Easy Family Dinners

Studies have shown, time and again that eating together as a family has multiple benefits for everyone involved(especially children), and not only for nutritional purposes but in many other aspects as well.  According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat several times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home.

At the beginning of every school year, there is the major shift in how our family eats dinner.  Depending on everyone’s weekday schedule, it is a tour de force to work towards having at least one and hopefully two nights that we can sit down as a family and eat together.  Along with the communal dinner, I try to figure out a game plan so the leftovers can then be lunch for everyone the next day or two.  It is a grand plan, but with the help of my trusted crock pot or Dutch oven, I make a worthy effort to make it happen!  There are a few tried and true favorite dinners for our family that I would like to share with you all, and if you have some that you and your family enjoy, please spread the love and send me the recipe so that I don’t end up scouring Pinterest all hours of the night wondering what to make. 

One of the classics that we have on heavy rotation is what we fondly call Chicken Stuff.  It is a versatile little ditty that can be eaten on its own, in a tortilla made into impromptu enchiladas, or scooped up with tortilla chips. Start out the morning around 9:00 a.m. or so tossing a few (maybe 4) frozen chicken breasts into the crock-pot.  Add about a teaspoon of cumin and pour in an entire jar of our favorite salsa.  Cook on high for most of the day, then about an hour before dinner time, turn the crock pot to low, shred the chicken, toss in a can of drained pinto beans and a block of cream cheese.  Mix all those ingredients together, let it cook for about another 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and VIOLA! Dinner is ready!  You can get fancy and add avocado, cilantro or any other ingredient to make it your own.  After dinner, I usually break it down in to lunch sized portions in plastic containers, refrigerate the containers and send to school with our kids the next day with tortillas or chips.  Other variations of crock pot chicken include such as Frank’s hot sauce, a packet of ranch dressing mix and cream cheese; or bar-b-que sauce and pinto beans, just to name a few. Those two chicken variations usually get put on Hawaiian rolls and sent as a school lunch the next day.

On Tuesday nights, if the stars align and everyone is open to having dinner together, we have TACO TUESDAY! It’s a quick and easy dinner to make since all the ingredients are easily packaged and good to go. It’s as simple as browning ground beef and adding the taco seasoning packet.  We get our girls involved on assembling all our favorite toppings while we wait for the taco shells to warm in the oven. Extra taco meat and toppings, plus some lettuce makes a yummy taco salad option the next day for lunch.

Our favorite one pot meal made in the Dutch oven is a Creamy Spinach Lentil Soup that I found on the website www.pinchofyum.com.  The thing I like about this particular blog is that her photos of the foods are great and everything turns out delicious. I made this particular lentil spinach soup this summer after returning from Spain.  It was eaten quickly and has been asked by our youngest daughter to add it to the weekly rotation of dinners (win!).  This will heat easily and be a good lunch too, sent along with a piece of ciabatta bread or crackers.  It can also be made as a vegetarian dish using vegetable broth.

The great thing about these one pot meals and others like them is that the grind of making dinner or deciding what’s for dinner is done earlier in the day when life is fresh and full of possibilities. It’s bliss when everyone returns home in the evening from school and work and your family can enjoy time eating a meal together reflecting on their days activities, even if it’s not every night. Enjoy!