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Work ahead to save time on school days

By Greg Summers

The lazy, hazy days of summer are winding down.     

No, fall isn’t in the air yet, but the sound of school bells are about to be.

On Friday, rising sixth-graders and ninth-graders in Lancaster County will return to their respective schools for a half-day of orientation. About 11,400 county students will be up bright and early Monday to start a new school year. 

That means a big change for parents who must be more regimented to get them out the door in the mornings and more structured in the evenings.

That’s where shortcut cooking comes in. 

Balancing family life and careers can make mealtime challenging. 

Sometimes it seems easier to go through the drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant than to spend time in the kitchen. But making dinner doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult.

The trick is planning ahead. Marking the calendar may seem like a page right out of the school cafeteria, but planning meals in advance can alleviate deciding on a last-minute menu. That way, you can stock up the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator in advance. When mealtime rolls around, it’s simply a matter of grab and cook. 

Time-saving tips

– Work ahead. Sometimes the longest time spent on meals is the prep work. Spend a Sunday afternoon pre-cooking items that will be used during the week. For example, bake chicken that can be used for a variety of meals later that week. Slice and dice items and package them in individual baggies or bowls for later use. That way, all the prep work is done. 

– Every meal doesn’t have to be cooked from scratch. Mix fresh-made elements with store-bought options. For example, serve entrees with prepared salad greens from your grocer’s refrigerated section and breads from their bakery.

– Another time-saver is breakfast foods. They tend to cook faster and with less prep work than others. Have pancake night once a week. It’s easy and tasty.

– If you don’t have a slow cooker, invest in one that can cook food on very low heat for several hours. Many now feature programmable displays so you can punch in the cook time and the slow cooker will automatically shut off when done. That way, you can come home after a long day of work and school to an entire, fully cooked, ready-to-eat-meal.

– There’s nothing wrong with leftovers. Set aside one night for leftovers to clean out the refrigerator. Simply reheat and serve so each member of the family can enjoy their own buffet-style meal with a little of this and a little of that.

– Try pastas. A pot of pasta can be boiled in 7 to 10 minutes and it’s possible to put together a pasta sauce, whether oil and garlic, tomato or something cream-based, in the same amount of time. 

For those who love a filling breakfast muffin, try this Oatmeal Raisin Muffin recipe. They can be made in advance for sleepy-heads to grab on their way out the door.

Sticky Crockpot Chicken is another recipe that can be made ahead of time. Since a slow cooker will be doing all the work while you’re at work, make sure to use dark meat. White meat cooks faster and will be dry by the time you get home.

Quick Chicken & Veggie Skillet is a perfect choice for busy weeknights. The protein-packed chicken and healthy veggies take only minutes to prepare while the spaghetti cooks. Simply toss it all together and finish with a sprinkle of basil and Parmesan cheese. You could even use some of the rotisserie-tasting Sticky Crockpot Chicken as a base.


Oatmeal Raisin Muffins



1 cup oats 

1 cup skim milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 dash salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon 

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup raisins



– Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray muffin tins to grease. 

– Soak oats in milk for several minutes. Sift together the flour and dry ingredients. Mix together the egg, sugar, applesauce and vanilla.

Blend the wet ingredients and the oats. Fold in the dry ingredients, then the raisins.

–  Spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.


– Recipe from www.napsnet.com


Sticky Crockpot Chicken



2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 pounds chicken drumsticks, skinned if desired

1 chopped onion



– In a small bowl, thoroughly combine salt and all the spices. Rinse drumsticks and pat dry with paper towel. Place chicken in a gallon-size resealable bag. Dump spice mixture into bag on top of chicken, close and shake to coat the chicken completely. Rub the spice mixture into the chicken, skin side and bone side, making sure it is evenly distributed and pressed down deep into the skin. Seal bag and place in a baking pan to catch any drips and refrigerate overnight. 

– Place the onions in the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker and top with the chicken and spices. Cook on low for 8-12 hours until very tender.


– Recipe from www.erecipefinder.com


Quick Chicken and Veggie Spaghetti Skillet



1/2 box Dreamfields Spaghetti

2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then into 1/2-inch thick slices

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken broth or vegetable broth

2 cups cooked rotisserie chicken pieces or packaged, precooked chicken strips or leftover grilled or broiled chicken.

1/4 cup sliced fresh basil

2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese



– Cook pasta according to package directions.

– Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes, until garlic is softened. Add zucchini; cook and stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes and broth; cook 3 to 5 minutes until zucchini is crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

– Drain pasta. Add to skillet and toss. Add chicken; toss. Sprinkle with basil and Parmesan cheese.


– Recipe from Dreamfields Pasta