Pasta with Butternut Squash & Smoked Paprika (from Dinner: The Playbook)

I am talking about dinner ruts today. And I realize you are probably thinking: “Ha! Girlfriend has a FOOD blog. What the heck does she know about dinner ruts?” Dinner: The Playbook | But before I had a food blog, I had a really stressful desk job that kept me in the office 12, sometimes 14, hours per day. Kiwi did too. Our refrigerator was a graveyard for good intentions: wilted parsley, expired eggs, rotting apples. We dutifully stocked up on fresh groceries each week, as though they might magically turn into the Braised Short Ribs on Slow-cooked Polenta I had bookmarked in my Internet browser. And guess what? They never did. Instead, we ate dinner at our desks or frozen pizza in front of our television. I am embarrassed to admit that I once bought TEN (yes 10) of the same frozen pizzas because they were on sale for $3.99 a pop. To say we were in a “dinner rut” is probably an over-generous use of the word “dinner,” but let’s go with it. No doubt, however, that it was a rut of gargantuan proportions. Eventually we had kids, I got myself a less-demanding desk job, and I straightened out our dinner routine with a meal-planning ritual that works for us. But even still, there are weeks when I would rather do 12 loads of laundry than eat another baked chicken breast with brown rice and broccoli. So I was pretty excited—make that **elated**—when Jenny Rosenstrach announced she was writing a book about how to dig yourself out of a family dinner rut. For those of you who don’t know: Jenny Rosenstrach is the genius creator of the blog Dinner: A Love Story, and author of a book with the same name. I’d say she’s something of a “family dinner expert,” and honestly if there is anyone out there who could reignite your passion for home-cooking (or even ignite a passion in the first place), it’s her. Dinner: The Playbook | Her newest book challenges time-starved parents to a family dinner challenge: 30 days, 20 brand new meals. She provides a whole bunch of weekday-friendly recipes to help out, but also encourages readers to dig into their own recipe book collection, Internet bookmarks and Pinterest boards to find all those things they’ve been “meaning to make forever.” You know what I mean. And to pull it all together, she has some great meal-planning tips, and worksheets for you to record all of the successes, failures, winners, losers and keepers. Dinner: The Playbook | I will be honest that the problem (in my experience) with so many of the recipes out there that promise to be at once quick, easy and kid-friendly is that they also kind of suck. Chicken breasts dusted with a quarter teaspoon of cumin might not offend anyone, but it certainly won’t excite anyone either. But Jenny’s recipes (in this book and her first one) for the most part achieve a fine balance of simple and flavourful, easy and impressive. And they tend to be more “kid-challenging”—forcing our kiddos to try something new and challenge their tastebuds just a little bit—than obviously “kid-friendly”. Which is a good thing, if you ask me. Take her Pasta with Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika, for example. I made it for the family as part of my own Playbook-inspired mini family dinner challenge (which also involved the salmon, pork chops and soup pictured above and below). It’s relatively quick and easy, particularly if you start with already-peeled and chopped butternut squash. And it has the hallmarks of a kid meal: pasta and cheese. But it’s also got a little extra hit of flavour—from the smoked paprika—that forces their kids out of the comfort zone and satisfies the adults’ longing for something a little more, well, adult. The Beansprout (9 months) gobbled it all up and gurgled for more. (But he would eat paper for dinner if I let him, so he isn’t the toughest critic perhaps.) The Bean (3 years) was skeptical at first and removed herself from the table after a couple small bites, but returned and ate most of it after I refused her request for apple sauce and smarties. As for Kiwi and me (25 and 21, respectively), we don’t turn our noses up at anything involving pasta and cheese. Unfortunately. Dinner: The Playbook | Even if you don’t embark on a 30-day family dinner challenge, Dinner: The Playbook is still a worthy addition to your cookbook collection, I think. The tips are smart and helpful, particularly for meal-planning holdouts. The recipes, while overall a bit too wheat- and meat-centric perhaps, are achievable (even on the tightest of schedules) and appetizing. And the writing is fun, playful and easy to read. If you are stuck in a family dinner rut or just want to shake things up with a little smoked paprika and beluga lentils (take THAT picky children), this might be just what the dinner doctor ordered. Thanks to Random House of Canada, I’ve got one copy of Dinner: The Playbook to give away to a Kiwi & Bean reader. To enter, just leave a comment below telling me your own dinner rut story OR your favourite quick and easy dinner (recipe links welcome!). CONTEST CLOSES WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 12 AT 11:59 PM EST and is open to residents of the US and Canada only. And for more great rut-busting dinner (and breakfast and lunch) recipes and meal ideas, follow along with (Cooking for) Kiwi & Bean on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest, or subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below.

