Here’s my general feeding-the-family philosophy: serve up basic, wholesome meals your family will eat, and dinnertime will be a lot more enjoyable for everyone.
And when it comes to the dinners my kids will actually eat, it’s pretty clear what wins: classic, hearty, meaty dishes with simple flavorings. That’s why as my kids have gotten older, I’ve increasingly gravitated toward the kind of meals I grew up with as a kid: roasts, stews, and soups.
But if you aren’t used to cooking big, meaty dishes, it can be really intimidating to get started. I know. Here’s where I admit that up until a few years ago, I had never made a pot roast, roasted a chicken, or made a soup or stew from scratch. I was terrified by the whole process.
Once I got started, though, I quickly learned just how easy these family dinner staples are to make. You don’t have to serve a ton of meat to satisfy a family – a small roasting chicken feeds all 7 of us with meat left over for soup – but just having that main dish out of the way makes it so easy to pull a meal together: roast some carrots, smash some potatoes, or even just rip open a bag of frozen green beans and some instant rice, and you’ve got a meal.
Here are the five basic meat-based dinners I return to again and again:
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Pot Roast 1 of 5After eating more than a few dried-up pot roasts as a kid, I was a little afraid to try my hand at cooking one as an adult. Turns out, cooking "low and slow" is the key to a tender, moist, falling-apart pot roast, especially if you're starting with a cheaper cut of meat. I use these instructions from Simply Recipes to get me started, though I often improvise on the seasonings and accompanying veggies.
photo credit: Simply Recipes
Roasted Chicken 2 of 5When I made this simple roast chicken recipe for the first time, I'd never roasted a whole chicken before. I'm glad I didn't realize at the time that the author of the recipe is chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame, because I may have been too intimidated to try it! But not only is his recipe extremely easy, it turns out amazingly moist, flavorful, crispy-skinned chicken every time.
photo credit: The Culinary Geek
Beef Stew 3 of 5Okay, I admit it: I don't really follow a recipe for beef stew. I usually look at a basic recipe - this one is great - and then just throw in whatever I feel like using. Sometimes it's whole baby carrots, sometimes diced carrots; sometimes big chunks of potato, sometimes little bits of potato; sometime red wine, sometimes beef stock; sometimes peas, sometimes no peas...well, you get the picture; just jump in, it's super-easy and satisfying and hard to screw up.
photo credit: sklathill on Flickr
Chicken Noodle Soup 4 of 5Remember that roasted chicken from a few slides back? The carcass makes a great stock for a chicken soup later in the week. Once you've made the stock, it's as simple as cooking the noodles and veggies, and adding shredded or cubed chicken. I like to alternate basic egg noodles with Amish noodles for a different flavor and texture, too. Serve with hearty bread and dinner's done.
photo credit: littledebbie11 on flickr
Pork Tenderloin 5 of 5I love pork tenderloin. A little of the flavorful meat goes a long way, so you can let the sides rule (we usually serve it with brown rice and veggies.) It's relatively quick to prepare, and extremely versatile - you can try it with almost any flavor combinations. Important: The USDA recently lowered pork's safe temperature "doneness" guidelines from 160 to 145 degrees Farenheit. That's big, because a loin cooked to 145 will be a lot juicier and tastier than one cooked to 160.
Inspired? Choose from this list of healthy pork tenderloin recipes - you really can't go wrong.
photo credit: The Bitten Word
Does your family love basic, classic, meaty meals, too? Which are your go-to staples?
main photo credit: The Culinary Geek