Quick solutions when you didn't plan for dinner

Fast Dinner Ideas that Will Keep You Out of the Drive-Thru

by Chantal King

Oh no! The meeting ran late and you have no time to make supper. Or you forgot to defrost the roast and the kids are starving. Or you just don't feel like cooking. Before you reach for that delivery menu or hop in the car for some drive-thru dinners, try some of these fast dinner ideas.

There are two things you can do to make fast cooking easier on yourself. First, keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer. An easy way to do this is to stock up when your favorite items are on sale. Keep a price book so you always know if the "sale" price is really a bargain.

The second thing you can do is plan ahead. Even if you don't sit down and create a formal menu, you can decide a week or a day ahead what to cook. On the days when you have more time, you can cook a meal that will give you one or two more days of leftovers.

For example, if you cook a big roast or ham on Sunday in the slow cooker, you could stretch the leftovers by making sandwiches the next day, stir-fry the third day, and a casserole or cold salad the fourth day. Mix it up for variety.

A quick meal can come entirely from the pantry and freezer. Take one or two cans of pork and beans, add cut up hot dogs or sausages, and you have a hearty main dish. You can add whatever meat you have to macaroni and cheese, pasta dishes, or make your own with noodles and a can of soup.

Stir-fry dishes are easy, quick, and have an endless variety. The bags of frozen veggies make this a snap, while you can go meatless or add whatever leftover meat you have. A basic sweet and sour sauce is simple by combining brown sugar, ketchup, and jelly in equal amounts. Or use cream of chicken soup and a dash of soy sauce. Another sauce variation is salsa mixed with jelly for a hotter kick.

Rice dishes are easy and quick as well. I particularly like the Knorr side dishes, since they have a wide variety and cook in only seven minutes. I usually add whatever leftovers I have to make a tasty meal.

Related: 7 Time Saving Dinner Short Cuts

Potatoes can provide a quick meal. Just bake in the microwave for about six minutes and provide lots of toppings like butter, sour cream, bacon bits, leftover chili, or whatever your family enjoys. Potatoes are quite versatile and economical as well. Leftover baked potatoes can be cut up and fried or diced for hash browns. Mashed potatoes take just a bit longer, while homemade potato salad is a real treat at our house.

Slow cooker cooking can be really quick and easy. Just put in the meat and ingredients in the morning and you'll have a nice meal waiting for you at the end of the day. This is great for evenings when you know you'll be rushed. Great choices are roasts, stews, soups, chili, or barbecue pork. Slow cooking also makes cheaper cuts of meat more tender and flavorful.

Related: 8 to 12 Hour Slow Cooker Recipes

Prepared freezer food is another option. You won't get kicked out of the frugal club if you stash a few frozen pizzas or a bag of chicken nuggets in your freezer, especially if you buy on sale and use coupons. Also, it is still quicker and cheaper than ordering in. You can add your favorite toppings to the pizza, or add a side dish to the nuggets to make it a more complete meal.

Don't forget the breakfast for dinner standby. Every once in awhile, it is fun to mix it up and have a real, sit down breakfast at dinnertime. Eggs are very economical and can be cooked in lots of ways. Who could resist a stack of pancakes or a freshly cooked waffle? An English muffin sandwich is easy to make with your favorite toppings or jelly.

The next time you need a quick meal, try some of these fast dinner ideas. It will save you time, money, and just maybe your sanity.

Reviewed October 2017

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