Back To School Meal Tips: Dinner Edition

In what was intended to be a “school’s back in full swing, folks!” post, I’m left laughing because here in Seattle, school has yet to even begin! A teachers strike that will have soon lasted a full week means 53,000 kids who would have been scanning syllabi and sharpening pencils are still on sweet summer break. Parents, however, are not, and although I have no kids to speak of, I can only imagine the ensuing logistical chaos Seattle moms and pops are having to deal with right now.

So I suppose this post may actually come at an ideal time. To the parents who are juggling restless youngsters, work schedules, extra babysitters, 4-page-long to-do lists, and mealtime: this one’s for you.

Weeknight Dinner Tips

1. Utilize the underutilized appliance. Now’s the time to dust off that gadget you bought, used fervently for a month, then completely forgot about. Crock pots, pressure cookers, food processors, and even your oven’s broiler are all awesome tools for saving time in the kitchen.

2. Consider cook time. Going off that last point, take a strategic approach to cook times right from the get-go. If you’re dying to serve a slow-cooked pot roast, use your crock pot. If you’re trying to throw together a 30-minute dinner from scratch, choose quick-cooking proteins like fish or even eggs (who doesn’t like a good omelet for dinner every once in a while?!). This rule applies to veggies, too. Baking whole potatoes can take over an hour, for example, but a delicious hash can come together in less than 20 minutes.

3. Ready your produce as soon as you buy it. To save time in the kitchen later, make peeling, chopping, and when possible, washing veggies part of your grocery day routine. Onions, for example, can be peeled, chopped, and stored neatly in the fridge for super easy suppers later. Carrots can be peeled. Broccoli can be cut into florets. Mushrooms can be brushed clean. You get the idea. One exception here is delicate herbs and lettuces, which will wilt and brown if washed and chopped too far in advance.

Chickpea, Spring Onion + Tuscan Kale Salad
Chickpea, Spring Onion + Tuscan Kale Salad

4. Stay seasonal. Seasonal produce requires less work to make it shine because it’s already packed with great flavor. Simple green salads with some shaved parm, thinly sliced tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, and mixed root vegetables roasted with flaky sea salt are a few of my favorites this time of year. Bonus: in-season produce will also be more affordable!

5. Maintain a well-stocked pantry. By keeping your cupboards stocked with a collection of essentials, you’ll be able to whip up a tasty dinner no matter what life throws at you. Here are some pantry staples I try to always have on hand, but feel free to devise your own list: pastas and grains (brown rice, quinoa, and pasta are my go-to’s); canned beans (black & garbanzo are both quite versatile); broth or stock; jarred veggies like sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers; door-of-the-fridge staples like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and dijon mustard; extra virgin olive oil (no explanation required); and finally a few long-lasting produce selections like garlic, onion, and potatoes.

Update: The Seattle teachers strike has at last come to an end after a tentative contract deal was reached this morning. No matter where this leaves you (hopefully in a calmer place), I hope our back-to-school series has helped you face the new year head-on, and enjoy some delicious food as you do so! Stay tuned for our next post next Tuesday, and until then, happy cooking!

Sources: http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/crispy-slow-cooker-carnitas/, http://gffmag.com/the-best-effing-chicken-recipe-ever-seriously/, http://www.halfbakedharvest.com/mad-greek-quinoa-dinner-omelets-feta-tzatziki/, http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/pan-roasted-salmon-with-collards-and-radish-raita, http://heatherchristo.com/cooks/2014/01/27/spicy-thai-curry-noodle-soup/, http://www.thefirstmess.com/2013/04/10/chickpea-spring-onion-kale-panzanella-salad-recipe/, http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sauteed-pork-chops-with-sweet-potato-apples-and-mustard-sauce-51171620, http://www.saywhatyouneedtosayblog.com/2012/09/27/his-hers-dinners-how-to-make-2-meals-without-the-effort/, http://www.foodiecrush.com/2014/01/tortellini-soup-with-artichokes/#_a5y_p=1193631, http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/smoky-black-bean-chili/

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