How do you feel about cooking these days? Like many parents, you might have started out the quarantine/stay-at-home period relieving some of your stress in the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes and cooking techniques. That was fun for a while, wasn’t it?
This pandemic life is an exceptionally exhausting time for parents, and we are all looking to simplify as much as possible. Take-out and frozen pizza are great, simple dinner options. However, they are not great on the budget or the healthometer if over-utilized.
If you want to cook dinner for your family but you don’t have an hour to invest in prepping, try one of these quick meals that are easy to put together! Note that these are “meal” ideas and not recipes because they do not require recipes. Even better!
As always, you can set yourself up for success if you plan ahead a bit and perhaps have some components ready to go in the freezer. I’ll include some helpful tips below that enable you to get these meals on the table even faster.
5 Quick Meals for Your Busy Family
1. Egg Fried Rice
My husband is Chinese, and we eat a lot of Chinese food in our house. One of our default meals when we’re pressed for time is egg fried rice. We often have leftover rice in the refrigerator, which is just what you need for fried rice — you want it to be a bit dry. Fry/scramble your eggs in plenty of oil, and then add rice to the pan. Salt it well!
Since the point of this meal is usually to get something ready fast, I often steam a bag of green beans in the microwave and then drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with salt.
Prep ahead: Cook rice the day before you want to fry it. Then dinner is literally ready in 10 minutes!
2. Nachos / Taco Salad
Taco-style is one of my favorite ways to eat salad. So much goodness . . . My kids (all under the age of seven) prefer tortilla chips to lettuce, so they eat deconstructed nachos.
I cook up some taco meat and then saute some sliced bell peppers, onion, and corn. I use this taco seasoning recipe for the meat and the veggies. Then I drain a can of black beans and heat them in the same pan to give them some flavor. Serve over Romaine with taco sauce or salsa, shredded cheese, and sliced avocado. Make guacamole if you have five more minutes!
Prep ahead: If you like to make your own seasoning, mix it up in large batches. Cook a large batch of taco meat and freeze dinner-sized portions. Also, use frozen chopped peppers and onions when you need a quick dinner option.
3. Sauteed Chicken and Veggies over Noodles
This simple meal is a favorite at our house. I usually make it when we have leftover rotisserie chicken we need to use, but it’s worthy of freshly cooked chicken too.
I start by sauteing a variety of vegetables such as onion, bell pepper, broccoli florets, chopped asparagus — whatever I find in the fridge. I season them well with garlic salt and cracked pepper. I put the noodles on to boil while the veggies cook. When the veggie mixture is done, I add the cooked chicken to the pan to heat up. I flavor the noodles with olive oil and garlic salt, but pesto sauce is delicious too! I let the kids sprinkle (dump) parmesan cheese on their noodles, and I make mine extra special with crumbled feta.
Prep ahead: Freeze portions of rotisserie chicken that you can thaw for meals like this one!
4. Sauteed Shrimp and Cheesy Polenta
I could eat cheesy polenta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I buy it dry, and while it does require attention at the stove, it’s simple to cook up. I like cooking this in chicken broth for extra flavor, and I add shredded cheese when the polenta is tender. Use a strong cheese like Parmesan so a “healthy” amount will flavor the entire pot.
When I need to cook dinner fast, I use frozen shrimp, which thaws in minutes under running water. Then I saute it and season with garlic salt and lemon pepper.
I usually saute some carrots or opt for the frozen green beans again with this meal. After steaming the green beans, I like to put them in the saute pan for a few minutes and season with garlic salt and pepper.
Prep ahead: Keep a bag of frozen shrimp on hand for a very quick protein option.
5. Sausage and Spinach over Quinoa
I saute sliced sausage and add spinach to the pan when the sausage is fully cooked. Season with . . . garlic salt! I like this over mashed potatoes, but quinoa is an easier dish on a busy night.
We like the kielbasa sausages from Costco. They’re fully cooked and full of flavor.
Prep ahead: Keep sausages in the freezer to use a couple at a time.
So, there are a handful of quick meals you might enjoy adding to your busy family’s rotation. I’m always searching for new ideas, so share your family’s favorite easy-to-prepare meals with me!