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika
Cook time
Total time
About half way into making this pasta dish, I realized I had run out of parmesan cheese. So I used a small (113 gram) package of goat cheese instead, with deliciously creamy results.
  • 3 cups (about 24 ounces) chopped butternut squash (or 1 large squash that has been peeled, seeded, and chopped)
  • ½ onion, chopped [note: I sliced into very thin half moons instead]
  • Leaves from 4 or 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 pound any pasta [note: I used brown rice penne]
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving [note: I used a small log of goat cheese]
  • Fresh ricotta (optional), for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a baking dish lined with foil, toss together the squash, onions, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, and paprika. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is brown around the edges and is tender when pierced with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to the package directions, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water before draining.
  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss with the squash.
  5. Add the Parmesan with half of the reserved pasta water to thin and evenly distribute the cheese. Add the remaining pasta water if needed. Serve topped with more Parmesan and ricotta if desired.
  6. [Note: if using goat cheese instead of Parmesan cheese, you might need to turn the heat on under the pot to fully melt the goat cheese.]
In the morning: Chop your onion and store it in the refrigerator in a bowl covered with plastic wrap; assemble the nonperishable ingredients on the counter; set a pot of water on the stovetop.


32 Responses to Pasta with Butternut Squash & Smoked Paprika (from Dinner: The Playbook)

  1. cialis December 8, 2017 at 12:53 am #

    Funny best dose for daily buying cialis in mercury drugs vessels are found to more evident and stressed.

  2. Natalie January 17, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Very keen to make this … Before I put it in front of the kidlets though, is the smoked paprika spicy?

    • Sarah January 23, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

      Nope, not spicy. Definitely smokey though, which might be a turn off for some kids. My little guy eats it all up. The bigger one is a little more particular but will usually eat it if there’s nothing else, lol.

  3. France Morissette November 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    So great to have met you in Vancouver. Sorry it took me so long to get here! I love roasted squash and the idea of using smoked paprika is awesome. So need to try this.

  4. Dina Roxk November 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Food rut you say? Welcome to my world. Funny how as a working mom I had cooking down to a science. It’s all about meal planning. I left my 9-5 in may to focus on some other exciting ventures and have had the most difficult time! It’s all about the routine and I don’t have one right now. I’ve been relying on a lot of batch freezer cooking to get me through. So when it’s 4:45 and I haven’t even thought about dinner, I can pull something out and get in the oven, stat. Or if all else fails, it’s BFD or “antipasto platter” night again!

  5. Jenn November 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    This is my ‘go to’ when I feel despair about what to make for dinner. It’s fast prep, and generally all ingredients that I have in the house (carrots, potatoes, red lentils). You can sub in or out what veg you have. It’s a great no meat dinner- serve with rice and naan bread. Everyone raves about it!

    • Sarah November 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      Mmmmm….that looks great! And inexpensive. And all that good stuff. Thanks for your comment Jenn :-).

  6. Afshan November 8, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    I get into a dinner rut whenever Irf decides he’s not cooking that night. Damn. So I pull out the boys’ favourite: “Breakfast for Dinner”. They think it’s hilarious. Eggs, toast and orange wedges at 7pm? Yes, please!

  7. Michelle November 8, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Pasta and squash, two of my favourite things. This book looks amazing, and I’d love to add it to my (already overflowing) cookbook collection 🙂

  8. Melanie @ Bon Appet'Eat November 8, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    This sounds incredible and I am not surprised your little ones love it. It is simple, flavorful and colorful! Thanks for sharing Sarah!

  9. Lillian November 7, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    There are days where all that’s in the fridge are options for lunches. So, that’s when we often turn to making crepes! It’s perfect, as it’s not too heavy and there are so many options for fillings (aka lunch meat, cheese, spinach :D)

  10. Louisa [Living Lou] November 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Wow this sounds like a fantastic book, Sarah! I find those simple, but flavourful recipes you talk about to be some of the hardest to find and create. That said, once you find a great one it’s with you forever!

  11. Jo-Anna November 7, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    This sounds like a great cookbook – all the dishes you made look delicious! And I totally know the feeling of being in a dinner rut…sometimes it just happens and that’s when I love to go back to my cookbooks and read through them on the weekend!

