10 Go To Dinner Options

10 Working Mama MealsI was recently having a chat with a friend when she asked about how we menu planned.  After initialing laughing because we NEVER menu plan, I did note that I do keep some basic easy dinners to make. I mean we all do, right? The things you get bored with making all the time. But that is the glory of the internets! Sharing our easy go to foods might be an eye opener for others.

For those of you that don’t know, I run a weekly segment on my personal blog called Toddler Dinners. Each Monday I post on a topic related to feeding kidlets and then a few shots from our week. I started this as just a one time “week in the life of dinner” post and found people LOVED it.  What I threw together as the “go to foods” were revolutionary to others. To me, they were nothing special but I have now done this for over 25 weeks and still have people finding use out of them. So lets try this adult style!

There are a few rules for dinner in our house:

  • Quick (30 minutes or less)
  • Mostly healthy (ok mac and cheese is thrown in sometimes)
  • Something for the kid or something I can modify

So without further ado, the top 10 meal options in the Mann house:

  1. Grilled chicken/pork/steak, veggie and rice:
    I take out frozen meat in the morning* and grill that evening with either a marinade or just an easy rub.
    Steam or sauté a veggie (usually frozen).
    Cook up rice or couscous depending on time. (note couscous is the fastest grain to cook EVER).
  2. Brinner:
    We always have eggs and milk in the house. This equals omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc.
    I try to keep a pack of bacon in the fridge.
    Fruit salad.
  3. Tacos, burritos, mexican pizzas, nachos, quesadillas:
    All you need is the meat (or beans if you are vegetarian), cheese and seasoning.
    Keep a pack of tortillas/chips or grab on the way home.
    For added veggies, throw it on some salad mix with carrots, cucumbers and peppers. BOOM
    For a mexican option that takes a bit more time but lasts for days, check out my mexican lasagna .
  4. Spaghetti:
    This is Kevin’s signature dish. Grab some hot italian sausage on the way home.
    Keep sauce and spices on hand.
    We always have different kinds of pastas on hand.
  5. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup:
    Quite possibly the easiest meal of all time. I can keep it all on hand.
    Add pasta to soup for more substance and make it easier on the kidlet. (see more ideas for toddlers and soup)
    Often pair with a small spinach side salad. Note spinach keeps better than salad mix.
  6. Trader Joe’s Frozen Meals:
    Mandarin Orange Chicken & Broccoli
    Sweet and Sour Chicken & Broccoli
    Fish sticks with veggies
    Here is a post on all my Trader Joe loves
  7. Homemade Pizza:
    Keep frozen dough or stop by any italian place and ask for dough. (thaw frozen dough night before*)
    Keep a jar of marinara or pizza sauce in the fridge
    Turkey pepperoni and cheese
    Veggies and/or pineapple
  8. Chicken and Broccoli Ring
  9. Grilled Kabobs, grilled potatoes and fruit:
    Steak or chicken, peppers, onions
    Quarter potatoes in foil pouch with olive oil and spices for grill.
    Fruit salad
  10. Take out -What? I’m not super mom. We usually frequent a local greek place with fresh food for a great price. Supporting the local economy and eating healthy on the cheap, can’t see how that is wrong.

So there are my ten. Please share your easy go-tos in a comment. We are all looking for new ideas and just something to slap together at the end of a stessful work day. Working moms ACTIVATE!

*Pro tip: set a reoccurring alarm on your phone to go off when in the kitchen in the morning to take something from the freezer.


  • Shannon says:

    This looks very similar to my go-to meals! Instead of “homemade pizza,” I do a childhood favorite of English muffin pizzas. And I usually do eggplant parm with spaghetti/linguine/ziti/whatever pasta once a week. I loveeeee brinner, tacos and grilled cheese/tomato soup!!
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  • Kim Z says:

    These are similar to my winter go to meals, but now that the weather is nice even these are too complicated for our weekday schedule!

