Quick and Easy Dinners | Meal Plan Menu

Autumn is on its way! But you can still enjoy the last few nights of summer with this week’s quick and easy dinner recipes, which feature our favorite end-of-summer produce.

  • By Chelsea Paxton
  • September 7, 2018

Can you feel it? There’s a hint of fall in the air. Maybe you’ve noticed it on your morning walks with your favorite four-legged friend or as you’ve dropped the kids off at school; there’s a briskness to the breeze that has us reaching for a light sweater. And whether you are hanging on tight to these last two weeks of summer or you are ready to dive head-first into the autumn leaves, we’ve got the perfect meal plan menu for late summer / early fall.

We start the week with light and refreshing flavors inspired by Vietnam, Lebanon, and Thailand. We round out the week with a hearty Italian-inspired ragu sauce served over penne pasta. What’s even better is that all components of these globally-inspired dinners utilize similar ingredients and can be prepped ahead of time so that every weeknight dinner is easy to assemble and go from prep to dinnertime quickly and efficiently.

We make use of fresh produce that’s widely available at the end of the summer, such as cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and mint. This week’s meal plan menu is designed to help you save time (and money!) in the kitchen so that you can get out there and enjoy these cool summer evenings while they last.

Whether you are craving something light or something a bit more hearty, we’ve got you covered this week with fresh weeknight dinner recipes bursting with summertime flavor!

“[Since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans,] my routine has (thankfully) become far more streamlined​. The use of common ingredients across a week’s worth of recipes and the early prep really makes everything faster and more efficient.”

– Tara P.  (Member since Mar 2016)

All meals come with gluten-free, Paleo, and vegetarian options, as well as a grocery list and optional weekend prep steps.

Meal Planning Smarts


  • Vermicelli are thin rice noodles that you can find in the ethnic food aisle of the grocery store. If you can’t find them, feel free to sub soba or spaghetti noodles. We use vermicelli twice this week, so save time in the kitchen by cooking once and eating twice!  
  • Mint is a refreshing herb that imparts sweet and cool flavors to a dish. Because it’s commonly found in Vietnamese and Middle Eastern cuisine, we use it in a few dinners inspired by those cuisines this week to add a unique and delicious flavor.

DinnerTime Shortcuts:

  • For quick assembly of meals during the week, make dressings and dipping sauces and chop veggies over the weekend. These can be prepped ahead of time and ready to go when it’s time for dinner.
  • Avoid extra chopping and look for pre-shredded carrots (matchstick shape) at the grocery store to be used in dinners on Monday and Wednesday.


  • Crack eggs into leftover ragu. Bring to a simmer and serve shakshuka style.
  • Make extra summer rolls and pack them into a lunch box for the next day!
  • Make Mediterranean-style nachos! Spread pita chips, leftover lamb, feta cheese, and veggies on a sheet pan and pop in a 350F oven for 6-8 minutes (or until lamb is warm and cheese is melty / slightly browned). Then top with leftover lettuce, mint, and creamy tahini dressing. (It’s a great way to get your kiddos on board with eating salad in disguise!)

On the Menu

MONDAY | Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Bowls with Lime Dressing

We know Mondays can be jam-packed for many folks, so all components of this refreshing chicken noodle bowl with lime dressing can be prepped ahead of time so that dinnertime comes together in a snap. We marinate the chicken in a homemade sweet and tangy Vietnamese sauce and cook the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop. The bowls are assembled with vermicelli noodles and crisp veggies such as carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce, then topped with fresh mint, Vietnamese dressing with lime, and peanuts for crunch.

A few simple adjustments to the original recipe can be made for a variety of dietary needs. Swap out the soy sauce and use Tamari to make this dish gluten-free. To make this recipe Paleo, use Bragg’s / coconut aminos in place of the soy sauce, cashews in place of the peanuts, and mushrooms in place of the vermicelli noodles. Vegetarians will love these Vietnamese Mushroom and Tofu Noodle Bowls.

TUESDAY | Lamb Fattoush Salad with Pita Chips & Creamy Tahini Dressing

Fattoush is a traditional Lebanese bread salad made from toasted or fried Arabic flatbread, veggies, and mixed greens. We are excited to share this version with you – it’s topped with warm spiced lamb, tangy feta cheese, creamy homemade tahini dressing, and crumbled pita chips for an amazing contrast in tastes and textures! All components of this dinnertime salad can be prepped ahead of time; simply saute the lamb and assemble the salad right before dinnertime for a super easy and tasty Tuesday meal.

Vegetarians won’t miss the meat in this salad – we use warm, seasoned chickpeas and creamy avocados in place of the lamb in our Chickpea Fattoush Salad. To make this gluten-free, simply use GF pita chips. Our Paleo members will replace the feta cheese and pita chips with crunchy bell peppers and walnuts.

WEDNESDAY | Shrimp Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Who doesn’t love a summer roll? Especially when paired with peanut dipping sauce? We will show you step by step in our video how to assemble your own homemade summer rolls. They might take a bit of practice, but we save you some time by using pre-boiled cocktail shrimp, available at the seafood counter of the grocery store. (To save even more time, prep your veggies and noodles in advance as well!)

Our gluten-free members can roll with us this week by using Tamari in place of the soy sauce in the peanut dipping sauce. Our Paleo members will love our recipe for Lemongrass Pork and Shrimp Lettuce Cups that pair deliciously with a cashew dipping sauce. We invite everyone (even if you aren’t vegetarian!) to check out these Avocado and Mango Summer Rolls because, c’mon, buttery avocado and sweet mango rolled together with carrots, cucumbers, mint, and vermicelli? Yes please!

THURSDAY | Penne with Eggplant & Tomato Ragu

We end the week with a hearty vegetarian ragu served over penne pasta and topped with grated parmesan cheese. Fresh eggplant and tomatoes are available in abundance at the end of the summer, so they go perfectly in our ragu. Onions, bell peppers, garlic, spices, a splash of red wine, cannellini beans, capers, and a squeeze of fresh lemon add even more depth of flavor to this sauce. The best part is that this whole dinner goes from prep to dinner table in just 40 minutes! It’s the perfect way to end a week of fresh, homemade meals.

Our Paleo members will make the ragu with beef and serve it over roasted eggplant and zucchini rounds. To make this pasta dinner gluten-free, simply use your favorite GF penne pasta (or other shape).

Weekly Meal Planner | Menu for Week of 9/10/18 via Cook Smarts

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