5 Staple Weeknight Meals Our Busy Family Relies On

May 12, 2021Cooking

By Bethany

By Bethany

I’m a stay-at-home mom with my Master's in Elementary Education. I enjoy homeschooling my three children, ages 8, 3, and 1.
Who loves coming up with what to cook for dinner? Not me! Take a peek into a week of meals at my house and snag some new dinner ideas!

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5 Staple Weeknight Meals Our Family Relies On
Homestyle Meatloaf Recipe
Ritz Cracker Casserole Recipe
Corn Casserole Recipe

If you are looking for easy, weeknight meals, then you’ve come to the right place!

In my family, we try to be intentional about eating dinner together each night. I think dinner time is a great time to connect and hear how everyone’s day went. I cherish the memories I have of eating dinner with my family growing up, and I hope to create similar memories with my kids throughout their childhood.

There’s just one thing.

You have to actually cook dinner in order to eat dinner.

And sometimes, figuring out what to cook can be such a struggle! I’m always looking for new recipes to try out with my family, but I need them to be simple and easy. By the end of the day, I am exhausted, and I don’t have the time or the focus to prepare an extravagant meal. 

Now, let’s be honest, I don’t cook every night. Sometimes, the schedule is too crazy with sports and other activities that we choose to eat out. But most nights, we eat dinner at home. 

So, come take a peek into a week of dinners at my house. These 5 meals are staples in my household. They’re easy, kid-friendly, and if I can cook them, then that means you can too! 

Table of contents:

  1. Meatloaf with Baked Potato and Green Bean Casserole
  2. Ritz Cracker Casserole
  3. Baked Chicken with Corn Casserole and Asparagus
  4. Sloppy Joes with Sweet Potato Fries
  5. Spaghetti and Meatballs


Meatloaf with Baked Potato and Green Bean Casserole

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This meal is a go-to in my family. We all love meatloaf, and I often mix and match sides to give us some variety. This week, I went with easy, microwaved baked potatoes and green bean casserole. 

Meatloaf

Meatloaf: the classic American staple. It’s a simple dish, but so delicious. 

There are so many new, fancy iterations of meatloaf out there on the internet, but in my opinion, none compare to a classic, homestyle meatloaf. 

I use a Betty Crocker recipe that I printed years ago. I couldn’t find it on their website to link, so it’s typed out below for you.

When I make this, I pour my wet ingredients and herbs and spices into my mixing bowl first and whisk the egg. 

Then, I cut up my onion and bread and mix that in with the wet ingredients. I freeze the butts of my bread loaves and save them for meatloaf. I have also saved diced onion in the freezer when I have extra, and then just pull it out the next time I need onion in a recipe.

Your bread doesn’t have to be super fine like bread crumbs. It’s okay if it’s a little chunky.

Freezing my scraps allows me to cut down on food waste and helps me save money in the long haul. 

Working mom perspective: I second the idea of freezing food scraps to reduce waste and reuse foods you would’ve thrown away! We do this with mushrooms. If there are any leftover mushrooms or we don’t need the stems, I freeze them and use them in future meatloaf. It adds umami!


Once all of my other ingredients are mixed, I add in my ground beef. For me, waiting to add the beef until the end helps all of the spices evenly distribute throughout my loaf. 

Once my meatloaf is thoroughly mixed, I pour it into my loaf pan and top with a layer of ketchup. 

I bake mine for 70 minutes, and it comes out perfectly. I use 80/20 ground beef, so I usually have a bit of grease that I drain before serving. I have used 93/7 before, and there was hardly any grease at all. 

meatloaf meal on a plate

Classic Homestyle Meatloaf – Old Betty Crocker Recipe

Bethany
There are so many new, fancy iterations of meatloaf out there on the internet, but in my opinion, none compare to a classic, homestyle meatloaf.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 10 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1.5 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped sage leaves or 1/4 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 egg
  • 3 bread slices torn into small pieces
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup ketchup or chili sauce or barbecue sauce

Instructions
 

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mix all ingredients except ketchup. Spread mixture in an ungreased loaf pan, 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ or 9x5x3 inches, or shape into a 9×5-inch loaf in an ungreased rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches. Spread ketchup over top.
  • Insert meat thermometer so the tip is in the center of the loaf. Bake uncovered 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until thermometer reads 160 degrees F.

Baked Potato

I rarely plan far enough ahead to actually bake my baked potatoes. Instead, I almost always use the microwave. 

I lay out a sheet of plastic wrap on my plate and place the potato on top. 

Next, I drizzle olive oil on top of the potato and sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic pepper on top.

