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With the school season in full swing, along with all the fall activities that accompany it, meal planning – and cooking – can sometimes fall to the wayside. We end up rushing through the local drive-thru for a quick bite or running to the store for a hot rotisserie chicken. And while I’m thankful for those conveniences in a pinch, nothing truly replaces a home-cooked meal and the comfort of gathering around the table as a family.

“Homecooked” can evoke feelings of warmth and treasured family memories. That word might also stir up feelings of failure or at least feel like a weighty expectation for busy moms who are already feeling overwhelmed. As a busy mom myself, I recognize I can’t do it all, but I also have a passion for cooking and a desire to create those lasting memories. So, I sought to streamline my meal planning to create healthy, simple, nutritious and family-friendly meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less. These also require little to no prep and are easy to clean up.

Here are my Top Five tried-and-true meals. I serve these on rotation throughout the school year:

  1. Bacon BBQ Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Salad (Instant Pot Recipe)
    I love this meal because it is flavorful and it’s all in one pot. You can cook the potatoes and the meat simultaneously, and it’s all done in around 20 minutes! Serve it with some fresh lettuce and your favorite salad dressing.
  1. Baked Steak, Loaded Baked Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli (A 2-Pan Meal)
    I wrote this recipe back when we were just young marrieds living in a tiny apartment. We didn’t have a grill, so we made our steaks in the oven. We still cook our steaks this way because it’s easy and works so well! They are the most tender, juiciest and flavorful steaks. Our favorite cut is a ribeye or filet mignon — the cut makes all the difference! I bake the potatoes in the instant pot and put the broccoli on the top rack in the oven. The entire meal is done in 20 minutes, and I can use that time to hang out with my family or catch up on some housework.
  1. Pan-seared Italian Chicken, Jasmine Rice, and Roasted Green Beans(~15 minutes total)
    Chicken doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve found that a quick but thorough pan-sear yields the juiciest chicken and it takes basically no prep. I season chicken breasts or tenderloins with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning right in a pan of melted butter or hot olive oil and sear for about 5-8 minutes on both sides. Jasmine rice cooks so fast. I usually cook it in salted chicken bone broth with a couple crushed garlic cloves for extra flavor and nutrient density. I roast the green beans (seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil) on the top rack for the same amount of time as the rice. The result is satisfyingly gourmet and low effort – win, win!
  1. Sheet Pan Cajun Kielbasa with Roasted Veggies (all on one pan)
    I adapted this recipe that was meant to be made in a skillet to be a sheet pan recipe. It tastes the same and you don’t have to stand over the stove. Simply chop your veggies (bell peppers, onions, carrots, new potatoes and broccoli) and sausage, season, and place in the oven for about 30 minutes on 425* or until the potatoes are browned. This is another recipe that rewards me with the gift of time to get other things done while it cooks!
  1. Classic Sliders on Hawaiian Rolls with Potato Wedges and Salad (2-pan meal)
    In about 30 minutes, you can have juicy burgers with potato wedges! I season potato wedges with salt, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika with a drizzle of olive oil. I put this in the oven on the top rack at 425, and then start preparing my burger meat. About halfway through the wedges’ cook time, put the burger meat in on the second rack and cook for another 15 minutes. It’s a time saver and a kid-friendly meal!

This is your friendly reminder that dinners don’t have to be complicated. I try to make sure we have one protein, a carb and one or two veggies – all well-seasoned! I put our dinner menu on a magnetic marker board on my fridge in the kitchen to allow my family to read through it and “develop” a taste for it throughout the week. They enjoy seeing what’s coming up next and look forward to dinnertime!

If you’ve been in a dinnertime rut or are intimidated at the thought of trying to cook for your family, I hope you give these recipes a try, and find them helpful! Happy cooking! You’ve got this!

Lionheart Staff Member

Mother holding daughter while cooking