Our top ten meals of 2021

24 January 2022

By now, you are surely aware that I’m a person who likes data and information. I collect it almost without thought, whether it’s the number of tomatoes we harvest in a summer or the amount we spent on Chipotle in 2014 (thank you, budget record keeping for the last decade). Another prime example: as I was making our weekly menu on Saturday, I realized that I had inadvertently collected a record of our weekly menus for all of 2021. (I clear out the backlog in our recipe binder periodically, but hadn’t done so in a while, I guess!) Being the curious person I am, I immediately started tallying to figure out our most popular meals from the last year, just for fun. Want to see? :)

1. Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Pasta | No surprises here! This is the favorite meal of pretty much everyone in our house (June chose it for her birthday dinner!). Turns out we made it 18 times in the last year, or about once every three weeks.

2. Spaghetti | This is a bit of a catch-all, as we rotate between spaghetti, bucatini, and linguine for our noodle of the day. For the sauce, I’ll usually brown ground beef and a diced onion then add in lots of Rao’s marinara and serve with garlic bread and a green salad (with Olive Garden dressing – did you know they sell it in grocery stores??). (16 times)

3. Chicken Tikka Masala | This has been a favorite for years – I can practically make it in my sleep! Making the masala paste is the most time-intensive part, but one batch yields enough for 4-6 meals (I measure out the amount needed per recipe and toss the bags in the freezer). We add frozen peas and serve with jasmati rice and naan. (13 times)

4. Grilled Chicken Shawarma | This is more of a warm-weather recipe, which makes it an impressive number four (11 times!). The marinade makes the most tender chicken. We serve it with the garlic yogurt sauce (in the recipe), rice pilaf, cut cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, mini naan, and hummus.

5. Pulled Pork Sandwiches | Super simple: put 3-5 pounds of boneless pork shoulder roast in the Instant Pot. Add a chopped onion and two cans of Coke, then pressure cook for 3 hours. Shred the pork in a stand mixer, pour out the onions and liquid, add the pork back to the cooker, then stir in your barbecue sauce of choice (we use a mixture of Sweet Baby Ray’s and a local Eastern NC vinegar sauce). Serve on Martin’s potato rolls with coleslaw and your sides of choice (highly recommend a catering tray of Chick-fil-a mac and cheese). This will make leftovers, which we like to put on pizza, make into tacos with guacamole, or freeze for an easy dinner later. (9 times)

6. Homemade Pizza | We use the dough from Publix and rotate between cheese, poblano and bell pepper, and buffalo chicken versions. (8 times)

We had a three-way tie for seventh place…

7. Hot Dog Cookout | This becomes an almost-weekly staple in the summer months: hot dogs and buns; cucumber, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette salad; corn on the cob; and Bush’s baked beans. Ideally followed by s’mores or peach and blackberry cobbler. Perfection. (7 times)

7. Orzo Italiano | This is the only meal on the list that one member of our family doesn’t care for; if that wasn’t the case, I’d probably make it even more often! This is a go-to when we bring a meal to a friend. (7 times)

7. Chicken Pot Pie | My Dad and I share a deep love for chicken pot pie, a love I seem to be successfully passing on to my children. I use Pillsbury pie dough for a shortcut, and it’s easy enough to double the filling to freeze half for later. We serve with Honeycrisp apples! (7 times)

10. Beach Street Pasta | Thanks to the soy sauce in the marinade, this very-easy pasta has such a unique flavor! I add halved cherry tomatoes for more veggies and am considering adding spinach, too. (6 times)

Honorable mentions to…

Pizza Soup | We only found this recipe in the second half of the year, which again makes it an impressive member of this list! Another easy Instant Pot recipe that everyone loves – we add a salad and cheesy garlic bread to make it a meal. Also delicious as leftovers. (5 times)

Grilled Quesadillas | Have you ever made quesadillas on the grill? YUM! They get so melty and crispy – definitely my favorite way of making them. Our typical filling is a can of drained-and-rinsed pinto beans, sauteed green bell pepper and onion, and cheese. We serve with guacamole, tortilla chips, and boxed Mexican rice if I’m feeling fancy. (5 times)

And there you have it — our top 10+ meals from the last year! I share them not because they’re the most impressive recipes, but in the hopes that 1) they might give you some ideas for your own tables (they are our favorites, after all!) and 2) they might encourage you in what you already know: that dinners don’t have to be fancy to be delicious or beloved.

I’d love to hear what you think the most-made dinner in your home was last year! I’d particularly love to hear if you have a go-to, EASY vegetarian favorite: I would love for my top-ten list to include more vegetarian plates in 2022!

P.S. How I meal plan and an easy meal-planning hack.

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Abigail Gray
January 24, 2022 9:54 am

I love this peek at your favorites! I found the chicken shawarma recipe from you and it is a staple in our house, too – we are going to try the sausage, kale, and chickpea pasta next. Thanks for sharing!

January 24, 2022 10:27 am

What a fun post! I have definitely tried some of the recipes you have shared over the years and I can confidently say the guacamole recipe you posted is my favorite for guac!

January 24, 2022 10:48 am

Love that you have a record of this, fellow enneagram 5! I have two notable vegetarian recipes to share:
This grilled vegetable orzo dish. I discovered it last summer, so we haven’t made it a ton, but it’s super easy, and the dressing is delicious — it’d be perfect on lots of other things.
This enchilada casserole. Also very easy, also a Bri McKoy recipe, and the leftovers are delicious, too!

