Easy Family Recipes for When You're 'In a Rut'

Many evenings, I find myself knee-deep in third-grade homework - or on the sidelines of a soccer game - at the exact time I should be preparing dinner at home. In a last-minute scramble to save the family supper, I often end up swapping my plan to try a new recipe for an old one I know by heart. It's an okay save … until it lands me in a full-fledged recipe rut. And there's nothing worse than that.

I have found that the best way to break out of the rut is to stock my kitchen for new recipes that are just as quick and easy as the old favorites. Then, I like to add a little extra challenge to keep dinner prep from feeling like a chore by seeking out fresh dinner ideas, each with a different member of my family in mind. Interesting takes on familiar ingredients that delight everyone at the table are a sure way for me to spark new kitchen inspiration.

" ... the sure way for me to spark new kitchen inspiration."

Taking that into consideration, here are my most-recent recipe finds to re-energize our everyday meals.

An Easy Skillet Recipe My Kids Love Here's one of those gems that is better for my kids than they realize. From their point of view, it's just a burrito without the wrap. From my perspective, it's a well-balanced plate of protein, carbs and veggies. I usually try to serve this simple skillet chicken recipe at the beginning of the week to help fuel the rest of it. It comes together quickly, and it's an easy sell with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cheddar on top.

A Chicken & Pasta Recipe My Spouse Loves After 10 years of marriage, introducing this Tuscan-inspired chicken recipe into our family's dinner rotation was one of the most romantic things I ever could have done for my husband. He is a lover of cream sauces, so this savory masterpiece really lights him up. Plus, it's dotted with unexpected pearls of cannellini beans that take it to another level altogether.

I also happen to dig this quick recipe -but more for the layers of flavor and the lightness of the sauce. Milk and canned soup (not cream) make for a rich texture that is not too heavy. Plus, it combines beautifully with simply seared chicken and sliced mushrooms. Tossed into a pound of al dente fettuccini, and served with some hunks of crusty bread, it tastes like a love note from me to my husband (and kids).

An Italian Recipe I Love This meaty meal is a gift to me! By Thursday, I typically find myself surveying an open fridge, praying that something speaks to me. Simplicity is what I'm seeking, and minimal cleanup is even better. This easy one-pan recipe saves the day. The fact alone that the recipe starts with sweet Italian sausage makes my Italian heart happy.

I set the dinner table around the skillet and let everybody serve himself or herself. I eat it like a stew with crispy Texas toast for dipping, while my husband and boys eat it more like an Italian sloppy Joe on sturdy hoagie rolls - a fast favorite any way you eat it.

An Indulgent Mac & Cheese Recipe Everyone Loves Whether it is a recipe rut, or the kind that comes from a week of routine, this comforting macaroni and cheese recipe will blast through any semblance of a rut. I pull it out on Friday nights to celebrate the week that was, with bacon and melty cheese. The hardest part of the prep is boiling the pasta. (That's not hard at all.) The hardest part of the meal is deciding who gets the last scoop. (That's very hard, as it turns out).

Just like every other parent, my weeks are a whirlwind of thoughtfully scheduled projects, events, carpools and meals. And my favorite time of any day is when my family gathers around the dinner table. All the above are subject to twist and change at any moment - no matter how very deliberate I was in planning them. Delicious and effortless dinnertime recipes are key to keeping my family and me moving forward in a rut-free fashion.

Alternatives to Takeout: Dinner Ideas for 1 or 2 People

March 28, 2016 Cooking for One, Quick & Easy

Takeout is delicious - and expensive. Home cooking is often better for you, less expensive and more customizable. And while takeout might feel like the only option when you are cooking for one or two, there are some easy recipes you can make without spending too much time (or having too many leftovers).

" ... easy dishes you can make ... "

Skillet Enchiladas I love enchiladas, but baking them in a huge casserole dish often makes enough to feed a crowd. By switching to a skillet, you make a smaller amount that's still delicious. I use my grandma's cast-iron skillet, which is even better now than when she gave it to me. This simple skillet chicken enchilada recipe makes a perfect weeknight dinner for two (with just enough left over for lunch the next day). Personalize this Latin-inspired dish by choosing between flour or corn tortillas; ground beef, turkey or pork and your favorite enchilada sauce. (I often use mole sauce for this recipe.)

