To do: Make dinner every night

A store-bought rotisserie chicken can be a jumping off point for several recipes.
A store-bought rotisserie chicken can be a jumping off point for several recipes.Karoline Boehm Goodnick

5-DAY MENU PLAN

1: Rotisserie chicken (store-bought) with roast potatoes and green salad

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2: Tapas night: chicken-chickpea salad, potato tortilla, Spanish tomato bread

3: Caesar salad with broiled shrimp

4: Vegetarian stir-fry with tofu

5: Pizza with parsley pesto and mushrooms

If the thought of getting dinner on the table after a long day is overwhelming, you’re not alone. Hopes for an elaborate meal are often shattered by fatigue, homework, cranky kids, and sometimes a second job. Americans are busier than ever, and “the trend has been to make the process of eating easier,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for the NPD group, a national market research company. “Increasingly, people are looking for one-dish meals,” he says. Technically that means lots of ingredients in one pot, but in reality translates to sandwiches.

Sandwiches for dinner isn’t a bad option, but there are so many other ones. We offer a five-day menu plan that begins with a rotisserie chicken from your local supermarket, uses bits of chicken another night, and offers more recipes to make your evenings a little less frantic.

Today’s home cooks find dinner strategies on Facebook, Pinterest, and a myriad of food blogs like Weelicious.com, which celebrates the smallest diners at your table, or Onceamonthmom.com, a site that coaches how to stock the freezer to make weeknight meals a smooth operation.

Many cooks have their own strategies. Elizabeth Navisky, Newton resident and mother of two, makes an egg dish once a week because “eggs are cheap and the kids like it. Breakfast for dinner is a big hit.” When planning, she considers cross-purposing ingredients. “If I am going to buy an herb, I try to think of recipes that use the same herb,” she says.

Framingham mom Jen Mooney says, “I don’t know how anyone cooks five or six meals a week.” Mooney spends her day off preparing two or three dishes — turkey chili, braised beef, black-eyed peas over rice — that can be eaten for lunch and dinner over the course of several days.

My sister-in-law, Elizabeth Goodnick, enjoys the ritual of menu planning and shopping. Before heading out for a week’s groceries, she and her husband map out breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “You have to be in your kitchen when you are planning,” she says. That way, she says, you “know exactly what you have on hand.” A visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, she packs a lunch every day and eats all other meals at home, freezing leftover tortillas on taco night and repurposing them as enchiladas, using up bits of cheese and remnants of tapenade or pesto in panini (yes, sandwiches). Fried rice or stir-fry is on the menu weekly so that no scrap of vegetable in the crisper drawer goes bad.

And of course the home cook’s quickest tool is something the store prepares. Cheat! Store-bought rotisserie chicken can be the jumping-off point for several meals. The first night, roast small potatoes and make a salad. Turn leftover chicken into a zesty Spanish salad with chickpeas for a tapas night later that week. Determined cooks might pull enough off the carcass to toss into a stir-fry with plenty of vegetables. After all that, simmer the bones for soup.

The idea is to make life easier and eat healthful meals. You might not get around to homemade soup or your own dressing this week — or even this year. What counts is that there’s something on the table, and the family is around it.

Rotisserie chicken with roast potatoes

Serves 4 with leftovers

If you don’t have time to cook a chicken, buy one (for this week of menus you need two) and add a simple salad and crisp, roast potatoes. Half of one bird will go into a chickpea salad another night; some potatoes will be added to a tortilla that same night. Once you arrive home, start the potatoes. Send the kids to set the table. While the potatoes are cooking, toss the salad. If you like, add the roasted garlic from the potatoes to a quick vinaigrette, or use your favorite dressing and serve the roasted garlic with the potatoes.

2 pounds fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.