January 24, 2022 5:45 pm
Reply to  Pressley

We love the creamy, lemony chicken soup from Bri McKoy! The enchilada casserole sounds delicious. :)

January 24, 2022 10:50 am

I think roasted chicken or homemade meatballs are probably our most made meals. We do meatless of Fridays and one of our go-tos is a healthier tuna/salmon casserole. Doesn’t sound that good but we love it! For this year so far we have done a lot of pot roast/beef stew since we got meat from a farmer last month.

January 24, 2022 10:54 am

Cooking during pandemic has been so up and down for me, so seeing these favorite recipes is a nice boost.
To return the favor, these are 3 of our go-to veg mains for colder months (all approved by an almost 6yo). Both soups freeze nicely. (1) Smitten Kitchen’s broccoli melts. https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/02/broccoli-melts/ (2) Pinch of Yum’s lentils. https://pinchofyum.com/one-pot-creamy-spinach-lentils (3) How Sweet Eats’ Minestrone: https://www.howsweeteats.com/2019/01/minestrone-soup/ (I’ve added zucchini and/or cut green beans to this successfully.)

January 24, 2022 12:21 pm

Oooh! I love the idea of going back to see what you made and how often! I also like knowing what you serve with it, that is sometimes half the battle with meals with kids. :) I will be adding some of these to my list!
We have a few favorites, depending on the season, but one we make a lot (sorry, not vegetarian) is Salsa Chicken: saute cubed chicken with taco seasoning and then put it in a baking dish and top it with salsa (we normally do the bean and corn kind), a can of mild green chilies and cheese and bake it in the oven for like 10 mins, and serve it with a side of Dirty Rice. SUPER easy and everyone likes it.

January 24, 2022 1:07 pm

This inspired me to go back and tally up our favorites from the year as well! I keep a spreadsheet that goes back to 2011 so it was pretty easy. That chicken shawarma recipe is one of our favorites too, especially my 6 year old’s!

January 24, 2022 1:30 pm

Sweet potato burrito bowls like these: https://eatwithclarity.com/sweet-potato-black-bean-burrito-bowl/ can sub rice for salad greens, quinoa or cauliflower rice depending on your family’s tastes! I love to add roasted chick peas or salsa too! My most cooked meal is probably salmon with sides or easy tuna steaks with a roasted veggie/salad or cauliflower mashed potatoes! Tuna: https://www.cookincanuck.com/grilled-soy-ginger-ahi-tuna-recipe/#recipe. In the summer I love using TJs falafel to make a delicious Greek salad!

January 24, 2022 5:43 pm

I love this! Halfway through last year I started planning out our meals by the month and it has been so helpful. I’m excited to add some of these to our rotation!

January 25, 2022 9:45 am

Hey Em, I love posts like these! Thanks for sharing. Since I’m not keeping record (ahem), I can’t tell you by the numbers. But tacos and pizza we make pretty much every other week. Since you asked about vegetarian meals, here are a few that we make frequently: soup and grilled cheese (HBH tomato soup is so easy and yummy and I love to use brie and honey for my grilled cheese, yum!), we also make her garlic butter ramen dish often (we add more veggies to the mix though), this chickpea chili is also a favorite (although the kids usually just eat the sides, since it’s pretty spicy. We serve it with cornbread or tortilla chips, avocado and greek yogurt). That chicken shawarma sounds delicious – and it sounds similar to our falafel night, another favorite. Falafel (Target has them frozen, but I usually get the mix where you add water and fry them yourself), pitas or naan, avocado, tzaziki, cilantro and fresh cut carrots and cucumbers.
Since I’m on the vegetarian journey this year, I’m sure I’ll write about my favorite vegetarian dishes in the not too far future :)

January 25, 2022 9:46 am
Reply to  Kerstin

I meant to link to the chickpea chili. Here you go! https://www.fooduzzi.com/2018/01/vegan-buffalo-chickpea-chili/

January 26, 2022 2:20 pm

Wow, I’m v impressed that you know exactly how many times you’ve made a certain meal! I meal plan weekly, too, but toss the grocery list/weekly to do list when the week is over so no history. Maybe I’ll start keeping track…I think our most frequent dinner is probably breakfast. I make pancakes (either bob’s red mill gluten free or TJ’s pumpkin gf) and bacon or sausage links, scrambled eggs, and homemade hot cocoa (my 4yo likes to dip her pancakes in cocoa???) For a while I think we did this once a week! I’m having major meal plan and cooking fatigue. We have several soups that make frequent appearances, and we were having salmon cakes and shepherds pie (both from the Whole30 cookbook) a lot, but neither kid eats the salmon anymore (sob) and only one eats shepherds pie. It’s a challenge!! We’re not big pasta eaters but I may try one of your recipes for some variety! Oh one last recipe – Bon appetite’s shrimp scampi! Easy but feels fancy, and you can drink the leftover wine ;) Served with TJ’s cauliflower rice bc of the aforementioned pasta aversion.

January 28, 2022 8:44 am

I love this! Such inspiration for easy, healthy, and delicious meals! I’m saving this post and can’t wait to refer back to it while meal planning.