Busy school days demand meals that can match the pace of life. A Mexican-themed meal is a sure way to keep things festive and lively around the family dinner table.

Not only does a meal centered on Mexican-style foods let you spice up your menu, it also allows for plenty of personalization so even the pickiest of palates can be satisfied. That means less time for preparation and more time spent together.

Put a fresh twist on your next school-night fiesta with these ideas:

* An ethnically-inspired meal is a great opportunity to encourage kids to try out new flavors and experiment with foods they wouldn't normally eat. Sample variations of classic salsas, incorporate seasonal ingredients like jicama and diced sweet peppers to freshen up your dishes or put a spicy spin on a classic Italian favorite by creating Mexican-inspired stuffed shells.

* Get creative with proteins. Chicken and beef are common options, but heart-healthy fish and shrimp are also great candidates for a Mexican-style meal. Pork is another good choice for many Mexican dishes, and beans provide an excellent source of added protein, along with some flavor variety.

* Mex-up your taco night. Try an alternative to the traditional corn shell with an option like Ortega Good Grains Taco Shells, crafted with artisanal blends of real corn, unique grains and ingredients baked into each shell. They're made with whole kernel corn, giving them an authentic taste and a distinctive flavor, aroma and texture.

* Keep things kid-friendly and fun by focusing on finger foods. A large taco can be difficult for little hands to handle, but a street taco portion, a chimichanga or even nachos are more hands-on.

* Look for fun toppings that add an extra crunch. For example, new Ortega Crispy Taco Toppers, lightly breaded slices of real jalapeno or onion, provide a bold kick and are the perfect finishing touch for tacos, salads and even Mexican-style burgers.

* Don't forget dessert. No meal is complete without a sweet treat, such as a churro, flan, empanada or sopapilla. Many of these favorites can be prepared ahead of time so you can simply cook and serve for a perfect ending to your family fiesta.

—Family Features

Slow Cooked "Pulled" Chicken Tacos

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours

Servings: 5

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 bottle (8 ounces) Ortega Chipotle Taco Sauce

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 package (10 shells) Ortega Good Grains White Corn with Chia Taco Shells, warmed

taco toppings

In medium pan, combine chicken, taco sauce, chicken stock, salt and pepper, and cook on low, covered, approximately 2 hours, or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 F. Remove chicken from pan and shred using two forks.

Turn heat to medium-high and reduce cooking liquid into thick sauce, cooking 3-5 minutes and stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and combine sauce with shredded chicken.

Serve in taco shells with desired taco toppings.

Baja Chicken Pizza

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Servings: 5

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1 pound

1 bottle (8 ounces) Ortega Green Taco Sauce

1 can Ortega Vegetarian Refried Beans

3/4 cup Ortega Homestyle Salsa (any variety)

1 Mama Mary's prepared pizza crust

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 can (4 ounces) Ortega Diced Green Chiles

1 bag (8 ounces) Mexican-style shredded cheese

1 bottle (8 ounces) Ortega Original Taco Sauce (any variety)

1 bag Ortega Crispy Onion Taco Toppers

In large bowl or re-sealable plastic bag, combine chicken breasts with green taco sauce. Stir or shake to coat. Marinate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350 F.

Bake chicken 15-20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 F.

Let chicken cool 10 minutes then cut into small cubes.

In medium bowl, combine refried beans and salsa.

Transfer prepared pizza crust to baking sheet.

Spread bean mixture over dough, leaving 1/4 inch at edges for crust.

Top with peppers, green chiles, chicken and cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Top with taco sauce and crispy onion toppers then serve.

Mexican Style "Totchos"

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Servings: 5

1 package (32 ounces) tater tots

1-1/2 pounds ground beef

1 packet Ortega Taco Seasoning

1 cup water

16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 container (16 ounces) sour cream

1 bag Ortega Crispy Jalapeno

Taco Toppers

Prepare tater tots according to package directions.

Heat medium skillet over medium heat. Cook ground beef 4-5 minutes until browned, using wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Add taco seasoning and water. Cook until water evaporates and sauce is thickened.

Top hot tater tots with cooked ground beef and cheese, and broil in oven 5 minutes.

Top with tomatoes, sour cream and crispy jalapeno toppers, and serve immediately.