Weekend Cooking Together Great Way to Stay Connected

I’ve found I have some of the best times with my kids when I cook with them. The older ones are very chatty and the younger ones are more than happy to stir and help. The stereotype out there for dad meals is unhealthy junk food or drive-thru. It is not hard to make your dad meals enjoyable and fresh. For me, I’ve found easy meals my kids love and I’ve saved them. One positive for divorce is that, as long as the other parent has some visitation, you don’t have to account for every dinner. This means your bullpen of recipes doesn’t have to be too deep. The evenings they are not with you, they are getting variation from the other parent. You may feel like you are always cooking something you’ve done before, but as long as they love it, they will look forward to it and not get tired of it. That’s because there is space in between the meals provided by the meals the other parent prepares. The point is to not go overboard. You are likely busy enough with work. You can experiment every now and then, but you just need a few homerun meals and you are all set!

One of my main fallbacks is pasta. All my kids love it, and I’ve found with a few minor changes, I have several options available to rotate to make each meal seem different, when in fact I’m just changing the sauce and meat. You can also change the pasta and give the appearance of a whole new meal. With spaghetti, bow time, penne, and many more available, try different types to give it a facelift.

The pasta is the base. After that, you have a foundation to build a different meal. I generally use chicken on top of the pasta before the sauce. The variation there comes in whether or not you have chicken. When I do put chicken on top, it is either grilled/fried or breaded. Having the choice adds variation. The grilled/fried chicken cooks faster. The oven baked breaded chicken is easy to prepare, then stick in the oven while you get the pasta ready. Both recipes start with plain, boneless chicken tenders. They are cheap and easy to buy. The variation comes from how you prepare:

Grilled/Fried Chicken:

  • sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning
  • fry on both sides in nonstick pan or grill until done
  • cut into strips
Breaded, Oven-cooked Chicken
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs (or plain and mix in Italian seasoning)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
Beat a few eggs in a bowl. Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken. Cover both sides of your chicken tenders in the egg wash and then coat with your breading. Bake in a 425 deg oven on a cookie sheet for 15-20 min, turning once during baking. Slice and serve on top of the pasta. Now that you have the meat chosen, you can choose the sauce. My three sauces are pesto, alfredo, and tomato (standard spaghetti). The pesto is the easiet to prepare as you only need a food processor. My alfredo recipe is not healthy, but the kids devour it. You can alter it by substituting skim milk for the cream and adding a little flour to thicken it. As for the tomato sauce, you can feel free to just use the stuff you buy in a jar. But if you want to make a sauce with your kids on a weekend, you'll be surprised how easy it really is. You just need some time to let it simmer. Here's the three sauces: Pesto Sauce:
  • Fresh basil (about 2 cups)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (usually 2 tsp of the chopped or crushed jar stuff)
  • 1/4 cup pine nut
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
Take the above, dump it in a food processor, and blend away until you like it. Alfredo Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (about 1 tsp of the jar stuff)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh grated parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a deep skillet. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the cream and cheese. Stir with a whisk as it heats to melt the cheese. Don't let it boil, but get it very warm and thick to melt all the cheese. Serve it over your pasta and chicken. For an added twist, crumble some fresh bacon in with the chicken and sauce! Tomato Sauce
  • 2 big cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 small chopped onion - a few links of cooked Italian sausage

Chop your onion to your desired size. Some kids don't want that in their sauce, so make them big to get the flavor, but make it easier to pull them out. Cook the onions in some oil for a few minutes until they are clear. Dump in your cans of crushed tomatoes and sauce. Try different brands, but stick to the same brand. I usually go to the Italian section of the grocery store and get what's there. As that's warming, add your bay leaves, maybe some basil leaves if you want, and drop in your cooked Italian sausage links. I fry those to the side and cut into a few pieces. They mainly add flavor to the sauce. You can pull them out or eat them. Add the rest of your oil, salt, pepper, and add some Italian seasonings as you like. Let the sauce warm and simmer until you like it. This makes a lot of sauce, but you can freeze what you don't use for several months and use it later.

I haven't met a kid that doesn't like to cook. Getting them together in the kitchen to get dinner ready creates that time together, away from homework, tv, texting, and all the distractions to allow us focused time to catch up. Now that I don't have every day with them, I want to seize the time I have. For the meals, I like to keep it simple. Dinner at dad's house should be fun, but it doesn't have to be fast food. Pancake night is always fun, but you need to have good meals in your toolbox as well. Pasta is simple. By changing the noodles, changing the type of chicken, and having different sauces, I can rotate the dinners and keep it new. I recommend you try it out on your own first to get an idea for time. The pesto is the quickest while the tomato sauce takes some time to simmer. For that reason, pesto is a weeknight sauce while tomato sauce is made on the weekends. If you have some good, easy ideas you use, shoot them my way and I'll get them out there for the rest of us solo fathers!

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