This is a guest post from Isabella York, a working mother who is dedicated to a healthy lifestyle, without giving up her life in the process. Along with raising her son, she works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of Artificial Christmas Trees and Christmas Trees.
When you’re used to microwave dinners, takeout lunches, and cereal and milk for breakfast, cooking a whole meal from scratch can be pretty intimidating. I have to admit, I was part of the Chinese takeout brigade before I had children, leaving cook-at-home healthy choices on the back burner. The same was true after I got married, and continued well into last year.
The result? Our waistlines were expanding, our food budget-draining away, and we were, admittedly, in a food rut. So after a little trial and error, my husband and I found 5 basic recipes that give you a no-fail, mouthwateringly delicious, home-cooked meals every time.
Over time our family has expanded our cooking prowess and eating exploration that has developed a house of healthy foodies. Start a trend in your home with these easy recipes, and you might find yourself donning the chef hat more and more often.
1. Roast Chicken
Why it seems intimidating: A whole bird instead of neatly packed, deep-fried nuggets? Sounds scary, but really, roasting a chicken takes next to no effort, and after you’ve stuck it in the oven, you’re basically done! Here is a recipe we love from Jamie Oliver:
• 1 x approximately 3.5 lb chicken
• 2 medium onions
• 2 carrots
• 2 sticks of celery
• 1 bulb of garlic
• olive oil
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 lemon
a small bunch of fresh thyme, rosemary, bay or sage, or a mixture
To prepare your chicken
• Take your chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before it goes into the oven
• Preheat your oven to 475°F
• All vegetables – just give them a wash and roughly chop them
• Break the garlic bulb into cloves, leaving them unpeeled
• Pile all the veg and garlic into the middle of a large roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil
• Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper, rubbing it all over the bird
• Carefully prick the lemon all over, using the tip of a sharp knife ( you can pop the lemon in the microwave for 40 seconds to really bring out the flavor)
• Put the lemon inside the chicken’s cavity, with the bunch of herbs
To cook your chicken
• Place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the roasting tray and put it into the preheated oven
• Turn the heat down immediately to 400°F and cook the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes (check for an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F)
• Baste the chicken halfway through cooking and if the veggies look dry, add a splash of water to the tray to stop them from burning
• When cooked, take the tray out of the oven and transfer the chicken to a board to rest for 15 minutes or so
• Cover it with a layer of tinfoil and a tea towel and put it aside. Serve after 15 minutes.
Why it seems intimidating: A baked pasta dish seems daunting when it comes to assembly, but really efficient cooking is in the timing and distribution of tasks. For lasagna, the sauce and cheese can be prepared beforehand, so you just have to put them together. All Recipes has a recipe so good it will have your kids asking for more each and every time. This recipe features ground beef, but you can eliminate the meat altogether to make it more vegetarian, or replace it with Portobello mushrooms for a yummy alternative:
• 1 pound Lean Ground Meat
• 1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce (32 oz)
• 9 Lasagna Noodles
• 1 Container Cottage Cheese (32 oz)
• 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
• 1 Egg
• Salt & Pepper to taste
• 3 cups Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup water
How to make the lasagna
1. Brown and drain hamburger in a medium skillet. Add spaghetti sauce and allow it to simmer making sure to stir occasionally.
2. In a separate bowl combine half the parmesan cheese, cottage cheese, egg, and 2 cups mozzarella cheese. Mix well and add salt and pepper to taste.
3. In the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish evenly spread 3/4 cup of the sauce mixture. Cover with 3 uncooked lasagna noodles, 1 3/4 cup of the cheese mixture, and 1/4 cup sauce. Repeat layers twice. Top with 3 noodles, remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. Add 1/2 cup water to the edges of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F(175 degrees C) oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from All Recipes Easy Lasagna II
3. Spaghetti Sauce
Why it seems intimidating: Making spaghetti sauce from scratch can seem tedious enough to make people reach for the jar varieties, but making your own sauce can really give you control over what’s in your food. Aside from this and being an overall cheaper alternative (make it in bulk and freeze left-overs), you can tweak it to your own tastes. Here’s a recipe my husband found to make spaghetti sauce with ingredients straight from the garden:
• 2 tbsp minced garlic
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• ½ cup celery, finely chopped
• ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 16-ounce can tomato sauce
• 4 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
• ½ tbsp oregano
• ½ tbsp basil
• 1 tbsp parsley
• ¼ tsp salt
• 1 tsp sugar
• 6-ounce can tomato paste
• ½ cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
• 1 medium carrot, grated
• ½ cup black olives, chopped
How to prepare your sauce
1. In a large pot, sauté garlic, onion, and celery over medium heat.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for three hours. Serve over pasta.
3. Stir Fry
Why it seems intimidating: Fast cooking vegetables over high heat, with chopping and hot oil involved will make most people reject the idea of a stir fry, but we found a few ways to eliminate the tediousness and lessen the scary thought of getting burnt by flashing hot oil. Try out this recipe and be hailed master chef in your own home:
• Pre-cut vegetables (whatever vegetables you want, but we’re partial to broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, red and yellow bell peppers)
• Tofu (adds protein without the fat, plus my kids love its texture)
• Canola and sesame oil (very healthy oils, plus the sesame gives it great flavor)
• Salt and pepper to taste
How to prepare your stir fry
1. Combine a few tbsp of canola and sesame oil into a deep pan or wok, with the flame set on high
2. When the oil is hot, pour in vegetables and stir fast to sauté the ingredients, leaving them in about 4 to 5 minutes (or less, to retain their nutrients and keep them crunchy)
3. Add the tofu and stir for another minute to toss with the oil and vegetables
4. Season with salt and pepper
5. (optional: stir in 2 tbsp of teriyaki sauce)
Why it seems intimidating: The effort it takes to prepare chili often makes it a no-no for home cooks. Fortunately, I found a recipe on Food.com that is not only easy, it’s also healthy! Basically throwing things into one pot, this home-cooked chili can be served with taro chips and salsa for a Mexican Night, or eaten alone on a lazy, one-bowl comfort food night.
• 2 lbs chicken breasts
• 3 bell peppers (green, red, and yellow)
• 1 medium onion
• 1 tsp chili powder
• 1/2 tsp cumin
• 2 (14 ounces) cans of black beans
• 1 (4 ounces) can green chilies
• 1 (14 ounces) can creamed corn
• 1 (14 ounces) can stewed tomatoes
How to make your chili
1. Chop peppers, onion, and chicken into bite-size pieces.
2. Saute the above with spices until vegetables are soft and chicken is no longer pink.
3. Dump chicken mixture into a crockpot with green chilis (drained), corn, tomatoes and only one can of beans (drained).
4. Puree the remaining can of beans in its own liquid with a hand blender or food processor.
5. Add to crockpot and cook for 4-6 hours on low.
Adapted from Food.com’s Healthy Crockpot Chili
Want more easy family-friendly recipes? Check out Maryann’s book: The Family Dinner Solution: How to Create a Rotation of Dinner Meals Your Family Will Love
Chili is one of our go to meals. I also make an easy mac and cheese recipe of which I always have the ingredients on hand. it’s just as easy for me as the boxed with so much less sodium and chemicals.
These are truly the easiest meals to make from scratch at home! We double our batch of spaghetti sauce and freeze the leftovers in quart size glass jars for mid-week dinners. Chili is another great dish to double and freeze for later. We all have those days where a homemade meal isn’t going to happen, so having something I’ve already made waiting in the freezer is perfect!