Quick Meals for Tired Families
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Quick Meals for Tired Families
We are a family of four (kids 2 1/2 and 6 1/2) with two working
parents. Good nutrition and healthy eating habits are high on
my list of priorities for my family, but after the arrival of
my second child and recent job change to a much more difficult
position, I have found dinner preparation to be very
challenging. Hiring a personal chef to prepare healthy dinners
in my home is out of the question (financially!) and I have
determined the biggest hurdle is really coming up with a
repertoire of 30-40 dinner recipes - so that I wouldn't have to
THINK about WHAT to make. I feel like we have the same few
things all the time because I don't have time to sit down and
go through cookbooks, online recipes, etc. anymore. My husband
and I can both cook each night as long as we have the food at
home and the prep time is not outrageous. I think having
variety, as well, is the key to teaching your kids to be good
eaters. Anyway, my fantasy is that someone has had these same
feelings and perhaps has put together a collection of recipes
(successfully tested in their home with kiddos) that they might
be willing to share. Some nice big binder with healthy recipes.
We don't eat red meat, just chicken and turkey occasionally,
and our kids do like tofu as well. Also hoping to find a
collection of recipes that are not too high in fat. Would love
to do more with the crockpot as well - I am just trying to get
started in this direction, hoping it may help. Anyway, if
anyone has 'been there done that' and would be willing to
share/sell such a resource, I would be grateful. I am trying to
find casseroles, pasta dishes, bean dishes, complex carb
combos, stews. stir-frys, etc. Dishes that will add variety to
our regulars which include pesto/pasta, garden burgers, and
burritoes, as well as a few others. I know many other families
must also be in this same position. Any advice would be
mother who wants healthy dinners
First, I want to compliment you on making the effort to make
healthy dinners for your family!
I wanted to offer a few tips on where to find great recipes:
--Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals are great, and recipes can be
--I use the little magazine: Everyday Food to find loads of
healthy and fast recipes. I tear out the good ones when the
magazine arrives and put them in a stack of recipes to try. The
ones that pass my family's ''test'' go into a stack of recipes that
we rotate through...
--Cooking Light also has some awesome recipes, many of which can
be found online.
Now a small shameless plug: I am a consultant with The Pampered
Chef and often do workshops for groups of people to teach them
how to prepare fast and healthy meals. If you are interested in
setting up a workshop, I'd love to help.
Here is a recipe that I recently made at a baby shower, to share
with the new mom. In this recipe, you can prepare enough chicken
and pasta to use both in this recipe AND for a second recipe the
following night. Preparing ingredients once for two meals is a
great way to save time!
Mandarin Pasta Salad
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix
2 tsp. Sugar
8 ounces bow tie pasta
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 pkg fresh spinach leaves
1 can mandarin orange segments
2 cups cooked chicken
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1. Using food chopper finely chop ginger.
2. In measure, mix and pour mix remaining dressing ingredients
and refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Score cucumber using lemon zester/scorer , remove seeds using
4. Slice cucumber using ultimate slice and grate, cut slices in half
5. Dice bell pepper using chef’s knife.
6. Coarsely chop onion using food chopper.
7. Add cucumber, bell pepper, onion, spinach, mandarin oranges,
chicken and almonds to cooked pasta. Add dressing as desired.
We don't have a binder of recipes, but we do have this cookbook:
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any
It's got a ton of quick, easy, vegetarian recipes.
I recently found a book called ''Saving Dinner'' which has already done
the difficult part of dinner prep -- made up the menus and the grocery
lists! The food is healthy and mostly quite good, and the meals tend
take around 45 minutes to make. The author of the book also puts
together a weekly email menu/recipe/grocery list mailing (see http://
The only problem for you might be that the menus all do include beef
(it's usually something like, one beef, one chicken, one fish, one
crockpot, one soup, one casserole -- and the soup, crockpot and
casserole may contain either beef or chicken); but you might be able to
edit the meals and lists without too much trouble (e.g. switch to
turkey instead of hamburger, etc.).
They're not great, gourmet meals, but they're good, quick, and healthy.
My Mother-in-Law gave me a great book a couple of years ago
called Desperation Dinners. Every recipe is for good food in 20
action-packed minutes. The authors teach you what to have on
hand and how to do everything as efficiently as possible. They
know every shortcut. The Food is great and feels like a home
cooked meal. I highly recommend it.
I have the answer for you! Try a new book called ''Saving
Dinner: The Menu, Recipes and Shopping Lists to Bring Your
Family Back to the Table,'' by Leanne Ely. I used to subscribe
to Leanne's email menu service (www.menu-mailer.net), which was
great and we really enjoyed the food. The recipes are
definitely healthy, easy and can be made vegetarian. Most
importantly, it got me cooking regularly again. The only
problem is not all of the recipes are as low-fat as I would
like, but you can certainly pick and choose. You can check out
some of Leanne's recipes and shopping lists at the above website.
