Five p.m. rolls around, and I trudge out of my home office only to realize I’m somehow supposed to produce dinner for my four hangry sons, ages 4-8, who are already trolling through the snack cabinet like my time has run out. When we received the immense gift to parents of a Costco recently built just down the street, it became my go-to solution for producing large amounts of food in record time for my hungry brood. After some trial and error, I created a go-to list of meals that work for busy weeknights, when there are just 20 minutes between one kid’s practice and another’s carpool pick up, homework, making “100 days of school” shirts, book reports, and packing snacks for the next day — and the rest.
Here’s what I turn to when I feel like throwing peanut butter sandwiches and a juice box at everyone (which sometimes happens, too).
Taco Night in a Hurry, With Leftovers
Typically taco night involves making quite a few ingredients to accommodate everyone’s likes (and many dislikes), such as chopping fresh veggies, preparing the meat, and warming tacos. But Costco has taken this burden away in our go-to Taco Tuesday meal, a pre-packaged but fresh chicken street taco platter. It comes with grilled chicken that’s not as spicy as Chipotle (which two kids can’t handle) but not bland at all. It has shredded lettuce/veggie topping, salsa and a creme sauce, cheese, street tortillas, and a few limes to make your average Tuesday a bit fancier.
In addition to this, to ensure we have enough for leftovers the next day and a bit of variety on our taco bar, we also buy premade (but fresh) shrimp, which creates enough volume of meat to feed everyone. The shrimp is not always available, but you could also substitute it by frying up some frozen shrimp if you are a better planner than me.
Bonus? If you’re really tired and don’t want to fuss with sides too much, you could pop a box of taquitos in the oven. The kids will love ‘em!
Salads and Wraps — Premade, When Possible
When I first saw an already made caesar salad at Costco, I didn’t buy it — I thought to myself, “It’s lazy to spend money on a pre-packaged salad with just three ingredients I can make myself.” But then, of course, I didn’t actually make it because tracking down the parmesan, lettuce, caesar, croutons, and some kind of protein to make it a substantial meal became a lot. So, the next time, I bought that salad, and dinner was ready.
Sometimes they offer it with chicken already, and if not, you can head to the freezer aisle for grilled chicken conveniently pre-packaged into single servings. If you’d rather stick with something ready to eat, Costco’s rotisserie chicken is legendary. Either option means you can make enough for dinner and again for leftovers the next day. Similarly, the chicken caesar wraps are a fan-favorite for kids and adults alike and make perfect leftovers.
Comfort Foods in Minutes
If you or the kids are coming down with the winter crud and you just don’t feel like cooking, a tub of freshly made chicken noodle soup will make you feel pampered. It has thick noodles that you can strain out if you have toddlers who are freaked out by the concept of soup (like mine are) or picky teens. You can easily pair with grilled cheese for a ready-made meal.
In addition, the premade mac and cheese feeds a whole family and then some (and is great for bringing a side to parties). You can pair it with Tyson Panko Breaded Chicken Breast Tenderloins for the ultimate “kids food for dinner” comfort dish.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or just trying out Meatless Mondays, even your biggest carnivores might be fooled into loving “Beyond Steak,” a meat alternative sold at some Costcos, including most of the southwest U.S. Deemed one of Time’s Best Inventions last year! Costco shoppers can pair it with pre-packaged veggies in the fresh produce section, or with some cheese, beans, and lettuce, creating a simple taco salad. It also preserves well for leftover breakfast burritos the next day.
Of course, you can’t really go wrong with burgers, either, and Impossible Burgers are ideal if you’re trying to whip up a primarily plant-based meal.
If I only have 20 minutes a day to care about dinner, it can help to do it earlier in the day by throwing a go-to favorite in the crockpot. This especially helps if dinner is staggered with people coming in and out between events, needing easy-to-grab food. Kirkland Smoked Pulled Pork paired with Hawaiian rolls is the perfect two-ingredient dinner that takes no time to make. You can get really ambitious and buy pre-made coleslaw when your store has it, to top off the sandwiches.
Italian Lovers Rejoice
Costco has a plethora of fast, large, go-to meal options for your favorite pizza lovers to add some variety to their palates. Frozen meatballs or Italian sausage with pasta is a staple. Frozen lasagna is also easy, but factor in some cooking time. Finally, Costco has a large meat-filled pre-prepared ravioli dish that tastes like any Italian restaurant, especially paired with salad and garlic bread. I broil mine, which isn’t in the directions, for the last five minutes for a crunchier top. It’s also helpful to freeze this, and dishes like the mac and cheese, in two sections if your family isn’t quite as big or you don’t want a ton of leftovers.
My best mom tip is to make a specific Costco trip with just quick and easy dinners in mind, choosing these options or your own favorites, because it’s easy to get overwhelmed in that massive store. You can even put these items in a specific section of your freezer to grab on those stressful evenings (or the night before if you are thinking ahead enough to thaw them). Godspeed on the exhausting journey that is feeding lots of kids on busy weeknights — you aren’t alone.