for busy nights: These 30 easy quick recipes will feed your family and help you skip the drive-thru even on a night filled with sports practice, dance class, or tutoring.
Have you seen the study that explored the pressure we're placing on moms with our society's focus on providing home cooked meals? This news made me pause.
One of my missions here at Peanut Blossom is to inspire you to cook with your family.
But here's my big secret: I don't do it every night.
I've written about my struggles with meal planning.
But now that my girls are older, we've encountered the most stressful part of the school year: getting dinner to the table on sports nights.
I believe after school activities for older kids are the biggest obstacle to getting a home-cooked dinner on the table.
Between transportation to and from the activity, the practice itself, fitting in homework and baths and everything else, dinner on those nights is daunting.
That drive-thru is just soooooo very easy to go to, isn't it?
And there's that pressure I mentioned:
- Your evening is packed.
- You're exhausted.
- Everyone is starving.
Ok, now put a home-cooked meal on that table. Do it RIGHT NOW before everyone melts down from hunger. Sounds a bit unrealistic most nights, doesn't it?
How We Should Define "Home Cooked"
If you had a hand in preparing it, it is home-cooked.
Yes, even these quick family dinners:
- A peanut butter & jelly sandwich? Home-cooked.
- Cereal with a pour of milk and some orange wedges? Home-cooked.
- Grilled cheese & tomato soup heated up from your pantry? Home-cooked.
When faced with my pantry & refrigerator on busy nights, I want to cry from not having the energy for whipping up a casserole.
I feel guilt passing over a bowl of macaroni & cheese to my kids. Even when I know I shouldn't! And neither should you.
To help us both overcome that fear of peeking into our pantry I'm sharing these 30 quick family dinner ideas that are just perfect for your busy night, yes even including the dreaded Soccer Night.
Feel free to substitute "football, basketball, dance, chess club," you know what I mean. Whatever activity is keeping your family on the go, these quick dinners are here to help.
And if you think some of these easy quick family dinner ideas are obvious? They probably are, but they sure don't feel like it at 6:45 pm on soccer night!
Quick Pantry Dinner Ideas for the Last Minute
Let's start with the easiest category of quick and easy dinner ideas.
You haven't planned ahead, you're in a pinch, everyone is screaming for food. You've only got a minute to get family dinner on the table.
Try whipping up:
Scrambled eggs with toast with butter or jam, fresh fruit or applesauce or a few raw veggies like cherry tomatoes & carrots.
Pasta with your favorite jarred sauce
Grilled cheese & tomato soup with a side of fresh (or canned!) fruit
"Nibble platter": Serve up a mixed plate of whatever you've got in the fridge--cold cuts, cheeses, nuts, apple slices, crackers, veggie sticks and introduce the word "Charcuterie Plate" to your kids.
Macaroni & cheese served guilt-free with a side of carrot sticks and whatever fruit you have.
- Super Mom Bonus Points: stir in some shredded rotisserie chicken.
- Mom of the Year Medal: steam some broccoli from the freezer for a side.
There is NOTHING wrong with a box mix, but this homemade baked mac and cheese comes together in just 15 minutes and as long as you have milk and a bag of shredded cheese in the fridge, you're good to go.
Dress up a frozen pizza: Stock your freezer with plain cheese or margarita pizzas. Top them with healthy leftovers in your fridge.
Grown up PB&J: You can serve the classic to the kids, but I highly recommend these simple additions for making it special:
- super thin apple slices
Mix & Match Dinner Ideas
These easy family dinner recipes are one notch up in difficulty from the pantry dinners above.
You can create a "choose your own adventure dinner" if you plan ahead enough to stock your freezer with a few staples.
Keep a few fresh odds and ends laying around to fill out the meal.
