Make Ahead Stuffed Shells


Great news everyone: we crushed 100 comments on last night’s post, and secured the $500 donation to the American Heart Association! Thank you all SO much for your help! Your Nourish What Counts ideas were totally great too, and I really enjoyed reading them all. Very motivating. :)

Also, congrats to the winners of the Quaker Whole Hearts cereal:

Mia: I am working out with a friend each morning and drinking green smoothies to get extra veggies!

Sarah H.P.: My hubby and I are going to hike as many trails as we can find as soon as the weather warms up a bit!

Stephanie B: I nourish what counts by working with Brainfood, a non-profit in DC, and teaching kids how to cook healthy foods or make standard meals healthier! Passing on the message of good health!!

Dawn @ Making Home: My sister and I have commited to running a 5K together this summer. I also make sure I get at least 5 servings of fruit and veggies.

Lauren: Iā€™m going to nourish what counts by getting up from my desk for a walk at lunch time every day.

Email your full mailing address to and we’ll get that right out to you. Here’s to healthy hearts! :D

Speaking of hearts, mine almost burst after I opened Ben’s Valentine’s Day card last night. Every year I try and get him a funny card that is representative of our relationship. Last year I found a HIGHlarious one depicting a wife smothering her husband with love before he could change out of his work clothes, which is something I tend to do cough everyday.

This year I picked one with a guy who romantically shaped his dirty laundry into the shape of a heart to please his lady, which is so something Ben would do. It has stink lines and everything.

This year he decided to play along and search for a card that would sweep me off my feet. A card that would say more than he ever could about how he felt about his wife. His best friend. His soul mate. A card that featured…EDWARD!!!!!

With “Sorry I’m not a vampire” scrawled inside.

BAHAHAHA! I die! I seriously do. I laughed ’til I could laugh no more. I think I’ll keep him around. ;)

Sorry, we are weird…

Vampire or not, we both sank our teeth into one of our favorite dinners tonight – Stuffed Shells!

It’s been exactly one year and one day since I last made these, which is exactly one year too long. They are so dang delish.

Surprisingly easy AND make ahead too!

Start by adding a box of jumbo shells to a large pot of salted, boiling water. You’ll need 25 shells.


Stir the shells often as they tend to stick to the bottom of the pot more than regular pasta. They also like to snuggle up all into each other, so separate with a fork if you find any frisky couples. Reserve 1/3 cup cooking water, then drain the shells and return to the pot.


Meanwhile, brown 1lb lean ground beef in a pot next door. Tip: I use a potato masher to get my ground beef uniformly crumbled. Works every time!

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After draining the beef, return it to the pot and add in parmesan cheese, an egg, seasonings,

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mozzarella cheese and the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir everything up until it’s well combined.

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Next, turn your attention to zee marinara sauce. Per usual, I used Gino’s. (I seriously need to do a giveaway for non-locals – this stuff is in my Top 5 fave foods, no kidding!)


Layer about 1/3 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan.


Next, take a shell and spoon in enough ground beef mixture to fill about 3/4 of the way full.

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Line it up in the baking dish.


Repeat with the remaining ground beef filling and shells. I got a total of 24 shells.


Top the shells with the remaining marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese. At this point, you could cover the dish with foil, place it in the refrigerator and bake a day later, or cover and bake immediately for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

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Before and after! :)

Stuffed Shells are the epitome of comfort food, and the fact that they can be made ahead of time makes ’em that much better.

Click here for the recipe! >

On the side I served a salad tossed with Brianna’s Asiago Caesar salad dressing. It’s pretty high in calories, at 80 calories per Tablespoon, but totallyworthitineverysingleway. SO savory and yummy. Luckily a little goes a long way!

In other news…

Sugar Free Jebruary Update

That high pitched squeal you heard yesterday around 5:00pm? That was me – “wheeeeeeee!!!!”ing as Sugar Free Jebruary finally came to an end! :)

One month ago I gave up all non-natural sweets (cookies, CANDY, and the like) during the week, saving my splurges for the weekend instead. At the time I was belligerently eating way too much sugar and wanted to practice some self control.

It was a long, hard road, but a completely worthwhile journey.

I can’t say I feel “better” overall as a result of giving up sugar during the week, as there are dozens of variables that make one feel “good” or “bad” everyday – sleep, exercise, stress, etc. What I’ve learned though, is that it’s not necessarily how great I feel when I DON’T eat sugar, rather, it’s how crappy I feel when I DO eat eat sugar.

Over the past month I have become acutely aware of how sugar from “foods” like candy and cookies effect my body. Almost immediately (no exaggeration) my stomach becomes bloated and gurgly. I often get a headache later and, worst of all, the next day I am extremely slow and sluggish. (Case in point I almost fell asleep standing at my desk today after eating way too much sweet stuff last night.)

So why am I so excited that SFJ is coming to an end?

