In our household, I am the default cook — something that seemed far more reasonable and manageable before we had two children, each with his or her particular dietary quirks (basically, I have one child who would like nothing but pork all ways, always, and broccoli, and another child — and I won’t name any names but his initials are JCC — who will only eat chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, hot dogs, and pizza). We are insanely lucky (especially by New York standards) in that Drew is usually home by 5:00, which means we get to eat dinner together as a family almost every night. This is great, and it’s something that, if you’re able to accomplish, I highly recommend. It means we have time to talk together about our day, discuss current events (in kid-friendly language: “Donald Trump is a dumb-dumb.”), and slow down for fifteen or twenty minutes — as much as you can, anyway, with a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old — and just be.
But it also means I’m on the hook to prepare a family meal by 5:30 almost every night of the week — something I can hopefully coax Jackson into at least trying (our rule is he doesn’t have to finish what I’ve made, but he does have to take a few bites, and dessert is only guaranteed if he eats more than half of what’s on his plate) and which can be made in the twenty minutes of time I usually have between the time I come home from the playground or whatever activity and the time when everyone’s blood sugar suddenly plummets in unison and food, in whatever form, must be offered immediately. These are a few of my go-to meals that accomplish this:
Omelettes or scrambled eggs with any veggies that are one their way out, fried potatoes, bacon, maybe some toast and jam — this is a family favorite, and one of my favorites to make because it’s super fast, it’s tasty, and no one complains when I serve it. Since I’m home during the day, I can get a head start on the fried potatoes by boiling them and cutting them in cubes after they cool and keeping them in the fridge until it’s time to fry them.
2. Chicken tortilla soup.
It’s delicious, filling, low in calories, provides lots of leftovers, and takes about 10-12 minutes of actual work (and about 6-8 hours of cooking time in a slow cooker).
I totally cheat on this popular Korean dish by buying it pre-made from our local Korean grocery store. I add extra garlic, peeled carrots, and fresh lettuce for wraps (or sometimes serve it with barley that I make earlier in the day).
4. Stir-fry Shrimp
If I have time, I make this recipe, which is delicious. When I don’t have time, which is usually the case, I use Trader Joe’s frozen fried rice, and add shrimp (fresh, if I have planned in advance; frozen, if I haven’t). If I’ve planned ahead, I will marinade the shrimp in this amazing sauce I make (1/2 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2-4 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and 1 tbsp sesame ginger salad dressing if you have it on hand . This sauce can also be added to the stir-fry without marinating first, though the latter is preferable). ETA: I always sauté some greens — like tatsoi — especially if I’m making the frozen friend rice, to doctor it up a bit.
5. Sesame chicken wings.
I like this recipe. It’s super fast, delicious, I can start it earlier in the day and let the chicken marinate for a couple hours and then throw it in the oven for half an hour while I cook up a side dish (usually string beans or broccoli, both of which the kids will eat without too much complaining).
6. The Trader Joe’s Frozen Lasagna.
Seriously, it’s amazing. I serve it with some salad (or, again, string beans or broccoli because by the end of the day I’m not very creative).
I’ve been using a variation of this recipe for years and can throw everything in the pot in about five minutes, with dinner ready about twenty minutes later. Super easy, and bonus: Our babysitter likes chili, so if I make a big pot the night before she comes, she can have the leftovers for dinner and I don’t have to worry about what to order her (she does not like pizza, so that’s out). The kids don’t eat chili, so when I make it for Drew and me, I throw some chicken nuggets in the oven, heat up pasta, and serve that with some applesauce for them.
8. Pasta with Italian Sausage.
Speaking of pasta, one of the easiest and best-reviewed meals in our house is: sliced Italian sausage with pasta. (I usually buy a pack of four sausages at the grocery store for five bucks, but, if I’m feeling fancy, I occasionally splurge for the gourmet stuff our chi-chi place down the street sells for more than twice that much.) I cook the sausage over the stove in good olive oil, with sliced carrots and zucchini and chopped tomatoes, and serve with spaghetti (or bow-tie pasta or whatever we have on hand), either plain (with butter and salt and maybe Parmesan cheese) or with a jar of pasta sauce if I’m in the mood for that.
9. Baked fish.
Lately, I like flounder, and I follow this recipe exactly, to rave reviews. I’ll throw some fingerling potatoes in the oven and serve them with a side of salad or some other green veggie.
10. Rotisserie chicken.
Aside from ordering take-out, serving up a store-bought rotisserie chicken is about the laziest way of feeding your family, but I love it. Since Wednesdays are a little hectic for me — I don’t get home with Jackson until after 5:00 and I don’t have any down time earlier in the day to do meal-prepping — I’m already planning to pick up a rotisserie chicken on our way home tomorrow, which I’ll serve with some butternut squash soup that I’m cooking this very moment and some roasted Brussels sprouts.
All of these meals are on heavy rotation in the Condellberry house — they’re fast, easy, and satisfying (and relatively nutritious). But, yummy as these are, I do feel stuck in a rut a lot of times, and I’d love to hear what you make/eat in your home, especially if you have young kids whose demands (on time, taste, etc.) you have to work around, and definitely if you cook/prepare your meals in under a half hour.