    We typically get home between 5:30 and 5:45 which makes it a race to prepare and eat dinner before the 15 mth old’s bed/bath time around 7 (immediately followed by the 3 yr old’s bath/bed time). On nice days, however, we up the difficulty level by going to the playground for 30-45 minutes after work, and when we return home everyone is immediately hungry. I’ve started doing dinners that I can prep the night before and that can be eaten cold out of the fridge (usually with a side of fresh fruit, which we always have tons of):
    **pasta salad (depending on the sauce I may keep some pasta and vegis plain for the kids)
    **black bean tortilla rolls
    **spring rolls (as soon as I get motivated to get the wrappers)
    **turkey, cheese, crackers
    I’m definitely open to other cold, pre-prepped meal suggestions!
    Twitter: observacious

    • Brandy says:

      Good ideas. We did cold last night. Well i grilled some chicken but you could always do that beforehand. Then a nice hearty salad (i get from the salad bar at work) and fresh cut fruit. BAM. You could keep any kinds of grilled meats or beans or whatnot for salad creations.
      Brandy recently posted..10 Easy Meals. What are yours?My Profile
      Twitter: mannlymama

      • Kim Z says:

        Good idea with the cold grilled meat. I do use leftovers like that, particularly since we tend to grill a lot on the weekend.

        I also forgot to add the kids’ favorite:
        **Black bean and corn salad with sweet potato tortilla chips (the latter being from Trader Joe’s, of course!)
        Twitter: observacious

  • liz says:

    I do a chicken rice and broccoli dish, one pot meal, and top with cheese, a cheaters version of shepards pie by using instant potatoes, mac n chz by tossing in ham and peas, quesadillas are very handy. I have also started to my own versions of munchables (I got this from toddler menus because my son loves the idea of having a pretzel stuck in anything). Toddler Menus have saved me many a nights just by knowing to include things that I didn’t think of! I have also pulled out the crockpot and do batch cooking of chicken so it is cooked and on hand, oh and I have discovered the precooked real chicken, chicken fingers. Good for the kiddos and toss on a salad for us. My kids also happen to like veggie burgers, microwave in a few minutes also. I do keep a couple of “oh shit” cans of amy’s organic ravioli on hand. Wish there was a trader joes near by, but for all of you who have not checked out toddler menus, you should! It’s pictures, which equals easy to understand and remember for us visual learners, aka time challenged folks!

  • liz says:

    Ok, so I wanted to add some more because I obviously went more in to kid stuff so here are some adult ones:
    Opened stuffed peppers- brown beef, add frozen pepper, can of diced tomatoes, quick cook rice, cover, top with cheese.
    Shepards pie- ground beef, frozen veggies in pan season. Put in ramakins top with instant mash potatoes cheese and pop in oven unti brown on top.
    Rotissere chicken
    Peas, pasta and ham- sautee candian bacon diced, boil pasta, add peas to ham, add butter and a bit of flour (make paste), add milk and parm.cheese, drain pasta and add to mix.
    Frozen chicken fingers and salad
    Chciken and peppers- shredded chicken, mccormicks spice pack for chciken cacciatore, frozen peppers, rice and can of diced tomatoes. I have done this in the crockpot also and it was good, just don’t add the rice.
    Chicken enchiladas- wrap shredded chicken in tortilla, put in dish top with enchilada sauce (mild), cheese, bake.
    Crockpot chicken and ground beef so that it is all ready when when needed. I do chicken one week and beef the next. I also do crockpot freezer meals, but some are not liked by my kiddos so I turn to the make shift lunchables.
    Crazy pasta- all the reminents of pasta boxes topped with whatever sauce is in fridge or on shelf and any the same for any veggie.
    Hope that this helpful to someone!

  • Joanna says:

    I don’t work outside of the home but trying to cook dinner with an 11 month old at my feet and a hungry 2.5 year old means I try to keep my meals super quick to prep.

