This school administrator is serious about showing love through her cooking, but not so serious that she can't laugh at herself. This great kitchen spirit is why Rachel is one of our #FamilyDinnerHero nominees. Meet the rest of our hero nominees, and vote for your favorite.
Credit: Jeremy Kramer

Hometown: Dayton, Ohio

COOKING LIGHT: How do you define a Family Dinner Hero?

RACHEL BLANKS: People think of a hero as someone with superpowers, but for me a family dinner hero is someone who brings a family together. In my line of work, I know so many people who have so little yet get dinner on the table every day. They make the best of what they have. Cooking has been my own therapy. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. When the fatigue and pain sets in, I have to be OK with using my stand mixer instead of my whisk, a simple casserole instead of a three-course meal, or even asking my mom [pictured at left, along with Rachel’s daughter, Reagan] for dinner if I just can’t do it. MS is not about being limited; it’s about knowing my limitations at the moment.

CL: Tell us why inspiring kids to make better food choices is important to you.

RB: All of the kids at the school where I teach are on a free lunch program, and they’re very picky eaters. We’ve started celebrating national food holidays so they can try different things—and it also exposes me to new things I may not have tried before. I had my first pistachio this year on National Pistachio Day. Sometimes the experiments are successes, sometimes not. Sometimes you have to present things in a different wrapper to get them to try it. That applies to me, too.

CL: What’s one piece of cooking equipment you can’t live without?

RB: If I could live inside a grill, I would. They should make that smoky smell into a cologne. I will run up to your husband and give him a hug if he smells like the grill. I love to make a banana split on the grill. The fruit caramelizes, and the grill pulls out its smoky, sweet flavor.

Grilled Chicken and Steak Fajitas

Recipe by Rachel Blanks

“This is one of my favorite go-to recipes because it is simple, healthy, and most importantly, it brings the entire family together! It’s so much fun hanging around the grill with my daddy and then sitting around with the entire family digging in and making each fajita with their own personal touch.”

  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
  • 3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 11/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Grated rind of 2 limes
  • 1 (1-pound) flank steak
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 medium sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 each red, yellow, green, and orange bell pepper, sliced
  • 16 (6-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup fresh salsa
  • 2 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 large avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Lime wedges (optional)

1. Combine 1 cup oil, Worcestershire, and next 10 ingredients (through rind). Pour half the marinade into 2 separate large zip-top plastic bags. Add flank steak to 1 bag and chicken to the other; seal and turn bags to coat. Marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Remove steak and chicken from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature while grill heats.

3. Coat grill rack with cooking spray; arrange rack on grill. Add flank steak and chicken to grill rack; grill 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from grill; let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak and chicken across the grain into thin slices.

4. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onions and bell peppers; sauté 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in steak, chicken, and any accumulated juices.

5. Top tortillas evenly with steak mixture, cilantro, salsa, cheese, jalapeño, and avocado. Serve with lime wedges, if desired.

SERVES 8 (serving size: 2 fajitas) CALORIES 427; FAT 18g (sat 3.4g, mono 7.8g, poly 1.5g); PROTEIN 31g; CARB 34g; FIBER 6g; SUGARS 5g (est. added sugars 1g); CHOL 66mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 633mg; CALC 55mg