Tips for Making Easy, Interesting Dinners

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By Erika Weisensee

Even for people who enjoy cooking, the daily grind of planning and preparing nutritious yet interesting meals can be a burden. After a day of activities, dinnertime is especially challenging. It is easy to fall into a rut, making the same thing over and over again. A little planning and creativity can make your last meal of the day a pleasure from start to finish.

Here are some tips for making fun and fuss-free dinners:

Divide the duties – If at all possible, dividing the duties can take the burden off of the head chef. First, is there another capable cook in the house? If so, enlist him or her in making a salad or side dish, while you prepare the entrée. Children can assist by setting and clearing the table, and even helping with some simple food preparation.

New spins on old favorites – If you have a family favorite, try mixing it up by switching up the ingredients. For instance, we love tacos in my house, but tacos with plain old ground beef seem quite boring. Besides, we try and limit our red meat intake, so recently we enjoyed shrimp tacos. Chicken and fish are other great alternatives.

Try a new cooking technique – Sautéing, broiling, roasting, grilling, braising, slow cooking. There are so many ways to cook. Learning new methods can add great variety to your meals. For example, we recently barbecued a pizza on our Traeger grill. It was delicious (homemade and loaded with fresh veggies) and fun to try a new way of cooking pizza.

The entrée salad – Many restaurants offer entrée salads, which often provide greens as well as a protein in one dish. This is a great, healthy option for home and one of my favorite meals to prepare. I make my own variations of Cobb or Greek salads, frequently using chopped chicken that I prepare a day ahead to save time.

Breakfast for dinner – This was a favorite in my house when I was growing up. Of course, breakfast meats and pancakes can add a ton of calories to the end of your day. Yet, a sensible omelet or scramble is a very satisfying dinner.

Crock pot it – I adore the under-rated crock pot and use mine often. Part of the beauty of the crock pot is that it allows you to do most of the prep ahead of time, go about your day, and come home to a delicious one-dish meal. Slow cooking with crock pots is the subject of many cookbooks and you can find lots of recipes online.

Visit cooking websites – The web is an incredible resource for recipes. You can gather new recipes for free from websites like www.cooking.com and www.epicurean.com, and celebrity chefs like Paula Deen (www.pauladeen.com) and Rachael Ray (www.rachaelray.com) have lots of recipes on their websites. Using a three-ring binder, I’ve created my own recipe book about of recipes I’ve retrieved from the Internet, newspapers and magazines.

### Erika lives in Milwaukie and teaches writing at the University of Portland.