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45 easy dinner recipes for busy weeknights

From sheet-pan meals to make-ahead marvels, these recipes will save your dinner routine.
Salmon Pasta Fettuccine Alfredo Chicken
Our easy dinner recipes are perfect for everyone looking for ease in the kitchen .Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

We’ve all been there. After a long day of work or school, the last thing we want to do is spend an hour (or even two) in the kitchen, chopping and dicing, mixing and measuring. But for many reasons — health, budget, taste — we’re also craving a homemade meal. That’s where these easy dinner recipes come in to solve our dinner dilemma.

All of them were developed with ease in mind. That could mean they rely on store-bought ingredients such as jarred pasta sauce or frozen veggies to cut down on prep and cook time. Or they’re meals that may take a while, but most of the work is hand off, such as a sheet-pan dinner or low-and-slow braise. Others come together quickly with minimal work for nights when you need dinner on the table ASAP, or they’re done in one pot or pan, for days when you can’t handle a sink full of dishes.

Easy also doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice flavor or variety. There are a diverse selection of dishes that are sure to satisfy any craving. For those looking for plant-based recipes, try mushroom tacos or an herby pasta, both of which are filling and delicious without any meat. Seafood lovers will be happy to find shrimp and salmon served in a number of ways. And if you’re seeking something meaty, there’s a whole host of chicken, beef and pork recipes featuring different cuts and flavor profiles.

Whether you’re a busy parent trying to feed a family, a student living on a budget or simply a home cook looking for some inspiration in the kitchen, you’ll find an easy dinner recipe that you can whip up in a flash tonight.

Seafood recipes

Sheet-Pan Honey Jerk Salmon

Salmon holds up to bold flavors of jerk spices in this simple recipe. The spicy marinade comes together in a food processor and the fish bakes quickly so you can easily have this sheet-pan meal on the table in less than 30 minutes.

4-Ingredient Air Fryer Salmon

When she needs to get dinner on the table fast, Jocelyn Delk Adam turns to her trusty air fryer to cook this four-ingredient salmon. The garlicky honey-soy glaze adds sweet-umami flavors to the unctuous fish, which gets nicely caramelized as it cooks.

With a name that translates to “among the devil,” it should come as no surprise that this shrimp Fra Diavolo has a kick. Start with a small amount of the crushed red pepper flakes and adjust the heat level as the sauce simmers and the flavor intensifies. Serve with plenty of crusty bread to sop up that saucy goodness.

The secret to the 15-minute prep for this sheet-pan dinner is smart time management. Get the fish and dressing ready as the tomatoes and green beans roast. Once the fish goes into the oven, there’ll be time to clean up, set the table and enjoy a glass of wine. 

Oregano and mint add a burst of Mediterranean flavor to this light, yet satisfying one-pan dinner. Briny olives and salty feta complement the juicy sweetness of the shrimp and cherry tomatoes.

Miso and lemon deliver a combination of umami and citrus flavors that pair beautifully with salmon. Broiling is not only a quick cooking technique, but also gives the fish a browned exterior while maintaining its juicy interior.

A one-pan meal brimming with salmon and roasted veggies gets even better with the addition of a harissa-orange-ginger sauce. Each bite is smoky, spicy and sweet and packed with wholesome ingredients that’ll keep you satisfied.

The oven does all the heavy lifting in this one-pan entrée. The sesame-studded sweet potato and broccoli get a head start, followed by the teriyaki salmon. Packed with healthy fats and protein, it’s a nutritious, filling meal all on its own, but would also be delicious with a side of rice.

Here’s the secret to making restaurant-quality fried rice at home: Use cold, cooked rice that’s been fluffed ahead of time. That’ll make the grains easy to separate so you don’t end up with lumpy, mushy fried rice. If you have that ready, then this Yang Chow fried rice can be on the table in 15 minutes, thanks to the high heat of the wok and quick-cooking ingredients such as shrimp, ham and frozen peas.

Beef recipes

Braising takes a while — that’s the nature of the low-and-slow technique — but most of the work is hands-off, which is why it’s actually a great easy dinner option. To prep this brisket, all you need to do is mix up a spice rub, cut some onions and pour liquids into a pan. Place it in the oven for 5 to six hours and you’ll be rewarded with fall-off-the-bone brisket with minimal effort.

This takeout-inspired dish is ready in the time it takes to wait for delivery! Better yet, it’s much more affordable and you have full control over the ingredients. The sauce is made with low-sodium chicken broth and soy sauce, plus there’s no added sugar. Make sure to let the wok or pan to fully heat up so you get a nice golden browning on the beef. 

With a hearty meat sauce, creamy ricotta cheese, mozzarella and Parmesan, baked ziti Bolognese “is the definition of Italian comfort food,” says Anthony Scotto. Like all pasta casseroles, this recipe is a good one to add to your rotation of make-ahead meals. Prep one in advance and pop it into the oven on busy weekdays.

