These kitchen hacks make for easy weeknight dinners

Summer is over and it’s back to business as usual. August was all about back yard parties and lounging by the pool, but now September is all about bus stops, permission slips, football practice, oh, and trying to have your own life too, right?

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There’s so much going on that sometime’s it’s hard to think about tonight’s dinner, let alone packing tomorrow’s lunch. And forget about making time to eat healthy, that’s gotta take a back seat. But here’s the thing: fast, easy dinners can be stress-free, and you can plan for tomorrow’s lunch too with just a few of these easy kitchen hacks.

Earlier this week I was craving Thai noodles in a peanut sauce, but that was just one meal, and I needed to plan ahead for the rest of my busy week. So instead of grabbing just one chicken breast, I grabbed the whole bird. I used only a small portion of the chicken to pair with my noodles, carrots, cabbage and sauce, then had plenty left over for the rest of the week.

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What to do with that extra chicken? My favorite treat is chicken salad. It's super easy to prep and makes for a satisfying meal to send off to school with your kids. Here's a tip - shred the chicken with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer. To make the chicken salad, add a touch of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, mayo, celery, parsley and grapes. Throw it on a brioche bun or a tortilla and you've got yourself a high protein, super delicious lunch.

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Still have more chicken to go around? Set the chicken on top of quartered, whole wheat pita bread, add tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives, and some olive oil, set it under the broiler until the cheese is melty and everything is warmed through and you’ve got a healthy, easy, Wednesday night dinner in less than 15 minutes.

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2.) Bulk up

You know your go-to recipe that you and your kids love? Why make it for just one meal? Double up the recipe, freeze it and save it for later. Or portion it out individually and serve your kids their own little TV dinners for the rest of the week. I like to do this when I make chicken enchiladas. I found the best recipe (also a time when I've used the whole bird) that everyone in my family loves. Instead of cooking for two, I make it for 4. The enchiladas are prepped and assembled, and stored in the freezer for months at a time. Simply get some masking tape and write down the baking directions, and place it on the container so you don't have to dust off your recipe when you're finally ready to make it again the next time around.

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Another great way to cook in bulk is to make something simple, and use it in a few ways. What kid (and adult) doesn’t love meatballs? Buy ground beef in bulk, make your meatballs, and use them in many ways throughout the week. Spaghetti Monday, Italian Wedding soup on Tuesday, a Gyro on Wednesday, Bahn Mi sandwich Thursday, and put it all on a pizza crust for Friday. With so many different flavor profiles your family is sure to look forward to dinner each night and never complain “We’re having meatballs….again!!!”

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3.) Never underestimate the power of toast

I love me some carbs, and my absolute favorite food is toast. A nice crusty bread and some good butter...mmmmm, there is nothing better. But toast doesn’t have to be all about breakfast. You can make some yummy toasty snacks and turn them into a simple dinner to satisfy everyone around the table. You can seriously up your dinner game by plopping just about anything onto a good piece of bread. Tomatoes are still holding out for the season, so heat up a crusty loaf, spread some ricotta cheese across it, a drizzle of olive oil, a gorgeous slice of heirloom tomato, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of basil and you’ve got a delicious vegetarian dish. Still have some of those meatballs on hand? Place a few on top for an extra bit of protein.

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You can seriously put anything on toast and have a craveable, healthy, and satisfying dinner. Sautée kale and mushrooms, throw on some sundried tomatoes and some of that pulled chicken, pile the bread high and dig in with a fork and a knife, or your own two hands. The options are limitless with your favorite veggies and proteins in mind, and minimal cooking is required. We’ve all fallen guilty of buying too many veggies, then they go bad in your crisper drawer, but turning them into bruschetta solves that problem. If that zucchini or carrots are about to go bad, roast them in the oven quickly and use them on your bruschetta. Then, before your kid walks about the door that morning, simply throw on another piece of bread and they’ve got a healthy, satisfying sandwich for lunch and you are officially super mom.

Dinner time can be stressful, and getting food ready in the morning can really set you back, but planning ahead, using what you’ve got, and exercising a little creativity can make a world of difference. You can go into dinner time with confidence this school year!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tess is a restaurant professional, home-baker and downtown Dayton dweller. When she's not mixing drinks for restaurant patrons, she's drinking champagne, buying shoes, or writing her blog, Ciao Vella. You can read about her home recipes, party planning tips, and more at

About the Author