Weeknight Rush: Easy Recipes for Busy Parents

As summer comes to a close, four Bay-area parents share their go-to recipes for easy and delicious weeknight dinners

Putting dinner on the table night after night can be a chore. Add to that a demanding work schedule, endless kids’ activities and community involvement, and a Tuesday meal can seem overwhelming. For these four bay-area families, a little prep — and the perfect recipe, of course —  makes all the difference.

Wanda Denise in her kitchen

Wanda Denise Jones, Ph.D. 

Work: Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Mobile
Kids: Two, ages 4 and 6
Home: West Mobile

Wanda Denise Jones teaches and mentors students at the University of Mobile. As an assistant professor of chemistry, her days involve explaining complex formulas and intricate directions. So when she gets home after the grind and needs to feed her two young boys, she is looking to do something simpler and less demanding. As a foster and adoptive parent, Jones wants to spend as much time with her boys as possible, rather than cooking. “I do major meal prep on Fridays and Sundays, so during the week I can have everything ready in 30 minutes.” Although she likens being in the kitchen to being in her chemistry lab, the end product is a little different. Sheet pan fajitas, baked chicken and spaghetti are weeknight staples, and once a week the family splurges on quick takeout. She also says the slow cooker does some heavy lifting at her house. Wanda credits Fostering Together Gulf Coast for being her support on this journey of being a single, working mother. “Mobile has proven to be a family-friendly city, and I love calling it home.”

Wanda’s BBQ Bacon Meatloaf Muffins


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1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup Pictsweet Seasoning Blend (frozen, chopped mixture of onions, celery, green and red peppers and parsley flakes)
2 pounds lean ground beef or ground turkey
2/3 cup hickory barbecue sauce
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup finely chopped bacon
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped vegetable mix to the pan and sauté until lightly browned and tender, about 3 minutes.
3. In a bowl, combine the ground beef with 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce, bread crumbs, the beaten eggs, bacon, onion soup mix and 3/4 cup water.
4. Add the sautéed vegetables and mix until blended, being careful not to over mix.
5. Pack the meat mixture into the prepared muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, brush with remaining barbecue sauce and return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Wanda serves her meatloaf muffins with broccoli and mashed potatoes. They can also be prepared ahead and frozen before cooking. Just bring to room temperature before cooking and serving.

Rosie Swanson 

Work: Pre-K Teacher, Christ the King Catholic School
Kids: Seven, ages 8 – 23
Home: Daphne

The workday starts early for Rosie Swanson. This preschool teacher arrives at Christ the King in plenty of time for other parents to drop their kids off on the morning commute. And the afternoons don’t slow down, either. As a mom of seven herself, there is no shortage of homework, activities and sports to coordinate. It’s a good thing she is well organized and has a Mary Poppins-positivity that is contagious. Rosie loves to cook, so a more involved recipe doesn’t intimidate her, but weekly meal planning and organizing ingredients daily keeps her moving forward. The kids help with the planning, chiming in on what sounds good, but Rosie doesn’t mind, claiming they have adventurous palates. “A salad is almost always on the menu, too. You can be creative and there is no cooking involved, just washing, chopping and prepping.” She is also known to make her own salad dressings. Weeknights revolve around her big kitchen island, where kids do homework and visit all together. She says it’s hard to find healthy takeout options, but Section Street Pizza after a long week is a well-earned guilty pleasure.

Black Bean and Silver Queen Corn Quinoa Salad


1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed 
1 medium colored pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 cups Silver Queen corn kernels, cut off the cob
3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-8 ounce can chopped mild green chilies
1 bunch curly green kale,
tough ribs removed and chopped small (3 cups)
salt and pepper, to taste
Cumin Lime Dressing (recipe below)
1/3 cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese
1/3 cup toasted pepitas

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. When ready to use, fluff with a fork.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all remaining ingredients, except dressing, cheese and pepitas. Salad can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight until serving.
3. When ready to serve, toss salad again, top with cheese and pepitas and serve alongside Honey Lime Shrimp Tacos.

Honey Lime Shrimp


1/2 cup lime juice (4 – 6 limes)
1/2 cup honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
handful of cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined *

1. Combine all ingredients except shrimp and oil in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well. 
2. Whisk in oil and adjust seasonings to taste. Pour half the marinade mixture into a large zip-top bag and set the remainder aside. Add shrimp to bag and toss to coat. Seal and place in refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes. (Do not exceed 30 minutes.)
3. Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill. Thread shrimp onto wooden skewers and grill for 2 – 4 minutes on one side. Turn and baste with remaining marinade. Grill for another 2 – 3 minutes, or until opaque and cooked through.

* You can substitute pork tenderloin or chicken breast for the shrimp. Increase cooking time for each protein.

