Back to School Easy-to-Cook Recipes

Back to School Easy-to-Cook Recipes

By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N.

Where on earth did the summer go? I know parents are asking themselves this same question as they prepare to get the kids back in school after a busy, activity-filled summer. Shopping for school clothes, school supplies and all the things that will make the school year go more smoothly take time and energy. I”ve gathered some easy-to-prepare recipes so you don”t have to feel you”re neglecting the nutrient needs of your family while on the go. The Pear and Apple Crisp recipe takes a little time to prepare, but it”s a crowd pleaser, especially when frozen yogurt is added while it”s still warm.

10-Minute Italian Chicken Stir-Fry*

To save time, this recipe uses pre-sliced mushrooms, a jar of minced garlic and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables that includes zucchini and peppers. If you prefer to use fresh veggies, substitute one large zucchini (diced) and 1 large red pepper (cored and diced).

Per Serving: 316 calories, 27 grams protein, 7 grams of fat, 27 grams of CHO, 6 grams of fiber, 244 mg sodium.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cook Time: 10 minutes . Serves: 4.


  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in 3/4 – inch pieces
  • 1 16-oz. bag frozen mixed vegetables with peppers and zucchini
  • 1 Tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup pre-sliced, fresh mushrooms
  • 1 Tsp. basil
  • 1 Tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked instant brown rice


Place large skillet over high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat pan and heat oil until very hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until it loses pink color. With slotted spoon, remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add vegetables and garlic to pan. Stir-fry until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Stir-fry another 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add basil, oregano and chicken broth. Stir-fry until chicken is opaque throughout, about 4 minutes. Add cheese and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately over brown rice, including juices from pan.

Shopping List

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Skinless, boneless chicken breast
  • Frozen mixed vegetables with peppers and zucchini
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Instant brown rice

Sweet Potato Chili with Peanuts*

Per Serving: 369 calories, 11 grams protein, 15 grams of fat, 52 grams of CHO, 8 grams of fiber, 409 mg sodium.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cook Time: 35 minutes. Makes : 10 1-cup servings.


  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 peeled carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2-4 (or more or none, as desired) peeled garlic cloves
  • 4 cups peeled sweet potatoes, cut in bite-size chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 cans (4 ounces each) chopped green chiles, with liquid
  • 2-4 Tbsp. chili powder, or according to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin, or more if desired
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 5 cups cooked brown rice (optional)


Place oil in a large, heavy pot over medium. Add the onions, carrots and bell peppers and sauté lightly for about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until it turns golden. Add the sweet potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, chili powder, cumin and sugar. Reduce the heat immediately and simmer gently, stirring occasionally for 15 to 25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are just tender. (Use a fork to test it.) Halfway through the cooking process, adjust seasonings, adding chili powder and cumin, as desired. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve this chili alone or over cooked brown rice. Try it with some reduced-fat sour cream, onions or reduced-fat cheddar cheese sprinkled on top. This recipe can be frozen for later use, or you can feed your whole team at once.

Shopping List

  • Canola oil
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Green bell pepper
  • Red bell pepper
  • Garlic
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Unsalted, roasted peanuts
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Green chiles
  • Chili powder
  • Ground cumin
  • Brown rice (optional)

Cheesy Black Bean Burgers**

Per Serving: 310 calories, 28 grams protein, 8 grams of fat, 32 grams of CHO, 7 grams of fiber, 510 mg sodium.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cook Time: 10 minutes . Serves: 8.


  • One 15 1/2-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • pound lean ground beef (90% or higher)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup preshredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 Tsp. garlic powder
  • 8 hamburger buns (whole-wheat buns optional)


Preheat grill to medium. Place black beans in a large bowl and mash with the back of a large spoon until smooth but still a bit chunky. Add the beef, egg, cheese, breadcrumbs and garlic powder and mix until well combined. Divide the beef mixture and shape into 8 patties. Place the patties on the grill and cook until no longer pink inside and an instant read thermometer registers at least 160 degrees F, about 4 minutes per side. Serve on hamburger buns and with your favorite toppings and condiments.

Note: For burgers with an extra bite, add blue cheese or 1/2 tsp chili powder to the meat. You can also cook burgers in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes per side.

Shopping List

  • Black beans
  • Ground beef
  • Egg
  • Pre-shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • Seasoned bread crumbs
  • Garlic powder
  • Hamburger buns (whole wheat buns optional)

Apple and Pear Crisp**

Per Serving: 270 calories, 5 grams protein, 10 grams of fat, 46 grams of CHO, 6 grams of fiber, 15 mg sodium.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes. Cook Time: 40 minutes. Serves : 8 – 10.


  • 3-4 large firm, ripe pears, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3-4 large firm, tart apples, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
  • 2 Tbsp. bottled or fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 Tsp. ground cinnamon


  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 Tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine pears, apples, lemon juice, raisins, granulated sugar, whole-wheat flour and cinnamon in a large bowl and stir gently. Transfer the fruit mixture to a 7 X 11 inch baking pan and set aside. To make the topping, combine the oats, walnuts, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, egg and oil in a medium bowl and mix well. Spread evenly over the fruit mixture. Bake for 40 minutes or until the fruit bubbles and the top turns golden brown.

Note: For a special treat, serve a la mode with low-fat frozen yogurt.

Shopping List

  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Lemon juice
  • Raisins
  • Granulated sugar
  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Quick-cooking oats
  • Walnuts, finely chopped
  • Brown sugar
  • Wheat germ
  • Egg
  • Canola oil

*From the American Institute for Cancer Research with permission.

**From The Mom”s Guide to Meal Makeovers . By Janice Newell Bissex, M.S., R.D., Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D. ISBN 0-7679-1423-6. $15.95., with permission.

Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a nutritionist with a master”s degree in clinical nutrition. She is a registered dietitian and has over 30 years of experience in promoting healthy active lifestyles to consumers. Barbara is publisher and nutrition editor of KHF and is a runner, cyclist and hiker.

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