20 Quick Dinner Ideas When You Don’t Have Anything Planned

picmonkey_image copyHere’s the scenario: It’s 5pm, you have nothing planned for dinner, all the chicken or fish in the house is frozen and you have a hungry family wanting food ASAP. What do you do?

We all have nights when we don’t feel like cooking anything complicated. There’s also times when we don’t feel inspired, (yes, even people who love to cook have plenty of times when they aren’t in the mood to cook), or just simply did not put in any time or energy into planning a menu.

I like to have a well stocked supply of shelf stable or frozen ingredients, for the purpose of being able to cook up a simple and quick dinner without having to resort to takeout or a trip to the grocery store. Here are 20+ dinner ideas that are really easy and all made with ingredients that I usually have on hand or have easy substitutions. Next time dinner time rolls around and you have no idea what to cook, you can refer to this recipe round up. 

Potatoes copyPotatoes are very filling, don’t take too long to cook and are perfect for spontaneous meal times. I make sure to have potatoes on hand all the time and there have been plenty of times when I cook potatoes of some sort for dinner.

  1. Pan Fried Potatoes are a favorite Slavic stand by meal. In addition to potatoes, I also always have onions, dry mushrooms and fresh herbs in my kitchen, so this works out well too.
  2. Spanish Tortilla: this is essentially a potato and onion frittata. The peas and roasted peppers give texture, freshness and color too. Frozen peas are awesome to have on hand in the freezer, and roasted red peppers are another panty ingredient that add flavor to many meals. 
  3. Potato Pancakes are my weakness. I would be happy with potato pancakes for dinner any time.
  4. Loaded Baked Potatoes or Baked Potatoes with various toppings. I keep bacon in the freezer, so it stays fresh much longer and can be used to add meat to different meals without needing  to thaw it, since I put it in the oven right out of the freezer. You can use many different toppings and use whatever you have on hand.  
  5. Scalloped Potatoes With Ham: Chop up a bit of ham and add it to the potatoes, and it quickly becomes a one dish dinner instead of a side dish.
    Sandwiches Wraps copySandwiches and wraps are some of the simplest dinner options. Here are some creative options to jazz up the boring, typical sandwiches that come to mind.
  6. Panini: The Turkey Caprese Panini is my favorite, but there are endless options. The crisp bread, the gooey and melted cheese are so delicious and make it into a special meal instead of a cold, dry sandwich.
  7. Monte Cristo Sandwiches is another type of hot sandwich that is sort of like a savory stuffed french toast.
  8. Salmon or Tuna Melts: Canned tuna or canned or leftover salmon make these sandwiches an option any day of the week. The hot creamy topping with melted cheese and a fresh slice of tomato pair so well with the crunchy and toasted bread.
  9. Wraps: If you have tortillas on hand, you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand to create lots of different wraps. My favorites are the Chicken Caprese Wraps and the Chicken Cucumber Wraps, but you can make many other combinations.Soups copy
  10. Tomato Soup With Garlic Bread: Canned tomatoes are also a pantry staple for me, so I can make Tomato  Soup any day of the week. Paired with hot and flavorful garlic bread, it’s simple and a perfect combination.
  11. Chicken Soups: I make huge batches of Chicken Broth any time I make it, that way I have tons of containers of chicken broth in my freezer all the time. Add some potatoes, carrots, celery and you have the start of a delicious and simple soup. You can add either rice, pasta or dumplings and even other veggies, like corn or peas. Fresh herbs really give great flavor to any soup. You can make chicken soup with just the chicken broth, but you can also add leftover chicken. You can even start the chicken soup with frozen chicken – isn’t that handy?  Miscellaneous-2 copy
  12. Frittata: Add all sorts of veggies to frittata and you guarantee a satisfying and simple dinner.
  13. Fried Rice: Give new life to leftover rice (which I freeze lots of times) or just cook a fresh batch of rice. If you have any leftover meat, you can also add it to the rice and use whatever vegetables you have on hand, fresh or frozen. Pizza Dough copy
  14. Homemade Pizza: If you make pizza dough, make an extra portion, just for nights like this. There are so many options to make use of pizza dough. Of course, making all sorts of pizza is the most obvious choice. The great thing about homemade pizza is that it is incredibly cheap too. 
  15. Calzones or Stromboli are also great options for a great dinner. Toppings and fillings are just as versatile as many of the other dinners on this list. Pasta copy
  16. Shrimp Scampi: Frozen shrimp takes no time at all to thaw in some cold water, so I’m including this dinner in this roundup. Shrimp Scampi is so easy but tastes like a special occasion meal every time.
  17. Shrimp and Couscous: Shrimp, couscous and some fresh veggies makes this a one dish dinner that is gorgeous enough and delicious enough for a weeknight dinner and even for company too. Cherry tomatoes are available all year long, and they add so much freshness, acidity and sweetness to the dish. 
  18. Vegetable Alfredo Pasta Dinner: Creamy, comforting and really quick to prepare, Alfredo Pasta is a favorite for most of my family and with good reason:). Add fresh or frozen veggies, and you’ve got yourself a really awesome meal. 
  19. Macaroni and Cheese made from scratch is much easier than it seems. With the addition of ham or bacon, you can make your meat lovers happy or simple pair it with a salad for a complete meal. Breakfastfordinner copy
  20. Breakfast for dinner is always a treat, isn’t it? I love breakfast food of all kinds, but since most of us only have a chance to eat breakfast as a family once or twice a week, it’s fun to have it for dinner every once in a while. Of course, one of the major perks of breakfast food is how fast it cooks and most breakfast options consist of pantry and fridge staples, so you can pretty much whip up tons of different options most days of the week. 

As you can see, there are TONS of options for quick dinners for busy nights even if you didn’t plan anything at all. As long as you stock your pantry, fridge and freezer with food that stays fresh for a good amount of time, you’ll be ok. Please share what dinners you cook when you have to whip something up on the fly. What are your favorite ingredients to have on hand?


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