Maureen's Classroom - Back to School Edition


Back to School Tips

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn...”

- Natalie Babbit, Tuck Everlasting

We all know that feeling too well. The desperation to hang onto those bittersweet summer days, not necessarily for the sake of summer itself, but more to stave off what follows: back to school. Because let’s face it, back to school can be an incredibly stressful and hectic time of year. Between shopping for school supplies, managing everyone’s back to school emotions, ensuring everyone gets up and out of the house on time, open houses, after school and weekend sports, your own career and personal life and the desire to feed you and your family healthy meals, suddenly September has become an insurmountable obstacle that deep down you know you will get through, but at what cost?

In years past, that cost was always food. As soon as I felt those first twinges of back to school anxiety I would start cutting corners with meals. At first it would just be relying a little more on “healthy frozen foods”, but before I knew it I would have completely gone off the rails and would be eating out or picking up food most nights. I can vividly remember starting my dishwasher at times and it being filled with only coffee cups and wine glasses. I am here to tell you that this does not have to be you, there is a very simple practice and easy way to avoid the September “scaries”. The secret to a sane, healthy September is meal prepping. I know I know, I can hear your groans from here and I know what you are thinking, “you have enough to do already, you don’t have time for meal prep”, but bear with me because if you can “work smarter, not harder”, than more than likely you do have time to set yourself up for a week of healthy meals.

Think Like a Woodworker

So many of us have this misconception that proper meal prepping involves setting aside your entire Sunday to slice, dice, boil, roast and grill every meal that you will consume throughout the week. Very few of us have time to be in the kitchen long enough to make dinner, let along pre-make five weeknight dinners. The key instead actually comes from a concept originating in wood working know as Dovetailing:

the act of fitting or causing together to fit easily and conveniently.

When transferred to the kitchen, dovetailing allows home chefs to prepare ingredients in bulk that can be used in more than one dish. Take for instance, one of my favorite staple ingredients: sweet potatoes. Just the other day, as I made breakfast for the boys;

I roasted a small bag of sweet potatoes. Once cooled and peeled I was able to gently mash them and store them in an airtight container. Over the course of the weekend I used them to prepare:

The concept is incredibly simple, yet more often than not, we are so over extended we can only think about the one meal that is staring us in the face. If we take just a few minutes to look down the road a bit and consider how we can maximize the ingredients in front of us, than we might just be able to buy ourselves some extra time. I guarantee you that once you start thinking like a wood worker, you will realize not only how much time has been wasted in the kitchen, preparing each meal in isolation , but that meal prep is not only possible, but essential to helping you overcome everything else that September brings. Virginia Woolf once said “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if no one has dined well”.

To begin thinking about how you can rethink your own meal prepping, check out some of my favorite , simple, “dovetailing” recipes below.

Sweet Potato Tortillas

These are one of our all time favorite recipes. The tortillas are so versatile and come together quickly. Just make the sweet potatoes ahead of time (ideally when you are already using the oven for something else), then store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the tortillas. Once prepared you can use these tortillas for:

~ sandwiches

~ breakfast wraps

~ tacos

~ warmed with a little ghee and cinnamon

Sheet Pan Veggies

With a recipe as simple as this, there is no excuse to not include veggies in every meal. This particular recipe features brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and cauliflower, but you could honestly use any vegetables you would like. Douse them in olive oil, sprinkle them with your favorite seasonings and in 30-40 minutes you not only have a great side dish but you can also use these vegetables as:

~ a filling for an omelette

~ veggie quesadillas using the sweet potato tortillas above

~ a salad with green sprinkled with some crumbled goat cheese on top and dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar.

~ an addition to a veggie “rice” or millet bowl.

The possibilities are endless, and for that reason this recipe is a staple in our house.

Rotisserie Chicken

45 minutes is all it takes and you have at least a week’s worth of pulled chicken. You can prepare the chicken un-seasoned and then add sauces or spices depending on how you plan to use the chicken. This chicken is perfect for:

~ a great protein in the boy’s lunches

~ topping off a lemon arugula salad.

~ a yummy chicken salad (just add a little onion, celery and mayo) and serve it in the sweet potato tortilla’s mentioned above.

~ pizza toppings! Check out how I used it to make the Buffalo chicken pizza.

Egg Muffins

I’ll admit I do spend a little time on Sundays chopping fresh veggies to include in the boy’s lunches. However, when doing so, I love to chop a little extra and then make delicious egg muffins. All it takes is scrambling 8 eggs with a little milk or water, then adding in the veggies you were already chopping. Grease a muffin pan, pour in the egg and veggie mix and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. These are the perfect “grab and go” breakfast for hectic mornings

Dovetailing certainly takes a little pre-planning, so be sure to set aside some down time to think ahead about the meals you would like to prepare for the week. Grab a hot cup of coffee, or better a yet a nice glass of red wine, find a quiet space to cozy up in and make a quick menu for the week. I think you’ll find the more you engage in this practice, the easier it will become, and dinner time will be one thing off your already overflowing plate.