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When it comes to Sunday dinner ideas, there are two perspectives. The first is easy: anyone attending the Sunday dinner loves the idea. After all, who wouldn’t love to sit down to a fresh, home-cooked meal that someone else prepared?
Then there’s the cook’s perspective. Prepping a classic Sunday dinner for a family or even multiple families doesn’t sound like a relaxing way to spend your day off. Between setting the table, cleaning and prepping your home, shopping for ingredients, and cooking enough food to supply an army, creating a delicious Sunday dinner sounds more like doing hard time than enjoying a restful weekend.
Given the work involved, it’s no wonder why some families let the Sunday dinner tradition fall by the wayside. In the 20 years before 2019, traditional family dinners decreased by one-third—despite the majority of parents wishing they did it more often. Some part of us intuitively knows that Sunday dinners are good for us, whether it’s preparing nutritious meals at home or simply giving everyone an excuse to get together. Yet too often, we skip Sunday dinners because they’re too dang hard.
Fortunately, if you stick to simple, easy-to-execute Sunday dinner ideas, you can bring the tradition back with minimal effort.
First things first: why bother with a Sunday dinner tradition? You’d think something as intangible as getting together for a weekly meal wouldn’t create obvious tangible benefits, but there are plenty to swear by:
- It’s better for kids: A Columbia University survey once found children who have regular family dinners are more likely to get better grades in school.
- It boosts mental health: Family dinners help children develop more trustful bonds with others, leading to fewer behavioral and mental problems later in life.
- It spurs communication: According to family therapist Anne Fishel, 80% of teens rank dinner time as when they’re most likely to talk to their parents about their day. Fishel jokes, “I could be out of business if more families had regular family dinners.”
Sunday dinner can also be less expensive and more nutritious if you prepare it yourself. The question is: Why doesn’t everyone do it? It’s usually because people don’t know where to start. Sunday dinner ideas seem few and far between. And even the good ideas sound like too much work. To help revive the tradition, let’s look at some simple, executable recipes and suggestions you can use right away:
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We don’t use the word “classic” lightly, especially with Sunday dinner ideas like classic roast chicken. But roasting a big hunk of meat on Sunday is a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
The day of rest and celebration, Sunday was the perfect day to bring out the best food you had to offer. With the increasing popularity of home ovens, some families would put the roast into cook—once the family was home from church, the meat (along with drippings for the gravy) was ready.
These days, you can prepare a roast chicken in a single cast-iron skillet, first browning it on the stovetop and then transferring it to the oven. You can then cook the inside to thermometer-precise perfection. Throw in some homemade honey garlic yeast rolls, and you’ve got a meal fit for royalty.
If you don’t speak Italian, this one can sound much more intimidating than it really is. But “pomodoro” simply means tomato in Italian, so if anything, it will feel like cheating. It’s not really as fancy to prepare as it is to eat.
Vegan (depending on the noodles), vegetarian, and easy to cook, pasta pomodoro happens to be a pretty approachable dish. The beauty of pasta pomodoro is that building a tomato sauce for a Sunday dinner group is easy, relying on simple and easy-to-multiply ingredients like canned tomatoes. Other ingredients, like garlic cloves, are just as easy to scale for larger crowds.
Even better, this is a forgiving recipe; you can let the pomodoro sauce simmer on the stovetop while you prepare the rest of the dinner.
At first glance, it sounds too fancy for an ordinary Sunday dinner. Pork dinner ideas, easy. But lamb? Shoulder? Doesn’t that require being on some sort of first-name basis with the local butcher? Lamb shoulder seems like one of those expensive cuts of meat that requires meticulous preparation and careful consideration, soaking up hours of your attention.
But it’s not that bad. In fact, the shoulder is an easier cut to deal with than the leg. It’s Crock-Pot friendly, making it a hands-off recipe so you can focus on the sides. With a few incisions made into the meat (into which you can pack flavorings like garlic and herbs), this is one of those recipes that will make the entire house smell fragrant while the meat cooks in its own juices.
Even better, lamb shoulder that’s been slow-cooked is perfect for pulling apart. This makes it easy for a large Sunday dinner crowd to serve themselves buffet-style.
If you have a huge crowd for your Sunday dinner, stick to a rule of thumb: If you can make a whole pile of it at once, it’s probably a good idea for Sunday dinner.
Steak and veggie stir fry fits the bill. Preparation of the meat is as simple as slicing and marinating. For the vegetables, some simple chopping and frying will do. You can prepare a whole pot of rice in advance to lend some starch and volume to the meal, and then put everything out buffet-style.
Even better, the stir fry sauce only requires a handful of ingredients. It’s easy to multiply the recipe if you need to double the servings. There’s nothing in this recipe you can’t find in most supermarkets, including bell peppers (or your vegetable of choice) and your favorite kinds of steak.
This is also a great recipe for separating into individual parts if you have a lot of individuals with unique dietary needs. Keep the meat separate and vegans can enjoy the vegetables, sauce, and rice, along with any sides you’ve prepared. Allow people to skip the rice and you have a keto-friendly, low-carb combination.
Want to dress up Sunday dinner with some healthier ideas? Then there may be no better cut than salmon. Not only is salmon heart-healthy and packed with all sorts of nutritional benefits, but it works for Sunday dinner because it’s easy to pop in the oven. You can buy large fillets of salmon, season them, then simply portion them out when it’s time to serve.
You can also pick and choose what you want to do with salmon. You can give it a honey garlic glaze that’s akin to barbecue. You can stick to salt and pepper and let the fish be the star. You can serve a side of broccoli salad or simply grill some asparagus and call it a meal. Whatever your choice, salmon is one of the most family-friendly types of fish there is.
Putting the Dinner Back in “Sunday Dinner”
Sunday dinner isn’t always about the food. It’s about the thousand little conversations that happen. The sense of community. The excuse to get together as a family.
But if you’re the one preparing Sunday dinner, it’s only about the food—and how tough it can be to cook for a big group.
Master any of the dishes above, and you’ll discover that Sunday dinner can and should be a blessing. With the right recipe (slow-cookers appreciated), the right ingredients (non-fancy preferred), and a little practice, you can bring the flavor back to Sunday dinners.
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