When it comes to birthdays, family get-togethers, or nights on the town, you don't always need to be in a restaurant to bring everyone around a table. If you're looking for meals that can fit any occasion, and to suit even the most selective of tastes, there are still plenty of creative solutions as to what to eat for dinner when cooking at home.
It’s likely the most common query in any household, but if you're stuck for ideas don't head for the nearest drive-thru just yet. After all, when it comes to home cooking, you’re spoilt for choice when you get to set the menu. Which brings us back to that simple question…
What should I eat for dinner?
A creative way to alternate your cooking schedule is to split the week in two, making meals which involve one key ingredient for the first half – fish dishes, say – and chicken-based meals for the second half. The fun challenge here is to explore the versatility of those main ingredients, and this fun little puzzle can be a week-by-week thing. One week try to make a few colorful homemade soups and some colourful salads, and the next week try a pair of fiery curries and some inventive pork loin dishes.
To get things started, then, here are a few of my favorite evening meals to make at home.
Wok-fried shrimp and vegetables on coconut rice
An easy way to add some vibrance to the dinner table is with nutritious crustaceans and good old-fashioned green beans. Shrimp is a great source of protein and omega-3, so this it's a superfood optimised for both body and mind – and it tastes fantastic with rice and veggies.
This dish can be easily modified to feed as many people as you want, so add as much rice as needed to fill your family’s appetite. Fill a large pot with hot water and sprinkle ½ a teaspoon of salt, 2/3 of a can of coconut milk, and about 2 cups of rice.
Leave the rice to cook with a lid over the pan for about a quarter-hour, until most of the water has been absorbed and the rice is thick and soft. Then, take the remaining coconut milk and pour that over a wok on medium heat. Add in a large handful of frozen green beans and allow those to cook for about three minutes, before mixing in your shrimp and some frozen peas.
Allow that to all simmer through, until the peas and beans are cooked. For a final flourish, squeeze half a lime over the shrimp and vegetables, throw in fresh coriander leaves, and maybe a sprinkle of chili flakes if you want a bit of spice.
Italian dining on a budget: creamy tomato pasta
As many universities have shut their study spaces and taken their classes online, a large proportion of college students have left their campus dorms and returned to the comforts of home. This is a good opportunity, then, for students to show off some of the culinary skills they may have picked up while studying. Student meals are often inexpensive – and this pasta dish is no exception – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be flavorsome and colorful.
For this dish, you’ll need to put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Once that is simmering, add a finely diced yellow onion and cook until soft and brown, and then put two cloves of chopped garlic in the pan alongside a little bit of chopped-up chili.
Leave that to cook for a couple minutes and tip in 750g of chopped tomatoes, a sprinkling of salt, and a bit of cracked black pepper. Stir this all together and leave to bubble, before bringing the pan to a low heat and adding a ½ cup of heavy cream.
Meanwhile, you’ll want to have the pasta just about ready to serve now. I find penne pasta is the best kind for this dish, as it mixes in easily with the sauce, which is what you’re going to do once the pasta has been strained. After you’ve stirred it into the sauce, serve with a few leaves of basil and some parmesan cheese.
For dessert: peach cobbler ice cream sundae
As the sun sets and the moon rises, so too shall dinner be followed by dessert! One of my favorites is the peach cobbler – smooth, rich in flavor, and absolutely delicious with any kind of cream (ice cream being my #1 choice).
This peach cobbler recipe is the best one I’ve come across as it uses almond flour, which is an unusual choice but it brings a fantastic nutty flavor. It’s also easy to prepare with just a few ingredients, and you can prepare everything in this recipe ahead of time. So if you suddenly get a craving for a sweet treat, all you need to do is take it out of the fridge, add some ice cream, and you’re good to go.
Cooking is good for your mental health
A key takeaway from this is to remember that nutritional, home-cooked meals are not only good for your body, but also your mental wellbeing. According to therapist Justyna Wawrzonek, the process of cooking can put some people “in the zone”, a calmer state of mind. What that means is people lose track of time and let their minds wander a little bit, pulling their attention away from whatever negative thoughts or worries had otherwise been affecting their mental health.
Cooking at home means you won’t just be putting some grade-A meals on your plate, but a smile on your face as well. If you want peace of mind and delicious food in a single evening, try out some of these meal ideas this week.