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Weeknight dinner in an emergency

Categories: Cooking, recipes


My kids have been in school for a week, and we’re still working on getting our routine down.

Fall is an especially busy time around here since two of my kids have sports practices and game multiple evenings a week, and getting home at various wreaks havoc with our already tenuous dinner schedule.

More times than I care to admit, I’ve stood in the kitchen at 6pm wondering what to make for dinner because planning ahead doesn’t always work out this time of year (though things usually get better in the late fall) and no one else has had time to start dinner, either.

I call it “pulling dinner out of thin air” (OK, I may reference pulling it out of somewhere else on occasion, but only when I’m a little worked up) and, though it doesn’t require a lot of imagination, I nearly always turn to the old standby boneless chicken breasts.

I have no idea if it’s standard cooking procedure or not, but in a dinner “emergency”, I poach boneless, skinless breasts until they’re just shy of cooked, and then transfer them to a casserole dish and top them with something before they go in the oven.

One of the easiest ways, and a quick favorite around here is to top them with barbecue sauce and some cheese and scallions and bake them and finish them under the broiler for a better “barbecue-ish” taste.

The chicken with some broccoli florets on the side, and a bagged salad makes a pretty good dinner in a pinch. It’s even easier with already cooked, frozen chicken breasts such as Grilled N’ Ready from Tyson (not an ad, just a product I like that makes things easier) and I try to keep them stocked in the freezer for moments such as these.

What is your “thin air” dinner?

What do you fix when people are waiting, sandwiches won’t cut it, and you’re out of frozen pizza?

Please tell me, I would really like some fresh ideas!

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13 comments so far...

  • My newest emergency dinner consists of throwing some rice in the rice cooker while the oven preheats, baking up some “popcorn” chicken, simmering some sweet & sour sauce (honey, ketchup & vinegar, salt & pepper to taste — it sounds kind of gross, but is better than anything you can buy in a bottle) & steaming a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave. Toss the chicken & veggies in the sauce to coat, serve over the rice & sprinkle with sesame seeds if you’re so inspired. I like to toast the seeds in a dry skillet first.

    I’m sure you could experiment with different sauces (a balsamic glaze or teriyaki, maybe?)

    LindaDub  |  August 16th, 2011 at 8:19 am

  • Linguine and clam sauce. I always have it in the pantry, just in case.

    2 cans of baby clams
    olive oil
    salt and pepper

    Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pan, cook a few minced cloves of garlic then add the canned clams and their “juice”, a palmful of dried parsley and bring to a boil then lower heat and allow to reduce a little while you make the pasta.
    Salt and pepper to taste and voila! I always serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

    Beth  |  August 16th, 2011 at 9:46 am

  • Assorted frozen ravioli & sauce with a salad. Sometimes I get super crazy & make the ravioli, mix them with sauce, put them in a baking pan, top with mozzarella and bake until the sauce is hot & the cheese has melted - then it looks like lasagna.

    cursingmama  |  August 16th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

  • Frozen meatballs are great to have on hand. My family’s favorite with them right now is meatball sandwiches. 30 meatballs in a saucepan with 1 jar of pre-made pasta sauce, (we prefer the tomato basil flavor,) simmer until fully hot. Put on soft sandwich rolls, toasted if you wish. Top with mozzarella or provolone, if desired.

    Easy peasy.

    Headless Mom  |  August 16th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

  • It’s kind of a cop-out, but breakfast for dinner is always good… Omelettes and pancakes and such.

    Quiches are good as well. All you need is a precooked frozen pie shell and eggs, milk and cheese for the base. After that you can throw whatever meats or veggies you want into it. Here’s a link to a basic recipe:

    mike  |  August 16th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

  • Oh yeah, kids love breakfast for dinner (me, too!) However, my go to weeknight meal (i.e. quick, easy and all the kids will most probably eat it) is buttered broad noodles and garlic bread. Now I’m hungry. Thanks.

    Liz  |  August 17th, 2011 at 9:15 am

  • Fish fillets, green vegetable. We usually forgo the starch. Always have a frozen veggie in the house and fillets can be cooked as is for me, quick breaded for the kiddo and the cook up as quick as chicken.

    Mich  |  August 17th, 2011 at 10:07 am

  • Mine lately has been pastas and sauces. Whatever pastas I have in the pantry get cooked (seems I always have half-boxes of 2 different types). I keep refrigerated pesto on-hand, and pasta or tomato sauce, or my kids just like olive oil and garlic salt (”plain noodles”). I know it’s all carb, but in a real pinch, it looks like dinner. Plus, the kids like the control of getting to pick sprials or long noodles, and red sauce or plain. ;)

    el-e-e  |  August 18th, 2011 at 12:38 pm

  • Rotisserie chicken from the grocery deli is great. You can add quick cook rice (I believe Uncle Ben’s has the type that you literally cook in a bag) and a salad and use the leftovers for chicken enchiladas.

    Honestly right now ordering pizza is my emergency dinner (that and grilled cheese is always a classic for the girls.)

    Jamie  |  August 18th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  • Try this “Thin Air” dinner!
    Turkey Wraps:
    Take a whole wheat tortilla shell, add some turkey lunch meat or any other left over protein you may have on hand. Add some lettuce, tomato, cheese and garnish with a pickle.
    Wraps are very versatile and remember you can freeze these as well.
    You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook!

    Quality Catering for Kids  |  August 19th, 2011 at 11:09 am

  • My “thin air dinner” is also “breakfast for dinner”! I always keep eggs on hand - so I’ll make omlettes or scrambled eggs and toast - served with cheese and whatever raw veggies or fruit I have on hand - I also do pancakes and french toast - again, served with fruit!

    Darlene  |  August 19th, 2011 at 11:35 am

  • My favorite is frozen chicken breasts on the grill. It said you could do it on the side of the bag and I was leary of it at first…but they are great. A little olive oil and some seasoning right on the frozen chicken breast, open heated grill 8 minutes, come back flip 8 minutes. Done. Juicy cooked chicken breast. While it’s grilling a quick rice or pasta box on the stove and a veggie in the micro. All done in 20 minutes with minimal attention paid to it. I have a 15 month old and a 3 year old… my attention seems to quickly get pulled from dinner.

    Kris  |  August 19th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  • My stand-by is a recipe passed down from when my mom did the cooking. Boneless skinless chicken breast seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder and seasoning salt. Then you sear it in a pan, almost cover it with chicken broth, cook and cover it until the broth evaporates. Then I just make some french fries and frozen veggies. Takes all of a half an hour.

    Kristina  |  October 11th, 2011 at 12:44 am