Easy Weeknight Dinners
Our gift to you this holiday season: fast-fix meals you can feel good about serving to your family. Here’s the menu of ideas.
As you prep for holiday meals and events, it’s only natural to want to simplify the surrounding weeknights on the calendar. But “easy” doesn’t need to mean giving up flavor or giving in to less-than-good-for-you choices.
“The simple key to delicious meals is starting with quality ingredients,” says David Kos, a member of the Panera Bread® Food Team. “We’re not interested in the fastest production method; we want the pasta to be authentic. We slow it down, just like how we bake our bread, using old-world practices.” Ultimately that attention to ingredients is what is making our Chicken Tortellini Alfredo a new favorite among MyPanera® members—and David’s 7-year-old daughter, Sofia. “She loves the tortellini and Alfredo sauce…and she’s a tough critic because she already knows great food!” David says.
This season, we hope you’ll take a little inspiration from David and Sofia and try some of the following ideas for easy weeknight meals that begin with high-quality ingredients yet come together quickly. And on those nights when even these “recipes” seem like too much trouble, let us help you slow things down a bit more: simply stop by a bakery-cafe and see if your family agrees with Sofia’s thumbs-up rating for our Alfredo dish!
Frozen + Fresh
Time: 7 minutes
Fast factor: Combine a better-for-you protein source, such as frozen turkey meatballs, with some fresh, delicious produce. Sauté some kale or spinach in garlic and olive oil, or steam some asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower.
Feel-good factor: Turkey meatballs are typically lower in fat than ground beef ones (read package labels). Also, 1½ cups of kale provides you with 14 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium and 659 percent of the RDA for vitamin A.
Precooked + Prechopped
Time: 7 minutes
Fast factor: The next time you roast or broil chicken, make some extra for “planned-overs.” Or start with a rotisserie chicken slow-roasted by your local supermarket. Shred the leftovers for quick-fix tacos (soft or hard) or nachos. Simply warm the chicken and set it out along with a selection of prepared items, such as canned sliced black olives, bagged shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa-type condiments, and bagged chopped greens.
Feel-good factor: When you create a taco bar, everyone can assemble the ingredients they like, which may make for a more harmonious dinner table—especially if you have kids who are finicky.
Canned + Canned
Time: 10 minutes
Fast factor: Opening a few cans and heating the contents takes just minutes. Cooking them all in the same container means fewer dishes to wash too. Start with a can of soup or chili, and toss in a can of drained corn, a can of rinsed and drained beans, and any leftover chopped veggies or meats that would blend well with the other flavors. Heat the whole combination in the microwave or on the stove. Another mixture we love: chopped cooked sausage, canned lentils, and canned herbed tomatoes.
Feel-good factor: By adding the extra veggies and beans to canned soup, you gain more nutrients and fiber in every serving. For an extra-special side, pick up a loaf of your favorite Panera bread on the way home from work or holiday shopping at the mall.
Grilled + Fresh
Time: 10 minutes
Fast factor: Your grill needn’t hibernate during the winter months. Grilling is one of the quickest ways to cook, and it’s a great option to keep in mind for milder November nights. Revisit favorite summertime recipes, or try our Grilled Swordfish with Saffron Garlic Sauce, which takes just 10 minutes to prepare. You can grill veggies too, or serve your grilled meat or fish with a simple side salad or chopped fresh fruit.
Feel-good factor: Grilled foods are a welcome change in the colder months, and this dish tastes gourmet even though it cooks up quickly.
Prepared + Fresh + Precooked
Time: 15 minutes
Fast factor: Pizza is a perennial favorite. What’s more, kids of all ages can help with the prep work, encouraging a bit of family bonding in the midst of busy schedules. Try different types of sauces (Alfredo, marinara, pesto), cheeses (mozzarella, feta, Parmesan), cooked meats or seafood (sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, shredded chicken, chopped ham, baby shrimp, crab), and produce (sliced olives, sautéed onions, fresh basil, pineapple rings). For inspiration, check out our recipe for Spinach and Prosciutto White Pizza. Note: This same formula works well with a pasta or rice base instead of crust.
Feel-good factor: You can hit all of the major food groups in one easy-prep, easy-eat dish. To make your homemade pizza distinctive, start with a base of Panera Bread Asiago Cheese Focaccia instead of a prepared pizza crust.