Looking for some easy weeknight dinner ideas for your family?
Once upon a time, I had all the time in the world to cook. Pouring over recipes, shopping multiple times a week on the way home from work, spending an hour or two in the kitchen in the evening… it was my jam.
And then I had babies!
I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t have the time or the energy to cook the way I used to. But I didn’t really know any other way of doing things! So I would try to plan the same awesome variety of meals I had always cooked, get to about 5pm, and emotionally reject the idea of attempting to cook any of them.
While I still loved cooking (and still do!), I didn’t have enough minutes most days for the kind of cooking I was accustomed to. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still tried way too long to make it work. And as a result, I felt like a total failure.
I can’t tell you exactly what the turning point was, but basically there came a moment, about six months ago, when I decided to stop fighting current, stop beating myself up, and start making dinner time more achievable.
I needed to get some quick, easy weeknight dinners up my sleeve.
For me, this looked like creating a big list in my phone Notes app. I’ve literally named it “Quick Easy Dinners” and every time I come up with a dinner idea that I don’t need a recipe for, I jot it down.
Now when I do my weekly meal plan, I mostly refer to my list, rather than my copious recipe folders. I still pick a nice recipe or two for the weekend, or for nights I know I’ll have some extra help from Chris or my mum, but the majority of our weeknight meals are recipe-free.
Tips for easy no-recipe weeknight dinners:
Find some meal kits that your family loves
Once a committed everything-from-scratch cook, I now shamelessly browse the meal kits and ready-made jar sauces on offer at the store. We particularly love allllll the Mexican kits, and I love picking up a sweet curry kit, such as Thai green or red, once in a while.
Learn some staple techniques
Your repertoire of weeknight dinners will be much wider if you can whip up a roux/white sauce, bread meat like a pro and learn the rough cooking times for chicken breast, pasta bake, sausages, etc without having to consult a recipe. Jot notes in your phone if it helps. Also, start experimenting with herbs and spices (I have a great guide to getting started with seasonings here!) and find out what kinds of signature flavours your family loves.
Browse the pre-made/pre-prepared offerings at your grocery store
While I was once a purist who would never have purchased a six-pack of pre-made chicken schnitzel patties when I could take the time to make them myself, times have changed. That packet of patties puts me 20 minutes away from a complete meal for our family, so you can bet I will grab them without shame! From frozen oven-bake fries to bake-and-eat chicken kievs to pre-formed beef burgers, I’m fine with adding just that little bit of processed food to our meal plan once a week or so.
A note about feeding my family processed foods
I want to raise good little eaters. We eat a lot of whole foods in my home. My kids love snacking on tomatoes and cucumbers. Jackson munches raw broccoli before I’ve even bought it in the store. I cook real cuts of meat. The kids demolish fruit. But I am not above using fish fingers, chicken nuggets, processed cheese slices, canned chili or cake packet mixes when I need to. As long as my priority is to continue introducing real, fresh foods to the kids, I have no problem with letting in some processed options.
If processed foods are a concern for you, educate yourself so you can make decisions for your family that you are 100% comfortable with. This article has some great information to get you started.
So what are my go-to family weeknight meals?
The list, as it currently stands, is as follows:
Super easy weeknight meals
You can learn these recipes by heart (or note the instructions in your phone for quick and easy access!)
- Canned soup with grilled cheese sandwiches
- Baked seasoned chicken wings or drumsticks (Use an all-in-one seasoning such as Moroccan spice or all-purpose)
- Burrito chicken bowl with rice, guac, tomato, lettuce, cheese and a handful of corn chips (I season the chicken with a packet of burrito seasoning from the Mexican section)
- Homemade pizzas (the kids love creating their own! Here’s a pizza sauce hack: just mix a bottle of passata sauce with a sprinkle of dried basil or Italian seasoning. Use half and freeze half for next time!)
- Lamb souvlaki (marinated lamb strips in whole grain wraps with sliced red onion, tomato, avocado, cucumber and tzatziki)
- Quick bolognaise (jar sauce, spaghetti and a sprinkle of cheese)
- Tomato pasta bake (jar sauce, pasta, grated carrot, diced green pepper baked with cheese and breadcrumbs on top)
- Pesto pasta with sliced cherry tomatoes and parmesan (Just throw a jar of pesto into cooked pasta, stir in some sliced cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with parmesan. This tastes great hot or cold)
- Chicken caesar salad (baked chicken breast, romaine lettuce, hard boiled eggs, crispy bacon, parmesan, croutons and caesar dressing)
- Grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches (I add a sprinkle of pizza topper seasoning)
- Savoury french toast with sliced tomatoes and red peppers (not made french toast before? Just mix an egg with a splash of milk, soak a piece of bread on each side, and pan-fry it in butter till it’s golden)
- Antipasto/grazing platter (cheese cubes, rolled up ham, chorizo slices, crackers, and some sliced vegetables)
- Steak with Greek salad and sweet potato fries
- Garlic butter steak bites with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli
- Sausages with mashed potato and corn on the cob
- Sausage, sauteed onion and ketchup on a slice of bread (this is something we call a Sausage Sizzle in Australia!)
