back to school dinner ideasOut of all the things we have to adjust to when our kids go back to school, I think going back to regular dinner times is the hardest. Making lunches might not be fun, but they’re pretty easy, and on my sliding scale of eating during the day, they rank lower in importance than everyone eating a nice family dinner.

In the summer our dinners are pretty random. I’ve done them later, earlier, and on the run, and it usually involves the BBQ or a salad. But once September hits I have to get everyone back on a schedule for school, after school events, and sports, and that means a healthy dinner at the right time.

The only problem? With everything going on it can be hard to come up with a good dinner fast. That’s why this is the year I started looking for recipes in August. I thought if I was well prepared before September hit I wouldn’t be as stressed about feeding everyone, and it’s worked. We’ve only eaten out once during the past two weeks.

I started with an ingredient list that will cut my time in the kitchen, and I keep in mind that I should always make extra and plan ahead. I always buy a rotisserie chicken because they keep for a few days, if I grill a streak on the weekend I make extra for a week night dinner. When I make rice I make a big batch and hold onto it for a quick stir-fry, and I always have different types of cheeses and fresh bread on hand.

I also find that the small appliances I have in the kitchen really matter now. A pressure cooker will be your best friend, I kid you not. They make cooking anything really fast. I also swear by my Panini press. Everything just tastes better when it’s grilled.

If you need a helping hand with back to school dinners, here are a few I’ve tried and loved recently. They’re fast and easy, which is exactly what we all need right now.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

With a rotisserie chicken on hand these pulled chicken sandwiches take no time at all. You can also use boneless chicken thighs if you’d like to follow the recipe exactly. From Myrecipes.com

Ingredients: Chicken:

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Cooking spray

Sauce:

2 teaspoons canola oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Remaining ingredients:

8 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted

16 hamburger dill chips

 

Directions

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

To prepare chicken, combine first 6 ingredients; rub evenly over chicken. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; cover and grill 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 180°, turning occasionally. Let stand for 5 minutes. Shred with 2 forks.

To prepare sauce, while chicken grills, heat canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and next 5 ingredients (through ground red pepper); cook 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup and vinegar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in chicken; cook 2 minutes.

Place 1/3 cup chicken mixture on bottom half of each bun; top each with 2 pickle chips and top of bun.

 

Mexican lasagna

One of my family favorites, this Mexican dish can be as mild or as spicy as you’d like it. It’s also great reheated the next day or frozen for a few weeks later, so make a double batch. From the foodnetwork.com

Ingredients: 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds ground chicken breast, available in the packaged meats case
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 cup medium heat taco sauce or 1 (14-oz) can stewed or fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Salt
8 (8 inch) spinach flour tortillas, available on dairy aisle of market
2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar or shredded pepper jack
2 scallions, finely chopped

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil – twice around the pan. Add chicken and season with chili powder, cumin, and red onion. Brown the meat, 5 minutes. Add taco sauce or stewed or fire roasted tomatoes. Add black beans and corn. Heat the mixture through, 2 to 3 minutes then season with salt, to your taste.

Coat a shallow baking dish with remaining extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 tablespoon oil. Cut the tortillas in half or quarters to make them easy to layer with. Build lasagna in layers of meat and beans, then tortillas, then cheese. Repeat: meat, tortilla, cheese again. Bake lasagna 12 to 15 minutes until cheese is brown and bubbly. Top with the scallions and serve.

 

 

Spaghetti Carbonara

When I need dinner ideas, I always head over the Jamie Oliver. This is a classic spaghetti dish but it’s so good on a chilly fall night. From JamieOliver.com.

Ingredients: 3 large free-range egg yolks

40 g Parmesan cheese , plus extra to serve

1 x 150 g piece of higher-welfare pancetta

200 g dried spaghetti

1 clove of garlic

extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Put the egg yolks into a bowl, finely grate in the Parmesan, season with pepper, then mix well with a fork and put to one side.

Cut any hard skin off the pancetta and set aside, then chop the meat.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente.

Meanwhile, rub the pancetta skin, if you have any, all over the base of a medium frying pan (this will add fantastic flavour, or use 1 tablespoon of oil instead), then place over a medium-high heat.

Peel the garlic, then crush with the palm of your hand, add it to the pan and leave it to flavour the fat for 1 minute. Stir in the pancetta, then cook for 4 minutes, or until it starts to crisp up.

Pick out and discard the garlic from the pan, then, reserving some of the cooking water, drain and add the spaghetti. Toss well over the heat so it really soaks up all that lovely flavour, then remove the pan from the heat.

Add a splash of the cooking water and toss well, season with pepper, then pour in the egg mixture – the pan will help to cook the egg gently, rather than scrambling it. Toss well, adding more cooking water until it’s lovely and glossy.

Serve with a grating of Parmesan and an extra twist of pepper.

Do you have any favourite back to school recipes? Share with us in the comments, and take a look at these handy appliances that make back to school dinners a breeze.

 

A pressure cooker is a chef’s best friend

 

 

A panini press grills everything to perfection

 

I love the idea of kicking fall off with a set of new dinnerware