''The Working Parents Cookbook'' was reviewed in The Chronicle
today. Here is the link: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/06/16/FDG1875LQJ1.DTL
I try to do as much main dish prep the night or morning before,
such as rinsing and seasoning or breading chicken, fish or tofu,
or putting together turkey meatloaf. When I get home all there
is to do is pop it in the oven, prepare a quick starch item,
adding vegetables to the same pot or eating them raw. I usually
run out of fresh ingredients by the end of the week, so we have
something like breakfast for dinner or a frozen dish from
There was a fascinating thread about this awhile back called
''Dinner Blues'' that I found a lot of wisdom from. It looks like
it hasn't been archived yet, but perhaps you could ask a
Moderator about it?
The ''Desperation Dinners'' cookbooks by Beverly Mills I bought
after reading that thread have become mainstays at our home, as
well as Pamela Anderson's ''How to cook without a book'' and Mark
Bittman's ''How to cook everything''. This list is such a wonderful
There is a new book out called, The Working Parents Cookbook by
Jeff and Jodie Morgan reviewed in the Chronicle food section
today. It sounds like it might fit your needs. I'm thinking
about getting it myself as I'm in the same boat as you!
I have developed a folder of some recipes and you'd be welcome
to come borrow and copy them if you'd like, but if you're
looking for a big book of recipes the best one that I've found
is Moosewood Cooks at Home, easy quick recipes like you've
Check out www.savingdinner.com-- according to the website:
''Menu-Mailer is a six-day a week menu with recipes AND a
categorized grocery list included! The menus are wonderful and
healthy, the recipes are easy and the fact that the grocery
list is already made up is a dream! Menu planning has never
been so easy, because all the work is done for you. For just
pennies a day, you will never have to panic about what's for
Menu-Mailer is a true bargain at only $9.95 for 3 months of
menus, delivered weekly on Wednesdays to your email address.''
I haven't tried it myself, but have read good things about it.
For crockpot ideas, try going to chetday.com.
chet day fan
Have you checked OAMC (Once A Month Cooking)? There are lots of
websites if you google them. I do a modified version when time
gets hectic, but you can also double cook (make a double
version). I freeze dinners and the day of the dinner, take it
out of the freezer, pop in the oven, set the oven timer and
dinner is ready when we get home - cheap and healthy. I'd do
some modified version of OAMC and then have some quickie dinners
on hand for when you're not up for a frozen dinner. Fish with
couscous or brown rice, roasted chicken and potatoes (this can
cook for hours if you want) - things like that.
One option that we're trying is ''Saving Dinner'' by Leanne Ely --
you can find it at Amazon:
She also has a menu mailer at savingdinner.com. Good luck!
We also have two children and no time but want healthy foods. We
like making homemabe soup. We like roast chickens (often bought
pre-made at Costco or the grocery store) and we save the bones
in the frezer. Then one day we throw the bones and a handfull of
veggies (leeks, onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and any
scraps you may have had over the last few days) into the
stockpot with the bones and simmer on low for a few hours. If
you want to add peppercorns, bay leaves, ect for seasoning you
can do so now. You can do this on a weekend. The only real work
will entail that you strain the stock when its done cooking. We
then have a ton of stock which we store in big ziploc containers
in the freezer. When we want a good quick dinner we dunp a
container of stock into the pot, throw in some chicken, cooked
noodles or rice and cooked veggies (carrots, corn, potatoes,
beens, etc...)and VOILA its homemade soup in 20 minutes - and
kid friendly. Great with salad and crusty bread. You can vary
this endlessly with different seasonings and ingredients. Yum.
One of our favorite quick meals are nachos. They can be done in a variety of
ways: with or without beans, olives, sour cream, etc. They take about 15
minutes to fix with minimum clean up. They can be toned down to accommodate
picky eaters or really added to for more sophisticated tastes or even done
half and half on the same baking sheet.
Suggestions for cheap eats:
1) Magnani Poultry on Hopkins (also on College): spit-roasted whole or half
chickens (barbequed, teriyaki, or rosemary-lemon); spit-roasted potatoes
2) Spenger's Market on 4th St.: the fish and chips dinner to go is large
enough to serve two moderate eaters
3) LaVal's on Euclid (also on Durant): I've o.d.'d on the pizza after years
of kids clamoring for it, but still enjoy the ravioli (they also have
spaghetti, eggplant parmigiana, salads, etc.) --Margo Wesley
I have a tupperware microsteamer. They come in two-serving and family
size. You can cut up vegis and put in all ingredients as indicated on
recipe cards, or make up your own, put it in the microwave, and have a
dinner of chicken, rice and vegis in 10 minutes, and it practically rinses
clean. I have found myself using it quite frequently.
One kind of cheap dinner I like to have on Friday nights when I'm too
exhausted to cook is Di Giorno Frozen Pizza. I normally hate frozen pizza
because they are really gross, but the new one by Di Giorno is really good
because it is not pre-cooked and then frozen. It is made with fresh
ingredients on a really good crust (kind of like Boboli) and then frozen.
So, all you have to do is take it out and pop it in the oven for about 10-15
It's delicious and it only costs $5.99 for a large combination pizza. Let me
tell you, I haven't gone back to Roundtable Pizza (way too expensive for my
budget) since I discovered it!