Basically I used the weekends to make up for what I couldn’t have during the week and overdid it, which only made the feelings I had after eating sugar worse. During the week my self control was impeccable, but it really didn’t matter when it flew out the window and I’d have dessert after every meal on Saturday and Sunday.

That said, learning and pinpointing exactly how sugar makes me feel has been my key takeaway from this whole experience. That and I am ABLE to practice self control if I set my mind to it. I just need to be WILLING. ;)

My taste buds have also changed. Naturally sweet foods like clementines, pineapple and apples taste so PURE, while foods like Skittles and Starbursts leave a tinny tang in my mouth.

I’m going to continue to save sugary splurges for the weekend knowing that if I really want something during the week I can have it. Hopefully that will lessen the temptation for sugary treats in my life altogether, and will undoubtedly lessen the tendency to overdo it on the weekends.

Did anyone else make it through Sugar Free January? How did you feel at the end? Will you keep going?

Wishing you a fantastic night!

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  1. that card is absolutely amazing. my hubby and i have so many inside jokes that would make anyone looking in think we are absolutely, certifiably crazy!

    very interesting to hear your report on SFJ. i could definitely stand to reduce the sugar in my diet and your observations are very insightful.

    have a great night!

  2. lisa 02.15.2012

    I made it, the box of chocolates I shared with my kids last night was the perfect reward. Love stuffed shells, I always make the Cook Yourself Thin version which is filled with zucchini and spinach.

  3. Olivia 02.15.2012

    Oh man, stuffed shells are so good. I have not made them in YEARS. Need to. Thanks for reminding :)

  4. Emily 02.15.2012

    I gave up sugar for about 20 days, only used a little honey here & there. I work out & eat well anyway so I agree w/ you, didn’t feel “better” but notice now when I eat sugar I don’t feel good. One thing I did notice after just a couple days though was my mental clarity was so much better! I would remember why I went into a room lol! The mental fog was definitely gone, and that surprised me big time.

  5. erica 02.15.2012

    i’m trying to picture him actually picking it up and buying it at the store! that’s a great husband you got there…even if he isn’t a vampire ;p

  6. Stacey 02.15.2012

    I got my husband that same card…thought it was hilarious…and appropriate :)

  7. This looks so great. I just posted my “essential pantry” that i developed while living in Iowa. This recipe could be made from that pantry. Thanks for the idea. I will pass it on to my friends.

  8. Debbie 02.15.2012

    Made your Hamburger Mac & Cheese tonight with a side of sauteed spinach. OMG. So fabulous! I’ve made quite a few meals from your recipes and have never been disappointed. So nice to have healthy options that aren’t loaded with salt and butter! Thanks!

  9. Lauren 02.15.2012

    Haha, that card is perfect! Loved hearing your recap of the sugar reduction. I always find that when I place restrictions on myself and my diet, I only crave it more.

  10. Although I didn’t participate, I can TOTALLY agree with you on how my body reacts to sugar…. even too much NATURAL sugar doesn’t agree with me and it holds on to pounds on me. This pasta look great!

  11. Those stuffed shells look so darn good! Is the egg for extra protein or for holding the filling together? I don’t think I have ever seen that in a recipe.

  12. Mandy 02.15.2012

    Kristen, I stumbled upon an article talking about the theories of Food Combining/ Ayurveda. I’ve never heard of this, but my ears pricked when I saw #7- Melon and Proscuitto. Have you ever heard of this or noticed any of the effects the article mentions?

  13. Martine 02.15.2012

    I made it. I even have a half eaten chocolate bar in my desk – from before the challenge – its still there. I also exercise and east well but this helped me the lose the last 5 lbs. I needed to shed. Feels so much better.

  14. Maria W 02.15.2012

    I’ve began the South Beach Diet three weeks ago so I guess I’ve gone that long without sugar and I feel good for doing it. Great idea to eliminate sugar! Oh no, next month has lots of my family’s birthday’s in it! I’m going to watch you blog for creative ideas!

  15. Erica 02.15.2012


    I am so excited about your blog and have been doing a bunch of your treadmill workouts and using your recipes!

    I am wondering how you did it with giving up sugar??? I am having sooo much trouble its insane. I would really like to not have it in my everyday, but have difficulty satiating myself in other ways…advice?


    • Hannah 02.15.2012

      I am having a really hard time, too! I eat chocolate and I don’t know how to stay away from the sweet stuff!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.20.2012

      It sucks, and it’s hard, and temptations are at every turn (sorry!) but the trick is to be prepared with healthy treats for your sweet tooth. Pineapple, Clementines, apples, dates and dried figs were my favorite. Also have plenty of frozen bananas on hand to make frozen banana ice cream, and stock up on freeze dried fruit from Target!!

  16. Aunteelu 02.15.2012

    I discovered years ago that there is no need to cook the pasta before baking. I prepare my filling then use an iced tea spoon (cuz they’re long and skinny) to fill the dry shells. I fill the pasta sauce jar 1/2 full of water and swish it around to get the extra sauce into the liquid. I pour this over the stuffed pasta before I place it in the oven. As the dish bakes the dried pasta soaks up the water and “cooks” while it’s in the oven if the pan is covered in foil. The mozarella is added after the foil is removed when it comes out of the oven. Makes the prep so much easier. Guess your’re going to have to make stuffed whatever sooner than one year from now to see if you like this suggestion. Mangia!

