Don’t let the lack of time send you to the drive-thru again! These last-minute dinner ideas will be a hit with the family and can be on your table in less than 30 minutes.
Oh fiddlesticks. I forgot to thaw the chicken… or buy more bread… or do something else that is vitally important to tonight’s planned dinner. Or maybe the lettuce went bad, the kids ate all the tortilla chips, or you are short a can of sauce..
What do I do???
It’s bound to happen. To every single one of us. Even those of us that have been meal planning and making elaborate grocery lists for decades. It’s okay. Take a breath, and let’s make a new plan.
How to come up with last minute dinner ideas
One of the first things I teach people about menu planning is to create a favorites list. It’s a list of meals that your family loves and you know they are okay eating on a fairly frequent basis. The next list I tell people to make is the “Oh Shoot” list. I bet you can guess what it is 😉
The “Oh Shoot” list needs to be meals that can be made quickly and they need to have ingredients that you always keep on hand. Meals on the “favorites” list can be a little more elaborate, a little more recipe dependent. The “oh shoot” list are your “I need dinner on the table ten minutes ago” type meals.
Below is a list of our “oh shoot” meals that I go to when I need something on the table NOW. Some of these might not seem like throw together in a pinch type of meals but after making them over and over for the last few years I’ve gotten pretty good at making them quickly!
10 Easy Last-Minute Dinner Ideas
Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
Occasionally we will be out of tomato soup and instead I’ll serve the sandwiches with carrot sticks, french fries, or yogurt. Grilled cheese is even a meal the kids can make quick while I’m dealing with something else.
Most breakfasts can be made quickly but I like baked omelettes because it’s a healthier option than pancakes and I can throw it in the oven instead of babysitting pans. And in a family of seven, making a pan is so much more efficient than seven (or more) individual omelettes!
Bean & Cheese Burritos
It’s rare for us to not have homemade refried beans in the freezer. I make large batches and freeze them in these awesome little containers. I can heat these up in a pan pretty quickly, even when they are frozen, and then spread them on a tortilla with some cheese for an easy meal.
I love one pan meals that come together with a few simple ingredients. Because I make my own pizza sauce this is the perfect quick meal for us! I usually skip the ground beef, add some diced mushrooms and olives, and call this one good! I’ve even put the pizza sauce in the pan almost fully frozen and simply simmered it a bit longer.
Veggie Stir Fry
I have made so many of these and I don’t think they have ever been exactly the same! It’s one of the main reasons I try to keep a large variety of frozen veggies on hand – or you could get bags of the frozen stir fry blends for this. I usually start with a little oil and soy sauce in the wok, add the veggies and cook until crisp tender, then add in a variety of spices and sauces until it tastes good – no real recipe! Sometimes I serve it over rice but usually I go for noodles as it’s a bigger hit with the kids.
This is my “we just got in from out of town” meal. If we are only planning on being gone a few days I’ll take pizza sauce out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. By the time we get home it’s thawed and ready. A few toppings get chopped up, some sprinkles of cheese, and bam, easy personal pizzas!
Toss cheese, meat, and veggies between tortillas and serve with a side of salsa or ranch and it’s a hit with just about anyone. No meat? Go for veggie ‘dillas! Change up the fillings based on what you are craving. We make pizzadillas, thai chicken ‘dillas, and classic ‘dillas at least once each month. I really like making these in cast iron pans or on my griddler – or both so I can make multiples at the same time!
Pancakes & Eggs
This is a meal that I think every family has on their “quick meal” list. I make our own pancake mix to make whipping up a batch even more simple. Because the dry ingredients are already measured I know the kids can handle adding the wet ingredients to get the process moving along. They also love cracking the eggs for a big batch of scrambled eggs.
Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta
No matter how many times I make this dish I’m amazed at how quickly it comes together. If you visit the original post you can watch a video of my son and I making this dish – in less than 15 minutes! Meals like this are the reason I keep containers of shredded or diced chicken in my freezer.
While we normally use sandwiches and wraps for easy lunches sometimes we need to make them at dinner time as well. Because they are individually made it’s easy to customize each sandwich for each person. We have a kid that loves tomatoes and others that can’t stand them. I love avocado but one of our kids can’t stand it. Add some carrot sticks or apple slices and call it good!
The Final Thing You Need to Know about Last Minute Dinners
- Choose meals that contain ingredients that you always have in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
- You should (or your family should) be able to make these meals without a recipe or with very minimal instructions. The goal is speed and not to spend time checking measurements and making a ton of dishes.