Tuesday, August 6, 2013

10 Menus for Busy Weeknights


Summer is winding down.  Caroline starts kindergarten on Monday.  Caroline!  Kindergarten!  This week is a flurry of back to school shopping, PTA meetings, open house, curriculum night, ice cream socials, etc.  It's insane - and she's the only one in school so far!  I can only imagine how busy we'll be once we have all four in school.  I'm a stay at home mom, and I feel overwhelmed by it all.  Major props to working moms who have to fit in all these events around their already hectic schedules and long commutes. And once sports and after school activities start, it will get even crazier.

But don't be tempted by take-out and fast food.  I'm here to help.  Equipped with menus and a game plan, getting dinner on the table on a busy weeknight doesn't have to be a daunting task.  So here are 10 menus for busy weeknights - they're all ready in under an hour, have been repeat meals in our house, and I'll even give you a few tips and tricks to streamline the cooking process.  Feel free to share your favorite weeknight dinner too - I'm already stockpiling a list of dinners to have in my back pocket for the coming weeks and months!

Fresh Fruit (use whatever's in season - right now watermelon, peaches, cantaloupe, and/or berries would be great.  In the fall and winter, just slice up some apples, pears, or grapes).

Roasted Broccoli
Herbed Couscous or Rice

Preheat the oven to 350, toss some broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast 15-20 minutes while you prep the salmon and cook the salmon.  Couscous cooks really quickly, so I just throw the pot on to boil while the salmon's cooking, then chop some herbs to stir in at the end - a mix of parsley, chives, and basil works well here.  

Green Salad
Garlic Bread

The beauty of pasta dishes is that the sides are always pretty easy - salad and bread.  As far as the salad goes, if I'm making a heavier pasta dish (like lasagna, ziti, etc), then I try and keep the salad on the light side - mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, shredded carrots, and olives.  I typically just dress it with a lemon-dijon dressing, and it's good to go!  If skillet lasagna isn't your thing, try this Weeknight Bolognese or Chicken Parmesan Pasta.

Sweet Potato Fries or White Bean & Tomato Salad
Fresh Fruit
Sliced Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Burgers and Fries make a classic dinner combination, but the mushroom-crusted turkey burgers and sweet potato fries lighten it up a bit.  I loved these burgers with this white bean and tomato salad, but it is a little more labor-intensive for a side dish (unless you roast your tomatoes ahead of time, in which case it's very easy!).  Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers are an easy way to get in some extra veggies, and they are so flavorful and abundant right now.

Corn on the Cob 
Sliced Watermelon

These taquitos are super fast and easy, and they are a perennial favorite.  You can save even more time by prepping the batch the night before, or even several days before and freezing them.  Corn on the cob and water lemon are my favorite side dishes right now - low maintenance, healthy, and filling.  And I know my kids will devour it!

Bacon or Sausage
Fresh Fruit

Breakfast for Dinner!  Kids think it's fun, it's easy and comforting, and you can eat the leftovers for breakfast!  Fry up the bacon or sausage and cut up the fruit while the strata bakes in the oven, and you're good to go.

Garlicky Sauteed Spinach 

Like the skillet lasagna, this is all the flavor of lasagna without the time it takes to prep, layer, and bake a big pan.  To make the sautéed spinach, I just sauté a few cloves of minced garlic in a big skillet, then add several handfuls of spinach and a splash of water.  Cover the pot with a lid, then just allow it to wilt down.  It's a super easy and incredibly fast side dish.  And as always, fresh bread makes an awesome accompaniment.

Optional:  Cilantro-Lime Rice

The beauty of this dish is that it's pretty much a meal in and of itself.  In fact, oftentimes I don't even make a side with it.  A green salad would be a a nice addition, and if you're having company, cilantro-lime rice would round out the meal nicely as well.  I just cook rice according to package directions, then mix some chopped cilantro, salt and pepper, half a minced jalapeño, and some lime juice and zest.  If you like the concept of foil-baked fish and want some other ideas, I've also made variations using some Mediterranean ingredients, and a lemon-garlic version with asparagus.

Tomato & Cucumber Salad

Pizza night is alway a hit around here - and it's a great way to spend time with your kids while you make dinner.  Caroline and Smith love to help me stretch out the dough then arrange the toppings.  And they always snack on the ingredients - so be sure to shred a little extra cheese :).  This pizza can be made really quickly if you use a rotisserie chicken and pizza dough from your grocery store's deli (or keep some shredded chicken and homemade pizza dough in your freezer.  Just pull it out in the morning, and it'll all be ready to go when you get home.)  As the pizza bakes in the oven, just chop up some tomatoes and cucumbers, and toss them with a little oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and small pinch of sugar.  If you have any fresh herbs leftover from the pizza prep, feel free to throw those in as well.


This meal is so simple, but it seems super fancy and elegant.  This would be great for a Thursday or Friday night - a celebratory meal for making it through a busy week.  Best enjoyed with a glass of white wine, of course.  I like serving this with fresh pasta (homemade if I have time, but the refrigerated pasta from the grocery store works fine in a pinch).  Spoon some of the sauce from the bottom of the baking dish over the noodles for an easy sauce.  Bring the water to a boil as you prep the shrimp, then cook the pasta and make the salad as the shrimp bakes.  


Krystal R. said...

Seriously kindergarten already?? Whoa, that's mindblowing - I swear you just had Caroline. Time is flying by, but I thank you for these wonderful menu ideas. I've been looking for more quick meals to prepare for those busy weeknights. I may have saved half of the recipes for the weeks to come.

Moira @ Hearth and Homefront said...

My oldest starts kindergarten Tuesday so I'm right there with you! I shudder to think what our schedules will look like once things like soccer get added into it! Love the roundup of quick weeknight meals-I'm going to have to add a bunch of these into our meal rotation!

USA Kiwi (Kylee) said...

Some great recipes here!
I use my freezer heavily - after an hour or two every other week or so, I'm set.. I love being able to throw something I made previously into the oven and dinner is done!

Rachelle Hughes said...

Great ideas. I am going to make the skillet lasagna tonight.

Eileen said...

Such a great group of simple menus! I have to admit that now I want chicken tenders immediately. :) (This is particularly notable since I had chicken for breakfast not two hours ago...)

Joanne (eats well with others) said...

I don't even have kids and I feel like I need some of these...or at least some quick and easy meals. Great roundup!

Tracey said...

I love having a bunch of quick/easy meals at my fingertips - these are all such great ideas!

Sara said...

I want to make everything. Thank you for all of the great ideas!

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