50 cheat sheet weeknight dinner ideas for busy parents
We all have those days when we're seriously crunched for time but still need to find a way to feed our little ones. Here are 50 recipe ideas from starter to dessert, plus quick snack fixes that will satisfy your hungry kids in less than 15 minutes!
STARTERS - If your kids are starving and starting to get antsy, put these out while you're preparing the main dish:
- Creamy tuna dip: Pour 1 can of water-packed tuna into a mixing bowl and flake with a fork. Add 3 tablespoons plain cream cheese, the juice of 1 lemon and some chiseled chives. Mix well with a fork and serve with crackers or mini bread crisps.
- Express open-faced sammy: Take 1 piece of bakery-style sourdough bread and top with 1 slice of deli ham, a few tomato slices and some grated Swiss cheese. Pop under the broiler to melt the cheese, and you're done!
- Effortless soups: Soup is a great way to start any meal. It's also a good trick that will tame your kids' hunger so they don't overindulge on the heavier stuff. Go ahead and use ready-made soups, but try to pick low-sodium varieties. If the main dish is light, add a sprinkling of grated cheese or a few croutons to bulk it up.
- 2-ingredient ham & cheese roll-ups: Spread herbed cream cheese onto ham slices, roll them up, and serve.
- Ham-wrapped bread dippers and Laughing Cow cheese: Mix together 4 Laughing Cow cheese triangles with 1 plain yogurt in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast bread slices, and cut them into bread fingers. Wrap each one in a small piece of shaved deli ham. Serve the ham-wrapped bread fingers with the cheesy yogurt mixture for dipping.
- Stuffed tomatoes: Slice off the top quarter of each tomato and set aside. Hollow out the tomatoes, and stuff with a seasoned mixture of tuna and cooked wild rice. Put the tops back on, and serve.
- Finger food ham & cheese omelet: Break the eggs in a bowl, add some grated cheese and 1 tablespoon ketchup. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour in a hot skillet on high, then immediately lower the heat to cook through. Break up the omelet into bite-size pieces to serve.
- Pigs in a blanket: You'll need 1 puff pastry crust, 1 package of cocktail wieners and 1 egg for coating. Roll each cocktail wiener in a piece of puff pastry, and brush with the egg, lightly beaten. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 °F.
- Tuna turnovers: Combine 1 can of flaked tuna with cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon ketchup, and mix well. Spread out 1 puff pastry crust on a clean work surface and using a round-rimmed glass, cut out circles 5 to 6 centimeters in diameter. Place 1 spoonful of the tuna mixture onto each circle, fold over, and seal the edges. Brush each with 1 beaten egg, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 °F.
- Savory Mediterranean mug cake: Crack 1 whole egg into a mug, and beat it with a fork. Stir in 2 tablespoons milk and 2 tablespoons plain yogurt. Add 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix well. Then fold in a handful of feta cubes and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and place the mug in the microwave for about 2 minutes on maximum power.
- Easy Caprese skewers: Make this easy appetizer by threading cherry tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls onto wooden skewers in alternating order. Drizzle with a dash of balsamic vinaigrette to serve.
MAINS - You and your kids will love these no-fuss, delicious meals:
- Soft-boiled eggs: If you served a filling appetizer, keep dinner on the light side with soft-boiled eggs. 3 minutes in boiling water is all it takes! Serve with toasted bread fingers for dipping.
- Tortilla pizza: Spread a bit of tomato sauce on a flour tortilla. Add some tomato slices, a grated four-cheese blend or a few cubes of fresh Mozzarella and some chopped cooked chicken. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 °F until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
- Speedy cheesy pasta casserole: Cook a short pasta of your choice to al dente (rotini, serpentini, or even wavy egg noodles). Drain and pour them into a casserole dish. Add diced ham and 2 tablespoons ketchup. Mix well. Sprinkle grated Cheddar cheese on top, and bake for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
- Fish parcels: Cut out rectangles from a sheet of parchment paper to make little parcels. Place your kids' favorite fish fillets in the center of each parcel. Add a drizzle of olive oil, 1 sliced tomato and mixed herbs (thyme, parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, etc.) Close the parcels, and seal the edges. Cook in the oven at 400 °F for 18-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
- Microwave "Baked" eggs: In individual ramekins, place 1 slice of ham cut into thin strips, and add 1 whole egg + 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Season with salt, and add a sprinkling of grated Swiss cheese. Cook in the microwave for 1 to 3 minutes on high.
