Simple Pantry Cooking

Easy Menu Planning | cooking uncomplicated

Real Family Dinners

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

round button chicken

Getting dinner on the table to feed your family after a long day can sometimes feel like an overwhelming impossibility. But a healthy, wholesome meal doesn’t have to take a lot of time or even a lot of planning ahead.

Here are some of the meals I’ve served up recently for our homeschooling family of 7. 

family meals

Pretty

~Pretty Fresh Vegetables ~

As the weather gets warmer, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that soup season is over. Instead of pulling out a standard soup for dinner, I pulled out a summer meal I hadn’t made in many months: veggie pasta salad with poached chicken.

I used to chop all the veggies with a knife and patience, but the mandolin my husband gave me for my birthday really sped up the process.

I love a colorful dinner: whole wheat spaghetti, peppers, zucchini, carrots, and broccoli made it into this one, because that’s what I had on hand. I used an asian-style dressing on this version, but my family prefers the Italian herb version.

Happy

family dinner

~ Happy Simplicity ~

Costco sometimes has cold chicken leg quarters for sale from the previous day’s rotisserie leftovers. I’ve done the weighing and calculations and figured out it really is the cheapest price-per-pound of chicken if you’re weighing cooked and deboned meat. So, I always pick up a tray when I’m there and they have it.

This time I pulled off all the meat, then poured over a homemade teriyaki sauce (soy, chicken broth, brown sugar, cornstarch) and stuck it in the oven with the rice to warm up. It was delicious, quick, and simple!

The bones, of course, went into the crockpot with water overnight and made up a broth for the next day’s soup. Chicken leg pieces don’t make quite the same robust broth as a whole chicken carcass, but they still get the job done.

Funny

eating together

~ Funny Efficiency ~

I was able to cook all three parts to one dinner in a 375-degree oven the other night. Roasted frozen broccoli, boneless chicken pieces brushed with barbecue sauce, and brown rice. The rice went in first (it cooks for an hour), then the chicken (it cooked for 40 minutes), then the broccoli (which took 25 minutes).

What’s funny is the supreme satisfaction I felt in maximizing my oven use.

It took hardly any hands-on time, and the clean-up was a snap because I used parchment paper on the pans. I love parchment paper!

Real

family dinnerfamily dinner

~ Real Quick ~

I’ve been trying to improvise some new fast dinners that rely on a protein I don’t have to (remember to) defrost first.

I bought canned shrimp and made this quick veggie-shrimp-pasta medley. I simply sautéed onion, pepper, and zucchini in butter, then tossed in the shrimp to warm it up and tossed that together with the pasta and another pat of butter.

It was a decent dinner, but I might try it with flash frozen shrimp next time.

What have you cooked up to feed your family lately?

A hot, filling breakfast recipe: Oven Puffed Pancakes

The quest for a simple breakfast that is filling enough to keep the kids satisfied until lunch is an endless one. Oatmeal is a good stick-to-the-ribs breakfast, but eggs are also so healthy for little growing bodies and brains.

Scrambled eggs are good, but my kids need some additional carb to go alongside it.

What I needed was an all-in-one breakfast that had both protein and carbs, but that didn’t make much mess on the counter and didn’t get too many dishes dirty.

I found the answer in German pancakes, also known as Oven Pancakes and Dutch Babies.

While it does make more dirty dishes than oatmeal, it is easier to clean up and kids don’t drop and slop it all over the counter, floor, and table. Totally worth the 20 minute baking time in my book.

Here’s how I’ve streamlined the process to get breakfast on the table quickly.

Streamlined German Oven Pancakes

  1. Turn the oven on to 400*. Pop in a 9×13 pan with two tablespoons of butter. It will preheat and melt the butter, greasing the pan and getting ready to make that pancake puff.
  2. Pull out milk, 6 eggs, and flour. I whisk this together in a batter bowl that has the measurements marked along the side so I don’t have to get a measuring cup dirty. First pour in one cup of milk, then crack in the six eggs, then dump in 1 cup of flour. I’ve used 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white flour or I’ve also used all whole wheat when I have soft white wheat (also known as pastry whole wheat flour). It doesn’t quite fluff up as much with whole wheat, but the extra nutrition makes it worth it.
  3. Whisk vigorously until the batter is well beaten. Let it sit until the oven is done preheating.
  4. Pull the hot pan out of the oven and shake the melted butter to evenly cover the bottom. Pour in the batter quickly then pop it back into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar over the top.

German pancakes – oven pancakes, dutch babies, or whatever else you want to call them – are also great baked with thinly sliced apples on the batter or topped with fresh berries.

After a satisfying breakfast, the kids are ready to tackle their day with plenty of energy and attention.

Simplified Dinners for New Cooks

When I was 11, my mom had twins. Already interested in cooking, I eagerly took once-a-week dinner duties. I could make spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (from boxes) with tuna and peas, and hamburger helper. My grandma was an extreme couponer before it was a thing, so she kept our pantry stocked with boxes and mixes, and I appreciated being able to grab something, follow the 3 steps, and put dinner on the table by myself – complete with microwaved frozen mixed vegetables.

I think kids that age want to be useful and contribute in real ways to the family, and what is more useful than feeding people?

Actually, this project first began this summer when an extended-family conversation turned to sending my younger brother off to college and how he was renting an apartment off campus. “You’ll have to send him Simplified Dinners,” commented my mom. I pulled my printed copy off the shelf to let him look through and chatted about how easy the dinners were. He stopped me, “So, saute is like cutting them a certain way?”

book_cover_new_cooks_300

Oops. Nevermind. Simplified Dinners is not going to work for you. Simplified Dinners presumes kitchen skills; it is written for busy, harried moms like me who just want to get dinner on the table but don’t want to have to think through everything or read a long discursive recipe. It’s dinner shorthand, presuming you know the lingo.

