Over the last few months my family has fallen into a dinner rut. We are desperate for new dinner ideas that satisfy fussy eaters and are family-friendly — oh, and they’ve got to be easy recipes, too. Does this sound familiar? The three or four go-to meals I’d make in constant rotation were once major crowd-pleasers, but now everyone is just a little bit sick of them. The dreaded “what should we have for dinner” conversation has become all too real — it’s definitely time to mix things up with some new dinner ideas.
The pandemic has wrought havoc on so many things. One of them is mealtime. Being at home more than I had ever been meant cooking a whole lot more. Naturally, my family got bored eating the same-old, same-old recipes. (I’m guessing you can relate.) The flip side of this, however, is that I have unadventurous eaters in my family who are hesitant to try new things. Still, I decided to throw caution to the wind and introduce some new foods, flavors, and maybe even some new traditions to our dinner routine — lest we all stay stuck in the land of unexcited taste buds.
Now here’s the caveat — I didn’t want dinner to turn into a long or over-involved process. I’ve also always played it a little safe in the kitchen because knowing a recipe and having all the ingredients already in my cupboard is convenient. So, I set out to find easy dishes that would excite my family without creating more work for me.
Below are some of the things I tried to spice up our meals, which may work for your family, too. I’m happy to report I haven’t heard a single groan yet!
Make a fun appetizer.
We tend to think of appetizers as something you get at restaurants, not dishes you make at home. But adding a pre-dinner app can rejuvenate your dinner routine. Plus, this fun extra course brings a festive, eating-out atmosphere into your home. One of my recent favorites is baked Brie cheese topped with some sweet mango chutney I picked up at Walmart. You just pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, and it comes out melty, gooey, and ready for crackers and a sweet topping. (See below for the recipe.) Making the app is a great job for a kid, spouse, or friend to get them involved in dinner prep.
Take turns picking dishes.
At my house, we’ve been having regular Sunday dinners where we all sit down together and have a meal that’s a little more involved. Every week, a different family member gets to pick the meal — ideally something we haven’t made before. This new tradition really makes us dig deep to find unique dishes to try, and it’s great that everyone gets a turn choosing.
Try new-to-you meals.
You don’t have to get a bunch of obscure ingredients or attempt an intricate recipe to try something new. Take the Indian dish tikka masala. It sounds complicated, right? It’s not at all — plus it’s really delicious. Once I discovered Patak’s Tikka Masala Curry Simmer Sauce at Walmart, it really changed how I see this dish. The sauce is so flavorful and makes a fast and simple dinner option. Now I can get tikka masala on the table in under 20 minutes, and it’s become a part of our regular rotation. Check out the recipe for 20-Minute Tikka Masala from Patak’s at the end of this article, and see for yourself how easy it is.
Turn any meal into a mini buffet.
Build-your-own pizza is always a popular dinner, so why not apply that concept to other foods? Give your family the freedom to create exactly what they want with build-your-own tacos, baked potatoes, and even tikka masala. For instance, the Patak’s 20-Minute Tikka Masala recipe below has options to add cilantro (which my daughter doesn’t love) and lemon juice (which I like lots of). By putting out different toppings, it gives us more things to choose from at dinner and more to look forward to.
Do a meal exchange with a friend.
Both myself and a friend will make a favorite dish, doubling or tripling the recipe. We save a portion for our own families, then package up the rest and do a quick exchange. The meals are usually heat-and-go, so it’s a good way to try new foods and cook less overall.
Baked Brie with Mango Chutney
Start to finish, 20 minutes
Up to 9 servings
- 1 wheel (8 ounces) Brie or Camembert cheese
- 1/2 clove garlic, sliced thinly
- 6 ounces Patak’s Sweet Mango Chutney (Buy from Walmart, $3.98)
- 1/2 cup chopped cashews
- Plain naan or crackers
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an oven tray with parchment paper.
- Place Brie on a tray; using a small knife, cut small holes in the top of the cheese.
- Press garlic slices into holes. Spread top of Brie with chutney and sprinkle with nuts.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until warm and so.
- Serve with naan or crackers.
20-Minute Tikka Masala
Start to finish, 20 minutes
Up to 6 servings
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 red onion or 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 3 cups (1 pound) diced rotisserie or leftover chicken, skin, and bones removed
- 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1 medium red or green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 jar (15 ounces) Patak’s Tikka Masala Curry Simmer Sauce
- Salt, to taste
- Sugar, to taste
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, optional
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- Prepared Basmati rice, to serve
- Heat the vegetable oil in a pan and add the red onions or shallots.
- Add the chicken, tomatoes, pepper, and the simmer sauce. Cover and leave to cook through for 15 minutes.
- Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, sugar, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with Basmati rice.
This story was sponsored by AB World Foods.