Tuesday's Tip: Back-to-School Dinners - FamilyEducation

Tuesday's Tip: Back-to-School Dinners

August 30,2011
Sweet Pea Chef
Jessica Efird

Jessica, aka the Sweet Pea Chef, is a former U.S. Senate staffer/weekend gourmet turned full-time mom/family gourmet. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two sons.

This is the first autumn that I’ve had to say “no” to my boys when they asked to do an after-school or evening activity.  Up to this point, G really wasn’t participating in much outside of preschool and day-time activities and story times.  He had one Wednesday night commitment at our church during the school year, but truth be told, it was mainly because big brother did it too.  But this year, I started looking at our weekly schedule and realized I had to put on the brakes.

The boys loving being active, but between sports, scouting, church and other community activities, we are gearing up for our busiest school year yet.  And still, I resist the urge to over-schedule and let my boys do it all.  Hence, the “no” when R and G wanted to do new things without giving up something old.  I simply will not, will not let our family be super busy every night of the school week.

Yet even with my efforts to control the chaos, on Cub Scout nights, or evenings with soccer practice, and soon to come, Tae Kwon Do, things get busy!  But I do have a few tips to help get a healthy dinner in their bellies on the busy nights.

So today I wrap up my mini-series of back-to-school meal tips with some thoughts on school night dinners:

*Meal Plan.  Planning out your week’s meals during the school week can be the difference between having dinner under control and visiting a drive-thru window.  Each weekend (okay, I miss some weekends, but I do try and do this the large majority of time), I look at our week’s schedule.  I check for any unusual things on our schedule that might affect dinner, or my ability to be around to prepare it.  I plan meals accordingly, often using a “cook once, eat twice” mentality.

*Cook Once, Eat Twice.  We are using this concept this week!  I am cooking oven-baked flounder one night and bought more fish than we can eat in one meal.  I will then use the flounder in some vegetable and seafood enchiladas the next night.  Roast chicken, grilled pork chops, sauteed tofu, even baked beans can all be re-purposed another night for another meal.

*Two words:  Slow Cooker.  Our slow cooker tends to go on hiatus during the summer since most of our meals are light and summer-y, ie, salads.  But this is the time of the year when I dust off the old slow cooker and start to use it in earnest.  Heck, we will use it twice this week, for Moo Shu Pork and Orange Chicken.  Nothing says “easy dinner” than coming home to a meal waiting for you eat.

*Casseroles.  I know casseroles aren’t generally though of as light and healthy fair, but if you’ve tried my Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini or Baked Couscous, these are both lightened and easy to make in double batches.  If you make an extra batch at the same time, you really aren’t upping your preparation time by much and you will have a whole dinner to put in the freezer for when you aren’t up for cooking.


*Sandwiches, salads and quick pastas.  Have a couple easy peasy meals up your sleeve for truly busy nights.  Sandwiches can be a quick and portable meal, which is great if you are carpooling your kids to multiple activities.  Try some of my panini ideas, which can be a meal in a sandwich.

I hope these ideas help make your week night dinners a little less hectic.  While a new school year’s schedule can seem hectic after a leisurely summer, in no-time your schedule will be old hat.

Life is sweet,
SPC