Quick meals when you're short on time

How to Survive the Dinner Hour

by Anne E. Skalitza

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The worst hours for any parent, whether working outside the home or not, are the hours after school and before bedtime. There might be soccer practice, homework, phone calls, or a myriad of supplies to buy for your child's school project, which is due the next day. Then there's dinner to think about and rethink because you had the same meal last night and that just won't do. Your stomach can't handle mac and cheese for two nights in a row. And clean-up? You'd rather have all your teeth pulled than ask family members to scrape, wash, and put away dishes and straighten up the kitchen every single night. Sure they help, but there are many times that one or more offspring will clean off the table, then forget why they're in the kitchen and wander towards the family room or their bedroom to make that all-important call to their friend.

As the mother of two teen-age and still growing boys, I've learned how to stretch that dollar and yet come up with kid-friendly and quick-to-fix meals. Clean-up is a snap, and (don't tell them) these meals are nutritious, too.

First of all, breakfast is fun, so why not have it for dinner? If you have eggs, tomato sauce, and bread, simmer the tomato sauce (which can be cans of crushed tomatoes with basil, oregano, salt, and pepper) on the stove-top in a wide pot or pan. When it's nice and hot, break open several eggs (figure at least two eggs per person) and gently lay them into the simmering sauce, one at a time. Try not to crowd them. While they cook, set out plates with slices of toasted bread on each one. When the eggs are done, lay them on top of the toast with the tomato sauce. Serve more sauce on the side.

Another good breakfast-for-dinner is pancakes or waffles. Serve with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, or whatever fruit you wish, on the side. Yogurt is a great topping.

Now, let's look at meats. Always have on hand fresh ready-made meat patties that you've frozen. You don't necessarily have to have hamburger buns. You can use tortilla wraps, bread, English muffins, or just large romaine lettuce leaves to wrap them in. Don't have frozen French fries? If you keep a large bag of potatoes on hand, slice them length-wise, lay them on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, drizzle with oil, lightly salt them, and then bake for about twenty minutes in a preheated 400-degree oven.

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Chicken can be easy with no mess, too. Put about a cup of mayonnaise on a piece of wax paper or dish. Put about two cups seasoned bread crumbs on another piece of wax paper or dish. Rinse chicken pieces, dip each one into the mayo and then the bread crumbs, and then lay each piece on the pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for approximately 50 minutes or until no longer pink inside. If these are boneless chicken pieces, you might want to check them after 30 minutes. The mayonnaise keeps the chicken moist. Serve with a large salad.

And of course, pasta is an all-time favorite. Keep cans of crushed tomatoes on hand. All you have to do is simmer the tomatoes with basil, pepper, salt, and oregano. If you have time, cook some chopped onion and garlic in oil first and then add the cans of tomatoes. All you have to wash are two pots, a colander for draining the pasta, and of course, the plates and utensils.

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A quick side dish or dessert is easy if you have some apples on hand. Any kind will do. You don't have to peel them. Cut about three of them into quarters, and place in a microwave-safe bowl or a small pot for the stove. Add a pat of butter, a teaspoon of sugar, a half-teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of water. Cook in the microwave (covered) for about a minute. Or cook on the stovetop for five minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be soft, not mushy. Add sugar or cinnamon to taste.

Dinnertime should be the least of your worries when that school project, complete with diagrams, drawings, bibliography, and several sheets of plywood nailed together, is due the next day. Enjoy!

Anne is a freelance writer with several essays and short stories published in magazines, newspapers, and on the internet. She also has a novel entitled Lost And Found Love, published by Koenisha Publications, which transports the reader away from daily household vexations to the serenity of the shore with a little intrigue thrown in.

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