  12. Fareen November 7, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    I’d love a copy!

    This was super easy and super fast – lemon and garlic pasta:

  13. Jennifer Andrews November 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Great post and photos! I tend to get into a dinner rut during busy times of the year, such as around the holidays. I’ll go through phases of buying store-bought rotisserie chicken and pre-made salads from the deli counter. My husband gets sick of it pretty quickly!

  14. Leah M November 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    This pasta sounds incredible! Squash never fails to oomph up a dish!

  15. Kim Teasdale November 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    This book sounds like something I would like on my loaded cookbook shelves.

    It is nice to hear that other food bloggers get “in a rut” too.

    Sometimes it has to be grilled cheese (with real cheese) cause I’m just to tired of thinking of food to be inspired for something new!

    Fingers crossed that I might win this cookbook.


  16. Jess Meddows November 7, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I love your kids reactions to food, they’re just hilarious. 🙂 My “I’m too tired to cook but I’m starving” meal is packet pasta, prego sauce, and whatever wilted veggies I have around. Somehow it always tastes way better than I think it will!

  17. Sarah November 7, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    We will pick up a Costco rotisserie chicken on Sundau and shred it for tacos on Monday. It becomes chicken soup on Tuesday, and by Wednesday we are sick of leftovers!

  18. Kate November 6, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Before we had kids, we would often only eat potatoes and salad for dinner!! Not even enough motivation to think about protein! Having a wee one to care about upped my game to making balanced meals each night. Sheesh!

  19. Jen November 6, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    My go to dinner is a pasta dish I got from this website that Sarah adapted from he cookin greens website, while wheat pasta, sundried tomatoes, kale and chickpeas. I freeze half for school lunches!

  20. Ruth November 6, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    Quick dinner for us is trout or tilapia with dill or basil in the tube. Pesto works well, too. Luckily one of my kids likes fish! We pair it with broccoli and/or a salad and we are good to go!

  21. Tara November 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Thanks for all the cooking inspiration! My dinner rut solver was this super easy pork loin with carmalized onions and apples from Canadian Living. It got me excited about cooking again. It looks so fancy and is great for company and is less than 30 minutes to get on the table. That’s my requirement with a brand-new baby and a toddler!!/blog-food/redirect/2218a986aba66485d875b872196d14da

    • Sarah November 6, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

      This looks amazing! definitely going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Anna (Hidden Ponies) November 6, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    My dinner rut is like yours it sounds like…baked chicken breast, broccoli and potatoes/salad. The more inspiration I can surround myself to avoid ruts the better!

    • Sarah November 6, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

      Oy just the thought of it makes me want to give up! But at least it’s healthy, right? 🙂

  23. Johanne November 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    I’ve been struggling with dinner meals for several reasons. I’m pregnant with number two, so I don’t have much energy to cook as well as all my other daily tasks, AND, I’ve been nauseous throughout the whole pregnancy. This means that I start to associate my regular meal options with being sick, making foods very unappealing. Lastly, my tot has suddenly started to get picky about what he eats, another limiting factor when choosing dinner. Looking forward to exploring new recipes. 🙂

  24. Ayngelina November 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    When I’m pressed for time and I’ve forgotten to stop for groceries I head to the pantry for pasta and make a simple dinner of garlic, red chili and real parmesan on any noodle I have in the cupboard. It also tends to be my hangover meal as well 🙂

  25. Bridget Oland November 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    My current rut stems from the fact that my husband can no longer eat grains, nuts and most beans. Lots of vegetables are off the table now too. Basically anything high in oxalates — aka vegetarian favourites. And we’re mostly vegetarian… I have replaced my whining with wine and am embracing this challenge.

    Vegetarian Pad Thai has recently come to the rescue. Gets an all around thumbs up from my kids, husband and me. (It’s on my work blog…hope that’s okay).

  26. Julie Dyer November 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Ooh, I’d love to have a copy. My fav quick and easy dinner is this Easy Skillet Chicken Parmesan from Campbell’s:

  27. Meaghan November 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Your pizza on sale story sounds too familiar! Newly married, over whelmed with work and the ideal of being a wife, lead to a major food rut in my house. But it also lead to me starting my blog in an attempt to take back what I enjoyed about food and cooking.
    My favourite go to meal is Curried Chicken and Vegetables: Really you can use any piece of chicken that is in the fridge or freezer and same goes with the veg. It takes a very hands off hour to cook, which is usually a perfect amount of time to unwind with a glass of wine 🙂

    PS The pasta looks delicious!

  28. Katherine November 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    As a recent university grad, it was either a basic sandwich or instant noodles. So glad that I’m finally out of school and be much more mindful of what I put in my body, has made a world of a difference!

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