    • Carly 02.17.2012

      I’ve tried that with the “No-Boil” Lasagna noodles, and have had no luck. Do you cook it longer and at a lower temperature than usual? Would certainly make FILLING them easier! :D

      • Iowa Girl Eats 02.17.2012

        Filling is actually very very easy, and not messy at all. I’d give it a go! :)

      • Aunteelu 02.18.2012

        Yes, I do bake it longer. Usually 350 degrees for 1 hour, removing the foil about 10 minutes before it comes out of the oven. Any pasta will do, it doesn’t have to be labeled “no boil”.

  17. Allison 02.15.2012

    What a great card!!

    Congrats on sugar-free Jebruary! No way would I give up sugar during the week.

    I don’t feel bad at all after eating sugar, but I DO feel horrible after even a little bit of caffeine – jittery, shaky, anxious, hyper, overall weird. I have no problem avoiding diet soda b/c the consequences just aren’t worth the taste. It’s so interesting how chemicals impact everybody differently!

    This looks like a great shells recipe. My mom used to buy shells from the Schwan’s man that she could just warm up when she didn’t feel like cooking. (Pretty frequently.) So eating shells always reminds me of home. Talk about comfort food.

  18. Lori P 02.15.2012

    The stuffed shells look great! I will have to make them soon. I would love if you did a giveaway of Gino’s sauce. That’s a great idea!

  19. Kelly 02.15.2012

    My husband got me the same card! It was a birthday card. Looks like your husband cut that part off. Mine just scratched out “birthday” and wrote in “Valentine’s Day”.

  20. Kristin 02.15.2012

    Good for you on the Sugar Free Jebruary! I’m currently cutting out desserts, sweets and candy for the Live Healthy Iowa 100-day challenge. No sweets for me til May 1. So far so good! I can’t believe how much less I crave it. Gum works wonders for when I do. And I agree how much more sweet everything tastes…who knew that carrots are sweet?

  21. Julie Merrill 02.15.2012

    I loved reading about your SFJ. I totally identify with how you felt after eating sugar. I normally avoid sugar, but splurged when I went out for Valentine’s Day, and I have felt so sleepy and sluggish since. It is so hard to stay sugar free sometimes, but the alternative is far worse.

  22. Julie 02.15.2012

    I am definitely trying this recipe. Making it early is a dream come true! It takes off some of the cooking pressure! I always get so nervous that what I’m trying is not going to work out.

  23. Amy 02.16.2012

    Just found your blog! Looking forward to trying out some of these recipes!

  24. Bridget 02.16.2012

    I love that you use a potato masher for browning hamburger! I do the same thing and my husband makes fun of me all the time for it! But I think it works perfectly and its way cheaper than buying the $12 thing from Pampered Chef that does the same thing!

  25. Amber 02.16.2012

    Yes, please do a Gino’s giveaway for us non-locals! Or, do you know if they have it in the Quad-Cities? We have grandparents there. Hmmmmmm….

  26. Friday night dinner. Right there. Can’t wait! Thanks :)

  27. Melissa 02.16.2012

    Yes, please to the Gino’s giveaway!!!

    Your SFJ update is really interesting–reason enough for me to want to try it. I definitely need to be more accountable when it comes to sugar consumption. Limiting it to the weekends just to “reset” myself might be a good place to start. I do notice that the less I eat sugar, the less I crave it.

  28. Jeri 02.16.2012

    Seriously laughed so hard at that card everyone came running to see what was so funny.

  29. Carrie 02.16.2012

    I gave up pop starting Jan 2nd and have not looked back! Way to go!!

  30. Carly 02.17.2012

    Yep. Have been eating only 85% to 90% LINDT Dark Chocolate, it only takes a little (2 squares?) to satisfy, and *bonus* the taste of the cheaper chocolates: Hershey, KitKat, even Dove, now gives me a Yak-fest. Yay.

  31. Jenni 02.17.2012

    I am in full support of a Gino’s sauce giveaway. :) However, I am curious where you buy it – I am going to be in the Des Moines area next weekend and feel I need to try it out. Thank you!

  32. […] make: I love hands on food. Anything that involves assembly, I’m all over it. So, when I saw these heavenly things on Iowa Girl Eats last Friday, I knew that I had to make them. Stat. I had never seen (noticed) […]

  33. Kris 03.12.2012

    Just tried these tonight and they are so yummy! And easy! Served with a side of garlic toast, perfect! Thanks for a great din-din!

  34. steven 06.12.2014

    I am going to try your recipe, it looks very interesting. I use a small cookie scoop for my shells and a 4 cheese shredded product. I find the scoop to be slightly more uniform.

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