Sand and swimsuits, cook-outs and cocktails, sunny days and sunscreen; so many of our favorite elements of summer go hand-in-hand that it’s hard to believe that autumn is just around the corner.
But sacrificing a leisurely afternoon lounging at the pool in favor of buying school supplies and paying school fees suggests a change of focus is an essential part of back-to-school time.
Successfully transitioning kids from summer to school warrants bringing a little structure back into your family routine, but wrapping up summer doesn’t have to be totally unsavory. I can’t think of a better or more delicious way to welcome the new school year than by recommitting to enjoy family dinners around the table. And yes, you can still wear your flip flops.
Mealtime benefits extend well beyond nutrition and school-aged children in particular experience positive perks when dining at the family table. Conversations held over anything from a simple bowl of soup to an elaborate turkey dinner equally impact young students’ grades and social lives. It doesn’t matter what’s on the menu — sharing an evening meal improves school performance and helps busy parents stay in the loop about potential problems or struggles the complicated little kiddos may be facing.
To get families back in the spirit of family dining at the start of a new school year I suggest serving a batch of my picadillo wrap-ups. The quick-cooking dinner is a riff on a classic Cuban ground meat dish by the same name. Picadillo is traditionally served over rice, but I find wrapping anything in a tortilla keeps kids interested in meal time so I took the dish and turned into a taco of sorts. The addition of salty olives and sweet raisins in the dish is traditional; they bring a welcome balance to the plate without making it too adventurous for a peaceful family dining experience. A few optional garnishes punch up the heat and complexity of the meal without making it overly fussy.
As the freedom of summertime comes to an end, just remember that sharpening pencils and setting the table go hand-in-hand, too. The time has come to cook up some school year-themed fun at the family table. Trust me — your family will be better for it.
Feel free to use ground turkey in lieu of beef to save on a few calories without sacrificing bold flavor. (Makes 4-6.)
1 pound ground chuck
1 small green pepper, diced small
1 small white onion, minced
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained slightly
½ cup pimento-stuffed green olives, halved
⅓ cup raisins
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon allspice
Salt, pepper and olive juice to taste
8-10 corn tortillas
Additional minced white onion
Crumbled queso fresco
Sliced jalapeno (optional)
1. Saute the ground chuck over high heat with the onion and green bell pepper until meat is well browned and vegetables are tender. Drain the fat from the meat mixture and return the pan to the heat.
2. Add the cumin and allspice to the pan and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and add the olives, raisins and canned tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until sauce has thickened and flavors meld (about 15 minutes).
3. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and olive juice.
4. Warm the corn tortillas and fill each one with a portion of the picadillo.
5. Garnish each taco with cilantro, onion, queso fresco, a squeeze of lime and jalapeno slices if desired.