After throwing out some easy mix-and-match meals here (i.e., the one-pot concept) and tips on de-stressing my weeknight meals here, I wanted to follow up with some other quick, decently healthy, mostly well-rounded, and realistic meals and sides that are on regular rotation at my house. Enyoy.
1. Hidden Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese. This is my go-to meal for Nina when I am out of ideas or am too exhausted to cook. I use a single serving of Annie’s organic mac ‘n cheese, but do a whole box or Kraft or whatever for your own family. Add frozen chopped butternut squash or cauliflower to pasta before microwaving for 3 minutes. Add cheese packet, a dash of milk and butter, cheddar and/or goat cheese, and sliced deli chicken (shredded). It all just looks like mac ‘n cheese and it’s a complete meal in 5 minutes.
2. French Fried Onion Crusted Tilapia. Trust me. You can go as gourmet or WT as you want on this. Use all organic and a nicer white fish or keep it simple like me with tilapia, but surprisingly using French fried onions as a crust is pretty stinkin’ tasty. After thawing the tilapia (should take 5 minutes) and adding it to a sprayed, foiled cookie sheet, add some all-purpose seasoning to the fish. Crush up a tablespoon or two of French fried onions and sprinkle in a light layer on top. Nothing else is needed. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Easiest. Thing. Ever.
3. Spinach and Grain Side. It’s one of my go-to sides for #2 (tilapia). Add 1-2 of those quick-cook grain packs to a casserole dish (I love Costco’s or Central Market’s organic 90-second versions). Add a heaping pile of fresh spinach on top (I use a whole triple-washed bag). Drizzle with EVOO, salt, and pepper. Cover and microwave for 5 minutes. Mix and add parmesan.
4. Salad with Simple Vinaigrette. 2 tbs EVOO + 1 tbs aged balsamic vinegar (18-yr is ideal) + 1 tsp dijon mustard. Whip to emulsify. Add a green and sliced rotisserie chicken for something more substantial. My family’s favorite salad combos are:
— Balsamic vinaigrette with romaine, avocado, strawberry, parmesan
— Grapefruit white balsamic vinaigrette with arugula, cutie clementine, pickled beets (find in the produce section already cooked/peeled/pickled), pistachios, goat cheese crumbles
— Balsamic vinaigrette with romaine, pear, candied walnut, blue cheese
— For EVEN QUICKER salads, I love adding Briana’s Asiago Caesar to any type of green, with any type of topping, anywhere, any time.
— And for the QUICKEST side of all, add vinaigrette to just one veggie – sliced tomatoes, avocados, shredded carrots, cucumbers, etc. No cook. Tasty. Easy.
5. Roasted Veggie Sides. Super quick, especially when you buy pre-chopped. Drizzle EVOO, all-purpose seasoning or salt/pepper, and minced garlic (squeezy jar!) over chopped veggies, mix, and spread in a casserole dish. The key is to roast at high temps (475-500 degrees) for 10-12 minutes. Favorites are roasted broccoli, baby red potatoes with rosemary, sweet potatoes with tomatillos, and any kind of squash. But when you can’t even do this, microwave steam the crap out of these.
6. Pizza. Because really good, thin-crust frozen pizza and a robust salad (see #4) kinda cover all food groups. If not, add a few veggies on top of the pizza before you bake.
7. Chili-Lime Chicken Burgers. I hate wasting burger buns when you only need a few. So I just toss them in the freezer and pull out as needed. Trader Joe’s has a tasty chicken-lime-chili frozen patty that I add to Hawaiian buns and top with arugula and avocado.
8. Tamales and Chili. Add some canned Amy’s Organic chili and sliced avocado to some fabulous local tamales (one of my farmer’s market splurges).
9. Lentil Chili. LOVE this. I use 1 can of Amy’s Organic lentil soup + 1 can of Amy’s Organic chili + pouch of quick-cook grains. Heat up on stove for 5 minutes. Top with shredded cheddar cheese, sliced avocado, salsa (shout out to my San Antonio La Fogata Salsa!), and tortilla chips. SUPER quick. Always in my pantry. Never fails in a pinch.
10. Chicken Tikka Masala. Add chopped zucchini, rotisserie chicken, and a quick-cook grain packet to an Indian simmering sauce (like Maya Kaimal’s version) for 10 minutes. I throw some Trader Joe’s naan in the oven for 3 minutes. Quick and super tasty.
11. White Bean Stew. Cook 1 package chicken sausage for 8 minutes. Add 2 cans drained/rinsed white cannellini beans, 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, minced garlic, a handful of fresh kale, and a pinch of white wine vinegar. Add goat cheese on top. Creamy, tangy, wintery. Love it.
12. Easy Tortilla Soup: 1 large can of chicken and rice soup, 1 large can of ranch-style or other chili-style beans, 2 reg. cans of tomatoes, chopped rotisserie chicken (2 cans of chicken work in a super pinch), 1 small can of jalapenos or chili. Heat for 5 minutes. Add shredded cheese, avocado slices, salsa, sour cream, tortilla chips. Super quick and surprisingly tasty.
13. Angel Hair Pasta With Turkey Meatballs. Self explanatory and quick. Heat up the frozen meatballs in a skillet while simultaneously cooking angel hair pasta (takes 5-6 minutes). Combine a jar of pasta sauce with the meatballs. If I have energy and it’s available, I’ll saute spinach or butternut squash (or both) with minced garlic, shallot, and a bit of butter, and add it to the store-bought jar of pasta sauce to make it more home-cooked and veggified. One of my latest finds is Dave’s Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce that I add to a saute of sage, minced garlic, and a bit of butter. What.
14. Street Tacos. In a pinch, I’ll buy pre-cooked Puerco Guisado, anchiote shredded chicken, or similar in the fresh-prepared section of the grocer. Heat and add to warmed corn tortillas. Add sliced avocado, chopped onion (if I have time), squeeze of lime.
15. Upscale Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Found on Cup of Jo, I LOVE these. I do get annoyed at cooking down the balsamic-onion mixture, but if you make a big batch, it’ll keep for a while. Make a simple grilled cheese for the kids if they’re picky. Glam up the grilled cheese for the adults with the onion-balsamic reduction and kale. Or who knows, they may even like your version.
I would LOVE to hear your ideas on realistic, quick meals! Cheers!