Mix and match these dinner elements for a well-rounded meal and we'll count this as 4 more suggestions towards our 30 easy dinner ideas:
1: Choose 1 Protein
- Shredded rotisserie chicken: or quick-cook chicken with my easy broiled chicken tenderloins recipe or make healthy chicken tenderloins in the air fryer
- Flavored chicken sausages: from the refrigerator case, we love most Aidell's varieties particularly the Chicken & Apple and Spicy Mango with Jalapeño
- Prepared meatballs: we love Aidell's Caramelized Onion and the Pineapple Teriyaki flavors the best but you could make my Italian meatballs for the freezer if you want, too
- Frozen breaded fish cutlets: we love the tilapia we buy in bulk at Costco
- Frozen shrimp: a great pick if you have kids who love to dunk things, be ready with one of these easy shrimp dipping sauces
2: Choose a Side Dish
- Flavored rice packets: I know it isn't the healthiest choice but I have a crazy passion for Rice a Roni's Chicken Flavor rice. We also love Uncle Ben's Wild Rice mix.
- Frozen potato wedges: we love the all-natural Alexia brand of products, the sour cream and chives flavor especially but my roasted mini potatoes and onions is pretty quick
- Pasta: with butter or olive oil and a little garlic salt, I also love this easy lemon butter pasta
- Fresh baguette: baked from the freezer. Costco carries the most amazing french bread baguettes by Le Petit Francais. They take 6-8 minutes in the oven directly from frozen. Or you could make my bread machine Italian bread recipe with just 5 minutes of hands-on time if you can do it earlier in the day.
- Tortillas: can turn any of those proteins into a taco plate.
3: Pick 1 - 2 Veggies/Fruit to Fill the Plate
- whatever fresh fruit is in season (and in your fridge!)
- canned pineapple, peaches, or pears
- applesauce: jarred is great but my microwave applesauce only takes 10 minutes to cook
- bag of frozen steamable vegetables. I buy the SteamFresh packets by Birds Eye whenever I can. We love their varieties but I generally stick to the unflavored ones and season them myself.
- baby carrots, especially with a little dill dip!
- any raw veggie in the fridge: celery, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc.
- a simple green salad: call yourself gourmet and just serve up some lettuce with a light vinaigrette bottled dressing
- air fryer roasted veggies: my Air fryer green beans takes ONE MINUTE to prep if you buy the pre-washed bag of raw green beans
4: Add a Flavor Booster for Dipping
This works for dipping your protein and/or the vegetables and is a great way to get kids to eat more veggies:
- honey mustard or just Dijon mustard
- ranch dressing
- sour cream or greek yogurt with or without added seasonings stirred in
- Sriracha sauce--the Peanut LOVES it dabbed on her frozen tilapia!
- salsa: regular restaurant style salsa works but I also keep a jar of corn salsa and sometimes a fruity peach salsa on hand, too.
Don't miss some of our family's favorite easy dips you can stir together in minutes:
Mix & Match Examples
Using the mix and match strategy I just explained, here are a few easy examples of what that meal could look like for your family:
Plan Ahead Family Dinner Ideas
What comes to mind when you think of "family dinner"?
Many classic family favorite recipes can be comfort food in a pinch.
Mentally prep yourself for a crazy night: have the ingredients on hand, and maybe you'll be lucky enough to do a little prep work earlier in the day or the night before.
You can fit these classic family dinners into you rotation as long as you plan ahead.
Prepare the meat mix ahead of time and all you have to do on your busy night is to reheat it and serve it up on buns with sides. We love this Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joe recipe but this Crockpot Sloppy Joe recipe can be kept warm for hours while your family comes in and out after practices.
Same concept as the Sloppy Joes but with a Mexican twist.
You can brown the beef or chicken ahead of time and just assemble the night you need to eat.
For chicken tacos, keep a batch of this awesome shredded chicken in the freezer to reheat quickly.
For pork tacos, prep a batch of my Mexican pulled pork carnitas.
You can use either of those fillings with my baked chicken tacos method to have a family style platter of tacos in 10 minutes.
