Ever get to the end of the day and have no idea what you’re making for dinner? Even though I like to plan ahead, I have found myself looking for last minute dinner ideas MANY times.
But, rather than throwing in the towel on my goal to feed my family home cooked, real food meals most days of the week, I can usually muster up something in the same amount of time it takes to hit the drive-thru.
Join me for a few tips on how you can be prepared for nights like these, and use this robust recipe roundup as a resource for last-minute dinner ideas!
Last-minute dinner tips
I have three suggestions when it comes to last-minute dinners. Keep it simple, be flexible, and keep some basic ingredients on hand to get home-cooked meals on the table quickly.
Keep it simple
Dinner, or any meal, doesn’t have to be complicated! Wholesome, real ingredients are most important, and these can be kept simple.
A source of quality protein, fresh or frozen veggies, and a healthy fat will build out a balanced meal.
The body is very adaptable (especially if you feed it real food), and you should be adaptable when the family meal plan doesn’t happen, too.
Think outside the box for last minute dinner ideas:
- Could you make breakfast for dinner?
- Could you have a clean-out-the-fridge night?
- Maybe it’s time for a charcuterie board with the family gathered round?
Using pantry staples
Pantry, fridge, and freezer staples can be lifesavers when you find yourself without a plan. Here are the foods I like to keep on hand for last-minute meals:
- Ground beef (frozen)
- Chicken thighs (frozen)
- Wild salmon (frozen)
- Wild shrimp (frozen)
- Canned salmon or sardines
- Frozen veggies
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butter
Soup and salad
Putting together a simple soup or salad is one of our family’s first resorts when 6 pm rolls around and dinner’s still unknown. Soups and salads are easy and satisfying with the right additions.
Food prep for our family almost always includes hard boiled eggs, diced veggies, grilled chicken, and cooked bacon. When it comes to building the Ultimate Primal Cobb Salad, these ingredients work perfectly on the nights when dinner needs to be quick!
I love taco salads because a little ground meat, some taco seasoning, a few veggies, and salsa combine for a meal everyone loves. To use up leftovers, you can use any cooked meat that’s chopped or shredded.
Combinations are endless, but check out this Southwestern Taco Salad with Beef recipe for ideas.
Greek chicken jar salad
The jar is not a necessity when you serve this as a last-minute dinner, but this Greek Chicken Salad is simple to put together with a few staples and leftover chicken. You could even use a rotisserie bird.
Oregano salad with citrus dressing
This Oregano Salad with Citrus Dressing is a shining example of how fresh herbs should be part of everyone’s meal plan. Delicious and nutritious, they are sure to liven up any dish. Serve this salad with Crispy Drumsticks, or smoked salmon.
Crispy chicken arugula salad
I like to make this Crispy Chicken Arugula Salad as a last minute dinner solution. Anytime there’s leftover chicken hanging around our fridge. The flavor is out of this world with a combination of sweet and savoury fixings (and bacon… did I mention bacon?).
Fruity green salad
Salads don’t have to highlight veggies every time. If you have some greens, fruit, and avocado (or nuts and seeds) around, this Fruity Green Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette is a must try. Pair with some canned salmon or grilled chicken for a complete meal.
Mexican twist chicken soup
Whether you have homemade broth, or boxed stock, this Mexican Twist Chicken Soup is ultra-versatile. Swap out the chicken for any leftover meat, switch the veggies based on what you have to use up, and pick your toppings to match the season.
10-Minute pizza soup
Last minute dinner ideas don’t get much easier than this Pizza Soup recipe from Well Fed. Our family has made this dish so many times on busy weeknights that I try to keep sausage, canned tomatoes, and frozen broccoli on hand at all times.
Wraps and sandwiches
Wraps and sandwiches go a lot further than lunch. Here’s a list of my favs for last-minute dinner ideas.
Italian sub pinwheels
The flavor of an Italian Sub was one of my favorites as a kid, and these Italian Pinwheels bring me back to my younger years. They wrap in a flash, are great for kids to help with, and can be adjusted with the ingredients you have on hand.
Chicken & veggie collard wraps
Blanching collard greens may sound fussy, but it’s actually quite simple and they make for awesome grain-free wraps around your favorite fixings, such as in this Chicken & Veggie with Sun Sauce recipe. You could also use raw large leaf lettuce as an alternative.
Ultimate turkey sandwich
Turkey sandwiches stacked high with colorful fixings? Yes, please. This Ultimate Turkey Sandwich recipe is a healthier take on a classic. Serve with a side salad for extra nutrition.
Breakfast for dinner
You can’t go wrong with breakfast for dinner! Eggs and pancakes are just as good at 6 pm as they are at 6 am, aren’t they?
No tortillas? No problem! Use quality lunch meat to wrap around your fillings with this Gluten-free Breakfast Tacos with Eggs recipe.
Clean out the fridge frittata
Frittata is a great way to clean out the fridge AND make a last-minute dinner. Whatever veggies and meats you need to eat up, or have in the fridge, can go right into this tasty egg bake for a delicious meal.
This Hearty Vegetable Egg Muffins with Ham recipe is full of protein and healthy fats for a satisfying breakfast-for-dinner meal. Modify with whatever veggies you have nearby and serve over a bed of greens for a fresh twist.
