It’s another one of those nights.  Long day at work.  Kids activities.  No food in the house.  But I still need to get dinner on the table.

I can’t always avoid it, but I like to avoid the fast food and pre-packaged food as often as I can.  Slow cookers can be a lifesaver, if you plan ahead.  Which I rarely do.

But I have a few other tricks up my sleeve that help me get dinner on the table – fast, and on a budget.  Bonus: fewer dishes to clean up after dinner!

These meal time shortcuts are my favorite time savers.  Any chance I have to multi-task or just have a few minutes of down time (yeah, that happened once), I whip up a batch of those staples that seem to go in a million recipes:


Poach, grill, or cook chicken in a skillet.  I don’t usually season the chicken with anything other than salt and pepper, which gives me more options for recipes, but seasoning is always a welcome addition.  Shred, chop, or cube cooked chicken and store in freezer.

Meal Ideas: Not only can you add chicken to soups and salads, but it’s also a great protein for sandwiches, wraps, and quesadillas.

Check this post for some of our family’s favorite recipes using shredded chicken!


A bag of dried beans costs about the same as a 15 oz can, but yields more than 3 times that amount.  This is also a great way to reduce sodium intake.  Cook beans according to package directions.  Store pre-measured amounts in freezer bags (a 15 oz can of beans is about 1 3/4 cups) for quick additions to recipes.

Meal Ideas: Beans are a great addition to soups, salads, and many Mexican dishes.  Make homemade refried beans by adding pinto beans to onions sauteed and seasoned to taste to taste with cumin, salt, & pepper.  Puree with a hand blender and serve as a side dish or in tacos and burritos.


Cook bacon using your favorite method.  Chop into small pieces and store in freezer.

Meal Ideas: Throughout the week, add to salads, breakfast sandwiches, and soups.

Taco Seasoning

Taco seasoning is so easy to make and adjust to your family’s tastes. There are a lot of variations for how to make homemade taco seasoning, but on of my favorites is from the Pioneer Woman.  Use about 4 tablespoons for the equivalent of a taco seasoning packet.

Meal Ideas: Tacos and burritos are always easy favorites. During football season, we use the homemade seasoning in our favorite taco dip recipe for game!

Energy Bites & Mini Muffins

This one is the most time consuming, but it definitely pays off. Pick a few of your favorite recipes and make double or triple batches.  Since these are small, frozen muffins and bites thaw fast.  These Honey Lemon Chia Seed Muffins are one of our favorites and work well as mini muffins too (just reduce the baking time by a few minutes).

Meal Ideas: Add to lunches, picnics, and snacks.


Mix up a batch of your favorite meatballs and cool on baking sheet in fridge.  Add meatballs to freezer bag.

Meal Ideas: Add to pasta dishes, meatball subs, or warm in slow cooker with your favorite BBQ sauce on game day.

Pancake Mix

Pre-mix the dry ingredients of your favorite pancake recipe and store in the pantry.  Add a label to the container with remaining ingredients and cooking instructions.

Meal Ideas: With the prep partially done, you can get weekend breakfast (or breakfast for dinner!) on the table in no time flat.  This is also one of our favorite camping breakfast hacks!

Need a #quickdinner for busy nights? These prep-ahead ideas are recipe-ready for quick meals Click To Tweet

Pro Tip: Freezer storage works best when stored flattened freezer bags.  A quick defrost in warm water and you are ready to use.

Too busy to cook during the week? Skip the take-out with these staples that are recipe-ready. Quick meal ideas will have dinner on the table in no time!

7 comments on “7 Easy Ways to Prep for Quick Meals”

  1. These are really helpful tips! I have less time right now than I did when my son was a newborn so I’ll be using some of these tricks. Energy bites are the bomb! Thanks for sharing!

    • That was the one thing I didn’t expect when having kids – I was so prepared to have no time for anything when they were newborns, but the chaos comes as they get older! I try anything I can to make time for more play and less work 🙂

  2. Great ideas! I use Pioneer Woman’s taco seasoning recipe all the time. I use it as part of a taco soup in a jar that I make in advance using freeze dried foods. Then we make it on a busy night and just add fresh avocado and sour cream. So good!

    • Yes – we do the meatballs a lot! It’s one of things I can sneak some extra veggies into 🙂 and they are quick to prep since they are small and thaw quickly!

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