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Friday, March 19, 2021

Busy Weeks Call For Easy Dinner Plans: Your Favorite Busy Day Meals

At the beginning of this week I knew it was going to be a busy one. This is always such a busy time of year for me. Four family birthdays, tax preparation, getting the vegetable garden in, and pruning all of the fruit trees means that I have to get and stay organized for a couple of months each year in late winter and early spring.

On Sunday afternoon, I took a few minutes to write out 5 brief dinner menus, using those easy family favorites that I keep tucked in my back pocket, like secret weapons. Here's what's been on the dinner menu for Monday through Friday this week:

Live and Learn's Curried Pumpkin and Peanut Butter Soup (this is such an easy soup, I don't even measure any more)
freshly baked bread (that I baked for the week's bread supply)
watercress salad

tuna casserole -- made with canned tuna, TVP (for extra protein), canned cream of mushroom soup, lots of diced celery, lots of frozen peas, cooked pasta, onion powder, and salt

frozen corndogs
frozen French fries
canned beet slices in vinaigrette 
black olives
roasted frozen Brussel sprouts

canned spinach frittata
sausage links
instant mashed potatoes topped with shredded cheese
jarred applesauce

homemade pizza
canned green beans

These were as easy as meals get around here, with Friday's homemade pizza being the most labor-intensive of all.

I'm always looking for more inspiration and you, friends, seem to know some of the best easy meal ideas. What are the easy meals you keep in your back pocket? Share your favorites in the comments!


  1. There's lots of things that I call easy but to someone else they might be more labor intense.

    Tater tot casserole just layer the beef, green beans, cream of mushroom soup and top with tater tots. Bake for an hour or a bit longer. Anything instant pot because I can just dump a frozen piece of meat (or thawed if I thought about it a day or two in advance), pour in some water or broth, sprinkle seasoning and set to cook. Add rice or pasta or instant potatoes as a side. Anything soup is easy. Just throw it in a pot and let it simmer. Anything using a crockpot is easy.

    I make homemade pasta sauce and freeze portions. I also froze leftover spaghetti noodles. Last night I found 4 breaded chicken patties in the freezer and fried those quickly, then added a dollop of pizza sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese. Into the oven for 20-25 minutes and served it over the thawed spaghetti noodles. The rest of the noodles I mixed in with the thawed spaghetti sauce for a casserole tonight. I often double a recipe and freeze one portion so I have something on busy days.

  2. I will try to think of ones. Usually I stick my head in the frig or pantry and figure it out!
    I think gravy with bits of leftover meat added over toast is so quick. Browned sausage, ground beef or chipped beef.
    Another is ramen noodle bowls topped with bits of meat and veg sauteed and a dash of soy and garlic and ground ginger blended in.
    Also, grilled cheese and tomato soup. So easy.
    Plus, if I know it's going to be a crazy busy day, I plop various things in the slow cooker early in the day to be ready ....soup, stew, etc.
    Often, my leftovers dictate what easy meal I can piece together. I seem to regularly cook extra and then we don't have leftovers....we have planned overs as I plan to use it in something else.
    And sometimes I just give in a buy a ready made pizza for the freezer when I may be needing something quick in a busy season. Still handier and cheaper than take out.

  3. I like to cook up 5lbs. of hamburger with chopped onion&peppers,drain and freeze in separate bags.It's so easy to just unthaw and add a can of spaghetti sauce to for spaghetti,a casserole,crockpot lasagna or crockpot chili.Another quick meal is frozen fish fries,frozen french fries and a vegetable.

  4. Excellent topic. I'm a lot like Linda and Alice in that starting my crockpot in the morning makes life easier (or sometimes I'll get it ready the night before and then start cooking it in the morning). Some ideas that haven't already been mentioned: crockpot baked potatoes--which I then make into a baked potato bar. There are endless options--we often use diced ham, grated cheese, green beans and plain Greek yogurt as toppings but you can customize this to suit your tastes/budget/dietary requirements. I use this recipe as a dump it and forget it option (just don't follow my lead and confuse cayenne pepper for chili powder and no, I don't know why I did that)-- Pancakes with heat-and-serve sausage (I buy it up when it's on sale) and with a fruit topping to make me justify the lack of veggies. One I know I've mentioned many times here--1/2 cup honey mixed with 1/4 cup soy sauce and 4-5 chicken thighs--either 45 minutes to 1 hour in a 350* oven or 4-5 hours on low on your crockpot, serve over rice.