Have you tried Boston Chicken? With a whole or half chicken, you get side
dishes which include mac & cheese (since my kids don't like chicken), jello,
fruit salad, or different kinds of vegetables. And with the coupons that
seem to appear every week in the Sunday Chron, it's really cheap -- we once
even got a free chicken.
This is a great topic. I hope others will share their ideas. My two
favorite quick and easy dinners: (1) baked potato, cooked in the microwave,
with substantial toppings (corn, broccli (sp?), bacon bits, shredded cheese,
salsa, etc) plus a veggie & salad (2)lots of spaghetti served with bottled
marinara sauce & shredded cheese, served with french bread and a veggie or two.
For an easy salad, I like shredded cabbage with Good Season's Garlic Salad
Dressing. It's a lot easier than making a lettuce salad, and still adds
that quality of something fresh and crunchy. If I have more time, I add
Thanks for the Safeway chicken tip. My newest dinner is buying premade
Oriental salad mix and adding pre-cooked shrimp. However, what I do now
with a 9 month old and husband both starving right when I get home is I
cook on the weekends. Sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it. I
make chili or spaghetti sauce and freeze it or sometimes I just make
packages of ground round with garlic and onions and freeze them in 1 pound
portions and then I can use them to make tacos or whatever. It's the
preparation time that usually get me so these tricks have been working. Of
course, I've also been known to get up at 6 am before both of them and
prepare an entire dinner and then leave it in the refrigerator to nuke when
I get home exhausted.
My kids love the Boston clam chowder and shrimp salad you can get at the "To
Go" counter at Spenger's in Berkeley. We get a quart of chowder, salad and
some of their sour dough rolls and have a quick inexpensive meal (less than
We make burritos and tacos where the ingredients are on a tray and everyone
can choose what to put in: beans, olives, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa,
Another idea is pasta (a different shape = a different dish!) with 2 or 3
additions: chicken, peas and nuts, chard and mushrooms (not for kids),
artichoke hearts and shrimp, green beans and carrots, etc. I just toss the
veggies in with the pasta near the end of its cooking. Drizzle with olive
oil and garlic salt.
A similar dish is "chow mein" with spaghetti noodles and snips of
vegetables tossed with soy sauce. Or the same with rice instead of noodles.
Kids like to make their own sandwiches with the ingredients on a tray and
different kinds of bread.
I make burritos with canned refried beans (Trader Joe's fat free, spicy
jalepeno black refried beans are wonderful, but these are strictly for
adults), shredded cheese, bits of leftover chicken or meat if I have any
(not necessary), red onion, and salsa. Microwave til gooey. Very cheap,
fast, and good.
I also make a tofu dish by sauteing cabbage and mushrooms in sesame oil,
then equal parts of saki and soy sauce, sugar to taste, and cubed tofu.
Serve over rice. I like to add hot red pepper flakes, but then I'm lucky
because my son eats very hot, spicy food.
Sometimes I make quesadillas by filling a large tortilla with shredded
cheese and chopped garlic, folding in half, then frying in butter til
melted. Quite popular, but only good when your serum cholesterol needs
re: Quick meals: I go to Nations on Central and San Pablo in El Cerrito
(there are more of them in Berkeley, I believe) and get a sweet potato tart
for $1.70. They also have grilled cheese sandwiches. Don't forget the new Red
Tractor Cafe, on College Ave. opposite Oliveto's near ROckridge BART,
(difficult to park) where my son likes the macaroni and cheese ($3.95). They
have other interesting dishes that cost a little more, and come with two side
orders of stuff like garlic mashed potatoes, fresh stringbeans, etc. Also,
Whole Foods has a whole wheat soy cheese spinach and mushroom quesadilla for
$2.95 and other good take-out for kids, some of it expensive, unless you look
for specials and get small quantities. Smart Alec's on Telegraph and Durant
has so-called healthy french fries, and my son loves them. Barney's
Hamburgers on Solano Ave. in Albany and the one on College have 1/2 huge
orders of big fat soft french fries for $1.70. And Andronicos also has good
roasted chickens to go as well as cold cuts, and cheap stuffed huge baked
First, it's not at all necessary to limit your quesadilla consumption to
high-cholesterol days. I use soft-taco-sized flour tortillas and a heated
nonstick frying pan: wet the tortilla on both sides quickly under running
water, place in pan, flip over after about 3 seconds, place grated cheese, a
little salsa, a little shredded, cooked chicken, a little whatever on one
half of the tortilla, fold over and tamp down the edges with the end of a
wooden spoon or something (I use the handle of one of my faithful Chicago
knives), leave for a minute or two and flip to brown on the other side. The
trick is to heat, flip, and fill the tortilla quickly, before the wet edges
dry out--that way they'll stick together when you tamp them down (you can
always sprinkle more water along the edges if the timing gets away from you).
Someone mentioned cooking on weekends for the whole week. There is a great
book out (I think it's called _Cooking Once and For All_ or something like
that) that details how to cook for an entire month at a time, spending one
whole day each month to do it. If you like this sort of thing, it's
supposed to be the best book out.
Our family likes burritos for quick dinners. They can be a great
leftover-user too, depending how adventurous the family members are.
this page was last updated: Jul 8, 2007
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