It's been 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 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 eat lunch-box hot dogs, then pat yourself on the back for surviving thus far and get out your grocery list.
10 Back-to-School Meals Every Parent Needs
A modern and healthy twist on a classic dish, we're a fan of these because they are adaptable and easy. They can be served for dinner, reheated for lunch for kids and adults, and are the perfect meal during deployment.
Better yet, you could even cook them halfway through, then pack them into the freezer so you can defrost and finish off as needed. These also make an awesome option to bring to a new mom.
Crockpot Mongolian Beef
The force behind Once a Month Meals has been freezer cooking for years, and so have I. Its website gives you the things you need to make a month's worth of meals at once. And while it's a lot of work for that day or two you are cooking, you get the rest of the month off.
Try this Crockpot Mongolian Beef, a "dump and go" meal, and see what you think. It may be enough to get you on the freezer meal train. And if not, well here's one meal you can prep in advance for those busy school nights.
Homemade, Extra-Large Calzone
Anything that involves premade pizza dough is a winner in my book any time of year. And making that pizza dough into an extra-large calzone that looks tasty is the win you need this week. Bonus tip: Hide vegetables in there, too. Keep a can of the dough -- or your favorite pizza dough -- in the fridge or freezer for a last-minute dinner.
Poppy Seed Chicken Pinwheels
Here's another recipe from Once a Month Meals that you can make, freeze and pop in the lunchbox to thaw out. These poppy seed chicken pinwheels meld tangy and sweet and are jam-packed with nutrients. Pat yourself on the back; you're doing an awesome job.
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. Mix the dough with pizza sauce and your favorite toppings and then bake it. That's it.
Dinner isn't the only thing you can master during the back-to-school shuffle. Breakfast is important, and sometimes you want to do more than toaster pastries or cereal. One great thing -- that you also can make in advance -- is egg cups. In a muffin tin, layer meat, vegetables, cheese -- or whatever else your people like to eat -- and top with an egg. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees and then pop in the fridge for a quick reheat on school mornings.
Back-to-school time sometimes brings out the overachiever in us as parents. And while I'll resort back to frozen waffles in a month or so, I like to start out with some homemade ones. I absolutely do not have time to make fresh, homemade waffles each morning, particularly with three kids on different schedules, so I make them in advance. They freeze well between wax paper and can be reheated in the toaster.
Bonus tip: Use protein-packed pancake mix and top with peanut butter for an extra boost.
Chicken Taco Salad
There's nothing my kids like more than tacos, and they are quite easy to make. But sometimes you want to serve them slightly differently. Toss some chicken breasts in the crockpot or instant pot with a jar of salsa and cook. Then shred it and toss on top of a bed of mixed greens, top with traditional taco toppings or an avocado ranch dressing.
One-Pot Chili Mac
Cooking anything in one pot is a win because that means only one pot to clean. This healthy, modern take on Hamburger Helper from Stay Fit Mom uses ground turkey and low-fat cream cheese and makes a giant pot full that your whole family will love. You'll have leftovers that can go in a thermos or be reheated for the next day's lunch.
For the past few years, I've spent an evening in late July making a giant pile of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I've perfected the method of freezing them for later on. Here's how I do it. Put a thin layer of peanut butter on each side of the bread, then put jelly on one side, keeping the jelly from touching the bread completely. Then pop them in a sandwich bag, and put a loaf's worth of sandwiches back into the bag the bread came in. Pop the whole bag in the freezer.
Pull one sandwich out of the freezer in the morning and it will be defrosted by lunchtime. The kids will love their "homemade uncrustables," and you will love not having to make a sandwich every morning.
Whatever you make -- or don’t make -- for breakfast, lunch or dinner this school year, remember that you are doing a great job, and your kids love you, no matter what you put on the table.
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