The recipe and photography for this post was provided by Carolyn Hodges of The Dinner Shift.
Not all summer dinners have to be elaborately planned grilling escapades and thanks to Carolyn’s Weeknight Dinner Plan, it can be easy and inexpensive to line up meals for the week that offer a little something for everyone. Below you will find a delicious weeknight dinner plan, what you need to make them and what you have to do to prep them (spoiler: not much!).
Weeknight Dinner Plan
Dinner 1 (D1): One Pot Taco Pasta
Dinner 2 (D2): Tomato Pesto Chicken and Green Beans
Dinner 3 (D3): Creamy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
Leftovers (L): Leftover pasta or soup with simple salad
Backup: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Broccoli
- 2 bell peppers, any color (D1)
- 1 large red or white onion (D1, D3)
- Garlic (D1, D3)
- Cilantro (D1)
- 1 lb green beans (D2)
- 1 small butternut squash (D3)
- Salad fixings (L)
- 1 oz taco seasoning packet (D1)
- 1 quart beef broth (D1)
- 1 jar salsa (D1)
- 8 oz whole grain rotini pasta (D1)
- 14.5 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes (D2)
- Jarred pesto (D2)
- 28 oz can diced tomatoes (D3)
- 14.5 oz can vegetable broth (D3)
- Hearty multigrain bread (D3)
- Shredded Mexican-style cheese (D1)
- Sliced American or cheddar (D3)
- 1 lb lean ground beef (D1)
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (D2)
- Olive oil
- Dried basil
- 1 lb macaroni or small shell pasta
- 14 oz can butternut squash soup
- 8 oz shredded extra sharp cheddar
- 10 oz steam-in-bag frozen broccoli
Weeknight Prep Plan:
To serve 4 people
Get ready for your weeknight dinner menu by prepping these items ahead.
D1: Dice bell peppers and onions and store them (together is fine) tightly covered in the fridge until ready to cook.
D2: Wash and trim green beans. Store covered in the fridge.
D3: Peel and chop the butternut squash and chop the onion. Store them (together is fine) tightly covered in the fridge until ready to cook.
Optional: Prep salad ingredients.
Dinner 1: One Pot Taco Pasta
- 1 lb lean ground beef (or turkey)
- 2 bell peppers (any color), diced
- 1/2 large red onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 oz taco seasoning packet
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 cup salsa
- 3 cups uncooked whole wheat rotini (8 oz)
- 1 cup finely shredded Mexican-style cheese
- 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
- In a large, deep, 12-inch skillet or dutch oven (with lid), brown and crumble ground beef over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain.
- Add diced bell peppers and onion and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and taco seasoning and cook 1 minute more.
- Next, pour in the beef broth and salsa and bring mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, add the uncooked pasta and give it a good stir to coat. Using the back of spoon, press the pasta into the sauce. Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. When the pasta is tender, turn off heat and stir in the cheese and cilantro. Check for seasoning and add salt to taste.
Dinner 2: Tomato Pesto Chicken and Green Beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 14.5-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup store-bought pesto
- Cooked pasta (I like to serve this over whole wheat orzo)
- In a 10-inch skillet (with lid) heat olive oil over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with a generous sprinkle of Kosher salt and black pepper. Once the oil “shimmers” add the chicken and sear on one side, without moving, for two minutes. In the meantime, mix together the diced tomatoes (with juice) and pesto in a separate dish, stirring well to combine.
- Flip the chicken and add the tomato mixture to the pan, pouring evenly around the chicken. Once the sauce begins to simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue simmering for 8-10 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and let stand, still covered, 3-4 minutes before serving.
- Serve over cooked pasta, alongside a simple salad.
Dinner 3: Creamy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
- 2 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp dried basil
kosher salt to taste
- In the crock of a slow cooker, combine all ingredients except salt. Cover and cook on LOW
- 8-9 hours or on HIGH 4 hours.
- Carefully transfer to an 8-cup blender and blend until super smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt (between 1-2 tsp).
Backup: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Broccoli
- 1 lb macaroni or shell pasta
- 1 14-oz can butternut squash soup (see notes)
- 8 oz shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese or crumbled goat cheese
- Optional seasonings: paprika, garlic powder, sage
- Optional breadcrumb topping: 1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve a cup of pasta water.
- In a saucepan, heat butternut squash soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until it slightly thickens. Whisk in grated cheddar (or crumbled goat cheese) until completely smooth, then season to taste with optional seasonings (see suggestions above) and salt to taste.
- Pour cheese sauce over hot cooked pasta. Use a bit of pasta water if necessary to thin it out.
- To make the breadcrumb topping (highly encouraged!), melt butter in a microwave-safe dish. Stir in breadcrumbs and season to taste with a pinch of salt. Transfer mac and cheese to an oven-safe casserole dish or cast iron pan and sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Transfer to oven and broil for a few minutes, or until breadcrumbs are golden brown (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!)
Notes: A word about the soup. Ingredients are important here. I prefer Amy’s Kitchen Butternut Squash Soup because it contains a bit of flour, so it stands in as a sort of roux to create a creamy cheese sauce. Some canned (or boxed) butternut squash soups contain only vegetables and seasonings (awesome!) but don’t work as well here.