This hearty and easy stuffed shells with ground beef recipe is the perfect one pan meal that the whole family will love! Plus, it can be made ahead and frozen, so you have a delicious, make ahead meal ready for those busy nights when you don’t have time to cook.

An overhead shot of a white rectangular baking dish filled baked stuffed pasta shells topped with marinara sauce and melted shredded cheese. A silver serving spoon is scooping a shell out of the bottom left corner of the dish.

5 star review

“This recipe came out amazing!!! My kids also loved it and my youngest is very picky and he loved it!! I will be making this more thank you!!”

– Samantha

About Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef

If you need to feed a crowd or make a dish the whole family will like, these Italian stuffed shells with meat and cheese are exactly what you need! 

And, if you happen to be a fan of the Pioneer Woman’s stuffed shells with meat sauce, you will love my simpler and lightened up version!

My family loves any stuffed pasta recipe, especially when made with my quick & easy marinara sauce, so for this version I wanted to create a hearty, protein-packed, one dish meal that could be easily frozen and feed a crowd.

Stuffed jumbo pasta shells traditionally don’t contain meat, but I chose to add ground beef to make it heartier and add extra protein.

And, at the same time, I wanted to lighten up the recipe, so I used lean ground beef, part-skim ricotta, and part-skim Italian cheese blend.

If you’ve never made stuffed shells before, the process may sound complicated at first, but trust me, these cheesy stuffed shells with ground beef are a cinch to assemble, and best of all can be made ahead for busy nights.

Visual Guide: How to Make Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef

Jump to Recipe Instructions

Process & Tips

Making these stuffed shells with ground beef couldn’t be easier.

First, boil the jumbo pasta shells shy of package directions (just under al dente), so they don’t fall apart when you’re assembling the dish.

Tip: Use the Right Size Pasta Shells

Pasta shells come in 3 different sizes, and to make this recipe work be sure to use jumbo pasta shells (also called conchiglioni in Italian), not large or medium shells.

Note that while I used 27 shells when testing this recipe, the exact number of shells you use may vary.

Just make sure to use an entire 12 ounce package of jumbo shells.

Depending on where you live, jumbo shells can sometimes be difficult to find, but you can order them online, and I’ve personally found them online and in stores at Target, Kroger, Safeway, and Amazon.

After you’ve boiled the jumbo shells, saute the ground beef with onion and garlic, and then add your marinara sauce.

I love using my easy marinara sauce in this recipe (which can also be made ahead of time), however if you don’t have any on hand or time to make it, make sure to choose a good quality store bought marinara (my personal favorite is Rao’s homemade marinara).

Or, if you happen to have some extra crock pot spaghetti sauce, you can use that in place of the ground meat and marinara sauce in this recipe.

For the jumbo shell filling, mix together the ricotta, egg, frozen spinach, salt, and some of the parmesan and Italian cheese blend.

To assemble, cover the bottom of a baking dish with half of the marinara meat mixture, fill the shells with the ricotta mixture (I just use a tablespoon to scoop the mixture into the shells), and add to the pan, top with more sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

At this point, you can bake right away or freeze unbaked for a future meal.

An overhead shot of a corner of a white rectangular baking dish filled a layer of baked stuffed pasta shells topped with marinara sauce and melted shredded cheese. A metal spoon is scooping some of the pasta shells out.

How to Freeze Stuffed Shells

One of the best parts about this dish is that it can be made ahead of time and frozen for a future meal!

To freeze the dish unbaked, simply assemble the entire dish cover with plastic wrap, and stick it in the freezer.

To bake from frozen, take off the plastic wrap, cover the dish with foil, and bake as directed, but add on an additional 10 minutes of baking time.

You can also assemble and bake the dish and then freeze it.

Simply cover with plastic wrap to freeze and when it’s time to bake, let it thaw in the fridge, cover with foil and reheat in the oven.

Make Ahead Side Dish

For the perfect side dish to these stuffed shells try my time-saving garlic bread recipe. It can also be prepped ahead of time and frozen for an easy weeknight dinner.

Stuffed Shells Variations

This meal serves about 8-9 people, depending on how many jumbo pasta shells you use.

However, if you don’t want such a big batch, you can split the recipe between two smaller pans and bake one and freeze the other for another meal

Also, if you want to make this even easier, or if you cannot find jumbo shells, make this a deconstructed version.