Easy Homemade Flour Tortillas

Adapted from Half-Baked Harvest

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature 
1 cup hot water

1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter, then pour over the hot water. Stir until a shaggy dough begins to form.
2. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead the dough for 1–2 minutes until it forms a smooth ball. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 10 minutes.
3. Cut the dough into 12–14 equal wedges, then roll each wedge into a ball (they don’t need to be perfect). Use a rolling pin or a tortilla press to roll the dough out into an 8-inch circle.
4. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil, then add your dough. Cook until little bubbles appear on the surface, about 30–60 seconds. Flip and cook another 30 seconds, or until the bottom is slightly golden. Set on a plate and cover with a towel. Repeat with the remaining dough.
5. Serve warm or save for later. Tortillas will keep stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. 

Mango Salsa

3 ripe but firm mangos, peeled and chopped (about TK cups)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup green onions (white and green parts), chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, deseeded, membranes removed, and chopped
1 large lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 dashes ground cumin

1. Peel and chop mangos and add to a medium bowl along with the rest of the ingredients. Stir well to combine. Refrigerate until use.

* Chef’s note: Be careful when cutting away the membrane of the jalapeno, as it contains a lot of the heat. Wash hands well after handling.

Cumin Lime Dressing


1/4 cup olive oil
3 – 4 tablespoons lime juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon smoked chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well.

Julia Shreve 

Julie Shreve in her kitchen holding spaghetti

Work: Assistant Legal Counsel, University of South Alabama Health
Kids: Two, ages 3 and 6
Home: Spring Hill

Minimizing chaos on Monday through Friday is key for Julia Shreve and her family. She and her husband, Robert, are both busy attorneys, and so all the grocery shopping and meal prep is done on weekends. Keeping a routine helps meal planning, too — meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays- you get the idea. Cooking in the remodeled kitchen of her Spring Hill home is never a chore, however, thanks to the designers of March + May. “We love our new neighborhood, too,” she says, “and walking my son and daughter to school is my favorite part of the day.” Julie can be found anywhere from USA Children’s and Women’s to University Hospital, on campus or in clinics,  so workdays can be a crunch. As a transition from work to family time, she ends the week with takeout from Tzaziki’s or Yak the Kathmandu Kitchen. “I have a rule that I do not cook on Friday nights.” And Julia admits dinner isn’t always something complex or homemade. “A lot of nights when my husband and I are having something more adventurous for adult tastes, or even just salads, the kids eat chicken nuggets, hot dogs or grilled cheese. Some nights pushing the easy button is the best option for all!”

Julia’s work-week trick: Choose a recipe for dinner that makes a big pot of something so there will be plenty of leftovers to take the next day for lunch. Killing two birds with one Crockpot is genius!

proscuitto, asparagus and parmesa spaghetti

Prosciutto , Asparagus and Parmesan Spaghetti

SERVES 4 – 6

8 ounces angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
4 ounces prosciutto, cut into strips
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook onion, garlic and mushrooms until fragrant and semi-done. 
3. Reserve a few prosciutto pieces for garnish and bake in a 350 degree oven until crisp. Add remaining prosciutto and asparagus to the frying pan and cook until asparagus is bright green, about 3 minutes. 
4. Add cream, cheese, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until sauce has thickened, about 4 minutes.
5. Pour sauce with vegetables over pasta and toss to coat.
6. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and baked prosciutto pieces.

Patrick Byrne in his kitchen

Patrick Byrne 

Work: Engineering and Construction Management 
Kids: Two, ages 5 and 7
Home: Midtown Mobile

Patrick Byrne and his family are regulars at the ballfield, the ballet studio and Mobile Tennis Center. Juggling two kids’ activities with work and community involvement is always a challenge, but Patrick and wife Carolyn have perfected the art of last-minute dashes to the midtown Publix for recipe ingredients. Mexican food makes a weekly appearance, and on nights they are too busy to cook, it’s usually Taco Mama followed by a treat from Cammie’s Old Dutch. He claims they are dying to renovate their kitchen, but any needed improvements don’t stop him from whipping up a mean batch of spaghetti, burgers or this easy slow cooker dinner. This Mobile native and Sewanee grad has worked in the engineering and construction management industry for the past 15 years. He says there is no place like his midtown neighborhood. “We live on a dead-end street, which we love because it cuts back on traffic and allows our children to safely play outside. It also brings all the neighbors close together, so we look out for one another.” But the best kind of neighbor is one who shares his best recipes.

Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowl


3 cups low-sodium chicken broth 
1-15 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 2 large)
2 3/4 cups brown Minute rice 
2 14-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shredded Colby jack cheese 

Suggested toppings:

  • fresh salsa
  • diced tomatoes
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • chopped green onions avocado or guacamole

1. Pour chicken broth in slow cooker and stir in canned tomatoes, olive oil and seasonings. Add chicken breasts. Cook on low for about 4 hours.
2. Remove chicken breasts from slow cooker. Turn slow cooker to high and stir in instant rice and black beans. Let cook 30 – 45 minutes on high, or until rice is tender.
3. Return chicken to crock pot, cook for 20 minutes on high, or until chicken is warm.
4. Serve with cheese and optional toppings.

Click here for more easy weeknight dinner recipes!

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