10 Back-to-School, Prep-Ahead Easy Family Dinners

Chicken and Cherry Tomato Pasta with basil and parmesan in a skillet. It's easy and so delicious! #pasta #tomatoes #easydinner #dinner #easyrecipes #healthydinner #chicken

It’s almost Back-to-School time and that means…things are gonna get craaaazzzzyyyy!  But just because your little angels won’t let you use the bathroom in privacy, doesn’t mean you can’t get dinner on the table!  The extra school craziness just means we need to take a little help from wherever we can get it.  So let me help you, Mama!  Here are 10 (plus a bonus 11) super easy, kid-friendly, delicious, Prep-Ahead Easy Family Dinners that you can add to your Back-to-School arsenal.

These Easy Family Dinners will set you up to be the Super-Mom that you are!

 

A few deets for Magically Easy Family Dinners

Before I get into these magical Easy Family Dinners, let me share a few things about them first.

  1. I consider ‘Prep-Ahead‘ as preparing all of the ingredients so that you can simply cook on the night you want to eat.  In some cases, prep-ahead can also mean cooking ahead in a slow cooker or cooking some of the components in advance and finishing it on dinner night.  Bottom line, it means doing stuff ahead so you are less stressed!
  2. When I think of kid-friendly, I considered dishes that were a bit more inspired than just chicken nuggets.  Though, don’t get me wrong, my girls would take chicken nuggets ANY night of the week!  However, I know that spice can be a concern, so wherever possible, the heat is toned down and the spices mellowed out.  You will still see full-flavored deliciousness in each and every dinner recipe!
  3. Finally, a Family dinner is one that won’t break the bank!  Save the fancy or expensive dinners for the weekends and stretch your dollar during the week feeding your family nourishing food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  With that in mind, you will see quite a bit of Chicken, vegetables, beans, and healthy grains on this list.  These are foods that fill your family up with healthy vitamins and nutrients.

10 (+Bonus) Delicious Prep-Ahead Easy Family Dinners:

1.  5-Ingredient Easy Meatloaf with Cheesy Cauliflower Rice

Close up picture of sliced meatloaf with ketchup on top. This 5-Ingredient Easy Meatloaf recipe may be short on ingredients, but it is loaded with flavor. The lack of breadcrumbs means you don't have them soaking up the juices, so the meat stays moist - and it's gluten free too! Parmesan cheese, onion, egg, ketchup, salt, and pepper are all that go into this yummy loaf of goodness!

Welcome to my new favorite comfort food with a healthy twist: Cheesy Cauliflower Rice.  If Mac and Cheese met Cauliflower, fell in love and had a baby, it would be this Cheesy Cauliflower Rice. This recipe is so simple with just the flavors from the cauliflower - plus a few other things to help it come together.

First up on the list is none other that the trusty Meatloaf!!  But, this is a special meatloaf, friends.  It’s a super duper moist, flavorful, tangy, and utterly delicious only-5-ingredient Easy Meatloaf.  And you can serve it with equally delicious Cheesy Cauliflower Rice – but of course, you can opt for a simpler side, like potatoes, rice, or a salad!  This Gluten Free, Easy 5-Ingredient Meatloaf is loaded with flavor, but only a few ingredients. It’s also so moist because it replaces breadcrumbs with parmesan cheese for an incredible texture and taste!

  • Prep-Ahead 20 min (meatloaf 10 min; Cauliflower 10 min): You can make the meatloaf entirely ahead on Sunday and cook on the weeknight.  The Cauliflower prep includes cutting off the florets and blending to turn it into ‘rice’ and shredding the cheese.  Or, cook both the meatloaf and the Cheesy Cauliflower Rice on Sunday and just reheat!
  • Cook 60 min:  The meatloaf cooks in the oven for 60 minutes straight, not muss, no fuss.  The Cauliflower Rice takes only 15 minutes to saute and then make the cheese sauce, all of which can be done while the meatloaf cooks.

