Hearty Family Dinners for Busy Nights: You Say Potato, I Say, YES PLEASE


dinnerStruggling with healthy family dinners for busy fall nights? Oh my goodness, friend, ME TOO.

I have 4 kids who all do different activities different nights of the week. This means we are often scrambling at dinner time to connect with each other, eat after 4pm but before 9:00, and avoid the takeout trap. I have been pinning the heck out of filling, fast, budget-friendly family dinners and using my own family as fat little guinea pigs so I could share the best ones with you.

So here you go: 10 family dinners you can either make ahead or assemble in a snap!

  1. Pioneer Woman macaroni and cheese with roasted broccoli on the side. My kids call this mac and trees, and it is a family favorite. You can make the mac and cheese ahead of the dinner hour and then just pop it in the oven. I like to set the time bake and let the casserole and the broccoli cook together while we’re gone. Pro tip: blanch the broccoli before you roast it.
  2. Build-your-own rice and bean bowls. If you cook the rice and beans whenever you have a second, these can be assembled and microwaved in minutes. I like red beans and brown rice, and our go-to toppings include roasted sweet potatoes (again, make these whenever you have time to peel, slice, slather with butter, and throw them in the oven—you can reheat later), chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, green onions, salsa, and guacamole.
  3. Pasta casserole. Use or make your favorite red sauce; cook some spicy Italian sausage; boil and drain a box of your favorite noodles. Then, mix it all together in a casserole dish and bury it with cheese. You can also add zucchini and/or spinach if your kids don’t freak out about extra veggies. We eat this with a big green salad and take-and-bake French bread usually.
  4. Chicken tacos in the slow cooker. Throw some chicken breasts, a jar of your favorite salsa, a can of tomatoes and chili peppers, cumin, garlic, and cracked red pepper in your crockpot and cook it for around 6 hours. About 20 minutes before dinner, shred your chicken and stir in a block of cream cheese. Bam! Taco meat for literally days. Serve with your family’s favorite shells and toppings and a side of veggies and guac. I usually follow this meal up with a night of taco salads, or breakfast burritos, or even just MORE tacos.
  5. Halfway homemade chicken soup. In your slow cooker, dump a couple of boxes of chicken broth, your favorite soup seasoning, some sautéed onions, and a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies. Add shredded rotisserie chicken and let it cook until your dog is losing her mind from the delicious smell. About a half an hour before dinner, throw some wide egg noodles in there and let them cook. You can also cook the noodles separately on the stovetop and add them in as you go. This is what I do because I generally like my soup sans noodle. If you go this route, just buy an extra box of broth and cook your noodles in it instead of water for more flavor. We serve this with apples, French bread, and smoothies. I call it the poor man’s Panera.
  6. Make your own chicken salads. I am not going to lie to you: we have this like 3 days a week. All you have to do is grill a ton of chicken and make sure you are freshly stocked with salad greens and everyone’s favorite dressing. We like to eat salads with loaded baked potatoes, so you also need some bacon and sour cream in addition to the salad fixings.
  7. Turkey and sweet potato chili. I discovered this recipe while doing a round of Whole30, so there aren’t any beans, but I don’t miss them! Top it with guac, cheese, and maybe some tortilla chips for a non-Whole30 makeover.
  8. Aidells chicken apple sausages with basically anything. These sausages are so delicious you can eat them with peppers, pasta, and red sauce, in an egg and veggie scramble, or on their own with a side of veggies and roasted sweet potatoes. They have become a go-to quick dinner staple.
  9. Sheet pan tostadas. Like tacos only even easier because there is literally ONE DISH to wash.
  10. Pulled pork sliders. There are literally THOUSANDS of slow-cooker pulled pork recipes to choose from, but this one is my favorite. We have this on the regular with homemade coleslaw and veggies and dip.

There you have it—10 easy family dinners you can throw into your busy weeknight rotation. What are your own favorite meals for the family? Share them in the comments.

Sarah Jedd
Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 4 children nine years old and younger, three boys and an oh-look-you-finally-got-your girl (why does everyone say that?). In her spare time (ha! as if!) she is writing a memoir, and she blogs at harrytimes.blogspot.com. Sarah and her husband and their kids and world’s laziest dog live in Verona.



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