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A week of dinners for busy families

My Emergency Go-To Meal Plan

You guys know by now I’m a big fan of meal planning.  Wether its through an online service or via one of the many options available online, including MPMK’s own 6 week meal plan, a well thought out plan is a major time saver. But what about those days, or weeks, when you barely have time to cook let alone meal plan?


I’ve found myself up against a lot of those weeks lately.  So I’ve developed one more meal plan – an emergency week meal plan.  This is my list of five weeknight meals and a Sunday night meal that take the least amount of time possible to prepare and that I know my family will eat happily.  They are by no means the most well-rounded meals out there but they get the job done in a pinch.


One of the meals even comes with a yummy bonus lunch the day after (pictured above).  So here’s the deal, I’m gonna share my emergency meal plan with the hopes that you’ll share yours.  Because a week of go-tos to fall back on is great, but a month’s worth would be even better!  For some reason my plan is centered on a different ethnic dish each night (or at least my very American version of ethnic dishes).


This one is no surprise.  I think everybody has their own recipe for a good red sauce and many of us fall back on it when there’s not time to try something new.  On a Sunday before what we know will be a hard week, we’ll either let a big pot of spaghetti simmer all day or take some time to build a lasagna with the kids.  We match it with a salad kit and french bread that night and then use if for lunches.  Plus if things really get crazy later in the week we can always fall back on the left overs for dinner again.


Our second Italian dish is sausage and peppers.  All we do is spread crumbles of italian sausage along with sliced onions and peppers in a baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil salt and pepper.  Then bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  Serve over flat bread, rice, or alone with a side of fruit.


We make hard shell tacos using ground turkey, shredded cheese, avocados, salsa, and olives.  Serve with a side of boxed mexican rice and steamed corn.


Brush pita pockets with olive oil and salt and lightly pan fry while also sautéing some onions.  Grill and chop a few chicken breasts (make an extra for lunch the next day) and mix with plain greek yogurt, chopped cucumber, lime juice, and pepper.  Stuff the pitas with the chicken mixture and serve with a side of boxed 5 minute cous cous and tomato slices drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


bonus: Combine left over cous cous with the extra chicken breast, as well as chopped left over tomatoes and cucumbers.  Heat then drizzle with olive oil, salt and a little feta cheese for a quick and easy lunch.


There’s really not much to this one.  We use french dinner bread, lean cut bacon, mayo, avocados and tomatoes to make hearty BL(A)Ts.  Serve with either pre-made salad mix or store bought tomato soup (Costco has a good one).


We have a local upscale super market that sells a delicious bottled red curry sauce for something like $4 a bottle. For this one, just steam some rice, cook a few chopped chicken breasts on the stove in the sauce for 15 – 20 minutes and then serve on top.  Trader Joe’s has some yummy frozen naan bread that makes a nice side and we usually supplement with some fruit as a side.


So that’s it – my six favorite ways to quickly get dinner on the table.  Whether that means a frenzy of cooking in the span of 10 minutes or 3 minutes of prep and 45 minutes of baking.  Now it’s your turn, what are your go-to dinners in a pinch?

This post is part of MPMK’s “Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life”.  You can read all about it here, check out all of projects here, and join thousands of POYEL facebook group members here.



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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

domonique @ abowl full of simple July 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Some of our favorites are similar to yours listed. We will often do a dressed up grilled cheese – sourdough bread, provolone, and sliced ham is our go-to, but we also like mozarella, tomato and pesto. Serve along side tomato soup or raw veggies. fast. fresh. yum!
love your blog!


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Thanks Domonique. We love fancy grilled cheese too (a gourmet grilled cheese bar is our Christmas Eve tradition). I’m definitely adding your mozzarella, tomato and pesto version to our rotation!


Alisha July 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Steph, this is such a great list! I love how you went into detail to really explain how you put the meals together — like a regular person. So often, I see lists and they are vague and non-descriptive, anyways, thank you! I really need this right now, I have fallen off the meal planning ban wagaon myself and need to get back on!

Some of our favorites are: tilapia (we buy individually frozen from Sam’s club) sauteed in butter and lemon with zucchini and brown rice; big pasta pot of whole wheat noodles and whatever left over meat/ veggies I have to throw in, I will usually top with olive oil, basil, or pesto; homemade pizza on trader joe’s fresh dough (you have to use the dough in three days, but it freezes really well).

