Chicken Cacciatore served in a bowl with bread on side and small bowl of grated cheese

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5 easy dinner ideas for back-to-reality season

Summer vacation has come and gone, but these quick dinner ideas can stick around forever.

For some, back to reality means back to school - but even for those whose days don't start with a mad rush to get the kids out the door, late August and early September can still be marked by certain challenges: The letdown of settling into your normal work routine after a summer of excursions. The boredom from opening your lunch box and taking out the same ol' sandwich. The sudden realization on the drive home from work that your refrigerator is a few cheese sticks away from empty. It's back-to-reality season for all of us - and the transition can be difficult.

To help you through, we've gathered a few easy recipes that come together quickly - all in 30 minutes or less - and that are delicious too. Better still, you can easily translate dinner leftovers into enviable work lunches with just a few packing tricks.


1. Dinner: Asian Quinoa Salad

Total time: 20 minutes

Cooking the quinoa is the most time-consuming part of this tasty grain salad. After that, it's just tossing with veggies, lime juice and Asian Sesame Vinaigrette Dressing. Keep the dish vegetarian if you like (quinoa is a complete protein source, after all) or add in some chicken (grilled at home, rotisserie or precooked packaged strips) for even more protein.

Pack It: Pack the salad in an airtight container and eat it cold for lunch (it's just as delicious without reheating).


2. Dinner: Thai Grilled Chicken Satay with Pineapple

Total time: 30 minutes

Food on a stick isn't just fun - it's speedy. Marinate chicken pieces for 10 minutes in a peanutty sauce, then skewer them alongside pineapple chunks and load up the grill. For a quick side dish, toss together this Asian Sesame Soba Noodle Salad while the kabobs are grilling. Make additional sauce and an extra skewer of chicken so your packed lunch will come together easily in the morning.

Pack It: Add a smear of extra sauce to a whole wheat tortilla, then pile on last night's leftover chicken. Toss any remaining sauce with broccoli slaw, edamame and sliced green onions for a crunchy wrap filler, roll up the tortilla and voila: Your Asian Grilled Chicken Wrap is lunch box-ready.


3. Dinner: Grilled Chicken and Mediterranean Chop Salad

Total time: 30 minutes

Start by marinating chicken breasts for 20 minutes in Panera Greek Dressing. While the chicken is soaking, throw together the salad, which features fresh veggies, olives, chickpeas and a drizzle of Greek Dressing. (Hint: Add the Greek Dressing to individual servings of the salad, not the whole bowl...we'll tell you why in a minute.) Grill the marinated chicken for 5-6 minutes per side or until done, then serve. Want to go fancier? Add a basket of these three-ingredient Greek Pita Crisps as salad dippers.

Pack It: You'll be glad you didn't add dressing to the entire bowl: No dressing and no greens to wilt means this salad keeps beautifully in the fridge, which is good news for packed lunches throughout the week. Slice leftover grilled chicken into strips, then place the chicken, Greek Dressing and extra Mediterranean Chop Salad in a pita pocket for a quick sandwich.


4. Dinner: Black Bean Fajita Casserole

Total time: 20 minutes

Think casseroles are labor-intensive? Not this one. This easy, zesty dish calls for a few key convenience products, such as precooked chicken breasts and frozen sliced peppers and onions, to help keep prep time to a minimum.  Make a side salad while the casserole bakes to round out the meal.

Pack It: Pack the mixture in a microwavable container. Add a drizzle of water to the dish and cover with a paper towel before reheating to ensure the casserole stays moist and delicious.


5. Dinner: Chicken Cacciatore

Total time: 20 minutes

By using our Creamy Tomato Soup as a sauce base, the cook time of this traditional Italian favorite is cut down to a fraction. It also helps that it calls for precooked chicken - if you have leftover grilled chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken on hand, you're set.

Pack It: Store in a microwavable container to reheat at work. If you don't have a microwave at your workplace, keep the mixture hot in a thermos instead: Just fill an empty thermos with boiling water to heat it, pour it out, then spoon hot food into the container and close tightly.


Want additional dinner recipe inspiration? Browse our main dish options.

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