One good way to discover dinner ideas is to have dinner at someone else's house. My kids are more polite in the presence of company, so I can never be sure if they truly love the meal and it's worth trying at home, or if they know they would be in huge trouble if they said "Yuck" at someone else's dinner table. If kids go back for seconds, though, I know it's safe to adopt the recipe. Here are three examples where they went back for seconds.
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
My sister-in-law often makes pulled pork sandwiches for family gatherings. Now we eat these at home on a regular basis (in fact is cooking my slow cooker as I type this). What I like best about pulled pork is you can use leftovers the next night for pork tacos.
There are various versions of simplicity for this meal, but they are all pretty easy. The most simple is this:
Pork Shoulder (as much as you need for your family, plus enough for leftovers)
BBQ Sauce or ready made sauce packets for pork such as Frontera or Red Fork
Sliced onions (if you even care to take that step)
Hamburger buns and/or tortillas
Put pork in a slow cooker and pour about a 1/2 cup of bbq sauce or the sauce packet on top. Most important step: TURN SLOW COOKER ON! Cook for 6-8 hours.
If you have a bit more time, I found a great recipe--Grandma's Easy BBQ Pork--in The Primal Blueprint Cookbook that rocked my world, and is in my opinion, worth the few extra steps.
1 tablesppon olive oil
4 lbs of pork shoulder roast (bone in has richer flavor)
1 small onion
1/2 cup ketchup (the book includes a recipe for homemade ketchup, too)
1 cup water
1/3 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brown meat on all sides in oil over medium to medium-high heat in a flame-proof casserole or Dutch oven. While the meat is browning, combine remaining ingredients and stir. When meat has browned, remove from heat and pour mixture over the meat. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. (This is forgiving if you need to cook longer, it will only shred easier). Check halfway through baking time, adding a small amount of water if necessary. Once done baking you can pull the meat apart and mix with the sauce.
Serve with hamburger buns and bbq sauce one night and tortillas and salsa the next!
Tia Laura's Meatballs
My dear friend Laura, who has made the blog over the years as we were once ironman-training partners and now get together for relay races sporadically, can make a killer lasagna. My kids asked me to make her lasagna, which I did, but not up to the standards set by Tia Laura. However, I have managed to reproduce her meatballs to their liking. They are wonderful, fun for the kids to make, and part of an enjoyable, complaint-free meal. I use this industrial-size recipe (makes about 5 dozen), then freeze leftover meatballs for easy access. If you don't want to freeze for later, cut the ingredients in half. Disclaimer, the recipe is hardly exact because I make this by feel.
4 lbs ground beef (or 2 lbs beef plus 2 lbs ground mild italian sausage)
2 cups ish bread crumbs
3 eggs (enough to help the meat and crumbs combine)
1 cup ish pesto
Sprinkling of grated parmesan
Mix well, roll into 2-inch balls and place an inch or two apart on a foil-lined or sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes.
Place meatballs on top of your favorite noodle (or spaghetti squash or bed of kale, this is yum, I promise, but not recommended for the kids as they will surely balk) and sauce and devour.
Easy Chicken Strips
After watching Food Inc., I can't buy frozen chicken nuggets at the store from the major chicken producers. Just can't. But my kids, like all kids, love chicken in that nugget or strip form. I sought out a few recipes and then mashed them up to make my own. Kids love them, ask for them, and don't seem to miss the chicken industry nugget.
The recipe that follows is definitely not as easy as ripping open a bag of frozen chicken nuggets, but they are easy enough that they’ve become a staple at our house. They are easier if you have children old enough to help you with the dipping and dredging. The kids love that part and that frees me up to stay focused on cooking, and not burning, the chicken.
2-3 chicken breasts pounded flat between two pieces of wax paper (let the kids do this, unless you need to take out your frustrations on raw meat), then slice into strips.
4 eggs beaten with a squirt of yellow mustard
Plate of flour for dredging
Plate of equal parts bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese for dredging
Salt and Pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces then dip in the egg/mustard and roll in the flour. Dredge a second time in the egg/mustard and then in the bread crumbs/cheese. Cook in batches turning when lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes each side. If kids are helping, they can dip and dredge while you cook.
I like to keep all the chicken strips heated on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 250 degrees until everything else is ready to go.
Serve with a Caesar salad and you’ve got dinner!