Between personal projects, school events, homework, paperwork, and the deluge of after-school activities filling the moments in between, the last thing I want to think about is dinner at the end of a long day. (You, too?). The juggle is a struggle for even the most organized moms sometimes.
Luckily, I have a few tried and true recipes for those days when cooking feels like one more impossible to-do. They require minimal steps, a handful of ingredients, and are ready in 30 minutes or less. Need something on the table, stat? We have your weeknights covered with five easy and healthy formulas to shake up your dinner routine – no fancy ingredients or recipes required.
Super Easy Greek-Inspired Chicken or Turkey Patties
This patty recipe could not be easier or more flavorful. The seasoning amounts are just guidelines and can be adjusted to your liking. Even my picky daughter eats this (score)!
- 1.25 lb. ground chicken or turkey
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (if you’re dairy-free, you can replace with avocado oil mayo)
- 1.5 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. cumin (optional)
- Olive oil
Mix all ingredients together, then form patties with wet hands. Hint: the mixture will be very sticky if you take the vegan mayo route. Warm olive oil in a nonstick skillet and cook patties on the stovetop on medium-high heat. The feta/avocado mayo is a key ingredient that adds depth of flavor and creates a delicious, almost caramelized crust.
To make gyro-inspired sandwiches, top the patties with tzatziki sauce and wrap them in pita bread with sliced red onion and cucumbers. I make a quick homemade tzatziki with 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1 grated cucumber – grating is key! – a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, salt, garlic powder, and chopped fresh dill. You can eyeball the ingredients and season to taste.
For a simpler meal, you can serve these patties with steamed veggies tossed with olive oil and the seasoning blend of your choice, and a side of Israeli couscous, quinoa or rice. Want to save even more time with your sides? When the patties are done, you can move them to the outer edge of the pan, add more olive oil, throw in spinach or kale with some salt, then cover and cook a few minutes until wilted. The greens will take on flavor from the pan drippings, and you’ll save yourself from washing an extra pot.
Weeknight Bolognese Sauce
Many people wouldn’t classify this as a true Bolognese, but on busy weeknights, this shortcut version comes together nicely and has some extra veggies, too.
- 1 lb. ground beef or turkey
- 1 carrot (peeled), grated or chopped (grated is best for pickier eaters as it ‘disappears’ into the sauce)
- 1 onion, diced small
- 1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce (we love Rao’s and Mezzetta)
- Olive oil
- Italian seasoning (optional)
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or pan over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and a dash of Italian seasoning or salt. Cook for a few minutes until onions start getting translucent, then add the beef or turkey. Turn up the heat slightly. Break up the meat continuously as you incorporate it into the vegetable mix. Once the meat has browned, add your jar of marinara sauce, plus a splash of balsamic vinegar and one bay leaf (both optional). Try to use the best quality marinara you can find, because that will elevate the flavor of this dish. Bring everything to a simmer, then cover and cook on low for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf when done. Serve with pasta, steamed broccoli, and a generous helping of parmesan cheese.
Shortcut Taco Night
Simmer sauces can be a busy mom’s BFF, and they make throwing together a quick Taco Tuesday dinner a breeze. Tacos are a great family dinner idea because you can customize toppings very easily to suit everyone’s tastes.
For the taco meat:
- 1 lb. ground beef, chicken, or pork
- 1 small or ½ large onion, chopped
- 1 packet taco skillet sauce (we adore Frontera taco sauces)
- Olive oil
For the guacamole:
- 3 ripe medium-sized avocados
- 1/2 onion, grated or finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
To make your taco filling, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add chopped onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the meat of your choice. Once browned, incorporate the skillet sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. You can roll into burritos with the toppings of your choice, or make quesadilla-style tacos by heating tortillas on a griddle with a little olive oil and salt, adding the taco filling and cheese on one side, then folding in half. Serve with your favorite Mexican toppings and sides. We like refried black beans, roasted corn, and guacamole.
Fresh guacamole is so easy to make that we rarely, if ever, have the store-bought version. My “secret” ingredient for guacamole is cumin, which adds great flavor to an otherwise simple recipe. To make a mild guacamole, combine avocado, onion, lime juice, fresh cilantro, salt and cumin in a bowl. If you have one, use a potato masher to mix everything together, but if not, a fork works just as well. For the seasonings, you can adjust to your liking, but typically I do a few turns on the salt grinder and one or two dashes of cumin. This recipe is very easy and versatile, so you can add chopped tomatoes or other ingredients to make it your own.
Quick Flatbread Pita Pizzas
Personalized, personal-sized pizzas in 10 minutes flat. This is the fastest recipe in my quick dinner arsenal and makes a great after-school snack with a side of cucumbers or carrot sticks, too.
- Pita flatbreads (be sure to choose a thick, fluffy variety)
- Marinara sauce
- Shredded mozzarella cheese (can use vegan cheese)
- Italian seasoning
- Olive oil
- Toppings (optional)
Kids love assembling their own pizzas, and this is a fun way to get them excited about cooking! Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then start building pizzas with your little chefs. Our favorite Greek pita flatbread that doubles as pizza dough is from Papa Pita, but any fluffy, sturdy flatbread will do.
Place pita flat side down. Starting from the middle, spread 1-2 tablespoons of marinara sauce on top. Add shredded mozzarella, other toppings like vegetables or pepperoni (if using), Italian seasoning, and a drizzle of olive oil (do not skip this step!). Place pizzas on a sheet pan or pizza stone, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on your oven. Serve with a salad of chopped cherry tomatoes and cucumbers with a simple vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt), or plain.
Easy Baked Salmon
Below are a few super simple formulas for flavoring baked fish. Salmon is our go-to, but these combinations also work with halibut, white fish, and any other mild, flaky seafood.
- Fresh herb + citrus + grated garlic. This means cilantro and lime, or parsley and lemon in my household, but experiment until you find what your family loves. 1-2 cloves of garlic are plenty for 1.5 lbs. of fish.
- Olive oil + seasoning blend (easiest, foolproof method). Look for ones specifically for seafood, like Fisherman’s Wharf or Old Bay.
- Maple syrup + soy sauce + 1 clove of minced garlic. You won’t need salt for this one due to the soy sauce.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the bottom of a shallow, oven-safe pan with olive oil. Place salmon skin side down, then add olive oil, salt, and pepper. This is your base. Top with one of the formulas above and place in the oven. A good rule of thumb is to cook seafood for 10 mins per inch at 400 degrees. Thicker pieces will require more cooking time. Your fish is ready when it flakes easily with a fork.
Serve with couscous, quinoa or brown rice, and steamed veggies like broccoli, sugar snap peas, or Brussels sprouts. When it comes to cooking vegetables, steaming has been found to retain the highest levels of nutrients. We love our steamer basket and use it every day, for all types of vegetables. There are silicone and stainless steel versions available online. You can even save a step by cooking the couscous or quinoa with your veggies and seasonings thrown right in!
Need more inspiration? Here are a few bonus dinner ideas to keep in your bag of quick cooking tricks.
Fast Mediterranean Meal: Trader Joes’ frozen brown rice + rotisserie chicken + hummus
Breakfast for Dinner: Chicken sausage + scrambled eggs + waffles or pancakes + fruit
Oven Enchiladas: Rotisserie chicken + tortillas + tomatillo salsa + cheese
What do you make when you’re in a pinch? Please share your favorites in the comments below, and let us know if you try any of these recipes. Bon appetit!