My top five ‘go-to’ dinners

The other day on talkback radio the topic of discussion was how few dishes you could actually cook. The winner was some dad, who could cook 1 dish. And he’d been cooking it for 30 years without variation.

Apparently there was some study that the average person is able to cook only five dinners. Although I’ve just done some web searching and haven’t managed to find details of the study. Do you think it’s a myth?

A while back I remember reading on Lymes and Lycopene a post about this topic, and it linked to this interesting 2009 study which listed the nine most eaten meals in British households. All the regulars are there – spag bol, roasts, pasta etc etc. I suspect the Australian list would be pretty similar. Probably with a chicken stir-fry and Thai green curry to reflect our geography.

Sounds dull, but it’s no surprise that busy parents go back to the same meals each week.
1. You know you can cook them quickly.
2. You know the kids will eat them.
3. You’ve probably got all of the pantry items you need.

I wouldn’t dare interfere and say that this is wrong, but will point out that if you can manage to mix in a couple of ‘new’ recipes each week, your kids will be much more comfortable about leaving their food comfort zones and you’ll avoid a lot of the ‘I don’t eat that’ food battles.

So for inspiration, here’s a list of my five meals that I resort to often. I promise you that they are quick, easy to make and after a quick shop, you’ll have all of these ingredients in your pantry too, meaning that your ‘go-to’ list of easy dinners is now, instantly, 10.

sausage fried rice from vegie smugglers

Use up whatever is in your fridge or pantry in an easy fried rice

Even if you don’t have the ingredients for this exact recipe, a bit of egg omelette (just a whisked egg, fried), leftover rice and whatever canned or fresh vegies you have can be a delicious fried rice. Keep your flavourings simple – my kids are always happy with just a splash of soy sauce and mirin.

Beef & lentil fajita recipe

A light summer meal that comes (mostly) from the freezer

I’ve usually got a packet of tortillas in the cupboard, and some (slightly soggy) cucumber and tomato. And I always have a small container of this beef & lentil fajita mix in the freezer. It’s a great recipe for summer when you want to convenience of freezer meals, but are looking for a lighter option.


Tuna quesadillas

Leave out whatever ingredients you don't have on hand

And on the nights that are going so badly that even the freezer is bare, grab a tin of tuna and corn and you’ll have these quesadillas ready in a jiffy.


Lamb and feta meatballs

Another flexible freezer winner


These oven-baked meatballs are easy to make ahead and taste great (to key to them is to make them with crumbly, not mushy feta). They are yum on pasta as the recipe suggests, but we ate them last week in tortillas (I’m seeing a theme here) with tomato chutney, diced fresh tomato, avocado and capsicum. Yum.


And lastly? Here’a new recipe from Vegie Smugglers 2 – (have you bought your copy yet?) – that I just keep making and making. I find that I can drain off a fair bit of liquid and chop the meat up well (I cook up the kid’s portions then hack into them with kitchen scissors) and they happily slurp it all up. Then I can add chilli to the soup, leave it to brew for an hour or two until my best friend gets home and then he and I can chuck in our pre-prepared ingredients and enjoy a delicious adult, style dinner within minutes.

vegie smugglers beef pho

Prepare all this ahead, for days when your afternoon is going to be frantic


6 cups beef stock
2 tbsp fish sauce
4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into slices
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp sugar
1 carrot, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
4 spring onions,
thinly sliced
400g lean beef (sirloin or rump), very thinly sliced – easily done with meat from the freezer
16 sugar snap peas
200g rice noodles
Bean sprouts

To serve:
Lime wedges
Sliced spring onion
Fresh or dried chilli (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine the stock, fish sauce, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes (or up to an hour if you have time).

Add the carrot and cook for 2 minutes, then add the spring onion and beef for 2 minutes more. Finally, add the sugar snap peas and remove from the heat.

Prepare the noodles according to packet directions and divide between your bowls. Place the bean sprouts on top.

Ladle over the soup mixture. Top with lime, coriander, spring onion and chilli (if using).



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    funmom91 said,

    These are good tips. However, my son is going through the phase of only eating vegetables on no meat right now lol

  2. 3

    […] anything a go… HAHA.  So with reality hitting home I had another look at the site and found a page with Wendy’s top five ‘go-to’ dinners for kids.  This is where I decided to start in my search for some more successful meals.  I liked that the […]

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