There are so many enjoyable things about being an adult: staying up as late as you want (and paying for it the next morning), traveling (when your bank account allows), not needing to ask anyone’s permission to watch PG-13 movies (unless it’s your 15th viewing of Clueless, in which case your partner might offer some unwanted input). But with great perks comes great responsibilities—like somehow conjuring a dinner out of thin air every single day.
Sometimes, around 5 or 6 p.m., I’ll look around, wondering who’s responsible for dinner—then realize that, oh Lord, it’s me. There’s a real Groundhog Day quality to the mealtime shuffle, especially when you’re providing sustenance for multiple humans of different appetites, preferences, and levels of aptitude with silverware (oh, hi kids!).
And sure, there are some landmark days that call for elaborate dishes and fancy napkins, but 95 percent of our weeknights demand meals that encompass the three s’s: speedy, satisfying, and simple. Really, the fewer dishes, the better. After all, you only have so much time to put the kids to bed before reliving your angsty teenage years to the bouncy strains of “Kids in America.”
Below, five lightning-quick family dinners that are tasty and wholesome enough to satisfy everyone from the elementary school set up to, well, the adult(ish) among us. All five recipes can be made in 30 minutes or less, and they’re ones that I’ll return to over and over again.
1. Shrimp Fried Rice
We live in a busy neighborhood, so it takes a while for takeout to make its way to us, which is unfortunate because I am often overcome with fried rice cravings. This dish satisfies all the desire for a protein-rich, flavorful one-plate meal, but is mild enough to appeal to kids. One big tip is to use leftover rice—the grains are less liable to stick together. I also like to serve it with my favorite chili crisp for a little extra kick. This dish keeps really well (just like takeout), so you can pack it in a lunch for the next day, or hoard it for yourself, as I do.
2. Tortilla Española (Spanish Tortilla)
Spanish tortilla feels like a fresh take on breakfast for dinner—thin slices of potato shallow-fried in oil, then broiled in a skillet with eggs, so the top takes on a crisp, beautifully browned crust, while the potatoes remain tender. I served mine with loads of cotija cheese and avocado, but you could also add a crisp green salad on the side. Bonus—it’s vegetarian! Once, as the tortilla was cooking, my kid came bounding down the stairs, declaring, “The whole house smells delicious.” That’s a review you can’t ignore.
3. One-Spot Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Artichokes, and Caper
Pasta’s a hit for many reasons—carbs! cheese! affordability!—and we find ourselves with a sleeve of spaghetti in the pantry every week. As good as marinara sauce is, I sometimes long for something a little different. I love how this recipe melds the rich flavor of chicken broth with bright tomatoes and artichokes to create a creamy sauce that the spaghetti cooks straight in. The capers offer a salty burst of flavor, while the fresh basil perks the whole dish up. For our family’s taste, we add more tomatoes than the recipe suggests, which only deepens the flavors.
4. Chopped Cheese
Not being a New Yorker, I wasn’t familiar with this sandwich, but my husband described it as a “deconstructed, well-seasoned cheeseburger on a hoagie.” Sold! And it truly took no time at all to come together. The magic happens in one pan, with the melted cheese holding the beef together, and the crispy hoagie soaking up those flavors. Crispy lettuce and fresh tomatoes round out the flavors beautifully. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser with a rich cultural history. What’s not to love?
5. Easy Chicken Skillet Enchiladas
My husband and I are on a years-long quest to coax our daughter into liking enchiladas, out of a selfish desire to eat enchiladas as frequently as we can. This recipe is perfect for those times when you have a couple cups of leftover shredded chicken—or, best of all, one of those holy grail Costco rotisserie chickens. The enchiladas cook right in the sauce on the skillet, with no need to turn on the oven. And this dish tastes even better the next day, after the enchiladas have had time to marinate in the flavors a bit longer.