Save Your Sanity
Because who can think about peeling carrots when it’s 5:45 p.m. and Cocomelon’s on?
You know the drill. It’s 5:30, you’re exhausted, and you’ve still got a whole dinner shift to get through. Even if you’ve planned and know what you’re going to serve your family for dinner, those busy weeknights can get you and suddenly even chopping an onion feels like too much work. Having a small list of make-ahead dinners so you can prep in advance can make a huge difference without being an overwhelming amount of work.
Because seriously — I don’t want to spend my entire Sunday prepping breakfasts, lunches, chopping fruit, and making dinners to reheat all week long. But one or two dinners that I can just pop in the oven at 5:00 or even getting a head start on them, like prepping meat and chopping veggies to store in a bag and dumping in a slow cooker when it’s time? That sounds like the kind of make-ahead dinner magic I can get behind. Weeknights come through fast and furious. One minute you’re picking everyone up from school and the next it’s 6:00 and everyone’s hangry and crying and all you can think about is getting in your bed.
Pro-tip though: don’t sleep on frozen nuggets and boxed macaroni and cheese. Your standards should just be to have a fed, happy family, and if that means your meal prep this week is knowing which drive-thru you’re going to hit up, that counts. But if you want to do a little cooking in advance, these make-ahead dinners are a great place to start.
Sheet Pan Chicken Gyros
A sheet pan dinner is always a great option for a quick dinner, and this recipe from Damn Delicious for sheet pan chicken gyros is a personal favorite. Go ahead and make the chicken earlier in the day and then all you have to do is set out the toppings and the warm pita at dinner time. You can easily warm the chicken up with no fuss, too. This is also a great busy night choice if you don’t want to deal with everyone’s picky eating after work — everybody can make their gyro how they like.
Cheesy Italian Chicken Zucchini Skillet
Want something easy, budget-friendly, and a crowd-pleaser? Me too, which is why I’m making this cheesy chicken zucchini skillet from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. You can make this one ahead on a busy weekday by cooking everything either the night before or earlier in the day and then just topping with the cheese and panko and popping in the oven when you’re ready to serve.
Easy Chicken Enchilada Bake
One big pan of enchiladas is the dream on busy weeknights, and you can make it happen. Averie Cooks has a great recipe for a super easy chicken enchilada bake that can be prepped up to four days in advance and stored in the fridge. Just slide it in the oven when you’re ready to eat.
Red Beans & Rice
Another great bowl meal, this recipe for red beans and rice from A Spicy Perspective is a great busy weeknight choice. Just prep the beans ahead of time and then when you’re ready for dinner, you can just whip up some rice to go with it. The beans are packed with flavor, and this recipe is perfect for leftovers.
From A Classic Twist, this recipe for chicken fajitas is another easy sheet pan dinner that you can totally prep beforehand. You could either go ahead and chop all the veggies and chicken, get everything seasoned, and then throw it on a pan before dinner or you could go ahead and cook everything and just warm it up when you’re ready to eat. So easy and a crowd favorite.
Italian Pasta Salad
Pasta salad always sounds like a picnic side or a summer lunch, but once it’s warm out, this works for a super easy dinner, too. It’s full of flavor and texture, and this Italian pasta salad from A Cozy Kitchen can be totally made ahead — it’ll just get better as the ingredients all marinate together.
Broccoli Cheese Rice Casserole
Want some good old-fashioned comfort food? You want this recipe from Jessica in the Kitchen for broccoli cheese rice casserole. It’s so good and you can easily prep it in advance, either by getting it ready for the oven, or going ahead and baking earlier in the day and then just warming up for dinner. If you still want some meat, grab a rotisserie chicken from the store to pair with it, or even through some chicken or turkey into the casserole itself.
Southwestern Corn Chowder
This corn chowder recipe from Cookie and Kate doesn’t have any meat in it, but I’m telling you: add some bacon. This entire soup can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to five days, so prep in advance and you’ll have a gorgeous, perfect pot of chowder for dinner without any stress.
Instant Pot Pulled BBQ Pork
Is there anything more versatile than pulled pork? This recipe from Gimme Some Oven for Instant Pot pulled pork is specifically BBQ, but you can do so much with it, and it’s a miracle dish for busy weeknights. You can throw it all together early in the morning and then just warm it up when you’re ready, or go ahead and prep the meat and have it in the fridge, ready to dump in when it’s getting close to dinner time. It’s so tender and flavorful, and perfect for leftovers, too.
One-Pan Caprese Pesto Orzo Bake
Talk about an easy weeknight dinner — this one-pan caprese pesto orzo bake from Half-Baked Harvest doesn’t require any separate boiling or anything. Just put it all in one pan and bake. It’s packed with flavor and is super cheesy and delicious. Pair it with a rotisserie chicken or just enjoy on its own. You can make it in advance and just pop it in the oven when you’re ready.
Spaghetti casserole is one of my childhood favorites, and this recipe from Table for Two is so easy. You can prep everything ahead of time, but I’d wait to make the pasta until you’re ready to throw it all in the oven. Then stir it all together and bake. If you want to bake the entire thing in advance, you can then let it cool and store for up to four days in your fridge for an easy reheat meal.
Italian Chicken Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed peppers are such a great way to use up what’s in your fridge, like leftover rice and cooked chicken, but you can also prep this meal ahead of time. Just go ahead and get Cookie Named Desire’s Italian chicken-stuffed peppers filled and ready and pop in the oven when you’re ready to eat.
Pepperoni Pizza Sliders
Pepperoni pizza sliders? Sign me up. You can make this recipe from A Pretty Life in the Suburbs ahead a bit, but I’d wait to throw on the pizza sauce until right before you throw in the oven so the bread doesn’t get too soggy. Or do about half what the recipe calls for and save the other half for dipping. So yum.
Oven-Baked Pork Chops
I’m beyond excited to try this recipe for oven-baked pork chops from My Forking Life. The recipe has instructions for making and storing these to be enjoyed later, so that might be the best way to get these fully prepped and ready to eat on a busy weeknight. Pair with an easy side or some steamed veggies and you’re good to go.
While a lot of these make-ahead dinners still require a bit of work to get them on the table, it’s lightyears easier than starting the full process at 5:30 when everyone’s clingy and hangry. Pick a few to add into the weekly rotation and spend an hour on Sunday doing some prep — you might find that the witching hour isn’t so bad after all.