A Week of Flexible Family Dinners to Make with What You Have
Right now meal planning feels more essential than ever. Instead of just cooking for my husband and me right now, I’m also cooking for my mom, who we’ve been staying with. But cooking for one extra person is the easy part. Where it gets tricky is coming up with meals we’ll all enjoy, since we have different eating styles. While mom tends to stick with a short roster of basic meaty meals, my husband and I prefer to eat meat just one or twice a week and skew towards healthy-ish plant-based meals.
Making a weekly meal plan helps us agree on meals we all feel good about in advance. It has also been the most helpful way for us to make the best use of ingredients we have on hand and figure out any necessary substitutions in advance of cooking.
Since we’re juggling work and caring for a 10-month old, I’ve been sticking with recipes that are quick and easy to pull together, with plenty of flexibility for substitutions. Here are the five dinners I’m cooking this week.
Monday: One-Pot Creamy Broccoli Pasta
One thing we all agreed on, without hesitation, was pasta Mondays. This recipe is hearty and super-creamy, but since it calls for Greek yogurt rather than heavy cream and includes a pound of vegetables, it still feels wholesome. I’ll make a few substitutions by using fusilli in place of shells (it cooks in about the same amount of time). In place of fresh broccoli, I’ll stir in frozen in the last few minutes of cooking, along with a few handfuls of wilting baby spinach.
Get the recipe: One-Pot Creamy Broccoli Pasta
Tuesday: Ground Beef Taco Casserole
The beauty of this loaded casserole is that it’s super-flexible (you can use whatever kind of beans you have in the pantry or even swap ground turkey or chicken for the beef) and leaves plenty of leftovers for lunch. For dinner, we’ll partner the casserole with a couple salad kits for taco salads, and we’ll top them off with a scoop of Greek yogurt and some tortilla chips. Then we’ll stuff the leftovers into soft flour tortillas for lunch later in the week.
Get the recipe: Ground Beef Taco Casserole
Wednesday: 30-Minute Chicken Francese
Recently the only cut of chicken we could find was cutlets. Normally I’d go for piccata, but since capers were hard to come by, I knew this weeknight-friendly lemon chicken was the answer. Plus it’s one of my mom’s favorites. We don’t have any white wine handy, so I plan to use some extra broth and lemon juice instead. I’ll round out dinner with couscous and steamed asparagus.
Get the recipe: 30-Minute Chicken Francese
Thursday: Chow Mein
A lone chicken breast in the freezer and a head of cabbage are the inspiration for tonight’s dinner. We don’t have chow mein noodles, but angel hair pasta will make a fine stand-in. Since my husband and I have been craving vegetables, I’ll toss in some extra cabbage, and also include a few stalks of thinly sliced celery since there’s a surplus in the fridge.
Get the recipe: Chow Mein
Friday: Pizza Night
Come the end of the week we’re happy to take a night off from cooking, and have been happily supporting our local pizza place, which remains open. We’ll pick up our go-to pie (half mushroom, half sausage), though should you want to make a pizza at home, it’s a fun project.
Get the recipe: How To Make Awesome Pizza at Home
Meal planning isn’t always easy — especially if you’re just getting started. But we’re firm believers that it’s the secret to stress-free weeknight dinners. We want to help you find inspiration and ease some of the pain points that come with getting dinner on the table night after night, whether you’re cooking one or a family of four or five. Every week we share a new meal plan solution specifically customized for you from reader requests or from a guest contributor, for Next Week’s Meal Plan!