 I don’t worry about coating the whole thing evenly. The plastic wrap keeps all of the oil and salt and pepper contained, and it ends up distributing pretty well on the potato skin. 

I gather the four corners of the plastic wrap and fold up my potato before poking it a few times on each side with a fork. 

Microwave for 4 ½ minutes on high, flip the potatoes, and microwave for 5 more minutes. And just like that, you have baked potatoes! 

This has been what has worked for me and my microwave, but you might have to tinker with the timing on yours to get the potato just right.

Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole is the only way I can get my children to eat green beans. It’s not my husband’s favorite side dish, but I include this casserole pretty regularly in our meals to try and trick my kids into eating their vegetables. 

For my green bean casserole, I do a pretty simple recipe. 

I mix together 2 cans of cut green beans, 1 can cream of mushroom, and a handful of fried onions. 

Once that’s mixed, I sprinkle another handful of fried onions on the top to add some crunch and color. 

I bake for about 15-20 minutes at 350, until it’s heated through and the onions are browning on top. 

Working mom perspective: I add salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce to this same green bean casserole recipe. It adds a little extra something. It’s a tried and true easy side dish!



Ritz Cracker Casserole

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I received this recipe from my best friend, Hannah Findlay, and it is one of my favorite chicken dinners.

The recipe calls for 4 cups cooked chicken. You could use a rotisserie chicken for this and save a lot of time. That’d be smart, right? Well, I never plan far enough ahead to have a rotisserie chicken on hand, so I always cook my chicken on the stove top for this dish.

I cut my chicken breasts into approximately 1 inch cubes and season them with salt and pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder before cooking them in the pan with roughly 2 tablespoons butter. 

While the chicken is cooking, you can mix the cream of chicken, sour cream, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper in a bowl. I was out of cream of chicken and substituted cream of celery, and it was delicious!

At this point, you can also throw in some veggies. This is the perfect dish for sneaking some veggies into dinner. My go-to is frozen sugar snap peas. I sprinkle about ⅓ of a bag into my bowl and mix it in. 

I don’t go too crazy with the peas. If I add too many, I hear complaints. But if I add a small amount to this casserole, they blend right in, and I can convince my 7 year old that she won’t even taste them. 

My kiddo ends up eating vegetables, and I love the fresh pop the peas add to the dish. #momwin

Once the chicken is cooked, I add that into the bowl and thoroughly mix it with the other ingredients. Pour the chicken mixture into a casserole dish, sprinkle your crushed crackers on top, and drizzle the melted butter over the whole thing. 

While my casserole is baking, I like to cook some pasta to serve with it. You can do egg noodles, spaghetti, angel hair; whatever you have on hand will work. 

Once your pasta is finished cooking, drain it and toss with a little olive oil or melted better to keep it from sticking together. 

I serve this with the pasta on the bottom and the casserole on top. It mixes together to create the most delicious, creamy pasta dish I’ve ever had. 

ritz casserole in a dish

Ritz Cracker Casserole

Bethany
I received this recipe from my best friend, Hannah Findlay, and it is one of my favorite chicken dinners. So creamy, so delicious, and super simple!
5 from 1 vote
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups cooked chicken
  • 10.5 oz cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted

Instructions
 

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mix all of the ingredients together except for the crackers and butter. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart baking dish. Top the casserole with the crushed crackers and then drizzle the melted butter over the casserole.
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes.
Keyword Ritz Cracker Casserole

Baked Chicken with Corn Casserole and Asparagus

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You might be thinking, baked chicken? Really? That’s so boring! Well, maybe it is. But this is a meal that is easy and a go-to for me on a busy weeknight. The real star of this meal? The corn casserole!!

Baked Chicken

I buy my chicken breast in bulk from Aldis and repackage it into meal sized portions and store it in the freezer in gallon baggies. This way I can thaw out just what I need for the next night’s meal, and keep the rest frozen for later. 

I’ve noticed the chicken breast from Aldi is usually really thick, so I flatten out my chicken a bit before baking to help it cook more evenly. 

Most people do this with a meat tenderizer. I don’t own a meat tenderizer, so what do I use? A bottle of wine. Yep, you heard me correctly. I leave the chicken in the gallon bag and smash it with a bottle of wine until it has flattened out. Is it unconventional? Absolutely. Does it work? Yes, indeed!

I season my chicken with garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper before baking at 375 for about 20 minutes, until the thickest part of the chicken measures 170 degrees F. 

Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving. My kids drench theirs in barbecue sauce, mmm delicious! 

