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Easy Family Dinners … An Ultimate Guide

Easy Family Dinners post is a simple guide to family dining and it comes with some great recipes to try out in your own kitchens. We all know how important it is to sit down with our kid around the table and sharing stories from the day, and I share some hints and tips to take some of the stress out of cooking.

45 main dishes for feeding a family, whether week night dishes, quick for the kids, or lazy Sunday dinners. Something to refresh your weekly menu planning.

Family dinners are an important part of daily life. A time to sit down with those you love, share the stories of their day and hopefully eat something tasty.

However, as much as I enjoy this part of family life, coming up with easy dinner recipes for family is something which causes us all a little stress from time to time.

This ultimate guide to family dinners is here to help, it contains family dinner ideas that everyone will enjoy.

Ingredients to make a charred corn and roast pumpkin salad.

“What do you want for dinner?”

I pose this question to my family, only to receive the answer “I don’t mind!” Sound familiar?

Of course in my house, if I serve up cauliflower cheese, which I love and my family detest, I’m quite confident that they will all mind!

Then there are the meals which you’ve cooked before, which your children decide, having eaten 3 or 4 times, they don’t like! As much as I love to cook, like every other parent out there, I lack enthusiasm when it comes to mid week dinners.

I’m hoping to give you some ideas and a little inspiration on how to put a little more variety into family dining. As even favourite recipes can seem a bit dull when they appear too regularly on the menu!

Ingredients including chicken breasts, cheese, bacon, herbs and tomatoes to make a delicious pasta dish.

Planning is key for coming up with easy dinner recipes for family.

As with most things, a little planning goes a long way to help and coming up with easy dinner recipes for family is no exception:

  • Plan meals for the week ahead, this allows us all to cope better with busy week nights.
  • After working out what you’re cooking, make a shopping list for the week. Shopping lists keeps you focused, you buy what’s on it and that usually ends up saving you money.
  • Planning ensures healthy family dinners as you’re not falling back on convenience foods.
  • Finally, when looking at each meal, work out what can be prepared in advance. Even if its just a case of preparing some veggies in advance and storing in the fridge, it will save you time later in the day.
5 prep dishes containing grated carrot, grated raw beetroot, diced cucumber, chopped spring onions and cooked and sliced green beans.

Where do family dinner ideas come from?

Start with a list of the key ingredients that you want to work with that week. Are there any nights, for example, where kids have lots of activities, or where your partner has to work late?

Those are the nights you need a quick and easy cook, or need to prepare something in advance. I’m fond of cooking something like a chilli or a stew on these nights. People can eat it when the time suits them, but it won’t spoil from sitting in the pan!

30 minute easy family dinners

We all have nights where we want something tasty and nutritious but simply don’t have time to slave over! These 30 minute meals are the dishes we all come to depend upon on a busy week night.

View from the top of a bowl of gnocchi tossed with diced chorizo, fresh tomatoes, diced courgettes and topped with shavings of parmesan and fresh basil with tomatoes and olive oil in the background.

For a change from pasta, I love to eat gnocchi which cooks in under 5 minutes! My favourite gnocchi dish is my Gnocchi with Chorizo & Courgette, which I happily eat all Summer using the courgettes picked fresh in my garden.

A serving suggestion for salmon wrapped in parma ham with asparagus and roasted tomatoes.

Another 30 minutes dish that my children have always enjoyed is my Oven Baked Salmon Fillet with Parma Ham. This great tasting dish is quick to prepare and takes no time at all to roast in the oven.

A top down view of a spring bulgar wheat risotto with peas, asparagus and topped with tarragon, a glass of rose to the right and tarragon and lemon to the left.

When I’m talking about a quick meal, I want something cooked and on the table in around 30 minutes, my Bulgur Wheat Risotto with Asparagus & Pancetta, fits that brief perfectly.

Prep ahead family dinners

For me easy family dinner ideas comprise of dishes that are more of an assembly job than anything else or that can be prepared in advance. Granted they may take some time to cook, however, in terms of preparation, time is minimal. These are the dishes that busy families come to rely on throughout the working week.

A plate with chicken taco served with avocado cream and topped with corn salsa, with a board of lemon paprika chicken kebabs and a bowl of avocado cream set alongside.

However if it’s quick and simple you are after you can’t beat my Lemon & Paprika Chicken Kebabs. Leave the chicken in a simple marinade and skewer when you are ready to either grill, barbecue or roast! I also find kids love eating anything off a stick!

