Chicken Marinara or Dinner from a Bottle and a Bag

Chicken Marinara, Take 2

It’s 6:00 a.m., the radio is blaring but I’m not budging. Gone are the mornings when I gleefully arose, tiptoed downstairs through the dark house and pedaled my legs around the elliptical for a half hour like a gerbil in a habitrail while watching french films. This particular morning, I barely exert the energy to roll over and whack that alarm sending it into snooze mode. And so it goes, every 20 minutes for the next hour.

Finally, at 7:00 a.m. by sheer willpower, I lumber out of bed, open the doors of my sleeping chickens (except for my middle guy who is always up and at ’em before anyone), holler out a half-hearted “Good morning. Time to get up.”, before I reluctantly make my way downstairs. I’m dreading what’s waiting for me down there. And what’s waiting for me is….the dang school lunches.

Can I be honest here? I’m worn out. I’m tired of being the cheerleader. The one who motivates everyone to get their homework done, get ready for this or that, speeds around the city getting them to their activities on-time which is a major feat for me considering I’m never on-time myself.* The one making sure they pick-up after themselves, brush their teeth, get to bed on-time, treat other people with respect, use good manners. And the one making meal after meal after meal. If only they would stop eating.

Just last week my middle-guy tells me with a twinkle in his eyes about his need for a nap…during school. How he convinced some buddies to turn the pages of his book during quiet reading time while he snoozed. For crying out loud! Normally, I would have launched into some big lecture on the importance of school, of getting to bed early, of how crucial reading skills are for success in life and on and on. But I was too tired for all of that. Instead, I just looked at him with fascination and said with a sigh, “Well, I guess everyone has their methods for getting through life.”

(Although, Mr. Most Fabulous Teacher of my Fifth-Grade Son, if you happen to be reading this…consider yourself “tipped-off” but please, don’t reveal your source. 🙂 )

And then just this weekend, we were enjoying a lovely time on the Oregon Coast. We had our cars parked to block the wind so we could soak in a little sun. The adults were circled around in our beach chairs. The children were splashing in the water, building sand castles, tossing around the lacrosse ball and all seemed blissful when suddenly, the 5th grader emerges from the car with a bloody lip.

Upon further investigation, he had apparently been hit by an unidentified flying object hurled by the kindergartner. When I asked the kindergartner why he had thrown the object at his brother, he said with a quivering lip, “He was pressing on my heart!” Now, I could have launched into a dissertation about how we treat each other or tried the “hold hands” method of reconciliation again but that seemed like a lot of effort. Instead, I sighed and said, “Well, I guess what goes around comes around.”

And basil...

And as you can imagine, in this household, we have a constant dialogue running about eating healthy. I’m constantly pushing the fruits and vegetables. Yes, we have some “junk food” in-house but it’s not a lot. And while all of my children are good eaters, my daughter definitely wins the award for “Healthiest Eater.”

Recently, I had noticed that she had stopped making her normal smoothies for after-school snack but instead was gravitating toward bowls of ice cream. Just a few days ago, she somehow managed to get a tub of Butterfinger Ice Cream into the grocery cart and then, proceeded to munch it down, bowl after bowl. And guess what? Instead of lecturing her about healthy eating and on and on and on….I shrugged my shoulders, scooped myself up a bowl and plopped down on the couch to eat it with her because to bring it full circle…I’m pooped.

Which is why, not only do I dread making the school lunches these days, I dread the dinnertime hour….and I love to cook. But the problem is, I’m out of energy and ideas. Plain and simple.

This is when I tell myself, “not every meal has to be from scratch.” “It’s okay if the chicken and the vegetables didn’t come from your own backyard. Really.” Because sometimes you just need to get dinner on the table and preserve what little energy you have left to try and enjoy the end-of-the-school-year celebrations. A year of hard work – yours, your husband’s and the children’s. Celebrating your daughter leaving middle school and heading to high school. Your middle guy leaving grade school and heading to middle school. And, the last few weeks that you’ll ever – ever and ever and ever – have a kindergartner. {sigh}

*For the record, the hubs helps with all of this as well and he’s just as tired but he doesn’t really like me to talk about him here on La Pomme; however, I wanted to make sure he got his “credit due” which is hugely appreciated and I couldn’t do it without him. xo

Chicken Marinara

Chicken Marinara
I find that I tend to make this meal every year around this time. When I’m out of energy and ready for summer. The kids always love it as well as the hubs. (As you may have noticed, I kind of like calling him “the hubs.”) You can use whatever your favorite jarred marinara/pasta sauce is. For awhile I was using Dave’s Gourmet Pasta Sauce but now I have a crush on Trader Joe’s Organic Vodka Sauce. I also use a cast iron skillet for this recipe which moves easily from the stove-top to the oven but if you do not have an oven-friendly skillet you could always sear your chicken in a skillet and then, transfer the chicken to an oven-safe dish before you pour on your sauce and cheese.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast sliced lengthwise into 3 pieces each
1-2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

2 cups of jarred marinara/tomato sauce (I’m loving Trader Joe’s Organic Vodka Sauce right now.)
1 bag pre-shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese or Italian Cheese Blend

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Begin by cutting your chicken breasts lengthwise into 3 pieces each – although sometimes I end up with four. I’m sure I’m breaking all kinds of poultry rules here but since I’m not a chef…ignorance is bliss…and I don’t care to “pound” my chicken into thin pieces which always results in microscopic chicken bits flying everywhere.

