5 of My Fastest, Favorite Go-To Family Dinners

Dinner prep—more precisely, how to get food everyone will eat on the table before someone calls for take-out—has been a popular topic of texting for a bunch of my favorite lady friends. Two of them love to cook—we’re talking company-worthy stuff, often from recipes. Two of them don’t.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I have loads of cookbooks and a degree in nutrition. I have made a career of writing about food and I love to try new recipes when I have time and energy. More and more, it’s not often that I have both these resources at the same time. But I do make a (healthy) dinner every night. Mostly because I rely on rotation of trusty non-recipe recipes (and lots of eggs, canned beans and tomatoes and pre-chopped veggies). Of this, I am not ashamed.

I want to empower people to grab easy ingredients and simply mix them together to get dinner done.

To that end, here are five of my favorite fastest dinners I serve most often in winter. (If I mention amounts of ingredients, they’re for a family of four—or rather my family of four, which includes two little kids, one of whom eats like an adult.) I almost always serve all of these with a big green salad—which usually only the adults eat.

Dinner #1: Omelets + Roasted Broccoli + Whole-Grain Toast

I crack 7 eggs and pour the mixture out in three rounds. The kids share one made with full-fat cheddar. Olin (my husband) and I get our own, made with reduced-fat cheddar (you might think that’s gross but I don’t notice the difference; all cheese is pre-shredded) and spinach (I don’t even sauté it first).

I buy broccoli florets in a bag from Trader Joe’s, drizzle on olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 375 or 400 degrees (depending on how hungry we are) until it looks sufficiently delicious (~15 to 20 min).

Toast bread and put out butter and avocado as topping options. Serve with ketchup and sriracha, sometimes salsa.

Dinner #2: Salmon + Rice (usually brown or black)/Quinoa/Couscous + Roasted Broccoli/Green Beans/Cauliflower

Sometimes I substitute the salmon (purchased at Trader Joe’s or at Costco, where they sell bags of 6-oz single portions in the freezer section) with chicken or tofu made like this (thanks, Elisa!). Clearly the whole grain (sometimes it’s not even whole) is whatever we feel like making (and hunger level dictates – HANGRY people require couscous) and the vege is whatever we have. Chopped cucumbers (I delegate the cutting to Kai, age almost-five, who loves doing it) and rinsed grape tomatoes work great.

Dinner #3: Pasta e fagioli

OK, this one is sort of a recipe but almost everything comes from cans. Take a pan, pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Saute a ton of garlic (or less if you’re not Italian like we are), dump in a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and spice it up with a little dried oregano and basil, maybe some thyme; bring it to a boil, then simmer it to it it looks kinda thick. At this same time, cook pasta (of a small shape; I buy Ditalini Rigati at—surprise!—Trader Joe’s). Drain cooked pasta and mix it with a can of white bans (rinsed, drained) into the tomatoes. Salt to taste. Add generous amounts of shredded Parm.

Dinner #4: “Penne a la Vodka”

If I were speaking this to you in person, I’d be making air quotes because I often use whole-wheat spirals and never add the vodka. But this family stand-by was inspired by a Kris Carr (love her!) recipe, so I just keep calling it what she did. My simplified version goes like this: throw a handful of cashews in a high-speed blender (or you could use a food processor) with about twice the volume of water until it looks like cream. Heat your favorite jarred marinara in a small pot; pour the cashew cream into the sauce until it’s the color of your standard vodka sauce. Or until it’s a taste you like. Kris Carr stirs in frozen peas and capers. So do I, sometimes, but often, for a little extra protein, I’ll add in frozen edamame (shelled, obviously) instead.

Dinner #5: Rice or “Rice” Bowls

Make any sort of grain, put out some sort of chopped up protein (see Dinner #2), chop whatever vegetables you have handy, dump some shredded cheese and/or slivered almonds, sunflower seeds into small bowls and let your family members fix their own dinners.

Enjoy many more smart ideas about food and family at NicciMicco.com