I'm waving my meal-time white flag. I surrender. I know that eating at home can be cheaper, healthier, and even easier than eating out. Still, I'm exhausted and our meals are suffering.
I spend most supper times chauffeuring, then by the time we're home I'm too tired to implement whatever weak meal plan I had in place. The times I do muster a little energy for meal time planning and prep, I remember each child's unique areas of pickyness, and I can't bring myself to waste said energy on a meal no one is going to eat.
For right now, I just need the simplest, easiest approach to meal time that gets everyone fed and gets us through this current season. We'll work on the other stuff, but in the meantime, I need to remember there's lots of options for meals that don't require a recipe or fancy ingredients or too much time that will feel wasted if a child leaves the table hungry.
So, here's my list of 30-minute no-recipe meals off the top of my head. I kept listing everything I knew to remember we have options. This is enough to get us through the chauffeuring and picky-eating and still give us variety so we don't feel like we're eating porridge everyday. (We've never in our lives eaten porridge. I think we have a lot to be thankful for.)
BreakfastBreakfast works as breakfast, of course. For us, hot breakfast is a usually a Sunday morning special. If we woke up earlier, or made and froze some waffles or pancakes, we could have them during the week, too. I love hot breakfast, so we have a breakfast-for-dinner night every week. These can be served in any combination of each other with a grain (pancakes, waffles, toast), eggs (scrambled, omelette, frittata), potatoes (baked, fried, tots), or fruit (topped on the grain, in a smoothie, or on the side).
Pancakes or WafflesWe buy a protein-packed mix from Target that we love, and the kids do, too. For a special treat, Trader Joe's has a delicious coconut mix that's more dessert-like. These can be topped with fruit or peanut butter and apple sauce then paired with any combination of potatoes, eggs, a smoothie, or breakfast meat. I usually have a book handy while I flip.
ToastI love having toast spread with avocado and sprinkled with pepper. The kids like butter or jelly. And sometimes toast with peanutbutter and applesauce served with popcorn is a complete, light meal.
Eggs All The WaysOur hot breakfasts for Sunday morning and weeknight dinner almost always include eggs. We usually scramble them--the kids don't even notice when we shred up zucchini in them. Some diced veggies (like zucchini, carrots, spinach, pepper, onion) can be sauted and then topped with eggs and cooked into a simple frittata or veggie egg-scramble. Our pickyest child won't eat them with veggies, but one of our picky kids eats them this way. Other times we personalize omelettes.
PotatoesReal potatoes can be washed and diced (no need to peel), then seasoned with pepper or Lowery's or garlic or chili powder or whatever sounds good. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. The smaller the potatoes are cut, the quicker they cook. I used to make them on the stove, but I like being able to throw them in the over and forget about them while I prepare the rest of the meal. When I don't have time to prep potatoes, tater tots or hashbrowns do in a pinch.
Pasta is another meal we can easily throw together every week. My husband reminds me of all the carbs, but frankly in this season I don't care. Pair it with frozen meatballs (we do vegetarian) and a veggie and it's complete, quick meal.
PastaIn the past we've done homemade sauces that were pretty easy and super delicious. For this season of our lives, and since our kids don't like sauce, we buy sauce in a jar. We usually stick with marinara, but I love pesto, too. We love the frozen vegetarian meatballs from Trader Joe's and are okay with the ones from Target. The kids opt for a little salt and pepper on their pasta--it's a strange phase.
LasagnaWe usually only do lasagna for Sabbath lunch. It's a great make-ahead meal. We layer it all up (sauce, noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, repeat a few times ending with noodles and sauce), then foil and put in the oven on time bake at 350 for an hour. Then we take the foil off, add a top layer of cheese and bake another 15-20 minutes. It also tastes great with frozen vegetarian burger crumbles layered in.
Beans and RiceBeans and rice is usually referred to as a poor man's meal, but it's so rich in nutrients. There are lots of ways to mix it up, add fresh ingredients, personalize it for the picky eaters, and it gives a complete protein for us vegetarians. We buy canned beans that I usually add taco seasoning, chili powder, and/or cumin to, and sometimes a squirt of lime juice. We usually make plain side rice in our cooker (ours can be put on a timer), or sometimes from a package. Or, leave the rice out and do veggies and beans with chips or a tortilla.
HaystacksI've heard others call this taco salad, but taco salad is something different to us. So haystacks are basically beans and rice over a layer of chips. We chop up the veggie options (lettuce, onion, olives, tomatoes, peppers, avocado) and everyone layers their own. We usually have some kind of condiments to top it off like cheese and salsa.