A plate with a serving of ham and broccoli pasta bake with salad, and a dish of pasta bake set alongside.

Easy Ham & Broccoli Pasta Bake is the perfect bowl of comfort food. Ham and broccoli pair really well together and I’ve bound them together in a creamy cheesy pasta sauce with tagliatelle and topped off with more cheese before placing into a dish ready for baking.

Loaded potato skins filled with cheese, onion and bacon on a wooden board.

Twice Baked Potatoes are a popular dish that can be prepared ahead. Bake the potatoes the night before, then mix the filling and assemble. They can then be place into a tray in the refrigerator until you are ready to finish with the second bake.

A white plate with a wedge of roasted vegetable bake, garnished with fresh basil, with a dish of vegetable bake and a wooden bowl of sliced sourdough bread set alongside.

Easy Mediterranean Vegetable Bake is a delicious vegetable bake combining layers of roasted aubergine, courgette and bell pepper with mozzarella cheese and a delicious tomato and basil sauce. Packed full of flavour this filling comfort food dish makes the perfect family dinner.

Healthy family dinners – quick tray bakes

For healthy family dinners, I’m a huge fan of the tray bake! Cut up some vegetables, add potatoes to the mix if you wish. Then mix together with the spicing, herbs and flavourings of your choice. Now top with the protein of your choice.

A large oven proof dish filled with roasted vegetables, hassleback potatoes and cooked sausages.

One of the most popular dishes on our site is my Sticky Sausage Tray Bake and it is one such dish. They entire meal is cooked in one dish.

For another great tasting dish that my kids love, try my Spicy Baked Chicken Wings with Lime Crema. Aside from being really easy to prepare, this is a great sharing platter, simply pot and the table and let everyone tuck in.

a vibrant table setting for a taco party including chicken tacos on a bright blue platter, salsa, guacamole and more shredded chicken.

Likewise wraps, children love piling anything onto a wrap and I also think it’s a great way to increase their 5-a-day. My Easy Chicken Tacos starts with chicken which is coated in spice and roasted in the oven. I serve with Tomato Salsa and Fresh Guacamole for a great mid week quick dinner.

close up of finished cajun chicken dish ready to be eaten

Another great tasting all in one traybake is my Cajun Chicken Traybake. Spicy chicken is roasted in the oven will all the veggies, including some baby potatoes. Just add the tomatoes 10 minutes before the end of the cook for a great tasting meal in one tray.

Do I need any special equipment?

I’m generally not a fan of suggesting any specialist equipment when it comes to cooking. I like people to try out meals using what they have to hand, rather than panic that they don’t have the right equipment. This only results in putting people off cooking.

A set of pans, a non-stick frying pan and saucepan, some oven proof trays and dishes, and the all important sharp knife, is all that I really need!

The one exception I would make here is a slow cooker. I work from home so I tend to use a large cast pot for slow cooking in the oven. However, for parents working out-with the home, a slow cooker is a great idea.

Slow cook meals

These easy family dinners are those where the oven or slow cooker does all the hard work for you. At the most, you have to cook some rice, pasta or potatoes to go alongside the main dish.

Slow cookers come in handy for this type of meal, prepare the night before and pop on in the morning before you go to work. The pot sits slowly cooking all day long and you have a meal cooked and ready to serve when you come home.

Just adapt the cooking times for these recipes to suit the method of cook, whether braised in the oven or slow cooker.

A bowl of slow cooked chunky beef chilli served with tortilla chips and a wedge of lime.

Smoky Beef Chilli is a firm favourite with my children, the emphasis being on the smoked flavour rather than chilli heat. Serve it with nachos, rice and some favourite toppings like grated cheese, sour cream, salsas and a wedge of lime.

paprika beef casserole in a blue bowl closeup

Paprika Beef is a popular dish with our followers and one that packs a real flavour punch. This dish is seriously simple and requires very little preparation. Serve with mashed potato or some steamed rice.

Traditional Italian Beef Ragu is a favourite slow braised dish. Serve this deliciously flavourful ragu sauce with gnocchi or your favourite pasta.

Bowl filled with slow braised rich beef stew.

Asian Inspired Beef Shoulder is a slow braised stew where traditional flavours are swapped with the flavours of sesame oil, dark and light soy, anise and szechuan pepper corns.

Healthy fish dishes

Fish is another great option when it comes to a quick family meals. Fish is quick to cook and on the table in no time.

Friends have often said that they struggle to get their kids to eat fish. I’m lucky enough that this hasn’t been the case in my house as both my kids love fish and seafood. I suggest keeping things simple and perhaps starting with a simple fish pie or pasta dish.

A fish pie dinner for two on a ocean blue background and navy blue napkins

I do recommend starting with something simple. My Fish Pie works here as the fish is mixed with sauce and vegetables. You can add the fish that you know your kids will eat.

A plate of smoked salmon pasta, with a fork on a blue back drop

For a super quick pasta dish that can be ready in the time it takes to cook a pan of pasta, try Smoked Salmon Pasta – quick, simple and packed full of flavour!

A closeup view of a dish of pan fried hake on a bed of lemon, pepper and courgette couscous with a grilled lemon on the side on a black plate.

My youngest prefers fish cooked simply, either steamed, grilled or pan-fried. Hake with Lemon Couscous is one such dish. Pan fried hake served with a lemon couscous that’s both quick and simple to cook and packed full of vegetables.

BBq'd makerel with a tomato and watercress salad on a white plate

Devilled Mackerel, a great oily fish which I have marinated and then either grilled or barbecued. I serve this with a tomato, onion and parsley salad to cut through this rich oily fish. If the chilli heat is too much just cut it back.

Family favourite pasta dishes

Pasta is winner in most homes, and these great tasting pasta recipes are no exception.

A plate of Spaghetti Bolognese with vine tomatoes, a basil plant and parmesan cheese topped with basil spring

A firm favourite in our house is my recipe for Bolognese Pasta Sauce. It combines steak and pork mince and packs in lots of flavour.

A green bowl of linguine with grated courgette and topped with basil.

The flavours of summer in a bowl and my favourite pasta dish is Courgette Pasta. During the summer this is a dish which my family and I enjoy almost weekly. 

This Creamy Sausage Pasta is flavored with pork sausage, fennel seeds, sunblush tomatoes, leek and garlic for a winning flavour combination..

Pumpkin Pasta with Pancetta in a dish I love to serve in Autumn when squash is at its seasonal best. Cooked in a brown butter with crispy pancetta this is a delicious dish.

Creamy Chicken and Bacon Tomato Pasta combines soft chicken with smoky bacon and sun-dried tomatoes and is served in a creamy sauce.

A green bowl filled with penne pasta in a tomato, basil pasta sauce with a garnish of parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves, with a block of parmesan, fresh basil leaves and garlic set alongside.

Easy Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce is a basic tomato sauce that I have been cooking for years. It’s made using a few simple ingredients and makes a great tomato pasta sauce to serve with your favourite pasta along with a grating of fresh Parmesan cheese.

Easy chicken dinners

When it comes to meat chicken is versatile and something most meat eating families cook regularly.

A ceramic speckled plate with a serving of pan fried chicken breast topped with sliced ham and parmesan cheese on a bed of wilted greens and served with boiled cubed potatoes.

Italian Chicken with Ham & Parmesan, with 3 main ingredients, is a dish that is packed full of flavour.

Pan Fried Chicken with Smoked Bacon & Beans

Another favourite is Pan Fried Chicken with Bacon & Beans, where the beans make a welcome change from the usual sides of potato. Add a side of green vegetables, simply steamed, to both dishes and you have a delicious meal.

A creamy tarragon sauce being poured over tender chicken breasts served on a bed of fresh asparagus and spring peas on a white plate in a CALA Homes Showhome.

For a quick cook that all the family will enjoy but one that can be easily doubled up to feed a larger group of family and friends try my Creamy Tarragon Chicken with Asparagus & Peas.

Steak and pork dishes

As a family we enjoy steak, sausages and burgers, albeit that we limit how much red meat we eat.

A tray containing cooked hot dogs in brioche buns with a variety of different toppings and some onion rings.

Classic Loaded Hot Dogs combine smoky hot dogs with a variety of toppings. Place the toppings into individual bowls and let everyone top their own they way they like it.

We are all happy with a simple cooked steak. However, if you want to prepare a little ahead of time, then marinating the steak for 24 hours is well worth the effort.

A wooden board with individual lettuce leaves piled with slices of rare cooked sirloin steak and salad vegetables.

For something a little different we’ve lightened my Sirloin Steak with Lemongrass, serving the marinated steak wrapped up in individual gem lettuce leaves.

A black tray with rare cooked and sliced skirt steak and a green plate with a baked sweet potato topped with sour cream and a wedge of lime.

