Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Go-to Easy Meals

I'm sure all of you can relate when I say life gets a little crazy around here. You know how it is - there's only one night a week where you can count on just eating dinner and having the rest of the evening free, and sometimes you don't even have that! I like to avoid serving cereal for dinner if at all possible, so there are some quick and easy meals I rely on to get us through those super busy days. The first two are oven meals, which are perfect if you have small children to feed before dinner - you prep dinner and while it bakes, you can feed the little ones. The third takes less time to get on the table (25 minutes the first time, about 15-20 minutes after you've made it once before), but requires all of the time to be spent in the kitchen.

The key to all of these is a little long term planning: make sure you always have black beans, brown rice, tortillas, cheese, salsa, tortilla chips, tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti, bagged salad, canned breadsticks, canned chicken, canned green chiles, and cream of chicken soup on hand, and you will have these three meals at your fingertips! You might go weeks without needing them (the salad won't last that long) but when you do need them, they'll be there. Try them and let me know what you think!

If you have a variety of food on hand, there are lots of quick and easy meals you can make - besides mac and cheese!

1. Tex-Mex Casserole. I posted this recipe (see link for brownie recipe) once before as a great meal to make for a family with a new baby (or babies!) or to freeze for a really busy day:

Tex-Mex Casserole (right) with Frosted Brownies (left). An easy and uplifting meal!

Tex-Mex Casserole (serves four, or two very hungry adults)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or you can cook your own dried beans, you'll need about 2 1/2-3 cups)
4 cups cooked brown rice (you can use microwavable frozen rice, 1 package)
at least 3 tablespoons taco seasoning (add this much and then taste, I use about 5-6)
1 regular-size jar red salsa, whichever brand and spiciness you prefer
1 1/2-2 cups grated cheese. Plain cheddar is fine, or you can buy Mexican-style grated cheese in an 8 oz package and use this (that's what I usually do)
sour cream for topping
tortilla chips (our favorite are Juanita's)

Optional, but recommended:
onion flakes
garlic powder

Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees. In 9x9 casserole dish, combine rice and taco seasoning. Taste and add additional taco seasoning as desired. Add beans; stir to combine evenly. Rinsing the beans is important because canned beans are very salty, and you want them to taste spicy, not just salty. If you'd like to jazz up the beans a bit further, you can add 1-2 tbsp. onion flakes and 1 tsp. garlic powder before mixing with the rice. You can microwave the beans and spices for 30-60 seconds to help the flavor take hold.

Pour salsa over rice and bean mixture, using a spatula to spread evenly. Top with cheese. Here is your chance to be artistic! You can put the cheese in the middle only, leaving some of the salsa exposed, or you can cover the casserole completely, whichever you'd like. You can cover the casserole dish and refrigerate at this point for several hours until you are ready to bake it, or you can put it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a heap of tortilla chips. Enjoy! Leftovers, if you happen to have any, can be covered and refrigerated and reheated in the microwave the next day.

Part of the beauty of this recipe is that you can adapt the ingredients to fit what you have on hand and what you like. I made it yesterday with kidney beans and black beans mixed because I had one can of each, and it was just as good. I've used different blends of cheese, different kinds of salsa, made my own taco seasoning, added vegetables (peppers, onions, corn, tomatoes) and experimented with the level of spiciness. The above version would be suitable for a family with young kids; if you'd like it spicier, you can always increase the amount of seasoning. If your family is very sensitive to spicy foods, you can start with less, taste, and add more as desired.

2. White Chicken Enchiladas
We received these as a dinner when Emily and Erin were a few weeks old, and they were amazing. I make them about once a week now. We usually have leftovers, but they reheat really well for lunch the next day. Check out their other recipes while you're there - there is a whole series of great dinners!

3. Spaghetti with Salad and Garlic Breadsticks
This really isn't a "recipe", but it's still one of my fave easy meals. The first thing I do is bake some garlic breadsticks (plain canned breadsticks with some melted butter, garlic powder, and parsley flakes sprinkled on top). I take a medium can of tomato sauce, a small can of tomato paste, 3-4 servings of whole wheat spaghetti (depending on how hungry we are) and add my own spices to the sauce. Play around with combinations of the following:
garlic powder dried basil dried oregano dried thyme dried parsley onion flakes ground black pepper
Mix the tomato sauce and tomato paste in a small saucepan over low heat. Start with a teaspoon of each and increase after tasting if desired. Make sure to cover the saucepan when you're done seasoning, or you and your kitchen will be covered in small red splatters! While your sauce is heating, cook your spaghetti. It only needs to cook about 7 minutes to be done, unless you like mushy spaghetti! Add a bag of salad and some dressing and you have dinner ready in literally less than 20 minutes. It takes a little longer the first time, but once you've made your sauce once, you'll know how much of everything to put in, and it won't take as long. And hey - if you're really in a rush, just use a jar of spaghetti sauce!

In addition to these, I always try to have a frozen pizza on hand, and we've had cereal for dinner a few times too. Sometimes you just need an instant meal! But with a little bit of pantry stocking, you can get dinner on the table after even the craziest of days.


  1. Never heard of canned bread sticks. Are they more a sort of cracker, like cheese straws, or more like olive garden bread sticks?

    1. They are Pillsbury, dough to pull out and bake. If you like to bake, breadsticks from scratch would be easy too, but the canned version makes it super fast to get the meal ready. They end up tasting like Olive Garden breadsticks.

  2. that first one sounds good to me! thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! It's my hubby's favorite dinner - he'd eat it multiple times a week.

  3. Gotta have some good go-tos. Thanks for adding to my list :) I have a big ol' menu at the bottom of my rss and email feed. Feel free to take a look at those too :)

    1. Awesome! I will do that. I love easy meals, I will have to check yours out!