Did someone say “pancakes”? These gluten-free Cassava Flour Pancakes are light, fluffy, and the perfect vehicle for berries and cream. Are we talking dessert, or dinner?
Banana almond pancakes
Banana Almond Pancakes have been a staple in our home for about ten years now. I always try to keep bananas, eggs, and almond butter in stock so we can enjoy them for breakfast, snack, or dinner!
Quick chicken recipes
Keeping some cuts of chicken in the freezer (thighs, breasts, ground, whole), or cooking up an extra batch on food prep days is a big help with last minute dinners. Chicken gives you a little wiggle room for evenings when your schedule takes a turn, or a plan is not in place.
Here are a few go-to chicken dishes that I use frozen, or already cooked meat for.
Quick fix chicken tacos
Repurpose your leftover chicken for these Quick Fix Chicken Tacos. A homemade rustic chopped salsa, grated cheese, leafy greens, and tortillas of choice will take your chicken to a whole new, and speedy, level.
Chicken “pasta” bake
This one-pot Chicken “Pasta” Bake can be made with leftover chicken and any type of pesto you can puree. Use this recipe as a framework for your own creation.
Stir fry is a great last-minute option because it’s made for quick cooking, and you can swap out meats and veggies with ease based on the ingredients you have to work with. Try this Citrus Chicken Stir-fry for inspiration.
Teriyaki chicken bowls
This Teriyaki Chicken Bowl recipe calls for slow cooked chicken, but you can just as easily cook it in an Instant Pot, on the grill, or use leftover meat. Sauteed veggies, rice or cauli-rice, sauce and seasoning, and you have yourself a meal!
Easy beef dishes
These recipes all use ground beef because it thaws easily, is quick cooking, and has versatility. Keep one pound packages in your freezer for simple meals on demand.
I used to think meatloaf was time consuming, but the actual hands-on time is very minimal. Any type of ground meat works great as a base. Chop up some veggies, add your binders and seasonings, and in the oven it goes! Try this Garden Harvest Meatloaf for a grain-free comfort food dish.
Browning ground beef happens in a flash, and if you teach your kids to cook, you can assign them this simple task for you! Drop your spaghetti squash in the Instant Pot, spiralize some zucchini, or use a grain-free noodle like Cappellos for a delicious base, and you have yourself a Primal Spaghetti.
Korean beef bowls
Do you have rice in your pantry, or cauliflower in your fridge? Do you have ground beef or turkey waiting to nourish your family? A few staples and Korean Beef Bowls are a great last-minute option.
Frozen shrimp and wild salmon are nutritious staples for the freezer. They thaw quickly and offer important vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that we can’t get from all foods.
This Ginger Shrimp Curry recipe calls for both shrimp and fish, but you can certainly omit the fish if shrimp is all you have. Canned coconut milk, fish sauce, curry paste, and a few veggies are ingredients that can live in your kitchen for your last-minute needs.
While traditional risotto can take 45 minutes to an hour to prepare, this Cauliflower Risotto with Shrimp recipe is ready in under 20! Run some frozen shrimp under cold water and this dish will pull together in a snap — no one will know it’s a last-minute meal.
Salmon sheet pan
One-pot, or one-pan, meals can’t be beat! A recipe like this Sheet Pan Salmon Supper from Nom Nom Paleo is simple, quick, and full of healthy foods. It’s so flavorful and clean-up is a breeze.
Turn your sides into the main act
Don’t discount a smorgasbord of sides to satisfy your last-minute dilemmas! These recipes can be paired up or added to for a beautiful meal.
Salami, cured meats, smoked fish, or summer sausage paired with cheese, raw or roasted veggies, fruits, olives, and nuts can be artistically and tastefully pleasing. The best part — Charcuterie boards, or baking sheet trays, bring the family together around the table.
Stuffed sweet potatoes
A baked sweet potato bar is a wonderful way to pull a last-minute meal together. This Brussels Stuffed Sweet Potato recipe is just one example of nutrient-rich toppings that are slightly outside of the box.
Nutty tomato tart
Why not try a veggie tart when you find yourself in need of a quick meal? With nuts in the pantry, you can build your base. With ricotta, cream cheese, or cashew butter your second layer is complete. With your favorite veggies on top, it’s oven ready… just like this Nutty Tomato Tart recipe.
Slaws can be made with all kinds of ingredients from cabbage, to carrots, to kohlrabi. This Cabbage and Fennel Slaw recipe is one of my favorites with the addition of sweet raisins and a simple vinaigrette. It pairs perfectly with grilled or roasted meat for an easy meal.
When I’m in doubt, I check to see if I have any veggies, tubers, or roots I can roast for a quick dinner. Try these Roasted Root Veggies!
Arugula mushroom saute
Sauteing is another technique to keep in your back pocket for evenings when you run out of time. This Arugula Shiitake Saute is an example of the delicious simplicity you can improvise on.
Relish in last-minute dinner ideas
As you choose your last-minute recipe ideas, remember my three tips:
- Keep it simple
- Be flexible
- Use pantry staples
This article should keep you well equipped when dinner has no plan. Avoid the drive-thru, gather your family, and see what deliciousness you can muster up!