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Easy Dinner Ideas

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If you’re like me, coming up with easy dinner ideas in the summer is simple. In summer, so many peak-season veggies and fruits are delicious raw, or they require little cooking to make them a delicious meal. Once fall arrives, though, my dinner cravings change. I want heartier, warming dishes, but I don’t have the time – or the energy – to spend an hour over the stove each night.

On busy evenings, I have 5 healthy dinner strategies that I turn to:

  1. Make a 30-minute recipe.
  2. Meal prep something that will keep well on the weekend, and enjoy it all week.
  3. Batch cook and freeze freezer-friendly recipes to reheat on busy nights.
  4. Have a bunch of prepped components in the fridge to mix & match into flavorful meals.
  5. Make one of my standby no-recipe easy dinner ideas.

If you’re looking for some new easy dinner ideas this fall, read more about these strategies below. Plus, find recipes to guide you along the way!





1. Make any of these 30-minute dinner recipes.

Nothing beats a good weeknight dinner recipe, one that comes together from start to finish in 30 minutes or less. These quick dinner ideas pack a punch of flavor despite their short cooking time and without any extensive meal prep. If you’re someone who enjoys cooking at the end of a long day or who wants to eat something different each night of the week, this strategy is a great one. I do recommend choosing weeknight dinner recipes ahead of time, so you know you’ll have the ingredients on hand when you’re ready to cook. Here are some of my favorite quick dinner recipes:


Easy dinner ideas







2. Meal prep dinner recipes that keep well ahead of time.

Certain dinner recipes keep well in the fridge for a few days, and some, like most soups, even improve as their flavor develops. I love making a big batch of soup for the week ahead on a Sunday, and veggie patties keep and reheat well too. The same goes for meaty, saucy jackfruit – I like to make it ahead to stuff into tacos or sandwiches throughout the week!


Healthy dinner recipes


3. Batch cook freezer-friendly dinner recipes ahead of time, and freeze them.

When you have a busy schedule, using your freezer is one of the best ways to prioritize eating healthily. Thawing a frozen slice of lasagna or big bowl of chili is cheaper and healthier than ordering takeout, and it’s just as good. When you cook a pot of soup or bake a lasagna, make a double batch, and freeze the leftovers in individual portions for quick healthy dinners on nights when you don’t have time, or you’re just not in the mood, to cook. Make sure to allow your food to cool to room temperature before covering it and freezing it in freezer-safe containers (I like these).


Easy Dinner Recipes


4. Have prepped sauces or grains on hand to inspire creative healthy dinner ideas!

I like to think of this strategy as “component cooking,” and it’s a great way to go if you don’t want to eat the same thing every night of the week. On Sunday, prep components from each of the categories below:

  1. Roasted or grilled vegetables
  2. A starch or grain. Pasta, tortillas, cooked quinoa, brown rice, cilantro lime rice, or even cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, or roasted spaghetti squash work here.
  3. A protein like roasted or cooked chickpeas, black beans, white beans, baked tofu, or eggs.
  4. A good sauce – Think tzatzikicilantro lime dressingchipotle sauce, pesto, etc.
  5. Flavorful extras – Cheese, olives, capers, nuts, avocado, or pickled vegetables like kimchi, jalapeños, or onions add great flavors and textures!

Prep components for a single recipe and assemble it at dinnertime throughout the week, or mix and match components into a different dish each night! For example, if you make roasted cauliflower and chipotle sauce over the weekend, you can top them onto quinoa bowls on Monday and Tuesday, and then stuff them into tacos or lettuce wraps later in the week.

Example component recipes:


Easy dinner ideas


5. Learn how to come up with easy dinner ideas using what you have.

While I encourage you to try new healthy dinner ideas, know that it’s good to have a few quick standards to rely on. With a few tried-and-true quick dinner ideas, you can figure out how to mix and match leftover or fresh components in your fridge to make a yummy, healthy meal. Here are a few of my favorite no-recipe easy dinner ideas:

  • Stuff leftover ingredients into quesadillas with avocado or guacamole and salsa.
  • Toss pasta with sautéed or roasted veggies, cheese, and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Use a leftover grain to make fried rice.
  • Make a frittata with leftover roasted vegetables or any fresh vegetables in the fridge.
  • Simmer a simple pot of many-veggie soup made with whatever veggies you have on hand.
  • Make a classic grilled cheese, dressed up with green harissa or whatever sauce you have on hand.
  • Bake a sweet potato and stuff it with a fun, flavorful veggie filling and quick sauce!


