12 Easy Dinners Perfect for Back-to-School

Back-to-school is busy! Whether you’re going in person or virtually, I’m sure that as soon as you hit that first day of school, your calendar suddenly looks a lot more full.

Often, that makes getting dinner on the table harder. Easy becomes the name of the game.

If you’re looking for some new, easy dinners for back-to-school, I’ve rounded up a dozen of my favorites!

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Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta

‘Tis the season for comfort food. I’m not sure if it’s holiday stress or the weather getting colder but I now want all of my food to be warm and cheesy. Which totally does not agree with losing the baby weight. And knowing that I’m going to totally blow any good eating at holiday parties, I’ve been trying to be a little more careful with family dinners.

Luckily, I have some awesome blogger friends to lean on! This lightened-up comfort food dish from Prevention RD‘s cookbook totally hit the spot. This was warm and cheesy and perfect – without the guilt.


Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta
(from Prevention RD’s Everyday Healthy Cooking)
Serves 4-6

1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 red onion, diced
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
12 oz. whole wheat penne
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/3 cup cheddar, shredded

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet until shimmering. Add the chicken and onions and cook until chicken is cooking through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same skillet, at the water, chicken broth, penne and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer 12-15 minutes, until liquid is mostly absorbed and pasta is tender. Stir in barbecue sauce and Greek yogurt. When well combined, stir in the cheeses and reserved chicken mixture. Cook until heated through. Serve immediately.

Baked Chicken Fajitas

You know those meals you just keep coming back to? These fajitas are one of those meals.

Baked Oven Fajitas 2

It’s been years since I first made them and they’re still in regular rotation.

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One Pot Tomato Basil Pasta

Our pasta pot was passed down to us from Mark’s parents when we moved into our first apartment. It works – so we’ve yet to replace it – but, my goodness, does that pot take a lot time to come to a boil. And I sometimes avoid making pasta because I don’t want to deal with it. Sad, but true.

It’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to this recipe – one pot pasta that doesn’t need to be made in the pasta pot! This was as easy as it gets: dump, stir, cook – done. Simple, but delicious.


One Pot Tomato Basil Pasta
(from Apron Strings)
Serves 4-5

12 oz. linguine pasta
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 large sweet onion, cut in julienne strips
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 t. dried oregano leaves
2 large sprigs basil, chopped
4 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 T. extra virgin olive oil Parmesan cheese for garnish

Add pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil to a large stock pot. Add in vegetable broth and sprinkle the pepper flakes and oregano over the top. Drizzle with oil.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, keep covered and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or so. Cook until the desired amount of liquid has evaporated .

Season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring the pot several times to distribute the liquid in the bottom. Serve garnished with parmesan cheese.

Spicy Sausage Pasta

I’m very fortunate. Even though I love cooking, there are nights that I just don’t want to spend time in the kitchen. When that happens, Mark is always happy to step in and take care of things. He’s a great cook.

This is one of the dinners he cooked up recently. Its a one-pot meal – you don’t have to cook the pasta separately, just keep adding things to the pan and in the end you have a creamy, spicy pasta dish. It was awesome.



Spicy Sausage Pasta
(from A Bitchin’ Kitchen)
Serves 4

1 T. olive oil
1 14 oz. package smoked sausage, sliced into rounds
1 1/2 c. diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
1/2 c. heavy cream
8 oz. uncooked whole wheat penne pasta (about 2 1/2 c.)
1/2 t. black pepper
1 1/2 c. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Thinly sliced scallions
Salt, to taste

In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil until smoking.  Add the sausage and onion to the pan, and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Add the broth, tomatoes, heavy cream, uncooked pasta and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then cover the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice while cooking.

While the pasta cooks, preheat the oven broiler. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese. Add salt to taste. Top with the scallions and remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Kielbasa, Potato & Cabbage Skillet

In preparation for all the corned beef and cabbage this weekend, all of the grocery stores around here have cabbage on super sale.  Which means, of course, that we’re eating a lot of cabbage this week.

For seven cents per pound, how can you not?

This dinner has been one of our favorites for a few years now – it’s my go-to way to use up cabbage! We always serve it with cornbread. It’s a simple, comforting dinner and the leftovers are awesome.


Kielbasa, Potato & Cabbage Skillet
(from Eat at Home)
Serves 6

2 T. olive oil
1 package kielbasa, coin sliced
3-4 potatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
1/4 c. cider vinegar

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add in the kielbasa and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and cook until the potatoes are nearly done.

Add in the cabbage and cover. Let the cabbage cook until wilted, stirring occasionally.  When the cabbage is wilted and the potatoes are tender, stir in the vinegar and serve.

Pizza Cobbler

Pizza is a Lenten Friday staple. Go into any pizza place around here and there will be a line of people picking up cheese pies.

Now, I love a good pizza but sometimes it’s also good to switch things up. This homey casserole tastes like pizza, but it easier to throw together than making a pizza at home – perfect for a Lenten Friday.


Pizza Cobbler
(adapted from Rachael Ray Magazine)
Serves 6

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1   c. chopped onion
1 1/2 c. sliced green peppers
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 1/2 c. tomato sauce
1/2  c. sliced black olives
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can (7 1/2 oz.) refrigerated biscuits, separated and cut into quarters

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees . In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green peppers and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and olives and bring to a simmer.

Grease a 2-quart baking dish and spread the sauce mixture in the bottom. Sprinkle the cheese over and then top with the biscuit pieces. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the biscuits are browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Support for Sandy: Biscuit-Topped Chicken Pot Pie

To say that Superstorm Sandy hit home for me is an understatement. It’s been heartbreaking to see the devastation heaped up places I’ve loved and frequented for years. So many of our friends and neighbors are still struggling – including our parents who are still without power. We were fortunate to get our power back Monday – it’s hard to explain how much of a relief it is to see the lights blink back on after a week in the dark.

