Parents Reveal Their Secrets to Easy School-Night Dinners

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Are you struggling to find easy school-night dinner ideas and tips and tricks? With a schedule this year that allows only a small slot of time for family dinner, I was struggling myself to figure out how to ensure we have a family dinner with as little work as possible. I asked our Kidding Around readers for tips on easy meal planning and easy dinners, and they delivered with a great list for you of weekday dinner ideas, ways of saving time in the kitchen, and more.

This article includes:
Easy Meals to Cook for Dinner: Recipes and ideas from our readers
Tips: Make School Night Dinners Easier!

East school night dinners

14 Easy Dinner Ideas for School Nights

Busy school night? The answer to “what should I make for dinner?” is right here. Our readers chimed in with a list of their go-to easy meals to create a list of tried and true meal ideas that really work for families on school nights.

1. “For vegan/vegetarian friends…Sauté onions, celery, and carrots. Then add zucchini, yellow squash, tomato sauce, and a can of cannellini beans. Add salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings to taste. Simmer until zucchini is tender. While this is simmering roast a spaghetti squash on 400 in the oven. This will take about 45 min. Serve mixture over squash and with garlic bread.” – Kristen Barnett

2. “Chicken and Rice casserole. Mix 1 can Cream of Mushroom (or Golden Mushroom) soup, 1 can French Onion Soup, 1 can water, 1 cup white rice. Put the mixture I’m into a 9 by 13 greased dish and too with chicken pieces… thighs and legs with skin on is the most tasty. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.. take cover off and cook another 30 minutes. This goes well with green beans and a fruit… and rolls” -Jo Ann Hammel

3. “While the weather’s warm one of our go-to meals is chicken, veggie, pineapple kebabs with either a garlic herb rice pilaf or Fresh Market orzo salad. We make the kebabs ourselves, using the linked marinade and loading the skewer with chicken, bell pepper, tomato, onion, and fresh pineapple chunks. Assemble and put on to marinate the night before and you have an easy meal.” -Julie McArdle

4. “This is especially a kiddo pleaser, but my husband likes these, too. Use thick sliced bologna and pan-sear it on both sides. Put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, put a scoop of mashed potatoes on top of each slice of bologna and top that with a slice of cheese. Broil til cheese is melted. Serve with a roll and salad, and you’ve got dinner in under 20.” -Elaine Williams

5. “Sweet potato enchiladas. Cook sweet potatoes in insta pot while cooking ground beef (turkey) with a yellow onion and poblano pepper (both diced) along with minced garlic and 1 small can enchilada sauce. Open up your sweet potato and put ground beef mixture inside, and top with avocado, sour cream, black olives. Delicious and healthy!” -Regina Earwood

6. “Sheet pan meal! Roast kielbasa, broccoli, and potatoes. Prep is so quick!” -Katie Hottel

7. “Make big pots of curries or chilis on Sunday afternoons and it will last you until Wednesday and the chili/curry gets better each day! Mix up the sides for variety!” Kate Fowler

8. “This is a go to meal that is super easy to make but packs a lot of flavor…We call it ‘hamburger soup.’ ” -Kristen Barnett

Hamburger Soup
1lb of ground beef
4-5 potatoes peeled and diced
1 small onion diced
5-6 carrots washed, peeled if desired, cut into thick slices
1-2 stalks of celery, diced
1 32oz can of diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/2 32oz carton of beef broth

Sauté onions, celery, and carrots until onions are translucent. Add ground beef. Once beef is browned, add potatoes, canned tomatoes, broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Simmer for about a hour or until potatoes are fork tender. To make it super easy, you can use canned potatoes and carrots and frozen onions. Serve with yummy corn bread.

Corn bread
2 cups of white or yellow cornmeal NOT cornmeal mix
2 eggs
2 cups of buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Cook in heated 10-12” cast iron skillet on 400 for 25-30 min or until top is golden brown.

