Fast & Easy Meal Plan Ideas

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Hard seasons of life mean just doing the essentials. When adulting feels impossible and you don’t want to cook, here are some fast & easy meal plan ideas that don’t require a lot of energy to plan or cook.

How to Menu Plan (when you don't want to cook) Easy Meal Planning solution for busy nights! #menuplan #mealplan #howtomealplan

How to Menu Plan (When You Don’t Even Want to Cook)

Life is totally overwhelming sometimes. We’ve all been there.

And sometimes making real food is hard. I know. I get it. I’ve been there. Cooking can just suck sometimes. Especially if you are already hangry.

But when I know there is something easy to make, I’m more likely to actually make it instead of getting take-out, finishing off a bag of chips, or even just not eating at all.

So let’s talk about some super easy and fast meal plan ideas that you can have ready to go for those nights that you’d rather polish off a box of donuts rather than make an actual dinner.

So How to Menu Plan?

There are tons of complicated and detailed ways to make a meal plan. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. And when you are so overwhelmed with the other parts of life, the last thing I’d tell you to do is spend a ton of time creating a meal plan.

Especially one that you won’t use later anyway because that chicken parmesan sounded really good 4 days ago but you just spent 3 1/2 hours waiting on hold for the electric company while a toddler screamed in the background because you decided that today was the day to wash that disgusting blankie that he lives with. Yeah, fancy homemade meal from scratch… not happening today.

My essential meal planning tool is a list of my family’s favorite meals. The ones that we eat over and over and over and over and…. nevermind. You get the point.

This list is critical because rarely when I sit down to make a meal plan can I just remember all our favorite ideas right off the top of my head. I love having a list to go back and look at. And usually I’ll see something on there that we haven’t made in awhile, but it just sounds really good.

Another thing, when you are meal planning, think about your week. Is it busy? Because if so, you may want to keep the meals you are planning as simple and easy as possible.

It can also be good (but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always do this) to look at what you have already that you need to use up and try to incorporate that into your meal plan. That’s probably the most complicated tip I’ll give you. You’re welcome.

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When Cooking is Hard

But what do you do when you really don’t want to cook?

You might just hate cooking. Or maybe it has been an especially rough week (or year). You sit down to plan your menu, and realize that you really don’t want to make anything. You are already tired just thinking about it. Now before you collapse into the couch with something yummy and completely un-nutritious, hear me out with some of my meal plan ideas that will probably never be a recipe in the Trader-Joe’s newsletter, but at least it will be more substantial than 2/3 of a package of Oreos and cheaper than feeding your family at McDonalds.

You can have actual meals that are really easy and simple to make. Some barely require cooking and can be finished faster than it would take you to get through the drive-thru.

So let’s do this and make cooking dinner and meal planning easier and faster so you can get back to being on hold with the electric company. Just kidding. They’ve already gone home for the day.

Convenience & Frozen Foods

Frozen foods are awesome and so easy! You can pop them in the freezer and they are there when you need them. And prep is usually so minimal that you will barely know you’re making dinner.

  • Frozen vegetables – okay, not a meal but they work great to keep around as a side. Or add some protein of choice (we like imitation crab and it doesn’t require pre-cooking) and some soy sauce (maybe some garlic for added flavor) and you’ve got stir-fry.
  • Frozen meals – Things like lasagna and enchiladas are easy because you just put the whole thing in the oven. Really, can you get any easier. Be prepared though, they take a long time to cook. Make sure you read the directions in the morning because they can take HOURS!
  • Frozen skillet meals – I love these so much! They come frozen (duh) and you can just dump it into a skillet or fry pan and stir as it becomes a yummy meal.
  • Chicken nuggets or fish sticks – Bonus if you add frozen fries or tator tots as a side dish. Hey, I told you they weren’t all healthy. (P.S. You can also heat these up in an air fryer if you have one. Most of the time it doesn’t take as long as the over. On average, 7-10 minutes).
  • Taquitos & guacamole – Mmmm… does this really need an explanation? I’d put guacamole on just about anything.
  • Frozen meatballs – I love having these on hand to add to pasta dishes. Spaghetti, alfredo, and even Ramen. Really. It’s good. You should try it. If you aren’t a pasta fan, you can also throw a bag of them in a pot or slow cooker with a bottle of BBQ sauce and about 1/2 cup of water. Serve it with rice or mashed potatoes if you really want something to go with it.
Favorite Meals

Prep Extra Food to Eat Later

Another way to make dinners easier on hard days is if you prep extra on a night when cooking doesn’t suck as bad. You can double it for a full meal, or just plan on eating leftovers. If you want it to last longer, just freeze it and pull it out when you need it later.

