My Family’s Top 5 Go-to Dinners

I’m really bad at meal planning. I hate having to think about what’s for dinner. I’d rather be playing with my kids and trying to tell my son he doesn’t have to hide in the same spot every single time.

If I’m lucky, I remember and ask my husband what he’d like to eat a couple of days before we go to the market. If I’m really lucky, he tells me exactly what he wants. Most weeks, though, I ask him about 20 minutes before we head out the door and we stand around in the produce section wondering what to make. Our son gets impatient and becomes overly theatrical about it. Our daughter is happy standing in the back and making noises while bouncing on her feet.

Fortunately, we do have some family favorites that are relatively quick and easy. We keep most of the ingredients stocked, so it’s easy to say we’ll eat this or that. Unfortunately, for me, at least, it feels repetitive, but it does solve the problem.

“What’s for dinner?”

I’m suddenly sorry I asked my mom almost daily.

  1. Pasta. This is seriously our number one go-to, unless we had it last week. It’s easy and my husband happens to absolutely love the sauce, which is also incredibly easy to make. The best part is the pasta can be cooked ahead and frozen with a bit of olive oil drizzled and mixed in. The sauce can also be cooked ahead of time and frozen. My recipe makes enough sauce for at least 2 pounds of pasta, so, the next time we decided to have it, I don’t even have to cook it if I was smart and froze it into two sections. Head over here for my sauce recipe, which also works really well for the pizza my husband likes making.
  2. Pizza. My husband already devoted a post to this. He grew up in New York City, so pizza is near and dear to his heart. I couldn’t care less, but he’s very particular. He’s spent several weekends perfecting his dough recipe and trying out different sauces, only to go to my pasta sauce and proclaim it perfect. For pizza, the sauce ingredients can just go in the blender with more sugar than salt. I hate having to stretch out the dough, but his recipe makes 2, so we just pop one in the freezer, though it usually only stays in for a day or two. I did mention he loves pizza, right? Oh, and the dough is best when left in the fridge at least over night. For his recipe, pop over hereBake and then.....PIZZA!
  3. Spanish-style beef. A few years ago, I was flipping through some recipes my mom had saved, but never made. I came across one for Spanish-style beef and rice by Rachael Ray. My husband liked it, so I added it to my recipe book. And then I experimented a bit. I’ve used beef, chicken, and a mix of beef and sausage. It really is quick to make and so easy that I usually hold my daughter almost the whole time. It’s great with rice, but we also enjoy it with tortillas. For my version and one way we enjoy it, go hereIMG_0895
  4. Lemon chicken. This is something my mom started making when I was a kid. My parents planted a lemon tree one year and it’s been extremely bountiful. We’ve had so many lemons that my dad is in the habit of asking just about everyone if they want any lemons. One or two? Nope. Try a whole bag full of them. I’m not sure where my mom got the recipe, but I got mine for lemon chicken from her. For all I know, she made it up just to use up the lemons. It’s really simple. Slice a chicken breast in half so it’s neither too thick nor too thin (pound if too thick) and salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan with some oil and cook chicken. Remove chicken and add 3-4 tablespoons of butter and the juice of 2 lemons. Add chicken back to the pan and coat in the sauce. As far as I know, it goes with just about everything.
  5. Chicken and tortillas. This is something my mom made for us a lot when we were growing up. It’s fast and easy. And, okay, I prefer this one way more than my husband because it’s really fast and easy. Even if we don’t have tortillas, we can still put it with rice or Asian noodles. I like to slice the chicken on the thin side so I don’t have to marinate it as long and it cooks faster. A half hour before dinner time? Yup, this will be done on time! See why I prefer it? For the recipe for the marinade and the chicken and tortillas recipe, head on over here.

Hmm. Maybe I do know what’s for dinner next week.

What are some of your go-to dinner recipes? If you have the recipe link, feel free to leave it in the comments!


National Shrimp Scampi Day

April 29th is National Shrimp Scampi Day. But I don’t eat seafood. But we like chicken, lemon, butter, and pasta. So we don’t do shrimp scampi, but chicken scampi instead!

We were watching The Pioneer Woman one day and she was making shrimp scampi with pasta. Now, my husband is a big fan of lemon butter sauce, but knows I absolutely will not touch seafood. Instead, loving husband that he is, he asked if I could make it with chicken.

Of course I could make it with chicken! And it was so easy that, whenever my parents give us lemons from their tree or if we have a couple lying around, you can be sure I’m making this.

