I’m a former chef, I work in food service, I run a food blog and I own a food products business, so naturally, I have crazy delicious, nutritious and creative meals on the table every night for dinner, right?
Did I mention I’m also raising four boys?
It’s safe to say that I’m losing steam on most weeknights and feeling rather “spent”, so if dinner takes longer than 30 minutes to prep, to be honest, I’m going to choose to make something else. I think we all can relate!
One way that I am able to keep my sanity in the kitchen is that I rely on our menu board. I got the idea from an old friend to use a monthly dry erase calendar and, instead of filling it with activity and task lists, I fill it in with a meal plan. It’s been life changing! It helps me stick to my budget by stopping some of those “I might need that” purchases. It also helps answer the “what’s for dinner?” question.
Here’s how I do it. Around the third week of the month, I start making a couple lists. One for the foods that the kids or my husband have mentioned that they have been craving lately and recipes that I need to test. The other list is for the freezer or pantry items that I would like to use. Then I start jotting down some ideas here or there.
During the last week of the month, I sit down with my monthly dry erase calendar and colorful markers (just for fun) and I fill out the entire month. If the kids aren’t home for the day, I don’t waste time with lunches. Sometimes this might be a two-day process if I don’t have a lot of items on my lists, but it really does come together quickly when I have done the prep work.
This might sound overwhelming, but try not to overthink it.
I include things like date nights, pizza nights, order out nights, leftover use and other special events that will be over the dinner hour. Sometimes the items aren’t even all that specific and I simply put sandwiches or hotdish. It just helps to have a rough plan. Of course, the plan is always subject to change at the discretion of the chef. Because, life happens.
Another way that I keep things as easy as I can on weeknights is that occasionally I take the time to make a large batch of an item that I can use in multiple ways over the month or two. Instant Pot Salsa Chicken is one of my go-to items. It’s one of the most versatile items that I make. As added bonuses, the kids love it and it freezes beautifully.
When I make Instant Pot Salsa Chicken, I generally make 5-6 pounds at a time. Most of the time I use it for the meal that night and freeze my leftovers, but occasionally I will just make it on a Saturday afternoon because I found a good price on chicken. (When you have four kiddos, you have to take the deals when you can find them.)
I simply put the leftover cooked chicken into freezer bags, about two cups each, lay them flat, remove all the air, and label the bags. Laying the bags flat and spreading the chicken evenly into a thin layer serves two purposes:
- If I forgot to pull my chicken out ahead of time, it will thaw more quickly.
- It also saves space and keeps things looking nice and neat in my freezer so I can find it when I need to. I just pull out one or two bags the morning I want to use them.
Here are a few of our favorite uses:
Bowls: Use rice or cauliflower rice (try making cilantro lime rice), pinto or black beans, avocados, tomatoes, frozen corn, limes, or other toppings.
Burritos: Fill a flour tortilla with rice, beans, chicken and then serve immediately or wrap in foil and keep warm in a low temperature oven until you are ready to eat.
Tacos: Soft or hard shell along with your favorite taco toppings.
Taco salads: Top romaine or iceberg lettuce with toppings and crushed tortilla chips.
Baked potato popper: Slice baked potatoes, fluff with fork and top with the chicken, cheese, extra salsa and any other toppings you like.
Quesadillas: Top a flour tortilla with Mexican shredded cheese blend, chicken and another tortilla. Heat in a non-stick pan or on a griddle until cheese is melted and the tortillas are light golden brown.
Sheet Pan Nachos (recipe below)
Cheesy Salsa Chicken Spaghetti (recipe below)
I am sure the list could be longer and some of the options above are healthier than others, but all are delicious! We do have a couple favorites though. My kids are big fans of the Salsa Chicken Sheet Pan Nachos. Most of the time they only eat the chips, cheese, meat, beans and corn, but occasionally they will dabble in jalapeno-eating contests and have some fun with it. I usually make one “boring pan” and one “fun pan”. They also absolutely love that when it’s time to eat, I just put one or two sheet pans of nachos in the middle of the table, and they can serve themselves.
Another one of our favorite ways to use the Salsa Chicken is to make Cheesy Salsa Chicken Spaghetti. This is a little more of a splurge because it’s so rich and cheesy, but sometimes after cold soccer or football games, it’s just the warm, comforting meal that we all need to warm up. It’s also a great dish to assemble ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake. If you are going to make it ahead of time, just increase your bake time by 20 minutes to ensure that everything is heated through.
Instant Pot Salsa Chicken
- 5-6 pounds of boneless/skinless chicken breasts, raw, not frozen (can also use thighs)
- 16 ounces salsa, medium heat
- 2 tablespoons ranch dressing mix
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/3 cup lime juice, fresh squeezed or from a bottle
Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot. Stir. Lock and seal the lid. Cook on manual - high pressure for 12 minutes. Use the natural release method. Once all of the pressure is released, carefully remove the lid and remove the chicken from the juice. Make sure it has reached 165 degrees. Shred the chicken using either 2 forks or the paddle attachment to a stand mixer. Once the chicken is shredded return it to the sauce in the instant pot and let it rest for 5 minutes to soak in. The chicken is now ready to use or let it cool and freeze into 2 cup packages to use later.
Yields 10 cups shredded chicken (will vary depending on brand and cut of chicken used)
Cheesy Salsa Chicken Spaghetti
- 16 ounces spaghetti
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup
- 16 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 - 10 ounce can tomatoes and green chiles (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
- 2 cups Salsa Chicken (or shredded plain rotisserie chicken)
- Parley, chopped (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package directions, leaving it slightly al dente. Strain and return the pasta to the pot.
Add condensed soup, cheese, tomatoes, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and chicken. Gently stir until all of the ingredients are evenly combined.
Pour the spaghetti mixture into a greased 9x13 baking dish and top with shredded cheese.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and the edges of the pan are bubbling. Remove the pan from the oven and serve.
Salsa Chicken Sheet Pan Nachos
- ½ large bag of tortilla chips
- 3 cups shredded Mexican style cheese
- 2 cups shredded salsa chicken, warmed in a saute pan or microwave
- ½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
- ½ cup thawed frozen corn (optional)
- Shredded lettuce
- Diced tomatoes
- Jalapenos, sliced
- Cilantro, chopped
- Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
- Avocados or guacamole
Preheat your oven broiler. Line a rimmed half-size sheet pan with parchment paper or spray with pan spray. Spread tortilla chips over the pan and sprinkle with 2 cups of the shredded cheese.
Place the sheet pan under the broiler and heat until cheese melts.
Remove the pan from the oven and evenly cover the chips and cheese with the salsa chicken, black beans and corn. Top with the remaining cup of shredded cheese and place under the broiler for another 1-2 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the edges of the chips start to brown.
Remove the pan from the oven, top with lettuce, tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, and other toppings of choice before serving.
Want to print these recipes? Click on the document below to download and print.