Always Be Prepared for an Easy Last Minute Dinner

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 a great list of 51 freezer meals from Imperfectly Happy Home. If stocking the freezer all at once doesn’t work for your family, that’s ok! You can still double recipes and freeze left overs. I tend to keep spaghetti sauce, shepherd’s pie, left over 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 size, 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 available 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 sort of chip or cracker. Boom. Done. Additionally, if you use paper plates, then you actually have zero clean up. 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, sick, or maybe we are busy with extracurricular activities. Whatever it is, we don’t have to be caught off guard. Being prepared for the unexpected saves our sanity as well as our budget (take out 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 with your friends!

Menu Planning Made Simple

Menu Planning Made Simple

Menu planning is one of those things you know you should be doing. It’s good for your health, finances, and family bonding around the kitchen table. But it can also be overwhelming and feel complicated. Here are my steps for straight forward menu planning that will make things simple, effective, and easy to stick to.

Pick a Day to Menu Plan

If you haven’t pick up on my style yet, or if you’re new around Intentionally Well (welcome!), know that I like a good routine. Therefore, my first tip is to pick a day of the week to plan meals for the following week. I prefer weekly meal planning, but you can also tailor these tips towards menu planning once a month. The day you choose should be the day before you would typically grocery shop. This allows you to take advantage of any sales going on at your store (full disclosure – I’m not a coupon clipping person). Weekly menu planning also allows you to incorporate lots of fresh produce into your meals, which has a shorter shelf life.

Check Your Weekly Schedule

Knowing your weekly schedule is so important. If your kids have sports or other activities two afternoons a week, then you might not want to plan a full made from scratch meal that night (our go to quick meal is breakfast for dinner). This is why having a planner where you can keep everything in one place is so essential to keeping things intentional in your life. I use this one. Flying by the seat of your pants is overrated, am I right?

Shop Your Pantry

This was a tip a friend shared with me years ago, and it is a game changer when trying to stick to a budget. Look at what’s in your pantry and refrigerator first. Can you make any meals with what you already have? Likely, the answer is yes. Shopping your pantry first will enable you to cycle through pantry staples on a consistent basis as well as cut down on food waste.

Check the Weather

I know. This step is kind of out of left field for you. Checking the weather for the week is a great way to bring just a touch more intentionality to your meals. For example, if it’s chilly outside, then it might be more appropriate to have a cozy soup for dinner instead of salads. You also don’t want to plan to grill hamburgers outside, only to be caught in a down pour.

Make It Themed

Assigning each day of the week a meal theme can make choosing recipes less overwhelming. For example, Monday: vegetarian, Tuesday: tacos, Wednesday: Pasta, and so on. I find using this loose schedule makes menu more streamlined and less mentally taxing. I know, in theory, menu planning shouldn’t be mentally taxing. But, you know it can be. Sometimes it’s just plain annoying to be in charge of what all your people are going to eat.

Developing a menu planning habit can be a game changer for you and your family. I hope these tips and tricks help you to start and keep at it. What are some of your favorite family meals? Let me know in the comments below. As always, share this post with your friends if you enjoyed it!