A “cottage pie” is kind of like shepherd’s pie, with a nice and creamy mashed potato layer on top of beef and onions and peas and butternut squash.
A “cottage pie” is kind of like shepherd’s pie, with a nice and creamy mashed potato layer on top of beef and onions and peas and butternut squash. (Associated Press)

It’s the first week of school, and for a lot of families, that means a lot of adjusting to a new routine. For kids, going back to school is the grown-up’s equivalent of going back to “the real world,” and there can be growing pains for children AND parents.

Even people without kids can feel the sting of back-to-school season as we get stuck behind school buses again, making commutes longer and just generally annoying even those of us without a specific time to be somewhere.


I and many of my friends have kindergartners who will be adjusting to a full day of school for the first time. We’ve been warned to expect a tired, hungry, pathetic creature who will not resemble that sweetheart we said goodbye to in the morning. One friend even cautioned that we should have dinner ready by 4 p.m., or expect a total meltdown (and has sent photos of these breakdowns as evidence).

My kids are used to eating at 5 p.m. anyway, so sliding dinner back closer to 4 won’t be a very big deal thanks to my ability to work at home. But parents who work full time — I don’t know how you ever make dinner, let alone grocery shop! So with you in mind, I’ve chosen three make-ahead/freezer meals for dinner to help make a frantic weeknight a little less stressful.

First, I found this recipe for a “cottage pie.” It’s kind of like shepherd’s pie, with a nice and creamy mashed potato layer on top of beef and onions and peas and butternut squash (an exciting swap for carrots, in my humble opinion). It freezes well, so why not double up and make two—one to eat now and one to freeze.

Second, a butternut squash and chicken curry. This one’s not a freezer meal, but a one-pot meal that you can also make in a slow cooker. I liked the idea of a curry and (more) butternut squash for fall. Go ahead and buy the pre-cut butternut squash to save you more time.

I found three simple recipes for a low-stress cookout. Make these three recipes yourself, then ask your guests to bring fill-in dishes, because here you’ve got the basics covered.

And third, these taco-stuffed shells had me quite intrigued. You pre-boil the large pasta shells, then let them cool. You cook the taco stuffing on the stove, then you fill the shells and have the option to freeze them or bake them in the oven, topped with salsa. Tacos can be pretty messy, and frustrating for kids, I’ll add, so making tacos with a pasta shell that you have to cut up anyway? Genius!

Happy new school year everyone! Enjoy!

Make-ahead cottage pie

3 pounds new potatoes (about 30)

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound frozen pearl onions, thawed

1½ pounds ground beef chuck

¼ cup tomato paste


1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup frozen peas

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in a large pot, add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot; add the milk, butter, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and mash.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 4 to 6 minutes; transfer to a medium bowl.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the Dutch oven. Add the beef, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking the beef up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 4 to 6 minutes; mix in the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth, squash, peas, and onions and bring to a simmer.

Transfer the beef mixture to a 9-by-13-inch or some other 3-quart baking dish and top with the potatoes.

Bake until the potatoes are lightly golden, the filling is bubbling, and the squash is tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

One-pot butternut squash chicken curry

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 chicken breasts, diced

1 small butternut squash, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 can full fat coconut milk

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained

1 red pepper, chopped

2 cups spinach, chopped

2-3 cups cooked basmati rice (for serving, optional)

⅓ cup cilantro, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep pot. Add chicken and sauté until browned, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil, squash, carrots, garlic and ginger cooking for 4-5 minutes until veggies start to get tender.

Add stock, coconut milk, curry powder, turmeric and salt, bringing to a boil and then let simmer for 15 minutes. Add chicken back in, along with chickpeas and red pepper and cook another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and serve in large bowls alongside basmati rice. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Alternative slow cooker method: Dump all ingredients in the slow cooker except chickpeas, spinach, cilantro and rice and cook on low for six to eight hours. Add chickpeas in one hour before serving. Stir in spinach right before serving, and serve with rice, topping with cilantro.

Stuffed taco shells

1 package (16 ounces) large shells

2 pounds ground beef (or ground turkey)

1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies

1 cup corn and black bean salsa (or any of your favorite variety salsa)

4 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese

6 tablespoons taco seasoning (homemade or two packages)

Salsa, for bottom of baking dish

Toppings: tomato, lettuce, avocado, sour cream (optional)

Cook large shells pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, separate and place on parchment paper on counter. Set aside.

While pasta is cooking, brown ground beef (or ground turkey) in a large skillet. Once browned, drain grease and return meat to skillet. Add in green chilies, corn and black bean salsa, and taco seasoning. Fold in shredded cheese. Set aside.

Using a large spoon, stuff each shell with taco meat mixture, until all shells are stuffed. Place shells in Ziploc bag and freeze until ready to use.

If baking immediately, pour about 1 cup of salsa in bottom of baking dish. Choose a dish size that will fit the number of shells you are going to be cooking, about two to three shells per person. On top of salsa, add shells. Cover dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes in a 350 degrees oven. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 to 15 minutes, until salsa on bottom is bubbly and mixture inside shells is fully heated.

Serve with additional toppings if desired.