Practical tips, reliable recipes, & family-friendly food ideas

Healthy Family Dinner Ideas for Fall

healthy summer dinners: enchiladas, zucchini galettes, sweet potato hash, pasta primaveraAs we transition into Autumn, I’m focusing on a mix of Healthy Family Dinner ideas, some of which include and others that exclude meat. I try to balance out our weekly dinners with a few meat-free meals.  Not all our vegetarian meals are light, but taking a break from meat in lieu of plant-based proteins definitely has us feeling like we’re eating a little healthier.

One dish I’m excited to share with you is a Sweet Potato & Corn Hash with Fresh Tomatoes and Bell Peppers. I am often surprised at the versatility of sweet potatoes and this dish was one of those that emerged, not from an existing recipe, but simply from what we had on hand at the end of the week.  And boy was this one a keeper! We enjoyed this as a side, but I would have been completely happy eating a giant bowl of it as my main course.  Honestly, as good as sweet potatoes are with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, my family enjoys them much more as a savory dish.  If you’re ready for a different take on sweet potatoes, give this savory sweet potato recipe a try.

Healthy Family Dinner Ideas for Fall:

  1. Creamy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes, Spanish Rice, Tomato/Avocado Salad
  2. Lemony Zucchini & Ricotta Galettes with an Arugula & Cherry Tomato Salad
  3. Grilled Chicken & Avocados (see idea below), Savory Sweet Potato & Corn Hash with Fresh Tomatoes & Bell Peppers.
  4. Pasta Primavera (I add broccoli and green beans to this!), Spring Salad, Garlic Bread

southwest chicken rubAlong with the sweet potato and corn hash, we enjoyed grilled chicken seasoned with a wet rub and avocado. For a super quick weeknight dinner, you can’t get more basic than grilled, seasoned chicken. I’m not going to publish this as a recipe, perse because it’s just too simple. It’s just 3 things: Chicken, Olive Oil, and Spice Rub.

To keep cooking time and portion size down, try trimming your chicken breasts down into smaller pieces.  I cut off the tenderloin first, and with the remaining meat, cut portions similar to the tenderloin.

Combine equal amounts of your favorite dry rub and olive oil in a gallon sized ziploc bag (example 2 tbsp. of rub with 2 tbsp. of oil).  I really like Char Crust’s Smoky, Spicy, Southwest Rub. Add the chicken to the bag, seal, and shake or turn the bag until the chicken is thoroughly coated with your spice mixture.  Cook on a pre-heated grill (medium high heat) for 4-5 minutes per side, for a total of approx. 10 minutes.

Char Crust has a variety of flavored rubs, so if you want to mix it up and avoid having the same grilled chicken week after week, it can be as easy as trying different flavors and pairing the chicken with different side dishes. They have a ginger teryaki rub that would probably be great on top of a ramen noodle dish or vegetable fried rice.

grilled avocadosCheck out this super healthy grilled avocado recipe   We grill ours in the half shell, remove from the skin, smash with a little lime juice and cilantro and place grilled chicken directly on top.

That’s it for this menu! Stay tuned for our next summer menu edition that will include a review of the popular dinner service, Blue Apron!

Photo Credits: Zucchini Galettes (Epicurious), Pasta Primavera (Food Network), Grilled Avocados (California Avocado). See links in recipes above.

Summer Family Dinner Ideas (No.3)

Hello friends! I’ve made it through a month of birthday and holiday celebrations.  Now it’s time to detox (just a little) and get back on track with good, clean eating. Fortunately, healthy options for summer family dinner ideas are as abundant as the fresh summer produce in North Carolina.  In my backyard, tomato plants, peppers and herbs are thriving.  Soon, these plants will provide us with the best tasting and most convenient ingredients possible – one of my favorite things about Summer.

