Back to School: Easy, Economical Meals

chef table

It’s back-to-school time and harried parents everywhere are short on time! Easy, economical meals are ideal for time-starved families.

Yields 8 servings

Instead of rolling ground meat into meatballs, make meatloaf! Same terrific taste, but half the work! Leftover meatloaf can be used in sandwiches and makes a perfect lunchbox addition.

2 pounds lean ground beef (or ground veal, chicken or turkey)
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs or matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Spray an oblong ovenproof baking dish with nonstick spray.

Combine ground meat, egg, crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder in a large bowl. Mix lightly to combine.

Combine brown sugar, vinegar, tomato paste, water and soy sauce in another bowl and mix until blended.

Add 3/4 of sauce to meat mixture and mix until combined.

Divide meat mixture in half and shape into two loaves, about 8 x 3 inches each. Place loaves in prepared baking dish, not touching each other. Pour remaining sauce over and around loaves.

Bake uncovered at 400°F for 45 minutes, basting occasionally.

Slice and serve.

Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.

Top meat loaves with 1 sliced red bell pepper and 2 cups sliced mushrooms. Pour remaining sauce over and around loaves. Bake as directed above.

Short-Cut Spuds: Bake a batch of potatoes at the same time that you put the meat loaves in the oven. To ensure that the potatoes are ready at the same time, insert metal skewers through each potato; they’ll be done in half the time! Leftover spuds can be sliced and pan-fried.

Yields 8 servings

This is sure to be a family favorite! You can make it with ground chicken, beef or veal—it’s truly versatile. If your family doesn’t like sweet potatoes, top the meat mixture with mashed potatoes mixed with well-browned onions. Serve with salad and green beans or peas.

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Paprika, for garnish

Meat Mixture:
2 medium onions, cut in chunks
1 cup baby carrots (about 12)
2 to 3 cloves garlic (1 to 2 teaspoons minced)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds lean ground chicken, beef or veal (or a combination)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 egg
1/4 cup ketchup or barbecue sauce
1/3 cup matzo meal or dried bread crumbs

Place sweet potatoes and water in a large microwaveable bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 18 to 20 minutes or until tender. (Or cook the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan on top of the stove for 20 minutes over high heat.) Drain well. Add oil, salt and pepper and mash until very smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 × 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a food processor using a steel blade, process onions, carrots and garlic until finely chopped, about 6 to 8 seconds.

Heat oil in a large pot on medium heat. Sauté onions, carrots and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Add ground chicken and brown for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often.

Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, basil, oregano, egg white, ketchup and matzo meal; mix well.

Spread meat mixture evenly in prepared baking dish. Top with sweet potato mixture and sprinkle with paprika. (Can be prepared in advance up to this point and refrigerated overnight.)

Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden. Cut into squares and serve.

Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie Photos: Doug Gilletz

Sweet potato shepherd’s pie
Photos: Doug Gilletz

Yields 6 servings

This fast and fabulous salmon dish is delicious either hot or cold. Leftovers can be used to make a casserole.

6 salmon fillets, with skin (6 to 8 ounces each)

¼ cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ cup sesame seeds

Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Arrange salmon fillets in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.

Combine jam, soy sauce, honey, mustard, sesame oil, garlic and basil in a small bowl. Mix well.

Spread glaze evenly on top of salmon. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Marinate salmon at room temperature for 30 minutes (or cover and refrigerate overnight).

Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes, until glazed and golden.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.

Arrange salmon fillets in a single layer on a baking sheet. Scatter 2 sliced red bell peppers and 1 sliced red onion around salmon. Make a double batch of glaze. Coat the salmon, onions and peppers with glaze. Bake uncovered at 425°F for 12 to 15 minutes.

Yields 18 servings

This scrumptious, dairy-free carrot cake is low in fat and can also be made with half whole wheat flour or spelt. With applesauce as an ingredient, it is ideal for the High Holidays.

3 cups grated carrots (6 to 8 carrots)
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups flour (I use half whole-wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons wheat germ (optional)
1/2 cup raisins or miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

Grate carrots, measure 3 cups and set aside. (A food processor does the job quickly, or you can buy packaged grated carrots to save time.)

Beat eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and applesauce until light, about 2 to 3 minutes. (You can do this in an electric mixer or in your food processor using a steel blade.) Add grated carrots and mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and wheat germ, if using. Add to batter and mix just until flour disappears. Do not overmix.

Stir in raisins or chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool completely. If desired, frost with Cream Cheese Frosting (below).

Yields 18 muffins

Prepare batter as directed above. Pour batter into sprayed or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Yields 4 dozen mini muffins

Prepare batter as directed above. Pour into sprayed or paper-lined mini muffin tins. Bake at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes.

Yields enough to frost a 9 x 13-inch cake (18 servings)

This scrumptious frosting is a perfect partner for carrot cake. For a dairy-free version, use Tofutti imitation cream cheese and pareve margarine.

2 cups icing (confectioners) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) softened cream cheese (regular or light) or Tofutti imitation cream cheese
1/4 cup soft butter or pareve margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process all ingredients until smooth, about 10 seconds.

Note: Freezes well.

Moist and luscious carrot muffins

Moist and luscious carrot muffins

Copyright ©Norene Gilletz, June 12, 2014.

Norene Gilletz is the author of nine cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, culinary consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer and editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada. For more information, visit her web site at or e-mail her at

This article was featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Jewish Action.