If you are making a casserole, make two. Then you can just pop it into the oven when you want it.

If you make pasta (which is easy to begin with), make more than normal and then you have some for tomorrow too.

If you are cooking ground beef/turkey, then cook a larger pack or even multiple packages. It is not much more work, but will give you food for later too.

You can do this for breakfast too. Make breakfast burritos and wrap a few in plastic and put in a bag to eat when you are in a hurry in the morning.

Another of my favorites is to make muffins and then you have an easy breakfast or snack that you can carry on the go. Try this blueberry muffin recipe! Blueberry muffins are one of my favorite foods ever, and this recipe is super simple without any complicated ingredients!

Slow Cooker Meals

Slow Cooker recipes are some of the best meals because you can get it started earlier in the day when you have more energy (hopefully), just dump in the ingredients, and it’s done when dinner time rolls around. Plus there are tons of these are are actually healthy.

Or better yet, take a few hours and prep a bunch of meals in freezer bags ahead of time. It’s so easy to grab one in the morning, or thaw it the night before if you are someone who would think to do that. I usually forget so I cook them from frozen. I’ve learned now to freeze them in a shape that will fit in my slow cooker. 😂

Seriously, look at Pinterest for recipe ideas. There are thousands of ideas and I know you’ll find something you like!

Other Easy Meal Ideas

  • Salads- I really like spring mix lettuce or the salad kits that come with dressing and toppings. If you have deli meat, slice some into strips and that will add protein to the salad. Tuna, chicken (canned or precooked), and cooked shrimp are also good additions to a salad for protein. When it comes to salad, pretty much anything goes.
  • Other Salads – And while we are talking about salads, you can also do things like chicken or tuna salad. This can go on bread or crackers.
  • Sandwiches- PB&J, deli meats, tuna or chicken salad (as mentioned above), egg salad, grilled cheese (or quesadillas).
  • Grown-up Lunchables – or now know as a charcuterie board (don’t let the name fool you. You can do this on a paper plate). Deli meat, cheeses, crackers, olives, vegetables & ranch dressing, orange or apple wedges. Or whatever you want. It’s basically a way to snack on things and call it dinner.
  • Cereal. A personal favorite. Some varieties have a few good nutrients too, including protein and fiber.
  • Boiled Eggs- I keep a few pre-boiled eggs in the fridge so they are ready to go when I want them. They are great in green salads and egg salad sandwiches. Deviled eggs are also a meal staple at my house.
  • Eggs (other than boiled)- They are fairly easy and fast to cook, and contain a decent about of protein. And a tip for the best scrambled eggs ever: Crack your eggs into a bowl or cup and add a little water. Usually just a few tablespoons is enough for a couple of eggs, but I never measure. Even with a whole dozen eggs I don’t think I used more than 1/2 cup of water. I don’t know why it works, but this gives you the fluffiest eggs ever! No dry, crusty, or rubbery eggs here. I’ve heard a lot of people adding milk to eggs, but I’ve never had milk work the way water does. Seriously, it changed my life. Or at least my breakfast. I also like to add in salt and pepper while I am already mixing it up.
  • Breakfast Burritos- Scramble some eggs (see tip above), add a little cheese (even a slice of cheese ripped into pieces melts well), some sausage or bacon if you feel like it, and your condiments of choice (ketchup, salsa, hot sauce). You can also use toast or an english muffin and make a sandwich if you would rather.
  • Regular Burritos – also really easy if you use canned beans. If you are feeling ambitious, add in a little ground beef or turkey. And don’t forget the toppings and condiments: cheese, salsa, ketchup, hot sauce, sour cream… whatever you like on your burritos.
  • Oatmeal- so easy and almost endless options for flavors. Blueberries (frozen so they last forever) are my current favorite.
How to menu plan when you don't want to cook

See? Lots of easy meal plan ideas that require little effort on stressful nights.

Free Printable Menu Planner!

To help you with your meal planning, here’s a free printable weekly planner. I’ve made it in three different sizes:

Letter 8.5×11 inches

Half Letter 5.5×8.5 inches

Happy Planner size 9.25×7 inches

There are two versions of each size, one with a Monday start and one with a Sunday start.

You can also purchase a matching complete set of meal planners, shopping lists, and a favorite meals page on my Etsy shop.

Making Meals Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

I hope this gave you some meal plan ideas for easier meals when you just don’t feel like cooking.

There will be times that life is just harder. It’s important to take care of yourself, especially during these times. Both by easing up on what you are requiring of yourself, and also making sure that you get fed so you have the energy to handle life.

If you have any more ideas for easy meals, let me know in the comments! SaveSave

My Something Beautiful Life

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