I Believe in Miracle Meals (and So Should You)

updated Nov 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Funny things happen when your work life blends into your home life. This is especially true for food editors. For example, a simple family dinner I shared on Instagram led to the discovery of miracle meals.

What Is a Miracle Meal?

Miracle meals are the meals we pull off despite the failure of our best-laid plans; the dinners we can get on the table in 10 minutes; the meals made from pantry staples. Miracle meals are just as much about the cooks as they are about the eaters.

They aren’t glamorous, but these basic meals bring us to the table and keep us out of the drive-thru. Miracle meals rely on pantry staples and even the occasional supermarket shortcut. Many of these miracles can be prepared in a single pot or pan, but they are also the meals that everyone at the table enjoys. These are the meals that keep the love of family meals alive — especially when meal planning doesn’t go as planned.

Miracle Meals are the meals we pull off despite the failure of our best-laid plans; the dinners we can get on the table in 10 minutes; the meals made from pantry staples. Miracle meals are just as much about the cooks as they are about the eaters.

Dinner Doesn’t Always Go as Planned

Many of us want to make home-cooked meals a regular practice, because we know the benefits. Despite our best intentions and our meticulous meal prep, there will always be a few mistakes and scheduling conflicts that deter us. Work meetings run long, the chicken didn’t thaw in time, or someone forgot about the homework assignment that means a trip to the craft store tonight. All of these tiny frustrations can become excuses for skipping family dinner. It often feels easier to run through the drive-thru or order takeout.

This is where miracle meals happen — when our determination to share a home-cooked meal beats ordering pizza with something put together from pantry staples, grocery store shortcuts, and just a few pots or pans while still pleasing the whole family.

10-Minute Black Bean Tacos (Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Good, Not Perfect

Family dinner has become so romanticized by media and marketing that many home cooks feel an immense pressure to perform elaborate feats of cooking every single night for their family. A balanced home-cooked meal isn’t always one you’ll see on Instagram or Pinterest, but is often a well-loved recipe or simple pantry staples assembled in a fresh way. Miracles meals are an invitation to cook from your intuition and an opportunity to define your own success around shared meals. Their goal is to make sure a shared meal is something to savor and not a source of stress.

Well-Loved Crowd-Pleasers

Shop Smarter, Work Smarter

Stop feeling guilty about using store-bought shortcuts. Decide which shortcuts work for you and your family and don’t worry about the rest. Maybe you feel comfortable grabbing a rotisserie chicken or maybe your kids love chicken nuggets and you found a frozen brand you feel good about serving. Frozen rice, pre-chopped and steamed vegetables, and store-bought doughs can become miracle meals with a few simple additions.

Smart Shortcut Dinners

The Power of the Pantry

A well-stocked kitchen makes cooking dinner easy, but miracle meals often happen on those lean days between grocery shopping trips. Harness the power of the pantry with a small set of culinary skills. A can of beans can be turned into a plentiful dinner. Pasta can make magic appear. Rice is the universal unifier. The power of the pantry doesn’t come from perfection, but in putting forth earnest effort.

Pantry-Powered Miracle Meals

A Shared Meal Is Always a Miracle Meal

Family dinner has long been a source of joy for me: I grew up with a single working mother who put herself through graduate school, while working multiple jobs and raising three kids, but who insisted that we sit down together as a family for dinner as often as possible. We joke that I learned to cook because I was tired of eating Hamburger Helper and tuna-noodle casserole every week. When I started my own family, dinners became a haven in our hectic schedules.

Yet the hallmark of a successful family dinner is never what’s on the table. Instead, I recognize miracle meals by the four of us at the table, by the conversations (and sometimes by the silence of full mouths) and by the empty plates and requests for more. To me, those things will always be more important. Miracles meals are a celebration of the well-worn meals that feel victorious against the odds that Wednesday night dinner doesn’t always go as planned.

Miracle Meal Inspiration

How do you define success at the dinner table? What are some dinners you’ve pulled off against all odds? What makes a miracle meal for you?