Working mom perspective: We also love doing a simple chicken breast for dinner, but my new favorite method is sous vide (we have this brand and LOVE it). It does require a sous vide device, but it’s foolproof! The chicken breast comes out the perfect temperature and is juicy and tender every single time.


Corn Casserole

This is BY FAR my husband’s favorite side dish, and it is another one that is so simple to make. It bakes for an hour, so you do have to make sure you prep it in time for dinner. I mixed mine up during naptime, stored it in the fridge, and then popped it in the oven an hour before dinner. 

I usually cook this for 1 hour at 350, but this night I ramped up the oven about halfway through to 375 for the chicken. It finished cooking after about 50 minutes at this higher temp instead of an hour.

 If you do have to change the temp, just keep an eye on it, and take it out once the top is turning golden brown.

corn casserole in a pan

Corn Casserole

Bethany
This side dish is a crowd pleaser! Dump your ingredients in a bowl, mix, and bake! It doesn't get much easier than that!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mix all ingredients together and spread into a 2 quart baking dish. (Mine was dirty: you can totally use a brownie pan as well. It worked great!)
  • Bake for 60 minutes, until golden on top.
Keyword Corn Casserole

Asparagus

FULL DISCLOSURE: My oven rack was wayyy too low, AND I forgot to check on my asparagus part way through to flip it, so…. I burned the heck out of it. 

The top looked gorgeous for the photo, but it was basically pure charcoal on the bottom. Take everything I say with a grain of salt. (LOL, because it’s a cooking blog post…)

My asparagus, BEFORE I burned it to a crisp.

I drizzled my asparagus with olive oil and seasoned it with garlic powder and salt and pepper. I also cut up some onions and threw them in there too. My husband and I both love cooked onions, so I went a bit heavy with it. 

Usually it turns out alright. This night, it was an utter failure.

Also, no, my kids don’t eat asparagus. Meh. You win some and you lose some. 


Sloppy Joes with Sweet Potato Fries

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I feel like Hollywood has portrayed sloppy joes as the food of all summer camps and school cafeterias, but I’m not gonna lie, this is one of my favorite meals

I know you’ve had one of those days: the kids are screaming, you have some type of bodily fluid all over your shirt, and you’re freaking exhausted. You just need an easy meal that you don’t have to think about. This is that meal! 

Sloppy Joes

I LOVE sloppy joes. Not only do I think they taste delicious, but they’re also super simple to make.

I’ve tried packets of seasoning and sloppy joe in a can, and it’s just not the same as cooking it from scratch. 

There are so many sloppy joe recipes out there, but this is what I’ve come to love, and it’s SUPER easy to make.

First, I cook my ground beef with onion, bell pepper, and salt and pepper, and then I drain the grease.

I used to drain my meat into old glass jars. I’m not quite sure why, that’s just what my parents did growing up. But then, I saw this hack, and it forever changed how I drain my meat. 

You just tear off a square of aluminum foil and push it into the center of your sink, creating a small aluminum bowl. Then, you drain your meat straight into your sink. Let it cool, and throw the whole thing into the trash. Easy peasy.

Working mom perspective: This is genius!! I am stealing this trick, because I, too, have always drained the grease into a recycled glass jar for no apparent reason.


Once you’ve drained your meat, you can make your sauce right in the pan. I use a lot of ketchup, a few squeezes of mustard and worcestershire sauce, a spoonful of minced garlic, a spoonful of brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.

I love my sloppy joes sweet and tangy. If you need some more tang, add a bit more mustard. I’ve also heard of people adding in a splash of tabasco.

You can do this recipe with a can of tomato juice instead of ketchup, just add a little extra sugar if you like your sloppy joes on the sweeter side. Tomato juice will have a bit more acidity than ketchup. 

Sweet Potato Fries

I use frozen fries all. the. time. They are so easy, and perfect for nights when you are in a huge rush or the little ones are throwing tantrums. 

Sometimes, though, I find I have a bit of extra time to cook for dinner, and I love the taste of homemade sweet potato fries. 

I peel my sweet potatoes and cut them into strips. Drizzle with olive oil and season with onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper.

Bake at 375 for 10-20 min depending on thickness, flipping halfway through. 

My 7 year old eats these with ketchup, no complaints! 


Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Who doesn’t love spaghetti and meatballs? This is a classic recipe for a busy weeknight and a hit with my kids! 

Sometimes I brown my ground beef and add it directly to the sauce, but some nights, I decide to mix it up and make meatballs. If you don’t want to make meatballs from scratch, you can definitely use frozen meatballs instead. I have done that many times, and I think they’re just as good as fresh!