Our 3rd weekly menu in the summer series includes FOUR tasty dinner ideas:

  1. Peruvian Roasted Chicken, Broccoli Salad & Cantaloupe
  2. BLT Sandwiches on Sourdough, Roasted Corn on the Cob, and Watermelon
  3. Crock pot Teriyaki Chicken, Basmati Rice + Summer Fruit Salad
  4. Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli w/Marinara, Kale Caesar Salad & Homemade Garlic Bread

I’ve provided a link to a highly-rated Peruvian Chicken recipe if you’d like to make it on your own. I’ll be trying this very soon.  Honestly though, we usually just buy a whole chicken via takeout from our local Peruvian Chicken restaurant here in Cary, NC. Our favorite is Mami Nora’s.  It’s extremely affordable, slightly addictive, and makes for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

crockpot teriyaki chicken recipe

The Crock pot Teriyaki Chicken recipe (and the photo) comes from my mother-in-law’s blog, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen.  It’s one of her most popular recipes.  Once you make it, you’ll see why!  I’m pairing this up with the Summer Fruit Salad featured in our last menu.  It was so good, we had to have it again.  I do make my own poppy seed dressing, but instead of poppy seeds, I use chia seeds.  You’d never be able to tell the difference and chia seeds are incredibly nutritious! View the nutrition info on chia seeds for yourself!

The Ravioli dinner is simply storebought marinara and ravioli.  If you’re going to use storebought ingredients, I highly recommend trying out some of the “top shelf” sauces.  It’s easy to have sticker shock over the prices, I know, but keep this in mind: these are the closest you’ll get to homemade, and they usually don’t have preservatives or other junk in them.  If you were to make your sauce homemade (which is fabulous), it’ll likely cost as much or more than the top shelf sauce and take a whole lot more of your time.  My favorite top shelf sauce is Rao’s Vodka Sauce.  And if you don’t have Rao’s in your grocery store, you can buy their gourmet pasta sauces online.

Last, but not least, I’ve worked up a new printable menu option for you.  This free download features 3 menus on 1 sheet (3 weeks, essentially) and they are completely blank so you can pick and choose your favorite family dinner ideas from a variety of choices to build your very own menu each week.  Print multiple sheets and keep them handy in a drawer in/near your kitchen.  I’ll be working on a new printable grocery list next so stay tuned!

printable blank menu - free download

Healthy Family Meals for Summer (No. 2)

How is it the middle of July already?! We recently returned from a trip to visit my lovely and amazing in-laws at their beautiful home in Lake Lure, NC.  They are so gracious to host one of my family’s most beloved traditions: going to their Lake Lure home for the 4th of July.  The whole weekend is packed with delightful food, time on the water, naps on the “sleeping porch”, wine tastings (juice tastings for the kids), games after dinner, and lots of love and laughter.  My mother and father-in-law are true gems and would easily win an award for being the best hosts anyone could ever hope for.  I’m not sure if they realized when I married their son (and only child) 13+ years ago, that my entire family would soon be knocking at their door to spend time with them and each other.  That’s what happens when you live in a magical place and treat your guests to the warmest, tastiest hospitality the North Carolina mountains can offer. Oh – and if my in-laws don’t already sound cool enough, check out my Mother-in-law’s awesome food blog, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen!

Now that we’re home, we are back on the cooking train, preparing healthy family meals for our family of 4. Here’s the dinner lineup for the week:hot dog, mac and cheese, baked beansverde chicken tacos

Dinner 1: Baked Alfredo Pasta Florentine with salad & garlic bread

This baked pasta dish would be a great for Winter, too.  However, the addition of basil in this dish makes it tasty and irresistible Summer meal!

Dinner 2: Seared Chicken with Mustard Cream, Rice & Summer Fruit Salad

I just sear thinly sliced chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a saute pan with olive oil. I double the mustard cream sauce in the recipe linked above and serve overtop the chicken on a bed of rice. I typically do not use the watercress in the recipe as good watercress is not readily available in our area.

Dinner 3: Hot Dogs, Homemade Mac & Cheese and Baked Beans

Nothing fancy here, just a nice weeknight staple. I add yellow mustard, ketchup, brown sugar and bacon to my baked beans.  They are tangy and sweet!

Dinner 4: Crock pot Tacos Verde, Spanish Rice + Guacamole Salad

Vegetarian option: try this crock pot recipe with a can of rinsed/drained black beans + 1 sliced onion + 1 sliced bell pepper in place of the chicken.  Cook the bean mixture for 2-3 hours in the salsa verde, and you’ll enjoy some delicious, healthy vegetarian tacos in the end!

Dinner 5: Chicken & Avocado Caprese Quesadillas and Roasted Broccoli


Printable Menu and Grocery List Update: I’m going to take some time to develop some additional options for the printable menus and grocery lists that I publish.  So… this week, please refer to the blank version of the printable menu and grocery list and try making your very own personal meal plan and shopping list for the week.

