They say that everyone should work in the hospitality service industry once. If you haven’t done that, just cook three meals (plus snacks) a day for your family — it’s not that different! Kids can be like little restaurant patrons who are moody, demanding, and picky — AND you have to come up with the menu every day! Also, there is no salary or tips as a home cook.
When school starts, it can be a Pinterest treasure hunt trying to find something that will satisfy every palate and work with the busy fall schedule — we’re talking sports practices, different school pickup times, and, often, multiple dinner shifts. I have experienced the WFD (what’s for dinner) panic at 3 p.m. realizing I have no plan. I like to keep a few things in stock for those busy days when I might be in a pinch. Here are six tried-and-true recipes for low-maintenance weeknight meals!
This easy BLT Pasta Salad gets better as it sits in the fridge — so if you’re a meal prepper, this is a perfect make-ahead option!
Cheesy baked chicken
I made this inspired by a Hello Fresh recipe we tried, and the concept was so basic it’s become something quick and easy for me to make regularly (and everyone loves it). I keep shredded cheese, sour cream, and panko in my kitchen, so it’s easy to make if I’ve defrosted chicken. I do add a tablepoon of mayo to the mixture and sub Ritz crackers if I’m out of the breadcrumbs. I also tend to bake everything at 375 because I like when the top gets super crunchy.
OK, this one takes a little planning if you have to pick up fish, but the pantry/fridge supplies are ingredients you probably already have. Recently, I bought cod vs. haddock because it was on sale, and I don’t think I’ll go back to haddock (unpopular opinion?). Two growing teenagers, a toddler, and two adults at my house ate about a pound and a half of fish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (the magic number). I sprinkle my sheet pan with a panko/cracker (Club or Ritz) and cracked black pepper mixture so the fish sits on top. Top the fish with the same mixture, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a little butter, and bake until the fish is cooked through and flaky. Lemon is optional for this easy, quick meal.
Meatless stuffed (or unstuffed) peppers
I made these unstuffed as an easy leftover lunch for my husband, who commented that eating a stuffed pepper out of a container at work was difficult. Trader Joe’s beef-less ground beef and Lightlife Smart Ground take less cooking time than regular ground meat, and they taste delicious. Saute one or two bell peppers of your color choice, half an onion, and the faux meat with your choice of grain (rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice) and your favorite taco-style seasoning. Once the onion and peppers are sauteed, add your favorite shredded cheese, or try cojita. Top with your favorite salsa and sour cream, and you have a one-pan dish that is great for lunch the next day! If you stuff the peppers, simply layer the ingredients in your pepper, top with cheese, and cook at 375 degrees until the peppers are soft and the cheese is bubbly. I also have added Trader Joe’s Spicy Cauliflower Rice for added spice.
This is not a healthy dish. There are also hundreds of different ways to make it, but this recipe includes some of the variations. I don’t use the mayo, I use sour cream, and I don’t add the onion strings. I remember eating this when I was growing up, and I still love it. There are definitely ways to lighten this up, but it’s an easy and delicious comfort food you can make with little prep.
Of all the stress that can come with back to school, don’t let dinner be one of them! The best part of most of these recipes is that they take little prep time, and you can still get things done while dinner is cooking.