2.  Moroccan Turkey Meatball Stuffed Pitas 

Next up?  Fun, eat-with-your-hands Moroccan Meatball Stuffed Pitas!  These are so yummy; filled with homemade hummus and moist turkey meatballs made with warm Moroccan spices like ginger, turmeric, and coriander.  The flavors are warm, not hot/spicy, so they are perfect for kids.  Then these pitas are topped with creamy, fresh and bright lemon yogurt sauce. Easy, Fun, Delicious, and Good for You!

  • Prep-Ahead 20 min: You can prepare just about everything for this one in advance!  Chop and dice the ingredients, make the meatballs (and even freeze them for months ahead!), make the hummus, and mix the yogurt sauce.
  • Cook 20 min:  The only thing you need to cook are the meatballs, but even these can be made on Sunday and reheated on a weeknight.  You will also want to warm up the pitas a bit.

3.  Chicken & Cherry Tomato Pasta

Chicken and Cherry Tomato Pasta with basil and parmesan in a skillet. It's easy and so delicious! #pasta #tomatoes #easydinner #dinner #easyrecipes #healthydinner #chicken

Sometimes less is more and this Chicken & Cherry Tomato Pasta with Basil, Garlic, and Parmesan Cheese is just that…more, as in you will WANT MORE!   And let’s face it, on a busy school night, LESS IS ALWAYS MORE!  It has a garlic-y backdrop with sweetness from the natural sugars that are released from the cherry tomatoes. Then you get freshness from the basil, salty and nutty flavors from the Parmesan and a hearty bite from the chicken and pasta!! It’s simply divine!

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: Prep is just cutting the chicken, mincing the garlic, and shredding the parmesan.
  • Cook 20 min:  Cook the spaghetti, then make the chicken and tomatoes in a skillet.  Combine with pasta and parm and enjoy!

4.  Lemon Dill Sauce Chicken & Asparagus

Cooked Lemon Dill Sauce Chicken and Asparagus in pan on stove. It has chicken in a light and creamy sauce flavored with garlic, lemon and fresh dill. It's loaded with fresh asparagus. #springrecipes #dinner #easydinner #healthydinner #lemon #asparagus #chicken #glutenfree #easyrecipes

Creamy, bright, herby, and lemony, this recipe is full of flavor! Lemon Dill Sauce Chicken and Asparagus is an easy one-pan recipe that comes together fast and the entire family will love. It has seared chicken in a light and creamy sauce delicately flavored with garlic, lemon and fresh dill. Then it’s loaded with fresh and bright asparagus.

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: You can slice the asparagus, mince the garlic, and chop the dill.
  • Cook 20 min:  Everything cooks in one skillet for this one!  You start with the chicken, add the asparagus, then the sauce ingredients.

5.  Chicken & Cheese Corn Tortilla Quesadillas

Hand holding Chicken Corn Tortilla Quesadilla triangle with melty cheese pulling. They have crispy edges, a soft gooey center, and are mouthwatering flavor. They have hearty shredded chicken flavored with warm and smoky Mexican spices. Then shredded Pepper Jack cheese and Cheddar is layered to get melty and oozy and delicious. It's an irresistible new easy dinner or appetizer idea. #quesadillas #mexicanfood #enchiladas #familydinner #chicken

You can never go wrong with Quesadillas, but these are extra delicious with Chicken, Pepper Jack Cheese, and Corn Tortillas!  If Chicken Enchiladas and Cheese Quesadillas had a baby, it would be these incredible Chicken & Cheese Corn Tortilla Quesadillas! With crispy edges, a soft gooey center, and mouthwatering flavor, they will become your new obsession.  I filled these with hearty shredded chicken, flavored with warm and smoky Mexican spices. Then layered in shredded Pepper Jack cheese and Cheddar that gets so melty and oozy and delicious.  Quesadillas make for easy family dinners!

  • Prep-Ahead 30 min: You can roast and shred the chicken ahead of time, as well as shred the cheese.
  • Cook 10 min:  Each quesadilla takes less than 10 minutes to cook.

6. Healthy-ish Taco Casserole

Close up side view of taco casserole piece on plate with sour cream drizzled on top and diced tomatoes and scallion on top. What could be better than tacos? A Taco Casserole that's made with healthier lean ground chicken and can be made ahead for your busy schedule. This Taco Casserole has corn tortillas layered with browned ground chicken seasoned with smokey mexican spices, black beans, tomatoes, and cheese, and then more cheese.

