Having to make dinner night after night can be stressful any time of year, but it can feel like a chore in September if you have kids in school.

After the (relatively) relaxing days of summer, it may take some time to get back into the rhythm, routine, and energy of the school year. In addition to making sure everyone is fed, evenings bring in homework, pack book bags and lunches, put another load of laundry in the washing machine and put away clothes for the next morning.

Between sporting events, teacher conferences, dance or music classes and other after-school events, the weekly calendar can fill up quickly. Add parents’ jobs to the mix, and the whole thing can seem…very chaotic.

But with a little planning, it’s possible to get a nutritious family meal on the table, at least some of the time, while also spending your money. It is best to get help from family members in the cutting, moving, painting and cleaning process.

Here’s another reason to gather around a home-cooked meal with your kids: Multiple studies show that connecting with kids over dinner can improve their academic performance, increase their self-esteem and even improve cardiovascular health by encouraging healthy eating habits.

Children and teens who eat dinner with their families also experience less stress and have a better relationship with them.

The best weekend dinners, of course, are the ones that are easy to throw together and go from the fridge or pantry to the stove in about a half-hour. The easiest way to achieve this is to reach for one of your most utilitarian pieces of kitchen equipment—a reliable skillet—and choose simple, everyday ingredients.

We’ve rounded up five easy and delicious recipes that can be made in a single pan on the stovetop or simply placed in a pot. Unlike fried rice, which involves marinating the pork for a few hours before roasting it, none of them take more than 30 minutes to prepare once all the ingredients are assembled. This leaves plenty of time for your other duties on school nights.


Lasagna with minced meat

This quick version of an old favorite takes you from cupboard to table in less than half an hour. However, it is just as delicious as lasagna made in the oven. Served with fried salad and crispy bread.

3 14.5-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped


3 medium garlic cloves, chopped

A sprinkle of red pepper flakes

1 pound meatloaf mixture or 1/2 pound each ground pork and ground beef

10 pieces of curly-edged lasagna noodles, cut into 2-inch pieces (do not substitute with uncooked vermicelli)

1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Ground black pepper

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

Chopped fresh basil, for garnish

Pour the tomatoes and their juice into a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely ground and no large pieces remain.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until tender, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add meat and cook, breaking up, until lightly browned and no longer pink, 3-5 minutes.

Scatter the pasta over the meat, then pour the cured tomatoes over the pasta. Cover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until pasta is al dente, about 29 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add half the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Place tablespoons of ricotta over the noodles, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Cover the pot and leave it off the heat until the cheese melts, for 2-4 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Serves 4.

– Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

Gluten-Free Chicken Pasta Salad

Tested by PG

This recipe includes the best ingredient in the world for busy cooks—roasted chicken from the grocery store. It’s paired with shredded Napa cabbage and spiralized cucumber “noodles” for a gluten-free take on lo mein.

For power

2 cups grilled and chopped chicken

4 cups shredded napa cabbage

1 carrot, cut into long, thin slices using a julienne peeler

1 cucumber, cut into long, thin slices using a julienne peeler

1 leek, cut into thin slices

1 1/2 ounces mixed cilantro and basil leaves, with a few mint leaves, roughly chopped

1 1/2 ounces roasted and salted peanuts

To wear clothes

4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 or 2 red hot peppers, chopped

1 tablespoon honey, maple syrup or agave syrup

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil or any other neutral-tasting oil

Mix all salad ingredients except the dressing in a large bowl. Prepare the sauce by placing the ingredients in a separate bowl and mixing them together well.

Pour the sauce over the salad, stir well, then serve.

Serves 2-3.

– Adapted from “Izzo’s 20 Minute Dinner” by Julian Metcalfe and Blanche Vaughan

Crispy fish fingers

Tested by PG

Gorton’s fish sticks are a school classic, but they’re almost as quick to make at home — and soon better. I used cod and served them with homemade tartar sauce. Add a salad or hash browns for a complete meal.

1 1/2 pounds fillets of firm white fish, such as cod


1 teaspoon each of black pepper, oregano, and paprika

1/3 cup flour

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying

Parsley, for garnish

Fresh lemon slices, for serving

Pat the fish fillets dry and season with kosher salt on both sides. Cut the fillet into pieces or sticks (1 to 1 1/2 inches long and about 3 inches long).

In a small bowl, mix black pepper, dried oregano, and paprika. Season the fish fingers on both sides with the spice mixture.