I decided my brother needed a Simplified Simplified Dinners; one that didn’t presume any kitchen experience.

Now he has his own edition of Simplified Dinners for New Cooks: 13 tools, 16 skills, 10 dinner types that each have three or more variations.
 

And working on this new version has worked out pretty well for me, too! I plopped a page of my draft in front of my 11 year old and said, “I think you can make dinner all by yourself. Let’s see.” And he did it. And he asked to do it again the next day. So he and his brother tested the clarity of instructions for me, and I refined wording, and our work is nearly complete: Simplified Dinners for New Cooks is nearly ready for publishing.

kids can cook dinnerkids can cook dinner

My 9 & 11 year old boys really are thrilled to be able to be independent in the kitchen, get dinner on the table themselves, and receive all the thanks due to the cook at the table.

kids can cook dinner

At his age, I cooked Hamburger Helper and Macaroni and Cheese from boxes and zapped frozen vegetables in the microwave. It was a start, but not a start I wanted to have to live through at my own dinner table. We’ve grown up a bit in our taste since that time.

But I think we’ve proven that if you can wield a knife, you can get dinner on the table. Not just any dinner, either, but a real food, from-scratch dinner.

For real.

They have made pizza from scratch – including the yeast dough, baked bacon with frittata and muffins, salad with homemade salad dressing, creamy chicken pasta, sausage-and-beans, soup, chicken quesadillas, and more. Tonight they are doing homemade pizza again, because that was their favorite.

I am just as excited as my kids. What better way to outsource meals than to the people who need to eat it, too.

They aren’t as excited about outsourcing the mopping or the bathroom-cleaning, but dinner, yes, they’ll take dinner duty anytime.

It’s now available!

This resource is all you need to teach your kids to be independent in the kitchen and take dinner duty off your plate some nights. Or if you aren’t so sure yourself about cooking from scratch, this book will make it simple and easy.

sdnc-learnhow

Try it. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, just let me know and I’ll refund your purchase.

Planning meals ahead of time | Menu Plan Monday

simple easy homemade family menu plan

The six-week menu plan is going along swimmingly. Friday we ended up having Costco rotisserie chicken instead of the fried rice planned, but I moved fried rice to Saturday and we skipped the bakes potatoes. I needed another batch of broth simmered up anyway for our soup this coming Wednesday. With dinners planned out already, I knew that was coming up and got the bones into the crockpot of water right away.

menuplan

Breakfasts This Week

  • Monday: Sunday leftovers with scrambled eggs
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays: German pancakes
  • Wednesdays & Fridays: simple homemade granola with milk
  • Saturday: Daddy-made pancakes
  • Sunday: whole wheat cinnamon rolls (made on Saturday)

Lunches This Week

  • Monday: microwave nachos, pears, carrots
  • Tuesday: quick artisan bread, cheese, pears
  • Wednesday: leftover bread from Tuesday, cheese slices, pepperoni, oranges
  • Thursday: rice with carrots & peas, topped with butter or cheese
  • Friday: microwave nachos with refried beans

Dinners This Week

Balsamic skillet chicken for dinner tonight from Simplified Dinners. A no-thinking-required meal.

A photo posted by Mystie Winckler (@mystiewinckler) on

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Simplified Dinners eBook

  •  Monday: skillet chicken, roasted potatoes, and roasted frozen broccoli
  • Tuesday: creamy meatballs over pasta, salad
  • Wednesday: chicken soup with veggies & rice, salad, no-knead artisan bread
  • Thursday: homemade pizza
  • Friday: fried rice with leftover chicken
  • Saturday: crockpot pinto beans with nachos

Simplify menu planning, grocery shopping, and dinner cooking with Simplified Dinners!

My 6-week plan in action | Menu Plan Monday

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. Making use of leftovers has helped stretch not only the menu but also my time in the kitchen.

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. In the end I might have a few meals left over, even. Last Saturday instead of having the planned dinner, we were able to have Friday leftovers and one night I had enough soup leftover to package up and freeze.

I also didn’t plan any frittata dinner nights, holding that one in my back pocket as a quick and simple Plan B dinner in case I don’t soak the beans or thaw the meat or start dinner in time.

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. Making use of leftovers has helped stretch not only the menu but also my time in the kitchen.

With the menu plan already on the calendar for weeks in advance, the thing I must remember is to actually look at it! A list does us no good if we don’t look at it. I’m trying to be better about looking at my calendar and my menu plan first thing in the morning and also in the evening.

Breakfasts This Week

  • Monday: Sunday leftover cinnamon rolls with scrambled eggs
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays: German pancakes
  • Wednesdays & Fridays: simple homemade granola with milk
  • Saturday: Daddy-made pancakes
  • Sunday: whole wheat cinnamon rolls (made on Saturday)

Lunches This Week

  • Monday: microwave chips & cheese, apples
  • Tuesday: quick artisan bread, cheese, fruit & veggies
  • Wednesday: leftover bread from Tuesday, cheese slices, salami, fruit & veggies
  • Thursday: rice with carrots & peas, topped with butter
  • Friday: leftover homemade pizza from Thursday’s dinner

Dinners This Week

Simplified Dinners eBook

  •  Monday: ham in the crockpot, cheesy toasts, glazed carrots
  • Tuesday: skillet chicken (probably the lime version), roasted potatoes, roasted frozen broccoli
  • Wednesday: split pea soup in the crockpot with the ham bone from Monday, bread, salad
  • Thursday: homemade pizza (pizza on zucchini planks for me)
  • Friday: fried rice with leftover chicken
  • Saturday: baked potato bar

Make dinner simple, with or without a menu plan. Check out Simplified Dinners!