9 shortcut meal ideas for back to school

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

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

And there’s nothing wrong with relying on effortless on-the-go meals like instant ramen, mac and cheese, or even cereal and milk. We have all been there.

But there are plenty of recipes that prove that a little effort is all it takes. For example, Hawaii’s beloved power bar, spam musubi, should not be underestimated. Cheap cuts of meat and reserved leftover vegetables can create gallons of versatile bone broth in a slow cooker or instant pot. A jar of tomato sauce and eggs can be turned into something akin to a shakshuka.

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’ll show you that meal planning and preparation doesn’t have to be so intimate – in fact, it can be very rewarding.

Courtesy of Caroline Choe

Whether you like granola as a morning cereal, in your yogurt, or even just by the handful, these sweet, toasted snacks are a household staple. Since many schools have a nut-free policy to accommodate allergies, this recipe negates all nuts, replacing black sesame seeds and coconut. Otherwise, you can use it as a delicious base recipe and bake in your favorite dried fruits, nuts, seeds or chocolate.

Miso soup with mushrooms

Courtesy of Caroline Choe

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 goes 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 Choe

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

Jjapaguri (Ram-Don)

Courtesy of Caroline Choe

This dish recently reached new heights of popularity after people saw it in the movie “Parasite,” but it’s been around longer than that, and hopefully it will quickly become a go-to 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, that 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 cooked vegetables from the night before (especially those from a Sunday roast). The British favorite traditionally includes soft potatoes and cabbage with a few strips of bacon. My favorite version of bubble and squeak is this version with kimchi, which I made for my guests at an event, and it was gobbled up impressively within seconds of coming 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 Choe

When the pizza craving 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 has all the cheesy, sassy goodness of pizza, but couldn’t be easier to make.

Apple Pie Smoothie

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

Although smoothies have gained a reputation as more of an energy or post-workout drink, this one fits better in the dessert category. It has a bit of tartness, creaminess and sweetness and a bit more decadence due to the shortbread cookies.

Cake in a cup with two chocolate chips

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

When you have an immediate craving for something chocolatey and sweet, this mug cake is for you. This recipe is also egg-free and goes well with plant-based milk. A scoop of ice cream on top wouldn’t hurt either.

Lemon cake in a cup

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Caroline Choe

This single-serving cake is small in size but packed with flavor. Bright, fresh lemon juice and zest add a big citrus kick to this quick, quick and easy dessert.

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