Weeknight dinners for your family can be hard to create. Mentally, coming up with healthy food ideas every day of the week can be a challenge. Physically, you have to shop and cook.
In this article, I’ve pulled together some innovative, easy weeknight dinners for your family so you have fresh ideas and maybe a little more motivation to make supper!
What should I make for dinner?
Most moms (and some dads) have this thought on the daily. You might start thinking about what to make for dinner early in the morning. Or you may leave it to late afternoon. You may even think about mealtime days ahead of when you’re actually serving them.
May be you’re a meal planner, charting meals and snacks ahead of time so you’re ready when the time comes. Or, you may be a 24-hour person. You figure out meals and snacks a day in advance.
I’ve done both. When I was working in my pediatric nutrition private practice in Nashville, I was a full-time worker bee and a full-time mom. I had to have my meals planned out and the shopping done so when I returned from work, things went smoothly and dinner was on the table fast.
Now, my business looks very different. I spend a lot of time at home on my computer, so I can be a little more last minute with dinner plans. (Plus I only have one child left at home.) I tend to do the 24 hour advance planning approach. I worry about tomorrow and that’s it.
Meal Ideas for Dinner to Make Your Life Easier
Whatever system you use to make nightly dinner for your family, I know that some fresh ideas can help. That’s why I’ve put together this article!
You’ll be able to find all of these recipes on my blog. Some of them are from past round-ups such as my sheet pan dinner round-up or my homemade pizza round-up. Others are assemble-only ideas, food ideas based on meal themes, or family foods from my unique approach to deconstructed dinners, called The Dinner Bar.
I’ve categorized the recipes to make it easier. For example, if you’re looking for soup recipes for dinner or breakfast for dinner ideas, you’ll be able to easily find them below. I’ve tried to describe each so you can click on the link and get right to the recipe.
Why Easy Weeknight Dinner Ideas?
Personally, I like dinner ideas to be simple and easy. I like the ingredients list to be short, identifiable and nutritious. These are things that help me stay a happy cook.
For one, making easy dinners means it’s less stress on me. And two, simple dinners are easy for kids to identify and navigate through.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want during the week is a complicated recipe with ingredients that aren’t commonly found in my pantry or fridge. Let’s save that for the weekend!
The Key to Healthy Family Dinners
As a pediatric nutritionist, I believe the key to a healthy family dinner hinges on two things:
- Food Variety
- Food Balance
Variety means you’re serving up different entrees and side dishes throughout the week and month. It’s not easy to be committed to variety. One, your kids may have their favorite foods and it’s tempting to serve those up for an easy supper “win.”
And, you have your go-to recipes. Human nature calls these recipes up in your mind when you’re thinking about what to make for dinner.
Balance means meals are showcasing several food groups, such as protein, whole grains, fruit, veggies, dairy and healthy fats. I suggest aiming to get all five main food groups on the table each night. Fruit is an easy side dish to add to any meal and the payoff is big with kids.
50+ Easy Weeknight Dinner Ideas
I have made most of these recipes for my own family. In some of the round-up posts, like 12 Pizza Recipes You Can Feel Good About, I’ve relied on the skills of my dietitian colleagues who created the recipes for their own families.
Crockpot Dinner Ideas
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this recipe for my family, especially during those early days of my business when I was out of the home for the entire day. I’d put this together in the morning before I left for the office, and when I returned home, all I had to do was boil some egg noodles and shred the beef.
It’s super flavorful and versatile. Add barbeque sauce for pulled beef sandwiches, or make shredded beef and cheese quesadillas. We rarely have any leftovers!
2. Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker
Follow the exact recipe above, but substitute a 3-4# pork loin for the beef. I typically make pulled pork sandwiches, adding a layer of barbeque sauce and serving it on a bun. Sides of baked beans, coleslaw and fresh fruit like watermelon make this a family-pleasing meal.
I’ve been making this for years! Funny, when I first tried it, ground turkey wasn’t easy to find. Now it’s a mainstay in the grocery stores. This recipe mostly uses pantry basics like canned beans, tomatoes, onion, canned or frozen corn.
I serve it up with corn bread and fruit.
I’d say this is my most requested soup recipe. My kids love this soup and ask for it often. The crazy thing is it super easy to make, and the ingredient list is very short. People tell me all the time they can’t believe how tasty, healthy and easy this leek soup recipe is to make.
It’s also dairy and gluten free.
Kid-Friendly Weeknight Dinner Ideas
Got a kid who enjoys pizza? For a twist, make these homemade pizza rolls. Recipe includes how to make the dough, filling and a nice side salad to round out the meal.
My friend Dana makes these pizza pockets for her kids. Pick up some pizza dough from the refrigerator section of the grocery store and fill it with cheese and veggies. Serve some spaghetti sauce on the side for dipping.