Have a great one!

Weekly Dinner Menu for Summer No. 1

Confession: I’m pretty sure I gain a few pounds in the summer time and lose them in the winter time. It’s the opposite of the expected holiday weight gain that most people experience.  The same people who tend to put on the pounds over Thanksgiving and Christmas are the same people who tirelessly work to lose them before bathing suit season.  Not me.  My girlish figure goes by the wayside while I stuff my face with all the amazing produce that is harvested in our summer months.  Who can eat their weight in watermelon and peaches? Me! Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn, Herbs, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Sweet Potatoes, and Zucchini? Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, and Me. Is it possible to eat too much fresh produce? I’ll let you decide.

So it is with great excitement that I share with you our first weekly dinner menu of the summer. This week, you’ll see a few unconventional twists on some old standbys and a lot of fresh produce.  Just remember to make extra if you want leftovers for lunch the next day!

Weekly Dinner Menu for Summer #1



Dinner 1: 3 Cheese Grilled Cheese, Summer Veggie Salad & Watermelon

I guarantee you’ll never make a grilled cheese sandwich the ordinary way again!


Dinner 2: Zucchini Fritters w/cucumber yogurt sauce, Roasted Corn & Avocado Salad

The last time I made these fritters, even the kids who won’t touch zucchini gobbled them up!


Dinner 3: Cheeseburger Pizzas, Tomato & Cucumber Medley, Oven Fries

You’ll be surprised this pizza tastes just like a burger!


Dinner 4: Tomato Ricotta Tart, Grilled Green Bean Salad

For the tart, I plan on adding chopped pepperoni to the ricotta mixture, and for the green bean salad, I’ll be substituting roasted red peppers for the roma tomatoes and also adding some “massaged” kale.


Dinner 5: BBQ Chicken Sliders, Kale + Mango Slaw, Macaroni & Cheese



As you may know, Naan is my go-to for easy weeknight pizza crust.  Our bonus this week… Naan is on sale (BOGO) at Harris Teeter, one of the best grocery stores in NC!

I hope there’s something on this first summer weekly dinner menu that sounds tempting enough to make!  And, in the event that you want to try it all, download the printable 2-in-1 menu and grocery list to make all 5 family meals.  Cross out the items you don’t need (b/c you already have them) and use the extra lines to add in the items you’ll need for breakfast and lunch this week. I’ll be posting and linking recipes later today.

Happy Summer & Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful Dad’s I know!

5 Family Meal Ideas for late Spring (#5)

The strawberries have come and gone in North Carolina, indicating that the end of Spring is near, but the green tomatoes popping up on my backyard tomato plants tell me that a bountiful summer is just around the corner. I can practically smell the basil from my office!

I am getting pretty pumped about the upcoming Summer menus that I’ll be sharing with all of you.  Every couple of months, we usher in a whole new season of delicious ideas, many of which are inspired by and include a variety of locally available food sources.  So say hello to the final 5 delicious family meal ideas of Spring 2015.

  • 5-family-meal-ideas-for-JuneMeal #1Turkish Pizzas* (also known as PIDE) with Cucumber & Dill Salad – *notes: I use Naan instead of Turkish bread as my base for this pizza.  Also ground beef or chicken is a perfectly fine substitute for lamb in this dish. Want it vegetarian? Just omit the meat altogether.
  • Meal #2: Sautéed Perogies with Avocado Cream Sauce, Roasted Zucchini and Mango Slices

Don’t forget to download this week’s free printable 2-in-1 Menu & Grocery List, and, see below for super quick assembly instructions on the Balsamic BBQ Chicken Wraps!







 How to assemble your Balsamic BBQ Chicken Wraps:

For the wraps in meal #5, cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grilled using the marinade in the recipe link.  When the chicken is cooked through, remove from the grill and give it about 5-10 minutes to rest. Thinly slice the chicken breast against the grain and combine it in a tortilla in the following order:

  • A generous spoonful of Balsamic BBQ Mayo (2 tablespoons of mayo mixed with 1 tablespoon of the balsamic bbq sauce from the recipe)
  • Baby Arugula – lightly tossed in olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
  • Thinly sliced tomato – sprinkled with salt and pepper
  • Fresh Mozzarella slices and shaved Parmesan
  • Sliced Balsamic BBQ Chicken
  • Squeeze of lemon juice.

