Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back-To-School: 95 Quick Weeknight Dinners


Today is our final day in our “Back-to-School” series!  I hope that you’ve found some good ideas to spur you on to cooking wholesome meals during the busy school year. 

We finish out our week of breakfasts, lunch, snack ideas & your favorite school year eats with weeknight dinners; you know – those nights when you have just a few minutes to eat and the drive-thru looks so much easier than your stove! 

Quick & Healthy Weeknight Dinners

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.  Meals that come together in minutes and with simple ingredients you already have on hand are a life saver during the dinner time rush. 

How we make it happen:

  • Menu Planning 
    • Seriously – without a menu plan, we would be lost.  Planning a menu each week insures that I have all the ingredients on hand that I need, and also helps me plan meals appropriately. 
    • For example – Monday nights I teach a lab until 5:30.  By the time I get home I do not want to cook. I’m hungry and want to eat!  By planning in advance to either have leftovers ready or a meal in the crockpot, I avoid the unhealthy dinner options that tempt me. 
    • We don’t always make everything on our menu, nor do we always do it on the night we intended, but knowing I have ingredients in the house to make good meals for us is the only way I know how to get dinner on the table in a pinch.
  • Plan ahead
    • If there are little things I can do ahead of time to chip away at dinnertime prep, I plan those out too. While I’ve had a to do list for dinner prep for a long time, I recently started sharing that with you each week in our menu plan.  This list helps me be intentional about meal preparation and saves me frustration & time. 
  • Do some, but not a lot, of bulk cooking
    • I’m not a freezer cooker, but I do take advantage of making a few items that we have in our freezer at all times.  You will usually find: pizza or hot pockets, hamburger and hotdog buns, bread loaves, diced veggies, and cooked meat (e.g., diced chicken, ground beef/turkey).  By having some of these staples on hand, I know I can toss together a meal pretty quickly. 


Recipes for Success:

1.  Use the Crockpot

The crockpot is an incredible invention.  My kitchen would not be the same without it.  Crockpot meals, in some instances, don’t look incredibly appealing, but they taste great!  Filling dinners, warm soups, breakfast options & even desserts can be made in the crockpot! 

Soups we recommend: Busy Day Soup, Crockpot Chicken & Barley Soup, Crockpot Chicken Spinach Soup, Crockpot Italian Sausage Vegetable Soup, Garden Minestrone, Crockpot Vegetable Beef Stew, Crockpot Chicken Chili, Crockpot Boeuf Bourguignon,

Dinners we recommend: Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce, Crockpot Ziti, Crockpot Chicken Cordon Bleu, Crockpot Chicken Parmesan, Crockpot Italian Turkey, Crockpot Lemon Herby Chicken Legs, Crockpot Broccoli Beef, Crockpot Philly Cheesesteaks or Chicken Cheesesteaks, Crockpot French Dip Sandwiches, Crockpot Chicken, Crockpot Chicken & Rice, Crockpot Scalloped Potatoes & Ham, Crockpot Maple Apple Pork Roast, Crockpot Autumn PorkCrockpot Swiss Steak, Crockpot Parmesan Chicken & Rice, Crockpot Chicken Teriyaki Legs, Crockpot Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce, Crockpot {Healthier} Sloppy Joes, Crockpot Italian Turkey & Crockpot BBQ Pork.

Desserts we recommend: Crockpot Apple Cake, Crockpot Apple Pumpkin Cake, Crockpot Apple Cobbler & Crockpot Cherry Cobbler.

2. Make Dinner on the Stove, or Oven in 30-Minutes

Stove-top meals are quick and easy to prepare; they can be soups or main dishes.  Some require just a toast in the oven – enough time to melt the cheese.  But, choosing one of these meals for a busy night (especially if the veggies are diced and ready to go) allows you to feed your family very quickly!

