I like some extra sauciness so choose some mustard/mayo/cranberry jelly/pesto, etc. to slather on the “sheet” of tops and place it on top of the meat and cheese. A little melted butter brushed on the tops and sprinkled with parmesan makes it fancy if you have an extra minute. Wrap the foil over the tops and bake for 10 minutes at 350°. So satisfying…

#2 Sheetpan dinner: If you have any vegetables, chop them now. Start with potatoes/sweet potatoes if you have them. Toss the potatoes in oil and roast at 400 degrees until everything else is ready (they take 10-15 minutes longer to get good and crispy) Add your other veg: carrots, onion, peppers, zucchini, etc. and some protein. I like chunks of chicken if it’s on hand, chicken sausage is a great option and easy to keep on hand because of it’s longer shelf (refrigerator?) life, you can toss in chickpeas or beans for the last 5 minutes if you want a “Meatless Monday” option. Seasonings are completely customizable and honestly I’ve used only salt and set out a variety of condiments and my kids are happy to dip away. Roast the sheetpan full of goodness about 20-30 minutes until your protein is cooked through. Rice on the side is tasty, too.

#3 Quesadillas: Again, no real recipe required (although this is a fabulously simple recipe for BBQ Chicken and Peach quesadillas) Just fill tortillas with any desired protein and cheese combo, add some herbs to make it millennial-cafe-style. My faves include the above recipe for BBQ chicken and peaches OR goat cheese, mint and apple OR spicy black beans and corn with cheddar OR add a little tomato sauce to pepperoni and mozzarella and it’s pizza quesadilla night! We’ve fried them in a pan with a little butter, toasted a few at a time in the air fryer, lined them up in a row on the griddle or put them in the oven on broil to make a bunch at a time. The hardest part is choosing your fillings. You’ve got this.

#4 Dump Chili: This is a great vegetarian option since cutting out the meat saves a boatload of time. I grab a big pot and dump in 2 cans of stewed or diced tomatoes (with green chilis for some kick), a can of corn, two cans of beans and some taco seasoning or chili powder with a dash of Worcestershire. (Sorry, no measurements, I’m in a rush!) Sautéed garlic and onion are great additions, if a kid wants to help ol’ mom out by peeling/chopping. While the pot is heating up, it’s easy to slice some avocado or set out guac, sour cream and shredded cheese for toppings. If I have a few extra minutes, this is REALLY good over instant-pot baked potatoes.

#5 Eggs in a Basket: Definitely Makenna’s favorite quick meal, which means she’s always willing to help out! We grab a loaf of bread and a glass from the cupboard and start punching holes out the centers of each piece. I warm up the griddle and slather it in butter so Makenna can lay out the bread slices and centers in rows. I follow behind her cracking an egg in the center of each and let it cook a minute or two. Now comes the tricky part… I grab a flipper and lift each piece of bread (with the egg half-cooked in the middle) while Mae reaches underneath and butters the spot so I can flip. You could probably skip the extra butter but we love butter, so the more butter, the tastier! If we’ve thought ahead we might have bacon or sausage cooking in the oven while all this is happening and some fresh fruit on the side could make it feel more wholesome.

Now for the family conversation while you eat. It’s time to be friends again, not monsters. We’ve got a bowl of conversation starters from various places and the kids like to be the one to think of it first so that THEY get to ask the questions. Here’s a fun list for your school aged kiddos to get started: 29 ways to ask your kids “How was school today?”

Well there you have it. I’m sure it’s not nearly enough recipes since you could easily make all of these in one week, but the fact that it’s customizable makes it easy to put these babies on repeat. I hope it saves you a little time and sanity. I’m rooting for you, parents. Bring on the scheduling nightmares, we’ve got this!

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