As we move from the wonderful chaos of a Columbia Gorge summer to the more controlled chaos of autumn, it’s a great time of year to also make transitions in the kitchen. Summer is filled with long days and, at least for us, a lot of last-minute dinner planning. When school and activities begin I find that I long for routine. Our day planner that has been largely abandoned for the past few months is getting filled with a steady series of consistent weekly activities and lessons, and alongside those activities and appointments is a column titled: “Weekly Menu Plan.”

I love involving the kids in planning the menu, which usually involves at least one of my three kids and me sitting at the dining room table flipping through cookbooks. Depending on your kids’ ages, they can help pick dishes based on reading the recipe, or simply looking at photos. My eldest helps write the grocery list and the recipe titles next to the name of the corresponding cookbook and page number. I find when they have some involvement in the selection process they’re much more apt to be adventurous when “their” meal is served up for dinner.

The school year with its long days, scheduled afternoons, and early-to-bed nights can make it more challenging for kids to participate in the actual preparation of dinner, so I often make dinners that have elements that can be prepared in advance. I also find it incredibly helpful to spend some time with the kids on the weekend doing the prep-work, which involves washing all our vegetables and fruits, making salad dressings or other sauces, and making chicken stock.

For one of our favorite dinners, which is a take on a Bento Bowl, we prepare refrigerator pickles together, too. The kids love making pickled things: radishes, red onions, Japanese-style cucumbers, and more. Most of the ingredients for this can also be prepped a day or two before and stored in airtight containers until dinnertime: shredded carrots; salad of sliced bok choy, romaine lettuce and cilantro; thinly sliced scallions. The early prep allows kids to be involved, and makes getting dinner on the table on a busy weeknight easier.

This Bento Bowl has become a regular on our dinner table. Whenever kids get to assemble their own plates, dinner is much more fun and flexible. This dinner can easily be adapted to fit all preferences and dietary needs. We like to make it with tofu, but shredded chicken or any other protein could be used instead. We also love making and using cauliflower “rice,” but any other type of rice could be used. It’s a healthy and easy dinner that’s great for a school night (and leftovers)!

Kacie McMackin is a food blogger,  writer and photographer, and founder


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