By: Chantal Urbina
I love following and making recipes. In my opinion, there is nothing better than the thrill of experimenting with a new countertop of ingredients. However, we all know that trying something new can require energy and the desire that sometimes is just not there. A few times a week I rely on this quick and handy guide to help me come up with a meal using whatever I have on hand. To make things family friendly and filling, I will pick a well-loved grain as the foundation of the meal. I then choose an animal or plant-based protein, a few vegetables, a sauce, and a garnish to top it off.
This guide is a great way to lead the way in the kitchen without having to stress over a specific recipe. It also ensures we use up what we have in stock which avoids both food and financial waste. Essentially, we pair together whatever ingredients we have on hand to quickly and easily feed our families. This method is a life saver and truthfully, whenever I go about it, I always get compliments on the dish; however it ends up turning out.
Before we get started on the guide, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- When I make meals in this fashion, I usually serve a simple tossed salad on the side to create a perfectly balanced plate.
- I recommend adding at least two vegetables, but of course you can load up as many veggie as possible – so as long as the whole family will still enjoy it. My toddler is pretty (ok, very) selective when it comes to vegetables so I stick with two and if one or both happen to be something she does not love, I mince them up very small.
- By following this guide quick dinners will be ready in no time, but there’s a way to speed up the process even further. On Sundays I like to cook a big batch of whatever grain I plan on using throughout the week. Having cooked rice or pasta all ready-to-go makes meal prep throughout the week so much quicker. I sometimes also do the same with proteins and will cut up, slice, or mince my vegetables ahead as well.
- For the sauces & dressings category you can use your favourite store bought, whole ingredient items, but you can also use homemade if you happen to have. Whenever I do get around to making my own sauces from scratch, I like to double or triple batch them to freeze a large portion for future uses.
- Also in regards to the sauces, there is no recommended amount to use. Everyone is different and prefers a different level of fun in their meals. What I do recommend is start off by adding a small amount. Once you mix it up and feel you need more after a quick taste test, add more. It is much easier to build on ingredients than it is to try and tone them down if we happened to go overboard.
- The last sauce recommended was oil and herb vinaigrette dressing. This option makes for a great chilled salad option. See the examples below for further details.
THE FAMILY FRIENDLY MEAL GUIDE:
Start with one grain for the foundation of the meal:
- Pasta (grain based, red lentil, chickpea, etc.)
- Rice (all and any variety)
- Quinoa (all and any variety)
*There are many more to choose from, but to be honest I keep it simple and usually just rotate between these three options.
Pick one or more sources of protein:
- Ground beef/chicken/turkey
- Chicken breast
- Sausage or chorizo
- Beans (pinto, black, navy, kidney, etc.).
- Green beans
- Lentils (red, green, brown)
- Peas (green, black eyes, split)
- Hemp Hearts
Pick at least 2 vegetables. For selective eaters, mince or chop them finely if necessary.
- Bell Pepper
- Brussel sprouts
- Green peas
Pick a sauce/dressing:
- Marinara Sauce
- Creamy soups (think butternut squash, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, mushroom, etc.)
- Avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, full fat butter, or ghee with garlic powder, salt and pepper
- Oil and herb vinaigrette dressing
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi
- Fresh Herbs
- Nuts and/or seeds
- Cheese of any variety
- Nutritional yeast
quick family meal ideas:
So now that I have mapped out the ingredient options for you, here’s a couple of examples meals you can create by following this guide.
Marinara Sausage & Rice (the pictured meal):
rice, sausage, onion, mushrooms, marinara sauce, fresh cilantro, and fresh parmesan
Heat up some oil or butter in a pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, chop up the sausage and veggies and sauté in the pan until soft and cooked. Add the rice, some marinara and mix everything together. Cook for another couple of minutes until everything is warmed through. Add any extra seasoning if need be (I just added sea salt and pepper). Plate the meal and garnish with fresh cilantro and parmesan cheese.
*Since my rice was cooked in advance this meal took me 15 minutes to make – I timed it.
Green Pasta (my ultimate lunch go-to):
pasta, frozen green peas, minced spinach, broccoli “sprinkles” (I chop the florets very small into sprinkle sized doses of love), hemp hearts, full fat butter with a dash of garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper, and fresh mozzarella cheese
Prepare the pasta according to package directions if not already cooked. Meanwhile, boil some water for the frozen peas and cook them according to package directions. Chop the broccoli and mince the spinach. Once the pasta is cooked and strained, place the noodles back in the big pot. Add some butter, a pinch of garlic powder, and sea salt and pepper. Add the cooked and strained peas, and the raw spinach and broccoli. Mix everything together thoroughly. Garnish with a generous serving of hemp hearts and grated mozzarella.
*This is a favourite here and my toddler is not so much a sauce gal so the butter, garlic powder, and salt and pepper work just beautifully.
Vegetarian Greek Quinoa Salad (served cold):
quinoa, brown lentils (canned, rinsed, and drained or cooked from scratch), tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, any oil and herb vinaigrette dressing, fresh parsley, and feta cheese
Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes, cucumber, and onion. When the quinoa is cooked, fluffed, and cooled down a bit, add the remaining ingredients and mix all together.
*Tip: I would personally make the quinoa ahead of time so that it is nice and chilled to compliment the rest of the raw ingredients. This would taste incredible with any pasta variety as well.
I hope this guide makes feeding your family less of a stressful time. Although I do enjoy creating and following recipes, I do understand that sometimes meals just need to be winged and in the nick of time. This structure never fails me. A bonus is that it encourages us to create meals based on our own preferences and instincts. It’s the perfect approach for those who wish to broaden their culinary skills in a relaxed fashion. Here’s to celebrating that healthy and well-balanced family meals do not have to be complicated or take long to prepare
All the best, friends!