2. On the baking sheet, toss potatoes and garlic with olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika. Transfer to the oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until golden. Reserve 1 cup potatoes for the tortilla. Toss the remaining potatoes with parsley and serve with chicken and a green salad. Karoline Boehm Goodnick

Recipe for chicken-chickpea salad

Serves 4

½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup raisins
2 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons capers
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 package (about 5 ounces) baby spinach

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Place pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once, or until golden; cool. Reserve ¼ cup for parsley pesto (see pizza recipe, left).

2. Fill a small bowl with very hot tap water. Add the raisins. Let stand for 15 minutes; drain.

3. In a large bowl, toss together pine nuts, raisins, chicken, chickpeas, bell pepper, capers, scallions, mint, red pepper, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper.

4. On 4 plates, make a bed of spinach and top with the salad. Karoline Boehm Goodnick

Caesar salad with broiled shrimp

Serves 4

Broiled shrimp are ready in minutes, and if you buy ready-peeled crustaceans, they require no prep work. Today, many lettuces, including romaine, come bagged and cut up. Serve this on a night when a homemade dinner seems nearly impossible.

DRESSING

cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, garlic, anchovies, if using, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice,
salt and pepper.

2. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

SHRIMP AND SALAD

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bag (12 ounces) romaine hearts, roughly chopped
cups croutons
½ cup shredded Parmesan

1. Turn on the broiler. Slide a rack about 8 inches from the element.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss shrimp with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slide under the broiler and cook for 2 minutes, watching the shrimp closely, or until cooked through.

3. In a large bowl, toss romaine with dressing, croutons, and Parmesan.

4. On 4 large plates, divide the salad mixture and top with shrimp. Karoline Boehm Goodnick

Vegetarian stir-fry with tofu

Serves 4

Use any vegetables in your fridge for this. That’s the beauty of a stir-fry. A good way to save time during the evening crunch is to prepare all the vegetables the night before or during a child’s nap time. Once they’re chopped, the dish comes together quickly.

3 teaspoons peanut oil
1 baby eggplant, cut into ½-inch dice
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 baby bok choy, quartered
1 stalk broccoli, top cut into florets, stem peeled and sliced
½ pound sugar snap peas or pea pods, halved
¼ cup water
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow), cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 piece (1 inch) ginger, peeled and finely chopped
cup soy sauce
14 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch dice
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the peanut oil. Add the eggplant, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the bok choy and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil in the pan. Add the broccoli and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in the snap peas or pea pods and water. Cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl.

3. Heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil in the pan. Add the red onion and bell peppers. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. Cook 3 minutes more. Stir in tofu. Cook for 1 minute or until it is warmed through. Return all the vegetables to the pan and heat, stirring gently, for 1 minute.

4. Ladle into bowls and garnish with scallions and black pepper. Serve with rice. Karoline Boehm Goodnick

Pizza with parsley pesto and mushrooms

Serves 4

Store-bought pizza dough will last for several days in the refrigerator and actually becomes easier to work with after a good rest. Make the parsley pesto up to a week in advance (if you double the batch and freeze it, you’ll have it for next pizza night), or use commercial basil pesto.

PESTO

½ bunch parsley, stemmed
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup shredded Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil

1. In a food processor, combine the parsley, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse until it forms a smooth paste.

2. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube.

PIZZA

Olive oil (for the pan)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 ounces crimini mushrooms
Flour (for sprinkling)
1 pound store-bought pizza dough
½ cup shredded asiago cheese
½ cup cubed fontina cheese

1. Set the oven at 500 degrees. Lightly oil a pizza pan or rimmed baking sheet.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the shiitake and crimini mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until the excess moisture in the mushrooms evaporates.

3. On a lightly floured counter, roll the pizza dough to a 16-inch circle (if you are using a 14-inch pizza pan) or into a rectangle if you’re using a baking sheet. Lift the dough onto the rolling pin and ease it into the pan or onto the sheet. Curl the edges to form a rim.

4. Spread the dough with pesto and the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with the
asiago and fontina cheeses. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 10 minutes
or until the crust is golden and the cheese melts and browns. Cool slightly before
cutting into wedges.
Karoline Boehm Goodnick

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