Ask Design Mom: Dinner Ideas

September 24, 2010

I married a man that dislikes mayo, sour cream, yogurt and all salad dressings. He’s a health nut and doesn’t like fried foods or burgers. I make dinner and end up tossing it and there is only 2 of us. Please help. I need suggestions. With a family of six I am sure you’ll have ideas. Thanks — Stephanie Lee

Hi Stephanie! Dinner and laundry are probably the two tasks that wear me out the fastest. Not because they’re particularly difficult, but because they are relentless. There is always laundry to do and dinner time comes whether I’m prepared for it or not. : ) When I was thinking about your question, two casual meals that have been successful with my family came to mind (I know they’re successful when they become a recurring part of our menu).

For one meal, we fill a bowl with our favorite tortilla chips and add lots of options to eat them with. Guacamole and salsa. Shredded cheese to make nachos. Black beans heated with garlic and cumin. Sour cream. Spanish rice (if I remember to prepare it on time). It’s easy to prepare, and when I add the beans, it’s surprisingly filling. My family likes it because everyone eats the parts they like and ignores the parts they don’t — your husband could skip the sour cream.

For another casual meal, we pick up a baguette, slice it, and serve it with a cheese plate (2 or 3 choices is plenty), fresh fruit and broiled fish. We get our fish from the Whole Foods fish counter — ask for tilapia and have them prepare it with their tequila-lime seasoning. They’ll even explain how to cook it! We cook ours in the oven on a big baking sheet. It only takes a few minutes, so this meal comes together really quickly. Everyone in our family loves this flexible meal. The fruit changes depending on what’s in season. The bread and fish are picked up that day, so they’re super fresh. And we experiment with different cheeses (sharp cheddar, smoked gouda and havarti are the favorites).

What about you, Dear Readers? What kind of meals would you suggest to Stephanie?

guacamole image via The Merry Gourmet

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alicia September 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Similar to your mexican buffet we do monster salads. I cut up a bunch of lettuce or pull out baby spinach, cut up any veggies on hand (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, avocado, etc.), put out trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, beans, shredded cheese, feta, etc. Pretty much anything you could think of to put on a salad and then we each make our own monster salads for dinner. You could even include chopped grilled chicken or steak. With your husband not liking salad dressing (mine doesn’t either!) maybe with all the toppings he would have enough flavor already or he could top his with salsa or a splash of olive oil or lemon juice.

We also love chicken tortilla soup, quiche and fresh fruit, fish (salmon, mahi mahi, tilapia), baked potato soup, curry, stir fry. I could go on and on. :) Hope some of those ideas help!


2 meg September 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

We really like getting the frozen mahi-mahi at Trader Joe’s. Thaw it, then broil in teriyaki sauce and serve with rice and sauteed veggies or a salad. Yum!


3 Sarah September 25, 2010 at 5:21 pm

My boyfriend in gluten intolerant and we are both making an effort to eat less meat and fried food and instead eat more RAW food and veggies, etc…
But that can get boring.
One dinner that we LOVE and it is so easy to make and so healthy is Spring Rolls… (We have also done this for dinner parties and it is always successful).
You can get the rice paper “shell” at an asian market.
Then cut veggies into slivers… carrots, cucumber, zucchini, jicama…
And slice an avocado. And some basil.
Depending on how many people are eating, I will display each veggie on a different plate and do it buffet style.
But for my boyfriend and I, I just put it all on a plate or two, in little stacks.
Everyone can make their own spring rolls, adding whatever the want, so if they are picky- they don’t have to put it in!
These are surprisingly filling and like I said- super duper yummy!
You can also have dipping sauces… My boyfriend likes to make a spicy peanut sauce, but there are many options at trader joes or an asian market.
The cleanup is super easy too!
And if you have extra veggies, make extra and put them in the fridge- they keep surprisingly well and make for a great lunch the next day!

Give it a try! You might be surprised at how easy and fun (and YUMMY!) this is!