It was so comforting to be able to make a nice, comforting meal in my nice, warm kitchen on Tuesday. Food is so comforting, which is why Jenn from Jenn Cuisine and Barb from Creative Culinary have put together Support for Sandy. Today, lots of food blogger will be sharing comfort food recipes and asking people to donate to relief efforts for Sandy.

The image below links to the Red Cross’s donation page for Sandy Relief. A Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund has also been created, to concentrate on recovery within the state.

This was the first meal I made once we got our power back. After a week of soup and fast food, we really needed some comfort food and this hit the spot. It wasn’t a normal weeknight meal for us, but after not really cooking for so long, I didn’t mind the chopping and multiple steps.

I’ve always used a pie crust for chicken pot pie in the past, but we really liked the biscuits on top. Pre-baking them also kept the bottoms firm when added to the pot pie later on. It was just an all-around great one dish meal.

I hope you’ll take the time today to visit the other blogs participating in Support for Sandy and, if you’re able, making a donation to one of the charities participating in the relief effort.


Biscuit-Topped Chicken Pot Pie
(very slightly adapted from Cooking Classy)
Serves 4-6

For the filling:
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 (14.5 oz) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 T. olive oil
1 c. peeled and diced carrots
3/4 c. diced celery
3/4 c. finely diced yellow onion
2/3 c. frozen peas
3 T. butter
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. milk
1 t. lemon juice
1 1/2 t. dried parsley
1/4 t. dried thyme
Salt & pepper, to taste

For the biscuit topping:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
4 T. butter, cold and diced into small cubes
1/2 c. finely shredded Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. + 2 T. heavy cream
1 T. butter, melted

Make the biscuit topping: Preheat oven to 450F degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and cayenne pepper. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Pour in heavy cream and mix just until combine.

Scoop the batter into several large dollops on a lined baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes golden. Remove and set aside.

Prepare the filling: Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add diced carrots, onion and celery and saute for 5 – 6 minutes, until tender. Remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium, melt butter in saucepan, then whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 20 seconds. While whisking, slowly add in milk followed by chicken broth, lemon juice, parsley, thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then slightly reduce heat and allow to cook about 1 minute longer until thickened, whisking constantly.

Remove pan from heat and add sautéed vegetables, frozen peas and diced chicken to sauce, then toss to evenly coat. Pour mixture into a 9-inch pie dish and top with baked biscuits. Brush biscuits with melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Smokey BBQ Chili

I love meatless meals that don’t feel meatless. Ones that are beefy and hearty and really stick to your ribs. This is one of them.

This is a vegan recipe, but it’s one that non-vegans would enjoy just as much – a perfect option if you’re having vegan or vegetarian friends over for lunch or dinner.

It takes a while to simmer so you have to plan ahead, but it’s totally worth it.

Smokey BBQ Chili
(from Oh She Glows
Serves 6

1 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2.5 T. chili powder, or to taste
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. smoked paprika
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 c. dry/uncooked black eyed peas
3/4 c. dry/uncooked black beans
6 c. vegetable broth
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes, liquid drained
2 T. tomato paste
1 T. chia seeds
1 c. frozen corn
2 T. your fav BBQ sauce
1/2 t. kosher salt, or to taste
Couple handfuls of chopped spinach, or other greens like collard, kale, etc

Soak the beans in water overnight or for at least 3-4 hours. Rinse and drain beans before using.

In a large pot, add the oil and sauté the onion and garlic over medium-low heat for about 5-6 minutes, until translucent. Add in the pepper and optional jalapeno and sauté for another 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the spices (chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne) and sauté on low another couple minutes.

Add the dry black beans and black eyed peas, broth, and drained diced tomatoes. Stir well. Now stir in the tomato paste. Simmer on low with the lid ajar for about 2.5 hours, checking often to make sure it doesn’t dry out. If it does, add a bit more broth to thin out.

About 15 minutes before it’s done cooking, stir in the chia seeds, corn, and chopped greens. The chia helps thicken the chili. Also stir in the BBQ sauce, starting with 1 tbsp at a time and tasting as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Teriyaki Pork Stir Fry

Mark’s parents bought me a really beautiful wok for Christmas so we’ve been making a lot of stir-frys lately. They’re really great weeknight meals – one dish, full of veggies and quick.

This was great. I especially liked marinating the pork beforehand; it really helped infuse the flavor. We’ve had a few stir-frys lately that just taste like meat/veggies with sauce dumped over – this felt much more cohesive.

And, tomorrow is the Chinese New Year – a perfect excuse to try this out!

Teriyaki Pork Stir Fry
(from Healthy Cooking December/January 2011)
Serves 4

3/4 c. chicken broth, divided
1/3 c. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. honey
2 t. garlic powder
1 lb. boneless pork loin chops, cut into thin strips
1 T. canola oil
2 c. fresh broccoli florets
3 medium carrots, sliced
3 celery ribs, sliced
4 c. shredded cabbage
6 green onions, sliced
1 T. cornstarch
Hot cooked brown rice

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 c. broth, soy sauce, vinegar, honey and garlic powder. Pour 1/3 c. marinade into a large resealable plastic bag; add the pork. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate remaining marinade.

Drain and discard marinade. In large nonstick skillet or wok, stir-fry pork in oil for 2-3 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove and keep warm.

In the same pan, stir-fry broccoli and carrots in reserved marinade for 2 minutes. Add celery; stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add cabbage and green onions; stir-fry 2-3 minutes longer or until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Combine cornstarch and remaining broth until smooth; stir into vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened. Return pork to the pan; heat through. Serve over rice.