While “the lazy days of summer” seem to be more myth than reality in most households, the summer months do tend to offer a little more flexibility when it comes to meal planning. The days are longer, the grill is easier to fire up and the after school activities don’t put a damper on cooking time. So, for many families, back-to-school also means back-to-meal planning. Quick dinners that are also healthy become harder to find as we try to juggle the demands of school, sports, activities and work.
Normally, the Richmond Mom “best of” series highlights our favorite local businesses and events. This time around, we are doing something a little different. Today, we are bringing you some of our favorite easy-to-make, kid-friendly dishes that will make going back-to-school easier on everyone.
We picked our five favorite back-to-school meals not just because they taste great, but also because of the following reasons:
- They are easy to make
- They use simple, every day ingredients
- They are healthy or offer healthy versions
- They are versatile
- They can be made ahead of time
Based on these four characteristics, the following meals were our top picks for easy meals to make when the kids are back in school. In fact, they’re so good, we’re willing to bet they might become your favorites all year long!
In the meantime, if you have a favorite, fast weeknight meal that you’d like to share, be sure to let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
You had me at “cheeseburger,” but sealed the deal at “muffin.” These incredibly tasty little treats from The Lemon Bowl pack all the punch of a cheeseburger, but in a fast, naturally gluten-free “muffin.” Simply combine ground beef (or turkey) with a few flavorful additions, then bake individual portions in muffin tins. In as few as 25 minutes, you can have a dinner that the whole family will love. We suggest serving this dinner with some steamed veggies and a side or roasted or mashed potatoes for quick, healthy dinner that is perfect for any night of the week.
Why we love it: Sure, if you tried to tell me that “meat muffins” are the way to go, I would question your taste. But these mini-cheeseburger/meatloaf combos make dinner time fun. Best of all, if you’re using fresh ground beef or turkey, you can make the meat mixture ahead of time and store it in the freezer. When you’re ready, simply thaw and bake according to the recipe. Or go ahead and cook up a bunch and store the leftovers in the freezer to thaw and reheat later. But wait, we’re not done…have leftovers that you don’t want to freeze? Crumble them up and use them as the meat base in a chili or other ground beef recipe. There’s really not much you can’t do with this recipe!
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Enchiladas are a family favorite in many households. With meat, cheese and spices all wrapped in a delicious tortilla and covered in sauce, what’s not to love? But sometimes the prep can feel like too much. So you can imagine how excited we were to find this super-easy casserole version of one of our favorite meals. Combining a healthy combo of ground beef (or substitute ground turkey or chicken if that’s your thing), canned pinto beans and store bought or homemade enchilada sauce, you can make this layered enchilada dish ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours for a delicious, homemade dinner that’s ready pop in the oven at a moment’s notice. Once, it’s baked, top with tomatoes, shredded lettuce and some sour cream and that’s your school night dinner done.
Why we love it: Using easy to find ingredients, many of which you might already have on hand, this dish lends itself to some tasty variations. We suggest switching out the ground beef for chicken, using green enchilada sauce instead of red, and layering with flour tortillas instead of corn for an alternate version. And the recipe’s amazing creator, Recipe Girl, offers her own suggestion like using chili beans instead of pinto beans and adding additions to the layers like corn, olives, and/or feta cheese. Best of all, if you need an easy gluten-free dish, you can use pinto beans, enchilada sauce and corn tortillas that are gluten-free and try corn starch in place of flour for a thickener.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 – 25 minutes
This tasty dish is a healthy take on every kids’ freezer favorite – Hot Pockets. By using store bought pizza dough and a simple filling of chicken sausage, veggies, cheese and spices, you can have your own version of these easy-to-eat handheld dinners ready in no time. Brought to you by the folks at Real Simple, this recipe was a big winner in our versatility category. While the recipe calls for an amazing combo of ingredients, the very nature of this dish allows for you to mix and match some of your favorite ingredients to change up the flavors. Try ham and cheese instead of the sausage and veggies; mix up tomato sauce, pepperonis and cheese for an easy filling; or get creative and make up your own!
Why we love it: This recipe is a Richmond Mom favorite for many reasons. But what really stands out for us is the fact that it can be made ahead and frozen. If you have a little extra time on the weekend, you can make up one, two, or even three batches and have them ready to go whenever you want them. Just defrost and reheat for easy dinners, lunches, or even on-the-go snacks.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Chicken what? Chicken schnitzel, of course. This incredibly popular European dish is a favorite for many families on other continents. And while we might not be as familiar with the name here in the United States, the concept is a classic. The recipe calls for thin chicken breast cutlets that have been breaded and fried. Now, you might be thinking that “fried” is the ultimate no-no for healthy eating. But these breaded delicacies can be pan-fried in a light coating of olive or vegetable oil, or they can be baked for a healthier alternative. For a baked version, simply follow the recipe, but instead of frying, put them in an over at 425° for 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway through. In short, chicken schnitzels deliver the crispy deliciousness of fried chicken, but in a fast, healthy format.
Why we love it: There are countless chicken schnitzel recipes out there. But our favorite is this one from What’s Gaby Cooking – and it’s nothing short of outstanding. Full of flavor, easy to make and quick to cook, you’ll have a dinner that will be requested time and again. But the best part of a good chicken schnitzel is all that you can do with it. Serve it for dinner as a cutlet or slice the chicken into strips for and follow the recipe for homemade chicken fingers. The choice is yours. Leftovers can easily be reheated the next day, frozen for later use, or turned in to delicious crispy sandwiches for lunches, future dinners or snack on-the-go.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Back-to-school also means that fall is on the horizon. And for many of us, fall is all about comfort foods. Few things are more comforting than a rich hearty soup – and few soups are tastier than this loaded baked potato soup from blogger chef, Chungah. Using a simple milk, butter and flour base, potatoes are added in and cooked down until they make a creamy, mouthwatering soup that can be topped with all of your favorite baked potato toppings. While the recipe calls for bacon as a topping, you can save time by buying pre-cooked bacon instead of making your own. And to really up the ante, it can be made ahead of time and thinned with a bit of milk when reheated.
Why we love it: Aside from the obvious (a baked potato that you can eat with a spoon…I mean, really), this soup scores big points for us because it can be served to just about anyone. Need a vegetarian meal? Skip the bacon. Want to make it vegan? Skip the sour cream and cheese, and and replace butter with vegetable or canola oil and dairy milk with soy milk – then use whatever toppings suit your fancy. And for a gluten-free recipe, use corn starch instead of flour to thicken the base. No matter how you serve it, this soup is will make back-to-school more appetizing for everyone.