Simple Family Dinners for Busy Nights

little chefIf your house is anything like ours, the days start to get even more jam-packed as the weather starts to warm up.

To help you spend as little, precious Spring-time in the kitchen and yet still manage to fill your family’s bellies with good food, we’ve compiled a list:

10 super simple, kid-friendly dinners sure to please everyone (we’ve even included a new meal for the baby!):

  • White Bean Stew with Bacon and Vegetables – There are plenty of chilly Spring days, and when it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of goodness to end the day. Put a pot of this creamy stew on and head outside to play with the kids while it cooks. It’s a mild stew, like a warm blanket on a cold day, and perfect for dipping crusty, hearty bread.

    Creamy White Bean Stew from The Cozy Apron
    Creamy White Bean Stew from The Cozy Apron
  • Black Bean Nacho Pizza – Turning anything into pizza is a sure-fire way to get your kids to chow down. You can make this simple and quick by using a store-bought pizza crust or dough (pick up a ball of whole wheat dough from Trader Joe’s).
  • One-Pot Pasta Dinner – Leave it to Martha to show us how to a delicious meal without breaking a sweat. Follow her formula for making the most of your pot and your time, such as cooking eggs or vegetables in the water with the pasta, and making a quick sauce while the pasta drains.
  • Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice – So much better than take-out, but just as quick. You can leave out the pork if you prefer to go vegetarian, and even amp it up with more veggies.
  • Parmesan Chicken Cutlets – Oh how we drool for chicken cutlets, plain and simple or fancied up. This recipe creates a nice crispy crust on an all-time favorite. If you must, cut the cutlets into small chunks, and voila, you have nuggets.
  • Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup – Turn grilled cheese sammies into hearts (a cookie cutter, of course) and you get big points with your kids.  Add a bowl of creamy tomato soup (Whole Foods has a tasty one in a carton) for dunking, and you’ve got a respectable meal on the table in minutes.
  • Braised Pulled Pork with Apple Cabbage Slaw – Sounds too complicated to be called quick and easy, right? Throw it in a slow cooker after you drop the kids at school, and sometime during the day whip up the crunchy veggie slaw.
  • Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes by Quick Dish Tablespoon
    Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes by Quick Dish Tablespoon

    Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes – Imagine the look on your kids’ little faces when you announce that you’re having cupcakes for dinner. Whoever invented the muffin tin is a genius. This is an awesome meal for several reasons – it’s made with short-cut ingredients, it’s good to make-ahead and if need be, it’s mobile. A yummy meal-on-the-go.

  • Quick Fish Tacos – Known to convert even the pickiest, non-fish eaters, these tacos remind ya that summer is on the way.
  • Southwestern Pasta Salad – Good for toddlers and big kids, too. No need to heat this well-balanced meal.
Sweet Potato Carrot Soup  by Spoonful
Sweet Potato Carrot Soup by Spoonful

And, we haven’t forgotten about the littlest member of your family. Give’em a taste of something completely new.  Sweet Potato Carrot Soup with Cheddar makes the most of fresh, early Spring vegetables, and is so delicious, you’ll want to make enough for the whole family family.

Bon Appétit!

Did you know some babysitters will cook dinner for the kids? Log in to UrbanSitter and look for “Cooking” listed under the “Other Services” section of a babysitter’s profile.

BOOK REVIEW: Tyler Florence — Start Fresh: Your Child’s Jump Start to Healthy Eating

Contributed by writer & mom of three Jessica Edelen for UrbanSitter.

Tyler Florence, Food Network star and best-selling cookbook author has debuted a new cookbook — Start Fresh: Your Child’s Jump Start to Healthy Eating. Filled with 60 delicious, user-friendly recipes, the book is about how to make healthy, nutritious food for babies, toddlers, and even the whole family.

As a mom of three young kids, I found the book quite engaging — the pictures are bright and inviting (and of course, make you hungry just gazing at them), and the recipes range from very easy (pureed spinach with bananas) to mildly complex (cauliflower gratin), but what I loved is that the recipes are in stages — 4-6 months, 6-8 months, 9-12 months, and 12 months and beyond. So there is truly something for everyone. Also included is a worksheet at the very beginning for new parents who want to keep track of which foods their babies are trying — in regard to allergies, etc. Enhanced by Tyler Florence’s wit and practical, easy-going voice, the book is one that I believe most parents will find valuable.

Here are two of my favorite recipes. You can find the book at Tyler’s downtown Mill Valley shop or online. Bon appetite!

Spinach and Banana Puree

Makes four 1/2 cup servings or two one cup servings

Tyler says: Bananas are an easy way to sneak super healthy nutrients into lots of dishes. This bright green puree is amazing — one of my favorites in the book.

You need:

12 oz. fresh spinach, well washed and tough stems removed

2 bananas

1/4 cup plain whole-fat yogurt

1/4 unfiltered apple juice

To do:

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.

Cauliflower Gratin

Makes 6 to 8 servings for adults or kids

Tyler says: The unsung hero of the vegetable world finally takes a stand in this cheesy, comforting gratin. I love not only the flavor, but the way it fills the house with its savory, roasted aroma. Great pureed, mashed, or as a side dish your children will love for years to come.

You need:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges

1 head cauliflower, leaves and stem left intact, coarsely chopped

2 sprigs thyme

1 tbsp. unbleached all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup whole milk

4 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

To do:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion cook, stirring often, until the onion has browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cauliflower and thyme and cook until the cauliflower has browned slightly, 8 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour and nutmeg over the cauliflower. Pour the milk in and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella, then top with parmesan and panko. (The gratin can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.)

Bake the gratin uncovered on the middle rack of the oven until the cheese is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are toasted, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Divide the gratin into as many adult and child-friendly portions as needed. Transfer the child portions into a food processor and pulse until coarsely or finely chopped, as desired.