- 5-minute sandwich wraps: Spread your wrap of choice on a clean work space. Spread with 1 Laughing Cow cheese triangle. Add a few tomato and cucumber slices and a handful of grated carrots. Top with cooked chicken pieces or ham cubes and a drizzle of olive oil. Roll up, cut in half, and serve.
- Instant mashed potatoes with Turkey dogs: Whip up a packet of instant mashed potatoes, and add some grated cheese and garlic powder for more flavor. Top with 1 cooked turkey dog and a bit of ketchup. Make the dish animated by shaping the hot dog into a mouth and using the ketchup to make the eyes and hair.
- Grilled cheese: This one is always a hit with the kids and comes together in no time. Spread some butter on two slices of sandwich bread. Place one or two slices of your kids' favorite cheese between the non-buttered sides of the bread. Heat a skillet lightly coated with cooking spray on medium heat. Cook the sandwich for a few minutes on each side, and serve.
- Pasta/rice salad: To save time, cook some rice or al dente pasta the night before. The next day, add quartered tomatoes, cheese cubes, some tuna/diced ham/grilled chicken, corn, etc. Fill the salad with whatever your little ones desire, and toss with an Italian vinaigrette or low-fat Ranch dressing.
- Creamy chicken escalopes: Cook chicken escalopes in a skillet on high heat for a few minutes, flipping once or twice. Lower the heat, and add some heavy cream. Heat until chicken is cooked through, then season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice or pasta on the side.
- Skillet burger: Toast burger buns in the oven for a few minutes. Cook hamburgers in the skillet to well-done. Garnish the burgers with cheese, tomatoes, red onions, ketchup, mustard, etc.
- Homemade chicken nuggets: Cut up boneless, skinless chicken breasts into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Soak the chicken in 1 beaten egg, then coat with breadcrumbs. Cook in a fryer, if you have one, or in the skillet with hot oil, until the nuggets are cooked through and golden brown.
- Ham, cheese & egg crepes: Make buckwheat crepes ahead of time, by combining buckwheat flour with eggs, vegetable oil, milk, water and salt. Cook over medium-high heat, working with 1/4 cup of batter each time. Flip once, until both sides are golden brown. Stack between sheets of plastic wrap, then cover and chill. When ready to use, heat the crepe in a skillet and top with 1 slice of ham. Break 1 egg on top of the ham, and let the whites cook until set. Add a sprinkling of grated cheese and fold the crepe over like you would an omelet. Serve immediately.
- Chicken skewers: Marinate prepared chicken skewers in a mixture of garlic, cilantro, lemon juice and soy sauce for about 15 minutes. Cook in the skillet for 2 to 3 minutes on all sides. Serve on a bed of rice.
- Ballpark hot dog: Boil the hot dogs for about 12 minutes. Heat the hot dog buns in the toaster or in the oven on low heat. Once warmed, fill with the cooked hot dogs, and top with ketchup, mustard and relish. Serve with chips on the side.
- Speedy Spaghetti Carbonara: While the spaghetti is cooking, brown some bacon cubes in the skillet. Once cooked, stir in heavy cream, and let heat for a few minutes. Drain the pasta and mix it with the creamy bacon mixture. Serve.
DESSERTS - If your kids have a little sweet tooth after dinner, here are some ideas that will make you their dessert hero.
- Yogurt special: 1 yogurt + seasonal fruits + 1 crumbled cookie.
- Chocolate supreme: Chocolate pudding + M&M's.
- French toast: Soak a few slices of stale bread in a mixture of 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar and 1 drop of vanilla extract. Cook in a buttered skillet for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
- Chocolate mug cake: Put 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons chocolate chips in a mug. Melt in the microwave. Stir and add 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 whole egg. Mix well, and microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds on high power.
- Fruit skewers: Cut up fruits into small cubes, depending on what you have on hand. Alternate the fruit pieces on wooden skewers. Melt a few squares of chocolate in the microwave (starting with 1 minute, then 30-second intervals). Either dip the skewers in the chocolate fondue or drizzle it directly onto the fruits.
