Fast and Frugal: 10 No-Fuss Weeknight Dinners

Chow on 08.17.11
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Photo: George Marks/Getty Images

The beginning of the school year is often marked with a bit of confusion, and a lot of rushing, before everyone gets into a routine again. It's also a time of excitement, with a sense of the new year, and endless possibilities. You may be saying to yourself, "This year I won't order so much take-out, or buy expensive pre-made meals or take the kids to McDonald's so often." So here are ten weeknight dinners that are quick, easy to make, healthy, and frugal -- everything you need to get the school year started off right.

The easiest way to make sure you make your own meals rather than ordering in, is to get organized. It's hard to cook dinner if your cupboards are empty. Make sure your pantry has plenty of staples in it like rice, canned tuna, canned beans, dried pasta and canned tomatoes. It also helps if you can take the time to make some dishes on the weekend that will get you halfway toward a finished dinner later in the week. Making a big pot of tomato sauce on the weekend can translate into plenty of simple meals during the week. Cooking lentils, making some sausages or cooking some beets will all come in handy for the recipes below.

1. Easy Tomato Sauce

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

For me, canned tomatoes are one of my most important ingredients. I do my own canning each fall, which I love to do, but that isn't a viable option for most people with small children. Luckily, you can buy great canned tomatoes -- just be sure you get plain tomatoes without any salt. This recipe for tomato sauce doesn't get any easier. Make a batch of it on Sunday or put the pot on the back of the stove one night while you cook the rest of your dinner, and you can use it straight up as a pasta sauce (without any "things" in it!) or as part of another recipe, like this tomato-mushroom omelet or homemade pizza.


2. Vegetable Soup

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

Here is a perfect example of using up your tomato sauce in another recipe. I always think really good vegetable soup is made up of bits and pieces from your refrigerator, and if you toss in some pasta sauce as a base for it, so much the better. The beauty of a recipe like this is you can use any vegetables your kids like, it really doesn't matter.


3. Tomato Bean Stew

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

This recipe for tomato bean stew calls for a can of tomatoes, but if you have some tomato sauce, just use it instead. I love this recipe, it's really tasty and it comes together in about half an hour. This is a recipe of my son's (you can see the advantage of teaching your kids to cook).

4. Pasta with Sausage, Tomato and Spinach

Whenever I can't be bothered cooking, or even thinking about cooking, this recipe for pasta with sausage, tomato and spinach is what I turn to. It's much quicker to make if you have cooked sausages in the refrigerator already, but if not, slice them first before putting them in the pan and they will cook much faster. You can even remove the sausage from the casing and cook it that way rather than having it in slices.Once again, use the tomato sauce rather than canned tomatoes if you have it.

5. Linguine with Brown Butter, Sage and Poor Man's Parmesan

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

When Parentables first launched, I asked a number of my children's friends what their favourite childhood meal was and not surprisingly a number of them said noodles with butter and cheese. This linguine with brown butter, sage and poor man's parmesan is a bit more sophisticated than that, but not much. It is however, surprisingly delicious.The poor man's parmesan turns out to be bread crumbs.

6. Spaghetti with Rubies

The earthy taste of beets isn't for everyone, I know, especially children. My daughter absolutely adored beets as a child as did some of our friends children, so I'm including this recipe for spaghetti with rubies here. Honestly, how can you resist that recipe title. Beets take a fair bit of time to cook, but you can roast them or boil them the night before and then toss them in with the pasta. The spaghetti turns a beautiful pinky/red colour which is quite beautiful, a great bonus for little girls who are obsessed with pink!

7. Tuna and Bean Salad

This tuna and bean salad is my warm weather go-to dish. It takes about five minutes to put it together. It's light, but satisfying and perfect for warm September evenings when you get home from work and need to get dinner on the table quickly. Serve it with a green salad, or even on top of a green salad.

8. Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce

I absolutely love this recipe for chickpeas in ginger sauce. It has tons of flavour, without being spicy and it takes almost no time to make. You do have to have a certain number of Indian spices on hand though, which as far as I'm concerned, you should.

9. Soy Glazed Chicken

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

If you don't already have a slow cooker/crock pot you might think about investing in one. They are quite reasonably priced, and they are a great time saver. Not only that, the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat do extremely well in them. This recipe for soy glazed chicken hot pot is a serious kid pleaser. It's a bit sweet and a bit salty and totally delicious. The recipe is for chicken thighs which are economical, but my husband won't eat dark meat, so I made it with chicken breasts.


10. Fried Rice

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

I'm leaving the recipe for fried rice to the end of the list because it is a great end-of-the-week dish. Clean the fridge out for the beginning of the week. You can add whatever you like to the mix. You can make it vegetarian, or throw in a bit of leftover meat if you like, it changes every time you do it.


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