Savory Italian Sausage & Beans The flavors of Italian food - tomatoes, garlic, onions and peppers - are extremely craveable, but pizza and pasta get old. If you're in a hurry, this quick Italian recipe mixes spicy sausage, great northern beans and tomato sauce. Use your favorite sausage, and after you top the dish with mozzarella, put the pan under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese. It's an easy weeknight dinner recipe that is satisfying and delicious.

Chicken Seasoned With Thyme Dinner dishes with poultry and thyme automatically make me feel comforted. This herbed chicken and bean recipe combines chicken, kidney beans, thyme and vegetables for a warm, wonderful supper. Use fresh thyme to kick up the flavor even further. Serve this dish with some crusty bread and enjoy - by yourself or with someone else.

Wraps With a Mediterranean Flare Wraps are delicious and especially easy to make after a busy day. Grab some precooked chicken from your grocery store's deli and combine it with Greek salad dressing, yogurt, cucumber, Kalamata olives and feta cheese in this Mediterranean-inspired wrap recipe. Garbanzo beans add some extra protein and texture for a filling meal. This makes an easy lunch, too! Pack it like a salad, with the tortilla wrapped in plastic wrap, and assemble at your desk.

With the right recipes, cooking for one or two is well worth the effort! Your wallet - and maybe even your waistline - will thank you.

Meet Julie Niesen

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4 Ways to Enjoy Chili Year-Round

Where I come from, we enjoy chili all 12 months of the year. This is regardless of, and sometimes because of, the weather outside. Chili is perfect - whether you're celebrating, comforting or anything in between.

Whether we are observing a birthday, cheering on a big soccer win or soaking up the summer sun poolside, chili is our favorite way to punctuate the day. And when I want a neighbor to know I'm wishing her good health, I deliver a pot of chili.

" ... chili is perfectly delicious any time of the year."

Chili itself is a blank canvas begging to be tailored according to the occasion and time of year. Possibilities for ingredient-play with vegetables, meats and herbs make it one of the most relevant tabs in my recipe box any month. Here are my favorite seasonal twists on the classic chili recipe:

Spring Chili Recipe The sound of birds chirping in the springtime means my chili is about to be hit with a healthy kiss of lemon! This light chicken chili recipe goes best with the sunshiny days and the tender herbs growing in my window box.

I use shredded chicken, creamy garbanzo beans and the finishing touches of brightness that come from freshly squeezed lemon, crumbled feta and chopped parsley. Plus, this easy chili recipe is made in less than an hour, leaving me plenty of time to enjoy the longer days.

Summer Chili Recipe When the school year wraps, my family moves most of its operations outside. The grill is my go-to tool for cooking - and chili dogs are my kids' go-to order for dinner. I've just about memorized this easy chili recipe, as it is the meaty, ketchup-y, all-American variation that is required to get the chili-dog job done right.

I brown ground beef, mix together the ingredients on the stovetop and then let it simmer on the hot grill. In the time it takes me to catch some rays and throw a few water balloons, the chili is perfect for smothering purposes. With our paper plates in hand, we line up the hot dogs and go to town.

Fall Chili Recipe Supper in general - and chili specifically - is my secret weapon in bringing together my family in the fall. The lazy days of summer have transitioned into crazy days of homework and sports and clubs and everything else busy families deal with. Dinnertime is the only time we get to really connect, and chili is the best way to get us all to the table.

Usually, we end up eating late in the fall, and everyone is starving when we finally get to sit down. This pork-and-bean chili recipe always saves the day. I make it when my time allows, keep it warm on the stovetop and ladle it up when we settle.

It's hearty and filled with onions, peppers and tomatoes, as well as a double punch of protein in the pork and the beans. As a bonus, this chili can be made most conveniently with pre-made plain or barbecue pork from the refrigerated section of my grocery store.

Winter Chili Recipe Following an afternoon of shoveling snow, or a wicked commute in messy traffic, there is no better way to be welcomed than with this hearty white chicken chili recipe. It fills my entire home with the warmth I am craving.