4 Sarah September 25, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Here’ s a photos to go with my spring roll post!
It looks like that night we also had bell peppers (different colors!) to add to the mix!


5 Sarah September 25, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Hi Stephanie!
My sister and I co-write a healthy cooking blog – tons of options so I hope you find a few things that appeal to both of you!! I share your husband’s aversion to mayo so lots of mayo-free options :)
Good luck and don’t be afraid to experiment!


6 sara September 25, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I love these suggestions!

I make tilapia all the time but vary between seasoned w/ lemon pepper & cooked like you described, or sometimes I cover it in panko breadcrumbs mixed with Old Bay seasoning. I often make a rich buttery sauce for the fish which can be omitted for the health nuts. :)

Also I make all kinds of rice. And all kinds of soup… the possibilities are endless! I love the accessorized chips idea.


7 naomi September 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

We do a variation on the tortilla chips buffet also – I’m going to add some of your suggestions, like the black beans! Also, Snyder’s of Hanover Restaurant Style tortilla chips are very good-tasting, and they actually have 4 g of fiber per serving – better than a lot of the tortilla chips on the shelf at our grocery.

Stir-fry is another quick and healthy option.


8 Anna Lewis September 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm

We like the cheese + fruit option. Never added fish, but we do often have hummus, and some olive oil for dipping. We also do a variation of chicken parm but as a salad… (we use fake chicken bc I’m a veg.) But the grilled/baked chicken , with melted cheese and warmed sauce over spinach. The warm sauce is sort of like a dressing, and it’s really easy and healthy!


9 allison September 25, 2010 at 9:58 pm

We love Trader Joe’s Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup. We pair it with grilled cheese sandwiches using a baguette and marbled colby cheese. Grapes on the side. Yum…


10 Damaris September 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm

whenever I’m in a bind I just look at Martha’s Every Day food meal planner. Every mag as a 5 day meal planner, and they’re always easy meals to make.


11 simone September 25, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Does he like homemade oil and vinegar dressing? Your hubby sounds like my daughter and I end up making a dressing in a jar that makes us all happy. Very simple:
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove crushed by garlic press
dab of honey
pinch of salt.
Shake. Add favorite salad ingredients. Tonight we had romaine, pink lady apples and shaved fennel. (I added a bit of mustard to the dressing)

Other favorite healthy meals:
Ten Minute Asparagus and Brown Rice

Fresh pea soup with cheese sandwiches:

Broiled Tofu with Miso

Also, if you live near a Trader Joes, I make pizzas with their frozen naan. Just pre-toast the naan a little bit to defrost. I brush it with:
olive oil and garlic
thin sliced red onion
sliced tomatoes
feta cheese
lemon zest


12 Sasha September 6, 2011 at 11:31 am

I was thinking along the same lines as you Simone! Sounds like our kids might have similar tastes, so when I saw your post, I thought I’d just add on…
1) Oil+Vinegar Salad… I saw this recipe in the paper from the American Ambassador to Canada this summer, and its turned into a favorite at our house.
The dressing is just 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp. brown sugar. Toss it with 1 can of corn niblets, 1 can of black beans, 2-3 chopped green onions, and a chopped red pepper.
2) Tofu… our family favorite is with an “Asian Garlic Sauce” on top served with rice. Fry1 onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger root, and 1/4 tsp pepper in 2 Tbsp vegetable oil. Add 3/4 cup vegetable stock,1/4 cup soy sauce and 1 Tbsp cornstarch (mixed with a tablespoon of water), and bring to a boil until thickened. You just put that sauce on the extra firm tofu (cut lengthwise into four slabs) that you fry in a pan quick and you are done. Its really good and quick.
3) Homemade pizzas… we do the same thing – brilliant!


