Meal Planning for the School Daze: Tips to Make Weeknight Dinners Easier

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The back to school season can be a whirlwind of activity, but ya still gotta eat. Make weeknight dinners easier with these meal planning tips.

large white bowl of couscous with onions, peppers, beans, cilantro, and olives

It’s a little realized fact: there are not enough hours in a mom’s day to do all that she want to or thinks she should do. This is never more true than during the back to school season.

There are new schedules to accommodate, new school work routines to negotiate, and, of course, children to feed and clothe.

Yep, they’re still hungry and want to eat. Every day.

It helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to planning and preparing weeknight dinners.

Having established theme night meal plans can really ease the burden of meal planning, but even moreso can the act of planning really easy fixes for weeknight dinners.

Meal Planning for the School Daze: Tips to Make Weeknight Dinners Easier

Consider some of the following easy fixes for dinner:

taco soup in a bowl with slow cooker in background

The Taco Soup Recipe Your 5-Year Old Can Make

Cook it slow!

Get that slow cooker going in the morning and come home to supper all ready to go.

Crockpot Red Sauce is a go-to recipe for an easy weeknights. Cook up a big batch of this over the weekend and use it atop noodles, with spaghetti and meatballs, stirred into Minestrone and in Lasagna.

This Easy Taco Soup Recipe is so simple, even your five-year old can make it. Use leftovers as a filling for burritos — just stretch it with another can of beans.

For family members who trickle in after dinner time, thanks to study sessions and sports practices, leave the slow cooker on low so that dinner’s waiting for them when they come home.

It’s amazing what a crockpot can do these days. Make friends with it and you’ll be so glad you did. Head here for more slow cooker recipes.

array of vegetables, noodles, and chicken cut for Asian bowls

Asian Bowls

Belly up to the bar!

A buffet meal is super easy in that you can prep all the ingredients in advance, making weeknight dinners less of a hassle. Lay out all the ingredients for DIY burritos and tacos, loaded potatoes, or Asian bowls. Let everyone assemble his own plate.

The kids will love to get creative and may be more likely to eat what they create as opposed to something handed to them on a plate. Include lots of veggies to choose from.

Serve buffet items in dishes that come with covers. This makes it really easy to close everything up and stash it in the fridge. It also makes it easy for late-comers to make their own plates when they get home.

three layer club sandwich with chicken salad, bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes

Chicken Salad Club Sandwich

Make it a Sandwich Night!

Not only is a Sandwich Bar really easy to pull together, it can be made as gourmet — or not — as you would like.

Bake a few batches of focaccia or Italian Sandwich Rolls for easy sandwich bases. Filling choices are endless, from sliced deli meats, tuna or chicken salad, or even pulled beef or pork. Let everyone make his own, allowing you a virtual night off cooking.

For ease of serving, store all your sandwich stuff in one spot in the fridge. This will allow for quick fixes and easier weeknight dinners.

plate of a ploughman's lunch with bread, cheese, eggs, meat, and pickle

The Ploughman’s Lunch

Try a guilt-free Snacky Dinner.

The snacky lunch or dinner is God’s answer to crazy weeknights when you’re tired and your people are coming and going. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like.

The basic version includes cheese, crackers or baguette, and fruit and veg dippers. Easy peasy. Keep these basics on hand for quick and easy meals night or day.

prepared lasagnas ready for freezing

How to Make Homemade Lasagna for the Freezer

Dinner on Ice!

Spend a few hours and stock your freezer with meals to eat later in the month. Freezer meals are a must-have during the school year and as the busy holiday season approaches.

Freezer meals can range from all-inclusive casseroles like Lasagna and Curried Chicken and Broccoli Bake to meal components like shredded chicken or pulled pork.

You don’t need to spend all day cooking for the freezer. Something as simple as doubling dinner for a few nights will easily get you on your way to a few simple freezer meals.

pizza with jalapeños, chicken, olives, and fresh avocado on the side

Jalapeño Burn Pizza

Pizza Night

Fridays is Pizza Night for lots of folks. If you don’t make it yourself — and you really should — you can easily pick up one or two from Costco or local pizza shop.

You’ll love it for the relaxing atmosphere and the celebratory spirit it brings to your kitchen. Pizza night is a great way to usher in the weekend after a hard week of school.

Meal planning needs to be a simple affair during the school year. There are just too many other things going on, that you gotta get outta the kitchen. These time-tested tricks will get you in and out in a jiffy.

What do YOU do to make weeknight dinners easier during the school year?

banner for mom's kitchen survival workshop

Level up your meal planning and prep.

Have you considered creating a kitchen survival kit to help you WIN in the kitchen? I’d love for you to join me for the next Mom’s Kitchen Survival Workshop.

You’ll create a plan to help you get dinner on the table every night, fill your freezer with wholesome snacks and breakfasts, finesse your lunch-packing skills, and even make sure you get a daily dose of MOM food.

Learn more here.

bowl of couscous topped with vegetables

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Stephenie says

    Think I’m gonna try your theme night ideas. It stresses me out to think of a new meal plan each week. Thanks!

  2. we love our slow cooker as well – it’s the only way I manage to cook a Roast without making it incredibly tough.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Michelle Burgess, one thing I learned was that some roasts are meant for dry roasting. That is to say, they shouldn’t be in the crockpot, but in a dry oven, uncovered. That was revolutionary to me as I had cooked some very tough roasts in the crockpot. Wild.

