Foil packet dinners

Dinner prep, cook and clean up is a breeze with foil packet meals. Not sure what that is? Oh, it’s the best thing for a busy mama with a hungry family and a tight grocery budget. Often, I use this method of cooking in the summer over the grill, but it works really well in the oven as well.

Often, you can find a screaming deal on chicken breasts, thighs and legs. I love cooking chicken in foil packets. It comes out tender and juicy every time. You can completely customize each packet too, add whatever toppings your family may want.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself here. You are still wondering what on earth this crazy woman is talking about. Let me give you the step by step for one of our favorites, an Italian chicken bake.

First, I’ll choose the meat that will go into my packet. Often it’s chicken, but a piece of pork, beef or even a thick slice of Ham will do nicely. It is important to make sure that each piece of meat is similar in size and thickness so that your foil packets will finish cooking at the same time.

You will need a big piece of foil for each packet. I generally will construct each packet one at a time, but if you have room, you can save yourself some time and construct them in an assembly line. My kitchen has limited counter space, usually I have space to do them in batches of two at a time. Once they are all assembled, they fit nicely into a glass baking pan or on a cookie sheet.

A nice drizzle of olive oil or a coating of nonstick spray is the first thing to go down on the foil. Then I’ll place the chicken down in the center of the foil. Next, the chicken is seasoned with a bit of kosher salt, onion and garlic powder and a bit of fresh cracked pepper.

Depending on your taste, you can now slice up some onion, bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, or whatever you want. Add the veggies in a single layer on top of your chicken and season a bit to taste. Adding a bit of olive oil to this layer is also a good idea.

Now comes an important part of a foil packet dinner, the sauce. Generally I’ll take a couple of tablespoons of my favorite spaghetti sauce or marinara. If you’ve planned ahead and have some homemade sauce reserved from another meal, you can save yourself some extra money by using that. It only takes a couple of tablespoons per piece of chicken, so you really only need a cup or two depending on the amount of pieces you are using. Having a bit of the sauce warm when the packets come out of the oven is also nice if you plan to serve your chicken over some gluten-free pasta or polenta.

Once you’ve topped your chicken, it’s time to add the cheese! While the cheese is a layer that can completely left off, it kind of serves to “hold it all together”. Honestly though, if dairy is a problem, it’s not a big deal to leave this part out. My family loves cheese, so we’ll often use mozzarella, pepper jack, Parmesan or whatever blend of cheese we have on hand.

With all of the ingredients on your foil, seal them up by folding over the top much like you would a paper lunch sack. Being able to open them to check that the meat is fully cooked is important, but you also don’t want the juices to run out of your packet. Heat your oven to about 375 and let the packets bake on a baking sheet until cooked through. Usually, it takes about an hour but that will depend on the size of your meat.

Once they are fully cooked, serving is a breeze. I usually just open up the packet and let it slide out onto my serving plate or each person’s plate. Having a bed of pasta or polenta on the plate for this dish is quite tasty! Clean up is a breeze!

Some other ideas for chicken would be BBQ sauce, a gluten-free teriyaki sauce or even a bit of Italian salad dressing. Get creative with veggies and even fruit like pineapple.

Fish is another awesome protein for this way of cooking. One of my favorites is to take a fillet of fish, coat it with mayo and some Parmesan cheese. The fish comes out completely moist and juicy. Add a bit of thinly sliced onion under the mayo and a squirt of lemon juice will add even more flavor. So tasty!

Have fun with it, make dinner time clean up a bit easier on yourself. If individual foil packets are too much for you, do one big one with pieces of meat or a whole fish fillet. The idea is to cut down on your clean up AND give you a super moist and tasty dinner at the same time!

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