Working Mom Gourmet: Weeknight Dinner Solutions

Now that the school supplies are purchased and orientations under our belts, it’s time to settle into to this school year’s weekday routine. And for most people that means juggling carpools, sports practices and games, piano lessons and lots of homework. Oh yeah, you gotta squeeze in dinner somewhere too.

Resist the urge to hit the drive thru, order take out or give in to expensive pre-made or frozen dinners. We almost never do any of those things in my house and I am a pretty busy gal. My friends are convinced I’m a vampire because of all I manage to get accomplished.
Here are my suggestions for easy weeknight meals with little prep or cook time.  I promise, you CAN make these.
Presto, pesto!  Make a batch now, while the basil is abundant and fresh. Freeze it in ice cube trays or small containers for use when you need it. (recipe link below)
Pasta is the obvious pairing with pesto. Choose a quick cooking pasta like angel hair to get dinner on the table faster.  Add the pesto to cooked pasta with olive oil, and toss, and you’re in business.
Grill some chicken ahead of time, or add in some quick cooking shrimp for a protein add-in for the pasta. For a creamy option, add a tablespoon or cream cheese or goat cheese to the pesto mixture. So delish!   If you’re over (or off) pasta, pesto is GREAT on zucchini noodles. Or you can also spread it or chicken, fish or shrimp too, for an herbaceous baked protein that isn’t the same old, same old.I also like to mix it up and use walnuts or almonds for a variety, and I often make parsley, mint or cilantro pesto which is incredible on fish.
For a dinner that’s super kid friendly and fun for both them and adults, try my Walking Turkey Frito Pie. (See my previous Cheftovers post, Portable Picnic, for this recipe)  You can always chop your veggies and cook the rice for build-your-own stir fry bowls the night before, then everyone gets a “choose your own adventure” kind of meal like at Chipotle or Piada.
Or mix up fresh pizza dough in the morning or the night before (so cheap to make and uses so few ingredients). The dough will be perfect by dinner time.  I use Leanne Brown’s recipe from her book, Good and Cheap.  Getting the kids involved in topping their own pizza always ensures they’re more likely to eat it!  It’s not rocket science, but it is science.  It’s proven!!  Crank up your oven to 500* and that ‘za will be ready in 10 minutes.
Cut down on cook time for family-friendly favorites like meatloaf, tuna noodle and broccoli, cheese and rice casseroles, pot pie or baked mac n cheese, by portioning them out into ramekins, or cupcake tins. Adults can control their portions better and cook time is cut in half! My kids always get a kick out of eating things “just their size” too.
Sometimes I sneak in some finely chopped zucchini and kale into mini meatloaves for a helping of greens that my children (and husband) won’t even know they are eating. Pillsbury has a really easy crescent roll mini pot pie recipe that I like, too.
Another favorite among my kids is carrot soup. It’s colorful, sweet and savory. Plus it keeps well so you can make all, or portions of it, ahead of time. I usually make it on the stove top with lots of fresh shaved ginger. But my new favorite fall version is to roast them!  (recipe link below)
If you’re a fan of Mexican food, make baked taquitos.  I like to mix up leftovers like chicken, cheese, rice and/or beans, and any veggies I have hanging around.  Put a spoonful of the mixture in a tortilla and roll them up tightly.  Place them in a baking pan seam side down and bake at 350 until they’re just barely browned and crispy. It’ll take no time at all! And since they’re skinny, they’re easy for the little ones to handle.  You can dip them in salsa, guac or sour cream. Great way to use leftovers from Taco Tuesday!
I always feel better when we have dinner together, especially one that I made myself.  And when it doesn’t take me all night, I’m happy.  We all know, when mama’s happy….
For above mentioned recipes and other great ideas in food, check out cheftovers.com
Originally published on cheftovers.com on August 18.

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Jen Picciano

I'm a television news reporter, wife, mom, cook book junkie and wanna-be chef. I hate wasting food and love getting creative in the kitchen. Bringing you access to premiere chefs and news in the food world. Reviewing new cooking-related products and services. Living life with a mic in my hand and a pencil behind my ear...or with an apron on, cooking for those I love.

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