Quick Dinners for Busy Nights

by Ashley Wirgau

With the surprise social distancing call quickly becoming the “new normal” as bars and restaurants temporarily close their doors, you have probably found yourself in the kitchen more than usual. Those of you with kids are likely feeling the pressure to keep up with schooling demands at home, leaving parents with even less time than they had before. All of this adds up to a very urgent need for quick dinners on these busy (not to mention chaotic) nights.

Let’s take back what little control we have and make a plan to get food on the table without going off the deep end. Here are five tried and true, easy-to-do suppers that can be adjusted based on the contents of your cupboard. This basic plan will keep bellies full and kitchen prep minimal as you roll through the next few weeks of homebound havoc.

Morning Meal Mondays

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Who doesn’t love breakfast? Eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast – you name it. Keep Mondays simple by loading up on these easy favorites. Scramble some eggs along with whatever meat, veggies or cheeses you find in the fridge. To spend even less time by the stove, whisk the eggs with a little milk, crumbled bread, and any number of tasty ingredients you have on hand (try onions, peppers, and sausage, or tomatoes, goat cheese, and spinach) to prepare an easy quiche. Dump it all in a greased casserole dish, set a timer, and walk away.

Pancakes and French toast are quick fixes, too. A basic box mix or a loaf of bread with a half dozen eggs will take you a long way when you are in search of a scrumptious dinner. Add a little butter and syrup or sliced fruit for a bonus dose of nutrition, and you’re done!      

Taco TuesdayGettyImages-1149114483

The great thing about tacos is that you can fill them with almost anything. Chicken, pork, ground beef, thinly sliced steak, fish, shrimp, or beans – any of these proteins make for a yummy end result. Toss some cheese and diced vegetables in and top with salsa, hot sauce, or sour cream. These nights are great for cleaning out your refrigerator as you can use leftovers and odds and ends to pull together a quick meal for the family. Grilled chicken and roasted veggies from the night before become zesty chicken tacos after a little chopping and seasoning. When you tire of tacos, get out the tortillas and griddle up quesadillas using all the same ingredients to trick your family into thinking you’ve expanded your culinary expertise.                                                    

Wednesday Wonder-PotGettyImages-1179159380

Crockpots are an adult’s best friend. Whether you are in the mood for a light soup or a savory roast, the Crockpot is an easy go-to when time is short. There are a lot of simple soups that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes and then left to simmer throughout the day. Chicken noodle is the obvious frontrunner; all you need is celery, onion, and carrots (which can be diced ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen until needed), chicken broth, your favorite noodle, and chicken. Throw in raw chicken breast and let it cook, then shred and return it to the pot or buy a juicy rotisserie bird to eliminate a step.

For a heartier meal, buy a well-marbled roast, sear it quickly in hot oil in a frying pan and then put it in the Crockpot with water or beef stock and onions, garlic, potatoes, and seasonal vegetables. A fast fifteen minutes will make it look like you spent the day in the kitchen.

Thrifty ThursdayGettyImages-1136782266

What’s cheaper than pasta? Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Thursdays are reserved to give our pocketbooks a much-needed break because putting food in faces every day costs a lot of money. Noodles are the ticket to feeding the masses, so Thrifty Thursdays are fantastic for families of 4 or more.

This meal can be as dialed down as you’d like, too. There is no need for homemade sauces or roasted vegetables as store-bought sauces can offer quality ingredients and robust flavor without the increased time and effort. For a speedy meal, simply boil a pot of your preferred pasta, drain, and top with a jarred alfredo or marinara. For added protein, grill up some chicken or sausage to mix in or pack a nutritional punch with chopped peppers or mushrooms.  

Feeling Fancy FridayGettyImages-1150654718

By Friday, it’s time to celebrate the culmination of the week, but unfortunately, everyone is exhausted. So how do we get a fast and fancy dinner on the table before we fall asleep standing up? Simple. Go back to the basics, and then step it up a notch with fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. Grab the frying pan and a tub of butter, then get ready for a whole lot of deliciousness because the combinations are truly endless.

Even the most amateur cook can throw a few items between a couple of slices of bread to build culinary creations like pizza sandwiches on crusty Italian with pepperoni and marinara; Caprese melts with fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic; grown-up grilled cheese on artisan wheat with bacon and red onion; Reubens on thick-cut rye dripping with sauerkraut; or gourmet paninis filled with brie, granny smith apples and fig jam. Plate with a side of fruit and fresh-cut veggies or maybe a handful of kettle chips and a pickle – dinner is served!

Who knows when we will be let out of our houses and return to our normal routines? During these uncertain times, take it easy on yourself and follow this fast and simple weeknight meal plan. There is enough to worry about right now out in the world; worrying about what to make for dinner is the last thing you need on your plate. 

 

 

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