Soups we recommend: Cheesy Chicken & Rice SoupCheesy Ham & Potato Soup, Easy Lasagna Soup, Meatball Tortellini Soup, Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese, Zuppa Tuscana, & Veggie Cheese Soup

Dinners we recommend: Quick Spaghetti Sauce, No-Nut Pesto & Pasta, Mom’s Goulash, Ham & Garden Veggie Shells, Healthy Mac & Cheese, Honey Mustard Chicken & Pasta, Italian Sausage Spinach Penne, Mixed Veggies & Pasta, Penne with Broccoli & Turkey Sausage, Rice Cooker Mac & Cheese, Rigatoni with Stewed Vegetables, Spinach Chicken Pasta Skillet, Zucchini & Mushroom Pasta Skillet, Pizza Casserole, Cheesy Chicken & Ranch Casserole, Tortellini with Italian Sausage & Spinach, Mushroom Melt Skillet, Unstuffed Pepper Skillet, Cheesy Green Bean Skillet.

3. Make-Ahead Bakes

I mentioned earlier we don’t do a lot of freezer cooking, but we do make dinners at breakfast time and store them in the fridge just to be baked when the dinner hour rolls around.  Rice and pasta dishes do this exceptionally well.  And, better yet – you don’t even have to boil the pasta to assemble the dishes in the morning. 

We recommend: Spinach & Pasta Bake, Butternut Squash Pasta Bake, Three-Cheese Ziti, Broccoli Hotdish, Chicken & Brown Rice Bake, Mexican Chicken Hotdish, Sweet Potato Risotto, Wild Rice Hotdish, Cheesy Lasagna with Veggies

4. Freezer-Friendly Make-Ahead Meals or Sides

We do have a few freezer items on hand at all times.  These are simple to prepare, store well and allow you to complete a meal very quickly.  Bread/bread sticks for soup night, buns for quick sandwiches or to serve with a crockpot meal, and even DIY hot pockets to serve with a salad help dinners come together.   

We recommend: Broccoli & Ham Pockets, Calzones, Olive Garden Breadsticks, Pizza Pockets, Stuffed Pretzels, Twice Baked Potatoes, Twice Baked Potato Casserole, No-Knead Focaccia Bread, DIY Crescent Rolls, Hamburger Buns, Hotdog Buns, Pizza Dough.

5. Build-Your-Own Meals

An easy dinner is one we call build-your-own!  Make a base – like pasta, grilled chicken or potatoes.  Then, let your family top their own baked potato, make their own pasta or stuff their own taco.  If it’s nice out – let them top their own pizzas and grill them (with frozen pizza dough you can have dinner in 15 minutes!).  Easy toppings include stir-fried veggies, beans, diced tomatoes, sautéed bell peppers, frozen veggies (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower), corn, cheese, spinach & more!

Preparing the base takes 10 minutes – cook some chicken, brown ground turkey or beef, and you can prepare all the toppings too.  Then, save yourself the time by letting your family assemble the dish.  

We recommend: Crockpot Baked Potato Bar, Sandwiches with all the fixings, Taco Bar, Chicken Fajita or Steak Fajita Bar, Simple Chicken Wraps, Grilled Pizza, Build-your-own pasta with veggies & protein (e.g., grilled chicken, beans, cheese), or build-your own rice dish, quesadillas and open-faced sandwiches.   

6. Use Freezer Side Dishes

I know there are some folks out there against frozen veggies; I am not one of them.  Most good-quality vegetables are flash frozen at their peak and maintain more nutrients than the fresh produce sitting in your refrigerator.  Heck – you can even get organic frozen veggies for cheaper prices than fresh!

At all times, our freezer is full of a big bag of mixed veggies, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas and green beans.  Steaming these (which, is the best way to keep the nutrients!) takes minutes and can easily fill out a meal.  We also have easy side dish recipes you can browse to find some new family favorites.  

What do you do for those busy weeknight dinners? 

Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks so much for joining us for the Back-To-School Week at Finding Joy in My Kitchen!!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.


  1. Thanks for posting this. We already use your website all the time (we probably use at least 2-3 recipes a week from it) but this will be a great resource to look back to!

    1. Thanks, Hillary! It makes me so happy to know that you are enjoying the recipes here. And, yes, it's nice to have these quick & easy meals all in one place.


Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you; especially how you're finding JOY in your kitchen.

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