Dietitian Jodi Danen likes to use this pizza recipe for her kids’ parties. She includes ingredients and preparation methods for pepperoni, vegetable and Mediterranean versions of Naan pizza.
Just the name of this recipe makes my mouth water! There’s something about a salad resting on top of a pizza crust that always gets my attention. I remember years ago discovering California Pizza Kitchen and their pizzas with salad on top…I was hooked.
EA Stewart created this recipe which has loads of veggies (just like a good salad), some bacon (yum!), and uses a pre-made pizza crust (even easier!).
Kara Lydon created this pizza recipe using Trader Joe’s cauliflower pizza crust. Asparagus, mushrooms, fiddleheads, and peas, oh my! While this pizza recipe may seem a bit upscale for your kiddo, it’s always a good thing to push the little palate a bit. (More on that below, so keep reading!)
You’ve heard of lobster mac and cheese and truffle mac and cheese, right? Well, one day in the grocery store I saw a hunk of salted pork. I’d never cooked with this before, so I did an experiment with macaroni and cheese. And it worked!
You can serve this as a main entrée or a side dish.
Want to minimize the dirty pots and pans? This two-pot recipe uses the boiling water of the pasta to blanch the broccoli. Saute chicken tenders and use a jarred Alfredo sauce to marry the ingredients together. Super quick and a family favorite.
12. Easy Fried Rice
My son created this recipe with some leftover rice from our Chinese take-out dinner from the weekend. Throw in onions, veggies and an egg or two for a hearty meal.
I often make a roast on the weekends. It sets me up for an easy Monday, as I use the leftovers for soup, salad or quesadillas. This recipe uses lemons as the main flavoring.
Want to get away from the boxed versions of mac and cheese? This is the recipe to try. Blending different cheeses in a classic roux sauce (so easy to do, really), this macaroni dish is creamy and tasty. Bake it off in the oven or serve it straight from the pot.
15. Turkey Tacos
Estela from Weekly Bite contributed this turkey taco recipe to my blog years ago. It’s a simple and healthy version of tacos using lean ground turkey and herbs and spices for flavoring (no packaged taco seasoning mix here!).
Nachos (and Mexican fare) are one of my favorite family foods. There’s something about all the ingredients mixed together that appeals to me and my family.
I like to eat nachos on the weekend, and they’re a fast dinner idea. Meat, beans and cheese bump up the protein content considerably. Your family will be full after having this for dinner!
I’ve always made my mom’s chili. I adapted this recipe to serve to all the swimmers that came to my house for a team dinner. It’s a crowd pleaser and perfect for a family weeknight dinner. Serve a side salad and corn bread to round out this meal.
Sheet Pan Dinner Ideas
This recipe for chicken is as plain and simple as it gets – and super easy to bake on a sheet pan in the oven. I make this chicken recipe often.
19. One Pan Salmon
Want to have your family eat more fish? Lauren Sharifi created this salmon sheet pan meal. It’s packed with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for babies’ brain development, and is easy to prepare.
Throw it on the pan and cook it up. The whole dinner. That’s what I love about sheet pan dinners. This chicken dinner from Katie Morford at Mom’s Kitchen Handbook has some of my favorite foods: fingerling potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and of course, chicken.
21. Chicken Sausage, Potatoes and Onions https://momtomomnutrition.com/food-and-recipes/sausage-potatoes-and-onions/
We love sausage in my house, especially chicken sausages. Well, that’s me. I think everyone else likes ALL sausages! Katie Serbinski created a recipe of sausage, potatoes and onions for an easy, hearty weeknight dinner.
Fast Weeknight Dinner Ideas: Soup
I’m on a mission to make soup once a week here. We all like it, and I love having the leftovers for lunch. I don’t have a lot of soup recipes on the blog, but there’ll be more coming in the future. For now, these are the big winners in my family.
22. Easy Lamb Stew
I was inspired at my local grocery store when I saw ground lamb a few years ago. I picked it up and created this hearty lamb and vegetable stew. It’s easy to make and full of flavor.
When I created the Potato Leek Soup recipe a few years ago, I figured out that I could use the same ingredients and methods to make just about any creamy vegetable soup. What a discovery! The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute many different veggies for a new flavor.
I make a very simple (and fast) homemade chicken noodle soup. It’s a great follow up to the Lemony Roasted Chicken above.
A perfect addition to your Fall menu. Soups are nutritious and play easily between lunch and dinner. Add a sandwich or some hearty rolls and a salad and you’ve got a complete meal.
26. Hearty Chicken Vegetable Soup
Chock full of vegetables, chicken and macaroni pasta, this soup will fill up those little tummies. Coming soon!
Breakfast for Dinner Ideas [Brinner]
Breakfast for dinner is always a popular theme in my house now and when the kids were younger. I occasionally resort to Brinner when my husband is traveling. It’s fast and easy to clean up. And nobody ever complains.