If using a cast iron skillet, put it on the stove over medium-high heat to begin heating up.

Brush both sides of your chicken pieces with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Turn your heat down to medium and lay your chicken pieces in the hot skillet. I know you’re not supposed to “crowd the meat” but with this dish, my chicken pieces are usually quite snug with other pieces. However, if you want to be a rule follower you could always do this step in two batches. Allow your chicken to sear and brown for one minute on each side. Remove skillet from heat.

Carefully, pour your tomato sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the grated cheese to your liking and pop the whole thing in the oven for another 6-7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Pull it from the oven and serve with bread and applesauce on the side. Rice and bagged salad. Spaghetti and roasted asparagus. Whatever is easiest and gets the troops fed. Make your kids do the dishes. If you don’t have any kids, find some neighbor kids.


Yield: Dinner for a family of 4 and a kindergartner who doesn’t eat much

Organizing Project
Does organizing the piles that have accumulated on the dining room table count?

All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2011


  1. Regan - The Professional Palate says:

    Wow. I simply don't know what to say other than I feel like I just read a chapter out of my life from the past year. I have nothing clever, witty or insightful to add, other than I know this scenario so well. It's so refreshing to read it in someone else's font 😉

  2. Kim {Recipes To Run On} says:

    I LOVE this post! Thanks for being real. We just kicked off summer vacation around here…. and the end of the year came just in time. I hope you enjoy lots of ice cream and time to unwind as you approach the end of your school year. 🙂 PS ~ GREAT dinner recipe!

  3. Regan – I'm guessing most of us are feeling this way and just trying to put up a good front which is when Butterfinger Ice Cream comes in handy. 🙂

    Kim – I definitely see lots of ice cream over the course of the next couple of weeks just to get me through. Can't wait for summer (whether we have summer weather or not around here)! Happy Summer to You and Yours!!

  4. Strawberry CAKE says:

    Love the picture of basil on the cutting board. Beautiful. This looks so delicious. I love anything Trader Joes…so wish we had one closer than 2 hours away ; ( Hugs!

  5. Thanks, Sheila. I'm so so sorry you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby. No good. Can I ship you some Vodka Sauce??

  6. Courtney Cook Hopp says:

    I can't agree more! The eldest, just last week, said, "Mom, I noticed you always make my brother and me the same lunch. Maybe you should make us two different lunches." My response, of course, was, "Are you kidding? I don't have the energy to think of TWO unoriginal lunch box meals!"

  7. miniNigella says:

    this is my 1st visit on your blog…I'm writing from France….and I found your blog so inspiring : the pictures, the stories…and your last recipe looks amazing…I definitely want to try it…thanks for sharing !

  8. Court – It's so true…"no energy for two unoriginal lunch box meals!" This morning I made the kids make their lunches. So funny that the eldest who strongly dislikes pb&j and is not thrilled when I make it for her, headed out of the house with a pb&j sandwich thrown into a bag and shoved in her backpack.

    miniNigella – Thank you so much for letting me know you stopped by La Pomme! I appreciate it and hope to "see" you again. Cheers!

  9. Hey Carrie – great post and I am with you on every last word 🙂 Down to having the same lunch box containers from New Zealand!

    I am a friend of your SIL's here in Lyme, CT. My twins are in Kndergarten with Miss K!

    It's nice to "meet" you!

  10. Dana-So nice to "meet" you as well. Thank you for stopping by La Pomme. I have a Kindergartner as well…Miss K's cousin…I've been pretty weepy today that Kindergarten is almost over. I love this age. Cheers!

  11. Cooking with Michele says:

    Reading your post today reminded me of how rewarding it is to survive to be an empty nester. Don't get me wrong – I adore my 3 kids, but am so happy they are launched and I can enjoy them as young adults. I still have mornings when I can't get out of bed, but that's usually self-induced. And I do still have evenings when I can't face making dinner (despite being a cooking teacher). But somehow life is sweet knowing I made it through the most important task of my life – raising three independent, bright, creative kids!

  12. Michele, You must have been reading my mind because just last night when I tumbled into bed exhausted I thought that hopefully this will all pay off. That my children will grow up to be independent responsible adults who no longer need much from me except the occasional phone call and meanwhile, my hubby and I will be off traveling the world. At least…that's what I dream of. Good to know it can happen. Thank you for sharing!