I hate to type these words but summer is almost over.  That means back to school.  By this time I find myself getting excited about a new year and although I love the relaxed feeling of summer, I also look forward to routine.  There are however a few things that can be harder and at my house the biggest is…planning back to school dinners.  Life is always a little more hectic during the school year.  We still have two kids at home {and two in college…how did that happen??} who have evening practices and activities.  A lot of nights they can stretch into dinner time and if we aren’t prepared that means ordering out or eating Captain Crunch.  Neither bad ideas but after a couple of days I find myself wanting to GET IT TOGETHER.

back to school meal planning | pantry items to always have on hand | freezer ingredients | back to school dinners | meal planning | simple meal planning

Meal planning really is a life saver.  I wrote a post with all of my tips here.  Planning around your weekly schedule, so that you aren’t trying to make fried chicken after a 7p.m. football meeting can make life so much simpler.  I also have a really cool meal planner/grocery list printable that is awesome.  Write your weekly meal plan and grocery list on the same sheet of paper.  Bonus-it is super cute!!

There will always however, be those nights where things just don’t go as planned.  Soccer practice turns into a 2 hour scrimmage, the 30 minute meeting is now over an hour and it is dinner time.  During those nights you want to have a stocked pantry/freezer and an arsenal of quick recipes, so that dinner goes from a panic to perfect {or as close to it as you can get}!

Hamburger-

We all know that burger is not only versatile but inexpensive.  Having it on hand in a pinch is a great time saver.  A great tip is to have it cooked and frozen.  Buy a few 3 pound packages of hamburger, cook them up, drain the fat and freeze it in 1-2 pound packages.  Then you don’t even have to worry about defrosting it, you can pull a package out last minute.  Here are a couple of recipes that you can make with burger on hand.

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole is a family favorite.  If you don’t have time to bake a casserole, just make the sloppy joe mixture and serve it on a hamburger bun.  Then the meal will only take about 15 minutes.

Shepard’s Pie Skillet makes me so happy.  What can I say, I am a meat and potatoes girl!  It is a great way to use up some leftover mashed potatoes.

Tamale Pie is great because you can get it prepped and in the oven quickly.  Serve with a quick salad and dinner is done.

Marinara Sauce-

Sometimes I make my own marinara sauce and freeze it but I also believe that there are some really great jarred varieties in the pasta aisle.  I love to add fresh basil or other herbs for an added fresh element.  I use it for pizza sauce, as an ingredient in my Tortellini Soup {I will share soon} and it is also fabulous in the following recipes.

Meatball and Mozzarella Skillet-If you don’t have time to make homemade meatballs, you can always purchase a bag of the Italian Style meatballs from the freezer section of grocery store and this dish would be ready in the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta.

Italian Sausage & Ricotta Pizza Ring is a fun and simple way to jazz up the average pizza.  We eat homemade pizza almost every Friday night during the school year.  Ricotta cheese is a fun addition for both taste and texture.

Chicken Parm Ravioli Bake comes together in 30 minutes.  Frozen ravioli only takes 4 minutes to boil in comparison to 8-10 minutes for regular pasta.  Chopped chicken nuggets or strips are already breaded so you get to skip the step.  This recipe truly is a short cut dinner!

Puff Pastry-

The freezer section is a great place to stock up on quick items.  I love having puff pastry in my freezer.  If I know I am going to use it ahead of time then I will take it out and let it thaw in the fridge but if you are in a pinch then just let it sit out at room temperature for 20 minutes.  The possibilities for both savory and sweet dishes are endless.

Chicken Pot Pie with Puff Pastry Topper is so quick.  Traditional Pot Pie can take so much time to make but this recipe comes together in less than 30 minutes.  Bake the puff pastry at the same time you are making the filling and dinner is served.

Apple Cream Cheese Braid is not exactly for dinner but you can use the same technique with a savory filling.  I love to braid puff pastry around a chicken, bacon and ranch mixture…it is fabulous!

Mini Croissants {or large}-

For some reason sliders make dinner more fun.  I am not saying there is anything wrong with a regular sized sandwich but these mini croissants are not only buttery delicious but they are also super cute.  I buy them from the bakery area of the grocery store and freeze them in packages of 12 that I have double bagged.  Then I have them on hand when I want them and they only take about 20 minutes to thaw if they are in a single layer.

Turkey Croissant Sliders with Cranberry Cream Cheese Spread are a knock off sandwich of one that I served at the deli I owned.  I know that most people only think of cranberry sauce over the holidays but it was my best selling sandwich all year long.  I love to buy the carving board lunch meat so that it is more like turkey leftovers.

Club Sandwich Croissant Sliders were created for the Super Bowl but we have had them for dinner a dozen of times since then.  Everyone loves bacon, so they are always a huge hit.

Enchilada Sauce-

Enchilada Sauce is so flavorful and also inexpensive.  Most of the time I make my own Enchilada Sauce because it is so easy to do but I always have a couple of cans in the pantry too.

Chicken Enchilada Soup is ready in 20 minutes which is just as quick as ordering a pizza.  I love to use leftover chicken or even the frozen grilled chicken from the freezer section of the grocery store.

Chicken Enchilada Bowls are made in the crock pot which isn’t exactly last minute but the crock pot is such a fabulous way to prep dinner.  I love to use it all year long.  In the summer I like it because it keeps my house cool and during the school year it allows me to get dinner on the table no matter what we might have going on.  It is also nice when people are coming in at different times.

Ramen Packet-

Most of my adult life I have associated Ramen with college because when you are on a budget…it is what you make.  Now there are entire restaurants and all they serve is Ramen.  The great thing about it is that you can use the flavor packet and it cooks quickly.

Beef Ramen Skillet will make you look at Ramen in a different way.  The sauteed vegetables and beef strips, along with the delicious sauce is a perfect meal.

Pork Roasts-

Pork roasts are versatile and are almost always on sale.  Both of the following recipes use crock pots and my biggest tip is to make extra and freeze it.  Having frozen, cooked pork roast on hand can make dinner come together in a snap.

One of the two most requested recipes on my site is this Korean Pork Street Taco and for good reason.  The combination of flavors is out of bounds!!  When I ask Tater what he wants me to make when he is home from college…this is what he asks for.

This Crock Pot Pulled Pork is a new recipe to the blog but is already popular.  On the first night I almost always serve sandwiches but the leftovers have such awesome possibilities and it freezes perfectly.

Having these 7 items in your pantry/freezer and the above recipes on hand will make your dinner time routine seem more manageable.  Lets get to planning and bring on the school year!!