9. “Burritos or burrito bowls. Protein(s) of beans and/ or meat, and then whatever else we have around that might be good. Tonight this included rice, avocado, tomatoes, sour cream or Greek yogurt, salsa, sautéed peppers & onions, sliced radishes, cheese, and some jalapeño.” -India Menon

10. “I make whole family packs of chicken at once, alternating grilled vs pressure cooker, and make several meals over a few days. Grilled fajita chicken gets thrown into Cajun chicken pasta the next night. Baked chicken goes into tacos, soups, tikka sauce, bbq sauce etc.” -Jaci Brush

11. “Cook chicken tenders seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper. Put them over bagged salad mix with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, olives, sliced cucumbers, cheese, croutons, sunflower seeds and favorite dressing! Easy and healthy!” -Suzi Suloff

12. “Garlic roasted chicken and I use the drippings to make chicken rice pilaf with roasted garlic puree.” -Danielle Vale

13. “I use my instant pot for easy, quick meals. Pulled chicken sandwiches, chicken tacos, easy soup recipes. My kids also love meatloaf which I make in a muffin pan which cuts cook time down to 20-30 minutes.” -Brandi Crowe

14. “Chili in the instant pot then use leftovers with some cheese and sour cream to make burritos next day or later that week. Loaded baked potatoes are also a hit veggies and meat and cheese everyone is happy. Another easy one is big bit or beef roast and cook slow in crock pot with dry rub. It makes so much that I do rice bowls one night and later in week I warm it up and add bbq sauce and serve it with buns. We also love butter chicken. It’s easy and sooo yummy.” -Crystal Acker

Tips for Making School-Night Dinners Easier

School Night Dinner tips

These tips include:
Meal Planning
Meal Prep in Advance
Cook Extra Food
Take-Home Meals and Services

#1: Even If You Hate Meal Planning There Are Lots of Ways to Make It Easier

Taking time over the weekend to look at your schedule, plan your meals, and then to prep ingredients can really speed up dinner time during the week.

If you struggle with meal planning, you can subscribe to a meal planning service. Some services also include prep plans or connections to grocery pick-up services. I’ve used:

  • Fresh20 which was very helpful in that the meals used a lot of similar ingredients and there was a preparation list. This meal service utilizes a set pantry list which makes shopping easier and focuses on fresh ingredients.
  • Emeals which made it easy to switch plans or substitute out meals. It also connected with shopping apps like Instacart. My one issue with this meal planning service was a lot of processed ingredients were incorporated which made meals more expensive and often less healthy. Also, be sure to read the terms and conditions as you may need to call to cancel.
  • You can also find free weekly meal plans on the internet such as Mashup Mom’s free menu plans that only include ingredients found at Aldi. Her plans also focus on keeping shopping costs down.
  • If you prefer to DIY, an app like Paprika will allow you to store your recipes from the internet and create a meal plan and shopping list.

#2: Meal Prepping Takes an Hour or Two But Can Save Lots of Time During the Week

Rice: Especially, if you eat brown rice which can take an hour to cook, go ahead and cook your rice ahead of time so that it can just be warmed up.

Vegetables: Go ahead and cut up any vegetables for dinner meals that won’t go bad in the fridge. You can also prep a container of snacking vegetables at the same time to encourage healthy snacking and lunch packing during the week.

Meats: Cook up any meats such as ground beef that can be pre-cooked and/or frozen ahead of time. It’s always great to have some chicken or ground beef in the freezer for a fast meal of tacos. I often will cook a family-size package of chicken in the Instapot and then use my Kitchen Aid Mixer with the mixing attachment to shred it. The chicken can then be frozen in 2 cup bags for soups, casseroles, and tacos.

Beans: Make beans ahead of time in the crock pot or in the Instant Pot and just put them in the fridge for whatever recipes you need them for doing the week. Dry beans are so much cheaper than canned beans as well.

#3: Cook meals that can double as two or more meals.

A large pot of chili also makes a great baked potato topping on the following night.

Leftover taco seasoned meat or beans can also be used in burritos, burrito bowls, salads, nachos, quesadillas, and enchiladas.

Curries, tomato sauces, chilis, and stews often improve in flavor after a night in the fridge and make excellent leftovers. Switch out sides or types of pasta or rice to add variety.

Grilled chicken can be eaten in sandwich wraps, in pita bread with Greek toppings, or as a topping for salad.

#4: Consider Take Home Meal Kits and Other Services

One way that I keep my family meals simpler is by budgeting for one or more take-home meal kits on busy weeks. You can check our take-out meal list for local Upstate SC options. Some of these options are family-style meals that you can put in your fridge and warm up for dinner and others are restaurant family-size takeout.

Also, check to see if your local high school or college offers family meals through their culinary school or classes.

You can also purchase meal planning services that include the ingredients for each meal along with the recipe. While these plans tend to be expensive, you can often get a highly discounted trial box (just be sure to read the fine print).

About the Author
Bethany Winston is the owner and editor-in-chief of Kidding Around Greenville & Kidding Around Spartanburg. She enjoys exploring parks, discovering local events, and meeting the people who make Greenville an amazing place to live. You can contact her directly at

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