Cheaper cuts like skirt steak work particularly well with a marinade. My Skirt Steak with a Warm Spice Marinade is simply delicious.

How to introduce spice to kids?

In my family, no discussion about family dinners would be complete without a recipe or two containing spice. There’s no need to become fearful when spicing food. Spice adds flavour to food, but not necessarily heat!

A black bowl filled with spicy couscous topped with ras-el-hanout chicken and garnished fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds, with a bowl of spicy couscous and bowl of pomegranate seeds set alongside.

Ras el hanout Chicken with Spicy Couscous is my youngest daughters favourite dish. Ras el Hanout is a North African spice blend and very aromatic, rather than hot. Adapt the chilli heat in the couscous or leave the chillies out altogether if you would prefer.

2 individual indian spiced cottage pies in purple le creuset casseroles on a tarnished metal tray with a spoonful ready to eat, steamed broccoli in the back with curry powder in a black dish all on an old mahogany table.

The trick is to introduce it gradually, start with something that feels familiar and add a little spice to it. My Indian Cottage Pie is a great example of this. Taking a traditional meat pie that we are all familiar with and giving it a spicy twist.

Grey bowl filled with chicken pilaf garnished with fresh parsley and half a lemon

Chicken Pilaf contains lots of spice, but no chilli heat. The nuts in this dish add crunch but can be left out if you would prefer.

How to swap the weekend takeaway for fakeaway?

Like many families, my own do enjoy a takeaway every once in a while. However, there are times when I want takeaway without the added cost. I also like to know what’s going into my food and have started cooking my own takeaway inspired dishes. However, they have to be good enough that my family are happy enough with the swap.

These family dinners are a healthy alternative to our local takeaway. In addition, we can adapt the recipes, cutting back on ingredients that we would rather eat less of.

I also find that you don’t cook as much food as you would order from a takeaway which is great for the waistline as well as your bank balance.

Best Chinese fakeaway dishes

Pork & Peanut Stir-fry

I love the freshness and speed of cooking Chinese food, particularly stir fries. Stir fries are a great way to get extra vegetables into our family diet. The first recipe I ever wrote on this blog was my Pork & Peanut Noodle Stirfry. I cook this dish, or a variety of it regularly, and my family love it.

Another favourite that’s always popular with my own kids, is my Stir Fry Chicken & Cashew Nuts, which I serve with simple steamed rice.

A table set with a dish of beef and black bean sauce to the front, stir fried broccoli to the back and a pair of chopsticks on a dark marbled table.

My own personal favourite is Easy Beef Stir-fry with Black Bean Sauce. This simple stir-fry is packed full of flavour and a real hit with our followers.

A regular dish on my dinner table mid week is my Easy Vegetable Stir Fry. Packed full of nutritious vegetables and quick to prepare, this is a perfect family dish that can be on the table in under 30 minutes!

Don’t forget those Chinese side dishes!

All of these meat based dishes can be served banquet style so don’t forget about those all important side dishes.

Why not serve up my Easy Egg Fried Rice. This rice dish is packed full of flavour, but really simple and quick to make. This is another dish that is really popular with our followers.

Stir fried broccoli on a dark blue platter, topped with sesame seeds and sitting on a dark blue marbled background and a hand using chopsticks to pick up a piece of the broccoli.

If you want to include some vegetable side dishes then try my Easy Stir Fry Broccoli. This is a great way to cook broccoli, leaving it with just enough bite. It is flavoured with garlic and soy sauce.

Top down image of stir fried Pak Choy

A regular on my own table is my Stir Fried Pak Choy which is flavoured with garlic, sesame oil and light soy sauce.

The best Indian fakeaway dishes

If your family love curry as much as mine so, the following recipes are definitely for you. All of these currries contain spice, but not necessarily chilli heat. You can adapt the chilli in each recipe to suit the tastes of your family.

A delicious bowl of butter chicken in a pale blue bowl sat on a pink napkin with a bowl of rice to the back and topped with chopped corriader

Butter Chicken Curry is ideal for family dining as it packed full of flavour, but not chilli heat. This makes it a perfect curry for feeding to a crowd where you’re not sure of everyone’s tolerance to chilli.

A closeup view of a paneer curry sitting on a homemade flatbread.

One of my favourite curries, and one I cook more than any other, is my Easy Matar Paneer. A vegetarian curry with creamy soft paneer cheese, served here with chutney and wraps, but just as tasty with rice.

