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A Week's Worth of Easy Dinners

Take the pain out of meal planning with this simple system, including recipes for main dishes and sides.
 

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When you're the family cook, coming up with weeknight dinners that the kids actually like can be stressful enough to cause indigestion. The solution: plan on one staple for the same night of the week, every week, and build main dishes and sides around that food. For instance, Monday might be chicken night, so one week you'd prepare chicken stir-fry, another night might be grilled chicken on (instant) brown rice, and another Monday you might offer crunchy chicken fingers. Pasta night can vary, too: linguine one week, ziti the next. Here's a week's worth of recipes, each ready in 30 minutes or less, that rely on the same staples. It practically makes cooking a no-brainer and frees you up for more important activities — like having fun with your kids.

 

Monday: Chicken Breast

Quickie Chickie Stir-Fry
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes

The time-consuming part of most stir-fries is cutting up the vegetables. But this shortcut recipe uses a bag of frozen vegetables, saving precious minutes. You can also vary the type of jam: peach works just as well as apricot, for instance. If you like, omit the chow mein noodles and serve with brown rice for a little extra fiber. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1 small can chow mein noodles
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon cider or white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound boneless chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups frozen vegetables for stir-fry (usually this contains broccoli, green beans, red peppers and mushrooms)

What to do:

  1. Place noodles on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. In a small mixing bowl, stir the soy sauce, preserves, vinegar and cornstarch.
  2. Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces.
  3. Pour 1 tablespoon oil into a wok and set the wok over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add vegetables and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
  4. Remove the vegetables and add the chicken, with the other tablespoon of oil. Stir fry for 4 minutes or until chicken is cooked.
  5. With a wooden spoon, push chicken to the sides of the wok. Pour in the sauce and stir until thickened and bubbly.
  6. Add cooked vegetables to the wok and stir to coat with sauce. Cook for 1 minute more. Serve stir-fry with the chow mein noodles.

Crunchy Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Dip
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes

This is better for your kids than fast food and it's absolutely delicious. If you want, offer storebought barbecue sauce or ketchup instead of the homemade honey mustard dip — but this is an incredibly easy dip to make and leftovers are good the next day on sandwiches. Serves 4.

What you need:

For the dip:

  • ¾ cup light sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

For the chicken:

  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 pound thinly sliced chicken breast
  • 6 tablespoons canola or olive oil

What to do:

  1. Prepare the dip: Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and set aside while chicken cooks.
  2. In a shallow plate, mix the cornmeal with the chili powder and salt. In small bowl, beat egg with water. Dip chicken cutlets into the egg and then into the cornmeal mixture, coating well.
  3. Heat some of the oil in a large heavy skillet set over medium heat. Cook the chicken in a single layer in batches, flipping over after the first 2 minutes or when the chicken is golden brown. Add more oil, as needed, to the pan. Transfer the chicken cutlets to a cutting board. Cut each crosswise into 1-inch strips. Serve with dip.

On the Side: Broccoli and Carrot Saute
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Colorful and spiked with garlic and lemon, this dish is easy to prep thanks to the pre-cut, frozen carrots. Serves 6.

What you need:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen matchstick-cut carrots
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

What to do:

  1. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  2. Add vegetables, salt and Italian seasoning. Cook on medium-high for 12 to 14 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with lemon juice. Add extra salt before serving, if desired.

 

Tuesday: Ground Beef

Meatball Subs
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

There's no need to order takeout from the local deli. Your kids will love this dinner and you will, too — it's casual, fun fare. If you like, make the meatballs ahead and freeze for up to three months. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (26-ounce) jar pasta sauce
  • 4 oblong French bread rolls, sliced most of the way through but still with the halves attached
  • 4 slices provolone cheese

What to do:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, egg, salt, pepper, dry bread crumbs, ketchup, and garlic powder. Mix well and form into 1-inch meatballs.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy sauté pan. Cook the meatballs for 6 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until very well browned. Remove from the skillet.
  3. Add remaining oil to the skillet. Add chopped onion and cook 5 minutes, stirring. Add the sauce, and then the meatballs. Cover and cook 5 minutes, until the meatballs are done.
  4. Arrange the rolls on a baking tray. Spoon some meatballs and sauce on each. Top with cheese. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, until the cheese is melted.  Serve hot.

Super Sloppy Joes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serve in toasted hamburger buns or over wedges of cornbread, and use ground lamb in place of ground beef if you prefer. Serves 6.

What you need:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup bulgur
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Chopped lettuce
  • 6 kaiser rolls
  • ½ cup feta cheese

What to do:

  1. In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and onion until the meat is well-browned; drain off the fat.
  2. Stir in tomato sauce, bulgur, oregano and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, or until thick, stirring occasionally.
  3. Place some lettuce into each roll, spoon in some Sloppy Joe mixture and top with cheese.

On the Side: Tooty Frooty Dip
Prep time: 5 minutes

You don't have to serve a veggie at every meal. Present fruit with this sweet-spicy dip and watch it vanish. Makes 1½ cups.

What you need:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package low fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Apple and pear wedges

What to do:

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese, milk, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
  2. Serve with apple and pear wedges or even carrot and celery sticks.

