Dinner on the Run
Quick, healthful dinners when you have no time
by June Santini
(With snarky commentary by Debra Ross.)
We’ve all been there: The kids have to be at their next activity in 20 minutes, and you have to find something for them to eat. If you’re one of those uber-planning moms, you have a menu made out 30 days in advance, color-coordinated with the kids' schedules so that you know which nights you need to have something ready in the crock pot and which nights you can spend a little more time cooking something nice.
I am not one of those moms. First, I detest the crock-pot.
[Note from KOAA's publisher, Debra Ross: I feel compelled to break in here. June, how can you SAY this?]
For people who like to cook, the crock-pot is anathema.
[Another note from publisher: I like to cook and I love my crock pot.]
It is for lazy cooks who aren’t really interested in making a high-quality dinner [Tread carefully, June! You're on thin ice!], they just want something which takes no effort and will provide something relatively palatable to fill their family’s bellies.
[Or maybe they're trying to run a nationwide web publishing company and yet still trying to cook wholesome food for their families from scratch. Ever think of that? Hmmm?]
Second, I am a busy, working mom/grandmother who often only thinks vaguely about what I’m going to cook until I actually walk into the kitchen. But, I do find myself with the need sometimes to fill up the family quickly while avoiding take-out or frozen, processed food.
So here are my strategies:
- Have a well-stocked pantry. If you have chicken stock, pasta, rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, and a few key frozen vegetables, you can whip something yummy out with whatever you’ve got in the fridge.
- Make extra. It's simple enough, and you can easily make this strategy work for you. For instance, if you’re going to roast a chicken for dinner, roast two. Shred the meat from the second one and keep it in the fridge for a day or two. You can make many different kinds of soup from it as well as chicken tacos, chicken salad, chicken chili, chicken pot pie, and so much more.
- Make it portable. If you keep some foil wrappers, bento boxes, or even disposable take-out containers (look for them at a restaurant supply store), you can easily pack up a dinner for the kids to eat on the run. And it’s so much better than takeout.
Here are some of my go-to recipes:
Chicken tortilla soup:
- 1 rotisserie chicken, meat taken off the bone
- 1 16-ounce jar salsa
- 1 onion, chipped
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 32 ounce carton chicken stock
- 1 16 ounce can kidney, pinto, cannellini, or great northern beans.
- Tortilla chips or strips. (I cut corn tortillas into strips and fry them in a little oil.)
- Shredded cheese
- Diced avocado, optional
Saute onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil until soft. Add chicken, salsa, stock, and beans and simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Serve with tortilla strips, cheese, and avocado.
A panini press is a great addition to your kitchen equipment. If you don't have one, wrap a brick in foil and use that to weigh down your panini.
Pull out what you've got hanging around in the fridge: leftover meat, any cheese that will melt nicely, some tomatoes, leftover vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, carmelized onions, tapenade, that half a jar of roasted red peppers, pickles, sweet onion, mayo, either plain or mixed with herbs or chipotle chilis.
Then, have each kid assemble their own (yes, even if it is just ham and cheese), then spread the bread with butter or spray with cooking spray.
Grill it, and dinner is done: hot, nutritious, and portable.
The first thing you need to do is to put the pan of water on to boil. Always do that first; you can get the rest of the sauce done while you're waiting. The whole thing shouldn't take more than twenty minutes.
First, drizzle some olive oil in a saute pan. Add some garlic and some minced onions. Then, throw in whatever veggies you have on hand. Frozen, sliced leeks make a good base, peas, corn, zuchinni, broccoli, and asparagus are all good choices. Then, you can finish it with a can of tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) or some cream. Top with parmesan and a smattering of whatever fresh herbs you have around. Yum! And kids love pasta!
[One last note from publisher-and-crockpot-aficionado Debra Ross: Okay, June. I think you've redeemed yourself. You're not fired.]
Dear Deb, you can't fire me. I own part of the company.
© 2014, KidsOutAndAbout.com
June Santini is Vice President of Operations of KidsOutAndAbout.com.