From Chaos to Bliss: Quick and Easy Dinner Recipes

Dinnertime has always been a challenge for my husband and I. Between our three jobs, my grad school, grown-up activities, and kids’ activities, dinner would always get lost in the shuffle. Many nights we would run frantically to the store at 4:30, grabbing random items that could vaguely resemble a meal. Other nights we would beat back a tidal wave of guilt and pull into the drive-thru line.

Our chaotic dinners were wreaking havoc on both our sanity and our wallet. We finally hit our breaking point last fall and decided enough was enough.

easy dinner recipes

Change didn’t happen overnight. But over time, we fell into a solid routine, and I’m happy to report we’ve completely turned things around. In fact, dinner is now one of the only things that remain consistent with our family’s schedule.

Here’s how we turned things around:

My husband discovered he loves to cook.

This is the primary reason we’ve been successful. My husband loves order and organization, which are two skills that marry beautifully with cooking and meal prep. While the thought of measuring, chopping and sautéing gives me hives, my husband finds them relaxing and rewarding. It’s a perfect fit for us; he cooks dinner, I sit at the table with a cocktail and offer minimal assistance.

We shop and plan on the weekends.

Now, to be clear, our weekends aren’t any less chaotic than our weekdays; in fact, they’re often more chaotic. However, since our schedule tends to be more flexible on the weekend, we’re able to squeeze in the planning and shopping. Plus, since we have a bit more time for meal prep, the weekends give my husband the opportunity to experiment with more complicated techniques and recipes.

We divide and conquer.

I hate cooking and I’m terrible at it. However, I do enjoy reading recipes and planning menus. My husband does the shopping and the cooking, I find the recipes and help create the menu for the week.

Even though we’ve made substantial change in our meal-prep habits, our time remains extremely limited. I still seek out recipes that are truly simple. I know what I’m looking for—I’ve been burned many times by so-called “quick” and “easy” recipes! We rely heavily on the Crock Pot, and we’ve grown to love “one-dish wonders.”

Here are three of our favorite quick and easy dinner recipes.


Truly Quick and Easy:

Pesto Presto Hamburger Mac

(source: allrecipes.com)

This recipe truly takes 20 minutes from start to finish. As an added bonus, all five of our kids devour it! Even though it makes a hefty portion, we have to double it if we want to stretch for leftovers.

Ingredients:

1 16 oz package elbow macaroni
1 pound ground beef (Morningstar Crumbles are a perfect vegetarian alternative)
½ cup pesto (We use the DiGiorno brand)
½ cup sour cream

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until tender (approx. 8 minutes). Drain when finished.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir beef (or Morningstar Crumbles) in the skillet until browned and crumbly, 5 to 7 minutes; drain. Stir pesto and sour cream into ground beef until a creamy sauce is formed; add macaroni and mix well.


Crock Pot Simplicity:

Slow Cooker Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

(source: cincyshopper.com)

There’s nothing we love more than “open and dump” crock pot recipes! This is another big hit with our kids. It’s perfect with a side of Ore Idea Steam & Mash Potatoes.

Ingredients:

3-4 lb Pork Loin Roast
Pork Rub or your favorite seasonings (we used Hy-Vee Hickory House Heart of the Grill)
12 oz Dr Pepper
Barbecue Sauce (to taste) We use most of a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s

Directions:

Season pork loin with rub on all sides and place in slow cooker. Add the Dr. Pepper; cook on low for 10-12 hours. At the end of the cook time, drain a majority of the liquid. Shred the meat with a fork and add barbeque sauce to taste.


One-Dish Wonder:

Italian Chicken Potato and Green Bean Bake

(source: cheesecurdinparadise.blogspot.com)

One of the most time-consuming aspects of cooking can be the subsequent clean up. In order to avoid this we turn to our “one dish wonders:” hearty meals that can be made in just one dish.

It’s worth noting that even though the prep time on this recipe is quick, the cook time is an hour. If you make this on a busy evening you’ll need to back out the start time accordingly.

Ingredients:

3 cups red potatoes, quartered
2 cans of cut green beans, drained
1-1 1/2 lb chicken breasts
3/4 stick butter, cut into pieces
2 Italian dressing seasoning/mix packets (we use Good Seasons Zesty Italian)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line one side of a 9×13 baking dish with green beans. Line the opposite side of the dish with the potatoes and place the chicken breasts down the middle. Distribute the chunks of cubed butter throughout the pan, and sprinkle everything with the Italian dressing. Cover with foil and bake for one hour.


I never thought we’d be able to change our meal-prep habits. However, these simple strategies helped us turn dinnertime dread into valuable family time.

What are your favorite quick and easy recipes?

 

Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Crockpot Chicken and dumplings

    4 Skinless Boneless Chicken breast
    2 Tablespoons of Butter
    2 (10.75 oz) Cans of condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
    Little bit of water (just enough to help cover chicken completely
    2 (10 oz) packages of refrigerated Biscuit Dough (each biscuit torn or cut into 3 to 4 pieces)
    1/8 cup flour

    1. Line bottom of crockpot with thawed chicken breast
    2. Put slices of butter on top of chicken
    3. Pour both cans of cream of chicken onto chicken and butter
    4. Add just enough water to cover everything (first time I added too much but the next time too little- which was the worse of the two scenarios)
    5. Cook normal through the day
    6. Cover and cook on high for 5-6 hours (I cook low for the 9 hours I am gone to work)
    7. Cut/ Tear each biscuit into 3 to 4 pieces
    8. Roll each piece in flour and add to the top of cooked ingredients (they fit tight and I often push them under right before covering the ingredients again)
    9. Cover and cook on high for 30-60 minutes (basically until the “dumplings” are cooked

    This is an absolute favorite in our family. Enjoy!!!

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