Who wouldn’t love a Taco Casserole!? Especially Mom when this is ready to go on a busy school night!  Nothing beats layers of taco meat, tortillas, beans, and cheese!  Except, a Taco Casserole that’s made with healthier lean ground chicken and fiber rich black beans. This Taco Casserole has corn tortillas layered with browned ground chicken seasoned with smokey mexican spices, black beans, tomatoes, and cheese, and then more cheese.

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: For this one, you can actually make the entire casserole and then just cook it on the night you plan to eat it!  That means, cooking the ground chicken, adding the beans, tomatoes, and all other ingredients.  Then layering the meat and beans with the cheese and tortillas.  Or, you can cook it too and then simply reheat it when ready.
  • Cook 30 min:  Cooking this puppy means just putting in the oven for 30 min to melt all of the casserole layers together.

7.  Slow Cooker Beef Bolognese

Anniversary Slow Cooker Beef Bolognese is a souped-up version of the traditional Italian Meat Sauce made EASY in the slow cooker! The flavors of the ingredients with the meat become one and turn into this amazing thick sauce. I add even MORE FLAVOR with Pancetta and Demi-Glace. Delicious!

Slow Cooker Beef Bolognese is a souped-up version of the traditional Italian Meat Sauce made EASY by cooking it in the slow cooker!  It’s rich, creamy, meaty, and of course filling.  Perfect for crowds since everyone loves a good meat sauce or just make it for your immediate family with leftovers.  Beef bolognese is a traditionally cooked slowly on the stove for hours.  The flavors of the tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, wine and meat become one and turn into this amazing thick sauce. My recipe adds even MORE FLAVOR with Pancetta and Demi-Glace and then it all cooks in the slow cooker so you can go about your busy day!

  • Prep-Ahead 30 min: Dice the carrots, celery, and onion.  Sear the pancetta and beef.  Then add all ingredients to the slow cooker.
  • Slow Cooker 8 hours:  Set and forget!

If you don’t have a slow cooker, I highly recommend that you get one!  They are A-MAZ-ING for easy family dinners!  My slow cooker is my very good friend when times get crazy.  I absolutely love love love my easy and simple (and not expensive) Crock-Pot.  I have the 6-Quart version with 5 settings (low 4-hour, low 6-hour, high 8-hour, high 10-hour, and warm).

8.  Sesame Sweet Chili Chicken

Bite of Sesame Sweet Chili Chicken on a fork over more sliced on a plate with rice. It is slightly sweet, tangy, savory, nutty, with a touch of heat. You can prepare it days ahead, it takes just minutes to prepare, minutes to cook, and everyone will love it!! #chicken #marinades #easydinner #easychicken #chickenrecipes #easysauces #healthydinner #healthyfood #healthyrecipes

Make-Ahead Marinades are easy family dinners.  They’re perfect for busy school nights and when mixed with a protein, such as chicken, can even be frozen up to 4 months ahead!  This EASY Sesame Sweet Chili Chicken is quick to make and mouth wateringly yummy! The fantastic marinade and sauce is slightly sweet, tangy, savory, nutty, with a touch of heat. You can prepare it days ahead, tt takes just minutes to prepare, minutes to cook, and everyone will love it!!

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: For this one, you are just preparing the marinade and then prepping any side veggies that you want to make. 
  • Cook 20 min:  This Chicken cooks in a skillet and on the side, a simple rice with veggie.

9.  Easy Stovetop Tuna Casserole with Pimiento

Stove top Easy Tuna Casserole in a pot on counter. This is a creamy and delicious comfort dish with tuna and noodles and a surprise pop of sweet from Pimiento.  This easy recipe is completely from scratch (no canned soup here!) but I can promise you it's so easy and only takes 30 minutes because it's a Casserole that you can make entirely on the stove top!

