Weeknight Dinner Recipes Even the Busiest Parents Can Make

Back to school means back to business. There’s less time to be had for cooking elaborate meals and slaving away in the kitchen. You need dinners that everyone will enjoy and ones that won’t require a big clean up. We’re highlighting six recipes that feed a family, cater to everyone’s food preferences, and are ready in no time. Instead of stressing over dinner, spend more time enjoying the last of the warm temperatures and preparing for fall.

1. Cheeseburger Pasta

Chili mac in a whitel pllate with fork

Chili mac in a whitel pllate with fork | iStock.com

This first recipe from Taste of Home is one that your dinner guests will request again and again. The cheeseburger pasta features your three favorites: pasta, beef, and cheese. You’ll cook your whole-wheat penne and then get to work on your ground beef that is mixed with tomatoes, relish, mustard, ketchup, and cheese. Your end result will be a meaty pasta dish that tastes like two meals in one.


  • 1½ cups uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
  • ¾ pound lean ground beef (90% lean)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon steak seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • ¾ cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • Chopped green onions, optional

DirectionsCook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Drain pasta; add to meat mixture.

Stir in the tomatoes, relish, mustard, ketchup, steak seasoning and seasoned salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand until cheese is melted. Garnish with green onions if desired. Yields four servings.

2. Shrimp, Bacon, and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Cooking stir-fry on a stove

Cooking stir-fry on a stove | iStock.com

Next up is a stir-fry that will take you only 20 minutes. Stir-fry is the best way to get your dinner guests to eat their vegetables and enjoy them, too. Anything tastes good when coated in soy sauce, and in this case, bacon. This shrimp, bacon, and broccoli stir-fry from Real Simple is the best of all worlds, allowing you to get in your protein, vegetables, and of course, bacon. Serve over rice for a complete meal.


  • cup short-grain white rice
  • slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • small onion, chopped
  • cloves garlic, chopped
  • pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • cups broccoli florets
  • ½ cup oyster sauce
  • ounces chopped kale
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar

Directions: Cook the rice according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate; reserve the skillet. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until opaque throughout, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the bacon; reserve the skillet.

Add the broccoli, oyster sauce, and ¼ cup water to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the kale, vinegar, shrimp, and onion. Toss until the kale is wilted and the sauce is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve the shrimp, bacon, and vegetables over the rice, drizzled with the sauce.

3. Waffle Iron Turkey Melt Panini

Panini with turkey and bacon

Panini with turkey and bacon | iStock.com

You can have a sophisticated sandwich on the dinner table in no time, and using a waffle iron is extra fun. These sandwiches from Cooking Light are stuffed with turkey, bacon, cheese, and apples. You’ll use a waffle iron to cook each one.. This recipe serves 4 and you can easily serve the sandwiches along with fruit, veggies, or salad for a complete meal. Even better, you can’t beat the easy clean up.


  • 4 center-cut bacon slices
  • 3 tablespoons canola mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 8 (1-ounce) slices whole-grain or whole-wheat bread
  • 8 ounces unsalted sliced deli turkey
  • 8 slices tart apple
  • 4 slices reduced-fat Colby-Jack cheese
  • Cooking spray

Directions: Preheat a waffle iron with four compartments to high.

Place a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Arrange bacon on paper towel; cover with an additional paper towel. Microwave bacon at high for 4 minutes or until done.

Combine mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl. Spread about 1 ¼ teaspoons mayonnaise mixture over each bread slice. Divide bacon, turkey, apple slices, and cheese evenly among four bread slices; top with remaining bread slices, spread side down. Lightly coat both sides of sandwiches with cooking spray.

Place one sandwich in each compartment of waffle iron; close waffle iron firmly on sandwiches. Place a heavy skillet on top of waffle iron to help flatten sandwiches evenly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and cheese melts.

4. Crock Pot Sweet Potato and Quinoa Turkey Chili

Turkey Chili, Pita

Turkey chili with a pita | iStock.com

Everyone knows the key to quick and delicious dinners lie in the slow cooker. This sweet potato and quinoa turkey chili from Iowa Girl Eats is just one example of the goodness it can create. You can cook your chili on high for 3 hours or low for 5 to 6 hours. This healthy version of your favorite comfort food will welcome you home after a long day and it serves a crowd. Grab your turkey, beans, quinoa, veggies, and spices, then get ready to cook.


  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 large shallot or 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth (plus extra for reheating)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can baked beans
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound) peeled and chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes

Optional toppings

  • Shredded cheese
  • Diced avocado
  • Crushed tortilla chips
  • Sliced green onions

Directions: Add ground turkey and shallot to a large skillet that’s over a medium-high flame and season with salt and pepper. Cook, very occasionally breaking up, until well browned. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to slow cooker, then stir in all remaining ingredients except for toppings. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low setting for 5 to 6 hours. Serve with your desired toppings.

5. Cheesy Stuffed Sausage Pasta Bake

Cheesy stuffed sausage bake

Cheesy stuffed sausage bake | iStock.com

If you want to cook a dinner that will satisfy all of your guests, pick one that stars three cheeses. This stuffed sausage pasta bake from Picky Palate fits the bill. It’s an easy meal that requires 15 minutes of prep time and 30 minutes of cooking time. You’ll cook the stuffed sausage pasta bake until your ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses are melted and bubbling. The recipe yields 8 servings, leaving plenty for leftovers. If you’re lucky, that is.


  • 1 pound rigatoni pasta or other small noodle
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 1 (26-ounce) jar pasta sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well, then set aside.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until fully cooked. Stir in pasta sauce and cooked pasta. Meanwhile, combine ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan in a bowl and stir to combine.

Transfer half of pasta to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Dollop cheese mixture evenly over top, then add remaining pasta. Top with additional shredded cheese, transfer to oven, and bake until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve.

6. Lemon Thyme Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs out of oven

Chicken thighs out of oven | iStock.com

Last but not least is an easy chicken dinner from The Kitchn that’s light on the prep work and heavy on flavor. With both lemon and thyme, this chicken is bursting with flavor. Your end result will be a non-fussy chicken that looks simple but tastes great. You’ll love it for busy weeknights as well as leisurely weekends.


  • 2 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on (about 4 to 6 thighs)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 lemon, sliced thin
  • 5 to 6 fresh thyme sprigs

Directions: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle the chicken thighs with olive oil and season them well with pinches of salt and pepper.

Place the thighs in a large, cold cast iron skillet, skin-side down. Place the skillet on a burner over medium heat. Let them cook, undisturbed, for 14 to 15 minutes.

When a lot of the fat has rendered out and the skin is crispy and brown, flip the thighs so the crispy skin is up. Dot the cast iron skillet with lemon slices and thyme sprigs and stick it in the hot oven. Let the thighs finish cooking in the oven for 13 to 15 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve.