I’ll admit that I’m one of the first to get sucked into a beautiful photo of a recipe online, only to have it turn out terrible when I make it at home. But like a good book, I’m willing to try something that even sounds a little unusual if it’s been highly recommended by a friend.

So, I hope you’ll think of me as a friend — you know, the friend who you frantically text when you have no idea what to make for dinner, again — and give some of these recipes a try. I’m even here to answer questions in comments, if you have any.

As for these five recipes, they’re all big favorites in our house, and factor into my own meal plan weekly rotation. Since I can make them (and know they’ll be served without complaints) I hope they can do the same for you. And hey, happy eaters and a nice family dinner make all that meal planning and cooking time worth it.

At top: chicken sandwiches at Tastes Better from Scratch; Vegan Crunchwrap Supremes at Pinch of Yum

Related: These are my 13 favorite new recipes I discovered for my family this year.


Weekly meal plan: Barbacoa Beef Tacos at Cafe Delites

Barbacoa Short Rib Tacos 

I always feel like a slow cooker dinner is basically a night off from cooking. These Barbacoa Short Rib Tacos at Cafe Delites are one of my favorite meals. You can use the prepare the meat as instructed, then use for tacos, enchiladas, taco bowls, tortilla soup…pretty much anything with a Mexican flavor to it. For that reason, I’d double this recipe — get a larger cut of meat and freeze what’s leftover to use again later.


Weekly Meal Plan: Copycat fast-food chicken sandwiches at Tastes Better from Scratch

Copycat Fast Food Chicken Sandwiches

As much as we’re trying to eat healthy in the new year, sometimes we just crave some junk food. And these fast food copycat chicken sandwiches at Tastes Better from Scratch are actually really, really tasty. (And yes, better from scratch!) You can make them as sandwiches, per the recipe, or slice those crispy chicken breasts into nuggets or strips to put on a salad while your kids eat theirs with some heat-up fries.

(Editor’s Note: As a bonus, chicken sandwiches always taste better without a side of bigotry, so skip the take-out and enjoy your homemade versions!)

Related: The 10 most popular Cool Mom Eats posts of 2020

Weekly meal plan: One-pot-wonder pasta at Apron Strings

One-Pot Tomato Basil Pasta

Friends, this One Pot Wonder Tomato Basil Pasta at Apron Strings is my miracle dinner. The recipe is brilliant and so easy: Just put everything in the pot with the noodles to boil, and it’s all ready at once, including the perfectly light tomato-basil sauce.  I generally add some grilled chicken or fish on top for protein, and serve green veggies on the side.


Weekly meal plan: Vegan Crunchwrap Supremes at Pinch of Yum

Crunchwrap Supremes, Vegan Style

Those of you frequent readers may remember that my husband is vegan, so I’m always looking out for vegan meals that the whole family can enjoy so I’m not turning into a short-order cook at dinnertimes. So I turned to these Vegan Crunchwrap Supremes with the recipe from a Pinch of Yum, and wow!

(Yes, it’s another fast food copycat recipe, but these days, that makes a regular weeknight a little more fun.) I wasn’t sure at first how my kids would respond to them…but let’s just say I didn’t announce that they were vegan, and everyone thought they were delicious!

Full disclosure: cooking the individual elements then wrapping and putting them in the oven does take a little more effort than most recipes I share in our weekly meal plans. But not having to make multiple meals for everyone makes it worth it. Also note, she shares a classic crunchwrap supreme recipe using ground beef, which is a lot simpler, if you prefer that.


Weekly meal plan: Better than Takeout Fried Rice at Rachel Schultz

Takeout-Style Chicken Fried Rice

Whenever I don’t feel like cooking and need something easy for dinner, I whip up Rachel Schultz’s Better than Takeout Chicken Fried Rice and I’m always glad I did. Start your week by baking four to five bone-in chicken breasts, then pulling the meat off to store in the fridge for lunches — quesadillas, salads, and so on. But it’s also fantastic to have on hand to add to this dish too, requiring virtually no cooking. The sum total of your effort is basically boiling rice and sautéing a few veggies. Easy, right?

Serve with baked egg rolls (I get mine in the freezer section) and make use of those leftover soy sauce packets and chopsticks from your last Chinese restaurant order, and you’ve got a really fun take-out style dinner at home.