16 Things to Make for Dinner When You Don’t Want to Make Dinner
It doesn’t have to be elaborate — it just has to get done.
"I don’t know how you do it," she sighed.
All the moms were sitting outside our first graders’ tap and ballet combo class when one of them went down this road. "I mean, how do you cook all these nice dinners every night?" That’s when she explained a recent discovery that captured the exact amount of time and energy she has for dinner these days: When you invert a frozen lasagna from Costco, the whole thing fits perfectly in a slow cooker. "I turned it on low and by the time everyone was home for dinner, there it was. Bubbly and perfect. I felt like a winner at life!" She was joking, but listen very carefully when I say this: Cooking dinner every night is no joke. It’s a long and drawn-out marathon that lasts years. And years. And years.
And also, I don’t cook nice dinners every night either.
I have four small kids, two dogs, eight chickens, two bunnies, several thousand bees, one husband and at least three jobs. That means cooking whatever gourmet meals that other mom has running through her imagination is just not possible seven nights a week.
When things get hectic or I get tired, which unsurprisingly seem to coincide, these are the super simple family favorites that make their way to our table:
An All-In-One Pasta
Throw a pan of water on the stove and saute a vegetable or two on the burner next to it. In twenty minutes or less, you’ve got a full meal with all the food groups present. My repertoire these days is 20-Minute Smokey Pasta with Kielbasa & Zucchini, Cheesy Spinach Pasta with Chicken or Simple Spring Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella, a tangy one-pot dream I learned from a dear Italian friend when we lived in Rome.
If there was a Taco Tuesday, my family knows that Thursday or Friday are bound to be Taco Soup Night. And why not? It’s all the same stuff, just rearranged in a new and delicious way. With chips on top. Who can resist? Or, I take a cup of extra ground beef from something like Lasagna Cup night to whip up a whole table of Cheeseburger Hand Pies in Puff Pastry. And never underestimate leftover pork or beef as quesadilla filling, especially when topped with just a touch of BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese.
There’s something about a nice warm sandwich that elevates the whole thing from lunch to a totally legit dinner. "Apple-Jacks" are a new go-to for us, with gooey Havarti cheese slathered over ham and just enough apple butter to give it all a sweet kick. But you can never go wrong with a pan of open-faced Tuna Melts or classic Turkey Grinders.
I don’t know what it is about eggs that makes cooking them seem so effortless but I’ll tell you what: I love cooking eggs just as much as my kids love eating them. From simple Scrambled Cheesy Eggs to Baked Scrambled Eggs (in adorable shapes) to Roasted Eggs with Ham and Cream, it’s all the same: put a few eggs together with some milk and cook. The results are ridiculously good for such little work and packed with protein to boot. If I’m wiped out but still feeling a little fancy, I might go for omelets or a quick Ham & Cheddar Quiche.
When things are really dire, I throw it right back at my tiny crowd—and they love it. "Make Your Own Sandwiches Night" is an unparalleled hit. Or clean out all the leftovers from the past week and let everyone pick and choose. A friend of mine calls this "Icebox Review" as an ode to her grandmother. My husband calls it "A Feast". I call it the easiest dinner ever. And sometimes, that’s just what a busy parent does.