Like a grilled cheese but more open to unique and hearty fillings. Add rotisserie chicken, pulled pork, or any mix of leftovers with your favorite veggies or even pineapple. Or not and just do cheese with some sour cream or salsa for dipping.
PRO TIP: Most Mexican food can be quick and easy, don't miss my 30+ Taco Tuesday recipes you could add to the rotation, too.
Easy Homemade Pizzas
Be strategic with your leftovers. Save some cooked chicken, bacon strips, or steak slices and mix them with some shredded cheese on a prepared pizza crust from the grocery store.
Some of my easiest pizza recipes all involve using leftovers and take just 5 minutes to prep:
French Dip Sandwiches
If you have deli roast beef on hand, you can make this very simple sandwich. There's something so much more filling enjoying a warm sandwich over a cold one at dinner time.
Soup and a Muffin Dinners
Growing up, one of our family's favorite restaurants would serve a long list of soups paired with a long list of muffins. You mixed and matched your flavors when you ordered. I've always adored this idea for a meal.
Mix and match your own soup/quickbread or muffin recipe. You can make both of them ahead of time so they're ready to go when you are home. All it takes is the time to reheat them.
Easy Muffins or Quick Breads:
Many of these easy sweet breads can be made ahead. The pumpkin bread, cranberry orange muffins, banana zucchini bread, and blueberry scones can all be frozen.
The blueberry scones are so fast, they'll be ready to bake before your oven is even preheated!
Freezer-Friendly Make Ahead Dinners
On the surface, these look like they are the most complicated to prepare but in the end, they are possibly the easiest to get to the table of anything I've shared on this entire list.
If you know ahead of time that you're going to have a crazy busy evening, plan ahead and have easy meals you can freeze and reheat stashed away into your freezer or fridge.
All it takes on the night you want to serve dinner is some simple reheating while everyone gets settled after they walk in the door. This is the golden zone of meal prep but also can be the hardest to be consistent with which is why I saved them for last.
My full list of freezer dinners can be found here, but I also included some of our favorites in the list below.
Lasagna is a classic freezer friendly recipe because the whole dish is ready to go and just needs to be baked. While it is heating you have time for homework help or washing up.
Instant Pot Butter Chicken
You can broil some store-bought naan bread to dip in that yummy sauce if you don't have time to make the jasmine rice.
The butter chicken sauce freezes surprisingly well if you have a lot leftover. You can use it in the future with a quick batch of my broiled chicken tenderloins for more protein.
You can have everything prepped for these easy chicken gyros so all you have to do is broil the chicken which takes 10 minutes total.
The homemade tzatziki sauce recipe is my favorite and only takes a few minutes to stir together. You can prep it days in advance. But, no worries. A store bought tzatziki works great, too!
Freezer Friendly Beef Stew
Stovetop beef stew is so easy to make but it actually freezes so well, too. Prep a big double batch if you can and freeze the leftovers in smaller containers for easy reheating on a busy night.
There are no potatoes in this stew so be sure to have a batch of my Crockpot mashed potatoes ready to go with it or just buy a package of prepared mashed potatoes from the store.
Peanut Butter Pork Noodles
We make this spicy peanut butter noodles with pork on a nearly bi-weekly rotation. It is one of a tiny short list of recipes that fall in that category.
Definitely one of our all-time favorites.
It only takes 20 minutes to make fresh but you could freeze it for a busy night later in the week.
And lastly, if your night is just that crazy-busy, don't be afraid to call a Yo-Yo Night!
Short for "You're On Your Own," get my FREE printable easy dinner ideas list to hang on your fridge so your kids can come up with a dinner they can make by themselves:
Whether you’re tracking a month of busy night dinners or need a month of easy school lunches for packing, keeping track of the meals to feed your family has never been easier.
Use my handy lunches & dinners blog posts to make a meal plan in a pinch. Track your favorite suggestions on a print-out from my brand new Monthly Meal Plan bundle and keep it handy in your kitchen.
Stop by the Happy Family Movement shop and be sure to get your copy of the monthly meal plan here.