 

Wednesday: Pasta

Tortellini with Meat Sauce
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Everyone loves these little cheese-filled pillows. If you like, substitute ground pork or ground beef for the ground turkey in this easy one-dish dinner. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • ¾ pound ground turkey
  • 1 (14-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated cheese tortellini
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

What to do:

  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, cook the turkey until done. Drain off any juices.
  2. Stir in the pasta sauce and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and add the tortellini. Cook for 12 minutes or until tortellini are done.
  3. Spoon onto plates and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Spaghetti with Shrimp
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Even kids who hate fish love shrimp, and this dish is a real crowd-pleaser. Buy the shrimp already peeled and deveined, and add or subtract vegetables according to what your family likes. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • ½ pound uncooked spaghetti
  • ½ cup Italian salad dressing
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¾ pound uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined, thawed if frozen
  • 1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 small zucchini, ends trimmed cut into ½-inch half moons
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

What to do:

  1. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions. When finished, drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the salad dressing and the garlic.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Saute the shrimp for 2 minutes or until pink. Remove shrimp from skillet.
  4. Add broccoli, zucchini, and water to the skillet and cook 3 minutes, covered.
  5. Stir in the salad dressing and heat for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and basil and cook 1 minute.
  6. Combine spaghetti, shrimp, and sauce and serve with Parmesan cheese.  

On the Side: Dilly Asparagus
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

When you top a vegetable with a delicious sauce, you'll be amazed how much of it your child will eat. Instead of boiling the asparagus, you can also steam it or microwave it. This recipe works well with broccoli or green beans, too. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed, cut into thirds
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • Salt to taste

What to do:

  1. In a large pot of boiling water, cook asparagus for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt, dill, and salt.
  3. Place the asparagus into a serving bowl and top with yogurt mixture.

 

Thursday: Vegetarian

Beany Burgers
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 6 minutes

Serve these crunchy, flavorful burgers with the same garnishes you'd use on regular burgers — lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and maybe a slice of cheese. They're a great source of fiber and protein, and you can add more of both by serving them in whole wheat buns. Serves 4-6.

What you need:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ small red onion, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

What to do:

  1. Drain the beans and coarsely chop in the food processor (or mash them by hand).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, tomato paste, onion, bread crumbs, balsamic vinegar, egg, salt and pepper. Mix very well.
  3. Form into 4-6 patties. Coat the patties with cornmeal and set on a plate.
  4. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the burgers for 3 minutes per side, until thoroughly heated. Garnish and serve.

Potato Frittata
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Like an omelet with potatoes, this is a great light supper with some whole wheat toast and a salad. You can add other vegetables, too, and vary the kind of cheese. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium white potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 small onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shredded provolone cheese

What to do:

  1. In a broiler-proof large skillet, measure the oil. Add potatoes, onion and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn with a spatula and cook 5 more minutes or until potatoes are soft.
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining teaspoon of salt. Pour over the potatoes.
  3. Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, running a spatula around the edge of the skillet and lifting up the eggs so that the uncooked part flows underneath.
  4. When the frittata is fairly set, place under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes until the top is golden. Sprinkle with provolone, cut into wedges and serve.

On the Side: Crazy Coleslaw
Prep time: 10 minutes

Using a bag of coleslaw mix makes this crunchy, creamy salad extra easy on the cook. Serves 4-6.

What you need:

  • 1 bag coleslaw mix (look for it in the produce department)
  • ½ cup light mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

What to do:

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill until serving time.

 

Friday: Fish

Terrific Tilapia Tacos
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

You can also make this easy dish with cod, catfish or whatever other fish you like. When you shop, check out the weekly specials on fish. If you find a good sale, buy extra and freeze. Well-wrapped in freezer paper, fish may be frozen for up to three months. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1¼ pounds fish fillets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons "light" mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons "light" sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1½ cups coleslaw mix
  • 8 (six-inch) flour tortillas
  • ¾ to 1 cup salsa of your choice

What to do:

  1. Spray a shallow baking pan with cooking spray. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Rinse and dry fish. Cut it into 1-inch slices. Place in the baking pan.
  3. In small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic powder, and cumin. Brush over the fish. Bake for 5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  4. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in the oven for 5 minutes or until very warm.
  5. In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and lime juice. Toss with the coleslaw mix.
  6. Place a warmed tortilla on a plate. Spoon coleslaw mixture onto it, then add some fish and a tablespoon or so of salsa. Fold the tortilla over the filling. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Serve immediately.

Pizza Fish
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serve this with ziti, hot cooked rice, or orzo. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1½ pounds codfish fillets (½-inch thick)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1½ cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 (8-ounce) can pizza sauce
  • 1 cup shredded, low-fat mozzarella cheese

What to do:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Rinse the fish fillets and pat them dry. Arrange the fillets in the baking dish. Sprinkle with garlic powder and salt. Bake for 6 minutes or until done. Drain off any accumulated liquid.
  3. While the fish is baking, heat oil in sauté pan. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes or until tender.
  4. Add pizza sauce and heat briefly. Spoon sauce over the fish. Sprinkle with the cheese.
  5. Return to the oven and bake for 1 more minute, until the cheese melts.

On the Side: Lemony Green Beans
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes

You can make this ahead of time and store in the refrigerator. Reheat just before dinner. Serves 4.

What you need:

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt or to taste

What to do:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not too soft. Drain but don't rinse.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Pour over the beans and toss so that all the beans are coated. Taste and add extra salt if necessary.

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