Because its zucchini, chicken, brown rice, green chilies and great northern beans simmer together for more than 4 hours in a slow cooker, it is ridiculously simple to make. With garnishes like salsa verde, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese and diced avocado, this chili satisfies like a crackling fire and an electric blanket.

Most people think of chilies as thick, rich, slow-cooked stews perfect for hibernating. But chili is perfectly delicious any time of the year. It is satisfying and comforting by a fireplace in winter or a fire pit in summer.

Quick & Easy Brown-Bag Lunch Ideas for Grown-Ups

March 02, 2016 Quick & Easy, Slow Cooker Tips

There's something about being an adult with a thoughtfully packed lunch that really rocks my world. It helps me save time, money and calories. Leaving the house with noontime nosh in hand makes me feel like I totally own my day. So, after I cover brown-bag lunches for the kiddos, I make a point to pack midday meals for my husband and me.

Each day brings something different, but the food we use to refuel halfway through is always important. Here are my best tips for quick and easy lunches that work wherever I happen to be.

" ... lunches that work wherever I happen to be."

On the Road When I'm out and about all day long, the temptation to drive through a quickie lunch line is ever present. But while the convenience is undeniable, the healthiness is arguable at best. This Moroccan-inspired pita recipe is one of my all-time favorites for lunches on the road. Full of spice-kissed protein and fiber, plus bright flavors, it gives me the power I need to get home. Pita pockets offer limitless options for stuffing, and their portability makes them car friendly.

With a Friend Sometimes I sneak away for lunch with a friend. I look forward to these days all week long, as I treasure any time I get to spend with colleagues and confidantes. It's important that our time together not be taken up with orders and table service.

For lunches with friends, I like to pack this easy burrito recipe. Savory black beans, Mexican-spiced chicken and kicky green onions roll up to be satisfying without leaving us stuffed. Plus, they're easy to make in multiples in the morning (or even the night before) — one for my husband, one for me and one for my lunch mate.

At My Desk Some of my favorite brown-bag lunches are the quiet ones I spend in front of my computer. It might sound crazy, but I get the most done when everyone else is out of the office. My level of efficiency alone invigorates me at times like this, but a lunch packed strategically for an afternoon energy surge takes me to another level of gratification.

This tuna salad recipe is my go-to for solo lunches in front of the screen. I make two batches at a time so I always have it in the fridge for easy packed lunches. I can eat it with a fork, a short stack of whole-wheat crackers or rounds of homemade baguette toasts. No matter how I choose to enjoy it, it keeps me from hitting any afternoon slumps and feels a little indulgent at the same time.

On a Deadline Never is a mindfully packed lunch more important than on a deadline. It needs to fill me up to keep me focused, and it needs to provide a bit of diversion in a small amount of time. Because just the hint of comfort food can inspire afternoon greatness, a potato is always what I pack for midday meals when on a deadline.

I like to bring all the fixings and take a few minutes to assemble them as the potato spins around in the microwave. Four minutes will do the trick, and then I transform it into this loaded baked potato recipe with baked beans, cheddar, sour cream and chives. In the time it takes to enjoy the piping hot masterpiece, I am recharged enough to show that deadline who's the boss.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, lunch is the most powerful one. Undoubtedly, it is the difference between a productive afternoon and a less-than-stellar one. And a cleverly packed brown-bag lunch is the surest way to nail it.

*Tip: Looking for more lunchtime inspiration? Check out our guides to light, satisfying weekday lunches and delicious one-bowl lunches.

4 Brilliant Pork Recipes

You love chicken for its ease and versatility, but don't forget about "the other white meat." Let's explore some delectable uses for pork - from flavorful gameday chili recipes to simple weeknight supper recipes.

" ... delectable uses for pork ... "

An Impressive Pork Tenderloin Recipe When it comes to entertaining, pork is an ideal choice. It's leaner than beef, and it has a relatively quick cooking time, which means it's less likely to get dry and tough. In this easy pork tenderloin recipe, sweet apples and baked beans complement the savory meat. Beautifully presented, it'll be the talk of any dinner party.

