Stress-free trick for back-to-school food prep

When it comes to shopping, two things are on the tip of everyone's tongue these days: inflation, and back-to-school. These two topics may seem mutually exclusive, but they are more intertwined than you think.

Back-to-school shopping and inflation

A recent news report explained that because of inflated costs, many parents are reusing school supplies from the year prior. Personally, I thought everyone did this. If not for sustainability, then for the simple fact that people don't throw away scissors and working markers. 

Fayeruz Regan on snacks at school

But back-to-school shopping also includes food - lots of food. School lunches, school snacks, after-school snacks - the whole gamut. And inflation makes it pretty tough to stock up on the convenience of packaged foods. Cooking from scratch may be healthier and less expensive, but time is something that nearly everyone is short on, so we pay the convenience tax.

Packaged foods vs. from-scratch

But should we pay for the convenience of little bags of cheesy goldfish? By no means am I that braggy mom who claims to have never resorted to Lunchables, but there are tricks. I'm going to share a hack that offers:

  • Delicious meals
  • Back-to-school ideas with the leftovers
  • A work-around for inflated food prices 

roast chicken

Whether it's chicken thighs or chicken legs, we have all seen those giant, family-sized packages at the store. Sure, it would save us a lot of money to buy it in bulk, but it's an awful lot of food. Isn't it? Not if you diversify. Your family may get sick of an entire tray of roasted chicken, but only if it's all the same flavor. The key is diversification.

I may not have taken the most flattering photos (below is a before-and-after of my roast) BUT what it lacks visually is made up for with bursting flavor. 


sheet pan chicken, three ways

Sheet pan chicken, three ways

Here's what to do:

  • Buy a ridiculously large package of chicken legs or chicken thighs
  • Pull out the largest oven sheet pan you've got
  • Divide it into three sections with aluminum foil, with high ridges so that no juices intermix
  • Divide the chicken into thirds, seasoning and marinating them all separately
  • Preheat the oven to 375, then roast and baste the chicken (separate basters!) until the skin is crispy - it will be at least an hour, but I prefer my chicken well-cooked with crispy skin, so I've been known to roast it for an hour and a half


    roasted chicken

    Flavor inspiration for your chicken

    While I do get inspiration from the food I have on hand (basil from the garden, oranges in the fruit bowl), I do have some greatest hits. Here are some exciting flavor combinations:

    • Lemon and rosemary (slice thin pieces of lemon and slide them under the skin) - pictured above
    • Sumac and chopped cilantro (sumac is tangy and addictive - try it if you haven't) - pictured above
    • Yogurt and garam masala (yogurt coats beautifully and the enzymes tenderize the chicken - the garam masala spice mix is sold in stores) 
    • Buffalo (cover chicken with melted butter and Texas Pete)
    • Garlic and truffle oil
    • Chinese five spice and oyster sauce, for that sweet and salty coating

    Hamilton Regan making pesto pizza

    How do I transform leftovers into back-to-school snacks?

    I got you on this:

    • Make buffalo chicken dip with leftover roasted buffalo chicken. Pack into lunches with crackers for an easy meal. 
    • Chop roasted chicken into a chicken salad, with mayo, mustard, chopped celery and any other toppings you'd like. You'll make sandwiches in a snap. Secret ingredient? Chopped apples! Trust me on this. 
    • You can meal prep endless grain bowls, (pictured top). Whether you like quinoa or soba noodles as a base, layer it with chopped lettuce, veggies, herbs - whatever's on hand. Then top it off with diced chicken and pack a ramekin of dressing on the side. 
    • Grind the chicken small and add to a pesto sauce, which can go atop pizza or pasta - simply use less walnuts or pine nuts so the mixture doesn't become dry. This is pictured above.
    • Salad topping 
    • Go the Mexican route: Add leftover chicken to tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and more (pictured below).

    chicken taco

    Like I always say, play around with flavors and combinations. I actually relish the challenge of limited items. It breeds creativity. Make your own version of sesame chicken or a spicy BBQ.

    You'll save money in the long run, and these meals are much more satisfying than a packaged blueberry muffin from a factory in Topeka. You may even prefer meal-prepping for school even when groceries become more affordable again. Because that will happen...right?

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