I don't have kids but it seems lately I have so much is on my plate that those quick meals are my mainstay. I would say half of my go-to quick dinners are prepped-ahead and half is just pulling from the pantry right in he moment.
Prep and Make Ahead
I have been trying to do some more make ahead meals so that I can take them from the freezer the night before so they are thaw and ready to pop in the oven for dinner. No prep often allows me the luxury of 30 to 40 mins baking. I usually do cooking for 2 to 3 meals on one day for the make-ahead type meals. Or try to make a double batch of something so we can eat one and freeze the other.
When I come home from shopping, I also like to try to prep a little so that helps me save time in the long run. Such as if I get big family size package of hamburger - 3 to 5 lbs then I brown some of it right away to use in a casserole or tacos (I often brown burger in the microwave), or bake meatballs, or make hamburger patties. Freeze them so I can pull it out and use without much prep. Sometimes even defrosting in the microwave to use in minutes. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are another thing I prep at times - I put what I would need for a meal in ziplock and cover it with a marinade and then freeze. I take them out the night before I plan on using and let them marinade while defrosting. I also bake or grill up a few, chop and add to a labeled ziplock so I can use for chicken tacos , on baked potatoes, in soup, or added to a pasta.
I am going to also share that I have a cheat that makes no matter what I make - look like a real meal. I can serve a salad or soup from a can but because I often make homemade bread with it - it looks like a nicer meal even though it was quick and easy. I use Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is making up a big batch of dough and then using just some of the dough to make a loaf of bread. It does usually take more then 5 minutes as it doesn't add in the rise time. But it still is fairly quick with little work.
I also use my crockpot a lot so that things can be added in the morning and done for dinner. I know a lot of time crockpot produces a liquid but I always make sure I add some to begin with too - just so it won't be dry by the end of the day.
Quick and Easy Dinner on the spot
When I need a meal that is going to be quick and easy, I use the microwave and grill.
Such as I want roasted potatoes but normally that would take 40 minutes to an hour to roast in the oven. I chop the potatoes and place in a bowl with some water and microwave so that I am boiling them. I then drain the water, toss with some olive oil and seasonings to add to the oven.
Or I boil sliced potatoes in the microwave to use in a frittata. I do layers of potatoes, veggies and sometimes bacon or ham. I mix up some eggs and pour it over top and bake it.
I microwave baked potatoes too - to help speed up baking time. I wash them, pierce several times with a fork, wrap in a paper towel and microwave for 4 to 7 minutes - depending on size of potatoes. After I have microwaved then I bake them for just a bit. I coat them with some olive oil and sea salt, wrap in tinfoil and bake for 15 to 20 mins in the oven.
I steam most veggies in the microwave. I use frozen veggies often - easy to keep in the freezer and use for meals.
My easiest meals:
* Grilled chicken breasts, baked potatoes, steamed veggies. Frozen chicken breasts can be thawed in the microwave in minutes. While thawing those, I prep my potatoes. After they are thawed, I might marinade for 10 mins while my potatoes or in the microwave. I get the grill warming up. Then after the potatoes are in the oven, I put the chicken breasts on the grill and add veggies to steam in the microwave.
* Really meat, potato and veggie is my go to easiest meal - I grill burgers, steak, porkchops or chicken breasts and add a potato and veggies and we have a meal.
* Burritos, nachos or tacos - I either use some ground beef or turkey already browned and ready to go in the freezer or I brown some in a pan or in the microwave. I drain the meat after browned and then add a can of tomatoes with chili (such as Rotel), heat a can of refried beans up, get cheese and sour cream out and any other fixings .
* Pasta -
- Spaghetti and Meatballs - I usually bake up meatballs ahead of time so I can pull from the freezer to use. But even making meatballs and baking them in the moment doesn't take too long. Boil pasta, add meatballs and toss it all with sauce - heat through. If you want some veggies do a side of steamed veggies or add a side salad.
- Pasta, chicken and pesto - Chicken even if it is not cooked ahead - grill it, chop it up and mix with cooked pasta and then toss it all with pesto. Heat it all through in minutes on the stovetop. Add in some steamed veggies in with it or as a side.
- Pasta, white beans, seasoned diced tomatoes - Cook the pasta, drain and then tossed with a can of white beans that are drained and rinsed, a can of seasoned diced tomatoes (such as the Italian or basil and garlic) - heat through and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. It has good flavor and is quick. Add in some steamed veggies in with it or as a side.
- Italian sausages, pasta and sauce - I microwave Italian sausage to get them cooked through and then toss on the grill for a few minutes or pan fry so the outside browned, keep whole or slice them and toss with some pasta and sauce or just a can of diced tomatoes. Add in some steamed veggies in with it or as a side.
* Salads - making a big thing of salad up and using it for lunches and as a side dish for dinner but I also do them for dinner as the main entree. I add some grilled chicken to salad and serve with some bread - it is dinner.
* Variations of Grilled Cheese - I do grilled cheese with sloppy joe mixture, taco mixture, sliced turkey breast from the deli, apples or pears, or sauteed veggies - adding in any cheese I have on hand - basically taking what I have available in my fridge and making it into a grilled cheese. On the same note - sloppy joes or taco joes - ground meat on a burger with any topping you desire.
* Breakfast for dinner - eggs, sausage and toast, scrambled eggs with veggies and/or ham, or pancakes and sausage. I add some fruit and that is dinner. We like breakfast for dinner.
* I do a variation of Martha Stewart's Cheesy Hash Brown Bake. Instead of making chili - I just take 2 cans of chili beans. Those are the kind of beans that have chili sauce in them so they are seasoned and ready to add to chili. I add browned ground beef to it and mix up so incorporated well pour into a 9 x 13 pan. I don't do the individual pans. I sprinkle cheese on top of the chili mixture and then add the hash browns. I have used frozen hash browns before and they just don't brown up as well but still are cooked and taste good with the chili that is cheesy and bubbling underneath.
* Sloppy Joe Skillet - Empty contents of one box of cornbread stuffing in a bowl and add 1 2/3 cups hot water. Mix until just moistened and set aside. Brown 1 lb. ground beef, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups veggies (such as chopped mixed bell peppers, sliced mushroom and chopped onions) and when they are getting soft and the onions translucent. Add a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a small can of tomato paste, 3/4 cup water, 1 can of diced tomatoes (don't drain add the liquid in the skillet too) - simmer for about 5 mins until mixture is well incorporated and thick. Then add the stuffing on the top of the mixture and simmer for 3 more minutes covered. Serve. I serve with a side salad or steamed broccoli or cauliflower. This a variation of Kraft's Sloppy Joe Skillet.
I am stopping there but those are on my list of go-to quick dinners. I need them when are so busy with work and I also a chronic illness that makes it at times impossible for me to think about what am I going to make for dinner so going to this list of things - is the best option for me.