20-Minute Dinners (or Less)
When it’s been awhile since I’ve been to the grocery store or when I just don’t feel like cooking – that’s when I can count on the question: “Momma, what’s for dinner?”
Thus begins a scramble through the pantry and a deep dive into the vegetable bin to check the health of a stray onion or package of baby carrots. Or, to be honest, sometimes we just order a pizza.
It’s great to have a few ideas at the ready for quick dinners. In my house, we call some of these “snack dinners.” When I say it’s going to be a snack dinner, my kids know that means I’m setting out food buffet style and we’re likely not sitting at the table to eat it. My kids love walking around like they’re at happy hour – filling their plates as they graze through the quick food options.
But a snack dinner doesn’t mean we’re eating Cheetos. We keep it fairly healthy with hummus and veggies, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, waffles with fruit toppings or a cheese board with bread, nuts and preserves.
If your kids are old enough, put them in charge of these easy dinners – or let them help you pull it all together.
10 Quick Dinner Ideas
Here are 10 ideas for quick dinners. Keep the list handy for days when you haven’t had time to consider what’s for dinner, Momma.
1. Waffle bar.
There’s no shame in using frozen. Keep your waffles warm on the lowest heat in the oven, then set out favorite toppings. Try: bananas and brown sugar, sliced peaches, lemon curd and strawberries or sliced ham and cheddar cheese.
2. Eggs and rice.
This is so simple and loved by young children. In a saute pan, season 2 cups of cooked rice with a little salt and pepper, then add four lightly beaten eggs, stirring until eggs are just cooked. Add one-half-cup grated cheese at the end of cooking.
3. Quick pasta.
Most of us have dried pasta in the pantry. While the pasta is cooking, make a quick sauce by melting butter, then adding Parmesan cheese, black pepper and a little cream. Don’t worry about measuring – just add and taste.
4. Dip it.
Make a quick dip out of a jar of salsa, a can of drained and rinsed black beans and a can of drained corn. Use as a topping on tortilla chips for nachos. Or, place in a bowl and use as a dip for chips or veggies.
5. English muffin pizzas.
This is a favorite at my house. English muffins are on my grocery list every week, both because we like them with butter for breakfast and because I know I can always top them with marinara sauce and cheese for pizzas. Make it fun by using the cheese as crazy hair, two cherry tomatoes as eyes and a sliced bell pepper for a smile.
6. Fruit and veggie kabobs.
You don’t have to turn on the oven for these kabobs. String cubes of cheese, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi and bananas on skewers. If you want to add protein, make skewers of ham, turkey, sausages and cheese.
7. Tea party for dinner.
Cut the crusts off sandwiches made of peanut butter and honey, peanut butter and jam, cream cheese and cucumber or jam and cream cheese. Then cut these sandwiches into quarters, place on a tiered plate, and declare it tea time.
8. Bruschetta bites.
I can usually scrounge enough of this and that to make bruschetta. In the summer, we nearly always have tomatoes and basil. Add a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and you have a simple dinner. Goat cheese, ricotta cheese or mozzarella are all great bruschetta toppings.
9. Taco potatoes.
Take your leftover taco meat from taco Tuesday, and create spectacular spuds. Top baked potatoes with seasoned ground beef, salsa, sour cream and cheese. My kids like these the simpler the better – just meat and cheese.
10. Five-Minute Frittata.
Five minutes to assemble and 30 minutes to bake, a frittata is a super simple dinner. Whisk eight eggs with two tablespoons milk, ½ cup cheese and whatever else you have around – fresh basil, cooked bacon, diced ham, chopped tomatoes. Pour into a pie plate, and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Kids typically love quesadillas. Mine would be happy with plain cheese quesadillas, but I like something with a little more substance. This version uses leftover pulled pork, or you can buy shredded barbecued brisket or chicken in the deli section of the grocery store.
Barbecued Pork Quesadillas
- 1/2 pound shredded barbecued pork
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 8 fajita-size flour tortillas
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- Stir together pork, barbecue sauce and cilantro.
- Spoon 1/4 of the pork mixture on one side of each tortilla, then sprinkle with cheese. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently to seal. Spread butter on both sides of tortillas.
- Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat, and cook quesadillas 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
Grilled Caesar Chicken with Fruit Salsa
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- 1 cup Caesar salad dressing
Place chicken breasts between two sheets of waxed paper, and pound to ½-inch thickness. Place the pounded chicken in a baking dish, and pour the dressing over them. Turn to coat on both sides. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.
Heat the grill to medium-high. Shake off any excess dressing, and place chicken on hot grill. Sear the first side, cooking 2 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook an additional 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then cook about 6 minutes, or until chicken is done and juices run clear when cut.
Serve with Fruit Salsa.
Tip: Ask older children to make the fruit salsa while you’re grilling the chicken.
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
- 1 medium orange, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 kiwi, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
- 1 tablespoon honey
Combine all ingredients. If you have leftover, use as a dip for pita chips or graham crackers.