Now, we don’t strictly follow The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. For one, neither of us likes onions. But it’s still delicious and doesn’t take long to whip up, a half hour from start to finish for me!

How We Make Chicken Scampi

To start, I prep. I mince a few garlic cloves, not too much because my husband isn’t a big fan. Then I cut 2 chicken breasts, sometimes more if my husband really wants a lot of it, into 1 inch cubes and put a sprinkle of salt and pepper on it. Then I get the pasta water boiling. Finally, I squeeze the juice out of 2 lemons. Or my husband really squeezes the life out of them. What can I say, he really likes lemon!

Now that everything is prepped, take out a big skillet or a pan with sides if you have a lot of chicken or pasta (yes to both for us!). Heat olive oil and butter until the butter is melted.

Toss in the garlic and cook until it starts to brown. Add the chicken and cook it through.

The Pioneer Woman uses wine, but we don’t drink and have small children. My daughter started eating this at 9-10 months. Instead, we use chicken broth. So now that the chicken is cooked, I add the broth and lemon juice and turn the heat down low.

During this time, the pasta water is usually ready and the pasta should be just about done. The Pioneer Woman uses Angel hair pasta, but we have a thing for rotini and sometimes spaghetti, but those spirals really enchant us.

The sauce is finished by now, so I add about a cup of the pasta water to help thicken it. Finally, I add the pasta and toss it in the sauce. From here you can garnish with cheese and fresh herbs, but we leave it plain.

I’m putting our version here, but you can get The Pioneer Woman’s recipe at the link above. Happy cooking!

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 lb pasta,
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Mince garlic, cube chicken breasts, and juice lemons. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken.
  2. Bring pasta water to a boil.
  3. While boiling pasta water, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet until butter melts. Toss in garlic and cook until the garlic starts to brown.
  4. Add the chicken and cook through.
  5. Pour in lemon juice and broth. Stir and turn heat to low.
  6. When the pasta is ready, take a cup of the water and add it to the sauce.
  7. Drain pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss.

Whether you enjoy seafood or not, enjoy some scampi today!


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Meal Planning For Those Who Hate It

I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate meal planning. Wait, I don’t think that was enough hates… Oh, well. This is actually one reason why I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom (yeah, life loves to laugh at me). I don’t know how my mom did it. I remember finding her standing in the kitchen, staring into the freezer. No way did I want that to be me.

Fast forward 15 years. I’m a stay at home mom who has to plan meals and snacks for 4 people. So not what I want to be doing…

I am dreadful at meal planning. On Thursdays, I ask my husband what he wants to eat next week, praying he has a good idea. If I’m lucky I have an idea by Friday night. Usually, we stand in the market on Saturday mornings and wonder what we’re cooking. Yeah, so not good at this.

Luckily, I’ve developed a system, of sorts, that mostly works.

  1. Make 2 lists. One list holds every dish my husband and I make. These are tried and true and are usually well-received. The second list holds the recipes we would like to try one day. This way we have a go-to place to start, a place where we can peruse the recipes and decide what we want to eat. Though, whether we achy do this may or may not happen…
  2. Keep a stocked cooking shelf. Make sure you have the spices and cooking basics that you use the most. We always have ground ginger, garlic powder, Adobo seasoning, basil, oregano, cumin, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oil, olive oil, tomato sauce, and coconut milk on hand. It’s what we use the most and they’re easy enough to experiment with.
  3. Buy the produce you use the most. We are a bell pepper loving family, so when we don’t know what we’re cooking, we always buy peppers. Even if we don’t use them, we can always slice them and munch or sautee them.
  4. Cook dishes that make a lot of servings or double recipes. Cooking a lot of food at one time can actually save time. See below. I come from a family of 5, so my mom’s recipes make a lot of food. Just because I have a smaller family doesn’t mean I make less. It just means…
  5. The freezer is your friend. Freeze the extra! Portion them out. Freeze half. Just get some of it in the freezer and you’ll always have food on hand. Just defrost and heat. If you make a lot of food over a week or two and freeze some, eventually you just have to take something out of the freezer.
  6. Be like my husband and enjoy the same thing for two or three days (AKA leftovers). My husband loves eating the exact same thing day after day. I try to cap it at two days. Which means I don’t have to plan meals for every night of the week! Just 3-4.

This is how I survive meal planning. Or, really, how I get around meal planning. As I write this, I’m pretty sure I only have to cook once next week, if that! Bring on the extra play time with the kids!

Note to self: take something out of the freezer.

Do you plan meals or do you wing it? What are some of your tips?


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