Now, with Nina eating table food and me being somewhat more firmly entrenched in the trappings of adulthood, I try to cook most of our dinners. This has been a process--I think early on I equated any form of domesticity with being somehow regressive, and only more recently have I come to realize that cooking out of necessity (if still not quite for pleasure) did not detract from my feminist street cred. Still though, I tend towards the one-pot type recipes, and almost always make things that can freeze well. My current method is to make twice as much as we will eat for an average dinner, and then freeze the other half for an easy main course either on nights that I'm working late--this used to be at least 4 out of the 5 nights of the week, but now with decreasing my work hours is now down to 2 or 3 nights--or for nights that I'm just too lazy to cook something fresh.
We are fairly lucky in that our kids will eat mostly anything, and though I don't necessarily think that we did anything special we did introduce many foods and spices fairly early before they knew any better. Thus they now regularly eat Indian food, Japanese food, Persian food (and obviously Mexican, Chinese and Italian food, a.k.a the ethnic fast food trifecta) without batting an eye. That said, while they will happily eat a chicken tikka masala and a nabeyaki udon, if the kids had their druthers creepy suburban food almost always wins. I could make the most magnificent meal from the pages of Gourmet (and not saying that I do, but I COULD) and given the choice they would almost always prefer things like mashed potatoes, hot dogs, tuna casserole, or that Pillsbury bread from a tube. (Full disclosure: I also love the bread from a tube.)
However, I have found a stable of recipes that they really do like, that are relatively easy to make, and don't make me feel like a suburban Stepford wife in post-atomic America when I serve them. All these recipes freeze well (I recommend these containers for freezing and reheating if you want a bunch of different sizes, though if you just want the big containers these in the 64oz. size are also great and will hold enough to feed all five of us), are kid-friendly, have a lot of stealth vegetable capability, and as an added plus are mostly of the "one big pot" variety.
So. The food.
Garlicky black pepper shrimp and black-eyed peas from Gourmet Magazine
Don't let the fact that it comes from Gourmet freak you out, like it freaked me out. This recipe is super easy and quick to make and tastes much more sophisticated than you'd think it would for how little work it takes. I usually serve this with rice, though I guess pasta would be OK too. It's a little spicy (black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes could be modified to your kids' palate) but per Cal it's spicy "in a good way." It's better fresh, of course--the shrimp tend to get a little overcooked when you heat it up for the second time--but it still tastes delicious as long as you're not too fussy about the shrimp texture during Rerun Dinner.
Caramel Chicken from Bon Appetit
It's basically a better tasting version of sweet and sour chicken without the frightening orange gel. I usually serve it with white rice and steamed broccoli. In the interest of crisping up the skin easier I usually forgo the drumsticks and just get chicken thighs (they lay flatter in the pan--I have no idea how in the picture above they browned those drumsticks so evenly on all sides but it is clearly beyond my ability) and make sure I include a good amount of sauce when I freeze these so I have enough to drip on top of the rice.
Winter Minestrone from The Barefoot Contessa
I know, duh, vegetable soup. But this recipe is a good one, if you can get past how aggravating Ina Garten is with Jeffery away for the weekend so that she has no choice but to throw a fabulous party in her giant empty house populated only with fresh picked hydrangeas from the Farmer's Market, her sparkling Hamptons gadflys and well-dressed gay couples. (Guh. Ina Garten.) I like to keep a variety of soup around all the time as an easy lunch or side, and this is a good one because the basic recipe aside, it is very customizable. I like to add zucchini and substitute kale for the spinach because I think it holds up a little better. I know it's for kids but don't skip the white wine in the soup--it's only a little bit and it makes the flavor much more complex and thus legitimizes the effort of making vegetable soup instead of just heating up a can of the stuff, which I am certainly known to do as well. I freeze leftover soup in these jars--each one ends up holding just enough for three kids, or alternately two adults. (The jars are cheaper at Ace Hardware, by the way, if you happen to live close enough to one to make the trip worth it.) Helpful hint for filling jars with soup: get one of these things. It is shaped like a cow rectum but man it is helpful and cuts down on the mess.
I guess a lot of kids are like this but if Nina had her way, all she'd eat would be various forms of starch. Crackers and bread and cereal and pasta and rice. I like this recipe because it's a good way to get some protein into her too, and also she loves it. Plus, it's so cute and easy, particularly if you get that store-bought pie crust. I cut circles of the crust using the rim of a plastic pint glass (like you would drink a Guinness out of), and it fits just perfectly in the muffin tins. The first time I made ham and spinach mini-quiches, and the second time I did rotisserie chicken and broccoli. A little shredded cheese on top makes a nice crust--put on broil for the last few seconds to get it nice and bubbly, but don't walk away from it when it's on broil or it will incinerate. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.
I found this recipe from Food.com but really a recipe is not stricly necessary, since you can fill the quiches with whatever you want--just check it the first time to figure out the number of eggs to fill up the crusts and how hot to get the oven. (Short answer: 6-7 eggs for 12 muffin-sized mini quiches, 350-400 degrees.) I freeze them in little containers about 4 quiches per, and they heat up nicely in the microwave or toaster oven.
Clay Pot Rice from Food and Wine Magazine
Braised Short Ribs from The Pioneer Woman
I know some people hate Ree Drummond's aggressive folksiness, but eh, whatever, I think it's fine, and clearly it is working for her (see: major media empire, etc.). And lots of her recipes are a hit with my kids, though probably because they all involve a ton of butter and bacon fat and heavy cream. Again, whatever. All in moderation. This recipe is great in how good it will taste for the small amount of active cooking time, and how much like meat it will make your house smell. SO MEATY. Cut the meat with some mashed potatoes and some green beans, and there's your dinner and leftovers for the week.
The short ribs are a little pricey I admit, so this is not an every week or even an every other week kind of recipe, but again, it freezes well, and it's even fancy enough for guests if, unlike us, you actually have friends over to your house. One modification that I've made for our family meals (and I know this sounds nuts but just stay with me) is that I'll add a can of beans to the broth right before it goes into the oven, just to add a little extra fiber and protein. Cannellini or butter beans are good. It makes the whole thing look very "rustic," to use a culinary buzzword, and slightly less like a giant pile of flesh. Anyway, you know what they say about beans: they're good for your heart.
Fish Stew from Simplyrecipes.com
I used this recipe simply as a jumping-off point because I needed to know what proportions of ingredients to use. Modifications: first off, I add a can of this clam sauce in addition to the clam juice (and no, before I looked up this recipe I had no idea there was such thing as "clam juice,"...ugh). Second, I use shrimp in addition to fish (the recipe calls for any firm white fish--my supermarket for some reason never has cod or halibut, so I've been using tilapia, which is great for the first go-round but tends to fall apart into chum when you freeze it; it doesn't affect the taste but it looks 50% more like a slurry on the repeat). Third, a dash of Tabasco sauce before you serve it is miraculous, and you can save that to punch up the grown-up bowls if your kids are not partial to Tabasco. Though: NEVER TOO EARLY TO START LEARNING ABOUT HOT SAUCE, KIDS.
Anyhoo. Those are just a few main courses that are in rotation around here. How about on your end? What vaguely nutritive freezer-friendly meals do you make often to make workday dinners look less like the inside of a Domino's box? And yes, of course we also do the biweekly spaghetti night / taco night / fish or chicken tenders with fries night, but ain't no one need me to share a recipe for that.