On any given weeknight in my household, at precisely 6:05 p.m., there is a flurry of activity all within 7 square feet of our kitchen island. Lunchboxes are being unpacked, papers from teachers are being signed, the mail is making a thud as it's dropped on the counter, the dog is asking to be fed. All the while, I am dodging and weaving between my family members, trying to get dinner on the table before my 11-year-old has to go flying out the door for ballet. It's far from relaxing. Words like "hectic" come to mind. And that would be putting it mildly.
So, my main goal of this family-friendly dinner plan is to take that level of stress from code red down to a more tolerable green. The basic premise is: do a bit of prep on Sunday when you have a chunk of time to get into the kitchen to help ease the weeknight chaos. For example: Chop and cook a batch of veggies that you can tuck into a couple of the meals. Whip up some yummy homemade dressing to use all week long. Build a simple veggie-heavy casserole. Then for the rest of the week, when 6:05 comes along, we can be sitting pretty! All that's left to do is pop that casserole into the oven or throw together some pre-prepped ingredients.
Monday: Cheese Quesadillas with Peppers & Onions + Citrus Slaw
Tuesday: One-Pot Greek Pasta
Wednesday: Easy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Thursday: Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes + Spinach Salad
Here's your Printable Shopping List. Make sure you check the pantry staples before you head to the store. Also, when you shop, make sure you check your expiration dates on the greens and meat—they tend to have shorter expiration dates, and they'll need to keep in the fridge for the week.
Next, set aside some time on Sunday to do your prep work. You'll need about an hour and a half total.
Put a big pot of water on to boil for a 1-pound box of pasta. I used whole-wheat rotini. The key is to cook it only until it is al dente. Most cooking instructions will give you a range—just err on the shorter end of that. That way, the pasta won't get mushy when it is reheated.
After draining the pasta, rinse it with cold water and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Divide it into two sealable bags: refrigerate one bag with 6 cups rotini for the One-Pot Greek Pasta and freeze 4 cups for the Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup.
While the pasta water comes to a boil, take 5 minutes to get this simple sheet-pan chicken into the oven. It's seasoned with garlic and oregano, which go well with both Mediterranean and Mexican flavors, so the chicken will go with either cuisine. Once it's finished roasting, cool, chop and divide it up as follows: You'll use 1/3 pound cooked chicken in the Easy Chicken Enchilada Casserole and 3/4 pound cooked chicken in the freezer pack for the Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup.
The beauty of these basic Sautéed Peppers & Onions is that they can cook slowly while you continue with the rest of your prep. All you need to do is give them an occasional stir. I like to use a variety of colors of peppers, but if your family has a fondness for one color in particular, use that. Once the veggies are softened and starting to brown, pull them off the heat, let them cool and divide them up for the weeknight meals. You'll need 1 cup for the Cheese Quesadillas with Peppers & Onions, 2 cups for the Easy Chicken Enchilada Casserole and 1 cup for the Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes. I like to put them each into sealable glass containers with a label, so they're easy to identify and grab for each meal.
Which basically means chopping carrots, celery and onions. While you're at it, chop 1 extra cup of onion for the One-Pot Greek Pasta. Freeze your soup kit and set a reminder to defrost it on Thursday so it will be ready to cook on Friday morning.
Assemble the casserole using the chicken that you cooked ahead of time on Sunday. Pop a cover on it and refrigerate until Wednesday.
This recipe makes extra, which is great for lunches! Store in a glass jar with a lid and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Get the recipe: Cheese Quesadillas with Peppers & Onions
These simple quesadillas come together quickly thanks to the fact that the veggies are already cooked. Just shred some Monterey Jack and you're ready to go. Our family liked these topped with guacamole and salsa. To round out the meal, I whipped up a simple citrus slaw: Toss 6 cups shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix with 6 tablespoons Citrus Vinaigrette.
Time Spent: 15 minutes.
Get the recipe: One-Pot Greek Pasta
You read that right! One pot. Boom! Pasta night just got even easier—and the kids devoured this one! Precooked chicken sausage and the pasta from Sunday's prep really speed up the whole process.
Time Spent: 12 minutes.
Get the recipe: Easy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
You've already done the work for this one, so all you have to do is breeze in the door and pop it in the oven or microwave.
Time Spent: 8 minutes.
Get the recipe: Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes
These messy sandwiches are a mashup of two favorite comfort foods: sloppy joes and cheese steak sandwiches. We loved them wrapped up in foil! Add some healthy veggies on the side in the form of an easy-to-assemble salad (no chopping required): 8 cups baby spinach and 1/4 cup each dried sweetened cranberries and sliced almonds. Use 1/3 cup Citrus Vinaigrette.
Don't forget to transfer both Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup Freezer Packs to the fridge to defrost overnight.
Time Spent: 25 minutes.
Get the recipe: Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup Freezer Pack
In the morning, set up your slow cooker to cook the soup (keep the thawed pasta and chicken in the fridge till later). In the last 20 minutes of cooking, add in the thawed 4 cups pasta, chicken, beans, spinach and some fresh basil. If you have a bottle of really good olive oil, this is the time to use it. Drizzle it over the soup and add some Parmesan before serving to really elevate it! Serve it with warmed whole-wheat rolls.
Time Spent: 10 minutes.