Raising a family is no easy feat, especially for working moms. Not only are you busting your ass to help support your family financially, but you’re also burdened with domestic tasks, like cooking dinner and helping the kids with homework.
Good news on the dinner front: Making wholesome, complete meals doesn’t have to be time-consuming or involve complicated recipes and extended prep time. Here are five stupidly simple side dishes that’ll brighten up any weekday meal.
Potatoes take an unjustly long amount of time to cook. Quicken the process by cutting the potatoes into smaller pieces and microwaving them for 5 minutes with an inch of water to soften them. Then, toss them in butter or olive oil, dried herbs and spices (thyme and paprika are excellent), and minced garlic, and pop them into a 400-degree oven. After 10 minutes, they should be soft, crispy, shimmering golden nuggets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve hot.
Pair with: Virtually any protein
Potatoes are a universal staple and lend themselves well to all sorts of pairings. Have them with any meal lacking a starch, from chicken to lamb.
Never make a bland green bean monstrosity again: The trick is to toss them in a dressing while they’re still hot. Boil the green beans, fresh or frozen, until they’re tender. While they’re cooking on the stove, whip up a quick vinaigrette by combining any acid and emulsifying with oil. You can’t go wrong with whisking lemon juice with dijon mustard and olive oil. Warm veggies absorb dressing better, so toss the green beans with your vinaigrette as soon as they’re done cooking — they’ll soak the flavor right up. Season with the requisite salt and pepper.
Pair with: Meatloaf, steak, chicken or veal parm, any comfort meal
The acidity of the vinaigrette will cut through rich or fatty mains and provide a refreshing contrast.
Like potatoes, winter squash takes a tediously long time to cook. The microwave-softening method works for winter squash too — but otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with heating up a bag of frozen, cubed butternut squash. Once the squash is soft, drizzle and toss with a mixture of honey and cinnamon to taste. If a savory option is more up your alley, using an acid like lime juice or balsamic in lieu of the cinnamon, will also work well with the honey. Add a pinch of chili flakes for an extra kick. (Bonus: The same treatments can be applied to carrots.)
Pair with: Pork, poultry, meatloaf
Most meats marry nicely with the creamy texture of winter squash, but the natural sugar content in the squash works especially well in bringing out the subtle flavors in sweeter meats, like pork.
This is a foolproof method that works especially well with frozen corn, peas, or shelled edamame — or any combo of the aforementioned veggies and legumes. Simply heat them up according to the bag instructions and drain. Then, toss in a knob of butter, a squeeze of lemon juice, grated parmesan, and salt and pepper. For an extra indulgence, top with a smattering of crumbled bacon. Whatever combination you go with, you’ll have a table-ready side in 5 literal minutes.
Pair with: Poultry, meatloaf, pasta dishes
The natural sweetness in peas and corn complements a wide spectrum of flavors. Serve ‘em up with hearty meat dishes, or mix them into pasta dishes for extra bursts of brightness.
Couscous should be a staple for everyone with a busy schedule; it might be one of the easiest and quickest-cooking foods known to mankind. Simply bring water to a boil and pour in the proportionate amount of couscous according to the box instructions. Cover the pot for 5 minutes — in which all sorts of steamy magic happens — and it’s done. Season with salt and pepper, and fluff with a fork before serving. For more flavor, cook it in chicken or veggie stock.
Pair with: Poultry, sausage, lamb, veggies
Couscous is a blank canvas that can be manipulated in whatever way you want — it soaks up all manner of flavors beautifully.
Mix and match everything above, and never let dinner be a stress fest again. When you’re faced with busy weeknights, serve them up with On-Cor frozen entrees. With a wide array of satisfying options at your disposal, On-Cor makes dinner feel special and nourishing without the grunt work.
Angela Wang is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.