All parents want to feed their family well. The trick is that life seems to get in the way: Soccer games, violin lessons, long work days, and a lack of ready-to-go ingredients –all conspire against parents’ best intentions to sit down with their kids for healthy, home-cooked meals. Over the years, I’ve found that planning a weekly but flexible menu—creating a lineup for five weeknight dinners, with options for leftovers—is the number-one key to keeping my sanity as a working mother and home cook. Check out these tips for making this a reality in your home, too. And make sure to have these pantry staples on hand.
Foolproof Roast Chicken with Vegetables
Serves 4 / Prep tips: This must-have family recipe offers endless variations. Any firm vegetables will work, such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and parsnips, and it’s a great way to use up leftover herbs, fruits, or veggies by stuffing them into the empty chicken cavity. Use the carcass to make wonderful (and free!) stock; simply put it in a big pot, cover with water, add more herbs and chopped celery, onions, carrots, and peppercorns, and simmer for about 3 hours. Strain and refrigerate. View recipe.
Quesadillas with Chipotle-Cilantro Cream
Serves 4 / A terrific way to use leftover roast chicken—or any leftover meat and vegetables. Prep tips: Mashing the beans keeps them from falling out of the tortilla while cooking. If you use corn tortillas, don’t fold; simply use two and sandwich the ingredients. Mix it up by buying green or red tortilla wraps. Ingredient tip: Purée leftover chipotles and use in marinades, salad dressings, or on scrambled eggs. Serving tip: Serve with fresh tomato salsa and avocado slices. View recipe.
All-Purpose Salad and Dressing
Serves 4 / This is my go-to salad recipe: works every time, couldn’t be simpler, and is always a hit. Prep tip: Vary the dressing by using a different vinegar, such as white balsamic, raspberry, champagne, rice, or tarragon; simply adjust sweetness or tartness to taste. View recipe.
Browned Butter Sautéed Fish
Serves 4 / Browned butter adds deep, rich flavor to just about anything—and you don’t need much. Ingredient tip: Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs can be found in the baking or Asian section; or make your own bread crumbs by whirling the heel of any bread loaf in your food processor. Freeze extra for later use. Prep tip: If you don’t care for the seasonings here, substitute any that suit your fancy: oregano, thyme, dried basil, parsley, even a little tarragon. View recipe.
Pantry-Ready Black-Bean Soup
Serves 4 / This recipe from my friend Lynne has become a year-round favorite because it’s so healthy and simple—most of the ingredients are always in my pantry (be sure to look for BPA-free cans). Prep tips: If you’re not vegan, feel free to use homemade chicken stock, include leftover cooked ham or chicken, and top with cheddar cheese or sour cream. Serving tip: Great with cornbread muffins. View recipe.
Serves 8 / Prep tip: Cook more than you need for dinner; these keep well in the fridge and make great, spill-free car snacks. Serving tips: Serve with vanilla or plain yogurt, applesauce, fresh or frozen berries, bananas, or whatever fruit is in season. Scrambled eggs make a nice accompaniment, too. View recipe.
Spicy Ginger Turkey Cutlets
Serves 4 / First appearing in our April 2002 issue, this go-to dinner is a hit with kids. Prep tips: Fresh ginger and orange juice taste great, but to save time, use ginger from a jar (available in the produce section) and reconstituted frozen juice. I make this gluten free by using rice flour, but regular flour works fine, too. Ingredient tip: If you can’t find turkey cutlets, simply cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts horizontally to create thin pieces. View recipe.