- Loaded hotdogs (try adding grated cheese, sauteed onion, crispy bacon, guac, corn chips, diced tomatoes, roasted red pepper strips, or anything else you can think of – the sky’s the limit, and it can be a great way to clear out the fridge)
- Steak strips with diced tomatoes, sliced avocado, grated cheese and tortilla quarters (the finger food-nature of this is appealing for my kids)
- Chilli cheese dogs (I use kransky sausages from the deli, heat up a can of chili, and add a handful of grated cheese to make this super simple)
- Roasted red pepper bruschetta (Toasted bread with pesto dip spread on top, with strips of roasted red peppers and a sprinkle of feta or parmesan)
- Easy chicken parmigiana (My mother in law came up with this! Place a layer of frozen chicken tenders in a baking dish, pour a jar of pasta sauce on top, and sprinkle mozzarella liberally over that. Bake until it’s bubbly and the cheese is melted)
- Oven-bake chicken pies with tater tots (I use pies from the freezer section)
- Chicken BLTs (chicken tenderloins, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo in toasted Turkish rolls)
- Turkey burgers with guac (mix ground turkey with some minced garlic, diced onion, grated zucchini and parmesan, and pan-fry or bake)
- Chicken patties with salad (mix ground chicken with diced onions, garlic, sweet chilli sauce and grated carrots, and pan-fry or bake)
- Creamy pasta with chorizo/sausage and red onion (equal parts cream and parmesan make a deliciously simple cream sauce for pasta)
- Corn chip-crumbed chicken tenderloins in wraps with cheese, lettuce and tomato (to crumb the tenderloins I mix a packet of taco seasoning with a little tub of sour cream, coat the tenderloins, then roll them in crushed corn chips and bake in the oven)
- Steak burritos with Mexican rice, cheese and pico (we season the steak with all-purpose seasoning, and throw diced onions, diced peppers, black beans and jar salsa in the Mexican rice)
- Chicken bruschetta (baked chicken breast coated in Italian herbs, with mozzarella melted on and chopped tomatoes and herbs spread on top)
- Fried rice (I use whatever meat/veggies I find in the fridge, sautee for a few minutes, then add pre-cooked rice – brown or white is fine – and squirt in sweet soy sauce/kecap manis to taste)
- Nachos (This is my go-to method for throwing together chicken nachos, but if you have cheese, salsa and some kind of protein to throw on, you’re good to go!)
- Vietnamese chicken rolls (I use rotisserie chicken, and make a dressing of 1/3 cup lemon juice, 2tbs fish sauce, 2tbs sweet soy sauce, 2 tsp caster sugar and some chopped scallions. Then I put it in crusty rolls with sliced red pepper, cilantro leaves, sliced cucumber and diced red chili pepper – for those who can handle the spice!)
- Sausage and pepper tray bake (I slice sausages, red peppers and red onion, toss them with a splash of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and crushed garlic, then bake on a tray)
- Brinner (“breakfast for dinner” – think eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast)
- Ground beef tacos (with lettuce, tomato and cheese)
- Chicken tacos (with coleslaw, guac and cheese)
- Fish tacos (with coleslaw, canned corn and cheese)
- Chicken enchiladas
- Mexican rice
- Thai red/green curry
- Marinated chicken skewers with salad and sweet potato chips (I buy the marinated skewers from the store)
- Beef burgers (buy pre-formed burger patties or make your own)
- Chicken schnitzel burgers (buy pre-made schnitzel patties)
Easy, but some technique required
- Mac’n’cheese (I make a roux, add a bunch of grated cheese, and add bacon and italian seasoning to it)
- Creamy tortellini pasta bake (I make a roux, add grated cheese, and mix it with tortellini, broccoli florets, crispy bacon and frozen peas. Sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan on top and bake till it’s bubbly and golden.
- Chicken schnitzel with broccoli, mashed potatoes and corn cobs (I bread my own chicken by coating in seasoned flour, then dipping in lightly beaten egg, then coating in breadcrumbs)
- Breaded lamb cutlets with frozen oven-bake fries and steamed broccoli (I bread the same way as I do with chicken schnitzel, but I also add parmesan and chopped chives to the breadcrumbs)
I was inspired to put together this blog post after reading my friend Erica’s list of her kids’ favourite foods. Be sure to check it out for even more awesome family-friendly weeknight dinner ideas.
And if all else fails, you know what friend? A good old bowl of cereal for dinner once in a while never hurt anyone!
What are some of your family’s favourite weeknight dinners? I’m always looking for ideas to add to my phone list. Please (pretty pretty please!) let me know in the comments.
Looking for more kid-friendly recipes?
Please check out these healthy recipes with hidden veggies (perfect for fussy kids!)
And these 65+ nourishing weekday breakfasts are super family-friendly (not to mention totally delicious!)