A Savory Enchilada Recipe Avoid the "What's for supper?" conundrum. Have dinner waiting in the slow cooker at the end of the day with this pork enchilada recipe. When you get home in the evening, simply shred the slow-cooked pork tenderloin and put it on the table along with some fresh toppings and tortillas. It's a meal the whole family will love.

A Nourishing Soup Recipe The protein portion of the meal often takes the most time and effort. Save time by freezing precooked pork. For example, keep cubed ham in the freezer for a variety of meals, such as this comforting ham and blackeye pea soup recipe.

A Gameday Pork Chili Recipe Everyone loves getting together for sporting events, and the food served is often just as important as the game itself. When it comes to creating a potluck dish for gameday, this quick pork chili recipe satisfies even the hungriest fans. Featuring pork, two types of canned beans, veggies and hot sauce, it's ready in under an hour.

The next time you need a delicious dish to serve your guests, or a quick meal to nourish your family, think beyond the bird and use pork!

*Tip: Craving more meaty content? Check out our entire collection of pork recipes, as well as tips for using up leftover ham.

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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Easy, Delicious Baked Beans Recipes

Canned baked beans aren't just a side dish for a summer picnic or a cold winter's night. They're great as part of a main dish any night of the week. We have some scrumptious ways to reimagine baked bean recipes beyond sharing a plate with hamburgers and hot dogs.

Spice Up a One-Skillet Chicken Recipe One of my favorite spice blends is Chinese five-spice powder. Star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns and fennel mix to make a sweet-and-savory spice that is incredibly versatile. Combine Chinese five-spice powder, mandarin oranges and boneless chicken breasts with bold-flavored baked beans. This one-skillet chicken recipe comes together quickly and adds a unique kick to weeknight dinner.

"Baked beans are incredibly versatile."

Make a Restaurant-Worthy Mac & Cheese Recipe Want to add some extra protein and fiber to a family favorite? Try adding baked beans to your classic macaroni and cheese. Crisp bacon, elbow macaroni and super-creamy cheese combine with sweet baked beans for an amazing lunch or dinner dish. This dressed-up macaroni and cheese recipe tastes restaurant worthy. If you like baked macaroni and cheese, follow the same instructions and add some shredded cheddar on top. Pop it under the broiler until it's browned and bubbly, and serve.

Use Beans Instead of Beef in a Stuffed Pepper Recipe Trying a meatless Monday? For a great dinner idea, take this stuffed pepper recipe, which uses vegetarian baked beans instead of ground beef. If you don't have a grill (or it's too cold to stand outside), try substituting the broiler in the final step, or use a grill pan on your stove. Also, remember that the measurement for hot sauce is just a suggestion; add as much or as little as you like. In this recipe, I like a chipotle-based hot sauce.

Think Small With This Slider Recipe Admit it: Tiny food is fun. Don't you love little egg rolls, bite-sized quiche and mini pizzas? Sliders are no different. You won't need condiments for this easy slider recipe. Just sprinkle cumin on some skirt steak, grill to your preferred temperature and place on a bun. You can use other spices as well: try the Chinese five-spice powder from the chicken recipe or any spice blend you like. Top with baked beans for a cross between sloppy Joes and beef sliders. Delicious and easy!

Baked beans are incredibly versatile. Try these recipes to experience how they can add extra flavor to a weeknight dinner in just a few minutes.

*Tip: Don't leave just yet, baked bean fans. Take a look at these articles with quick and creative uses for the popular legume and delicious baked bean hacks.

Meet Julie Niesen

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Food for Kids: Tips for Helping Your Picky Eaters Get the Protein They Need

True confession: As a kid, I was a terribly picky eater. If it wasn't bread or chicken, I wasn't going to eat it. When I was in third grade, my mom - who crafted amazing homemade dinners every single night - hit a breaking point. "If you don't like the food I am making, you can cook your own dinner," she declared.

So, at the age of 9, I started making most of my meals. I created my own recipes, helped with grocery shopping and even entertained dinner guests. The more I played in the kitchen - the more flavors I tried - the more excited I was about food (beyond bread and chicken).

