So far, every stage of motherhood that I’ve experienced, I’ve had this notion that once that particular stage was over, things would become infinitely easier. This has turned out to be a completely false premise with most things, and cooking dinner is no different.

For me, and most of the mamas I coach, it doesn’t matter if you have a newborn or an eleven year old (or both!), putting something that resembles a nutritionally balanced meal on the table (on a regular basis, let alone multiple times a week) is HARD. Do add to this challenge, many of us (ME!) have a child with a particularly discerning palate. Mine discerns against pretty much anything that isn’t pasta or smothered in sour cream. I do have some successful strategies to help with that too (I’ll share some in next month’s newsletter) but for today, I want to focus on some (hopefully) inspirational ideas for what to put on the table on those nights when take-out feels like your only option.

I also want to be clear that these are my quick, go-to dinners, for nights when I have either forgotten to plan something in advance or simply don’t have time. A few times a week (usually 2-3 times), I do cook and I always plan leftovers that I will either use later in the week or freeze for future meals. This type of planning and food prep is skill I’ve developed over time and is vitally important.

broccoliTop five fast dinners:

1) Breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage (if I’m feeling really extravagant, and we happen to have some in the freezer) with sautéed greens or salad.

2) Rice and beans with greens. Even if I don’t have leftover rice in the fridge (which I often do), I can cook a pot of rice in about 40 minutes. In that amount of time, I also open a can of black or red beans and steam some frozen broccoli.

3) Quesadillas. I try to keep a variety of tortillas in my freezer because if we’re lucky enough to have some cheese and sour cream, we’ve got the makings for quesadilla night.Quesadillas are a wonderful way to make use of those tiny little containers of leftover you would normally let go to waste. I like to add veggies I have in my fridge (I have used chopped, artichokes, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, arugula, peppers, and even eggplant) along with protein (beans, chicken, pork, leftover steak, etc) to make a crowd pleasing dinner.

4) Taco night. About once a week we have a taco night at the Wagner home. In my mind it’s pretty much the same deal as the quesadilla night but, for some reason, the family thinks it’s a whole new ballgame. Just like the quesadillas, the tacos are a great way to use up little leftover protein and veggies, only this time it goes into a hard shell, and (if you do dairy) sprinkled some grated cheese on top.

greens5) Stir fry. Again, this is all about using up leftovers in a new and creative way. I sauté whatever veggies I have (carrots, onions, bok choy, kale, zucchini, eggplant, etc.) with whatever protein I have left over from earlier in the week (cooked chicken, pork or beef are perfect) with some ginger (which I store in my freezer) and tamari sauce (a pantry staple) and serve it over noodles (which take about 2 minutes to boil and rinse) or any leftover grains. Voila!