3 Dinner Ideas for Before Christmas

3 Dinner Ideas for Before Christmas | Writing Between Pauses

It's that time of year. 

Yes, Christmas. But also, the season of food. Of eating. Of being invited to brunches, lunches, parties, and get togethers. 

Especially when you have kids, you still need to make dinner--and you want it to be something fast and reasonably healthy (considering you have at least a dozen cookies in your house at all times, as well as any number of snacks, cakes, leftovers, and more). 

The past week (and actually, this week as well), I've been really struggling with cooking dinners. We are exhausted after long days at work topped with getting ready for Christmas, visiting friends and family, and making dishes for pot lucks. But Forrest has a pretty set schedule for his meals and trust me, the kid knows how to read a clock. 

Here are 3 recipes I'm turning to this week and next to help us eat well on the lead up to Christmas. 

1. One Pot Chicken Pasta

This is one of my tried-and-true, if I make this everyone will eat it and enjoy it dinners. I usually make extra veggies to go alongside it (usually roasted carrots and Brussel sprouts), but even on it's own, it's extremely tasty. 

I actually no longer follow the recipe anymore because I customize it so much. I cut out the bacon, keep the chicken, use milk instead of cream and veggie stock instead of chicken, add broccoli, and add the parmesan at the end of cooking (instead of at the beginning--I have found it gets separated and weird if I put it in at the beginning). This would be a really easy recipe to make vegan: use veggie stock and replace the milk with either almond milk or soy milk; no chicken, but stir in beans at the end of cooking (or use vegan crumbles); use a cheese substitute or nutritional yeast. 

2. Taco Bake

This is my own personal recipe. It's incredibly easy and can be made ahead. I actually made a few trays of it recently and put them in the freezer for quick dinners through the winter. Here's what you'll need: 

  • 1 pound of ground beef (or chicken if you prefer) 
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning OR about 1/2 cup of salsa or enchilada sauce
  • 1 can of refried beans OR 1 can of black beans to make your own (just cook in a pan and mash as you do so, add a little salt and pepper) 
  • Tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Carrots, peppers, spinach, corn, and broccoli 
  • About 1 cup of leftover rice (or cooked fresh) 

Start by preparing a baking dish; I use a 9x9 square pan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, then put down a layer of tortillas. Cook your ground beef or chicken in a pan, adding the taco seasoning or salsa (whatever you've chosen to use). If you need to, start cooking your refried beans and rice. (If you're using leftovers, it cuts out that step!) In the oven, roast your veggies of choice, then add a few dashes of hot sauce as you mix them up. Once you have everything cooked, it's time to layer. I usually do a layer of refried beans onto the tortillas in the prepared dish, then meat, then veggies, then a light sprinkle of cheese. Layer tortillas again and repeat until you run out of everything. Top with cheese and bake for about 20 minutes. 

It's so good, so easy, and can be made using almost entirely leftovers. 

3. A Cheese Plate

If it's just you and your partner (or just yourself!), the simplest dinners are sometimes the best. Recently, Danny and I, after Forrest has gone to bed at 3:30 because he hadn't napped all day, had a cheese plate dinner. We sliced up some nice cheese, made a few slices of toast, made a chocolate sauce for some strawberries, peeled a few mandarin oranges, and opened a bottle of wine. It was simple and super satisfying. Next time, we want to make some bruschetta and toast, as well as cheese and strawberries, to enjoy. 

What Do You Eat for Dinner?

I recently read an article about at-home meal kits, like Blue Apron and Plate. The idea behind these kits is to provide families and individuals with the ingredients necessary to try new meals. Why? Because the average American family eats out about 18 times a month and otherwise, they cycle through about 10 meals that they cook consistently over and over again. 

That fact--that the average family cycles through about 10 meals that they always cook--made me think about what my meal staples are. When the going gets rough and I don't feel like cooking, what do I make? 

  1. Spaghetti. I would say that some form of spaghetti or pasta is on everyone's list of "go-to meals." It might be spaghetti with red sauce (like me) or alfredo or lasagna or something like that, but pasta is on nearly everyone's list in one form of another. 
  2. Salmon with rice & sweet potatoes. This is a pretty standard protein+carb+veggie dish that I make all the time... and I'm sure others do. 
  3. Barbecue chicken sandwiches with coleslaw. This is one of Danny and I's absolute favorite summer meals that we can make a variation of throughout the year thanks to my crockpot. However, after getting pregnant, I couldn't handle shredded chicken so we hadn't enjoyed it for a while. 
  4. Tacos or burritos. Another very standard staple. I use fat free refried beans and ground beef to make a filling that's great for tacos, burritos, salads, etc. 
  5. Pizza/calzone. I make a pretty awesome pizza dough (it's very easy), so I make pizza or calzone at least once a week or so. It's a great way to get the pizza fix without buying a pizza. This way, I can make it a little healthier. 
  6. Hamburgers with box mac & cheese. This is probably the unhealthiest thing in my rotation, but I just love that orange box mac & cheese. 
  7. Grilled cheese & soup. Soups are usually stew; chili; veggie; or potato. Usually homemade, but occasionally I buy potato soup. 
  8. Breakfast for dinner. Pancakes or waffles, eggs, and bacon is my usual go-to for a quick and easy dinner. But if I feel like getting crazy, I will sometimes make biscuits and sausage gravy or some kind of fancy omelette. 

That's it. I can't even think of 10! I have 8 meals I usually make for Danny and I. I can think of some I make a few times a year, like rouladen and colcannon or flautas, but aren't "staples" quite the way these ones are. 

Writing these down made me realize how much I need to add variety to our dinners. (Full disclosure: from February to May, I think I cooked a real dinner twice. And that was because other people were coming over.) I have so many cookbooks that I never use. Maybe it's time to put them to use...

What are your go-to meals? Can you think of 10?