When I don’t want to spend the week thinking about dinner (who does?) or just don’t have time to meal plan, I fall back on this one store-bought item: a pack of sausage. With a pack of sausage – about one to one and a half pounds – I can make two favorite family dinners that, between them, last my family four nights. Yes, this includes leftovers, but that’s an asset in my book.

Here are my two go-to sausage recipes and, more importantly, what I love about this budget-friendly dinner plan:

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This one store-bought item stretches to four family dinners and doesn't break the bank. | ©Jane Sweeney for Cool Mom Eats

1. I make the first meal on Sunday and it tastes even better on Monday.
2. Leftovers means that I’m not cooking two out of four nights.
3. Both meals are hearty, delicious, and packed with good-for-you ingredients.
4. The recipes are flexible and adaptable to whatever items I have in the fridge.

Keep in mind that my recipes work for my family for four, which includes two young eaters. If you have a bigger family or bigger kids (omg teenage eaters!), you can bulk up these meals with extra beans, pasta, veggies, or sausage — whatever you like most.

And for our health-minded readers, keep in mind sausage is an accent here, not the main ingredient. Sausage not only provides flavor, but also protein and fat – two ingredients that take longer to digest and help us feel satiated. Plus, you can always use less while dialing up the beans and veggies. Because, like I said, these recipes are easily adapted.

Also, if you don’t have a good cast iron dutch oven in your kitchen it is really a workhorse especially when it comes to meals like these. My favorite is the Lodge 7.5 Cast Iron Enamel Dutch Oven at our affiliate Target. Keep an eye on it as it is sure to go on sale over the next few weeks.

Related: 10 easy soups that only require 5 ingredients

This store-bought item helps me make four weeknight family dinners. | ©Jane Sweeney for Cool Mom Eats

Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Stew

Best quality olive oil
¾ pound sausage (approximately two large links), casings removed
1 small onion or 1/2 a large onion, chopped
1 heaping cup chopped peeled carrots or butternut squash
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
6 cups chicken broth or homemade stock (homemade strongly recommended when possible)
1 Parmesan cheese rind
3 15-ounce cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup kale, finely chopped (or as much as you like)
Red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Grated Parmesan, for garnish
Salt and black pepper

Weeknight family dinners: sausage and veggies come together in a hearty soup. | ©Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

1. Over med-high heat, warm a little olive oil and add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Don’t move the sausage around too much so that it gets nice and browned in spots.
2. Add the chopped onion, carrots or squash, and smashed garlic; sauté until slightly soft.

Weeknight family dinners: sausage and kale make a great combo. | ©Jane Sweeney Cool Mom EatsFinely chopping the kale makes it easier for little ones to eat. You can use spinach instead, if you prefer. 

Weeknight family dinners:add a parmesan rind for delicious broth. | ©Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

A parmesan rind that’s been stored in the freezer – woot!

3. Add broth and parmesan rind, and bring to boil.
4. Reduce to a simmer; add beans and chopped kale. Keep on a low simmer for at least an hour so that the flavors have time to mingle, but if you have more time, the longer it simmers, the better.
5. Before serving, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice to brighten, if desired. Garnish with parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

I store leftovers in the fridge in the pot. That way, when you’re ready to serve this the second time around, you can transfer directly to the stovetop to gently rewarm.

Related: 7 healthy soup recipes to warm you from the inside out

Shortcut family dinners: Orecchiette with Sausage and Greens | ©Jane Sweeney for Cool Mom Eats

Orecchiette with Sausage and Greens

1½ pounds orecchiette or cavatelli (about one and half boxes)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to taste
¾ pound sausage (approximately two large links), casings removed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 head broccoli, cut into bite-size florets or 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
½ cup or more Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to instructions on box.
2. Meanwhile, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and sauté about 4-5 minutes, breaking up the sausage as it cooks. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Keep sausage on lowest heat while pasta finishes cooking.

Store-bought sausage makes four family dinners: Add peas or broccoli to sausage and orecchiette. | ©Jane Sweeney for Cool Mom Eats

Tip: If there are sausage bits stuck to the pan, add a splash of pasta cooking water to scrape them up.

3. If using broccoli, add it to the pasta pot during the last 3-5 minutes of cooking (pierce the broccoli with a fork to test for doneness). If using peas, add them to the pot in the last minute of cooking. Remove the pot from the heat, but before straining, dunk a mug into the water and reserve a cupful of the starchy water; set aside. Then drain the pasta and veggies and return to the cooking pot.
4. To the pasta, add cooked sausage, a glug of oil, and a little bit of the pasta water, adding more as needed to create a sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowl garnished with the cheese.

To serve leftovers, place pasta mixture back into a pot. Add a little splash of water and warm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. If using broccoli, it will be a little mushier and broken up, but I actually like how it transforms into a pesto-like sauce.