Main Dishes


Have you ever ordered one half of a pizza with pepperoni and the other half with sausage?  This common family meal solution can be extended to other foods like casseroles, quiches and stromboli, keeping the entire family happy without making  a lot of extra work for busy parents.

Sausage and Cornbread Pie

Sausage and Cornbread Pie before adding the topping (shown here made with sausage links)

I started experimenting with this “separate meals in one dish” idea when my boys started rejecting foods with red peppers.  Cameron will happily pick raisins out of his pineapple carrot salad before wolfing his salad down, but he refuses to even try foods containing peppers or celery.  I can live without celery, but I miss the pepper and adding it to my own portion before eating isn’t always satisfactory.

This family meal solution works best with casseroles that are layered not mixed, such as lasagna or quiche.  One of my boys’ favorites, sausage and cornbread pie, can easily be modified using the separate meals in one dish technique.

Sausage and Cornbread Pie

1 pound ground sausage (Or 2 pounds sausage and omit the ground beef)
1 pound ground beef
2 red or green bell peppers
1 onion
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or one 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained)
1 ½ cups frozen corn (or one 15-ounce can, drained)
½ teaspoon sage
1 package cornbread mix (8 ounces)
½ cup milk
1 egg
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brown the sausage and ground beef over medium heat.  Meanwhile, chop the red pepper into thin strips and finely chop the onion.  Drain the fat from the meat mixture then spread the meat evenly in the bottom of a 13” x 9” casserole dish.  Saute the red pepper, onion and cherry tomatoes (if using) in the hot skillet with a little cooking oil until the onion is translucent (about 3-4 minutes).  Transfer the pepper mixture to the casserole. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with corn, canned tomatoes (if using) and sage.

Mix the cornbread, milk, egg and cheese in a separate bowl until the batter is just moist.  Drop the cornbread batter on top of the casserole by spoonfuls, making sure you leave an opening in the middle and maybe in the corners (this allows steam to escape while cooking which keeps your cornbread topping from getting too soggy). Bake the casserole for about 20 minutes until the cornbread topping is lightly browned.

Yeild: Serves 8 adults  (You may halve this recipe, by halving all ingredients except use a whole egg.  I keep the extra cornbread mix in a zip-lock bag and just add it to the batter the next time I make muffins.)

Separate Meals in One Dish:   If you are trying to please picky eaters by making separate meals in the same dish, then sauté the vegetables separately as needed. (You may also want to reduce the amount of an unpopular vegetable).  Layer the vegetables on one half of the casserole or the other as desired.  The tastes will mix a little, but you can keep at least part of the meal pepper or onion-free.  When I make this casserole for my family I put a lot of peppers, onions, and tomatoes on my side with just a little corn.  The boys’ side gets lots of corn, a little tomato, a little onion, and no peppers.  I also put more cornbread topping on their side, since they enjoy it so much.  Aidan still picks at the tomatoes a little, but it doesn’t keep him from eating a healthy portion (and last time he actually ate a few tomatoes.)

Get the Kids to Help: I like to assemble this casserole myself then call the boys into the kitchen to make the cornbread topping.  Kids can measure, pour and mix the topping ingredients.  My boys also love to “plop” the topping into the casserole dish, although sometimes I have to perform damage control and remove some topping from the center so we have a good steam vent.

Meal Planner: This makes a great brunch dish for lazy weekend mornings.  Or serve it for dinner with a garden salad and fresh strawberries or cantaloupe on the side.

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Salsa chicken helps me avoid the take-out trap.  It’s easy and ready the moment you walk in the door—perfect for families on the go.

I discovered this recipe last year when my boys were going through a high-maintenance phase.  For six months, they melted the minute we got home from daycare. They cried and clung to me and needed lots of hugs and books while they waited for dinner (which of course kept me from making dinner.)  By the time I got everyone to the table I could barely think, let alone be patient, nurturing and kind.

salsa chicken quesadilla

Aidan enjoys salsa chicken in a quesadilla.

This is why every parent needs a recipe like salsa chicken. Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, whether you work at home or away, you need a go-to meal for the days you know are going to be hectic.  Salsa chicken is my go-to meal.  With a little forethought and some preparation in the morning (or night before), I can have a hot, nutritious dinner on the table within ten minutes of walking through the door.  Beautiful!

Salsa Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (2 large chicken breasts)

1 cup salsa (1/2 of a 16 ounce jar)

In the morning (or at lunch), put the chicken in a crock pot. Pour the salsa over the chicken and cook on high for 5 – 6 hours or on low for 8 – 11 hours*.  Use salsa chicken as a filling for burritos or soft tacos, serve it with cooked rice, or use it as a substitute for beef in taco salads.

Yield:  4 adult servings (this recipe doubles easily!)

*Note: Cooking times vary depending on the size of your crock pot, how hot it gets, and how tightly your lid fits.

Ten Minutes from Door to Table:

Step 1: The night before, I place the chicken and salsa on the second shelf of my refrigerator along with a glass dish full of corn and all the fixings for a Mexican burrito bar (whole wheat tortillas, shredded cheese, low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, beans, guacamole etc.).

Step 2: In the morning, I put the salsa and chicken in the crock pot and turn it on.

Step 3: When we walk through the door at night, my boys put away their jackets and shoes while I stick the corn in the microwave.  We wash hands, then the boys put the burrito fixings on the table (with occasional help from mommy), while I put the chicken in a serving dish and finish the corn.  We set the table together, and “Ta-dah” dinner is served!

Variation 1:  My friend Misty adds half a jar of apricot preserves (I use the all fruit variety) and calls this recipe Dump Chicken. She prevents it from getting too juicy by cooking the chicken in the crock pot alone (yes, just set the chicken in there and turn the crock pot on low).  When she is ready to serve dinner, she mixes the salsa and preserves and pours the mixture over the cooked chicken. You may also cook the chicken, preserves and salsa in the crock pot together—my preferred way.  Dump Chicken makes a fabulous nacho topper or a dip for crackers.

Variation 2: Add a 15 ounce can of pineapple tidbits, drained, to the chicken and salsa before cooking.  Serve this over brown rice instead of in tortillas as it tends to be very juicy.

Picky Eater Pleaser:  Serving salsa chicken as part of a burrito bar should give most picky eaters something nutritious to eat.  Aidan likes to make his salsa chicken into a burrito with the works, but Cameron prefers to eat the chicken, cheese and tortilla separate with plain yogurt for dipping. You may also reduce the salsa content of this dish or cook the chicken without the salsa (see Variation 1).  My friend Maria drains the salsa “juice” into the crock pot with the chicken, reserving the chunky parts to add later at the table.  This gives the chicken the yummy flavor of the salsa, but keeps the offending peppers and onions out—a good family compromise.