I love the variety of foods your kids are eating, I’m impressed!

Alisha @ Your Kid’s Table


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 17, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Alisha – my mouth is watering. Thanks for sharing!


Karen @ Dogs Don't Eat Pizza July 18, 2012 at 1:52 am

This is such a great post! One of our favorite weeknight go-to meals is baked ziti. Boil pasta, then drain, and stir in one jar of your favorite marinara sauce. You can add anything at this point – we’ve added ground turkey, ground beef, or sausage (cook the meat while the pasta boils), and/or lots of veggies…anything! Then add mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and stir. Put in 9×13 pan, top with parmesan cheese and bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes. We’ll have it with salad or fruit and garlic bread. It makes enough for leftovers or to freeze for another time.


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Thank you Karen – trying this tonight!


Megan B July 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

We do BLT’s like yours, but we also add sliced hard-boiled eggs. They are so good! Our go-to meal this summer has been sauteed vegetables (anything we have–broccoli, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, etc) tossed with pasta. If we have pine nuts or feta cheese, we’ll add that as well. It’s easy and I go heavy on the vegetables so my kids eat plenty.


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com July 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Sounds like a yummy way to get some extra protein in those BLT’s (maybe I’ll trying adding boiled eggs and using less bacon).


Marywong July 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Teriyaki Chicken with mushrooms and zucchini squash. I chop chicken tenders and squash into bite size pieces, chop some onions, smash a couple of cloves of garlic. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and coat with some corn starch. I sautee the chicken until golden and set aside. In the same pan I sautee garlic, onion, squash and mushrooms. Add the chicken back in. Add 2-3 tbsp of teriyaki sauce. Serve with steamed rice.


Liveseygirl July 19, 2012 at 8:46 am

If I know I have a mad week I often buy fresh tagiatelle pasta. Cook some sausage bacon and mushrooms in your ‘go to’ tomato sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Easy peasy


EmmaJ July 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I often keep a packet of tortellini in the fridge for emergencies, along with a tub of fresh creamy tomato pasta sauce. While the pasta is cooking I saute some mushrooms, along with a little tub of prechopped bacon. Once the pasta has finished cooking I mix it up with the sauce, bacon & mushroom mix, and a bag of fresh baby spinach. Mmmm, yum yum!


lakesidekb July 27, 2012 at 5:21 am

One of my easy go to dinners is what I call a lazy shepherd’s pie. I boil some potatoes to make mashed potatoes or you could do instant. I brown some ground beef with sou sauce or any combo of stir fry sauces that I have in the fridge, throw in some frozen mixed veggies (or chopped fresh broccoli and carrots if I have them in he house) Seve the meat and veggies on top of the mashed potatoes! I sometimes serve with rice too!


Heather B. August 8, 2012 at 6:41 am

One of my favorite meals as a kid was homemade pizza. its cheap and easy. So if you have the time to let the dough rise (maybe while you are at work or something) then get the less than a dollar dough, cook for 6-8 mins so its not soggy under your toppings and your toppings can be anything you have in the fridge. we have made taco pizzas, barbeque, you can do a quick ham and pineapple.
We also really like to use these artisan breads from Albertson’s. All you have to do is put a little olive oil on the bread (they are thick and can get dry) load up your sauce, I prefer white sauce over red so we use a alfredo sauce and then leftover chicken, some articokes, bacon, and mozzarella. I also just did a margerita pizza with basil from the garden, roma tomatoes and mozzarella. Yum. Bake for like 10-15 until cheese is melty. The great thing about the little breads is that everyone can make their own how they want it.


Tracy S. September 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I have 4 teenagers and with all the stuff they have going on, my cooking time is becoming more and more limited. One of their favorite quick things are Bagel Pizzas. Grab a bagel, split it in half, smear on your favorite thick tomato sauce (or as I prefer, seasoned & thinned-just-a-bit tomato paste), sprinkle on some mozzarella, and top with whatever you want (pepperoni cut into triangles, olives, onions, peppers, bacon bits, parmesan). Stick them on a cookie sheet and put them under the broiler for about 5 mins or so. Super easy, and the kids love them!


