Throughout the month of March we are going to show you just how easy meal planning for the week ahead really is. With just a little bit of effort on the weekends and a some creativity during the week, you can use your protein of choice in a variety of meals. Plan ahead with these simple recipes and trust us, you’ll be thankful you did on those crazy busy nights.
The recipes over the next couple of weeks will incorporate chicken, pot roast, or pork into your meal planning routine. This week, chicken is the conductor on your train to better meal planning in 2017.
In my house, Sundays are for cooking and more importantly, meal planning. When you’re getting ready for the week ahead, plug in the slow cooker and let it work it’s magic while you’re finishing up laundry, driving kids to games, or doing a little cleaning. Last Sunday we made Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken. This basic chicken recipe will be your canvas for the week ahead.
During the week, pasta is one of my go-to dishes (being Italian means you automatically have the carb-loving gene). It’s a quick option for a substantial meal – and you know the best part? The chicken is already cooked and ready in the fridge waiting for you thanks to the slow cooker and a little planning ahead.
A pasta bake is an easy way to break free from your tried and true bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. First, cook your favorite pasta (we used penne for this recipe). When the pasta is close to being cooked al dente, add broccoli to the pot and allow it to cook for about a minute before draining and setting aside.
The Test Kitchen made a quick homemade alfredo sauce for our pasta bake, but you could definitely use your favorite store-bought sauce to save time. To make the sauce, combine garlic, cream cheese, milk, Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper in a dutch oven or saucepan. Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat and add parmesan cheese, stirring until the cheese is fully melted.
Add your shredded chicken from the weekend, pasta, and broccoli to the quick alfredo sauce then add the cheesy mixture to a casserole dish. Top with buttery breadcrumbs and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
When the breadcrumbs are beautifully browned and the alfredo is bubbling, you’re ready to dig in. This bake is a meal in itself and the creamy alfredo sauce may trick the kids into eating their vegetables. It’s a surefire weekday dinner win.
- 1 package (16 ounces) penne pasta
- 6 cups fresh broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup butter
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1½ teaspoons)
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 2 cups grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- Heat oven to 375°F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- Follow package directions to cook the pasta al dente. Add broccoli to pasta and water. Simmer 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
- In a Dutch oven over medium-high, melt butter. Remove 2 tablespoons and toss with bread crumbs. Set aside
- Add garlic to remaining butter and cook until fragrant. Stir in cream cheese, milk, Italian seasoning, salt and black pepper. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted.
- Add pasta, chicken and broccoli to pan. Stir to blend. Pour into prepared casserole. Top with bread crumbs.
- Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbling and crumbs are browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
- For easy meal planning, prepare the chicken in a slow cooker. Reserve remaining chicken for other meals. Use jar of prepared alfredo sauce if short on time.