13 bridget September 26, 2010 at 7:31 am

one of our favorite meals- approved by all 4 kids!!- is a mix of baby spinach, iceberg, and romaine (less iceberg than the other 2 but they don’t have to know!), then on top i put shredded chicken that i already cooked and tossed in trader joes bbq sauce, black beans, shredded cheddar, corn, and some annie’s cowgirl ranch dressing… it’s delicious and so healthy. if you really want to go all out- i’ve never done it- but i think homemade onion rings on top would be delicious. the kids hardly even know they’re eating a ton of lettuce when it has all that other stuff on top.


14 Torrie @ a place to share... September 27, 2010 at 8:03 am

Love these ideas!!!!!!!


15 Heidi - Botanical PaperWorks September 27, 2010 at 10:21 am

These are some great ideas!

Similar to your nacho idea, a family favorite for us is hummus, flat bread, olives, veggies, prosciutto and other meats, all on a big platter with everyone choosing their favorites.



16 sarah September 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

A lot like a few of the other buffet suggestions, we make pizza a lot. I am like your husband and I really don’t even like cheese a whole lot. We just have tons of yummy veg toppings and with store bought sauce and dough, it could come together in a snap!

I also love butternut squash curry soup (squash puree, coconut milk, broth, and curry paste), lots of hummus wraps, spinach and ricotta stuffed pasta shells (ours it nearly all spinach since I go so easy on the ricotta), homemade bean burritos, omelettes, taco salads, etc.. If you really wanted a burger, you could marinate and grill a huge portobello for him and let him customize the toppings (we like this marinade:


17 Katherine Garvey September 27, 2010 at 3:51 pm

With my family’s hectic schedule, I love planning our meals for the week on Sunday. My go-to guide is the weekly menu planner on It incorporates healthy, fast dishes, and seasonal fresh fruits and veggies, and does a great job of creating a variety of dishes for the week! With this you can easily edit serving size, and substitute another dish for anything your hubby can’t eat!


18 Jennifer September 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

Huevos rancheros alla is an awesome easy go to meal for me.


19 Emily September 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I would suggest that she ask HIM to make supper. If that’s just not going to happen, then why not ask him what he’d like to eat? That’d be easier than guessing.

There are lots of clean-eating magazines with great pictures out there. Why not grab a few and have him circle the ones he likes?

If that won’t work, well, maybe he’s not that hungry.


20 Sandra Jergensen September 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I love an easy pasta. Especially one that can be served at room temperature or cold. Tonight I made one with smoked salmon, quick pickled zucchini and onions, carrots tossed with some buttermilk and dill. Easy stuff.

I also love a grain salad. They keep really well in the fridge and are great on their own or stuffed in pitas. Here is my fav:


21 rkwpnw October 3, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Quinoa with just about anything is great for the health conscious. Its also very easy to cook just like rice ( 1cup grain to two cups water/broth). Towards the end of boiling season generously with any herb and some curry powder. Then add veggies, fish, chicken, sausage (just about any leftover), and you are good to go. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.


22 Mealr Mom September 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

Anything with a noodle makes my family the happiest creatures on the planet…. Mealr has lots of dishes that satisfy the picky eaters in my house, ALWAYS come in under budget and are nutritionally conscious.

My kids LOVE these:


23 Kristen E September 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm

We do big dinner salads a lot – fajita salad is my husband’s favorite. I cook up fajita chicken, plus some peppers and onions, and put them on a bed of lettuce with some cheese and roasted corn, if I have any. I often just use salsa as dressing, and put some tortilla strips on top for crunch. Easy, healthy and tasty! We also do a lot of stir-fry with brown rice, beans and rice, and vegetarian meals a couple of nights a week.


24 elizabeth morse September 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Cook some Quinoa on the stove or in a rice cooker then mix in your favorite beans, fresh or sauteed vegies and seasonings. Great with advocado or mango mixed in also.


25 Kitty September 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

“Plowman’s Lunch”

Instead of fish we cut cold meats (ham,smoked turkey or any leftover grilled meat from a previous dinner) a couple kinds of cheese, plenty of fresh cut up veggies with a sour cream dip and some assorted pickles (we like pickled beets and kosher dills) and serve with fresh bread and crackers that way everyone gets something they like


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