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.
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
- jarred marinara sauce
- ranch dressing
- 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!
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.
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!