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January 14, 2013

Easy family dinners

I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, I have to admit. But I LOVE the possibility that the start of a new year brings. Magically, with the turn of a page on the calendar, the slate is clean and we can start fresh. Don’t you wish we could be in this mental state more than one time a year?

I do.

One thing I’m working on for 2013 is making better family dinners. Meaning dinners that the kids will eat and we will eat, even if we don’t do it together nearly enough. Sara and I were discussing the importance of actually planning meals and ingredients ahead of time, and it has me motivated to put a little more effort into that part of our life again. I know I never wrote the post on what it was (and is) like to become a family of four, but you can probably guess by my lack of posting that it’s been a wee bit challenging. My friend Jessica and I, who have kids who are exactly the same age, call those early days and months “the dark ages”. Need I say more?

But thanks to the new year, we’re having a bit of a Renaissance around our house. Things are brighter, and easier, and more fun. And part of that is knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner, instead of frantically throwing something together 10 minutes before the kids need to eat. The key right now is that I know Dashiell will eat it (mostly), that I can grind it up for Forrest, and that Brock and I will also actually enjoy it once they’re both happily asleep.

Here are some of my go-tos:

Red lentil soup – popularized in our house when Jora made it for lunch at her house a year ago. It’s delicious, flexible, fast, and with very little thought, you can always have the ingredients on hand. I make it a point to keep a jar of tomato paste, dry red lentils and a few onions in stock at all times.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce (with pasta) – Again insanely delicious, especially for it’s simplicity and ease to prepare. I always have at least one can of San Marzano tomatoes in the cupboard for just this recipe. We eat it with pasta, a veg and a crunchy kale salad, or just by the spoonful.

Spaghetti Squash casserole – I use the basic recipe from True Food Kitchen, but instead of a can of pureed tomatoes, use Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce! Makes it extra yum. Plus I throw in extra veggies or even tofu, if I want to get crazy. This was actually Forrest’s first non-baby food and he literally scarfed it down. (More on feeding the second baby in a later post. Hopefully?) Last night I made it with bits of kale and since I didn’t have enough mozzarella on hand, I filled it out with cheddar. Flexibility is the key here ’cause I can’t always be driving to the store when I’m missing one measly ingredient.

Taco bar – Which entails a giant pot of homemade beans, corn tortillas, a crispy cabbage salad and whatever toppings we have on hand. Salsa, guac, cheese, and cilantro are actually plenty for a yummy dinner. (This doesn’t work quite as well for Forrest, but he doesn’t mind mashed up beans with some seasoning.)

Melanie’s Tortilla Soup – Easy as pie to prepare, especially if I have left over pinto beans on hand (though canned works fine too). Meets all criteria, especially the kid one. They both love it.

Quinoa Cakes – I make these all the time and it turns out that once you have the basic binding ingredients down, you can use whatever you want to fill it out. I’ve used brown rice when I didn’t have any quinoa ready. I’ve add bits of kale or chard, cooked lentils, different cheeses, kernels of fresh corn, peas… really it’s very flexible. The kids eat them alone (I pick one apart for little Forr, since he doesn’t have any teeth just yet), and we usually eat them with a salad. I like leftovers for lunch with avocado and fresh mint on the side.

Homemade pizza (using Blake’s secret crust recipe) – I probs don’t need to really ‘splain this one much. Pizza = delish for everyone. Except Forrest. Admittedly we haven’t made it in the last month or so since he starting eating real food, but if he’s anything like his brother and my husband, it’s only a matter time.

Now I want to hear what you all make for your families. As you can see, we could use a few more options. Any must-trys? Would love a good enchilada recipe, if anyone has one.

Do share!


  1. Jessica said on January 14, 2013

    Lately I’ve been doing…

    Salmon with a spicy rub, roasted potatoes and rainbow chard (not too exciting)

    Turkey chili and baked potatoes

    Marinated flank steak with creamy polenta and greens

    Whole roast chicken with roasted veggies, then use the stock to make this-

    Salmon nicoise salad.

    Oh and I make that Marcella sauce all the time too
    I need more ideas too, usually with pasta and spicy turkey sausage.

    Great post! P.S. I love you blog :)

  2. Jessica said on January 14, 2013

    obv made a typo there… I mashed up I need more ideas with and / usually with spicy sausage. Whoops!

