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This is How to Always Be Prepared for an Easy Last Minute Dinner

It is inevitable that at some point we will need an easy last minute dinner. Even if you have mastered the art of menu planning, life happens. When I became a stay at home mom, almost a decade ago, I had aspirations of preparing a beautiful dinner from scratch every night. Ha! Friend, that is not real life. We get tired, forget something at the grocery store, we lose track of time playing with the kids. Sometimes we simply don’t want to cook. All of these are valid reasons for needing a plan B for an easy last minute dinner.

Pantry Staples

Having a stocked pantry makes throwing dinner together really pretty easy. For the record, I view a successful meal as one that includes the main macronutrients of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Also, my picky children have to actually eat the meal for it to be successful. Here is a list of things I always have on hand:

  • brown rice
  • lentil or chickpea pasta
  • instant macaroni and cheese
  • cereal
  • oatmeal
  • jarred marinara sauce
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • ranch dressing
  • hummus
  • frozen chicken nuggets
  • frozen fish sticks
  • frozen salmon filets
  • frozen vegetables (broccoli, peas, whatever you like)

As you can see, cooking with these pantry staples would create a an easy dinner without much forethought. There is nothing wrong with the occasional cereal night with a side of fruit. Or instant mac and cheese with chicken nuggets. I mean, those are probably already your kids’ favorite meals!

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Freezer Meals

Another way to be prepared for last minute dinners is to utilize freezer meals. This take more forethought and planning, but that effort has a big return. If your time and budget allows, I would really encourage you to take a Saturday and prepare several meals to immediately freeze.

Here is an excellent list of 51 freezer meals from Imperfectly Happy Home. If stocking the freezer all at once doesn’t work for your family, that’s okay! You can still double recipes and freeze leftovers. I keep spaghetti sauce, shepherd’s pie, leftover soups, and things like that ready to go in my freezer.

I really like using these disposable containers to freeze meals in. They are individual serving sizes, which prompts me to save even just a lunch portion.

Snack Dinners

Finally, I have saved the best for last. Yes, the art of snack dinners. This is probably my favorite, easy, last-minute dinner idea because it involves zero cooking. And let’s face it, we all have nights when we loathe the idea of cooking.

Go to your kids’ snack shelf and start unwrapping. There is no shame, mama. I fully believe you have the snacks to make a well-rounded dinner for your child.

A snack dinner for my kids usually looks like this: a Larabar, whatever fruit we have, carrots with hummus, and some chips or crackers. Boom. Done. Additionally, if you use paper plates, then you actually have zero cleanup. It’s literally the best on nights when you just can’t.

Having the expectation that we will always be able to cook from scratch is unrealistic and sets us up for failure. Some days, we are extra tired or sick, or maybe we are busy with extracurricular activities. Whatever it is, we don’t have to be caught off guard.

Preparing for the unexpected saves our sanity and budget (takeout is expensive!). What are some methods you have used to throw together dinner? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to subscribe and share it with your friends!


  1. Debbie

    I needed this article! I love your snack dinner idea – lol. I checked out your 51 Freezer meals and pinned it – I’ll be using that! Thanks for sharing?

  2. Sally

    Thanks for this! I certainly think we sometimes feel pressure to have a gourmet spread at every meal, but the truth is sometimes the simplest meals are the tastiest!

  3. Vi-Zanne

    We eat snack dinners at home on some days too. Those are the days when I’m just so exhausted and I just don’t feel like cooking but my kids don’t like to eat leftovers so I just need to serve them snacks! Thanks for sharing the 51 meal ideas. We could use some of the recipes!

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