Easy Dinner Ideas


Do you have any go-to easy dinner ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Easy Dinner Ideas: Herb & Garlic Mushroom Pasta

 

Author:

Recipe type: main dish

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 16 ounces cremini mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
  • 8 ounces spaghetti, plus ⅓ cup reserved pasta water
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup dry white wine (such as chardonnay or pinot grigio)
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup cashew cream (recipe below)
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh tarragon
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh chives
  • ⅓ cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅓ cup raw cashews + ½ cup water (or heavy cream)
  • ½ clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon dijon mustard
  • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
  1. Make the cashew cream by blending all ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth. Set aside. (note: it’s not going to be very thick, it should be the consistency of half & half or heavy cream).
  2. In a large pan heat the olive oil oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, a few generous pinches of salt and pepper, and cook until soft and wilted, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 12 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water 1 minute short of the package directions, until al dente. Reserve ⅓ cup of the starchy pasta water before draining.
  4. To the mushrooms, add the wine. Stir and let it reduce for 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the garlic, then the cooked pasta and toss. Add a few splashes of the cashew cream and a few splashes of the pasta water and toss to create a light sauce. Add half of the fresh herbs and season to taste. Serve immediately with remaining fresh herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top.
Heavy cream can be used in place of the cashew cream.

To make this vegan, skip the cheese and and serve with a few drizzles of balsamic vinegar.

Change up the herbs: rosemary and/or sage would be delicious here, but add those heartier herbs to the pan as you add the mushrooms so that they’ll cook more than the softer herbs.

3.4.3177

 

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Vegetarian Recipes

CAULIFLOWER BOLOGNESE

“I want you to come watch the movie with us ON the couch, not be in the kitchen!”

I’ve been filling out this one-question-a-day journals for moms that I received for Christmas. It records a little thought or memory over the last year, and then starts again, so you can see how your answers change over a few years. One of the recent ones, prompted me to jot notes about what I am learning as a mom, and I found the question so general I was basically annoyed. I am a romantic, and also wildly pragmatic. In the span of a day I can tear up over the depths of love I feel for my kids, and also wish for them to have a mute button. We all have worlds within us; mothering pushing me into the corners of myself I am sometimes proud of or other corners ashamed of, but am I learning? Yes, every single day. Sometimes in the moment and other times after a particular season. But in 2021, my answer in the bullet journal was that I see my kids are wanting me to play with them. They aren’t registering all the service and shuttling and laundry and what it takes to pull off a week, they just want to play WITH me. It’s natural for me to move within lists and tasks and responsibilities and hustling, but playing is something I have to pay attention to. For them and for me. We usually do a family movie on Friday nights and my son (6.5), see quote above, pointed out that I don’t actually watch the movie, I tinker in the kitchen and he wants me in the couch cuddle. Flattered, and found out that I’d rather make granola than watch The Croods 🙂 So from annoyed, to passing on the question to fellow parents, what are you learning? Try not to be annoyed. Maybe circle back to it.

I published this recipe over on SKCC a few weeks ago and wanted it to live here. We’re trying to find more family-friendly vegetarian recipes (it’s easy for me to fill up on roasted veggies and big salads, not so much for the kids). This batch lasts us two meals – once with noodles, maybe half zoodles, and the second round on toast or english muffins with cheese melted on top, like a pizza sort of thing? It freezes well and is great to deliver to new parents.

CAULIFLOWER BOLOGNESE

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion – roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 head of cauliflower (about ¾ lb. or 12 oz. riced)
1/2 cup of raw walnuts pieces
1/2 tsp. of Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. of fennel seeds – crushed
2 Tbsp. of tomato paste
2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of red wine (or broth of any sort, and double the vinegar to mimic the wine’s acidity)
28 oz. of canned, crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup of red lentils
red pepper flake to taste

For serving

12 oz. of pasta or choice, zoodles, etc.
parmesan
fresh, torn basil

Directions

In a large Dutch-oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.

In a food processor, pulse the onion and garlic into smaller bits. Add them to the pot with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté to soften, about 3 minutes.

Pulse up the cauliflower florets to get a rice-like texture. Add the riced-cauliflower to the pot and sauté to soften, about 5 minutes.

Pulse the walnuts in the processor and add those to the pot along with the Italian seasoning, fennel seed, another few generous pinches of salt and pepper, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. Sauté until fragrant.

Add the red wine, cook about 3 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, ½ cup water, lentils, pinch of pepper flakes and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low, put the cover ajar and let it simmer gently for 30-35 minutes. Turn off the heat, taste for seasoning and adjust.

Cook your pasta or zoodles according to instructions. Top with cauli Bolognese, grated cheese, fresh basil and enjoy!

The Bolognese will keep in the fridge for a week and can be frozen for a few months.

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