  3. Kristen M. said on January 14, 2013

    Our week is sort of a rotation of the following: bean burrito bar, pasta with homemade sauce plus eggplant or chicken, homemade pizza, Asian night (rice, salmon, edamame, asian salad), veggie burgers and dogs with sides, soup and paninis and repeat. Trying to incorporate some new recipes with varied success…two hungry adults, one slightly adventurous child and one, oh-my-goodness-how-do-you-survive? eater. Would love some recipe sharing. I tend to plan around themes…Italian, pizza, egg dish, soup, Asian, etc. to give me a plan but some freedom to try something new.

  4. Melanie said on January 14, 2013

    i have not mastered cooking for all of us, but L’s palate is expanding rapidly so i have hope. casserole in queue!

  5. kara said on January 14, 2013

    These look delish and I cant wait to try them! One of my go to dinners is kale pasta– lots of kale cooked with a little bit of Italian sausage (and red pepper flakes for me) dumped over pasta. Sometimes I make it fancier with onions or tomatoes or garlic, but 99% of the time I just keep to the simplest version and it is great.

  6. liz said on January 15, 2013

    Have you seen the cookbook Feeding the Whole Family (Cynthia Lair)? It offers recipes for adult meals, while giving advice about where in the prep process you can stop to set aside a complete meal for kids. Very smart – my go to shower gift.

  7. Sally Meyer said on January 15, 2013

    Oh my gosh! You completely and totally rock! First off, I have to say that I’ve been missing your posts, but totally understand that you have had your hands full. I only have one little guy and I sometimes can’t pull it together. ;) Two, I’ve been starting to post meals on my blog as well and may link to some of yours if you don’t mind…I think it’s a great way to keep up the blog and actually get something productive done at home too! Thanks for sharing…new year, new dawn!

  8. sara said on January 15, 2013

    yessss! love this post.
    i’ve totally been thinking about blake’s pizza crust lately!!
    and this is awesome for meal inspiration because… well… for all the reasons we’ve discussed!!


  9. Shawn said on January 15, 2013

    This recipe is so yummy.
    The short cut version I do is to use the pre-cooked vacuum packed brown rice and lentils from Trader Joe’s. Then I sub in my homemade Marcella sauce for the jarred marinara. I think the filling, minus the outside wrap, would be easy enough for little guys to eat. Give it a try!

  10. Alia said on January 15, 2013

    My family loves my beans and ham and its ridiculously easy.
    Dump 4-5 cans of white kidney beans and a bunch of diced ham in a pot. Cover just barely with water. Add black pepper to taste. Simmer for 30-50 min depending on how many cans you use.
    We eat it by itself or sometimes pored over white rice. You can start with dry beans, but I use canned because Im too busy with other mom stuff. Red kidney beans are good too. Its a flexible recipe LOL!

  11. Jennifer said on January 15, 2013

    I love making soups because I can get them started whenever I can catch some time. We also regularly make carnitas in the crock pot. SO EASY!

    Dark ages indeed. Hoping for some light to shine on many levels as Spring approaches.

  12. allison said on January 16, 2013

    we just tried this weelicious mexican lasagna recipe and it was super easy and so yummy!! i just baked mine in the oven for 30 min at 400 instead of the crockpot like she suggested cuz i was behind the ball by the time i got started on things. ;) i also added black beans. we are def lacking in the feeding baby department though and are only still on bananas. ha! i keep reminding myself of the “food before one is just for fun” motto.

    also…do you give your boys vitamins or immune boosters? if so…could you share your thoughts on that? i’ve got preventative measures on the brain what with everyone and their dog talking about this awful flu season.

  13. christina said on January 16, 2013

    Recently, I made an enchilada soup that I continue to rave over. I’ve made it twice in three days, if that gives any indication of my love for it. It’s creamy, yet cream-less, and deeply satisfying for dreary winter days.

    Posted here:

  14. Kristen said on January 16, 2013

    Would LOVE to hear more about feeding the second baby!!!

  15. Michele said on January 17, 2013

    Yay, so happy to see your post!! Ever since our 1st child was born we’ve felt it was a necessity to meal plan every week. Has changed our lives for the better! So delicious & get to try new things. A couple regulars are the coconut red lentil soup from 101cookbooks (not spicy, served over rice, daughter LOVES it) & turkey veggie chili from weelicious. I don’t always choose things my daughter will like & will cook up some Happy Tots salmon sticks or something like that. Can’t please ‘em every time. Getting trickier to get dinner done w/an infant in the fam now! Tonight was so tough!!

