These stuffed shells with meat and vegetables are a hearty make ahead dinner or freezer meal for the whole family to enjoy!
Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef
We do pasta night at least twice a week, and some of my go-tos are iron-rich baby pasta, 15 minute creamy broccoli pasta, and hamburger helper.
These stuffed shells do require more effort than my usual dump and stir one pot meals, but you can make this dish ahead of time. I like to make everything the night before or on the weekend when the hubby is around to watch the kids.
Simply place in the refrigerator and bake it whenever you are ready to enjoy! You can also double the recipe and make one batch for dinner and freeze the other. Or make for new moms or friends and family in need.
All you need is a hearty beef and cheese filling, some shells to stuff it in, and you’re good to go!
Enjoy alongside some garlic bread and a side salad. Yum-O!
What are stuffed shells?
They are similar to manicotti or cannelloni in that the large pasta shells get stuffed with a ricotta filling and covered with sauce and cheese. They are perfect pockets for basically anything!
This casserole dish is a great way to stretch a pound of ground beef. Add in vegetables and cheese and you've got yourself a complete meal.
- Jumbo pasta shells - You will need 23-25 shells but be sure to cook extra to account for breakage.
- Ground beef - boost protein and adds great texture and flavor. Feel free to use other ground turkey, ground chicken, or ground Italian sausage
- Vegetables - Broccoli continues to be my son's least favorite vegetable so I added it in here. Feel free to substitute/add whatever vegetables you’d like to the ground beef filling!
- Marinara sauce - can use homemade or store-bought
- Ricotta cheese - choose whole milk ricotta for best flavor and texture. It will also be a great way to add extra fat (for optimal brain development) and calories to your growing child.
- Fresh basil - Don't skip it as it will add a lovely brightness to the dish. can also use fresh parsley
While marinara is the most classic sauce for stuffed shells, you can invite variety by using this iron-rich pasta sauce, creamy sweet potato sauce, or even pesto!
Here are some veggie-loaded pestos to try:
Cook the pasta shells. While they are cooking, prepare the filling.
Make the ground beef filling:
Cook beef first followed by the vegetables. Add the tomato paste, oregano, and garlic powder. Turn off the heat and stir in ricotta cheese and fresh basil.
Spread ¾ cup of sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Using a spoon, fill each cooked shell with the ground beef and vegetable mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta shells in a single layer on top of the sauce.
Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, add cheese on top, and bake!
Tips for Success
- Don't overcook the pasta shells - cook them in a large pot of water 2-3 minutes under the package directions. You want them to be firm enough to stuff.
- Rinse your jumbo shells with cold water to stop them from cooking further.
- Use whole milk cheese! Not only will it add incredible richness and flavor, your baby and toddler especially need all the fat they can get!
- I kept it simply by just adding mozzarella cheese but feel free to add your favorite, like parmesan cheese, asiago, provologne, etc. Note that freshly shredded cheese melts better and is oftentimes tastier.
Make ahead tips
Fully assemble, cover the whole dish and refrigerate for up 1-2 days in advance. When ready to enjoy, add 5-10 minutes to the suggested baking time.
Cooked pasta will last for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
How to freeze meat stuffed shells
With the sauce
Fully assemble, cover tightly with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to eat, bake from frozen. Be sure to add another 25-30 minutes to the cooking time.
Without the sauce
Cook the shells and stuff with the meat filling. Place in a baking sheet, tightly cover with foil, and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. You can now transfer the frozen shells into a large freezer bag or container.
When ready to bake, proceed from step 4 (refer to the recipe card below).
Frequently Asked Questions
Drain and drizzle with olive oil or lay them out on a baking sheet.
You can! The best alternative will be drained plain cottage cheese. Greek yogurt will work too.
How to serve stuffed shells
Remove the filling from the shells and tear the pasta into big strips. The filling is thick enough for your baby to grab with their hands. You can also preload onto a spoon.
These shells are a great way to encourage your child to learn to take bites. I suggest offering a whole shell along with bite-sized pieces to avoid frustration.
Is your toddler becoming picky?
Arm yourself with these strategies that will transform your mealtimes!
More Pasta Recipe to Try:
- Iron-rich pasta with veggies
- 15 minute one pot creamy broccoli pasta
- Vegetarian pumpkin and kale pasta bake
Did you make this recipe? Leave a rating below and let me know how you liked the recipe! Your feedback means so much to me!
Easy Stuffed Shells with Meat
- 23 large shells , cook extra to account for breakage.
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 medium medium onion chopped
- 1 medium bell pepper chopped
- 1 cup frozen chopped broccoli florets thawed
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 Tbs tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper (can leave out)
- 15 ounce whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ cup fresh basil roughly chopped
- 2 cups favorite marinara sauce or no salt added tomato sauce
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese , can add more or less
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes less than the package instructions. Allow for them to cool. Drain, rinse under cold water and either drizzle with olive oil or lay them out on a baking sheet to prevent sticking.
- Heat a large pan. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up chunks, for about 2-3 min. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, broccoli and saute until softened, about 5 min. or so. Add tomato paste and oregano and stir to combine. Turn off the heat. Stir in ricotta and basil.
- Spread ¾ cup of sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Using a spoon, fill each cooked shell with the ground beef and vegetable mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta shells in a single layer on top of the sauce.
- Pour remaining sauce over top, sprinkle with cheese.
- Cover and bake for 20-25 min. Remove foil and bake for additional 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley and enjoy!
- Be sure to cook the pasta a couple of minutes under package instructions. You want them to be firm enough to stuff
- Make ahead tips: Fully assemble, cover the whole dish and refrigerate for up 1-2 days in advance. When ready to enjoy, add 5-10 minutes to the suggested baking time.
- Cooked pasta will last for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
- Refer to the post for directions on how to freeze.
Delicious! First time making stuffed shells for my toddler. What's not to love? Sauce, meat, cheese, veg, and pasta. My 15 month old loves all of these things, and the flavors melded together so nicely. I used the entire jar of marinara sauce (so, more than what is called for) because I love extra sauce on my pasta 🙂 The perfect comfort food!
Truly is so comforting, isn't it?
Hi when do I add the marinara sauce? I don't see it in the recipe but there seems to be a lot of sauce already even without the marinara.
Hi! You're going to add the sauce in step 4 and 5!
Hi! When is it best to add in the onions? I don’t see it in the recipe instructions. Thanks!
So sorry! Just added!
Hillary Rivera says
Such a yummy recipe! the kids also LOVE helping make it! I love how versatile her recipes are to, some times I use fake meat or turkey and still tastes amazing! I have even made this with lasagna noodles as roll up or a lasagna and still amazing.
Thanks for sharing, mama!