Short on ingredients? No problem! This mix-and-match recipe uses whatever you have on hand to get dinner on the table in 40 minutes. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Short on ingredients? No problem! This mix-and-match recipe uses whatever you have on hand to get dinner on the table in 40 minutes. (Jennifer Bardsley)

A cheap, easy ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ sheet-pan meal

Pick your protein, starch and veggies, cut them into 1-inch chunks and bake in the oven. Dinner’s served.

Now that my family is home full-time, we’re cooking three square meals a day. I say “we” because my husband helps with breakfast, and my kids occasionally pitch in, but mainly it’s me figuring out what to serve for lunch and dinner, and boy have I needed to be creative.

No matter how hard I plan, I do run out of things, and dashing off to the store for a missing ingredient is foolish right now because of social distancing guidelines. That’s where what I call “Choose Your Own Adventure” sheet-pan dinner, comes in handy. It’s flexible, fast and nutritious. If I use frozen vegetables, I can get dinner in the oven in 10 minutes.

Step 1: Pick your protein

Meatballs: Mix 2 pounds of ground meat or poultry with 1 egg, ¼ cup flour, 2 tablespoons liquid of your choice such as soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or pineapple juice, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Form into 1-inch balls. I usually make big batches of meatballs ahead of time and keep them in the freezer.

Chicken nuggets: Cut up chicken breasts or thighs into 2-inch pieces. Dredge in 4 tablespoon melted butter and 1 beaten egg. Coat with crumbs such as smashed crackers, corn flakes or bread crumbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 2: Pick your starch

Potatoes: Peel any variety of potato and cut into 1-inch chunks. Plan for 1½ potatoes per person. Frozen sweet potatoes are also a great choice.

Squash: Peel any variety of squash, and cut into 1-inch chunks. Or, to make it easier, use frozen squash. One 10-ounce bag of frozen squash serves 4.

Step 3: Pick your vegetable

Fresh veggies: Radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, carrots — anything goes, except for lettuce. You can also try kale or chard. Whatever vegetable you pick, cut it into 1-inch pieces. Try to include at least 2 cups of raw vegetables per person.

Frozen veggies: If you have frozen vegetables on hand, you’re in luck, because all the washing and chopping has been done for you.

Step 4: Pop it in the oven

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking oil. Lay out your protein, starch and vegetables in three separate strips on the baking pan. Drizzle the starch and vegetables with whatever oil you have on hand, such as butter, olive oil or coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have a seasoning blend in your pantry, like Italian herbs or Mrs. Dash, add that. My family likes cinnamon on sweet potatoes.

Put the sheet pan in the oven for 30 minutes. Voila! Dinner is served, and because of that foil-lined pan, clean-up will be a breeze.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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