I also learned what it took to fuel my super-active, soccer-loving little body. I didn't really know it at the time, but along the way I was actually designing tricks to get myself to eat the nourishing proteins and colorful vegetables I needed.

Now, I am uniquely qualified to offer up kid-friendly food ideas that are packed with nutrition. Having personally navigated years and years of my own picky eating, I deliver to you my best advice for getting the job done.

" ... my best advice for getting the job done."

Sandwiches Hide Vegetables One of the biggest issues for picky eaters is texture. Too much crunch, too little crunch - any kind of mystery mouthfeel can ruin a meal. But sandwiches can atone for all sorts of sins. This white bean cheddar melt recipe features smooth, melty cheese on crisp, hearty bread toasted in butter - and it has protein. As a final bonus, it expertly "hides" onions and celery. Once your kids are requesting this gem, you can start sneaking in more vegetables like zucchini or spinach.

Choose Your Own Adventure As I relayed in my own childhood experience, the very best way to get kids to try new food is to involve them in preparing it. It is nearly impossible for kids not to want to try one of their own creations. So, bring them into the planning/food prepping/cooking mix. As a family, choose a recipe, like this BBQ chicken fingers and beans recipe, that gets everyone involved.

Assemble the pouches early in the day, so they're ready right when you need them. Offer up the vegetables you know your kids will eat, along with some new ones. Then, bake them, grill them, roast them over an open fire - decide together how you will cook them - and dole them out in their individual portions. The chicken and beans are the easy part of this recipe to sell; delight in your kids' excitement about all the veggies they've chosen and cooked for themselves.

Brinner Is Served Breakfast for dinner (brinner) is always a fan favorite. Expect zero pushback when you serve this breakfast sandwich recipe that begins simply with English muffins, spice-kissed black beans and scrambled eggs. Top it just as the recipe suggests, or let the kids doctor it up to their tastes. My oldest always asks for bacon in his eggs. My youngest wants Greek yogurt dolloped on them. My husband covers every bite with salsa.

Variety is exciting for everyone at the table. Finish with homemade fruit-and-yogurt parfaits for a winning brinner.

It's a (Tortilla) Wrap When you're low on creativity, wrap it up. That is, hide the good stuff in a tortilla. Not knowing what's inside can be stressful for picky eaters, but if you can negotiate just two bites of something as delicious as this chicken burrito recipe, you can be sure they'll eat the entire thing. The chicken, cheese, beans and cream are quickly recognized, immediately savored and ultimately nourishing.

Here's where I tell you the funny part. As it turns out, I gave birth to three of the pickiest eaters on the planet. They are quite possibly even worse than I ever was. You can be certain that I actively use all of the aforementioned tips and tricks in my current day-to-day life. That way, I'm sure the adorable whirlwinds I call my kids get the protein and nutrients they need.

*Tip: Wish you could say "abracadabra" and get your children running to the table and enjoying kids' food? Here are four "magic" words that might do just that!

Advice for Slow Cooker Novices

February 02, 2016 Quick & Easy, Slow Cooker Tips

The gift of a slow cooker usually marks a rite of passage — a new home, a wedding, a first child. It is quite a commitment of counter space, but a slow cooker is an investment in the quality of everyday living that comes with home-cooked family meals.

The first time you come home to the aroma of a chili recipe that's simmered all day, or pork shoulder that's roasted tenderly into stew, you know the value of a slow cooker. However, getting started with the appliance can be a little tricky. Many newbies often feel clueless as to how to use their slow cooker and exactly what dinner ideas to put in it.

For all you slow cooker novices, here are my tried-and-true tips and favorite recipes.

" ... my tried-and-true tips and favorite recipes."

Use for Simmering Savory Chili The very best chili recipes earn their reputations because they've been simmered and stirred for hours and hours. From the chopping to the cooking, they require a lot of attention. With a slow cooker, however, a meaty chili recipe comes together with minimal prep and even less attention.

Once the bacon is crisped, and the beef is browned, the work is done. Because a slow cooker on low heat keeps the temperature of the chili constant, and the lid traps the moisture, there is no risk of it burning on the bottom or drying out. After four hours of slow cooking — without any stirring at all, in fact — the chili recipe's veggies, beans and spices come together in savory, almost magical, perfection.

