The school bell is ringing, and along with the dreaded car pool lane comes homework, after school activities, and last minute class projects you never knew existed. So is the best dinner option the one you can drive right through? Not if I can help it. There are countless meals that are just as quick as going through the drive through, and are budget friendly too. By eating food cooked in your own kitchen you’ll avoid a myriad of chemicals and preservatives that can wreak havoc with your family’s health. It is possible to have a family-pleasing dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less, and get back to that science experiment that’s due tomorrow without missing a beat.
The key to having multiple dinner options on hand at any time is to plan ahead. This cannot be stressed enough! If you don’t have a plan you’ll leave the store with a cart full of mismatched ingredients and no idea if you have enough meals to get you through the week or not. Weekly meal planning can take as little as little as five minutes, but will save your sanity over and over. Simply jot down 5-7 meals you’d like to serve that week, then list the main ingredients you’ll need to purchase. That’s all there is to it.
I can hear it already – But what do I make? Here are some ideas for fresh, flavorful meals that can be ready in a hurry, are family-friendly, and cost effective to boot:
Steamed Vegetables with Pasta – simply steam broccoli, sugar snap peas, and cauliflower. Add to a bowl of cooked pasta drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese.
Too Easy Marinated Chicken – Place meal sized portions of chicken breasts into a zip-top freezer bag. Add a drizzle of olive oil, about one teaspoon of a combination of dried herbs, such as basil, parsley, and oregano, and two cloves of minced garlic. Seal and shake the bag to coat before freezing. The night before you plan to cook the chicken place it in a bowl in the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until done and serve with brown rice and your favorite vegetable.
Naan Bread Pizzas - Naan is a flat bread that can be found in the bakery or deli section of most grocery stores. Simply slather it with your favorite tomato sauce, your choice of toppings, and a handful of shredded cheese. Bake it in the oven at 400 degrees until cheese is melted. Or use my favorite way of cooking it – right on the grill. Just a few minutes on a hot grill and the crust is crunchy and full of flavor. A big bonus - less clean up!
Crock Pot Tacos – a perennial family favorite, and can be on the table in literally no time if you use your trusty crock-pot. Add your favorite cut of meat - beef, chicken, or pork - a few Mexican inspired spices such as chili powder, cumin, and paprika, diced onions, chopped poblano pepper (if you like a little heat), and a few squirts of lime juice. When you come home all you’ll need to do is heat up the tortillas and set out the fixin’s. Shred the meat using two forks and pile it into the tortillas.
Super Veggie Soup - one of my favorite meals is also one of the easiest and least expensive. In a stock pot add 28 ounces of diced tomatoes, 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, and ½ to 1 cup of any or all of the following vegetables: corn, green beans, beans (any will do), chopped broccoli, diced carrots, diced celery, and cauliflower. Add 1 cup diced potatoes. Sprinkle in a little garlic powder, dried basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add water as needed to cover vegetables by 1”. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and continue cooking at a low boil until potatoes are fork tender. To make this even easier, keep your freezer stocked with the vegetables and a few cans of tomatoes in the pantry. You can have dinner on the table any night of the week in less than 20 minutes!
Use these ideas as inspiration for making fast, fresh, wholesome meals at home any night of the week and you’ll be ready no matter what the kids throw at you!
Susan is a mom to two young children, with a full time job and a hungry husband. Her blog, Our Family Eats, began from a desire to help other overwhelmed families find easy and inspiring ways to get fun, wholesome meals on the table fast. She loves old school cameras, documentaries about useless information, and Bundt cakes, but she won’t tolerate chaos.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.