Three school-night dinner recipes to feed a whole family

Donal Skehan: Three suppers to banish those back-to-school blues

Orange chicken with veg-packed fried rice

Orange chicken with veg-packed fried rice


Shall we talk about back-to-school suppers? I know, you are probably still clinging to the long days of summer. However, the impending doom is inevitable.

One of my first summer jobs was stocking shelves in a school uniform shop in Marino, an emporium of bags, lunchboxes and shirts and ties. From early August on, I would witness the dread on the faces of parents tasked with finding the right backpack or the perfect tracksuit that little Johnny wouldn’t outgrow before the school year was out. We were armed with lollipops to placate children who had been marched into the shop, and thankfully the owners had the whole process down to a fine art, which meant most left with smiles on their faces, briefly forgetting the first days of school just around the corner.

From another perspective, September is a month that allows for the introduction of new routines – a welcome change from the free and breezy days of summer. If you’ve been slightly distracted from your regular pattern of cooking, it’s the perfect time to get back to the kitchen. It’s at this time of year I am often asked for recipes that will feed the whole family. Here are three, which I hope will keep the troops going and should satisfy the bellies of little and big kids alike.

One of the most popular chicken dishes in any Chinese-American joint is some form of orange chicken: crispy pieces of chicken coated in a sweet, sticky and aromatic sauce is a winning combination. In an attempt to make a slightly lighter version, my take on the classic removes the deep frying and employs a method of baking the chicken pieces with salt and baking powder, resulting in a super-crisp finish. Paired with a home-made fried rice (the perfect vehicle to slip in some hidden vegetables of your choice), it makes for a treat of a family dinner.

My saviour for supper when there is very little in the house is a roast sweet potato. Although not exactly fast food, it’s worth the 40-minute wait. Once baked until tender, sliced open and steaming, it becomes an edible purse to be filled with whatever you fancy. Leftover ragu, an Indian lentil dahl or a simple filling of kale, chickpeas and spiced yogurt will do the trick.

Lastly, a lighter, meat-free burger served up with a shaved fennel slaw. Three suppers to brighten those back-to-school blues.


A somewhat lighter take on the classic. Use chicken breasts here if you prefer. Peas, carrots and any greens are a welcome addition to the fried rice.

Serves 4

For the chicken:
8 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless and cut into bite-size pieces
2tbs baking powder
1tsp salt
Sesame seeds, to garnish
Spring onions, to garnish

For the sauce:
250ml orange juice
3tbs dark soy sauce
1tbs dark brown sugar
1tbs rice wine vinegar
1tsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1tsp cornflour

For the fried rice:
1-2tbs sunflower oil
Bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced
1tsp sesame oil
1tbs soy sauce
300g leftover cooked rice, cold
2 large free-range eggs, lightly whisked.
1tsp light soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the baking powder and salt. Add the chicken thigh pieces and toss to coat completely. Arrange the chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a roasting tin.

Place to cook in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked all the way through. Brush with a tablespoon of sunflower oil halfway through the cooking time to ensure a golden-brown finish.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a steady simmer for 10 minutes, whisking regularly until slightly thickened.

Once the chicken is cooked, place the orange sauce and cooked chicken pieces in a mixing bowl and toss until the chicken is completely coated.

For the rice, heat a little sunflower oil in a large frying pan. Whisk the eggs and pour into the pan, swirling to coat the base. Using a spatula, and working quickly, drag the edges of the egg to the centre of the pan and allow any unset egg to run into its place. Once fully set, roll up using the spatula in the pan and transfer to a chopping board. Place the pan back over a high heat with a drop of oil and stir-fry the spring onions for a minute. Add the cooked rice to the pan. Stir through the sesame oil and soy sauce until it coats the rice completely. Slice the egg omelette thinly and toss through the fried rice.

Transfer the rice to serving bowls and top with the orange chicken. Garnish with sesame seeds and spring onions.


Super seed-stuffed roast sweet potatoes
Super seed-stuffed roast sweet potatoes

A simple way with a roast sweet potato. I’ve included an easy filling here but the basic roasting process allows for a whole range of fillings of your choosing.

Serves 4
4 large sweet potatoes (about 500g)
1½tbs rapeseed oil
200g kale, leaves torn from the stem
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½tsp chilli flakes
1tbs pumpkin or sunflower seeds, toasted
Small handful of alfalfa sprouts (about 50g)
200g chickpeas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8tbs natural probiotic yoghurt
1tbs sriracha sauce

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas Mark 6. Place the potatoes on a baking tray and drizzle with a tablespoon of rapeseed oil. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining rapeseed oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the kale and fry for three to four minutes, until wilted and tender.

Mix the yogurt and sriracha sauce together and set aside.

Stir through the garlic and chilli flakes, and season. Slice open the baked sweet potatoes. Top with the kale, a dollop of the yogurt mix, a sprinkle of seeds, chickpeas and some alfalfa sprouts.


Halloumi burgers with shaved vegetable slaw
Halloumi burgers with shaved vegetable slaw

A “burger” with a difference and one of my favourite ways to enjoy garlic mushrooms: sandwiched between toasted brioche buns with salty halloumi cheese and sweet onion marmalade.

Serves 4
1-2tbs rapeseed oil
4 large flat mushrooms
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbs butter, softened
200g halloumi cheese, sliced

For the shaved vegetable slaw:
½ head cabbage, shaved on a mandolin
1 head fennel, shaved on a mandolin
A good handful of dill, roughly chopped
2tbs extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt
Ground black pepper

To serve:
4 brioche burger buns, toasted
Red onion marmalade
Avocado, sliced
Mixed sprouts
Rocket leaves

Mix together all the ingredients for the shaved vegetable slaw and season to taste.

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic and thyme until smooth.

Spread each mushroom generously with the butter mixture and place under a hot grill. Cook until the mushrooms are tender.

Toast the buns until lightly golden.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium high heat, add a little oil to the pan and then fry the halloumi slices until golden brown on either side. Remove to a plate, keep warm and set aside.

Spread the red onion marmalade generously on each of the buns, top with the mushrooms, halloumi slices, slaw, rocket leaves, sprouts and avocado.

Top with burger bun tops and serve.

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