According to Cozi, about one-third of U.S. families have children under the age of 18 and in 70% of those households, both parents work at least part-time. You probably didn’t need to hear those statistics to know just how busy your days already are.
Between work, chauffeuring kids to practice, running a household and all the other little tasks that make up a day, figuring out how to get dinner on the table can be a real challenge. On top of that, the last thing you want to do is hit the fast food drive throughs more than once a week. Not to mention, eating out is pretty expensive, even if you try your best to eat off the value menus.
Fortunately, there are some cheap and easy dinners you can throw together or have on hand to satisfy even the hungriest and pickiest eaters in your household.
Fortunately, you can cook pasta noodles a day ahead of time, so if you know you’re going to be running all day Monday, you can cook the noodles on Sunday. To make sure they don’t get “sticky”, cook as normal, rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking further and then add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
Set out pasta and toppings such as:
- Fresh broccoli, peas and carrot slices
- Alfredo and Pasta sauces (jarred ones are fine, just pay attention to ingredients and choose the healthiest possible
- Serve with packaged rolls to save time
- Bagged salad makes a nice side
You can get this meal out in about five minutes. If you use whole wheat pasta, you’ll up the fiber more.
Grill Ahead Chicken
Chicken is a nice staple for a meal. It provides protein and is lean. You have a couple of options to create a fast meal. You can either grill chicken ahead (it will keep 2 or 3 days) or you can purchase precooked frozen chicken that can be warmed in the oven or microwave.
You can serve this meal over and over and make it different each time by:
- Drizzling with olive oil and seasonings
- Topping with Monterrey cheddar, bacon and tomatoes
- Topping with any cheese
- Adding a sauce, such as Alfredo
- Chopping into pieces and adding to leftover pasta from the pasta bar above
Better than Drive Through Burritos and Tacos
Most families enjoy Mexican food at least once or twice a month because it is a cheap and fast meal to put together. Fortunately, you have several options that will allow you to throw together burritos in minutes. These filling bundles will keep your family well fed for the rest of that night.
- Buy precooked taco meat from the store. This is available over by the precooked mashed potatoes and other meal items. Simply heat and eat.
- Cook your own taco meat and freeze ahead. Simply pull it out and unthaw in the fridge the day before, and then microwave or throw into a skillet to reheat. In a pinch, I’ve been known to thaw in the microwave as well, but I do try to limit that as it can toughen the meat.
- Open a can of black beans and set out sides of cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce and other items and let everyone create their own taco or burrito.
- Use leftover chicken, steak or pork for fillings.
Even if you want to just cook some taco meat from scratch, you should be able to brown the ground beef, add taco seasoning and simmer in less than 30 minutes. While the meat is simmering, pull out your bagged shredded lettuce, cheese and shells.
Summer can be just as busy as the school year, especially if you work outside the home. Salads are an excellent and light go-to for hot summer days. The key to getting the family excited about salad is allowing them to put together their own favorite mix.
Use bagged salad and add toppings such as:
- Grape tomatoes
- Whole black olives (be sure to rinse thoroughly)
- Dried cranberries
- Fresh strawberry slices
- Nuts (if no one has an allergy)
- Leftover meats
Want to go all out? Pick up a premixed fruit salad from the grocery the day of this meal and a bag of cooked rolls from the deli.
Yes, I Said Hot Dogs
Okay, now hear me out. Hot dogs may not be the healthiest thing you can feed your family, but there are healthier options out there now, such as Hebrew National kosher hot dogs and hot dogs free of nitrates. I do spend the extra money for these. Expect to pay about double, but it will still be a cheap meal option. If you are a couponer like me, you’ll stock up when they’re on sale and you have a coupon, making them closer to the price of the cheaper hot dogs.
You can throw the whole package into a pot of water, bring to a boil and serve. It takes about 15 minutes at most.
Pair with whole wheat buns or go sans bun to cut the carbs. Offer your family toppings such as fresh shredded coleslaw (available pre-cut and bagged), cheese and condiments.
Healthy side options include pre-made fruit salads, apple slices with natural peanut butter or yogurt.
These five meals will get you through even the most hectic of weeks. While it won’t kill your family or break your budget to hit the occasional drive-through, you’ll also be relieved to know you can get dinner on the table fast when you have to. If your local fast food places are as slow as the ones here, you may even save time in the long run.
Photos used under CCO Public Domain via Pixabay