  16. Alison said on January 18, 2013

    Soup is a big one for us. A soup that I love to make on the wknds + have for the week (that the babe loves) is Italian Wedding Soup. I make more than enough chicken meatballs to have some for the soup, plus leftovers for spaghetti + meatballs later in the week: A good cookbook for kids + adults that I have enjoyed (for all things like one-pot lasagne with no cook noodles and easy riffs on risotto) is Tyler Florence’s Start Fresh ( Good, healthy recipes that are made for parents short on time.

  17. cevd said on January 22, 2013

    THANK YOU. NO really. I’ve been wondering about that amazing sauce for ages now.

  18. Giovanna said on January 22, 2013

    Thank you for this post! I’m embarrassed to say that most weeks, we’re down to takeout two nights a week now that we’re ten months into babyland. Good takeout – an organic vegetarian place earlier in the week and brick oven pizza on friday nights, but for financial reasons and the fact that I love cooking, I’m really trying to get back to making dinner every night. On no takeout nights, we do a lot of simple dishes: pasta, quinoa with roasted veggies, mark bittman’s chicken tagine with apricots, seitan tacos, etc., giada’s beet, walnut and avocado salad with goat cheese (so yummy) and lots of soup.

  19. Kate S. said on January 25, 2013

    Two of my favorite “can’t manage to make something fancy” dinners are fried rice and enchiladas. For the rice, I cook a cup of brown rice (you could make a bigger batch and then freeze it in portions). I heat up about a tablespoon of sesame oil in a large saute pan, then add the rice (hot or cold), a few sliced green onions, a large grated carrot about a cup or so of boiled and drained edamame. I mix all of this together, allowing some bits to get just slightly crunchy and the onion to infuse the whole. Then I push all of that around to the sides to create an opening in the center, add a tinge more oil and crack in an egg. I stir this around to scramble it, and when it’s almost all cooked through, I stir the whole lot together and pour over a couple tablespoons of soy sauce to taste. That’s it! It’s yummy cold, as well, and once the rice is cooked the rest of it can be ready in ten minutes.

    My enchiladas are totally bastardized, but here goes: dice up an onion and slice two bell peppers and saute all of it in a bit of oil until it goes soft, then add in a few cloves of minced garlic and continue cooking until fragrant. Then add two cups of black beans, as many sliced black olives as you like (I usually do half a can, or leave them out) and half a bottle of enchilada sauce (usually Trader Joe’s) and stir to coat. Turn the heat off. Take a dozen corn tortillas and rub both sides of each with olive oil, then heat briefly over the stove or in the oven until pliant. In each tortilla, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of cheese, then put a few tablespoons of the filling, then roll up and place in your 8×8 pan. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas, cover the whole mess with the rest of the enchilada sauce and a hefty sprinkle of cheese, and bake in a 400 oven for 20 minutes or so. When I make these, I usually make one 8×8 and one in my tiny 6×6 to freeze for later. If you have a bit more time, Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ potato kale enchiladas with pepitas are to die for.

  20. Kim Grey said on January 27, 2013

    It is amazing how much smoother and easier the week goes, once you start doing a weekly meal plan–not to mention how great it works for staying within a budget (especially when it is a very tight one!). I started planning meals about a year ago, and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I also love collecting recipes, and looking forward to using them week to week. It has become a wonderful way to be creative at home.

    Here are two delicious enchilada recipes. I’ve made each recipe countless times, and I love them equally. You can adjust the amount of heat, to taste, very easily in each. I have altered them a bit from the original sources, to get them just right. I hope you and your family will enjoy them, too.