    Lately we are LOVING dijon herb chicken thighs. You can make the sauce ahead of time (3 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 tbsp lt. mayo, salt & pepper, crushed garlic, lime juice & lime zest to taste). I throw all of the chicken thighs in a large ziploc bag, add the sauce and mix really good. Dump it into a greased pan and cook on 400 for 25-30 minutes and then broil for 5. In the mean time I can cook some rice, fry up some potatoes and pop in a steamer bag of veggies- voila! makes great leftovers too. Chicken thighs are delicious and cheap.

    We always keep ground turkey frozen which I cook up and add to pasta sauce. I usually make an entire box of pasta because we all love second day spaghetti in this house.

    Other things I love is chicken sausage with potatoes and peppers. I just cut it all up in similar sizes and roast in the oven until done.

    I always keep a bag of the flash frozen thin chicken cutlets from Kroger in the freezer. They actually cook REALLY well on the grill or oven when frozen and are perfect for salads.

    We also like to cook more meat than we can eat with a few meals and then make leftovers into tacos or pizza. Life for instance Clint smoked a pork shoulder on Monday so yesterday we had pulled pork tacos- I just made some cilantro lime sauce, cut up some onions and made mexican rice and corn. If we BBQ chicken we’ll make bbq chicken pizza on another night. It’s a good way to use up leftovers and make the meal seem different. I’ve found just about anything can be made into a taco or pizza :)
    Twitter: RaisingMadison

  • TarheelJean says:

    Pasta with spinach pesto, feta and cherry tomatoes. It’s delicious and we usually stockpile pesto in the freezer – so then we just have to defrost, make the pasta and toss together.

    I’ve also been making fried rice a lot, particularly if I have the forethought to actually make the rice in advance. Just saute whatever veggies you have on hand, throw in the rice, and finish with some sesame oil and soy sauce. We’ll often add the TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken on the side.
    Twitter: TarheelJean

  • Lizzy B. says:

    Man, would you believe I’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s? I need to rememdy this. Stat.
    Lizzy B. recently posted..Virtual Play and the D&D Next PlaytestMy Profile
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  • Amy says:

    Crockpot BBQ chicken or pork – throw the meat + bottle of sauce in in the morning, shred it and it’s done when you get home. Lifesaver. Have also made a chicken tortilla soup in the crockpot or stovetop a few times lately and it is DELICIOUS and easy. My kid even likes it (she hates soup).
    Amy recently posted..Swing LowMy Profile
    Twitter: bananawheelz

  • Susan says:

    Ha! We had Trader Joe’s fish sticks and sweet potato fries for dinner last night.
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  • cayley rice says:

    We get the TJ’s cod fillets instead of the sticks. They’re healthier, so I call them grown-up fish sticks. Also, the eggplants cutlets make great alternatives to pasta occassionally.
    cayley rice recently posted..Week of March 11: Guest Post!!!My Profile

    • Brandy says:

      Yeah I have had the eggplant but hubs wasn’t a fan. I can’t give him a hard time…he usually likes most stuff.
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Brandee says:

    And your protip? Just saved my cooking life. Why did I not think of this?

    Your go-to’s are too similar to ours. I buy tortellini and things like fresh chicken enchilada trays from Costco and freeze them to pull out on a moment’s notice. I like tortellini and ravioli because Everly will eat them with the spinach, squash, chicken in them where otherwise, she won’t really.

    OUr other go to is tuna salad. We keep chickpeas and tuna on hand, and I buy large things of mixed greens on hand, and cheery tomatoes. We ALWAYS have cucumbers and avocados, throw that ish in a bowl with whatever veggies, throw half a can of tuna and some chickpeas and boom. We so this also with leftover chicken breast, black beans and corn to be more Southwester :)
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    • Brandy says:

      Yes. I had too many afternoons of going “I FORGOT THE STUPID MEAT”. Especially when we had a lot of Omaha Steaks in the freezer. Plus we buy a lot of local meat that is frozen…so I have to do it a lot. I finally set that alarm and it helps make me get ready on time and get the stuff out!
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Paige says:

    One of my go-to meals is a whole baked chicken. I buy a whole roaster when they are on sale for cheap. I stuff the cavity with sliced orange and the brush the chicken with a mixture of olive oil, parsley, and garlic powder. A 7 lb chicken takes 2-2.5 hours to cook (see label for temp and time). For meal #1, I serve with a salad and a side. There will be plenty of left overs. Meal #2 is usually chicken enchiladeas, which I prepare that night so all I have to do is put it in the oven the next day and serve with left over salad. Also, I’ve used the left over chicken to make chicken potpie (Bisquick recipe).