A pink bowl filled with lamb and spinach curry with some fresh green finger chillies set alongside.

Another beautifully spiced dish is my Lamb & Spinach Curry. This recipe was created without the addition of chillies. However, you can add chilli heat to your taste or leave out altogether.

Chickpea curry topped with spiced yogurt in a copper bowl and served with fresh flatbreads and a blue denim shaded napkin.

Easy Chickpea Curry with Spinach is suitable for Vegan diners and uses a lovely array of vegetables. Adapt this simple recipe to include the vegetables all the family enjoy eating.

South East Asia

If the flavours of South East Asia are something you enjoy, then try either of the great tasting dishes below. Both are mildly spiced, but you can easily adapt spicing to suit the tastes of your family.

Vegetable and coconut curry served with rice and limes.

Another delicious curry is my Vegetable & Coconut Curry, which was inspired by a trip to Indonesia. This mildly spiced dish that is suitable for Vegetarian and Vegan diners, but a great tasting curry that I cook regularly when I want to enjoy a meat-free meal.

Two green bowls filled with beef rendang garnishes with sliced red chilli and chopped coriander leaf, with a portion of steamed white rice, garnished with nigella seeds and a bowl of sambal set alongside.

One dish I have cooked for years is my Beef Rendang, a dish I cook regularly for family and friends alike. I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t love this mildly spiced slow cooked beef dish. I like to serve both these dishes with simple steamed rice as they are so flavoursome they need little accompaniment.

Family dinners – suggestions for meat free nights?

I love vegetables and there really are few that I don’t enjoy. A strict vegetarian for many years, I do now eat meat. However, I still like to have meat free days and enjoy vegetable based meals 2-3 times a week.

One point to note is if you are serving these dishes to vegetarian diners, where we have specified cheese in the ingredient list, ensure you use a vegetarian cheese.

Two black plates with a flour tortilla topped with refried beans garnished with pickled red onions, cheese, sliced red chillies, coriander leaves and a wedge of lime, with coriander, a whole lime and 2 jalapeno chilli peppers set alongside.

This Easy Refried Beans recipe is a favourite dish of mine, and one I’ve cooked for many years. I combine protein rich beans with smoky chipotle chilli paste, fresh jalapeno, cumin and paprika, for a meat free dish that is just packed full of flavour.

A top down view of a bowl of vegan bean chilli with rice and soured cream garnished with coriander and limes in a pale blue mottled bowl on a grey backdrop and a fork and spoon to the right.

If you want to introduce some spice to family dinners, then try my Bean Chilli, simple to make and full of flavour.

A plate of creamy gnocchi with pan fried pumpkin pieces and sage served an an ornate green plate, with a glass of orange juice in the back and a mix of 3 orange and green pumpkins to the back with a light beige napkin and wooden handle fork in the dish all on top of a dark green mottled surface.

Pasta based vegetable sauces are something we all enjoy. Our recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi is a great dish, the gnocchi can be easily substituted for pasta if you’d prefer.

Two individual casserole pots of a creamy vegetable bake topped with melted cheese and served on a dark wooden board.

Another lovely dish is my Vegetable Layer Bake, a great variety of vegetables in a cheese sauce. I recommend sticking with vegetables that your whole family enjoy eating, that way there’s less fuss. You can gradually introduce new vegetables to the ones you know your kids like to eat. This works better than overwhelming them in one go.

Note: for vegetarian diners, swap the Comte cheese for a vegetarian cheddar.

Chloe Edges

Tuesday 4th of February 2020

Wow what a comprehensive guide with so many great ideas. Eggs will always be my go-to super speedy option along with tinned food. A sort of fritatta made with onions, sliced tinned potatoes and eggs is ready in under 10 minutes. That's my kind of timeframe!


Tuesday 4th of February 2020

Yes totally agree Chloe, quite partial to a fritatta myself. Eggs on the menu tonight as I've to be back out again by 6. They form the basis of most of my super quick meals! Lesley x

Jacqui – Recipes Made Easy:Only Crumbs Remain

Wednesday 29th of January 2020

Wow what a brillaint and useful post for anyone new to planning what for dinner tonight or those of us who just need a bit of extra inspriation once in a while.

And thank you for sharing links to my otad in the hole and sea bass recipe delighted you enjoy them


Wednesday 29th of January 2020

Thank you very much Jacqui, I think its the area where we all struggle and fall back on the same recipes. More than happy to share your two lovely recipes, regulars on my weekly menus. Lesley x