    I'm pretty lazy about sides on the best of days and tend to either do steamed/roasted veggies, raw veggies with dip, or salads, and to pull fruit out of our freezer for a side/dessert.

    I hope more people comment! I'm always looking for good ideas.

  5. Tacos! Sometimes I add lentils to stretch ground beef. Otherwise, I usually cook two pounds of ground beef with a pound of venison, season it, and warm up shells in the oven. If feeling fancy, might start some sweet yellow corn cake in the Instapot or oven as a side.

    Potato, sausage, and cabbage skillet. I slice potatoes thinly, start to fry them, and add sliced smoked sausage. When the potatoes are mostly done, I add a chopped up cabbage and seasonings, maybe a little chicken broth or water, then cover for a few minutes.

    Baked cod (purchased ready to go at Sam's), with a side of mac and cheese and a veggies. Sometimes in warmer months, just a salad topped with a few cut up strawberries, drained mandarin oranges, chopped pecans, maybe some red onion if I have it, and dressing of choice (I've been using a lemon poppy seed one on mine).

  6. To be honest, Subway is one of our favorite easy meals. We also do scrambled eggs with whatever we have to add to them at the time. We used to make omelets, but decided scrambled was easier. We have those with either toast or wraps for breakfast burritos.

    Another easy last minute meal we do is tuna mac. We usually have a box mac and cheese in the pantry as a backup. We make the mac and cheese, add a can of tuna, and frozen peas (or whatever is available) that we zap for quick cooking. If available, we add plain yogurt or low-fat sour cream to the mac and cheese instead of butter to cut the fats a little.

    We make shredded bbq chicken in the instant pot that is tasty and quick. That is a way to cook chicken breasts where they don't turn out too dry. My husband is particularly sensitive to this. Basically, we add chicken breasts, bbq sauce, a few spices, and water. Sometimes we have sandwiches with the bbq and sometimes we skip the bread. We usually zap some kind of frozen vegetable to go with these.

    My husband's go-to meal for himself is a can of mixed greens and a can no fat refried beans. He adds vinegar to the greens and hot sauce to the beans for a little more flavor. He finds this combo filling and fairly nutritious. I have the greens as a snack and skip the beans.

    As other's have mentioned, we try to have some spaghetti sauce in the pantry, also. We add meat if we have some in the freezer already cooked and/or veggies (usually frozen spinach). This is served over whatever pasta we have or in a pinch over bread.

    Most of the quick meals the rest of you have mentioned are full-cooking meals for us and I appreciate your ideas.

  7. All of these are excellent ideas. Some of my go-to meals are fried rice - easy to just add whatever protein and veggies I have on hand. I also make bowl type meals - rice with sauteed veggies and fried egg on top - or some type of greens with pickles, cheese, ground beef and fry sauce (mayo and ketchup) kind of a hamburger bowl (without the bun). I am a sucker for pancakes with a fried egg on top. For some reason I prefer to eat it for dinner rather than breakfast. Also, rice and beans with salsa and any leftover sausage, if there is any, is a good meal.

  8. Lynn from NC Outer BanksMarch 21, 2021 at 7:43 AM

    I too like to have breakfast for dinner as a quick meal. I usually cook a pound of bacon or sausage and then freeze it so that I just have to reheat a few slices at a time, which helps get the meal on the table even faster.

    Another option for me is quesadillas. My husband isn't a huge fan of Mexican food, but does like quesadillas. I usually have a bit of leftover chicken or ground beef in the freezer that I combine with peppers, onions and cheese. I usually always have lettuce so add that, sour cream, salsa etc as toppings. I then serve some sliced fresh fruit and perhaps some black beans or pintos as a side.

    I usually have LO pulled pork in the freezer as well, which I put in a bun with barbecue sauce. I might slice veggies like peppers, carrots and celery and serve with ranch dressing and fruit.

    I like fried rice to use up bits and dabs quickly as well. I too will make extra baked potatoes to have a potato bar and pasta like others.

    I like having frozen meatballs that can become meatball sandwiches or spaghetti with meatballs or BBQ meatballs with sides. Sometimes I make the meatballs myself and sometimes, if at a good sale price, I'll buy pre-made ones.

    Lastly, I try to keep containers of homemade soup in the freezer to combine with a sandwich and leftover portions of food for a quick reheat (chili,casserole portions, etc). And, I too give my crock pot a workout. I've used it twice in the past 2 days. Love that appliance!


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