TacosWe love using soft corn tortillas that heat individually on the stove. Then we have beans, burger crumbles, veggies, cheese, salsa, and lime (to squeeze over the top) as options for everyone to personalize their tacos. We'll eat a few of these by themselves, or sometimes have a side of rice (fresh or from a packet) as a side.
BurritosBurritos is usually the above topping options--beans, rice, veggies--but with large tortillas to wrap it up in. The different presentation can make it feel like an entirely different meal even though it's very similar.
Asian RiceVarious Asian rice dishes used to be a weekly staple in our meals. I love all the curries. It's the one our kids are the pickyest about. BUT if I keep it in the weekly rotation, they could eventually warm up to it again and it keeps our meals interesting. And it's good to remember that we're the parents/decision-makers and they will eat what we make or not eat.
Rice and CurryI love curry. I think it's best homemade, but there are some yummy pre-made options from Trader Joe's in a jar or in the freezer section. We also make this >> yellow curry sauce that's super easy. Then each person can top their rice with whatever toppings they prefer. Our kids used to love this curry sauce, but lately won't eat it. They'll still eat a few of the toppings with rice which is good enough for me.
Fried RiceWe used to alternate our curry meal with fried rice. We can't get the kids to eat any version of this so haven't had in a long time. But it's easy enough, I don't want to forget it as an option. We buy a fried rice or stir fry seasoning pack. We fry our preferred veggies (usually broccoli, carrots, onion) then add cooked rice and the seasoning. It's great with fried tofu or frozen egg/spring rolls.
PizzaFrozen pizza or takeout pizza is our go-to when we're lazy or busy. There are ways to cheat a little on making it at home that keeps it quick and easy and slightly healthier than simple frozen or takeout. It can be pared with a green smoothie to add a little health to the meal, and we often pop some popcorn for a side. Maybe that's partly because our pizza night is often on the weekend along with family movie night.
Homemade PizzaThe hardest part of homemade pizza is the dough. To make that easier, we've bought pre-made dough from Trader Joe's or even a local pizza shop. When I don't want to roll it out (that's usually my husband's job), I buy the frozen pizza crust from Trader Joe's or the pantry option from Target (in their pizza aisle). We've also used pitas as a crust, or you could use bread or buns. We spread crushed tomatoes as the sauce, sprinkle with Italian seasoning and garlic, then top with mozzarella cheese and each person's preferred toppings--olives, peppers, onions, pineapple, whatever sounds good.
Hot SandwichesCold sandwiches are a daily go-to for school lunches. So each week we keep hot sandwiches as one of the meals. Pare them with fries or a smoothie and who needs last-minute Red Robin?
HoagiesWe buy hoagie bread, cut them open and add cheese (we like provolone for this) and bake at 375 for 7-10 minutes. Then we can add our favorite vegetarian meat and veggies.
BurgersThis is kind of a no-brainer. We usually have Morningstar Farms grillers or chick patties. Serve with a fries or chips and a smoothie.
Light SuppersThere are always those days that cooking just isn't going to happen because of the lack of time or energy or patience or all of the above. Enter the light supper. These are the quickest and easiest of meals, and still slightly healthier, and cheaper, than fast food. They can be eaten alone or in any combination to make a more filling meal.
SandwichesWe try to avoid sandwiches since the kids and I eat them at lot during the week. They are still a quick last-minute option. The kids like peanutbutter-and-banana better than peanutbutter-and-jelly. Then of course there's veggie and cheese and meat-slice options. Or my avocado and toast variation.
SaladI like buying green mixing that are already washed and ready to go. They can be added to smoothies, or they can be topped with carrots and onions and a favorite dressing for an easy salad. I also like heating up a frozen chick patty and cutting up to add on top. The kids aren't big salad fans, so this is what I have for lunch when they're not around.
SmoothiesIn addition to fruit, a smoothie can be packed with greens, chia seeds, milled flax seed, oats, and even nuts. Drink enough of it and you will feel full--at least for a light supper. Have it with toast or popcorn if you need something to chew. It's also a great meal option paired with any of the above or below.
SnacksCrackers, cheese, fruits, veggies, nuts, yogurt. Put enough options together and it could easily feel in for a light and easy supper.
LeftoversI wasn't a fan of leftovers as a kid, but love them as an adult. If I'm going to spend time making a meal, I'd like there to be enough leftover so we can eat it again for another meal. At a minimum one of us can reheat it the next day for lunch. And sometimes for a weekend lunch we'll have a fend-for-yourself type meal that means everyone's pick of sandwiches, cereal, or leftovers.
Instead of getting overwhelmed Pinning meal ideas, I just need to remember I know enough already to provide my family with simple meals. Compiling these ideas was just the boost of confidence I needed to carry on one-meal-at-a-time. We won't be in this rut forever. And we certainly won't starve.
What's on your family's go-to no-recipe meals?
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