10 Back-to-School Meals Every Parent Needs

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

It's been a couple years since we talked about how to survive feeding your brood during back-to-school time, which, like the never-ending sales season that is Christmas, slams you with all the things you're supposed to be Pinterest-perfecting but just aren't. (Because you know, real life.)

What, you didn't send your kid to school with a bento box full of fruit-rolled sushi and rice balls shaped like penguins?

And what do you mean, you didn't spend the entire time they were in school making an organic-from-your-own-garden meal that the Master Chef team themselves is dying to try?*

So if the start of the school year finds you, like me, staring at your fridge and wondering what on earth will constitute dinner and exactly how many days in a row your child might be willing to eat lunch box hot dogs, then pat yourself on the back for surviving thus far and get out your grocery list.

Here are …

10 Meals EVERY Military Parent needs to survive the back-to-school season.

1. Lasagna Roll-Ups

I'm admittedly a hardcore fan of these because they multi-task like no other meal out there: they get dinner on the table, could be thrown in a lunchbox for school, and make me feel less depressed about Dinner for One during deployment. That, and they finally give me a reason to not have to break lasagna sheets to try to get them to fit in my clearly ill-sized lasagna dish.

(Does this happen to you too? Why can't they just make lasagna dishes to actually fit a certain amount of lasagna noodles?) These can be modified to whatever your family's favorite lasagna recipe is and be the hit of the dinner table.

Better yet, you could even cook them halfway through and then pack them into the freezer so you can defrost and finish off as needed. These also make an awesome new-mom dish and are a good packed dinner for nights in the field. Lasagna only gets better as it sits in the hot car waiting to be consumed, and if there's even a minute downtime, tell me this isn't better than an MRE.

2. Crockpot Mongolian Beef

Oh, what? You're calling Bon Appetit magazine to recommend me for their next Super Impressive Actual People Cooking Awards?** Oh, silly, I've already been nominated.

Well, technically, it would be Once a Month Mom who owns Once a Month Meals that we'd have to nominate, but still. If you haven't spent some time on her site yet, get over there. She does these brilliant freezer days where, for one whole day, she cooks up a storm and stocks her freezer with enough food to be the basics of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for an entire month. While I'm not even sure there's that much room in my freezer (what? Ben and Jerry enjoy having a large selection in my home!), I have to admire the go-get-'em here.

I can't in good faith tell you to do this, though, because I imagine it actually takes four other sets of hands, no children, no combat boots tracking who-knows-what into your house to clean up after, and a lot of wine in your fridge to get you through a day like this where you cook enough food to last you a whole, entire month. But one dish for the freezer? Still mighty impressive in my book. (We stock our freezer with these. And ice cream. And bourbon. And yes, there's a meal in there somewhere.)

3. Homemade, Extra-Large Calzone

Anything that involves pre-made pizza dough popped right out of the can is a winner in my book any time of year, but making it look impressive taboot? Super back-to-school win. And this extra-large calzone not only looks tasty, it wins family dinner points for being a great place to hide vegetables. Oh, you found a broccoli in there? Oh, isn't it delicious in all this yummy Italian goodness? Eat it. Now. Five minutes to get ready, 25 minutes to bake, ta-da! Dinner.

4. Poppy Seed Chicken Pinwheels

Did I adequately prepare you for the awesomeness of Once a Month Mom? Did I? Because get this: you make it, freeze it, and thaw it out in the lunch box. If swearing were appropriate in regards to lunchbox items, I would be doing it here. In all caps. Bolded. And probably in italics.

I have a friend who made these for her daughter's first week of school, and rave reviews came back from: child, husband, other child, and wife, who may or may not have also consumed a half-glass of wine while enjoying them. Hey, the start of the school year is stressful. But I digress. These poppy seed chicken pinwheels meld tangy and sweet and are jam-packed with nutrients. Pat yourself on the back, Mom. You're so awesome.

5. Bubble Up Pizza

There are two things that can make a whole family happy: dinner in 20 minutes or less and pizza. Combine both, and you've got a "Mom, I love you, you're so wonderful, I'll do the dishes" kind of night. This genius recipe combines refrigerated biscuit dough and your skillet to great success: an enticing meal you'll pin on Pinterest because of its food porn qualities and also one in which you can nourish the hungry members of your family.

The gist is mixing the dough with pizza sauce and your favorite toppings, then baking. Favorite toppings? Chiffonaded eggplant (which takes less than 2 minutes to cut), a couple handfuls of spinach, a smattering of kale, or any of the other vegetables that have found themselves in near-death poses in the back of your veggie drawer. Put them to good use: Bubble Up Pizza.

6. Eggs Cooked Inside Pepper Slices

Take that, fancy Williams-Sonoma Egg Mold. Here's the holy triumvirate: a healthy start to the day, protein, and veggies. Slice the peppers at the beginning of the week and just keep them ready for the mornings. Cook eggs (about four minutes), and let the delicious egg yolk run all over those high-nutrition veggies while your family celebrates that they're not forced into yet another morning of scavenging for cereal, milk, and whatever pop tarts are left in the back cabinet. While you're at it, make sure you use red peppers, since they're magically nearly twice as nutritious as their orange counterpart.

7. Waffle Maker Hashbrowns

Oh, and what do you serve with those insanely awesome (and pretty!) eggs? Hashbrowns. Hashbrowns you didn't get at McDonald's.***  Hashbrowns you slaved over, because you're such an incredibly person, and that's what incredible people do pulled from the fridge where you had them grated in advance and then popped them into your waffle maker so your kids could count 3-2-1 Hashbrowns. (Like 321 Countdown, but yummier.)

8. And when the snack time blues come around? Wow them with these easy Homemade Apple Chips.

9. Or Brownies in Five Minutes.

10. Or Strawberry Candy that's really just oven-roasted strawberries. Shhh. There's no need to emphases the non-candy part of that when they taste the same.

Hungry family members, you're welcome. We just can't help it that we're so awesome. (Thank you, Internet.)

* This being said, Stouffer's Macaroni is really, really, really delicious. If you haven't indulged in it lately, get thee to thy commissary. ASAP.

** They should invent this. I feel like people who spend their mornings cutting sandwiches into football and tiara shapes deserve a little culinary recognition now and again.

*** But good Lord are those good.

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