Monday, November 7, 2016

Easy Family Dinner Idea + 17 Quick Salad Recipes

Need an easy family dinner to make when you're entertaining guests or out of town visiting for a holiday? My go-to solution is to fix a high-quality main course from the freezer aisle and pair it with fresh & fast homemade sides. This saves you time, gives you the best of both worlds, and lets you relax and hang out with your loved ones! Keep reading more ideas + a round-up of recipes for inspiration. 

Easy Family Dinner Idea + 15 Quick Salad Recipes

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Michael Angelo’s™. In return for my time and creative effort, I'm being compensated financially for this post. Thank you for allowing me to keep creating great content by supporting partnerships with brands I collaborate with on The Rising Spoon. As always, the opinions expressed here are 100% my own.

When you have family over for dinner or you're staying together for the holidays, the last thing you want is to get stuck in the kitchen for hours while everyone else is in the other room enjoying each other's company. Kinda defeats the whole purpose of having a gathering, right? 

I've been in this situation so many times and it's frustrating, to say the least. You're torn between wanting to serve a yummy made-from-scratch-especially-by-you meal and spending time with your guests. 

Sure, you could channel your inner Ina Garten and prep a fabulous spread three days ahead of time, but that's certainly not an everyday reality. Especially if you're traveling from out of town and don't have the luxury of a fully stocked kitchen. (This is often the case with me when I'm visiting family.)

So what's the solution? 

Suck it up and stay in the kitchen? Order take-out food? Nope!

You serve a semi-homemade meal that requires little time in the kitchen but doesn't compromise on flavor or quality of ingredients. 

Here's my favorite quick & easy dinner idea in this situation:

  1. Pick up 1-2 family-sized meals (made with high-quality ingredients sans the preservatives and additives) from the frozen aisle at your local grocery store.
  2. Grab ingredients to make a quick fresh salad for serving alongside the main course (see below for ideas).
  3. Make 1-2 homemade salad dressings to serve with the salad (they only take minutes to fix and your guests will rave about them).

The key here is to choose something from the frozen aisle that'll taste just as good as homemade. So close to that made-with-love-and-time taste that you could take it from the freezer, stick it in one of your own baking dishes, serve it up, and no one would know better! 

Have you ever done this? Sneaky, sneaky. ;)

Seeking Out Quality Prepared Meals From The Freezer Aisle

In my family, we have a yearly tradition of gathering at my grandma's house in Northern Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday. As we gear up for a full day of cooking, my grandma will often buy prepared meals from the freezer aisle for dinner and whip up a salad (with store-bought dressings) to serve on the side. 

There have been plenty of times in the past where I've taken a look at the ingredients list on the package she's cooking and see a laundry list of additives, preservatives, and highly processed ingredients. I groan to myself, but don't say anything because...well, it's her house and I'm grateful for the food and her company.

Simple Meals In Between Big Holiday Feasts or Gatherings

While I'd love to breeze into my grandma's kitchen as soon as I arrive and take over all the cooking, ensuring it's homemade, it's just not feasible - at least financially!

Trust me, I've tried it. I ended up buying new bottles and containers of a whole different bunch of ingredients she didn't have (that really adds up if you do it every trip), and then left them there for her to use, which didn't happen. 

However, I've discovered that by seeking out high-quality foods from the freezer aisle and combining them with some easy fresh recipes that don't cost a ton to fix, I can have the best of both worlds. 

Easy Lasagna Dinner + 15 Quick Salad Recipes

Michael Angelo's: Italian-Style Small Batch From Scratch Meals

Thankfully, I've discovered a family-owned and -operated company that makes delicious meals for the freezer aisle with real ingredients you can recognize and pronounce on the label--no additives or preservatives.

That in and of itself is a huge reason why I love their stuff and will continue to seek them out when I'm shopping for prepared meals to serve at family gatherings. 

However, the two main things that set Michael Angelo's apart from other competitors:

  1. They cook, package, and ship their meals directly to grocery stores. That means, unlike big name brands, their stuff's not sitting in some warehouse for weeks or months before it makes it to the stores. 
  2. They fix their meals small-batch style, just like a home cook would. So instead of throwing raw ingredients in a container and letting the oven do all the work, they take the time to saute the onion & garlic, grind the meat, grate the cheese, and boil the pasta so they can then layer everything together with a richer flavor. 

Pretty awesome, right? 