Use for Prepping Meals in Advance Take full advantage of the fact that you can remove the slow cooker bowl from its electric base. It's not just for easy cleaning; it's also for make-ahead meals like this Greek-inspired slow cooker recipe.

Twenty-four hours before you plan to serve the dish, layer all the ingredients into the crock of the cooker. Cut, dice, chop and stir everything together right in the bowl. Then, tightly seal by covering the crock with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's time to drop it back into its base four hours before supper. Don't think about it again until you're boiling the orzo and getting ready to serve. Plate and garnish the complete meal in minutes.

Use for Cooking Budget Cuts of Meat That is, the fattier, tougher, chewier cuts of meat like pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef brisket. They're the least-expensive meat cuts you can buy from the butcher department, and they yield brilliantly delicious results in the low temperatures and high moisture of a slow cooker.

Before you head out on your next trip to the grocery, cut out the coupon for chicken thighs and print up this slow cooker stew recipe. Season the chicken simply and stack it right on top of nutrient-rich kale, tomatoes and beans to slow cook all day. Shred the chicken and bring to the dinner table with fluffed white rice to make the meal complete.

Use for Bringing Family to the Table Use the slow cooker to get everyone excited about supper. There's nothing like an afternoon of this slow cooker enchilada recipe perfuming our home to make even my pickiest eaters hungry for dinner.

By the time the dinner bell rings, everyone's already sitting at the table, ready to stuff his own enchiladas with the shredded pork and saucy beans simmered to perfection. No doubt, slow cooked enchiladas are an easy sell when piled high with lettuce, sour cream and cheese. (The only argument is over who gets the last bite.)

Don't let your slow cooker sit unused in a cabinet. Put it to work cooking delectable meals, and it will soon be your favorite timesaving tool in the kitchen.

Going to a Potluck? Try One of These Easy Recipes

February 02, 2016 Entertaining

An invitation to a potluck means you need to create a dish that feeds a crowd. Even if you have a busy schedule, there are quick, easy, delicious recipes you can make for your next event.

" … there are quick, easy, delicious recipes you can make for your next event."

Considering how hectic our lives are, no one wants to spend hours making a dish completely from scratch. However, homemade creations are often the stars of the party. With a clever mix of fresh and pre-made ingredients, and the below tips, you can prepare a unique, great-tasting dessert or appetizer at home — without all the fuss.

Plan Your Potluck Dishes Having a collection of your favorite recipes on hand to serve a large group takes the guesswork out of what you'll prepare. Thinking ahead to how many you'll be feeding at the party can help you decide which of those recipes to select. For most potluck dinners, you only need to bring one dish that feeds around 8–10 people, but to be sure, ask the host.

Keep Your Pantry Stocked Always have canned beans, pasta, stock, peppers, sauces, condiments and baking supplies in your kitchen. If you have the right ingredients, it doesn't take long to whip up a dessert like this brownie recipe. Partygoers will love the indulgent flavor of dark chocolate, although they'll never guess the secret ingredient: black beans.

*Tip: If you don't have a particular can of beans in your pantry, chances are you can substitute a different one. We have an entire story dedicated to clever bean swaps.

Do Prep Work Ahead of Time Look for recipes you can assemble ahead of time, such as this chili cheese dip recipe. With prep work out of the way, all you have to do is bake the dish for 15 minutes once you arrive at the party. (Of course, check with the host in advance to make sure you can use her oven.)

Look for Healthy Recipes Parties make it easy to eat a lot of overly processed foods. Break the habit of buying those frozen appetizers that are so popular and instead substitute a more sensible, but still delectable, choice. A tasty, easy pinwheel recipe is not only a more wholesome option, but it is also sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Think Small Bite-size appetizers are super simple to transport and can be fun to display. Two perfect examples of easy recipes are these Southwest-inspired mini quiches and this hearty bruschetta. Guests can load them on their plates and snack on them as they mingle.

Don't stress over your potluck dish. These delicious, easy recipes will lend a savory (or sweet) note to any event!

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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