The first week back to school – as parent or educator – is always a little bit crazy. One minute, your biggest decision is between the pool and the park you’re not wearing shoes and you have no idea what day it is. Then, in the blink of an eye, bells are ringing, dress codes – and most definitely shoes – are in play, and much of the day is dictated for you.
While stay-at-home and work-at-home parents usually cheer the return to school, educators usually grumble a bit as they, um, readjust. Educator-parents experience this doubly. But no matter what the adults are doing, the witching hours between 3 or 4 and 7 or 8 pm are often universally a bit overwhelming. Homework, sports, clubs, lessons, meetings, laundry – oh, and I think we’re supposed to have dinner? In a home such as ours, with two educator parents, the effects of the first week of school are magnified dramatically.
So you need a plan to tackle dinner, so that re-entry is as smooth as possible. Here are some ideas to get you started.
It may seem time-consuming to make your own pita bread, but it’s mostly hands-off time, and leftovers make for great lunches. I serve with the creamy hummus and sliced gyros from Trader Joe’s, as well as Ina Garten’s tzatziki.
Once the week starts, you can switch gears to the idea behind my dinners without thinking. Breakfast-for-dinner is a meal that can practically make itself – perfect for the Mondayest of Mondays. Place sliced chicken apple sausage (or bacon or almost any other breakfast meat) in the basket tray of your air fryer. Set to air fry at 375 degrees for about 5 minutes or until your desired level of crispiness is achieved. Fry/scramble/poach/boil some eggs and you can be done. Bonus points if you rustle up some toast, bagels or potatoes (you can put those in the air fryer too!).
Try a BLT. Fry some bacon in the air fryer, slice a late-summer tomato and add some lettuce. For me, toasted bread and mayo are a must. Alternately, consider pulled pork or chicken sandwiches in the Instapot, piled on Hawaiian rolls. Simply combine cubes of pork butt or boneless, skinless chicken thighs with this barbecue sauce in the Instapot and cook according to manufacturers’ instructions.
You can’t go wrong with bacon or pasta – so try them together. Saute cubed pancetta until crisp. Meanwhile, boil water for pasta – you can use almost anything here, but I really like fresh pasta shells, when I can find them. After the pasta is cooked and drained, toss in half a bag of frozen peas, a drizzle of olive oil, and some salt and freshly ground pepper. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta from the pan and add to the pasta. Feel free to add anything else you like, such as Parmesan cheese, bite-sized pieces of fresh mozzarella, torn basil leaves, pesto, cherry tomatoes…you get the idea.
Layer boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or pork butt) in your instapot with a salsa of your choice. When I have the produce, I like to make this one or this one. Cook, according to manufacturers’ instructions and serve with tortillas, chips or in a bowl. In my instapot mini, chicken thighs usually take about 15 minutes on high, while pork takes 30-40 minutes.
Fridays call for flexible low key meals, but also maybe something that would benefit from a beer or other adult beverage on the side. A burger is a great answer to the last “what’s for dinner” of the work/school week. Cook up whatever your family prefers – beef, turkey, veggie, salmon – and serve on a bun, in a bowl or in a lettuce wrap. Lately, we’ve been opting for pretzel buns, which are a bit sturdier than traditional buns without being dry or tending to fall apart.
On the side, thinly slice some Yukon gold (or similar) potatoes and toss in olive oil and Omnivore Salt. Place in the basket of the air fryer at 400 degrees for about 5-10 minutes per side, or until golden brown, crispy and cooked through (this can vary depending on the size and thickness of your potato slices).
End the week with some air fryer chicken. If your family prefers wings, they are a breeze in the air fryer. I typically season with some Omnivore Salt and air fry for about 5 minutes per side at 400 degrees. I toss in barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or, for the adults, a combo of half melted butter and half Frank’s hot sauce.
If tenders are a better option for your family, then toss with salt and pepper, then dip sequentially in flour, eggs and panko bread crumbs. Spray liberally with olive oil on both sides before air frying until golden brown and cooked through, flipping once. Really want to celebrate making it through the first week? Whip up a batch of these waffles for a chicken-and-waffles celebration.
Have your tried any of these 7 nights of easy dinners? Comment below if you have!
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