Family dinners a week |  House & Garden

Family dinners a week | House & Garden

click to enlarge h_g_food.jpg

Recently, a meme flew around on social media saying, “School is back in session so we can have dinner at 4pm or 9pm”. As a parent of three children, two of whom are involved in several leisure activities, this simple phrase resonated with me deeply. When it comes to meal planning, I spend way too much time figuring out what and when to feed my kids and I want to bet a lot of money that I’m not alone in that struggle.

In the past, leisure activities often took place immediately after school, and there were rarely – if any – trips involved. The kids could safely cycle home from training, where they joined their family for a homemade meal just around dinner. Unfortunately, much of that has changed over the last decade, and family dinners have become almost obsolete. Instead of slowing down and reconnecting over a leisurely meal, many parents find themselves frantically handing out burgers and fries in the car to unplanned children, wondering how life became so hectic.

Like many people, I miss the seemingly simpler times, and I often wonder how other families connect over nutritious meals with the insane amount of pressure and time constraints we are all under. At the beginning of each school year, I find myself asking my friends what they feed their families for dinner. I ask them to share their easiest recipes, and I hope one of them will give me some advice that will make me feel like this giant, meal-centered riddle has been solved. Instead, I am often greeted with answers that repeat my own dinner dilemmas and a chorus of moans over the impossible task of providing food to people who all have different schedules.

I often turn to Google for advice, but instead of feeling like things have been simplified, I am greeted with hundreds of “easy” meals that make me feel completely overwhelmed. Plus, many of these online recipes in the evening rely heavily on meat that can be cooked in a slow cooker for hours. This is a great option if your family is a carnivorous herd, but if you are trying to cut down on the amount of meat you consume, these recipes are not always very helpful. When I realized that my family’s needs were not being met by my online searches, I decided to make a few meals that are easy to prepare and rely on real ingredients that are easy to find.

Below are some incredibly tasty meals that are in sharp rotation at our home. They can be made in advance, require minimal cooking and preparation, pack a large nutritional punch and can be customized to please everyone who gathers around my kitchen table. Rarely are there leftovers, but if there are, all of these meals stay well in the fridge and travel nicely in school lunchboxes.

The first (and possibly my family’s favorite) meal is sesame noodles. Here, cooked soba noodles (or wholemeal spaghetti) are paired with soy sauce, mirin, toasted sesame oil and sliced ​​scallions. This dish is great served right away, but it is even more delicious served cold with cucumber slices or stir-fried vegetables. These noodles never get mushy and actually taste better the longer they sit, so they are a great option when you have kids coming and going at all different times.

Another go-to dinner at our house is something my family affectionately refers to as “Things on a Plate.” This meal occurred when I was pregnant with my son, and my morning sickness was so intense that the thought of doing something sent giant waves of nausea in over me. At the time, my husband was working in another town, and I knew that unless I wanted my young daughters to survive on cold cereal for several months, I had to come up with something that we could throw away in a jiffy and that kept me far away from the stove.

Stuff on Plate is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically a lazy mezza and a carefree charcuterie. Usually I like to whip up a large portion of homemade hummus (it’s easier than you think!), Heat up a little pita and loot the fridge and cupboards for everything that needs to be used up. The random half block of cheddar cheese hanging out in the crispy? Cut it into cubes and throw it out on the plate. The apple that someone took a bite of and threw back in the fruit bowl? Chop it in half, throw the half-eaten part to the squirrels and turn the good half into apple slices. Other foods that go well with Stuff on a Plate are olives, nuts and lightly steamed vegetables. Honestly, just use the foods that your family enjoys eating. This is a total crowd pleaser, and if you serve it on paper plates with tiny toothpicks, everyone will think you’re a total rock star.

The last, easy evening meal that I want to share with you is soup. My husband loves to have fun with me because I could easily eat soup every single day, even when it is unbearably hot outside. I am convinced that if you have a few good soup recipes in your back pocket, dinner will always end up being effortless and enjoyable.

In the summer, when garden vegetables are at their peak, I love to make a giant casserole with minestrone, which is a versatile, delicious soup that highlights the vegetables that are in season. I love adding beans or chickpea paste to my minestrone for a little protein and extra nutrition because they add an incredible flavor and texture, but they are completely optional.

In the winter, I make all kinds of meat-free stews, chowders and bisques. These soups are creamy, hearty and incredibly filling. Plus, they freeze and reheat beautifully, which means that if you double your recipe, you will always have a stash of soup on hand, just waiting to be warmed up and served with a crispy loaf of bread or a crispy green salad.

If you are in a rut, I encourage you to give some of these simple meals a try. They are perfect for busy families trying to find easy ways to enjoy the benefits of stress-free family meals.

However, do not be too harsh on yourself if you occasionally break through drive-thru. We all do the best we can and sometimes there is nothing better than a hot, salty french fries.

Sesame noodles (servers 4)


¾ pounds of soba noodles or wholemeal spaghetti

cup plain or low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons dead

3 tablespoons roasted sesame oil

3 spit bowl, cut into thin slices


Boil the noodles according to the package instructions.

While the pasta is boiling, whisk the tamari, mirin and toasted sesame oil together in a large bowl.

When the noodles are ready, drain, rinse with cold water and add directly to the bowl with the sauce; throw to combine.

Top the sesame noodles with sliced ​​scallion and serve.

The easiest, creamy hummus


1 can garbanzo beans, drained; liquid reserved

¼ kop tahin

1 clove garlic, chopped

Juice from 1 lemon

Salt (optional)


Put drained garbanzo beans, tahini and garlic in a food processor and blend until the ingredients begin to gather. Slowly add the reserved garbanzo bean liquid until the mixture achieves the desired consistency. Add lemon juice and salt (if using) and serve.

You can also top this hummus with sliced ​​cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with warm pita slices.

Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer living in Springfield with her husband and three children, who all love to eat vegetables. She always tries to make healthy food choices and wholeheartedly agrees with Julia Child that when it comes to meals: “You do not have to make fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *