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When I’m on the hunt for kid-friendly meals that are easy to pull off and sure to please everyone around my table, I know I can rely on cookbook author and food blogger Kelly Senyei. The busy mom of three is an expert at spotting smart grocery store shortcuts and turning pantry staples into easy and impressive meals.
Here, she shares a week’s meal plan with us and tells us how she does it.
Kelly Senyei’s Family-Friendly Secret Ingredient Recipes
I’m on a mission to transform pantry staples into their 2.0 selves and, in turn, inspire you to cook the classics with surprisingly tasty twists. I’ve rounded up my favorite ways to give ordinary recipes extraordinary makeovers, all thanks to my not-so-secret ingredients (hence the name of my new cookbook, The Secret Ingredient Cookbook!).
Below is just a taste of how you can use pantry staples in inventive ways to up the flavor of any dish. Most importantly, just like each of the 125 recipes in my cookbook, the secret ingredients aren’t expensive or hard to find. Because as a mom of three little ones, I know the importance of making every minute (and every dollar) count.
Monday: The Best Vegetarian Chili
Secret Ingredient: Canned Pumpkin
Canned pumpkin purée works wonders in soups, stews, and, most notably, hearty chili. Aside from its earthy sweetness, pumpkin lends nutrient-rich creaminess to this all-veggie chili that’s guaranteed to use up that pantry stash of canned beans. It also serves as a welcome background to let a bounty of spices and aromatics shine. Pile on the avocado, sour cream, cilantro, and shredded cheese, and dinner (with freezer-friendly leftovers) is done.
Get the recipe: The Best Vegetarian Chili
Tuesday: Muffin-Tin Lasagna Cups
Secret Ingredient: Wonton Wrappers
I love a good culinary labor of love, but two-hour lasagna isn’t happening on a weeknight in my house of three boys (all under age 5!). We need comforting lasagna flavor in a fraction of the time, which is how I dreamt up this quick-fix spin that swaps the noodles for wonton wrappers. The result is individual lasagna cups that still layer the quintessential meat (or veggies), creamy ricotta, marinara and Italian seasonings.
Get the recipe: Muffin Tin Lasagna Cups
Wednesday: Slow Cooker Honey-Garlic Chicken
Secret Ingredient: Blackberry Jam
It’s low and slow for the stress-free dinner win! In a surprising mashup, umami-rich hoisin sauce and sweet blackberry jam join forces for the perfect balance of flavors in slow cooker honey-garlic chicken. It’s a takeout-inspired — and incredibly versatile — favorite that can be served atop rice or inside tacos or lettuce wraps.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Honey-Garlic Chicken
Thursday: Spicy Shrimp Tacos
Secret Ingredient: Orange Juice
Seafood and citrus aren’t exactly strangers, but orange juice rarely gets the attention it deserves. It lends tangy sweetness as a marinade, and joins forces with Chinese five-spice, soy sauce, and plenty of fresh garlic for flavor-packed shrimp tacos. Chili flakes add a bit of heat, but you can skip the spice to make these tacos friendly for the whole family.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken
Friday: Crisped and Dipped Chicken Thighs
Secret Ingredient: Orange Marmalade
What do you get when a Southern staple like dipped fried chicken and a Chinese American takeout favorite like orange chicken join forces? The best of both poultry worlds: extra-crispy skin and a sticky, citrusy glaze. I’ve ditched the deep-fryer and served up a simplified spin by searing and then baking the chicken thighs to ensure every bite is both crunchy and juicy. While dipped fried chicken is traditionally coated in a spicy, vinegary sauce, I’ve added a generous dollop of orange marmalade to shift this sauce toward the sweeter side so the whole family can get in on the action.
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Meal planning isn’t always easy — especially if you’re just getting started. But we’re firm believers that it’s the secret to stress-free weeknight dinners. We want to help you find inspiration and ease some of the pain points that come with getting dinner on the table night after night, whether you’re cooking one or a family of four or five. Every week we share a new meal plan solution specifically customized for you from reader requests or from a guest contributor, for Next Week’s Meal Plan!