Easiest-Ever Beef Enchiladas

Not only does store-bought enchilada sauce save time, but the beef can also be made ahead so all you have to do is roll ‘em and bake ‘em. Serve with sour cream, freshly diced tomatoes and other toppings to make it a mix-and-match meal the whole family will love.

Hamburger Helper Pasta

There’s always going to be a time and place for boxed Hamburger Helper. But this elevated version by Gaby Dalkin is a rich and decadent option for nights when you want a from-scratch meal that’ll please a crowd. The meaty, creamy cheeseburger-inspired casserole has everything kids love, but it’ll also strike a nostalgic note with the adults at the table.    

Pizza-Stuffed Meatloaf

Two comfort foods — pizza and meatloaf — come together to form one irresistibly easy dinner. The tomato sauce and melty mozzarella not only adds pizza flavor, but helps keep the meatloaf tender and juicy.

Chicken recipes

The next time you want to upgrade a chicken dinner, turn to a bottle of Caesar dressing. This recipe forgoes lettuce in favor of broccoli and juicy chicken thighs, using store-bought dressing as the base of a creamy sauce. A healthy grind of black pepper, lemon zest and crunchy Parmesan crisps further nod to its salad-inspired roots.  

Rotisserie chicken is a weeknight dinner lifesaver. One store-bought chicken can easily become taco filling, a grain bowl topper or this takeout-inspired fried rice. The endlessly customizable recipe comes together in only 20 minutes. You can follow it as is and use frozen peas and carrots as the veggie component, or whatever else you have in the fridge

Cashew Chicken

From tender pieces of chicken to buttery cashews to earthy shiitake mushrooms, there’s lots to like about this wonderful stir-fry. Velveting, a traditional Chinese technique that calls for marinating meat in cornstarch, oil and seasonings, keeps the chicken juicy as it’s seared in a hot skillet with lots of ginger and garlic.

Lemony Chicken and Rice Casserole

Baked chicken and rice is always a crowd pleaser. In this take on the comfort food classic, lemon zest and slices are added for a pop of citrusy brightness. Be sure to use chicken thighs, which will maintain their juicy texture during the long bake.

There’s no spring ingredient that’s quite as fleeting — and coveted! — as ramps. But if you do get your hands on the wild allium, you’ll want to use them in this sheet-pan recipe, which infuses chicken thighs with its garlicky, onion flavor. The ramp flavor is dialed up even more with a tart vinaigrette that utilizes the raw bulbs. 

Allow chef Curtis Stone to take you on a trip to wine country with this elegant, yet easy entree. Chicken thighs are roasted alongside grapes, shallots, rosemary and thyme until succulent, then served with a buttery white wine sauce. A ball of burrata adds even more richness to the final dish.  

Make a double batch of Siri Daly’s Parmesan-crusted chicken tenders and store some in the freezer to have them ready at any time. Panko breadcrumbs add a crunch that kids will love. They won’t be able to resist Daly’s special sauce, which is made with a trio of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup.   

Panzanella is a salad that’s traditionally made with stale bread, but this winning weeknight meal is so good, you won’t want to wait for a loaf to dry out. Chicken thighs, tomatoes, zucchini and bread all roast together on one pan before they’re added to a bed of arugula with a zippy red wine vinegar dressing. Feel free to swap out the veggies for whatever looks best at the market!

For a simple, yet flavorful dinner, you can prep these foil packet dinners ahead of time and toss them on the grill once evening rolls around. Each package is brimming with shawarma-spiced chicken, olives, tomatoes and bell peppers. Will Coleman’s trick to making these a complete meal? Using the rice that comes in microwavable pouches, which reheats quickly on the grill and doesn’t require any stovetop cooking.

Turkey recipes

Melba Wilson's Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf

Melba Wilson proves that turkey meatloaf can be just as succulent as the beef or pork variety in her recipe for the all-American staple. Use dark meat, a hefty helping of breadcrumbs and a barbecue sauce glaze to keep the loaf moist as it bakes.

Joy Bauer's One-Skillet Enchiladas

This one-pan wonder takes everything you love about enchiladas and layers them lasagna-style for a dinner that’s low in effort, but big in flavor. In true Joy Bauer style, she sneaks in butternut squash and swaps in whole grain tortillas to make it extra filling and wholesome.

Weeknight Turkey Bolognese

Traditional Bolognese takes hours to simmer, which isn’t always realistic on a weeknight. TODAY culinary producer Katie Stilo uses store-bought marinara as a time-saving shortcut, but amps it up with diced red onion, chopped garlic, Italian seasoning and Calabrian chili paste. Grated zucchini adds a nutritious boost, but you can also drop in a handful of spinach or grated carrots if you have other veggies on hand.

If you love a good set it-and-forget it meal, then bookmark this slow cooker recipe. Bell peppers are stuffed with whole grains, protein-packed ground turkey, feta, veggies and herbs, then placed in a slow cooker. A tahini drizzle at the end adds a nice creaminess to the dish.

