9 shortened back-to-school meal ideas

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It’s that time of year again – when many of us send our kids back to school and recover from summer work hours. This time it’s all about re-establishing and readjusting routines, which means meal planning is key.

But planning affordable, balanced meals can be stressful. Whether you’re doing your best in the kitchen of a shared dormitory, cooking your kid’s school lunch, or just trying to find a cheaper alternative than ordering every night after work when you’re just too much tired of cooking, it’s usually just easier to fall back on what you know.

And there’s nothing wrong with relying on effortless takeout like instant ramen, mac and cheese, or even cereal and milk. We’ve all been there.

But there are plenty of recipes out there that prove that a little bit of effort goes a long way. For example, Hawaii’s beloved power bar, Musubi Spam, is not to be underestimated. Inexpensive cuts of meat and reserved vegetable scraps can create gallons of versatile bone broth in a trusty slow cooker or instant pot. A pot of tomato sauce and eggs can be made into something shakshuka-like.

These recipes take your time into account – minimizing ingredients, steps, cooking equipment and cleanup, while maximizing flavor. Best of all, many of them are great for on the go. They will show you that planning and preparing meals doesn’t have to be so intimate – in fact, it can be very rewarding.

Courtesy of Caroline Choé

Whether you like granola as a morning cereal, in your yogurt, or even just in handfuls, these toasted and sugary snacks are a household staple. Since many schools have a nut-free policy to account for allergies, this recipe overrides all nuts, replacing black sesame seeds and coconut. Alternatively, you can use it as a delicious basic recipe and bake in your favorite dried fruits, nuts, seeds, or chocolate.

Miso soup with mushrooms

Courtesy of Caroline Choé

This soup takes less time to prepare than your morning oatmeal, and it has many health benefits. Whether served with tamagoyaki or a piece of grilled salmon and pickled vegetables, this soup pairs well with any meal of the day. This is one of my favorite variations of miso soup, but you can definitely customize it however you like.

Powerful mini grilled cheese

Courtesy of Caroline Choé

Never underestimate the power of a simple grilled cheese! The takeaway from this recipe is that a little bit of everything goes a long way. This version is fueled by healthy Swiss bread, all the bagel seasoning, and a touch of sweet fig jam. Since Swiss Healthy Bread is a dense, multigrain bread, it makes a small sandwich, but packs a good amount of energy for a busy day.

Jjapaguri (Ram-Don)

Courtesy of Caroline Choé

This dish recently hit new heights of popularity after people saw it in the movie “Parasite”, but it’s been around longer than that, and I hope it quickly becomes a comfort food in your kitchen. Instant noodles are one thing, but “ram-don” (as it’s also called) is a stir-fried noodle dish that combines the two brands of instant noodles, Chapagetti and Neoguri, which you’ll crave all the time.

Kimchi bubble and squeak

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

Bubble and squeak really is the answer to many questions about leftover vegetables cooked from the night before (especially those from a Sunday roast). The British favorite traditionally includes soft potatoes and cabbage with a few slices of bacon. My favorite version of the bubble and squeak is this version with kimchi, which I made for my guests at an event, and it was impressively gobbled up seconds after it came out of the pan. If you need something interesting to pack for the kids’ school lunches, a picnic in the park, or a quick bite to eat, fry some miniature patties.

Pizza Dip

Courtesy of Caroline Choé

When the craving for pizza strikes and you don’t want to wait for pizza delivery or spend time making your own pizza, let Microwave Pizza Dip come to the rescue! It contains all the goodness of cheese and the sass of pizza, but couldn’t be easier to make.

Apple pie smoothie

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

While smoothies have a reputation for being more of an energy or post-workout drink, this one fits the dessert category better. It has a bit of spiciness, smoothness and sweetness and a bit more decadence thanks to the shortbread cookies.

Double chocolate chip cake

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

When you immediately crave something chocolatey and sweet, this mug cake is for you. This recipe is also egg-free and goes well with vegetable milk. A scoop of ice cream on it wouldn’t hurt either.

Lemon cake

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

This single serve cake is small in size but great in flavor. Crisp, fresh lemon juice and zest add a big citrus touch to this quick, quick, and easy dessert.

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