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Make-Ahead Manicotti

As our family has grown, so are the families of lots of our friends – it seems to be the year of babies! With this transition comes some adjustment in our meal planning: namely, that we need to start planning ahead! Lately we have been on the hunt for easy-to-prepare meals for ourselves, but also meals that can be prepared in advance and brought over to our friends’ homes when their new baby arrives. We now understand the "new-baby-rule" first-hand: if you want to meet the little one, make sure you show up with food in hand! New parents are thrilled to have the support of friends and family, but the revolving door of guests can be exhausting and leaves little time left to prepare your own meals. One of the best gifts you can give new parents is an easy-to-prepare dinner… and an early departure time so they can get to bed!

There are lots of great, easy recipes that can be prepared in advance too, but with the weather getting colder outside, there is something really nice about cheesy, baked pasta (that is not your stereotypical lasagna!). That’s why I’d recommend giving Chicken & Spinach Manicotti a try. The oven warms your house up, while you wait for dinner to warm your tummy up. It’s comfort food! Plus, a whole pan of pasta can feed a new family for days – it even reheats well.

So, if you’re looking to simplify your life by preparing dinner ahead, start by cooking your manicotti shells according to the package directions. If you’re going to bake the manicotti right away, this is a good time to pre-heat your oven to 350°F.

Meanwhile, gather the stuffing ingredients: low-fat cottage cheese, cooked chicken strips (I used some grilled chicken we had in the freezer – cut into slices), parmesan cheese, frozen cut spinach (be sure to thaw and drain it well), one Land O’Lakes egg and one cup of mozzarella.

Mix all of those ingredients together in a large bowl.

Grab a 13x9 inch baking pan and spray it with non-stick cooking spray.

Here’s the messy part: you need to take your drained, rinsed manicotti shells and stuff them with the cheesy mixture. I gave up on using a utensil in a lady-like manner and just resorted to stuffing the pasta shells with my clean hands. Fill each shell with 1/3 cup of the mixture. Don’t be shy! There will be plenty of cheesy spinachy goodness for stuffing.

Line the stuffed shells in the greased pan.

If you are going to give this pan of manicotti as a gift – or want to prepare it later – now is the time to cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to bake your manicotti, pour spaghetti sauce over the top of all the pasta and sprinkle your remaining cup of mozzarella cheese on top. Don’t make my mistake here: I got so excited to eat manicotti that I threw the pan right in the oven. But, what you REALLY want to do is cover the whole thing with foil first. This will help everything cook up without browning the cheese too much.

Bake the manicotti for 35-40 minutes, uncovering during the last 5 minutes. Then your cheese will look more appetizing than mine.

Serve your Chicken & Spinach Manicotti up with some toasty garlic bread and a side of salad for a well-rounded, fast dinner! The manicotti looks messy, but it tastes delicious! For better looking presentation, consider sprinkling a little extra cheese on top after dishing up portions onto plates.

You – or the sleepy new parents – will love just how quick and tasty this recipe is!

Try Chicken & Spinach Manicotti for yourself, then rate and review the recipe.

Check back in a few days when Emily will share a healthy snack mix, perfect for active kids.

Amanda is paid to write for the Land O’Lakes Recipe Buzz® Blog.


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