Also, one way to add a vegetable to this meal is adding it directly in the sauce. I had actually intended on adding a little bit of zucchini to my spaghetti sauce as an extra veggie. I had it out on my counter to add to the sauce this night, and I forgot about it. I found it later that night, and into the compost it went. Oh well! 

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I often use premade spaghetti sauce from the store, but if I have the time, I make some from scratch. I love my spaghetti sauce a little chunky, and usually store bought sauces are completely pureed. Even the “chunky” sauces barely have any vegetable chunks in them. 

First, I saute diced onion and bell pepper in olive oil until the onions are translucent. 

I also add a bit of salt to my veggies as they’re sauteing. I think this helps make the flavors more vibrant instead of only adding salt at the end.

I had some leftover onion and bell pepper from earlier in the week that I went ahead and diced and saved in the freezer. Those frozen leftovers are perfect for sauces like this. Just dump them in the pot and let them cook a bit before adding any fresh ingredients. You’ll get a little extra liquid from the frozen ones, but it’s not a huge deal.

I needed a bit more onion than I had frozen, so I used my food processor to quickly dice some up. 

You don’t need a food processor to make spaghetti sauce, but it definitely makes the process go much quicker! My mom bought me this food processor for Christmas, and I love it! I just pulse until my ingredients are the size I want. 

Once your onion and bell pepper are sauteed, add in a decent amount of italian seasoning, basil, and a spoonful of minced garlic. Let those saute for about a minute before adding in your tomatoes. 

I think adding your herbs in at this point helps “reawaken” them if you’re using dried. Be careful not to burn them though. Being able to easily smell the aroma of the seasonings is a good sign that you’re ready to add your wet ingredients.

I think homemade sauce is the best with fresh tomatoes, but when they’re not in season, I’ll use canned tomatoes instead. Plus, it saves quite a bit of time using canned in lieu of fresh tomatoes. 

I threw mine into the food processor and pulsed until they were the size I like. You can go full out and puree them if you like or leave them chunky. Whatever you like best. 

After I add in my tomatoes, I also add a spoonful of sugar. Not a lot, just a little bit. I like how the sweetness of the sugar balances with the acidity of the tomatoes. 

Let your sauce simmer down a bit if you have time. If it’s too watery, you can add a bit of tomato paste to thicken it up. Add a little at a time until it’s the thickness you desire. 

Be aware that adding tomato paste will dull your flavors, and you’ll probably need to add in some more italian seasoning and basil to compensate. 

The best homemade spaghetti sauce I’ve ever had is my dad’s. He uses fresh tomatoes and lets it cook down for hours on the stove. The flavors are really able to meld together when you give it time to simmer for hours. 

I rarely have time to cook spaghetti sauce all day, but even a 20 minute sauce can be delicious, and for me, it brings back summer memories of canning sauce with my dad.

Always taste as you go, and trust your tongue. Sometimes I need to add a bit more salt, basil, or even sugar at the end, and sometimes it’s perfect just how it is. 

Homemade Meatballs

The meatballs are my oldest’s favorite part of spaghetti and meatballs. I make my homemade meatballs with three ingredients: ground beef, italian style bread crumbs, and an egg.

The night I made spaghetti, I was out of bread crumbs, so I made my own with some frozen bread. 

I cut three slices of bread into large chunks and pulsed them in the food processor with italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Be sure not to under season your breadcrumbs. Use a bit more salt than you think you need. It will really help bring out the flavors in your meatballs. 

Once you have your bread crumbs ready, mix them with your ground beef and egg until combined.

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil to help with clean-up later, form your meatballs, and place them on your cookie sheet. 

I used my ice cream scoop to help create evenly sized meatballs. 

Bake your meatballs at 350 for 15-30 minutes, depending on size. Once mine were looking cooked through, I took them out and cut the largest one open to check. You could also use a meat thermometer. Ground beef is safe to eat when cooked to 160* F.

Working mom perspective: When I make meatballs, I double or triple the recipe. I form all the meatballs and freeze the ones we aren’t cooking (freeze them raw in a single layer on a sheet tray. When frozen – in about an hour – pop them all in a freezer bag). That way, you have meatballs ready to cook any time!


Conclusion

Well there you have it! These are my five, go-to meals that I make for my family on a regular basis. 

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite meals to make for your family?

Related article: 30 Gift Ideas Under $25 for Moms Who Love to Cook

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Rebekah
Admin
5 months ago

5 stars
I cannot wait to try the Ritz Casserole!! What great recipes, Bethany.

Hannah
Hannah
4 months ago

Your sloppy joes are amazing!!

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