A Sheet-Load of Food: Discovering the Simplicity of Sheet Pan Meals
When my husband and I first got married, we enjoyed cooking together. In fact, we both lost a significant amount of weight because we enjoyed trying new, healthy recipes and found it easy to follow a weekly routine with our meals. Once we had our first child and I started working full-time as a high school teacher, that all changed. Our routines were easily upended by exhausting workdays and the sheer amount of work that went into tending to a toddler.
We needed to find quicker and easier meals to cook, and many of my teacher co-workers suggested crock-pot recipes, but I didn’t find that they were the solution they were lauded to be. In the mornings, I had to get myself and eventually two children out the door by 6:30 am, and my husband left even earlier than I did. Dinner was always the last thing on my mind during the morning chaos, and on too many occasions, I left without starting dinner. Even if I did remember, my days often extended to ten to eleven hours between when I left the house and when we returned. Most crock pot recipes cook for 6-8 hours, so I ended up with overcooked or soggy meals. And ultimately, so many of the recipes were super heavy or loaded with sodium. I just never really enjoyed any of the meals I made with a crockpot, and to this day, the only two crockpot recipes I regularly cook are pot-roast and crack chicken.
The dinner struggle continued. Over the years, we tried every meal prep service and gadget out there. We tried online meal-planning services and several meal delivery kits; we bought an Instant Pot and an air fryer. None of these options that so many of my friends swore by seemed to offer the solution we needed. In fact, the only things I really learned from my experiences with any of these options were that “quick and easy” usually means unhealthy; “healthy” usually meant lots of prep, too many things cooking at once, and an insane number of dishes to clean; and I hated cooking.
No matter what I tried, we always seemed to waste a lot of time, money, and food on dinners. Fresh food would go bad before I cooked it, or I’d ruin a recipe because I had no real skills in the kitchen in the first place. We ended up going out to eat far too often because dinner was ruined or we were just too tired to make a big mess in the kitchen.
Then I discovered sheet pan meals.
I think I first encountered sheet pan meals through one of the meal delivery kits we tried. I remember thinking that the meal was significantly less time-consuming than other recipes I had done through the service, and it was quite good. Then, I discovered McCormick’s One Pan seasoning packets and my love of sheet pan dinners was born. The McCormick One Pan seasoning packets were delicious, super easy to use, and such a time saver. Dinner never took me more than 15 minutes to prep, and I could clean up and relax while it cooked in the oven.
All those fancy meal plans and kitchen gadgets I had invested in, and it turned out all I really needed was a sheet pan and my oven to make dinner easy, healthy, and delicious.
We still use the McCormick packets all the time, but once I realized how easy sheet pan meals were, I started branching out. At first, I looked for other recipes online, which helped me discover different combinations and taught me some standard cook times. I also learned from fellow New Orleans Moms that grilled cheese, quesadillas, and pancakes can all be cooked sheet pan style as well. All of the recipes were so much easier to make than what I had tried before.
Eventually, I started experimenting with my own recipes. Most sheet pan recipes include a protein, a vegetable, and seasoning, and you can make just about any combination work. The best part is, there are so many possible combinations, that even though I cook sheet pan recipes 2-3 times a week, nobody ever grows tired of them. And if I ever have no idea what to cook for dinner, I can easily stop at the grocery store on the way home and grab some chicken and vegetables to throw in the oven when I get home.
If you are going to try sheet pan recipes, there are a few things I recommend:
- Get a couple of good all-purpose seasonings. Our go-to is the McCormick Grill Mates House Blend, but we also like Italian seasoning, ranch packets, Mrs. Dash, Tony’s, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning.
- Google cook times and find a balance between the protein and the vegetable. For example, most baked salmon recipes call for the salmon to be baked at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but we found the vegetables were never quite cooked enough. We started cooking the salmon at 350 for 20-30 minutes and found our vegetables turned out better that way.
- Lining the pan with aluminum foil helps with cleanup.
- Always check the temperature of your protein to make sure it’s completely cooked.
- If you want to add a grain to your meal, you can pop some dinner rolls in on the other rack of the oven, you can throw some pasta on the stove while the rest of the food is cooking, or you can pop a ready rice packet in the microwave when everything else is done.
Here are a few of my family’s favorite sheet pan combinations:
- Salmon and asparagus – Place salmon and asparagus on the pan. Top with your choice of seasoning, slices of butter, and slices of lemon (optional). Cook for 20-30 minutes at 350.
- Baked Chicken and Brussels sprouts – Season chicken and place on pan. Toss Brussels spouts with oil and the same or a complementary seasoning and add to the pan. Cook for 20 minutes at 400.
- Stir “fry” chicken – toss chicken and a stir fry vegetable pack in enough stir fry sauce to coat. Toss on the pan, sprinkle with ground ginger and umami seasoning. Cook for 20 minutes at 400. Meanwhile, cook some instant rice. When the rice is done, scramble two eggs in a frying pan and mix in the rice, some peanut oil, and a bit of soy sauce. Mix all ingredients together when they are done. If you can remember to marinate the chicken in the stir-fry sauce the night before, it’s even better.
- Chicken Quesadilla – Shred a rotisserie chicken or drain canned chicken and cook a can of black beans. Spray the outside of the tortillas with Pam. Mix the chicken, drained beans, some shredded cheese, and taco seasoning together and fill the tortillas with the mixture. Close tortillas and cook at 400 for about 5 minutes a side. It may be helpful to hold them close with toothpicks until it’s time to flip them.
- Mini meatloaves, green beans, and potatoes – This one is a little more involved, but still really good. Make a meatloaf recipe (I use McCormick’s), but instead of putting all of the meat into a loaf pan, form it into smaller loaves and space them out on the pan. Quarter your potatoes (red or Yukon Gold are great!). Toss the potatoes and green beans with some oil and your choice of seasoning. Then spread them around loaves on the pan. Cook at 425 for 25-30 minutes.