Fast and easy food for busy nights

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Yikes!!! School starts tomorrow? What happened to summer? What happened to lazy cookouts and simple meals like a tomato sandwich and an ear of corn?

Well, now you’ve got to get organized and get dinner on the table fast. Practices are starting, extracurricular activities, clubs, tutoring, sports.

While we’re all in favor of fresh ingredients all the time, you will just have to take some shortcuts to get through the months of busy days.

Most chefs are trained to produce meals that contain a protein, vegetables and some sort of carbohydrate. So, technically, a burger and fries is a complete meal. But, who needs all that fat and salt? Not the kids, and certainly not Mom or Dad. Choose your shortcuts wisely.

Sneak vegetables into sauces or tuck them in things like tacos or enchiladas, maybe a meatloaf or a sheet pan supper where everything is mixed together.

This is a recipe kids should like, with plenty of familiar ingredients. It comes from Alexe Lawrence, a mom and blogger at Keys to the Cucina. She calls it a Miracle Meal. These tacos are going Asian, with soy sauce, ginger and lime. If you prep the coleslaw the night before, it requires just about 10 minutes of cooking.

The kitchn These chicken tacos use Asian flavors for a quick weeknight meal.

Chicken Tacos with Broccoli Slaw

1 (12 oz.) bag broccoli slaw or any mix you like

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

For the chicken

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 pound ground chicken

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

3 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

For serving

8 soft tortillas

Fresh cilantro

Sriracha (optional)

Make the slaw by whisking together the soy sauce, lime juice, garlic and ginger in a large bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, then the sesame oil. Add the slaw and toss to coat. Refrigerate while cooking chicken.

Heat the rest of the sesame oil in a medium frying pan over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Season with garlic powder, ginger and cayenne. Cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drizzle on the soy sauce and toss to combine.

Warm the tortillas, then spoon the cooked chicken into them and top with slaw. Garnish with cilantro and hot sauce, if desired.

If you don’t want  this in taco form, cook some rice while assembling the other ingredients and serve over that.

A tasty side dish could be a bean salad. Or you could do a simple fruit salad with watermelon, cantaloupe and blueberries, drizzled with a little plain yogurt mixed with a teaspoon of honey.

Black Bean Salad

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup corn (1 large ear)

1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes

1 cup chopped red or orange bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion or green onions

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 1/2 limes

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1 large avocado, cut in chunks

In a large bowl, combine black beans, corn, tomatoes, red or green onion, red pepper, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt, chili powder and cumin. Stir to combine. Stir in the avocados gently and serve. This salad can be made in advance, except for the avocados.

This next recipe has a couple of steps, but there are also things the kids can help with. They can mix the drench in the plastic bag. Once the chicken is in the bag, the kids can moosh it around to coat it completely, and after you transfer the chicken pieces to the bag of bread crumbs, they can toss to coat.

Baked Chicken Tenders

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 pounds chicken tenders or cut up chicken breasts

Cooking spray

Mayo Ketchup Dip

1/4 cup ketchup

3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

Creamy Honey Mustard Dip

1/4 cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

Yogurt Ranch Dip

1/4 plain Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp. ranch dressing powder

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Spread the panko crumbs in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool on the baking sheet while you prepare the chicken.

Place the mayonnaise, flour and egg in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Seal the bag and massage until the ingredients become a mostly homogenous mixture.

Season the chicken with 1/2 tsp. salt. Transfer the chicken to the bag with the mayonnaise mixture, seal the bag and massage to coat each strip with the mixture.

Transfer the panko to another gallon-sized zip top bag. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the panko bag. Seal and shake until the chicken is evenly coated.

Use tongs to transfer the chicken to the baking sheet you toasted the bread crumbs on. Spray the strips with cooking spray. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 15-20 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, mix the dips and serve with the cooked chicken. Sprinkle the cooked chicken with salt, if desired.

If you want more seasoning, such as black pepper or smoked or sweet paprika, add it to the first mayonnaise mixture. If you like things spicy, drizzle with sriracha once cooked.

Serve the tenders with cut up carrots, celery, broccoli, cucumber, what have you. Since you already have the dips, the veggies can go in that, too.

The kitchn

And here is an easy snack or dessert that won’t fill the kids up with a lot of sugar or fat.

Taste of Home Yogurt and berries make a cold treat that’s low in fat and calories, but tasty.

Yogurt Berry Pops

10 paper cups (3 oz.)

1 3/4 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt

1 cup mixed fresh berries

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsp. sugar

10 wooden popsicle sticks

Fill each cup with about 1/4 cup yogurt. Place berries, water and sugar in a food processor or blender and process until berries are finely chopped. Spoon 1 1/2 Tbsp. berry mixture into each cup. Stir gently with the popsicle stick to swirl.

Top pops with aluminum foil. Insert popsicle sticks through the foil. Freeze until firm. These little treats have just 60 calories.

Variation. Substitute 1 cup seeded clementine or mandarin orange segments and 1/4 cup orange juice for berries, water and sugar and process as directed.

Taste of Home