- Applesauce makeover: 1 apple sauce + crumbled graham crackers.
- Crepes: 1 ready-made crepe reheated in the skillet, spread with a layer of Nutella and topped with sliced banana.
- Makeshift cheesecake muffins: Crumble graham crackers into individual muffin cups. Top with cream cheese mixed with lemon juice, and top with 1 teaspoon strawberry jam.
- Express poached pairs: Peel 1 ripe pear, and coat it in melted chocolate. For a crunchy finish, sprinkle on crushed nuts or crushed graham crackers.
- Easy-peasy fruit salad: Pull together a mix of your kids' favorite fruits: banana, kiwi, apples, etc. Peel and chop the fruits into small pieces. Sprinkle with a spoonful of sugar, and serve.
- Banana split: This is a classic we all grew up with. 1 banana cut in half lengthwise + scoops of ice cream + melted chocolate + unlimited whipped cream.
- Frozen strawberry yogurt: Pour 1 plain or Greek yogurt into a blender with 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix until the preparation thickens and takes on the consistency of frozen yogurt. Divide up, and serve with Piroulines (rolled cookies).
- 5-minute profiteroles: Buy some prepared sugar puffs at the local bakery or bakery section of your grocery store. Cut off the tops of the puffs and set aside. Top each puff with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, replace the tops, and coat with melted chocolate.
- Chocolate banana boat: Cut a slit in 1 banana lengthwise, with the skin on. Slip chocolate squares into the crevice, then wrap the banana in aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 °F. The banana will be softened and draped in melted chocolate.
- Greek yogurt pops: Pour Greek yogurt into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons strawberry jam or any other flavors your kids prefer. Mix well. Pour the preparation into 3-ounce paper cups, and put a wooden popsicle stick or spoon into each. Place the yogurt pops into the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
SNACKS - If your kids are hungry after school, here are some snack ideas that will tide them over until dinnertime.
- Strawberry milkshakes: Pour 3 plain yogurts, frozen strawberries, ice cubes, 6 scoops of strawberry ice cream and a bit of sugar into a blender. Mix until smooth, divide up evenly and serve with a straw.
- Fruit surprise: Strawberries, bananas, whatever you have on hand at home—wash and slice them if necessary, then dip in melted chocolate and again in a bowl of rainbow-colored sprinkles. Let sit for 15 to 30 minutes in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.
- Chocolate dessert roses: Melt 1 2/3 cups chocolate in the microwave (1 minute to start, then in 30-second intervals). Pour over 1 1/2 cups unsweetened corn flakes in a mixing bowl. Lightly toss to coat the corn flakes in the melted chocolate, and shape them into little bundles. Let sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes until firm.
- Dessert parfait: 1 layer of your kids' favorite cereal + 1 layer of yogurt + a few pieces of cut-up fruit.
- Chocolate banana open-faced sandwich: 1 slice of toasted sandwich bread + 1 layer of Nutella + sliced banana
- Homemade popcorn: Heat oil, salt and popcorn kernels in a large saucepan on medium heat. Cover, leaving the top slightly hanging off to vent the pan and let steam escape. Wait until the popping has slowed almost completely. Remove from heat, add butter, seasonings or any other toppings your kids might like.
- Mango Lassi: Your kids will love the taste of this popular Indian smoothie recipe. Add 1 Greek yogurt and 1 diced mango (extremely ripe) to a blender. Toss in a few tablespoons of sugar and some ice cubes. Process until smooth.
- Ice cream cone: For when they've been really good, spoil your little ones with a cone filled with one or two scoops of their favorite ice cream.
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Chef Tips and Tricks
These Zebra Muffins are adorable and delicious!
- Olive Oil
- Baking Powder
- Separate egg whites from yolk
- Whisk egg whites then add sugar, then set aside
- Put egg yolks in another bowl and whisk with sugar
- Mix in olive oil and milk
- Add whipped egg whites and fold into mixture with a spatula
- Divide into two new bowls
- Pour cocoa powder into one bowl and vanilla extra into the other
- Put vanilla mixture into each well of muffin tin
- Add a smaller layer of the cocoa mixture.
- Keep layering then top with the smallest layer of vanilla
- Put in oven and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees