Who has time to cook this time of year?

With shopping and holiday events, dinner sometimes take the back seat

By Kay Harrod, Published:

Shoppers are shopping, stores are open 24/7 and wrapping paper is being applied by the yard. Add to that decorating, whether it is just a tree or you convert your home into a replica of the North Pole; it all takes time.

Most likely your schedule is full, especially if you have school age children with Christmas concerts, church programs and the multitude of activities in which they are involved. There are parties galore, whether it is with friends and family or at the office.

There’s cookie baking, cake making and the dish that needs to be fixed to take to the next event.

It’s enough to make your head spin. 

In the midst of all the chaos we call Christmas, one thing is a constant: what’s for dinner/supper?

Stop the madness and get back to reality, your family has summoned you. There can only be so much take-out and pizza. At some point the guilt kicks in and you realize something besides hamburgers and fries is needed.

With a bit of planning and thinking ahead, you can do it. “It” being putting a meal on the table that lets your family know you are controlling the madness that has obsessed you.

Hopefully these recipes will offer you inspiration and allow you to get in and out of the kitchen fairly quickly, while allowing your family meals that don’t have you spending hours at the stove. 

If you have your ingredients on hand, these dishes will take less than 30 minutes to prepare.

If you haven’t tried the many whole grain pastas available, they are delicious and I have found kids don’t even recognize the difference. It’s just one way of adding a bit more substance to their diets.

Quick Shrimp Pasta

  • One box whole grain spaghetti
  • 1 pound pre-cooked shrimp, thawed or from the seafood case. Remove tails and let shrimp drain on paper towels.
  • 1 bunch or bag of baby spinach — you could substitute some frozen peas if your family detests spinach.
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms, if you buy them sliced that’s another time-saver
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of thyme and oregano
  • Parmesan cheese
  • A loaf or baguette of bread

Preparation: Bring a large kettle filled with salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook. Remove from heat and drain immediately and pour into a large bowl, toss with olive oil. Cover to keep warm.

Pre-heat oven: wrap bread in foil if you want it soft, otherwise just heat the bread.

In a large skillet, heat about three tablespoons olive oil and three tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of thyme and oregano and sauté about five minutes. If you have any leftover white wine, add about ½ cup. Add garlic and toss in spinach, adding a ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper — about one minute (same with frozen peas). Add the shrimp. Heat another minute or two. Check for seasoning. It may need more salt.

Pour all over bowl of pasta. Toss with Parmesan cheese. Serve with bread. 

Taco Salad with Southwest Dressing

Kids love tacos, but deconstruct them, serve with some tortilla chips and you have a hearty dinner salad.

  • One pound ground beef
  • One packet of taco seasoning mix
  • Chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Chopped green onions
  • Shredded cheese
  • Black olives (optional)
  • Sliced avocado or make a simple guacamole if your family likes it better than sliced avocado.
  • One packet Hidden Valley dressing mix
  • 16-ounce carton sour cream
  • 1 bottle salsa

To make:

 In a skillet, brown hamburger and drain off grease, if any. Add taco seasoning packet and follow directions.

Place lettuce on individual dinner plates. Top with meat sauce, cheese, chopped vegetables, olives and avocado or a dollop of guacamole. Serve with dressing and warmed tortilla chips.

Quick Guacamole

There are lots of guacamole recipes if you want to serve it as a side and you may have a favorite. But if you want to put it on the salad, this one is quick.

Coarsely mash one or two avocados, add 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice. Add a pinch of chili powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Stir.

Southwest Dressing

  • One packet Hidden Valley dressing mix
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 cup of your favorite Salsa – I use Herdez

Mix together and let sit in refrigerator until ready to serve.

The crockpot can truly be your friend this time of year. There is hardly any meal that can’t be cooked in one. Before you head out in the morning to work or shopping, put ingredients for a soup or even soup beans (I don’t soak mine if I am making soup in a crockpot), a hearty stew or even a baked chicken and rice. Spray it first with cooking spray and cleanup will be even easier.

I’ve heard pros and cons about those crock-pot liners. I’m not a fan.

Slow Cooker Chicken

  • 2 cups sliced onions 
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced 
  • 2 pounds cut up chicken pieces (with bone), with or without skin 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or ½ teaspoon dried 
  • 1 can chicken broth 
  • 1 cup cream of celery soup 
  • 2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)


Arrange onion and apple slices in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken pieces on top and season all over with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle rosemary over chicken. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together chicken broth and soup. Pour mixture over chicken. 

Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.

Serve chicken, sauce, apples and onions over rice.

Beef Tips and Noodles

  • 2 pounds beef tips or stew meat
  • ½ pound sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can of Campbell’s consommé
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • I package of egg noodles


Spray crockpot with cooking spray. Place meat in pot. Add ½ teaspoon salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Add mushrooms. Mix consommé and mushroom soup together and pour over meat and mushrooms. Place lid on pot and cook on low for five hours or high for three.

If you want to ramp up the flavor on this dish, add a ¼-½ cup sherry to soup mixture.

Ladle beef over cooked buttered noodles.

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