Between school bells, practice whistles, music lessons and all of the other activities that are about to kick into high gear, it's no wonder family dinner often becomes a crazy rush hour this time of year.
It's not just about putting dinner on the table; it's about doing it quickly.
But it doesn't mean relying on packaged meals, a drive-through window or a pound of ground beef (even though sloppy joes, tacos and burgers are in every busy parent's quick-meal stable).
Plenty of foods can be prepared quickly - some even faster than their packaged alternatives. For example, commercially prepared breaded fish fillets typically need 18 to 20 minutes to bake. However, fresh fish can be breaded and pan-fried with a crispy cornmeal coating in less than 10 minutes.
The best fast dinners don't happen by accident; they require planning.
First, make a mealtime plan of attack after surveying the family's weekly schedule and figuring out the time constraints on the dinner hour. Then shop with that schedule in mind.
Half the battle of getting dinner on the table fast is knowing what you will be preparing, so you don't waste time staring into the cupboards or refrigerator praying for inspiration.
Select cuts of meat that cook quickly. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders are ready in minutes. Save the whole chicken or bone-in pieces for the weekend. The same goes for pork. Select tenderloins or boneless chops that cook quickly and save larger cuts for when you aren't in a hurry (unless, of course, you are making use of a slow cooker).
Get prepped over the weekend, or work a night ahead for the following day. Sure, you can buy bagged lettuce, but you'll save lots of money and have better salads if you buy loose greens and take a few minutes to wash, spin dry and tear them in advance, so they are ready to toss at 5:30 p.m.
Don't sacrifice healthful eating for convenience. If you need to rely on frozen foods to fill the plates, select frozen vegetables and rice that cooks in microwave steam packs. Typically, they contain no added salt or fat.
Here's a quick dinner to help you beat the rush this school year. With the right amount of planning, it can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
Cod Hoagies with Cabbage Slaw
•1 pound fresh cod, 4 small fillets or 2 large, cut in half
•1/4 cup flour
•1/2 cup cornmeal
•Canola oil for frying
•Salt and pepper, to taste
•Paprika, to taste
•4 whole-wheat hoagie rolls
•Lettuce and tomatoes,
•Prepared tartar sauce, if desired
Pat fish dry with paper towels. Dredge fillets in flour, then in cornmeal, pressing cornmeal onto the fish. Season fish with salt, pepper and paprika.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and heat until bubbling, but not smoking. If skillet is small, fry the fish two fillets at a time.
Fry fish until fillets are well-browned on one side, about two to three minutes, depending on thickness of fillets. Flip and fry until second side is well-browned.
Serve fish on whole-wheat hoagie rolls. Top with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce, if desired.
Serve with fresh fruit and cabbage slaw on side or top sandwiches with slaw instead of lettuce.
•1 medium head of cabbage, sliced finely or shredded (about 12 cups)
•2 carrots, grated
•1/2 cup canola oil
•1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
•2 tablespoons sugar
•1 teaspoon salt
•1/2 teaspoon onion powder
•1/4 teaspoon pepper
Place shredded cabbage and grated carrot in a large bowl.
In a glass jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, pour vinegar. Add sugar, salt, pepper and onion powder. Shake well to combine. Add oil and shake vigorously until dressing is well-combined and sugar has dissolved.
Pour over cabbage and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.