Tuna Casserole is a school night dinner that I grew up on.  My version refreshes this ‘old school’ recipe!  Here you get a creamy and delicious easy homemade comfort dish with tuna and noodles and a surprise pop of sweet from Pimiento. This version is completely from scratch (no canned soup here!) and I can promise you it’s so easy and only takes 30 minutes because it’s a Casserole that you can make entirely on the stove top!

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: Not much to prep for this one, but as with the others, you can certainly make this entire dish ahead on Sunday and reheat on a weeknight!  For the prep, it’s just cutting the Carrots and Scallions, as well as shredding cheddar cheese.  You could also cook the noodles ahead.
  • Cook 20 min:  This dish comes together quickly on the stovetop in a large dutch oven or soup pot!

10. Teriyaki Peanut Sauce Chicken & Broccoli with Noodles

Teriyaki Peanut Sauce Chicken and Broccoli stir fry with rice noodles is a simple, delicious, one pan dinner option.  It's also Gluten Free! You get the amazing flavor from the combo of peanut butter, teriyaki sauce, and sesame oil mixed with the Chicken, Broccoli, cabbage, and rice noodles...YUM!

Slurp ’em if you got ’em!  This is a kid fave…Slurpable Noodles!  Teriyaki Peanut Sauce Chicken and Broccoli stir fry with rice noodles is a super simple, delicious, one pan weeknight dinner option. You get a simple, but complex flavor combo from the peanut butter, teriyaki sauce, and the sesame oil. It’s one of those sauces that if no one is watching, I may slurp up a spoonful of it and may even lick my bowl after to get every last drop. It’s that good.

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min:  You can cut the broccoli, marinate the chicken, make the peanut teriyaki sauce, and slice the scallions.
  • Cook 20 min: On the night you’re ready to eat, you just need to cook the noodles and stir fry the chicken, broccoli, cabbage/carrot mix, and scallions with the sauce.

11. BONUS!!! One Pan Italian Sausage, Veggies, & Eggs

This One Pan Italian Sausage and Eggs is LOADED with flavors and textures. You get the salty Italian Sausage, sweet bell pepper, creamy potatoes, sweet and juicy tomatoes, meaty brussel sprouts, creamy eggs, and salty, nutty cheddar cheese. Best of all, the entire meal cooks on one large pan!

Some may call this breakfast for dinner.  I just call it delicious and easy!  Perfect for school nights!  This One Pan Italian Sausage and Eggs is LOADED with flavors and textures. You get the salty Italian Sausage, sweet bell pepper, creamy potatoes, sweet and juicy tomatoes, meaty brussel sprouts, creamy eggs, and salty, nutty cheddar cheese. Best of all, the entire meal cooks on one large pan!

  • Prep-Ahead 10 min: You can prepare the sweet peppers, brussels sprouts, garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese.
  • Cook 55 min:  This dish does take a bit longer than the others to cook, but it’s all on 1 pan!  So, while you do need the time, it’s time in the oven while you do other things 🙂

What are YOUR favorite Back-to-School Dinner recipes?  Please share in the comments!

😍 Carrie

5 Make Ahead Freezer Meals for Busy Families

2 Bowls of Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew with sour cream and scallion slices as garnish and slow cooker pot in background. It's one of my Prepped Freezer Meal recipes and it's creamy, cozy, hearty, cheesy, and slightly spicy. All ingredients freeze raw, thaw, then cook in the slow cooker or in the oven. It's a stew because it's thick and hearty with bites of chicken, carrots, onion, chipotle peppers, cumin, garlic and tortilla chips that melt down to thicken this delicious stew.

All ingredients in a labeled freezer bag for Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew. It is one of my Prepped Freezer Meal recipes and it's creamy, cozy, hearty, cheesy, and slightly spicy. All ingredients freeze raw, thaw, then cook in the slow cooker or in the oven. It's a stew because it's thick and hearty with bites of chicken, carrots, onion, chipotle peppers, cumin, garlic and tortilla chips that melt down to thicken this delicious stew.