Wrap up with one side open and one closed or enjoy taco style!



Spring Family Menu 4 – Easy Family Meals x 5

It’s still Spring (technically), but summer is near.  This week’s menu features 5 easy family meals with a couple of little surprises for the grill.  I love grilled food! Not only does the grill impart a distinct, flavorful char on things we cook on it, but it makes clean up quick and easy.  I also find that cooking outdoors helps to keep our (indoor) kitchen nice and cool in the warmer months.


Another preference I have developed is that of roasting vegetables in the oven, rather than cooking them on the stove top.  Because I have a conventional slide in range with 4-burner stove and single oven, I often end up with main dishes and side dishes competing for space. When the oven is empty, I always roast my vegetables.  If the oven is occupied, then I will saute or steam them.  Roasted vegetables almost always cook at 450° for 10-20 minutes. Check out the link above for an unbelievably simple roasted carrots recipe.

A couple of notes about the Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce this week. It’s a Checca Sauce Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network.  This sauce requires no cooking. With the tomatoes and basil, it is the epitome of summer.  It’s light, refreshing, flavorful and incredibly easy with a food processor.  If you have a vegetable garden and find yourself with an abundance of tomatoes, this is an excellent way to use up your extra tomatoes for the season. Our kids lick their plates clean when this is served.

Oh! I almost forgot! Download this super helpful printable menu and grocery list to get you through this week’s menu. I’ll be posting/linking the recipes for the currently unlinked menu items soon.

Hope y’all have a great week!

Spring Family Menu 3

Our 3rd week of Spring Family Menu Ideas includes 6 complete dinners to satisfy grownups and kids, alike.  For our crew, this menu will start on Saturday and run through Thursday since we’ll be heading out of town on Friday for Memorial Day.  We’re hoping to invite some of our new neighbors over for dinner on Saturday night to enjoy the Smoked Pork BBQ!

Many of ingredients needed for these meals are on sale at Harris Teeter this week.  Because we start this week off a little “meat heavy”, we’ve got some lighter (but still very satisfying) vegetarian options mid-week.

And before you say anything, yes – we eat a lot of cheese in our house!

Download and print out this handy dandy all-in-one printable menu and grocery list.


*More recipes coming soon! I realize it’s hard to shop and cook the same meals without recipes.  I “wing” most of what I make, so until I write down my own recipes and the modifications to the ones I actually use, these weekly menus are really “ideas”.  Thanks for your patience while these features (and recipes) are developing!


Spring Family Menu 2

Ideas for our Family Menu for the week include 6 scrumptious meals.  We started our week on Sunday night with the Chicken Tacos.

  • MEAL 1 Chicken Tacos, Spanish Rice & Warm Corn/Avocado Salad
  • MEAL 2: Quinoa Cakes + Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad
  • MEAL 3: Stuffed Shells, Garlic Bread & Parmesan Zucchini
  • MEAL 4: Pizzadillas (think Quesadillas with pizza ingredients) + Tomato/Cucumber Salad
  • MEAL 5: Chicken Lettuce Wraps + Udon Noodles with carrots, cabbage and zucchini
  • MEAL 6: BBQ Meatballs, Rice & Roasted Broccoli

These menu ideas were derived from a list of things that are on sale at Harris Teeter through May 12th.  Including staples that I had to replenish (like milk, OJ, bread, etc…), I spent about $145 on our groceries for this week.

Soon, I hope to add grocery shopping lists and recipes to reference!


Update: I worked on the formatting for an all-in-one, printable menu and grocery list.  What do you think?  Get free, downloadable PDF using the link above.

Seasonal Ideas for Dinner – Spring

Our family menu lineup for the week of May 3rd through May 9th includes these 5 ideas for dinner:
  • Meal 1: Chilaquiles Verde, Mango + Avocado Salad, Corn -on-the-cob
  • Meal 2: Perogies, Sauteed Zucchini & Squash, Salad
  • Meal 3: Homemade Chicken Tenders, Macaroni & Cheese (from scratch), Steamed Broccoli
  • Meal 4: Naanzas (individual pizzas made on Naan) + Salad
  • Meal 5: Italian Baked Chicken, Pasta and Garlic Bread