Finding Michael Angelo's Locally: If you want to grab some Michael Angelo's meals to keep in your freezer for a busy weeknight or impromptu family gathering, use this store locator to see which of your local stores sell it.

You can also follow them on social media here: Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter

Comforting Lasagna Without All The Prep Work

Michael Angelo's has a pretty diverse line of Italian-style products, so when I went to the store recently to buy one of their meals, I was eyeing stuff like their shrimp scampi and vegetable lasagna. However, I ended up getting the traditional lasagna with meat sauce. So predictable, right? Well, it did make the meat-loving boyfriend happy. 

Lasagna is one of those foods that I love to eat, but never fix at home because of all the ingredients and prep work involved. To be honest, I probably haven't had a strong enough craving for it to justify all the steps. Maybe one day I'll get a hankering for tons of creamy cheese laced with spicy Italian sausage and extra crushed red pepper flakes, but until then...I'll let somebody else do all the work. :)

Easy Dinner Idea For The Holidays + Quick Salad Recipes

Use That Extra Time to Relax OR Prep A Quick Salad + Dressing

After you stick the meal into the oven, you'll have 40-45 minutes to do whatever you want (yes, yes, yes). Maybe that means pouring a glass of wine, popping a loaf of garlic bread into the oven, relaxing with your guests, and calling it done. I like doing all of the above but will generally use that 15-20 minutes to chop up a simple leafy salad and fix a quick homemade dressing. 

For the salad in the picture above, I used mixed baby greens, sliced red onions, grated sharp cheddar cheese, dried sweetened cranberries, pomegranate seeds, crumbled walnuts, and apple slices served with my homemade apple cider vinaigrette. 

So, to make your life easier I'm sharing a round-up of quick and easy leafy salad recipes + salad dressings from my food blogger friends that you can make at home to give your semi-homemade meal an extra touch of love! 

Hopefully, this will give you some creative ideas for serving side salads with your meals so you don't have to make the same ones over and over.

17+ Quick & Easy Salads To Serve With A Main Course

1. Pomegranate and Apple Kale Salad by Veggies Save The Day
2. Strawberry Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
3. Arugula Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette by Platings and Pairings
4. Cranberry Kale Crunch by Fried Dandelions
5. Strawberry, Almond & Goat Cheese Salad by Food Above Gold 
6. Pear Gorgonzola Salad with Caramelized Pecans by Lavender & Macarons
7. Simple Greek Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette 
8. Citrus Kale Salad by Bet On Dinner
9. Italian Blue Salad with Apricot Dressing by Trial and Eater
10. Quick Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing by Easy Baby Meals
11. Chickpea Mediterranean Salad by Books and Lavender
12. Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dates, Pecans, and Cheese by Foodie Goes Healthy
13. Arugula Salad with Endive, Mozzarella, Pecans, and Pomegranate Seeds by At The Immigrant's Table
14. Roasted Garlic and Raspberry Big Salad by Spabettie
15. Wasabi Cucumber Avocado Dressing + Spiralized Cucumber Salad by Peas and Crayons
16. Fall Kale Salad by Sprinkled with Zest
17. Butter Leaf Salad with Creamy Pear Vinaigrette by The Organic Kitchen
18. Quick Roasted Beet Salad by Wholesome Yum

And since a salad is 100,000% better with homemade dressing to smother drizzle on top, here are some easy recipes for basic salad dressings you can whip together in minutes! :)

11 Easy Homemade Salad Dressings
  1. Blue Cheese Dressing & Dip
  2. Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
  3. Pumpkin Vinaigrette by Fried Dandelions
  4. Apple Cider Vinaigrette (Creamy or Whisked)
  5. Healthy Homemade French Dressing (American Style) by Paleo Spirit
  6. Honey Mustard Dressing Recipe (Five Minutes) by Mommypotamus
  7. Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing by From Valerie's Kitchen
  8. Green Goddess Dressing Recipe by Simply Recipes
  9. Fresh Strawberry Vinaigrette by Intoxicated On Life
  10. Moroccan Vinaigrette by Whole New Mom
Easy Family Dinner Idea + 17 Quick Side Salads & 11 Homemade Dressings Recipes You Can Fix In Hurry

I'd like to hear from YOU!

What's your favorite easy dinner idea for when you're feeding family or friends? 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Michael Angelo's. The opinions and text are all mine.

Don't miss a post! Want my real food recipes, kitchen tutorials, DIY crafts, and healthy living articles (like this) delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up using the box below. :)

P.S. Keep Reading! More Recipes From The Rising Spoon:

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