In a rut when it comes to dinner and dealing with finicky kids? Turn to these 10 family-pleasing meals -- picky kids included -- courtesy of Cheapism.com. Better yet, they cook up in 20 minutes or less and cost just $2 to $4 a serving. (Cost calculations based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Safeway, and Walmart.) Ingredients such as eggs and rotisserie chicken help make dinner prep a snap. So enjoy the light of a summer day some place besides a hot kitchen and still serve up a tasty repast.
Picky Eaters? Try These 10 Easy 20-Minute Meals
Nachos are always a winner and easy to pull off with the help of a rotisserie chicken. Preheat the oven to 400. On a large baking sheet, have the kids distribute a layer of tortilla chips; top with two (15.5-ounce) cans drained pinto beans, 3 cups chopped rotisserie chicken, and a good sprinkling of whatever shredded cheese is on sale, preferably a Mexican blend or cheddar. Bake until cheese is melted, about five minutes. Serve with dollops of sour cream and salsa. Let the kids add extras at the end depending on their tastes -- olives, fresh cilantro, avocado chunks, etc. Serves four; $4.16/serving.
Sloppy Joes are always a winner; serve with vitamin-heavy cabbage made into a slaw for a complete and easy meal. For the slaw, in a large bowl combine 4 tablespoons mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste; stir in a 14-ounce package of shredded cole slaw mix. Meanwhile, cook 1.5 pounds of ground beef until done (about six to eight minutes) and drain to remove fat. Stir in one-half cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons yellow mustard, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste; heat through. Scoop meat mixture onto hamburger buns and serve with slaw. Serves four; $2.65/serving.
Pork, cheese, and pasta come to the rescue for this weeknight meal. Boil spaghetti noodles and drain, making sure to reserve one-half cup of pasta water. Meanwhile, warm a 2.52-ounce package precooked bacon in the microwave according to package directions and chop into pieces. In a large bowl, whisk together two large eggs, one-half cup grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in noodles and reserved water; mix together until eggs are cooked from the heat of the noodles, just one or two minutes; top with bacon and more parmesan. Serves four; $2.31/serving.
At about 16 cents an egg, there are few protein-rich dinner ingredients that are cheaper or easier to work with, whether used in a frittata or just scrambled and served atop toast. For this frittata, incorporate vegetables that the kids enjoy, such as chopped roasted red peppers or zucchini. In a large bowl, whisk together eight large eggs with salt, pepper, 1 cup chopped ham, 1 cup chopped sundried tomatoes, 1 cup chopped veggies of choice, and one-half cup grated Parmesan cheese. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick pan, and pour in egg mixture. Stirring with a spatula, cook a few minutes until egg mixture sets on the bottom; transfer to the broiler and broil until the top is golden and fluffy; cut into pieces. Serves four; $2.81/serving.
A mild jerk spice brings flavor to pork chops, and when served with a side of apples sautéed with maple syrup and butter, this is one satisfying kid-friendly meal. In a large pan, add six sliced and cored apples along with 1 tablespoon butter plus a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup. Stirring pretty constantly, cook on high heat until soft, about eight minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon dried thyme, one-half teaspoon sweet paprika, one-half teaspoon allspice, plus salt and pepper. Sprinkle spice mixture over 1.5 pounds boneless, thin-cut pork chops. When apples are cooked, transfer to a (covered) medium bowl. Add pork chops to the same pan with a splash of olive oil and sauté on high heat a few minutes on each side until cooked through. Serves four; $3.44/serving.
Skirt steak is one of the most affordable steak options there is, especially when sliced and stretched to feed a family. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook 1 pound spaghetti according to package directions (grab one-half cup of that boiling water for the sauce). Meanwhile, season 1.5 pounds of skirt steak with salt and pepper; broil until done, about four minutes a side depending on thickness; let steak rest. Meanwhile, in a food processor blend three-quarters cup smooth peanut butter, one-quarter cup soy sauce, one-half cup reserved hot pasta water, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Mix peanut sauce with drained noodles and serve with sliced steak. Serves four; $3.98/serving.
A rotisserie chicken isn't much more expensive than a whole uncooked chicken but helps get dinner on the table in half the time. Pull the meat off the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. For the tzatziki sauce, mix 2 cups Greek yogurt with one-half cup finely minced cucumber, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and salt to taste. Generously slather the tzatziki onto flat pita bread and pile high with chicken, plus a little lettuce and sliced tomatoes. Serves four; $4.15/serving.
Cheese plus tomatoes plus pasta equals another kid-dinner winner. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook 1 pound of penne (or other small pasta) according to package directions, making sure to reserve one-quarter cup pasta water when draining the pasta. Meanwhile, sauté 2 pints cherry tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat, stirring pretty constantly, until blistered, about five minutes. Right at the end, stir in 2 cups basil leaves and cook until wilted. In a large bowl, stir together tomato mixture, pasta, 1.5 cups chopped mozzarella or mini mozzarella (bocconcini), pasta water, salt, pepper, and olive oil if needed. Serves four; $3.92/serving.
Beans are another protein-filled and cheap dinner option that can save the day, whether mashed and refried as a side or tossed with a grain. In a large bowl, add 1 cup couscous and 1.5 cups boiling water, along with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil; stir to combine and cover with a lid or foil; let sit 10 minutes. In a large sauté pan, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat; add three-quarters teaspoon each of cumin, coriander, and garlic powder; stir for one minute. Stir in two (15.5-ounce) drained cans of chickpeas, one (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes in juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 10 minutes and ladle over couscous. Serves four; $2.09/serving.
Tilapia smeared with a layer of mayonnaise and crunchy breadcrumbs is a close rendition of child-friendly fish sticks. Preheat oven to 450. Place four medium seasoned and thinly sliced tilapia filets (around 1 pound total) on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread a light coat of mayonnaise over the tops of the fish and generously cover with panko breadcrumbs. On a larger baking sheet, scatter 1 pound green beans and moisten with one tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the beans in the oven first; after about two or three minutes, add the pan with the fish and bake until fish is flaky and green beans are wilted, about another 10minutes. If desired, make tartar sauce by combining 1 cup mayonnaise with one-quarter cup pickle relish and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Serves four; $3.71/serving.