Make Ahead Freezer Meals can be a dinner saver for busy families!  You know those days that you are racing home from a late meeting or going from piano to gymnastics and not getting home with the kids until 7pm?  Well, Make Ahead Freezer Meals are great for those nights!  These are frozen meal kits where you put all of the raw ingredients into a freezer storage container or bag and freeze it for up to 3 months.  Then thaw the day before and either pour into the slow cooker the morning of or onto a sheet pan when you get home.  That’s it, one bag, one cooking vessel, one hot dinner ready to go!!!

“I feel like we are in a dinner rut with 3-4 easy dinners in the rotation”

Sound familiar?  Of course it does!  You are freaking busy!!!!  Do you have a job, kids, activities, or all of the above?  Yes!  You have LIFE going on!  So, you likely turn to what you know and what is easy when it comes to dinners.  However, if you spend 10 minutes throwing all ingredients in a freezer bag, you can try something totally new!!!  I have covered family-friendly flavors across Asian, Moroccan, Mexican, Italian-ish, and American cuisines.

These Make Ahead Freezer Meal recipes meet the most important criteria for busy families:

  1. EASY TO MAKE – Easy to new put the Make Ahead Freezer Meal together in 10 minutes
  2. NEW FAMILY FRIENDLY FLAVORS – the kids will enjoy them too!!
  3. BALANCED MEALS – with protein and veggies
  4. EASY TO COOK – Cooking is either done in a slow cooker so it’s ready when you are or takes 30 minutes on 1 pan in the oven.

Do you have a slow cooker?

Actually, just before I share the recipes with you, I wanted to make sure I shared what I used to cook many of them.  I absolutely love love love my easy and simple (and not expensive) Crock-Pot.  I have the 6-Quart version with 5 settings (low 4-hour, low 6-hour, high 8-hour, high 10-hour, and warm).You can order this today and have it in a few days to start your Slow Cooker Cookin’!

5 MUST-TRY MAKE AHEAD FREEZER MEALS

(Clicks links for full recipes)

1.  Sheet Pan Hoisin Chicken with Ginger & Red Peppers

Hoisin Chicken over rice on a plate with a fork. In back is pan with spatula. This Freezer Hoisin Chicken with Red Peppers, Carrots, Onions, Ginger, and Soy sauce is delicious and so easy to make. You get sweet and savory all in one dish and it's perfect for kids because it's sweet, not spicy at all. Just freeze ahead, thaw, then cook on a sheet pan!

All raw ingredients in freezer bag for Freezer Hoisin Chicken with Red Peppers, Carrots, Onions, Ginger, and Soy sauce is delicious and so easy to make. You get sweet and savory all in one dish and it's perfect for kids because it's sweet, not spicy at all. Just freeze ahead, thaw, then cook on a sheet pan!

This Make-Ahead Freezer Hoisin Chicken with Red Peppers, Carrots, Onions, Ginger, and Soy sauce is absolutely delicious and so easy to make. You get sweet and savory all in one dish and it’s perfect for families with kids because it’s sweet, not spicy at all. All ingredients go into a freezer bag, you thaw the night before, and then cook on a sheet pan…so EASY! Of course, you don’t have to freeze this, you can just make it, but let’s face it, we could all use some meals ready for us on those insanely, crazy, busy nights!

2.  One Pot Creamy Tomato Soup with Chicken and Spinach

Creamy Tomato Soup in a soup pot on napkin on counter with wood spoon on side. It has Ground Chicken and Spinach is creamy and chunky and has a ton of deep flavor. AND it is healthy! It uses all white meat ground chicken that you cook until it is incredibly browned for some serious flavor. Then tomato paste adds the flavor back drop for the soup and a flour roux plus broth creates the amazing creaminess! Finally Spinach is your veggie boost.

This Prep-Ahead Freezer Creamy Tomato Soup with Ground Chicken and Spinach is creamy and chunky and has a ton of deep flavor. AND it is healthy! It uses all white meat ground chicken that you cook until it is incredibly browned for some serious flavor. Then tomato paste adds the flavor back drop for the soup and a flour roux plus broth creates the amazing creaminess! Finally Spinach is your veggie boost. So delicious and so EASY!

