We’ve all been there. It’s 5 or 6pm and you’ve had a long day. Maybe you’re just getting home from work after juggling school/daycare pick up or maybe you’re a stay at home parent just trying to make it through the last hours of the day with your kids until your partner or spouse comes home to relieve you. You’re thinking about making it to bedtime. But then it hits you…..you still have to make dinner!
This has been me SO many times. People assume all the time since I went to culinary school that I easily get fancy, elaborate, well planned meals on the table every night. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I too often look at the clock only to realize SHOOT! I didn’t plan for dinner or I forgot to defrost something from the freezer OR, more often than not, ‘ugh I just don’t feel like cooking’.
In the past I’ve often relied on take out or prepared foods from our local gourmet grocery store – but when I realized how much that inflated our monthly spending I knew something needed to change. So I started stocking our pantry with easy meal components and short cuts that make getting dinner on the table a snap – no matter what mood or time constraints I’m juggling at the end of the day.
Some of my favorite go-to takeout alternative meals are Burrito Bowls (made with rice, beans, jarred salsa and cheese), my Whatever-You’ve-Got Sesame Noodles (pull together with pasta and fresh or frozen veggies), Breakfast for dinner (all it takes is pancakes and eggs!), and Fried Rice (saute up some rice with frozen veggies, add some eggs and voila! dinner is served).
In order to pull these easy meals off I keep a core group of ingredients in my pantry. With these ingredients I can make NINE easy dinners in as little as 15 minutes. So when I myself starting down the runway towards dinner time with low motivation or little time I don’t need to log onto GrubHub or flying through the prepared foods department at Whole Foods like a contestant on Super Market Sweep. I’ve got all the supplies and shortcuts I need to get a meal on the table for my family – no delivery required.
My Pantry Essentials for Easy Meals
Each week, before I go to the grocery store – I do a quick scan to see if I need to replace or replenish any of these items. Keeping 1 or 2 of these on hand helps me in the long run when I need to make a quick, easy meal!
Jarred Marinara – I always choose a sauce without any additives or preservatives like DelGrosso)
Frozen Cooked Rice (make a bunch ahead of time and freeze it, or buy premade!)
Frozen Cooked Pasta (make a few boxes ahead of time and freeze it!)
Frozen Veggies (I always have corn, mixed veggies, and peas on hand)
Shredded cheeses – cheddar and parmesan are my go-tos!
With these ingredients in my pantry, I can pull together these NINE meals in as little as 15 minutes:
- Meatballs and sauce served over pasta – All this takes is a simple heat and serve!
- Veggie Stir Fry – I saute any veggies from the fridge or heat up some frozen veggies and serve over rice. If I want to bulk it up I’ll add a fried egg on top.
- Breakfast for Dinner – I use the pancake mix to make pancakes or waffles, and serve up with some scrambled/hardboiled/whatever eggs. Or I make cheese omelets.
- Nachos I dress up tortilla chips with beans and shredded cheese then heat in the oven at 425 until cheese is melted. Top with jarred salsa….and then we snack our way through dinner.
- Burrito Bowls This is a favorite – it’s SO easy. I cook some rice, or heat up some of my frozen rice. Add beans, cheese, and salsa – boom dinner is done!
- Whatever-You’ve-Got Sesame Noodles This is one of my favorite recipes and go-to dinner ideas. Plus I like to make a TON for leftovers throughout the week.
- Simple Spaghetti Carbonara – You’d never know this was a hail Mary dinner…. I add cooked spaghetti to a pan over medium high heat with olive oil and toss to coat. When it’s hot I turn off the heat and add one or two beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. I toss to coat and cook the egg, then add some frozen peas. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then mangia! *kisses hands *
- Eggs baked in Tomato Sauce – This one takes me a little longer but it’s worth it. I portion out tomato sauce into individual ramekins or a baking dish then make a divot in each using the back of a spoon. I crack an egg into each, then bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes. Top with salt, pepper and parmesan. Instant comfort, protein filled food.
- Fried Rice – I heat oil in a large saute pan, then add frozen veggies. Once tender I add in cooked rice and stir to combine. The final step is adding one or two beaten eggs and some soy sauce if I have it.
When all else fails? I love to do what we call “Tapas Dinner” I gather up little bits of everything in your fridge laid out buffet style on the table. Everyone helps themselves to little bits of lots of things and we pretend that we’re in a fancy tapas restaurant :).
So there you have it! My favorite, go-to alternative meals which I fall back on whenever I’m tempted to get take out. What are your go-to meals when you’re low on time or energy? Do you have any pantry staples or shortcuts that keep you afloat? Share below in comments!