Kerri September 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

I love these recipes and ideas! With 3 small kids and a crazy schedule, not only is finding time to make dinner a challenge, but so is coming up with new ideas that all 3 kids will eat. My oldest who is 8, is ridiculously picky, and my 3 year old has about a 2 minute attention span for eating…sigh. Anyway, I wanted to say that my crock pot is my best friend. One thing that all 3 kids love is pot roast, and this recipie is as easy as it gets. You need potatoes, carrots and any other vegetables that your children won’t cry about (yes, my oldest still cries if it is something to crazy and exotic like mushrooms!), a package of onion soup mix and a roast. I always use top sirloin. You put the veggies on the bottom, sprinkle with 1/2 the soup mix and 1/4 cup water, put the roast on top, season with the rest of the soup mix and cram some more veggies around the sides of the roast. Sprinkle with some thyme. Turn the crock pot on low and let it cook for 8 hours, the longer the more tender. This recipie is super quick to prepare and is a one pot wonder! I am sure you could make changes, add a can of mushroom soup, just in case the sodium from the soup package wasnt high enough for you! Anyway, that is my favorite fast and easy dinner. Would love to hear more crock pot recipes!


Renee Maxfield October 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Awesome list, and just in my family’s time of desperate need!

My families go to dishes are spaghetti, grilled tuna and swiss, and my mom’s tater-tot casserole. For the spaghetti we brown ground beef with onion, stir in a jar of red-sauce and mix with some spaghettit noodles we cooked. It’s done in 15 minutes flat and served with salad. You can also mix in spinach, black beans or chunks of zuchini with the sauce for extra yumminess (though I wouldn’t suggest all 3). For the grilled tuna we mix mayo, canned tuna, relish, diced tomato, red onion, celery and put it on any sandwich bread (sourdough is best) with some slices of swiss cheese and then pan-fry in olive oil or butter. The tater tot casserole is my favorite though, and its so easy. 1 can of cream of mushroom, 1 bag of frozen tater tots, mixed in a casserole dish and topped with shredded cheese. You bake it until warm and the cheese is melted at about 350.

I love this project it’s so amazing! I can’t wait to get more involved.


Lauren January 23, 2013 at 8:22 am

My kids favourite summer meal (we are in the middle of a heat wave in Australia!) is our version of a “ploughmans lunch”. I put out a plate of ham, salami and other sliced cold meats, a plate of sliced tomatoes, avocados, pickles, cheese and then a selection of chutneys, relish or aioli. Some sliced French stick or sourdough and then everyone helps themselves at the table. My kids have been begging for this every night!

I also love to pop some spaghetti or fettuccine on to boil and while its cooking I grab some mini Roma tomatoes and sauté them with some garlic infused oil (so much easier than peeling some garlic!) you can add mushrooms or diced salami too. Then wilt some fresh basil in the pan and toss through the drained pasta. Add some Parmesan and it is sooooo good, easy and fresh.


Anne At Home February 3, 2013 at 4:43 am

Amazing website- have just devoured your book, thank you!
My emergency dinners all have to involve something I’ve got in the fridge/cupboard, because grocery shopping is my pet hate even at the best of times. So here are my favourites:
Tin of Campbells Chicken Noodle soup, throw in a handful of frozen peas and corn and serve with buttered toast.
Chicken Caesar Salad – uses up any cooked chicken in the fridge or I can buy a BBQ Chicken on the way home. Throw in cos lettuce (actually any lettuce will do), chopped cooked bacon or ham, chopped toast (for croutons), a couple of hard boiled eggs, grated parmesan and Paul Newman’s Caesar Salad dressing (my kids will eat anything with this dressing on it!)
My kids favourite, we call it a Mezze Plate, much like Lauren’s Ploughman’s meal above: crackers, cubes of cheddar cheese, hummous, chopped cucumber, cherry tomatoes, hard boiled egg sliced.
Macaroni cheese made from scratch (I find the bought ones way too salty). I often add a tin of tuna and frozen peas/corn to make it “healthy”
If all else fails – a soft boiled egg with toast soldiers to dip in. Ready in minutes.


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