3.  5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Soup with Veggies

5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Soup in a bowl with spoon and crockpot in background. This soup is thick, creamy, and hearty. It's filled with flavorful broth, meaty shredded chicken, and sweet bursts of bright veggies. You can prepare all of the ingredients ahead and freeze them until you are ready to cook. Then, thaw, pour into the Slow Cooker, set and forget.

5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Soup ingredients in a labeled Freezer Bag. This recipe is thick, creamy, and hearty. It's filled with flavorful broth, meaty shredded chicken, and sweet bursts of bright veggies. You can prepare all of the ingredients ahead and freeze them until you are ready to cook. Then, thaw, pour into the Slow Cooker, set and forget.

This 5-Ingredient Homemade Chicken Soup is thick, creamy (but, no dairy!), and hearty. It’s filled with flavorful broth, meaty shredded chicken, and sweet bursts of bright veggies. But, this version is also the easiest ever because you prepare all of the ingredients ahead (even months ahead) and freeze them until you are ready to cook this wonderful meal. Then you thaw, pour all of the ingredients into the Slow Cooker, set and forget. Forget until those amazing and comforting aromas remind you that you have a Homemade Chicken Soup waiting for you!

4.  Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew

2 Bowls of Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew with sour cream and scallion slices as garnish and slow cooker pot in background. It's one of my Prepped Freezer Meal recipes and it's creamy, cozy, hearty, cheesy, and slightly spicy. All ingredients freeze raw, thaw, then cook in the slow cooker or in the oven. It's a stew because it's thick and hearty with bites of chicken, carrots, onion, chipotle peppers, cumin, garlic and tortilla chips that melt down to thicken this delicious stew.

All ingredients in a labeled freezer bag for Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew. It is one of my Prepped Freezer Meal recipes and it's creamy, cozy, hearty, cheesy, and slightly spicy. All ingredients freeze raw, thaw, then cook in the slow cooker or in the oven. It's a stew because it's thick and hearty with bites of chicken, carrots, onion, chipotle peppers, cumin, garlic and tortilla chips that melt down to thicken this delicious stew.

This Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Stew is creamy, cozy, hearty, cheesy, and slightly spicy. This Stew is a Prepped Freezer Meal recipe, which means it’s a great option to prep ahead and easily make for dinner on a busy weeknight. Ingredients freeze raw, thaw, then cook in the slow cooker or in the oven. It’s a stew because it’s thick and hearty with bites of chicken, carrots, onion, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for spice, cumin, garlic and lots of tortilla chips that melt down to thicken this delicious stew.

5.  Moroccan Chicken Chili with Chickpeas

Moroccan Chicken Chili in bowl over white rice with a dollop of Cilantro Lime Yogurt on top and in a bowl to the left. The slow cooker is in background with chili. Moroccan Chicken Chili with Chickpeas is loaded with comforting and healthy ingredients and spices. You get warmth from Ginger, Turmeric, Garlic, and Coriander. Then tons of hearty flavor from browned ground chicken and Shallots. And creaminess from the Carrots and Chickpeas. You can make it ahead and freeze it until you are ready to cook it!

Final labeled freezer bag of all ingredients for Moroccan Chicken Chili with Chickpeas is loaded with comforting and healthy ingredients and spices. You get warmth from Ginger, Turmeric, Garlic, and Coriander. Then tons of hearty flavor from browned ground chicken and Shallots. And creaminess from the Carrots and Chickpeas. You can make it ahead and freeze it until you are ready to cook it!

Moroccan Chicken Chili with Chickpeas and a Cilantro Lime Yogurt is loaded with comforting, healthy, and even healing ingredients and spices. You get the warmth from the Ginger, Turmeric, Garlic, and Coriander. Tons of flavor comes from really browned ground chicken and Shallots. And you get creamy heartiness from the Carrots and Chickpeas. Finally, you get the cool and tangy balance from the Cilantro Lime Yogurt. This Moroccan Chicken Chili has so many warm spices and flavors, it will become a favorite. I like to serve this over white rice, but you can definitely eat it by itself.

I hope you try these Make Ahead Freezer Meals and if so, please let me know what you thought in the comments!

😍 Carrie