Back to school brings with it a plethora of emotions for the kids heading into another year: excitement, nerves, and some sadness that summer has come to an end. For me though, I mainly feel pressure to keep it all together. Filling out paperwork, buying school supplies, and preparing for busy evenings filled with homework and extracurriculars.
One of the most important things I can do for myself and my family is to plan easy, comforting meals. This is not the time to push my family to try wildly different dishes. We are all dealing with enough newness right now. But that doesn’t mean we’ll eat the same old thing every night. I keep it interesting by taking our favorites and making minor changes. I make a slightly different stir fry, buy unique pasta shapes, or add different spices.
Below are dinners that are all on the table in 30 minutes and will hopefully make everyone’s night a little more enjoyable. Lean into these easy, family favorites to help us as we try to keep it all together.
Lemon Pepper Chicken Breasts
Coating chicken breasts in flour is a genius move. It helps keep the moisture in and forms a crust for added texture. The dish is finished with a buttery lemon pan sauce that will wow everyone at the table.
Garam Masala Fish Sticks
It’s been a minute since I’ve eaten fish sticks. This homemade version beats the freezer section hands down. Cut cod into even pieces, coat in spices, and then bake until crispy. Use the air fryer for an even crispier option.
Keep all the parts that make a burger delicious (the patty, toppings, and sauce) and turn it into a dinner salad. Iceberg lettuce adds a nice crunch, but use your favorite lettuce and whatever tomatoes you have on hand. Sit down and enjoy the freshest tasting burger you’ve ever had.
Buffalo Chicken Tacos
Enjoy the classic buffalo chicken flavors tucked into a tortilla, no oven required! Rotisserie chicken and a bag of coleslaw mix make this exactly the type of low effort/high reward weeknight dinner we all crave.
Grab your wok and make this satisfying Chinese American favorite. Loads of vegetables and chicken thighs are stir fried and coated in a pantry sauce that will have you licking the plate. Serve with rice.
Microwave Red Curry Poached Salmon
Poaching salmon in an aromatic curry sauce sounds like it will require multiple pans and an oven, but the microwave does all the heavy lifting in this family meal. Serve with jasmine rice and chopped herbs.
Ultimate French Bread Pizza
Soft, wide French bread is a welcome change from pre-baked pizza crusts. It gives off deep dish vibes without the added work. Top with your favorite toppings and make an extra one for tomorrow’s lunch.
Skillet Cacio e Pepe Tortellini With Wilted Greens
Make an easy dinner even easier by skipping the pot of boiling water. Frozen tortellini is cooked directly in a skillet with olive oil. Stir in your favorite greens, such as baby spinach or chopped kale, and top with cheese before serving.
Paccheri with Quick Sausage Ragu
Get the family talking with a new-to-them pasta shape. Paccheri is a thick, tubular pasta that can stand up to thick and meaty sauces like this ragu. In this version Italian sausage is browned and then mixed with spices, tomato paste, pasta water, and heavy cream for a comforting, hearty meal.
Easy Beef Bulgogi
Salty sweet beef is always a weeknight winner. “Bulgogi, a marinated and grilled beef popular at Korean restaurants, is easy to make at home,” according to recipe developer Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee. Look for marbled beef and let the cast iron skillet get super hot for the best results. Serve with banchan and rice.
Creamy Miso Mushroom Pasta
Add an flavorful twist to pasta with miso. White miso is made from fermented soybeans and adds a touch of umami without overwhelming the pasta and mushrooms. You’ll find it in the refrigerated section, most likely near the tofu in a grocery store.
Creamy Chicken Florentine
Quick, easy, and lusciously creamy, this skillet chicken recipe is a fresh way to serve chicken breasts. As an added bonus, spinach is added to the sauce so you don’t have to make a salad if you don’t want to.
Instant Pot Eggplant Chickpea Stew
The Instant Pot is in heavy use once the weather cools and I need super fast and easy meals. Eggplant isn’t known for being an easy vegetable to cook, so let this be the recipe that encourages you to go ahead and try it. Make the meal vegan by using plant-based feta cheese as a topping.
Sheet Pan Shrimp and Asparagus
Both shrimp and asparagus cook notoriously fast. The garlic butter sauce spooned over top brings it all together into a mouth-watering family meal. Serve it with pasta or rice.
Take advantage of warm weather and ripe tomatoes and make easy back to school meals. Leftovers would make tasty lunches, too. Add sliced turkey for a heartier meal.
Though it sounds fancy, this is similar to a simple mac and cheese. No roux, just a creamy, cheesy sauce made right on the stovetop. Set a timer once the pasta comes to a boil so that you don’t accidentally overcook it.
Sheet Pan Gnocchi with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Bell Peppers
Not all pasta is the same and gnocchi is like none other. Roasting gnocchi on a sheet pan cooks the pasta without it becoming overladen with moisture. Using quick-cooking vegetables ensures that everything is done at the same time.
This no-cook salad is full of flavor. It’s also a great emergency meal because you can stock all the ingredients in your pantry and have dinner ready in minutes.
Easy Avocado and Black Bean Quesadillas
I’m always looking for ways to get my family to eat more beans and spreading them between a crispy tortilla is one of the best ways I’ve found. This black bean filling will forever banish bland canned beans and have them begging for more.
Sheet Pan Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
I make grilled cheese on the regular and making them all at once seems like a dream come true. Preheating the sheet pan helps toast the bread quickly and evenly.
Easy Pork Fried Rice
Fried rice is a quick and easy option for weeknights. This recipe uses pork loin and frozen veggies, resulting in barely any chopping. Make the rice on the weekend so that it has a chance to chill and dry out before frying.
Hot Ham and Cheese Sliders
Slider buns get a buttery upgrade in this easy meal. Compound butter is brushed on top of the buns before getting baked until the ham is warm and cheese is melted. Pair it with crunchy carrot sticks and watch dinner disappear in a minute.
Air Fryer Salmon
We know that the air fryer can make a mean tater tot but it can also save your weeknight. Buy salmon filets that have the skin on them to help reduce the risk of overcooking. No air fryer? Try this easy brown sugar salmon recipe.
Get out the griddle and serve up smashburgers for dinner. Have the kids stir together the sauce and get out the toppings. These burgers are done quickly and will need your full attention while cooking.
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
School might be in session but that doesn’t mean that you have to put away the grill. I like marinating the chicken and chopping the lettuce the night before so that dinner takes mere minutes when we’re all hungry and tired.