Back to school, back to easy, nutritious meals

Busy schedules put a premium on dinners that can be prepared quickly and are good for you

   With the start of school, families are finding their time stretched yet again. Those carefree days of summer when dinner could be delayed if needed are gone. In their place are hours of schoolwork, sports and extracurricular activities. And, of course, playdates and day care.
    With time at a premium, quick, nutritious meals are needed. Some people opt to make meals on weekends, heating them up or finishing them on weekdays. Some people shop each day, creating quick meals that include a protein, starch and vegetables.
    Or you can try working ahead, planning your meals and shopping for ingredients on weekends and then creating quick and tasty dinners each night.
    If you will be using the same ingredient in several meals, try cooking it in batches. For example, if you will be using rice in several meals, make it ahead of time and steam to reheat. If you’re using zucchini noodles, make a big batch and parcel them out as needed. Cut a couple heads of broccoli up, then store in batches in the fridge.
    Opt for sheet pan meals, where all the ingredients are cooked in one pan in the oven — quick and easy, and there’s less to clean up.
    Whatever option you decide to use, relax. If things don’t go your way, you can always decide to make breakfast for dinner or hot sandwiches. After all, the best laid plans don’t always work out.
    Following are recipes for quick, easy meals from


Zucchini Noodle Spaghetti Bolognese

1 poundground beef
4 large zucchini
10 beefstake tomatoes or 12- to 13 roma tomatoes
1/2 onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon olive oi
1/2 tablespoon dried oregan
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated, optional
Basil leaves for garnish

    Slice tomatoes in half, remove the core and quarter. Place in a food processor and pulse a few times, until finely diced and almost pureed.
    Heat olive oil in a pot on medium heat and saute the onions two to three minutes, until slightly translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional minute
    Add tomatoes and oregano to the pot, then stir and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until sauce has thickened and much of the liquid has evaporated
    While the sauce is cooking, spiralize zucchini with either a spiralizer or julienne peeler and set aside.
   Place ground beef in a saute pan and cook on medium-high heat until browned and cooked through. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break the meat into small pieces as it cooks.
    After sauce has reduced, stir in the tomato paste, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Cook another two to three minutes, then add to the cooked ground beef and stir to combine
    Place a serving of zucchini noodles ona plate and top with bolognese sauce and grated parmigiano reggiano. Garnish with additional basil.
    Makes six servings.

Coconut Curry Chicke

1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons curry powder, or more if desired
1 teaspoon ginger powder
13.5 ounces full-fat coconut milk
1 lime, juiced
4 cups cooked white rice or cauliflower rice
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

    Heat oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic cloves and cook three to four minutes. Add cubed chicken and sprinkle the spices on top. Cook five to seven minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, stirring frequently.
    Add coconut milk and lime juice and simmer five minutes.
    Serve with rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.


Carnitas Tacos

For carnitas:
4 pounds skinless, boneless pork shoulder or butt
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 orange, juiced
1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For tacos:
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
6 tortillas
Limes, for garnish

    Place oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder in a small bowl, then mix thoroughly.
    Rub the spice mixture generously around the entire pork shoulder and place in a slow cooker. Top with pork with the onion, minced garlic, jalapeno and orange juice. Cover and cook on the low setting for eight to 10 hours or high heat for five to six hours. The meat should be tender and nearly falling apart.
    Remove pork from the slow cooker to a large cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. Don’t discard the liquid.
    Place shredded pork on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour one cup of the reserved slow cooker liquid over the pork and broil five to 10 minutes on high heat until the meat is golden brown and crispy on the edges.
    Serve immediately with tortillas, freshly diced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
    You’ll likely have have leftover carnitas. You can make more tacos or use meat in burritos or on salads. You can also store it in the fridge and then reheat to enjoy later.


Zucchini Noodle Caprese Salad

4 medium zucchini
8 ounces cherry tomatoes
8 ounces small balls of buffalo mozzarella, in water
For basil pesto:
2 tablespoons raw pine nuts, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
For garnish:
Toasted pine nuts
Fresh basil leaves

    To make pesto, toast pine nuts in a skillet on medium-low heat for five minutes, tossing gently. Place nuts in food processor.
    Toast cashews in the same skillet for 10 minutes, tossing gently. Then transfer to food processor along with basil leaves, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until mixed. Turn food processor on while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Process until smooth and creamy, then set aside.
    Cut ends off each zucchini and use a spiralizer to create zucchini noodles. Place in a large bowl. Cut tomatoes in half and place into the bowl. Cut mozzarella balls in half and place in the same bowl. Add pest, mix until well combined and serve immediately.


Crispy Baked Chicken Thighs

8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

    Remove chicken thighs from refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. Mix all the herbs and spices in a small bowl.
    Place chicken in a large mixing bowl. Add oil and two-thirds of spice mixture. Use your hands to coat all sides of the chicken and under the skin.
    Place chicken on a rack on top of a baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining spice mix on top of the chicken
    Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. You can turn on the top broiler for two to three minutes to make the top extra crispy.
    Let chicken rest five minutes before serving.


Dijon Baked Salmon

1-1/2 pounds salmon
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon avocado oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

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Place salmon on a parchment lined baking sheet and generously coat the top with the herbed mustard mix.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes, then slice into individual portions and serve immediately.
Makes four to five servings.


Teriyaki Chicken

For chicken stir fry:
1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
For teriyaki sauce:
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, or coconut aminos
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons honey
For garnish:
Sesame seeds
Sliced green onions
For serving:
Steamed broccoli
Cooked rice
 In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sake, miron and honey until well combined. Set aside.
    Heat oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook one to two minutes on one side, until nice and golden. Season with salt and pepper.
    Stir fry the chicken, flip it over and cook the other side for one to two minutes. You don’t want it cooked through at this stage, just seared on the outside.
    Give the sauce a quick whisk and add it to the pan along with the minced ginger and garlic. Stir and let simmer four to five minutes, until the sauce is reduced and thickened.
    Serve on top of a fresh bed of rice and a side of steamed broccoli. Garnish with diced green onions and sesame seeds.
    Makes four servings.


Creamy Chipotle Shrimp

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound shrimp
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, sliced with green and white parts separated
1/2 cup milk, dairy or non-dairy
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Sliced jalapeno, for garnish
For chipotle sauce:
1/4 cup mayo
1 cup sour cream
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

    To make chipotle sauce, place mayonnaise, sour cream, chipotle peppers, lime juice, garlic and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Add more lime juice or salt, if desired. Set aside.
    Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add shrimp and saute three to four minutes, until shrimp are cooked through and opaque. Remove them to a bowl.
    In the same pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the bell pepper. Saute four to five minutes, then add garlic, white parts of the green onion, salt and pepper. Stir two minutes. Pour in chipotle sauce and milk and stir to combine. Place the shrimp in the pan until warmed through.
    Garnish with the green parts of the green onion,  chopped cilantro and sliced jalapeno pepper.
    Makes four servings.



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