5 Easy {Wholesome} Recipes for Weeknight Meals

This is probably a blog entry that every food blog {which I'm not}, mothering blog {which I'm not} or money-saving blog {which I kind of am but not really} has written at some point of their blogging tenure. 

However, the reason I'm writing this blog entry now is because of the fact that I am a busy-teacher-photographer-newly-minted-cook who spent the first three years of her married life relying on Trader Joe's 2-person freezer meals, twice-weekly dinners out, Papa Murphy's pizzas, breakfasts at Starbucks and lunches from the deli section of New Seasons {or even, shamefully, school lunches}. 

Things had to change. 

If you'll remember from my January resolutions posting, I'm quite committed now to not eating out and also cooking from scratch each meal that I prepare. I'm dedicated to label-reading and have been since my mom taught me when I was a teenager about "High fructose corn syrup," "Red #40," "Monosodium Glutamate" and sugar/salt daily value percentages. Thanks mom. :) I avoid artificial ingredients at all cost when I can and really will never settle on anything containing them. Therefore, my food bill is a bit higher as I spring for things that are more natural, grass-fed, free range, organic, whole grain (no enriched bleached white flour thankyouverymuch) and doesn't contain anything I can't pronounce or know what it is. {I'm working on converting my cleaning and beauty drawers this way as well, but that's a whole different story...}

It was and is my goal to prepare affordable, nutritious, high-quality dinners for my family that can be used as lunchtime leftovers or even next-night leftovers-- not only to maximize the meal for financial sake, but also to ensure we're eating right each night. I'm also happy to report that it CAN BE DONE. Easily. Simply. Affordably. Coming from the previous-non-cook herself.

Real quick though before I share my go-to meals: The best food blog that I use and love {and which really converted me from being a non-cook to a not-so-bad cook was the blog "Pinch of Yum." I've tried many a food blog and what I LOVE LOVE LOVE about Pinch of Yum is that her meals are all natural, from scratch, high-quality but comfort food with a unique spin on them. Her preparation times are simple and don't involve a lot of technique that beginner's don't have, and yet when you're finished cooking you'll be impressed that "you did that?!?!" {It also helps on the relatability factor that she's a teacher in her day job...}

Even the more advanced cooks can find dishes to connect with. I started with one meal of hers and have been hooked ever since. That meal is now a weekly staple (in fact, we just had it last night!). So check her out for sure if you're looking for simple, nutritious meals that won't take you two hours to prepare. 

Second side note: Get a crockpot. Now. 



That's just me, Instagramming my first-ever home cooked meal a year ago...


Ingredients needed:

Spaghetti
Garlic cloves (8)
Butter (one stick... don't say I didn't warn you. I use Tillamook or something from New Seasons that is all natural and real butter. Somehow this makes eating a stick of butter in a dish justifiable.)
A ton of spinach (to offset the butter, of course)
Pepper/Sea Salt/Seasonings of your choice to taste. I sometimes use parsley and red pepper flakes for a kick. 

Prep time:

15 minutes. 

It's such a delicious meal that my family LOVES, and it's always a treat to make because it's super-simple and super-wonderful. This dish definitely makes its way into meal planning at least once a week when I want to have an exceptionally low-key meal that also doesn't cost a ton as well. A full dish of this usually gives three adults seconds, plus one meal left over for lunch. Adjust for your family accordingly. 





I searched high and low for the right bacon-potato soup that I could make in my crockpot because soooooo many recipes call for cream-of-mushroom/cream-of-chicken/sour-cream, etc., and soooorrrryyy, but I'm just not eating that. In a perfect world, I could also make my own chicken soup broth, but for now I just buy as organic and minimally processed as I can and call it good. 

I loved this recipe because 1) it was so delicious and 2) it was incredibly easy. 

Lately I've developed a very close friendship with my crock-pot and I'm very excited about that. My crockpot has done all the cooking for me while I'm at school, and all I have to invest is a little prep in the morning before I leave and cleaning her out after dinner's finished. She knows I need her. 

What was also great was that it only took me about 20 minutes of prep in the morning and then I turned it on low for eight hours and off I went. The difficult thing as a working professional though with standard hours of employment is that the "8 hours on low" doesn't exactly work perfectly with my schedule. I don't get home until close to 5 and I leave at 8:30. Some days my soup has been cooking for closer to 9 - 10 hours because T won't get home until late, either. I'm happy to report though that none of our soups have burnt or gotten extremely mushy with the extra cooking time, so if you're like me and work 8 hours before you get home + commute, you're probably still fine to enjoy a nice crock pot meal when you get home.


Ingredients: 

10 potatoes of your choice (last time I used red and they were good, but I'll probably try golden next time) 
32 ounces of chicken broth (though you can sub water + bouillon cubes if you don't have any)
Garlic cloves
Salt/pepper
Bacon (to be pseudo health conscious with bacon, I used nitrate-free and all-natural. I actually cooked the bacon when I got home later and added it, but it's probably really good if you add in the morning. I just didn't have time.)
Butter
Half&Half
Cheese
Flour {it calls for all-purpose but I used Bob's Red Mill whole wheat baking flour.}
{They call for chives and onions but I dislike both of these so I did not include}
Multiple types of seasonings of your choice {I used red pepper flakes, thyme, coriander, parsley and onion powder}


I prepped all of these ingredients around 8:15, left my house at 8:30 and when I came home around 5 the dish was finished and was delicious. I added half & half and let it cook 15 more minutes, then we topped with cheese and done. Like I said above, I also cooked the bacon when I got home but you don't have to do it then. 

It made a huuuuuuuuge batch that we had for dinner the next night and I had for lunch the following morning. I would say it probably serves eight. 




{Photo borrowed from Pinch of Yum}

Side note: There are two pages on the Pinch of Yum website that I use almost exclusively: "Quick and Easy" and "5 ingredients." These two phrases speak my language.

This dish was a big hit in my fam. Reason being: It had a kick, it was somewhat-Mexican in flavor {our favorite} and it was warm and cozy. 

It was really, really easy to make and really, really delicious. Perfect for a cold night. 


Ingredients:

Chicken breasts (I used Rotisserie though from Costco because I didn't feel like cooking chicken. I'm actually quite bad at that still.)
5 jalapenos
Cilantro
Limes
Chicken broth
Onions (again, I skipped)
Black beans (the true recipe calls for white but I prefer black)
Salsa verde (TJ's makes a GREAT one but I also bought "Verdez" from Safeway)
Sour cream (again, did not use)

Cooking time: 30 minutes (because I used pre-cooked chicken instead of cooking it myself)





{Borrowed from OfAlly Tasty}

This meal is sooooooo easy. Also, super delicious and makes a huge batch. 

Crock pot FTW. 


Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (24 oz.)
1 bag frozen corn (12 oz.)
2 cans of black beans (or you could use the equivalent of dry black beans and soak them first)
2 16 oz. jars of all natural salsa (this is subbed for canned tomatoes which I do not use)
1 Tbsp. of Coriander
1 Tbsp. Cumin
1 Tbsp. of Cayenne pepper
2 Tsp. Paprika
Salt/pepper to preference and taste
Cilantro (for topping)
Cheese (for topping, if you'd like)
3 garlic cloves

Basically, just put everything in the crockpot on low for 8 hours, except the cheese and cilantro. We also eat with tortilla chips and it is fannnntastic.  





{Borrowed from Pinch of Yum}

Okay so this meal does take 24 hours of prep time. And by that I mean, when you are coasting on a Thursday night because you just enjoyed a virtually-no-prep Crockpot meal, this Adobo will require you to spend about 5 - 10 minutes prepping because it needs to marinate overnight. SO worth it. 

There is a catch to this recipe. If you work during the day and don't get home until 5, you may need to make it on a weekend. (I know, this blog was about weeknight meals.) The reason for this is that you need to cook it on "high" for 3 - 4 hours. Mine has been ready in 3 hours though and when I scoot home from school as quick as I can, this usually means I can have it ready to go by 3 and we eat at 7:30. 

It really is worth the wait though. If you can't get home until 5:30 and there's no way you can eat at close to 9:00, then you could just make it on a weekend and call it good. You will have leftovers if you have a family of 4 or less!

It's such a treat when we have this meal and again, it's about a weekly staple on our menu list because it is just that good {and easy}. 


Ingredients:

1 lb. Chicken thighs (not breasts-- they get too dry)
Honey
Limes
Cilantro
Soy cauce
Bay leaves
White cane vinegar
Cornstarch
Black peppercorns
Rice

SOOOOOOOOOO good. 

{Here is my photo. I frequently post to #pinchofyum on Instagram because I am so proud}




So there you have it.

I haven't bought a Trader Joe's freezer meal in I don't know how long, and my cooking abilities have now skyrocketed from longingly thinking "that looks good" {watching the Food Network as I dial Thai take-out} to, "Maybe I should enter The Taste as a home cook..."

{Not really, but still...}

I hope you find inspiration from this post if you're a non-cooker, a full-time working woman, a stay at home mom, a stay at home single, a dad, a husband, a stay at home wife, a teacher, a grandparent, a single dude or any other role that fits your life because basically, these recipes are awesome and easy and healthy and quick and you will be a rockstar in your kitchen while eliminating canned and processed preservative-filled items from your pantries. 

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