These are fast to make and easy to carry, in the morning or when your child has to head to practice or a meeting at the dinner hour.
These are so easy to make fresh and they taste great. Treat them like a sandwich for dinner. Add a bowl of soup or a salad.
In France, you can get something similar called Croque Madame. It’s basically a grilled ham and cheese with an egg on top. I put the egg on the inside in this recipe.
30. Egg in a Hole
A kid-friendly option for brinner. Be sure to give your child the circles for dipping!
31. Sausage Egg and Cheese Strata
I make this every holiday season. You need to make it the day before and let it sit refrigerated overnight. Serve it with a side of veggies and fruit. Coming to the blog soon!
32. Scrambled Eggs and Toast
What’s wrong with a traditional breakfast? Go ahead, give your child some sausage or bacon too, and add some fruit. We make our scrambled eggs the French way. Learn how to do that here.
Eggs, potato, asparagus, mushrooms…yum. While this may push your child’s taste buds a little bit, it’s okay to give it a try.
The Dinner Bar: Deconstructed Dinner Ideas for Your Family
34. DIY Tostadas
A tostada is a flat taco shell. Let your child pile taco ingredients like meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato and more on top of his “flat taco.”
Put out all the cheeseburger fixings including browned ground beef, cheese, onions, and pickles. Let your child assemble his pizza ingredients on Naan bread. Pop it on the grill or frying pan and warm it up. (you do the grilling.)
36. Chopped Salad
Sometimes there are bits and pieces of leftovers… well, left over. What better way to use them up than by throwing them in a salad bowl? Let your child choose which ingredients go into the bowl. You or he can toss it all together.
A panini is a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. One of our favorites is pesto, mozzarella cheese and tomato. Put out the panini fillings and let your child make his panini sandwich (you do the pressing).
38. DIY Veggie Pizza
Keep the toppings in small bowls or in little piles on a cutting board and let your child assemble his own pizza (you do the baking).
39. Walking Tacos
I used to get walking tacos at the pool when I was a young kid. Easy to make and a real kid pleaser. Don’t know what they are? Check out the recipe!
Make a southwestern-themed potato bar and let your child build his own. Even if he only puts a few items on his potato (like cheese and sour cream), he’ll get used to the concept, feel independent, and perhaps warm up in the future.
When you make a pizza on a tortilla, it’s called a pizzadilla! (No dough required.) Check out my very fast homemade pizza assembly line.
42. Pasta Primavera
This was the second Dinner Bar I created. I made the pasta, prepped the veggies and sauces, and let the kids make up their own combination of veggies, pasta and sauce. Every plate looked different, and everyone was happy.
43. Fish Tacos
If you’re on a mission to get your kids to eat more fish, this is a good fish recipe to try. You cook the fish and prep the toppings. Letting your child make their own fish taco using The Dinner Bar approach increases the probability of acceptance.
My first Dinner Bar! This recipe uses raw chicken so it definitely requires adult supervision and a quick run to wash little hands after the chicken kabobs are made. String chicken and veggies onto skewers and grill. (You do the grilling.)
My family loves the build your own concept and they love Mexican bowls the most. Whether it’s fajita bowls or salsa chicken bowls or this meatless version, they always come running!
Fancied after a favorite restaurant appetizer of mine, these Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps use ground pork seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger. Kids can build their own using The Dinner Bar.
Easy “Push the Palate” Weeknight Dinner Ideas
We don’t always want to make our family what they like. We need to also expose them to new foods and push their palate a bit.
This is one of my most popular recipes on the blog. It’s a lot easier than it looks because it’s one of those recipes you prep in the morning and forget about until dinner time. A pork butt or pork shoulder is a large cut of meat, but it’s inexpensive and when cooked on low temperature, slowly, it makes a fine entrée.
I love a panzanella salad. It’s full of fresh veggies, lots of bread to soak up the dressing and some briny capers to add some nice umami flavor. This is a Greek version so it has feta and Kalamata olives instead of capers. I bet you’ll enjoy this recipe and it’ll challenge your child’s taste buds.
My oldest daughter got me hooked on sriracha sauce. It’s definitely spicy, but don’t be afraid to introduce it to your child. In this recipe, I mix sriracha sauce with sour cream and mayonnaise for the dressing. You can downgrade the sriracha to make it milder if you like.
Hands down, this is my family’s favorite salad. I often pan fry chicken tenders to serve atop the salad. You’ll see I make homemade stovetop croutons for it as well. It’s really yummy!
Caesar salad was the gateway salad to more salads for my kids. That is, it opened my children up to trying other salads.
So, tell me, which easy weeknight dinner idea for your family will you try first? Need some more help? Check out my 7 Simple Dinner Planning Tips.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: October 11, 2019
Updated on: October 12, 2019