  3. Lovely ideas. We do pizza night, sandwich night, pasta and soup nights. But I also do quite a bit of meal planning every week since here in India, the meal system is a little different. We need cereal, lentil/chicken, vegetables and yogurt at lunch and dinner. So, yeah, some amount of planning does make it easy. But I can try freezing things. Should be fun:-)

  4. Fridays are our pizza night, too! We’ve been doing a burgers on the grill night, but I think a “big sandwich” night would be a hit around here.

    Breakfast for dinner is our Monday night tradition, as Mondays are usually our most rushed day. Nice way to ease into the week w/o out always having to rely on Sunday dinner leftovers (esp. now that our kids are getting to the point where they eat enough there aren’t always leftovers LOL)

    I have been thinking that we may have to tinker w/ the meal plan a bit now that school is back in session – thanks for the ideas!

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Kara @SimpleKids, my kids looooooove breakfast for dinner, esp if it’s that six course breakfast (potatoes, eggs, ham, bacon, pancakes, fruit). May have to add that to the list. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. This is such a great post. We practice many of your suggestions in our house. Planning ahead is essential, especially at this back to school time of year.

  6. Nancy says

    I put together a 2 week menu this weekend and then did the shopping. For me, this is a must during the school year. I just can’t get it together any other way.

  7. I always cook thematically, so I love your suggestions!

    I think I’ll retweet this! good stuff!

  8. Anne says

    I do the same thing – Monday is Slow Cooker Day, Tuesday is Soup (Fall/Winter) or Pasta/Pasta Salad (SUmmer), Wednesday is Breakfast, Thursday is Sandwich and Friday is usually my “Big Dinner” night when I make a “normal” meal. It makes meal planning easy!

  9. Eileen says

    Well our pizza night was a bust last night because I forgot to put the paddles in the bread machine to mix the dough – didn’t realize it until it should have been done! I love your site and have used so many of your great ideas. One series I would love to see – at home lunches during the school year. We homeschool as well, and it seems as though lunch is a huge disruption during the day. My kids aren’t big sandwich eaters – so I’m looking for ideas of things I can freeze. Mac & cheese frozen in muffin cups worked well for us – any other ideas?

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Eileen, funny you should ask! I’m on a mission to tackle the lunchtime monster. Last night I had the boys “pack” their own lunches. I’ll report on our progress.

      Love the idea of mac and cheese cups!

  10. I am going to use all of those tips starting next week along with school!!

  11. My daughter loves Subway.. and since there are 5 of us… even at 5 dollars a piece that can get expensive.. so we make our own at home… and she loves this cause she can do it herself. Plus they are more apt to try new things… We LOVE sandwich night!

  12. One of my goals for September is to eat out of our two humonguous (s0?) freezers and the pantry. I’ve been putting away lots of veggies from the garden plus stocking up on items from the local grocery outlet. To keep myself on track and to be prepared for the two nights of soccer that we’ll have in September, I made up a two-page weekly menu plan ( which I’m using starting this week. I made sure to have plenty of room for notes about prepping items and sneaking veggies into dishes.

    We do stick to simple themes, though I may try sandwich night on Fridays for awhile in lieu of our pizza/calzone night. Sandwiches require less time and I can have the kids help put the platters together for the table.

  13. These are great ideas. This week, we’re putting our leftovers to work. Pork one night, rice the other night, then pork fried rice the next night!

  14. I bookmark a lot of stuff (yes, I’m ancient and still bookmark..I know). But, I am putting an extra special tag on this one. I’m going to use all of your tips, Jessica – THANK YOU!

  15. angie says

    love your ideas especially the guilt free night we do something like that from time to time and during football season we eat at the games on friday nights

  16. Patti says

    I love this post! I am definitely going to try to do better at meal planning now that the summer is almost over.

    For our “sub” sandwiches, we always broil them a minute or two ( as Quiznos does) which makes them even better! For some reason, my teenage son and friends think this is an extra special treat. Thought yours might like it, too.

  17. Thanks so much for including me in your round-up. This is SUCH a helpful article. With the cooler weather already on it’s way here, I’m thinking about freezer meals.

  18. Erica says

    Tortas are a favorite meal around here- so much so that we did them for our oldest’s 18th Birthday party and his Graduation party.

    I make mine with french rolls- sliced, spread w/ mayo and grilled. We grill steak and slice it thin. I have tomato, onions, cilantro, jalapeno, and avocado available. The youngest just puts BBQ sauce on hers and one eats the bread and meat separately. My husband puts sour cream on his and my dad and one son put extra heat on theirs with Tapatio.

  19. Jessica H. says

    Thank you so much!! I really needed this! My husband works nights, and I work days, so we have just a half hour to get a meal together and to eat it before he goes to work. That does not leave enough time most nights! But with these tips we can have meals as a family with little trouble! Thank you!

  20. Anna says

    Great ideas! I might try the theme night idea eventually. And thanks for mentioning beans and rice… I always forget that’s a great addition to a Mexican meal.

  21. Kelley says

    I made the Garlic Focaccia this afternoon. It is amazing! I LOVE bread and I just got a bread machine for my b-day this month so I have been trying every recipe I can. I even borrowed the Bread Machine book from the library you recommendand have not loved anything like the Garlic Focaccia. It was so easy! What is the best way to store this and do you recommend freezing it??

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Kelley, freeze it after it’s baked. The dough does not freeze well. Also, I’ve made it in cake pans, so the loaves fit a freezer bag really well.

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