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Back-to-School Dinners: It's in the Bag

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Susannah Locketti: As the summer winds down, I start switching gears with dinner. Gone are the easy, breezy days of summer where you have a little extra time to whip up meals. Once school starts, we will have to balance work, school, activities, lessons, and all those other unexpected obligations that come up with kids.

stir fry dinner and ziploc freezer bags
Before back-to-school catches you unaware, try a new trick for meal planning that will save you time and money: this year, master mealtime with meal bags. Large seal-and-lock bags serve as an easy start to supper, and will make your life so much easier and stress-free. Here are a few tips to make it happen:

Boil Up Whole Grains Twice a Week
Two days a week, I boil up whole grains, such as pasta, rice, or orzo to serve as the base of the meal. Precooking grains does not compromise the flavor or texture at all. I usually boil up pasta on Sunday and brown rice midweek. Store the grains in the Ziploc baggie, with a touch of olive oil to prevent sticking. How many times do we tell our kids "Dinner will be ready as soon as the pasta is done"? This way, pasta is always cooked and ready to go, which means avoiding that annoying after-work rush that comes with dinner.

Stretch the Grains with Veggies
In the last few minutes of boiling your whole grains, add fresh or frozen veggies to the pot. Whenever I cook up penne, I throw in broccoli crowns. After you strain and cool, add the mixture to a storage baggie and you have the beginnings of a quick chicken, broccoli, and penne dinner. Slightly undercook the veggies to maximize nutrients. When boiling brown rice, throw in a frozen bag of stir-fry veggies. Now a shrimp or tofu stir-fry is minutes away midweek.

Pre-Cook Protein
Two days a week, cook up some chicken, shrimp, beef, or tofu. Slice or cube and bag it for quick protein choices throughout the week. Simply season with salt and pepper so you can keep the possibilities endless as far as sauces or seasonings go. Once or twice a week, add canned beans to save even more time and money. Not to mention, the beans require no cooking whatsoever and are loaded with protein and fiber to fill your family up!

Get Saucy
Stock up on several bottled or canned sauces to pull the meal bags together. Orange sesame stir-fry sauce would taste great with a shrimp stir-fry combo, salsa is great with a black bean and veggie rice combo, and Thai peanut sauce is terrific with just about everything. If your family has simpler tastes, simply add olive oil, chopped garlic, and fresh herbs to the bagged combinations for a simple and healthy twist on dinner.



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