Air Fryer Turkey Meatballs

It’s convenient, it’s fast and it makes everything enticingly crisp — yes, we’re talking about the air fryer! Here, the popular appliance gives turkey meatballs loaded with garlic, parsley and Parm a nice golden crust, while still keeping the interior juicy. If you don’t have one, don’t fret. You can also pop the meatballs into the broiler to achieve the same effect.

Pork recipes

Butter-Basted Pork Chops

These hefty pork chops look impressive, but you can easily get them on the table in an hour — perfect for any last-minute gatherings. A trio of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage add a beautiful fall aroma during the basting process, which calls for spooning melted butter and drippings over the chops. 

This delightfully filling meal cooks in just 30 minutes. Buttery cannellini beans and kale pair nicely with Italian sausage. There’s little prep needed — all you need to do is toss with salt, pepper and, if you like a kick of heat, red pepper flakes.

Siri Daly's Egg Roll Bowl

This deconstructed egg roll tastes just like the takeout appetizer without all the work and mess of rolling and deep-frying. Simply sauté ground pork, coleslaw, egg and canned water chestnuts with aromatics, followed by a spicy Sriracha soy sauce. Serve on top of rice with crispy wonton strips for a bit of crunch.

Pork Adobo

Pork adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, is a dish that tastes even better the next day. Pork butt cooks slowly in a vinegary sauce that’s meant for spooning over jasmine rice, but the shredded meat is just as good piled between sandwich buns or packed into tortillas for Filipino-inspired tacos.

A vinegar cherry pepper topping adds heat and zip to seared bone-in pork chops. The chops are seared, then cooked in an aromatic sauce made with white wine, chicken stock, roasted peppers, onions and garlic. For even more flavorful meat, brine the chops overnight in water, salt and sugar. 

Pizza Spaghetti Pie

Pizza: check! Pasta: check! Pie: check! This family-friendly pizza spaghetti pie ticks off all the boxes, making it a guaranteed hit with diners of all ages. Even better? It takes 10 minutes of prep time to cook the noodles and mix everything together before it goes in the oven. The hardest part will be waiting for the pie to cool and set before digging in.

Vegetarian recipes

Red Wine Spaghetti

This ruby-red pasta will be the star of any dinner party. Its vibrant color and unique flavor will make it feel impressive, but it’s actually a dish that’s quite simple to pull off. The pasta cooks in red wine with butter and garlic, then the noodles are tossed with pine nuts, feta cheese, lemon and basil. It’s delicious as a vegetarian entree, but you can also add shrimp or grilled chicken for a heartier bite.   

Easy Seitan

Making seitan, the popular meat alternative, is easier than you think. All you need are two ingredients — water and flour — plus a little elbow grease to knead them together. Making it from scratch means you can season it any way you like for the dish you’re cooking.

Baked Broken Lasagna Pasta with Spinach

Think of this as the lasagna version of a dump cake. Simply combine crushed tomatoes, broken pieces of lasagna noodles and aromatics into a casserole pan and bake for 25 minutes before tossing in the rest of the ingredients. The no-fuss lasagna comes out bubbling with thick slices of noodles smothered in sauce and cheese.

This herby green pasta is putting a new spin on the term “eat your greens.” Blend together a combination of fresh leafy herbs, such as basil, mint, or parsley, with spinach, garlic and lemon to form a bright green sauce for Parmesan and date-coated rigatoni noodles. Finish each plate with pine nuts for a nice textural contrast.

Don’t have pine nuts on hand, but still craving homemade pesto? This recipe swaps in a nut that you may be more likely to have available in a pinch. Pistachios not only taste great with basil and Parmesan, but also adds an additional dose of green to the pasta sauce.

These vegetarian foil packets are an homage to the hibachi restaurant. The marinade calls for Asian pantry staples such as soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, plus a few fresh ingredients such as lime juice and scallion. Customize what you want to cook — keep it vegetarian with tofu, mushrooms, asparagus and bok choy, or add a quick-cooking protein like shrimp to the mix.

You can probably find most, if not all, of the ingredients in this colorful vegetarian meal — rice, black beans, diced tomatoes, frozen corn — in your pantry or freezer. Even if you don’t, the recipe is so versatile, you can easily sub in other veggies or beans and they’ll taste just as great. 

One-Pot Pasta Fagioli

With just one pot and easy-to-find ingredients like cannellini beans and tomato puree, you can have a delicious and satisfying meal on the table with hardly any post-dinner cleanup. With pasta, beans, and veggies all in one dish, it’s a well-rounded meal that’s sure to please the whole family.

Mushroom Taco 'Meat'

Taco night doesn’t need to be a heavy, meaty affair. These mushroom “meat” tacos get a satisfying, deep flavor from a bold mix of coriander, cumin, cayenne and garlic powder. To coax the most flavor from the spices, allow them to sauté for a few minutes before adding the diced mushrooms.

Even Ina Garten thinks this overnight mac and cheese is one of her best. It’s also possibly the easiest since there’s no roux needed. The pasta mixture can also be prepped ahead and stored in the fridge overnight. Then, all you have to do the next day is pour it into a pan, top with cheese and breadcrumbs, and bake!