As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of meal planning. When you plan ahead, you’re way more likely to get those healthy meals onto your dinner table.
But what about those times when your best effort falls short?
Maybe you didn’t have time to meal plan this week. Or maybe you’re running low on food and haven’t had time to make it to the grocery store. Or maybe you had a great plan for dinner but then life happened and you didn’t get home in time to actually cook the meal.
No matter how well we plan, life happens to all of us. While we can’t avoid dinner snafus entirely, we can be prepared for them.
How? It’s simple, really. You just need to have the ingredients for a few easy back-up meals on hand at all times, so that when your fridge is empty or your schedule gets in the way, you’ll still have a healthy meal that you can whip up in a pinch.
To get you started, here are my go-to back-up meals for busy weeknights:
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches & Soup
I always keep a loaf of whole wheat bread in my freezer, sliced cheese in my fridge, and a can or box of a soup (I love the Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper soup from Trader Joe’s) in the pantry, making this meal is outrageously easy to throw together at the last minute.
Keep flatbreads (or french bread, frozen pizza dough, etc.) on hand, as well as jarred pizza sauce and shredded cheese, and you’ve got yourself a simple meal that the whole family will love. The leftover meats and veggies sitting around in your fridge make great pizza toppings, too. Just place your sauce, cheese and toppings on your flatbread, and bake until the cheese is melted and the flatbread edges are crispy.
Burgers & Sweet Potato Fries
Always stash a box of frozen burgers and some whole wheat buns in your freezer. You can find burgers of all kinds to suit your family’s taste in the freezer aisle of your local grocery store (black bean burgers are a favorite at my house). Throw the burgers on the stovetop for a few minutes to cook while you toast the buns for an easy ten-minute meal. Even better? Bake up some frozen sweet potato fries to serve on the side.
Pasta with Veggies and Meatballs
You should always have a box of whole wheat pasta and jarred tomato sauce in your pantry at all times for a simple weeknight back-up. If you have frozen veggies or meatballs on hand, you can whip these up while your pasta cooks and add them to your sauce for an even heartier dish.
Mac & Cheese with Veggies
There’s nothing wrong with serving the occasional box of macaroni and cheese. I have incredibly fond memories of eating Annie’s Mac and Cheese at my childhood dinner table – it always felt like a treat! To provide a more balanced meal, steam a bag of frozen peas or broccoli. You can either mix the veggies right in with the pasta, or serve them on the side.
Remember, these are back-up meals; they don’t have to be the “perfect” family dinner! The important thing is to simply have a few plan B options on hand in case you need them (and you will need them).
Just trust me on this, okay? Stock up on the ingredients for one or two back-up meals this week. The next time you find yourself in a pinch, you’ll be thrilled that you still know exactly what’s for dinner.