Apparently we're now a Sunday Dinner family
January 20, 2017 7:07 PM   Subscribe

I need MENU ideas. Over the holidays we had big holiday dinners with a main meat and several side dishes, at the dining room table on the fancy china, and my kids are SUPER INTO IT, even though they have to use extra-good table manners. Every day they don't have school they keep asking, "Is it Sunday? Can we have a feast?" They are even setting the table and have learned the proper placement of the utensils! They are strict about salad forks! Okay! So now we're doing Sunday dinners! Unfortunately, I've about used up my repertoire already. Halp.

So on regular weeknights we eat soups and stir frys and pastas and casseroles and crock-pot meals and other sorts of one-pot or two-pot meals most of the time. On Sundays for feasts we've been doing more like a main meat with several sides, although I'd be totally down with a vegetarian feast too. (But like a key point for my kids is that there are several dishes like at Christmas and we pass things and whatnot.)

Example menus we've had:
Flatiron steak, steak fries, asparagus with feta and balsamic vinegar
Ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, pineapple, rolls
Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed rutabaga, bread, apple roses
Pork tenderloin, Caesar salad, roasted rosemary potatoes

So it's typically a meat, a couple of veggie sides, a starch (if potatoes aren't already involved). It'd be good if there were more fruit, I don't have enough fruit. The dishes should more or less go together. If it's a really huge main dish (like a whole ham), that's cool ... I then make ham sandwiches, a ham stir fry, ham soup, etc. So if you have a huge main dish with preferred leftovers, do share. Vegetarian main dishes are totally cool as long as I can pair it with a couple of sides and it can be "fancy."

That is basically my total repertoire of main dishes (turkey, ham, pork tenderloin, flatiron steak); and for sides I mostly default to an easy frozen vegetable, a salad, or a potato. This is fine! But I end up with the same few over and over and I could be a bit more creative, and I have a very hard time thinking of what vegetables go with my main dish.

Most of these involve an hour or less of active work to prepare the side dishes and most of the main ... the main dish may need to go in to roast for several hours but it's unattended during that time. I don't mind making Boeuf Bourguinon now and then but that's four hours of a lot of fussing with it. It's easier when I put in the ham in the morning, and then spend an hour before eating making the sides and dealing with the ham.

You guys are super-good at food questions so I know you'll have great ideas!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Food & Drink (72 answers total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
How about an Italian vibe consisting of an Italian type roast chicken, with risotto, broccoli, crusty bread, and a simple antipasto plate with things like olives and artichoke hearts and pepperoncini? Good excuse for the olds to break out a nice bottle of wine if that is part of your feasting.
posted by drlith at 7:20 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do a roast. Super easy. Lasts all week. Delicious.
posted by Toddles at 7:20 PM on January 20, 2017

"Good excuse for the olds to break out a nice bottle of wine if that is part of your feasting."

Literally always part of our feasting. ;)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 PM on January 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Some thoughts for pairings, including vegetarian:

Lasagna, green salad, brussels sprouts or broccoli roasted and then tossed with lemon juice, crusty baguette or garlic bread

Quiche, green salad or tomato salad/caprese--maybe when the seasons change!, salt-crusted new potatoes, cranberry sauce again would be lovely here

Meatloaf, roasted root vegetables (carrots alone are good, but you could do carrots+parsnips+whatever!), cucumber salad (sliced thin, dressed with rice vinegar+salt+sugar+sesame oil), bread.

Roast beef, yorkshire pudding for the starch, peas with mint
posted by redfoxtail at 7:25 PM on January 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Get yourself a copy of "how to cook everything" or "how to cook everything vegetarian" (or both) by Mark buttman - tons of simple but delicious recipes, tons of variation, lots and lots of ideas about how to easily mix and match, make menus, etc.
posted by nuclear_soup at 7:26 PM on January 20, 2017

> Do a roast. Super easy. Lasts all week. Delicious.

Yes -- if you manage to get one without breaking the bank, a standing rib roast or beef tenderloin is delicious and requires very little preparation.

Or.. back in college when we wanted to have a special meal a bunch of us would get together and make a dinner together as a group. One of our favorite evenings was to have someone cook a stir fry while the rest of us were pressed into dumpling duty making homemade potstickers, though you could certainly achieve a similar entertainment value making gnocchi, spaetzle, or any other kind of dumpling.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:28 PM on January 20, 2017

Add spatchcock chicken to your repertoire.
posted by padraigin at 7:28 PM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Another vote for a roast. Serve with mashed potatoes, gravy, veggie of your choice, and even a nice tossed salad.
Then, use the leftover roast for hot roast beef sandwiches or beef stroganoff... yum!
Meatloaf is another good one. You can do a variation of the roast side dishes above, and there is nothing better than a nice meatloaf sandwich the next day!
posted by bookmammal at 7:29 PM on January 20, 2017


Breaded chicken: dredge chicken breast first in egg, milk or yogurt, as is more convenient to possess, then through bread crumbs with seasoning to taste. This is a good use case for any of the brands of creole seasoning / "red salt." Bake at 350 until no longer pink inside, usually 90 minutes. Really prefers to be served with some kind of sauce - anything tomato based, including salsa, tends to work well. I'm usually lazy and use bottled sauce.

Lentils are super low effort and can be presented 'fancy'. Sautée onions, garlic, carrots with preferred seasonings (including salt, of course) until soft, then add 3+ units of water and 1 unit of sorted lentils and bring to a boil. Simmer until desired degree of tenderness reached. NB unless you cool them immediately they tend to just absorb all the water in the pot even after removed from heat, so degree of control over texture is finite. Suggested plating: In a hollow in the center of a mound of rice. For visual texture, cook the rice with parsley. Garnish in whatever fashion will be appreciated. Will pair with basically anything, though something crunchy would probably contrast well.

In terms of sides, there's basically no vegetable (especially cruciferous ones) that cannot be roasted or pan fried with garlic and oil.
posted by PMdixon at 7:35 PM on January 20, 2017

Whole roasted chicken. You can do a million variations on this and then pick your sides accordingly, but very simple roasted chicken is fancy even though a whole chicken is often cheaper than parts, and just as easy to cook.

Roast chicken with lemon quarters rosemary and garlic, do a ceasar salad, green beans (that you pour some of the lemony juices onto) and crusty bread, appetizer of olives and cheese.

Roast chicken with onions paprika and butter, do chunky mushroom gravy and dumplings, crispy shredded cabbage and carrots with a little caraway and lemon (maybe some currants or raisins if that's liked) and pan roasted apple or pear slices with cinnamon.

Roast chicken with cumin lime and garlic, do black bean and corn salad (warm or cold), yellow rice, fresh pico de gallo and warm tortillas. Sopapillas for dessert topped with whatever seasonal fruit you have.

That is of course just a start, you can do a million different things. Have whatever's in season guide you.
posted by Mizu at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Get yourself a copy of "how to cook everything" or "how to cook everything vegetarian" (or both) "
"Add spatchcock chicken to your repertoire."

I have both! And I know how to spatchcock a chicken! I need MENU ideas. I can find individual recipes, but I need ideas for what goes with them, that's the bit I suck at. Main dish suggestions welcomed, but what I really need is the whole menu.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2017

Our family thought meatloaf, oven fries, veg (my kids loved the frozen green bean, yellow bean, carrot mixture), and gravy was good enough for Sunday.
posted by angiep at 7:38 PM on January 20, 2017

Ooh, I LOVE Meals That Go Together. Here are a few classics:

Winter: Rare roast beef, horseradish sauce, roasted potatoes, wilted spinach with garlic and lemon. Yorkshire pudding optional.

Spring: Lamb, green peas, new potatoes, maybe a springy green salad. Dessert: strawberries with crushed meringue and softly whipped cream.

Summer: BBQ brisket with white bread to soak up the sauce, corn on the cob, sliced dead-ripe tomatoes, peach cobbler.

Fall: lasagna (tomato/meat or white/mushrooms), green salad, garlic bread.
posted by ostro at 7:56 PM on January 20, 2017 [12 favorites]

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, salad.

Salsa chicken (chicken in a crockpot covered with a quart or so of salsa), tortillas, chopped lettuce, cheese,tomatoes, etc. refried beans from a can, rice. Lots of things to pass around and be polite about.

Baked potatoes and salad. Side dishes can be the accoutrements for the potatoes: sour cream, chives, broccoli, chili, cheese sauce. Have special little fancy spoons for things.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:56 PM on January 20, 2017

We like Christopher Walken's Chicken with Pears, and Clarissa Dickson Wright's Chicken with Whole Garlic Cloves. The latter dates back to the 1200's I think, which is fun. We have served both with Minnesota wild rice and green vegetables. Clarissa suggests mashed potatoes or salad and crusty bread.

Roast acorn squash goes great with pork chops, or with swordfish topped with melted lime butter.

Tom Douglas' Salmon Rub on salmon takes half an hour in the oven, less on the stove, and goes great with asparagus, green beans, any green really, plus rice. Or potatoes. Or yams. You can make your own by mixing paprika with brown sugar, dried thyme, salt and pepper and dash of cayenne, I think. It is sooo good and such easy company food.
posted by Pearl928 at 7:59 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

some vegetarian ideas that can be adapted to include meat:

samosas + chana masala/saag paneer + raita or sliced veggies + naan
spanakopita + hummus + baba ganoush + dolmades + pita + sliced veggies
bibimbap + miso soup + kimchi + spicy tofu + dumplings (frozen)
whole roasted cauliflower + lentil salad + something green + crusty bread
an assortment of picnic or breakfast foods

I like pomegranate, citrus fruits, melons, and berries to finish off a meal depending on what's in season and affordable at the grocery store.
posted by girasoli at 7:59 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's a template pot roast recipe--there are lots of variations depending on the particular vegetables and liquids used. If you always include potatoes and serve with bread and salad, there's your meal. Always do oven instead of crock pot and don't skip the browning.
posted by mchorn at 8:00 PM on January 20, 2017

Roast beef, Yorkshire puddings (frozen acceptable), maple roast carrots, green beans.

Ham, mashed cauliflower, pan sauteed brussel sprouts in bacon.

Baked salmon, oven roasted potatoes and oven roasted asparagus.

Ribs, corn on the cob, slaw, baked beans, cornbread.

Pan fried steak, boiled potatoes, peas

Lasagna, pan fried zucchini, roasted red peppers, salad

Roast chicken with oven roasted potatoes, mushrooms, and par boiled carrots in the roasting pan.

Pork belly, pan sauteed cabbage, maple steamed carrots.

Sausages, mash, mushrooms, lima beans.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Okay some more:

In the summer when the produce is fantastic, do big roasted vegetable antipasto dinner. Eggplant, zucchini, peppers, sweet onions and garlic all roasted, a caprese salad with good olive oil, bread with herbs in it (your kids can help you bake it!) marinated chickpea salad with cucumber, rolled up pieces of cured meats and/or cheese.

Shrimp dinner: Dice a little celery and onion, cook with a big chunk of butter. When softened, add a good amount of white wine and then simmer, reduce by half. When cooked down, add shrimp (frozen is fine, shells off, any size) and saute until cooked through. Serve on rice or with baguette. Do a fruity salad with oranges or strawberries and some toasted nuts. A lighter flavored vegetable like asparagus or fennel instead of something cruciferous, just steamed or sauted with a little more butter.

Prosciutto and melon for appetizer, pork chops with ratatouille, roasted potatoes, peas with fresh herbs and berries for dessert.
posted by Mizu at 8:03 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roast beef studded with garlic (oiled & salted, broiled then baked) with a) rice and mushrooms; b) mashed potatoes, or c) baby potatoes (parboiled then pan-fried or baked with garlic and fresh parsley, topped with a dusting of paprika and salt), with any fibrous green (asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green beans). OR with no starches and just a huge spinach, avocado, and red onion salad (with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing) - or the salad and a mushroom soup.

Roast chicken (stuffed with onion, oiled & salted, broiled then baked), with any of those starchy sides. Or just bake it together with root veg (rutabega, mix of sweet and white or yellow potatoes). With steamed or fried kale or other dark leafy greens.

Beer chicken (no idea about this "beer can chicken" I'm seeing on Google - I put it in a casserole with sliced onions, carrots, couple of pieces of celery, and yup potatoes again, and 1/2 a bottle of beer, and a bit of water) - huge salad with that.

Swedish meatballs with noodles and spinach or other green salad

Chicken paprikash

Roast lamb (garlic studded) with (also roasted) eggplant, tomato, onion, with a side of plain rice, with some nice tzatziki (or yogurt)

(Delia Smith has tons of the kinds of menus/recipes you're after.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:03 PM on January 20, 2017

Pot roast, mashed potatoes, rutabagas, gravy.

Chicken curry, rice, naan, raita

Fajitas..Do the veg and meat separately so as to maximize bowls to pass, rice, lettuce, tomToes, cheese etc

We do soup a lot and that's a great pass meal. Good bread that you slice at the table, cheese board with a couple of cheeses that get sliced at the table, garnishes for the soup.

We often do salad meals too but everything is set out individually. Boston bibb lettuce washed. Tomatoes sliced, cucumbers in vinegar, green onions whole but cleaned, radishes whole, plate of carrot celery sticks. Plate of ham, cheese board, good bread, butter. So you can assemble a salad or as we do salad sandwiches.

It's such a fun idea. My dining table covered in Lego, but I really should get a little more formal. Growing up Sunday was always roast and dessert day
posted by Ftsqg at 8:06 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roast Chicken with orange - do not put on rack - place on a bed of carrots and onions. (put the orange inside the chicken - rub with butter and whatever herbs you like, salt and pepper; salt and pepper your carrot/onion chicken bed.) Separately, roast some parsnips with bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.(400 degrees 30-40 minutes depending on parsnip size) Make the other starch of your choice - you could even add potato cubes to your carrot/onion bed for your roast chicken. Depending on your whims - you can mash the roast parsnips or eat them as is. Add a salad with mandarin oranges and rolls of some type. I made this for Christmas dinner (along with a ham) and the chicken was by far the most popular dish. The chicken fat covers the carrot/onion bed - giving them delicious flavor, and the orange permeates the chicken - which if you're used to normal roast chicken recipes, is novel and unexpected. You can also pair with a fruit salad. My picky kiddo asked for seconds.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 8:12 PM on January 20, 2017

That How to Cook Everything Book has great looking seasonal/event type menus in the back, too.
posted by vunder at 8:13 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Main dish with lots of sides is a great opportunity to go ethnic! Felafel + hummus, pitas, tabouli, salad, etc. Or sushi, rice, seaweed salad, miso soup, tempura. Troll the cookbook section of the library!
posted by rikschell at 8:18 PM on January 20, 2017

Other "fancy" menus popular in House Gyre - meat- steak, pork chop, chicken, in a mushroom/Dijon mustard sauce (add a splash of lemon), served with asparagus or broccoli, or blanched haricots vert, and a starch (usually roasted or baked potatoes). Meat in this sort of sauce is good for second day sandwiches. In this house - a sauce/gravy makes common things "special."
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 8:19 PM on January 20, 2017

Braised short ribs (try smitten kitchen) with horseradishy parsnip or squash purée, plus high heat roasted Brussels sprouts. You could pad out the dishes to pass with a chutney for the meat or dinner rolls or trade the roasted Brussels sprouts for a chopped raw Brussels sprouts salad and and in a different vegetable - stewed tomatoes maybe.
posted by janell at 8:37 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really like pork chops with braised pears. Good with Brussels sprouts or a small salad. If you really feel a need for carbs you can go with fingerling potatoes roasted with a bit of olive oil and coarse salt.

For your fruit request, a good search combo is 'savory fruit' and then you can substitute the savory fruit sides where the vegetable would sit on the plate.

Your kids might also get a kick out of (helping to prepare!) appetizer course like crackers with cheese and vegetables or cheese and fruit compotes or jams.

In the summer I make a seafood salad that's shrimp, yogurt, nectarines and a diced onion to taste, which is also good for your fruit request. I use it for sandwiches. For feasting, maybe a scoop of the salad next to a bowl of soup with crackers?
posted by bilabial at 8:41 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ohhh potatoes duchesse make anything fancy! Buttery yolk-enriched mashed potatoes piped into shapes and baked to crispy brown crust and molten core? love! I would pair with roast duck (or confit duck legs) since those are pretty low labor. And I would again go to Brussels sprouts, just because, but glazed/braised leeks would also be swell. Or roasted celery root, cut into fries or 'chips'. And it's weird in the US, but braised celery is a shockingly tasty veg that pairs well with rich other courses.
posted by janell at 8:43 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding curry. I use a recipe that features either cooked turkey (leftovers from a roasted turkey breast) or steamed cauliflower. Easy to make, then the fun:

Rice (plenty)
Riata (plenty)
Major Gray's Chutney
Raisins, Peanuts, Chopped Green Onions, Banana Hunks, Shredded Pineapple, Shredded Coconut
Anything else that comes to mind to sprinkle on top

Meatloaf (you can make a traditional one, or mini loaves with shredded zucchini)
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy (there are some yummy packets)
Cooked Red Cabbage
Apple Slices (for crunch)

Any simple meat cooked on top of the stove (boneless chicken breasts, chops, small steaks)
small red potatoes, cut into smaller chunks, roasted with olive oil
steamed green beans OR fresh asparagus OR broccoli
orange slices OR grapes OR apples slices lightly salted

In case you haven't done this already, KEEP A LIST. Nothing fancy, just what you had is enough. I find I mysteriously forget wonderful meals for long periods of time, and then ... oh, yeah.

Paying attention to the silverware! Oh, have fun!
posted by kestralwing at 8:47 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

We always had a Nice Sunday D (tm) too, and it was one of the highlights of the week. I mean, we were one of those families that sat up to the table every night, but this was with the nice dishes and tablecloths and all that jazz.

Above classic suggestions are wonderful. I remember my mom's vintage cookbooks (Joy of Cooking, for example, used to have full sections of sample menus in the back. I couldn't easily find any online just now, but it was a really cursory dig with blurry eyes, so you may be able to find some fun mid-century treasures to try out.

And even Cook & Serve Pudding or canned fruit was special in our fanciest dessert dishes!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:59 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Menu ideas:
- Chicken marinated with lemongrass and shallots, Thai roasted vegetables, jasmine rice, cucumber salad
- Thai curry (different color sauces have different flavors and accompaniments), rice, green beans with almonds, zucchini with peanut sauce
- Lasagna with white sauce, roasted or sauteed asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, butter on flatbread
- Lasagna with red sauce, garlic bread, Caesar salad
- Fried rice, wontons, spring rolls or egg rolls, stir-fried bok choy with scallions and ginger
- Chicken curry, naan or basmati rice, yogurt, chickpeas
- Stuffed peppers (meat optional), arugula salad with cranberries and goat cheese, salmon fillets
- Pot pie, carrots, spinach, peas
- Salmon or tilapia or some other fish, with a combination of peas, boiled small potatoes, pickled herring, cranberry sauce or bread with lingonberry jam, meatballs, lefse
- Eggbake/Breakfast casserole, hashbrowns, pastries, fruit
- Ham, acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, waldorf salad
- Turkey, mashed sweet potatoes with rosemary, spinach salad, citrus jello salad

General ideas: Consider organizing meals with courses to mix it up and give your soups a chance to shine: soup, salad, main with side, dessert. Try out different flavors and spice families for more variety.
posted by ramenopres at 9:02 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some dear friends of mine do a fancy meal every Sunday, but it is usually brunch. If you are amenable that opens many menus. Frittata or quiche with sides of ham or bacon or sausage, fruit, breakfast pastries. Or a baked French toast as the centerpiece, or eggs Benedict.
posted by janell at 9:15 PM on January 20, 2017

I love meal planning! I often think of things along the lines of ethnic flavor profiles or seasonal things. So, riffing off your current list of mains, but switching up the side dishes, how about:

[NB: I have not tried many of these recipes - they just look like examples of good flavor profiles to put together. But, for Smitten Kitchen recipes in particular, I trust her 100% even if I haven't made them before.

NB #2: I don't know how picky your kids are. Definitely adjust accordingly.]

* Flatiron steak with crispy sweet potato roast (add a little cumin, coriander, and chipotle chili powder to give it a bit of a Latin flair), chili-lime melon salad, and avocado cup salads with black bean confetti. Grabbing some jarred salsa and premade guac and a bag of chips means you have lots of meal components without having to make anything too hard (slicing the sweet potatoes for the roast would probably be the most time-consuming part), but it should all look/feel fancy.

* Ham with a root vegetable gratin; green beans with almond pesto; a simple green salad with chunks of Fuji apple, ripe pear, pomegranate seeds, and a simple balsamic vinagrette; delicious bread; and brie (or other cheese) to go with it.

* Pork tenderloin with roasted grape and olive crostini (save the olives for the adults if the kids just want the grapes), and vinegar slaw with cucumbers and dill (scroll down for recipe).

Turkey is harder for me at the moment, because I'm only thinking of Thanksgiving/Christmas pairings at the moment.

A couple other thoughts:

* Mediterranean baked feta with sesame-spiced turkey meatballs and chickpea salad, smokey eggplant dip, and lots of pita chips.

* Here's a list of dinner party menus from The Kitchn.

* Here's a link to Smitten Kitchen's category of appetizers and party snacks, any of which would make an awesome side dish. (I particularly recommend the feta tapenade tarte soleil - it tastes delicious, looks *amazing,* and is actually pretty easy. It would go great with a steak, a green salad, and some roasted butternut squash, or something like that.)

* The Silver Palate Cookbook is an oldie-but-goodie when it comes to fancy food, and they have suggested menus scattered throughout in little text boxes. Highly recommended! We particularly love their Chicken Marbella and Chicken Monterey as mains.

* To make things easier on yourself, you might think about which pieces of a feast you could buy instead of making. Trader Joe's in particular has so many awesome looking nibbles in their frozen section and elsewhere. In fact, if you needed to produce a fancy feast but didn't have the energy/bandwidth, you could just do a whole meal of lots of different finger foods - call it a "tasting menu" and then it doesn't matter if the flavors all align perfectly!

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 9:15 PM on January 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

I just got a little nostalgic for my mother's chicken and biscuits. There are lots of dishes with that same name, and there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks. I know my Dad's colleagues used angle for dinner invitations and request it special. She used her scratch baking powder biscuits, but you could use any kind of buttermilk biscuit. Split it in half on the plate and cover it with pulled boiled or roasted chicken and a scoop of chicken gravy. Side dishes are mashed potatoes and any vegetable (but succotash was the best).

When she was feeling particularly patient, Mom would let us kids help mash the potatoes. Or if time was short, she just served them boiled and then we mash ed them on our plates.

Echoing others' suggestions of pot roast. And if you want to have a vegetarian meal, I find roasted vegetables without the meat are good on their own if you add olive oil and seasonings.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:17 PM on January 20, 2017

(PS, I menu plan for fun/stress relief. Like, I make up imaginary menus to entertain myself while I'm driving, etc. I am weird. But if you run out of ideas, you can MeMail me and we can have a totally symbiotic menu planning relationship!)
posted by bananacabana at 9:20 PM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Have a few go-to dishes that can be flexible and go with (almost) anything. That way you can focus on one dish being fancy, and fill it out the menu with your go-to's.

Salad is the most flexible vege dish. If I have time, I can chop up my favorite things to put with my lettuce and mix my own vinaigrette. If I don't have time, I can open a bag of lettuce, throw on some cherry tomatoes and get out the bottled dressing. Kids who are not old enough to use a knife can still wash lettuce and put it in a bowl with pre-chopped veges.

Frozen green beans are quick, and if I want to make them feel fancy I can mix them with some olive oil, garlic, and salt, and top with a sprinkle of sliced almonds.

Baked potatoes are easy in the microwave and go with a lot of roasted meats.

Rice is my favorite go-to starch, because I have a small rice cooker that I can ignore without worrying about it boiling over or running out of water. I use plain white rice if I have a main dish that has gravy or sauce. To make it a little fancier I'll add sauteed scallions and green bell peppers, or mix in (cooked) frozen green peas. You could switch things up and make wild rice, too.

Roasted chicken is a flexible meat dish that pairs well with lots of different sides.

So my recommendation is to pick one thing you want to spend time on or try a new recipe for, and then fill in the rest of the meal with your go-to staple dishes.
posted by rakaidan at 9:22 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you want everything fancy, fussy, and restaurant quality then cook with wine and butter.

Husband GreenBean Casserole

Slice a large amount of mushrooms and brown in butter. Add garlic and shallot. Deglaze with a big gulg of white wine. Stir in green beans, cream or half n half or cream cheese + Parmesan to taste. Asiago is great, too. Taste for salt and pepper. Bake in a med oven (375?) for about 45 min. Add some fried onions or slivered almonds on top, back in the oven to 10 min, then done. Better if it sits for 20min to set up.
posted by jbenben at 10:20 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh man, big family get-together feasts with my Hoosier grandma was always beef and noodles - pot roast, plus noodles. Probably something like this roast beef and noodles - the noodles in the photo sure look right.

I honestly don't remember what else we had with it - almost certainly green beans, and probably dinner rolls, and I kind of doubt we had stewed apples but that would be good I think.

I'll see if my mom can shed more light on the rest of the menu, but - roast beef, with noodles. Amazing.
posted by kristi at 11:06 PM on January 20, 2017

"Bowl food" cookbooks might be an idea... often the bowls are made up of lots of individual parts that work together well, and could just as easily be served as separate dishes.

Lately I've been cooking out of this one, and here's a (modified) recipe I really like:
1) Tofu: cut 400g firm tofu into 1cm slabs, fry in non-stick pan til brown. Pour in sauce made from 1 cup water; 2 teaspoons each of cornflour, soy sauce, ginger, garlic; 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Let bubble til thick.
2) Sweet potato chips: peel and cut chunky chips. Spray with oil, bake ~30mins in moderate oven.
3) Coleslaw
4) Rice
posted by superfish at 11:51 PM on January 20, 2017

More Fruit: get a melon baller.
posted by esto-again at 12:41 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Watermelon goes nice with fresh mint. Cantaloupe, or rockmelon, goes nice with fresh basil. Honeydew melon goes nice with fresh or powdered ginger. Desert done.
posted by esto-again at 12:44 AM on January 21, 2017

Nigella Lawson has a book entitled "Feast" that would probably help.

Alternatively, you could embrace the British meaning of Sunday Dinner, in which you eat the same traditional thing every week, and occasionally switching roast chicken for roast pork and apple sauce, roast lamb and mint or roast beef and horseradish is about as creative as it gets. Part of the meaning of Sunday Dinner for us is the familiarity of the tradition.

The "Proper" side dishes for a British sunday dinner are yorkshires, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, cauliflower cheese (if doing it properly), roast parsnips, stuffing, carrots, peas, gravy. Optionally also other veg like broccoli or cabbage. Varying this theme too much over here is some kind of TV-chef modern heresy, or maybe just something for posher folk who live down South!
posted by emilyw at 2:22 AM on January 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I would suggest the cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" in that every recipe I've ever made from it is great, relatively simples, and the way the book is organized is basically by season and then a menu for a Sunday supper. Even if you don't want that format it's a good book, but in this case that's actually what you want.
posted by JPD at 3:46 AM on January 21, 2017

I don't know if they post them online and far be it from me to suggest you go buy a magazine, but I used to do the semi-elaborate themed menus from Food Magazine. It was really neat and I got to cook and eat stuff I never had before! (Obv, this was before I was vegan.)
posted by Kitteh at 3:55 AM on January 21, 2017

My favourite main-and side combo is baked salmon with lemon pepper broccoli noodles. fancy delicious and super easy to make:

arrange salmon fillets skin side down on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil. Get the best salmon you can, it really makes a difference.
shake a bit of panko over them with salt and pepper, bake at 400 for about 1/2 hour, the panko should become crispy.

While the salmon is in the oven, cut a head of broccoli into bite-size pieces and steam with a sliced clove of garlic
in the last 5 minutes of cooking, boil up a bunch of chow mein noodles

in a large bowl, toss the broccoli and noodles with butter, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and fresh ground pepper.

to serve the salmon, slide a spatula under the fish, carefully leaving the skin stuck to the tinfoil (and then the pan is super easy to clean)

garnish with slices of lemon. mmmmmm
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:42 AM on January 21, 2017

I'd be more guided by what everybody enjoys eating, not what the menu gurus decree works well together.

Secondly, it kind of depends what you consider a menu and how many courses you want to make.

I'd probably come up with three versions of a 'roast' with suitable sides for autumn/winter that get cooked on rotation, perhaps a curry and another distinctive fifth dish to round things out. And some kind of spring/summer appropriate alternative set of dishes that also get rotated. Then you can make an effort at seasonal vegetables as part of the main course.

Then I'd focus on fruit based deserts. These can range from fruit salad/platter with a bit of whipped cream/custard/ Greek yogurt on the side to crumbles/cobbler type things, depending on time and how filling the main was. If you want to be more fancy fruit cheese cakes, or you add meringue to the fruit, or ice cream/Sorbet. Fruit is again seasonal.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:45 AM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

You want to start browsing through British cookbooks, or British food sites.

You've managed to get yourself into a "Sunday lunch" habit - which is apparently, at least from what this Yankee American understands, a very British tradition of having a biggish family meal every week. I've got a couple of British cookbooks, and was baffled at their references to how one dish or another would be "perfect for Sunday lunch" until I learned that.

But the reason I am suggesting the cookbooks and web sites is that often they have menu suggestions in the cookbooks alongside the recipes. And the web sites would definitely feature menu ideas. The BBC Food Web Site has an entire section just for Sunday lunch recipes; no obvious menus there, but if you click through some of the recipes there's more than a few "meat plus one side dish already right there" recipes, and then you'd just have to add good bread and a salad and you're set.

Another approach - French bistro cooking. I've gotten really fond of Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking book, albeit because I'm in a Francophile phase in my life right now - but she's got a few "menu ideas" scattered around in there. But - they aren't as elaborate as you may be thinking. It's more like, "take one of the soups or one of the salads, add a meat dish, add a potato dish, and bread and you're done."

If this is really getting to be a habit with you, you may want to simplify things for yourself a bit and just decide on a regular formula of "one meat, one vegetable, salad or soup, and bread" rather than trying to think of two different vegetables and one different starch each time. If you just make the blanket decision that one veg course is always going to either be soup or salad, and the "starch" course is just bread, then you only have to think of "what's the meat and what's the other veg." Less decisions. But at the same time, even though "the starch is always bread" sounds limiting, you still have the flexibility of "wait, what KIND of bread?" Sourdough? French baguette? Foccacia? The meat will help you decide.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:20 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh hey! The BBC Food site does have some full menus!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:23 AM on January 21, 2017

Emilyw beat me to the recommendation for Nigella's cookbook 'Feast', but I second it. It's a whole collection of themed dinners with mains, sides and desserts.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:48 AM on January 21, 2017

Multi dish meal my family loves: pork schnitzel, red cabbage with apples, spaetzle (we use the kind from the frozen aisle), broccholi. Serve with pork gravy and sliced lemons to either smother or spritz your schnitzel.
posted by Malla at 6:28 AM on January 21, 2017

If you roast a chicken, dice up some onions and sweet potatoes and put them under it in the pan. The drippings and the high heat will caramelize them and it is SO delicious. You can do this with a lot of other root vegetables, too--roast them, either in the pan with your meat or tossed in a little oil and in their own pan in the oven at the same time.

Another great side--make rice with a little more liquid than usual. When it's nearly done but not quite, add raisins and almonds; then when it's finished mix in some feta cheese. Delicious side dish.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:41 AM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I grew up near extended family and we had Sunday dinner at my grandmother's house just about every week. Ours was almost always the same:
- Shepherd's pie
- Gravy
- A mix of fresh green peas and diced carrots (could optionally be mixed into shepherd's pie), or mushy peas (sigh)
- Some other veg: brussels sprouts, green beans, or cauliflower
- Good bread with butter
- and a fruit pie for dessert

(my family is from England...and while I realize the English don't have the best rep for cooking, this meal was delicious)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:19 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is about an hour, with downtime in there:

Lamb shoulder chops (when on sale)

Rice from rice cooker

Convenience frozen veg that you stir in a pot with butter, herbs, salt (while the lamb sauce thickens)

Chocolate cinnamon microwave fudge cakes

OR baked peaches with amaretto, or baked apples with cinnamon, or baked fruit of any easy kind
posted by Hypatia at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2017

so many great suggestions, I've favorited your ask.
When I do Sunday lunches or dinners, I like to think from a theme: it could be "the seventies", or "Moroccan", or "-60's Italian", and then I search in books and online for what to cook.
But I strongly applaud the suggestions above to not be that creative, specially as your children are smallish. Everyone I know, but specially children, loves tradition/repetition. If you have 4 dishes in circulation, that is perfect. I once borrowed an old dessert cookbook, where the French author recommended that a housewife should learn to do one menu to perfection and just repeat it: everyone would look forward to having her blancette de veau or coq au vin, because they would know it was delicious. Maybe that is overdoing it, but the concept is good.
That said, this is a lovely winter salad that goes well with pork, turkey or duck. Pickled or fermented vegs are interesting, too, either store bought or homemade.
Right now, our dinner has grown from leftovers for two to a dinner for four, and we are having cold pork roast (which was brined before roasting), brown gravy, boiled potatoes, a salad of raw cauliflower and onion, fermented red cabbage and peas. I'm trying to get a good meat/veg balance, use what I have in the fridge and freezer, and also make a colorful plate.
posted by mumimor at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2017

Acorn squash stuffed with rice, cheese, and pine nuts or almonds; cauliflower soup; two green vegetables (such as roasted Brussels sprouts, lightly steamed green bean, or roasted broccoli), a baked chocolate dessert.

Peanut soup, rice, a green vegetable, roasted cauliflower, and stewed fruit.

Baked tofu, polenta and sun-dried tomato triangles, broccoli, and pudding.
posted by metasarah at 8:43 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a copy of the Julia Childs Menu Cookbook that is really helpful for this kind of thing. I usually look up her suggested pairings and then find actual recipes that are more suited to my lower-level cooking skills.

Nigella Lawson's Feast, mentioned above, also has great ideas.
posted by rpfields at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2017

Frankies Spuntino Sunday Sauce. Buy this book! It even has a timeline and everything.
posted by thirdletter at 8:46 AM on January 21, 2017

Have a smorgasbord occasionally. Take whatever leftovers you've got and make some small dishes. The fun is that it doesn't match. if I was doing this it would be sandwich cut into pieces, several variations of salad, cut up fruit, cheese, popcorn. Leftover mashed potatoes lumped into patties brushed with butter and baked until golden. You could also think of this as tapas night.
posted by MadMadam at 10:48 AM on January 21, 2017

Roast or grilled pork tenderloin dusted with jerk rub, coconut rice, pineapple salsa.

Sausage, sauteed swiss chard and onions, easy polenta, roasted red pepper and tomato salad.

Roast chicken, wild rice with mushrooms and toasted walnuts, winter salad*

Jicama salad, chipotle braised chicken thighs, 90 minute no soak beans, rice

*winter salad --- helps a lot of you have a mandolin/vegetable shaver.
for 4-6
1 small bulb fennel, shaved
1 small white onion, shaved
1/2 box arugula
1/2 green apple, thinly sliced
1/2 pear (ripe but still firm) thinly sliced
1/4 blue cheese, or to taste
Toss together, and serve with lemon vinegrette or other light, tangy dressing of your choice.
posted by Diablevert at 11:11 AM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Put the kids in charge of the salad course. It's great place to add a little fruit.

First, teach them to make a basic vinegarette and to whisk to emulsify it. Say goodbye to bottled dressing and all the high fructose corn syrup the comes in those bottles.

Next, the kids can pick from a bazillion, salad recipes with fruit.
posted by 26.2 at 1:46 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Add excitement by having more than just one vegetable! That is what makes a meal a feast for me. Potatoes are the starch component, not the delicious and festive seasonal excitement provided by vegetables. Fennel, eggplant, zucchini, Savoy cabbage, green cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, mushrooms, green beans, Lima beans, collards, kale, peas, artichokes, cannot lack for inspiration! Pick two or three and pair them with literally any hunk of protein=instant feast!
posted by bluebird at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Two words: Waldorf Salad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:51 PM on January 21, 2017

I suffer from this problem a lot, too. I had to pick up The Big Book of Sides, because I kept struggling.

My go-tos include: Meatloaf with roasted potatoes and carrots. Pot roast with mashed turnip and cauliflower, plus blanched broccoli, ginger plum chicken with snow peas and rice, BBQ pork shoulder with roasted or grilled corn, slider rolls, and an apple-carrot slaw.
posted by PearlRose at 4:56 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why not throw the cookbooks to the kiddos and say 'here, you decide'? (With veto power over caviar or truffles or weird, unavailable ingredients like lemongrass of course). Or better yet, have them cook everything while you play 'lady of the manor', fanning yourself and eating bon-bons. (YMMV)
(Also, I imagine your children having enormous eyebrows, which is...amusing to me)
posted by sexyrobot at 5:27 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you like orange salads? There's a good recipe for an orange & fennel salad in Bittman's Best Recipes of the World. Paula Wolfert has recipes for orange salad with grated radish or carrot that I end up making a lot this time of year (sometimes I am lazy and chop the orange rather than cutting it into paper-thin slices).

You can reliably make a meal from protein + crusty bread + greens braised with garlic + an orange salad. The protein might be broiled trout or salmon, a roasted chicken, pork chops, something involving eggs and cheese, or a chickpea stew.

A similar template starts with cucumber salads. Make a classic Greek salad or a salad with chopped cucumber & bell pepper & good olive oil & a bit of paprika, and serve it with roasted root vegetables, the protein of your choice, and bread or couscous if there's gravy. An Asian-ish salad with rice vinegar or black vinegar (and chili oil, if you like) and maybe some carrots or daikon goes nicely with grilled fish, stir-frys and Thai curries, or thinly sliced steak.
posted by yarntheory at 7:10 PM on January 21, 2017

Budget friendly and Kid-approved menus from my house:

Stuffed Cabbage rolls, mash potatoes and roasted carrots. Roast the carrots whole for a fancier look that's also fun to eat. (I was surprised to realize kids often like cabbage rolls. You can add raisins for more fruit. And fun!)
Turkey meatballs served over a smashed chickpea salad, steamed green beans on the side.
Mushroom stroganoff with buttered egg noodles, zucchini "boats" with parmesan and garlic, maybe some dinner rolls and a Waldorf salad.
Roast turkey legs, olive mashed potatoes and cherry claufoutti for dessert. I have no clue if that's how to spell claufoutti! The turkey legs will make you feel like Vikings.
If you buy a nice soup tureen, you could make dinner soups and stews feel "fancy." I see these at thrift stores all the time. Individual glass bowls for fruit salad could help make the fruit more fun too.
I also bought a silver 3-tier serving tray and we sometimes do "appetizer" night where we just eat different appetizers off each tray. Yes, I did steal that idea from the movie Mermaids!
posted by areaperson at 7:14 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Roast dinner! Roast chicken is one of the easier and cheaper ones, and you can rotate the sides. The least-time intensive version would probably be roast chicken with mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots. Microwave frozen peas, steam the carrots. I prefer a much more elaborate traditional roast dinner so my preference is roast chicken, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, peas, gravy, plus any other green vegetables I feel like. The beauty of the roast dinner is that you can keep the roasted meat as the centrepiece, and just vary the side veggies according to kids preference or season. Maybe you have Mac and cheese instead of potatoes, maybe a salad as a veggie dish (kinda rules out gravy tho), whatever your family enjoys or wants to experiment with that week. I am now pretty great at doing roast chicken, and I make awesome roast potatoes and amazing gravy - because practice!
posted by Joh at 11:40 PM on January 21, 2017

Guys, this is awesome! It's going to take me a couple days to go through all of these and make menu idea lists! But I will report back once I do.

(And while my kids are not as eyebrowtastic as I am yet, two of the three of them CLEARLY inherited the family eyebrows and one day will be!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:09 AM on January 22, 2017

Oh hey I'm going to recommend a Moosewood cookbook that isn't the soup and salad one!

I've used their Sundays at Moosewood book so much that my first copy fell apart and I had to get a second one. It's their "international" cookbook; every chapter is a different culture. I use the word "culture" rather than "cuisine", becuase sometimes they focus on part of a whole continent ("Southeast Asia", "Africa south of the Sahara") and sometimes they narrow down to just onepart of one country ("Provence", "Southeastern United States", "New England"). You do also have the chapters that focus on a country ("China", "Italy", "India").

Several of the chapters start with menu suggestions; they're often introducing foods from countries that have different approaches to meal planning, so they make a few suggestions if that's the case. But then, in the back, there's another section devoted specifically to menu planning from the book as a whole. They point out how some of the cultures' foods they're talking about are related, and propose a couple menus to point that out ("You could pair some recipes from the 'British Isles' section with others from the 'New England' section, and foods from the 'Southeastern United States' section would be complemented by some from the 'Africa South Of The Sahara' section, and we'll show you...."); they also propose a few menus where you can really mix and match ("A soup from Provence with a salad from Japan? Why not?").

It is all vegetarian and pescetarian food, so if you have carnivores you could either just make sure that you pick a fish course, or find a simple meat dish and use the rest of the menu as complement and really feast. I've tried recipes from just about every region in the book, and swear by their recipe for pasta fagioli. There is also a recipe for a cranberry cake that I've just this second decided "hey, I should make that tonight."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

For Sunday dinner LAST VERY NIGHT, I made chicken shawarma, couscous, and served it with pita chips and hummus. (My toddler will and did eat the hummus with his bare hands.) It would have been really great with roasted vegetables like carrots, eggplant, and sweet potato. You could even serve just the chicken (and skip the sandwich building, if you're not into that) with couscous and roasted vegetables. It was delicious!
posted by Aquifer at 6:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wrote this about my dinner party strategies a while back. I really feel like there are two things that help differentiate "dinner" from "fancy Sunday dinner" - multiple courses and a sauce (break out that gravy boat!).

To do multiple courses with a minimum of fuss I tend to stick to things that look really fancy but actually take no time to prepare - crudo, ceviche, simple "fancy" salads, or quick soups that don't have a ton of ingredients. Dessert can easily incorporate fruit (a fruit and cheese plate would be my ideal dessert, but maybe your kids want something a little sweeter). This is all stuff that is more or less "cut slices and put on a plate" which costs $$$ at your local fine dining establishment.

So use all the plates and silverware, get out the gravy boat... and then make the kids do the dishes.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2017

This weekend's "feast" is pork chops with dijon sauce, sauteed apples, spinach au gratin, and bread. The pork chops are by special request as they have them in Minecraft so my kids really want to eat them, because Minecraft. (Also this is the first thing I've ever had the butcher cut SPECIAL for me instead of just buying prepackaged, so I am excite.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:16 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

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