  • Heather says:

    First of all, high five for this post because I am totally bookmarking this for when I am stumped and need ideas for meal planning! Woot!

    We do a lot of standard easy meals- spaghetti, margherita or BBQ chicken pizza, lasagna (I make on weekends and freeze), and tacos.

    Another favorite when I’m craving good southern home cooking is chicken pie (not to be confused with POT PIE):

    Bake chicken breasts (for our family of 3 I usually use 2 large ones) in 350 degree oven covered in 1 can Cream of chicken soup until mostly cooked (about 30 min if not frozen). Shred chicken. Mix chicken with 1 can cream of celery soup. Then the good stuff- the buttermilk crust: 1 cup buttermilk, 1 stick of melted butter, 1 cup of self rising flour. Mix and pour over chicken mixture. Bake another 30 minutes or until crust is risen and pie is bubbling at sides. This is esp. awesome because you can make the chicken mixture ahead of time and just keep in fridge. Make crust when you get home from work and bake- you can have an awesome dinner on the table in less than 40 min.

    We also do a lot of chili in the wintertime in big batches and freeze for thawing. Meatloaf is also a good make-ahead and stick in the oven after work, but it can take a long time to cook!

  • Susan L. M. says:

    Definitely agree with most of yours – I also got this super easy recipe for a baked ravioli dish from Redbook Magazine…

  • Kelly says:

    Thanks dude :). Some similar and helpful reminders that I’m not too terribly off track :)

  • KeAnne says:

    I haven’t been to Trader Joe’s either. I feel so deprived. Each week we try to cook a multi-day meal on Sunday or Monday that we can eat for several days: jambalaya, ziti, chicken pie, pot roast etc. We can usually get 2-3 days out of them before we declare no more. This week’s multi-day meal was hamburgers. On other days, we get take-out from our local Chinese place. If we cook, I bake pork chops (25 minutes) or make kielbasa (10 minutes). Throw in a few sides, and they are very quick meals.

    Brandy, funny, Jimmy feels the same way about the crock pot, so we seldom use ours unless it’s on a weekend.
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  • A favorite for our kids:

    1. “Pasta with Bacon” aka Carbonara.
    1 package spaghetti, 1/2 a one pound package of bacon (we get nitrate free bacon for better health). 2 eggs, a dollop of plain yogurt, plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Add some tomato slices or cheery tomatoes for adults, spinach salad on the side and a full meal ready in 15-30 minutes.

    2. One dish roasted chicken. If you are going to the park after work but before dinner this works great. I use this when my oldest has swim practice- I put it in the oven and then go to his swim practice. Get a whole chicken – preferably antibiotic and hormone free. 4-5 pounder is best. Get a big roasting pan– if possible with rack to put chicken on. In roasting pan throw in little potatoes, or chopped up sweet potatoes, 2-3 chopped onions (chop them big), 1/2 carrots rough chopped, 1/2/ pound celery rough chopped, any other root veggies you like. Season veggies, throw in a cup of water or chicken broth (I use the little containers of chicken broth), salt chicken (pepper of your kids can take it– mine can’t) and throw it all in the oven on 380 for about 60-90 minutes. Voila wonderful home cooked dinner all cooked in one dish with protein and veggies. Usually good leftovers as well.
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  • Diana says:

    love your list! i recently wrote a post about making crepes! you can prepare the batter the night before and the toppings are easy and delish! check it out here:http://ladydeelg.tumblr.com/post/33872826611/make-it-a-crepe-night
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