Hi everyone! My name is Christina. I’m a mama, Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine staffer, recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and blogger at TakeBackYourTable.com. My specialty is creating simple, healthy recipes and I am thrilled to be joining the amazing bloggers here at rachaelray.com.
As a mother who works outside of the home, I know that the idea of a family meal can seem daunting, but with a little planning, it’s totally achievable and worth the effort. For me, weeknight meals need to be ready in less than 30 minutes. Dinner needs to be ready quickly, before it’s time to give my son his bath and get him into bed between 8:00-8:30 (story-time and all!). I aim for this every single night. And on most nights, it works-because, I know that by sticking to simple meals, I can make it happen. When I have setbacks, I don’t count myself out of the meal game, I rely on some simple strategies to get everything accomplished.
Be Flexible: Accept that things aren’t always going to go as planned. As a working mom, I need to remember to be flexible and most of all to be prepared for anything (this is true for all parents in general, right?). In the event that I have more than a slight delay, I need to be able to come home and prepare a meal in under 10 minutes, so my son doesn’t fall asleep at the table. If dinnertime doesn’t work for your family or your lifestyle, aim for breakfast or lunch. Whatever it is, make a plan and stick to it. If you can only manage to cook on weekends, so be it. Create a plan and stick to it.
Assemble a collection of quick and easy recipes that you know everyone likes: M-F isn’t the time to try out a fancy new recipe. Stick to what you are comfortable making and what you know everyone will love. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying a new recipe, having it be a disaster and then dealing with the aftermath of empty bellies. I’m all for trying new things, but save the experimenting for the weekends when you aren’t pressed for time.
10-minute Pasta and Peas in no-cook creamy basil sauce (super fast. super filling. super delicious!)
Think outside of the dinner box: Train late? Too tired or hungry to cook? It happens to me all of the time. Dinner doesn’t have to be meat, veg, carbs. Your meals can be balanced in other ways. When I want dinner and I want it fast, I go straight to breakfast foods. Pancakes, yogurt and granola with fruit and nuts, and yes, even oatmeal are all great options. Most kids love “Breakfast For Dinner” nights! Most breakfast foods are an easy sell and usually very quick to make. We love eggs in our house. They are a quick and easy source of protein and so good for you. Simple scrambles and frittatas are great options because you can customize them by adding your favorite chopped vegetables and sprinkle with cheese. Serve them with a side of toast and how’s that for a balanced, non-traditional dinner? I also love to top simple salads with a hard-boiled or poached egg. Mmm….delicious!
Italian Whole-Wheat Pasta Pie (aka Pasta Frittata) (perfect use for leftover pasta and great meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner)
Prepare: Do some of the prep-work ahead of time (at night after the kids go to sleep, on weekends etc..)..
-Make a meal plan. Create a basic outline of what you’ll make each night so you can stock up on your ingredients over the weekend and you won’t have to think about it when its time to cook.
-Rachael always tells us to process our veggies when we come home from the store so they are ready and waiting when we need them. Wash and chop a few days worth of veggies and store them in plastic baggies or storage containers in the fridge. Preparing your ingredients in advance saves a ton of time and your sanity.
-Keep a stash of hard boiled eggs in the fridge. I boil a bunch on a Sunday night so they are ready for us to eat. Eggs make a great breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack and hard-boiled eggs keep for up to one week when properly stored in the refrigerator.
-Make simple sides
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ahead of time. I love to make a big batch of rice, couscous or quinoa at the beginning of each week so I can just reheat them as a quick lunch or side to add to any meal. This way, when I get home from work, all I have to worry about is the protein and my meal comes together in minutes.
Make Extra: Double or even triple a recipe so you have leftovers to freeze or eat the next day as lunch or dinner. Leftovers of home cooked food are way more nutritious than ordering take-out. A quick reheat in the oven or microwave and you have extra time to spend with your family.
Grandma Mary’s Pasta Fagiole (really delicious as leftovers. filling and feeds a crowd)
Snacks for the kiddies (and yourself): I always make sure my son has a late snack so he’s not famished and freaking out while I’m trying to prepare. A lot of little kids eat dinner between 5 and 6pm. That timeframe isn’t realistic for my family. We all work full-time outside of the home so nightly meals can be a challenge. A late snack is a must if I expect my 2 year old to hold out until dinnertime. Stick to healthy stuff like applesauce, cut up raw veggies, some nuts or a piece of cheese. Pretend you are in Italy and have a little Antipasti before your main meal but remember, nothing heavy or no one will be hungry.
Assemble a team aka (Put ‘em to work): Ask for help. Have family members set the table or distract the kids so you can whip up dinner in a flash with no interruptions. My two year old usually wants to be in the kitchen with me so I put him on a stool right beside me and have him accomplish a simple task. Last night he helped pull the thyme leaves off of the stems as he munched on his applesauce and was super happy to “help mama”. Even the littlest member of your family can be occupied while mommy or daddy cooks. When my son was super little he used to play at my feat with wooden spoons, mixing bowls and dried pasta as I cooked. I still have vivid memories of this and will always cherish them.
What tips/tricks do you rely on when making meals at home? Here’s one of my recipes:
Mustard and Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4 (depending on how hungry you are)
Pork tenderloin can be made in under 20 minutes, making it a perfect option for a quick meal. I served this alongside RR’s Creamy Polenta and sauteed broccolini. Everyone was happy. Everyone was full and I got to enjoy some quality time with my loves. Mission accomplished!
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium bowl whisk together, vinegar, mustard, thyme, garlic and honey. Set aside.
Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-safe skillet. Sear the tenderloin on all sides (including the ends, this will give the meat a nice crust), about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and brush meat generously with the glaze. Place skillet in oven and roast 15-20 minutes, until internal temperature is 145-150 degrees. Remove from oven and tent meat with aluminum foil. Let it rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Meat will be tender and juicy. Serve alongside your favorite starch or veg (preferably both!).
Christina Stanley-Salerno is a mama, Every Day with Rachael Ray staffer, recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and blogger at TakeBackYourTable.com. She loves cooking for and with her family. Life is hectic, but Christina is passionate about mealtime because she truly believes it is glue that keeps the family together. Creating simple, quick and healthy meals is her specialty and her trick to keeping the family meal a reality, even on busy weeknights.