    Recipe 1:
    Chicken Enchiladas with Green Chili-Sour Cream Sauce
    5-6 large flour tortillas
    2 cups shredded Tasty/ mild cheddar cheese
    2 cups shredded cooked chicken
    3 Tbsp butter
    3 Tbsp flour
    2 cups chicken stock
    2 cups sour cream
    1-2 green chili peppers, de-seeded and finely diced (to taste)
    ½ cup fresh coriander, chopped, plus more to serve
    2 Tbsp taco seasoning
    ½ onion, chopped
    3-4 garlic cloves, minced

    1. Preheat oven to 425 F/ 220 C/ 210 C fan-forced.
    2. Lightly grease a 7×11 inch or 17.5×28 cm Pyrex baking dish.
    3. Mix together: chicken, 1 cup cheese, 1 cup sour cream, taco seasoning, and a handful of chopped coriander.
    4. Warm tortillas in microwave per package instructions, to soften.
    5. In each tortilla, place an equal amount of the chicken mixture. Roll tortilla up tightly, and place seam-side down, into baking dish.
    6. To make the sauce: In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute onions in butter until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, garlic, and green chilis, whisking until smooth. Simmer sauce until thick and bubbly.
    7. Remove pan from heat. Stir in 1 cup sour cream. Pour sauce over enchiladas in baking dish.
    8. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese (or more, if desired) over top of enchiladas.
    9. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cover with foil after first 10 – 15 minutes, to avoid burning the top.
    10. To serve, garnish with fresh coriander.

    - If using a 9×13” baking dish, you will need 2-3 more tortillas, and more chicken mixture and sauce (about 1.5 times amounts shown)
    - Enchiladas variations: beef or pork instead of chicken; enchilada sauce instead of sour cream sauce; Monterey Jack cheese instead of Tasty/ cheddar
    - Additional ingredient ideas: black beans, corn, red capsicum, jalapenos
    - Serving ideas: fresh tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream, brown rice

    Recipe 2:
    Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy
    Chili Gravy (adapted from Robb Walsh)

    1/4 cup vegetable oil (canola)
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon powdered garlic
    2 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/4 teaspoon chili powder
    1/2 tsp onion powder
    2 cups beef or chicken stock

    Measure all spices first, and put in a bowl. Set aside.

    Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux. Take care not to burn the roux.

    Add the spices, gradually, and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, constantly stirring and blending ingredients. Add the stock, gradually, mixing and stirring constantly. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes, until sauce thickens. Add water to adjust the thickness, if necessary.

    Yield: 2 cups

    Preparation time: 30 minutes

    Cheese Enchiladas

    6 tortillas
    4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (can use Velveeta for extra melting oomph and good ol’ Tex-Mex authenticity, or use mild or Tasty cheddar, in Australia; also, may add a bit of mozzarella or pizza cheese blend, if you like)
    1 large onion, diced
    2 Tbsp canola oil or unsalted butter
    2 cups chili gravy (or make more!)
    Seasonings, to taste: cumin, onion powder, oregano

    *Optional additional ingredients:
    1 ½ cups shredded roast chicken
    2-3 roasted green chilis or jalapeno peppers, deseeded and finely diced

    Preheat the oven to 450F/230C/ 210C fan-forced.

    Grease a large Pyrex or ceramic baking dish (like a lasagna pan).

    Using a large non-stick skillet/ pan, heat oil or butter, then sauté onions until soft and browned. Cover, at first, on low-med heat (mark 5), to soften onions. Then remove cover, to brown onions and allow moisture to evaporate.

    Warm tortillas in microwave on high for 1 minute, in the package. Then layer tortillas between damp paper towels on a plate, to soften.

    Pour 1/3 cup of chili gravy in a baking pan, to coat the bottom.

    Mix together cheese and half of onions, along with seasonings and chilis or peppers, if using, in a large bowl.

    Take a tortilla, put 1/4 cup (or handful) of cheese mixture in the center and roll it.

    Place rolled tortilla in baking dish, seam side down, leaving a slight gap between them, to let sauce pour down in-between them. Continue with remaining tortillas.

    Pour remaining chili gravy over the rolled tortillas. Sprinkle remaining onions on top. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.

    Yield: 3-4 servings (1 serve: 1-2 tortillas)

    Preparation time: 30 minutes

    {Recipe source: adapted from}

    Serving ideas:
    - rice
    - corn
    - black beans or refried beans
    - fried green tomatoes
    - salted tomato salad
    - corn chips and salsa and/ or guacamole

  21. Jamie said on February 8, 2013

    Made the spaghetti squash casserole last night. My husband came home late, took one lukewarm bite, and said, “This is off the hook. Can I take it for lunch tomorrow?!” Super delicious, and our two year-old ate it too! Thanks for the recommendation.

  22. Laura said on January 3, 2015

    I just love. This post, comeback to it all the time. More food ideas please!! Laura, uk

    • Kristina said on July 30, 2015

      @laura I’m so glad to hear it!

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