Instead of jumbo shells, use medium or large shells and layer the pan with sauce, cooked pasta, ricotta mixture, more sauce, and cheese.

It’s just as delicious without the fuss!

Make it Gluten Free + Dairy Free

The sauce for this recipe is naturally gluten free, so just be sure to use gluten free pasta for a gluten free diet. If you cannot find gluten free jumbo shells, use any gluten free pasta and make my deconstructed version. For dairy free, use dairy free ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses.

An overhead shot of a white rectangular baking dish filled a layer of baked stuffed pasta shells topped with marinara sauce and melted shredded cheese.

Key Ingredients and Substitutions

Pasta: You will need a 12 ounce package of jumbo shells (also called conchiglioni) for this recipe. The number of shells you use may vary, but just use the entire 12 ounce package. If you cannot find jumbo shells, check out my deconstructed version of this recipe.

Onion: Yellow or white onion will work in this recipe, as will red onion in a pinch.

Garlic: Use freshly pressed or finely minced garlic for the best flavor.

Ground beef: I used lean ground beef in this recipe to keep it lighter, but you can use any ground beef you like. You could also use ground turkey instead of beef.

Marinara sauce: I love using homemade marinara sauce in this recipe for extra flavor, but any good quality store bought marinara will work.

Ricotta cheese: I used part-skim ricotta cheese to keep this dish lighter, but you can use full-fat if you want. If you cannot find ricotta cheese, whipped feta can be used instead.

Italian cheese blend: I used part-skim Italian cheese blend in this recipe, but you could replace it with part-skim mozzarella cheese.

Parmesan cheese: Try to use freshly grated parmesan if you can.

Frozen spinach: Frozen spinach that is thawed and squeezed well works best in this recipe. If you only have fresh spinach, saute and squeeze out excess liquid.

Kosher salt: Look for kosher salt with the regular iodized salt at the grocery store, as iit has a subtle flavor. Use less iodized salt if that’s what you have on hand.

How to Store & Freeze

Stuffed shells keep well in the fridge for up to [3-4 days], in a sealed container.

This recipe also freezes well, stored in a sealed freezer friendly container for up to [2-3 months].

This Recipe is…

An overhead shot of a white rectangular baking dish filled baked stuffed pasta shells topped with marinara sauce and melted shredded cheese. A silver serving spoon is scooping a shell out of the bottom left corner of the dish.
5 stars (28 ratings)

Stuffed Shells with Ground Beef

This hearty and easy stuffed shells with ground beef recipe is the perfect make ahead meal that the whole family will love!

Ingredients

  • 27 jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 28 ounces marinara sauce
  • 1 (15-oz) container part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (16-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed well
  • 2 cups part skim shredded Italian cheese blend (or shredded mozzarella), divided 
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, divided

Optional Topping

  • Chopped fresh parsley

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Cook shells in a large pot of salted water for 2-3 minutes shy of package directions (just under al dente). Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then saute the onion along with ¼ teaspoon of salt until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  • Add the ground beef and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute until browned and cooked through, breaking into small pieces, about 5-7 minutes. Drain any excess oil, if desired.
  • Add the marinara sauce, stir to combine, then remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl mix together ricotta, egg, spinach, 1 cup Italian cheese blend, ¼ cup parmesan, and ¼ teaspoon salt, stirring to combine.
  • Once the shells are cooked and cooled, fill each shell (about 2 heaping tablespoons) with the ricotta-spinach mixture.
  • Add half the beef marinara sauce to the bottom of a large baking dish, spreading to cover.
  • Arrange the shells in the baking dish, then top with remaining beef marinara sauce and remaining 1 cup mozzarella and ¼ cup parmesan.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 5 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve.

Notes

See blog post, above, for substitution suggestions including dairy free and gluten free, storage, and more. 

Nutrition Information:

Serving: 3 stuffed shells with beef sauce, Calories: 439kcal, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 43g, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 70mg, Sodium: 796mg, Potassium: 2401mg, Fiber: 18g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 63482IU, Vitamin C: 37mg, Calcium: 986mg, Iron: 13mg
Nutrition disclaimer
Did you make this recipe?If you do, be sure to share it on Instagram and tag me at @realfoodwholelife so I can see!

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