Place the flour and egg mixture in separate shallow dishes. In another bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the grated Parmesan.

Take a fish stick and dip it in the flour to coat both sides; Get rid of excess flour. Dip the fish fingers in the egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs and Parmesan mixture. Pat to help the paint adhere. Repeat until all fish fingers are coated.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the fish fingers and fry in batches until golden brown. We put it on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. To prepare the baked fish fingers, arrange the coated fish fingers on a greased baking sheet and spray with baking spray. Bake in a 400 degree oven until fish is cooked through, about 12 minutes.

Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges and your favorite dipping sauce.

Serves 4.

– Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

Chicken Tinga Quesadillas

Tested by PG

This dish will appeal to family members who like their dinner to be a little spicy. To make the quesadilla a little more hearty for a healthy appetite, add cooked rice or black beans. The filling can also be used to fill taco shells, wrap into a burrito, or add to nachos. Complete the meal with a tossed salad, black or refried beans, or Spanish rice.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 kilo boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into cubes

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 poblano pepper, cut into slices

3/4 cup canned or homemade red enchilada sauce

2 or 3 chipotle peppers in adobo, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 flour tortillas, warm

2 1/2 cups grated Mexican cheese

– Chopped coriander, for garnish

Guacamole, for garnish

Garlic and lemon sauce

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons lemon peel, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

In a large frying pan, add olive oil, chicken and onions. Place on medium high heat. Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Add poblano peppers, enchilada sauce, cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, and salt. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

To assemble, place cheese and chicken mixture on half of a tortilla. Sprinkle a little chopped coriander. Place another tortilla on top to enclose the fillings.

Heat a second frying pan over medium heat. Quickly brush the top of the quesadilla with a light layer of oil, then carefully flip it over with a spatula.

Let the quesadilla cook until golden and crisp on the bottom, about 1-2 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Lightly brush the top with oil, then flip and cook until the second side is golden and crispy.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board. Let cool for a minute until firm, then use a chef’s knife to cut into slices.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and lemon sauce. Mix all ingredients in the bowl. Season with salt.

Serve the quesadilla with garlic sauce, guacamole and cilantro.

Serves 4.

– Adapted from halfbakedharvest.com

Fried rice with Chinese roast pork

Tested by PG

Everyone loves fried rice because it is very elastic. Any combination of rice, protein, and vegetables works. Here, Chinese roast pork—which you can prepare a day or so in advance—is the main ingredient.

One tip: Always start with cold rice. Otherwise the dish could be soggy.

Serve with hot sauce, curry and different types of greens or coriander.


1-1 1/4 pounds of pork

2 tablespoons fermented red beans, optional

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

3 or 4 large cloves of minced garlic

For rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2 beaten eggs

2 green onions, finely chopped

5 cups cold cooked rice

1/2 cup of chopped carrots and peas

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Kosher salt, as needed

Crispy hot pepper, optional

Prepare the pork: Remove any large pieces of membrane from the pork tenderloin. Cut in half lengthwise and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the bean curd, soy sauce, honey, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and garlic. Place the pork chops in a large ziplock bag and crush them to make sure all the meat is covered. Leave it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover the baking sheet with foil. Place a heatproof rack on the baking sheet and place the marinated pork on top.

Roast pork in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork registers 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing. (You’ll only need about a third of the pork for the fried rice.)

When ready to prepare the rice, cut the pork into bite-sized pieces.

Fluff the rice by breaking up any large pieces with your fingers or fork. This will make it easier to fry.

Heat a frying pan or large frying pan over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add a tablespoon of oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the eggs, which will quickly pool at the bottom. Reduce heat to medium. Let the eggs cook for a few more seconds and then start whisking them.

When the eggs are soft but not hard, turn off the heat, then transfer the eggs to a bowl and set aside. Rinse the pan or skillet and dry it with a towel.

Return the pan or skillet to the stove over high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, then immediately add the onions and sauté for 5 seconds, or until tender. Add the rice, carrots, peas, and minced pork, then reduce the heat to medium. Using a spoon, scoop and stir the rice to combine with the vegetables.

Break up any remaining large pieces of rice. Add soy sauce. Stir and scoop the rice effectively to help it heat up and prevent burning. If necessary, add salt to taste.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— “Chinese Soul Food” by Hsiao Ching-chu (Sasquatch Books, $24.95)


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: