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Easy dinner ideas for when you just don’t have the time

Whether you love cooking or hate cooking (or sometimes both), there’s no doubt that it can be stressful. But a good meal doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated to be delicious.

Some of your favorite foods may be as simple as a creamy mac and cheese or a hearty soup. On a busy school night, your children will love you just as much when they sit down for the last-minute tacos you threw together, as opposed to that five-star meal you’ve been meaning to attempt.

When you’re in a bind between supervising homework and taking the kids to soccer practice, consider these ideas for some quick and easy — and delicious — dinners.

1. (Semi) homemade

rotisserie chicken in dish with napkin
Image: jules/Flickr

When you’re short on time, don’t be afraid to open your freezer or look to the supermarket for help. There are lots of meals you can whip up with frozen sides and entrées — and these don’t necessarily need to be store-bought. You may have pieces of previous meals — homemade breads, gravies, casseroles — in your freezer that you can pair with a fresh choice of meat or fun pasta. But if you’re lacking in the frozen department, pick up a sizzling rotisserie chicken or pre-made entrée (like crab cakes) on your way home.

2. Soup and…

Annie's soup with crackers
Image: Annie’s Homegrown

Soup goes with just about anything and can be really filling — especially the chunky ones or those with thick bases. And you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition by opting for premade soup. For example, Annie’s makes a line of soups that are organic and loaded with a half a cup of veggies per serving. Plus, they’re super easy to prep — just heat and serve. Pair them with toasty grilled cheese sandwiches, grains or just about anything else you’ve got in your pantry.

More: 10 Easy tips to hack your way to better soup

3. Breakfast for dinner

stack of pancakes for breakfast
Image: hedvigs/Flickr

Breakfast can be one of the easiest meals to make: cereal, fried eggs, smoothies. They’re simple, but they’re good. Switch things up one night by making breakfast for dinner. You can make traditional pancakes and bacon or sausage or try something a little different, like waffle sandwiches, yogurt parfaits or peanut butter and banana smoothies for dessert. And since breakfast tends to be so quick, you can provide options or slight variations for picky eaters.

4. A to Z sandwiches

Steak sandwich
Image: James/Flickr

Sandwiches are awesome because the options are endless. You can grill them, flatten them, bake them, fry them or just leave them as they come. And for the middle? Well, what’s in your fridge? You can go with savory meat sandwiches, like BLTs, turkey and mayo or ham and cheese. You can create endless veggie variations, like tomato, mozzarella and basil. Or you can give them a twist, like a grilled cheese with avocado or one with almond butter, banana and chia seeds. These ideas aren’t necessarily limited to bread either. Make new variations of tacos, pitas or even lettuce wraps.

5. Meatless meals

veggie wrap
Image: @joefoodie/Flickr

Whether you’re aiming for Meatless Mondays or realize you forgot to pick up the sirloin at the market, you can always opt for a vegetarian dinner. Meatless dinners are usually faster to cook, since the meat is often the most time-consuming part of the prep. At first, it may feel like you’re missing something. But, to change that, be sure to place the focus on something special, such as a loaded baked potato (no bacon, of course), a savory portobello mushroom “burger” or a bean burrito. Add a side of vegetables, salad or veggie dip, like hummus or mashed avocado, and you’re good to go.

More: Sloppy joes get a healthier gluten-free makeover with the help of zucchini

6. Pizza your way

Image: Garrett Ziegler/Flickr

Pizzas are kind of like sandwiches in a way — you can get so creative with them. Next time you’re at the store, pick up a few premade pizza doughs in the bakery, then pop them in the freezer. When you’re out of ideas, thaw them and then go at it. Add veggies, meats, herbs and spices to get it just the way you love. Experiment with different cheeses and have the kids help out. If you don’t have time for the dough to thaw (or don’t have any), use flatbreads, wraps or pitas — or even make mini pizzas on slices of toast.

7. Easy-as pasta

bowtie pasta dinner
Image: Alpha/Flickr

Pasta is the ultimate easy dinner for busy moms — and those who aren’t so great in the kitchen. Step 1: Boil water. Step 2: Empty pasta into boiling water. That’s it! And just because it’s pasta, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. You can skip the marinara and grab a zesty vodka sauce, pesto or Alfredo, and beef it up with chicken, shrimp and add vegetables galore. But you may be surprised how excited your kids get just by switching from spaghetti strands to bow ties or other noodles with a fun shape.

More: 3 Shortcut pasta sauces you can make in 10 minutes

Image: SheKnows

This post was brought to you by Annie’s Homegrown.

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