Use what you have on hand to put a seriously satisfying dinner on the table tonight. We’ve got more than 13 last-minute dinner ideas for you!
It’s 5pm, your kids are asking what’s for dinner, and you have zero idea what you are going to make—what do you do? No worries! Hit up your pantry, grab a few staple ingredients, and then make one of our easy last-minute dinner ideas.
The key to easy last-minute cooking is to always have a well-stocked pantry. Whenever you run out of a specific set of ingredients, stock up on them—even if you don’t have a specific recipe in mind that uses them. That way you can dip into your collection of pantry meals anytime you need them.
Let’s get dinner on the table!
What ingredients should I have in my pantry for last-minute dinner ideas like these?
We like to keep ourselves stocked on ingredients that can be used in many applications and can be combined to make a multitude of easy last-minute dinners. We always have on hand:
While most produce is a “use it or lose it” situation, some produce is good for storage for the long haul. These items will last weeks if not months in your pantry or fridge.
- Potatoes. Potatoes will last in a cool dark spot for months. They can be made into an easy side dish or crowd-pleasing main dish (baked potato bar, anyone?).
- Sweet Potatoes. Similar to potatoes, sweet potatoes will last quite awhile in the pantry. Turn them into fries or stuff them with something yummy).
- Carrots. Roast, steam, or grill carrots for an easy side dish! Carrots also add a ton of flavor to soups and stews, so they’re good to have around.
- Onions and garlic. So many meals start with a simple diced onion and/or minced garlic, plus they storage for ages in a cool, dark pantry, so you want to make sure you are always stocked up.
- Canned diced tomatoes. We especially like to have a can or two of fire-roasted diced tomatoes available to add even more flavor to sauces and soups.
- Noodles. Pasta dishes are the ultimate dishes for busy weeknights. We keep a few boxes on hand in different shapes. Noodles made with white flour, whole wheat flour, or gluten-free flour can usually be used interchangeably.
- Beans and lentils. Black beans are a staple around here, but I like to keep some chickpeas, lentils, and other beans around too. They just have so many uses!
- Canned seafood. Canned tuna, salmon, and even clams can be turned into a great weeknight dinner in under 30 minutes.
- Cans of coconut milk. We prefer to use canned coconut milk in baked casseroles and other dishes that get baked in the oven because it doesn’t curdle the way that dairy milk does.
- Tortillas. Tacos, wraps, quesadillas. There are so many uses for the humble tortilla.
- Rice. Rice is ever-flexible, working with dishes from so many cuisines.
- Olive oil, salt, pepper, spices.
- Frozen mixed vegetables are easy soup additions, and can work as a last-minute side dish as well. We always have a few bags in our freezer!
- Other frozen veggies. Did you know that frozen vegetables have just as many vitamins and minerals as fresh vegetables? Sometimes they are even more nutritious than fresh! Frozen vegetables are great for quick side dishes or adding to casseroles and soups. Choose the ones you like best—we usually have green beans, corn, and broccoli in our freezer. Another good grab is frozen cauliflower rice—it’s a great way to add a boost of veggies to any rice-based meal.
- Ground beef. Ground meat cooks up quickly and can be easily turned into a meat sauce, taco filling, or soup. We try to always have a pound or two in the freezer.
- Frozen shrimp. Shrimp defrost super fast, cook even faster, and are a great way to add seafood to many soups, stir-fries, or other quick dishes.
- Chicken breasts or chicken thighs. It’s rare that we don’t have some chicken breast and chicken thighs stashed in our freezer. In a pinch, you can just put some grill seasoning or barbecue sauce on them and grill them up as a main dish. Or you can use them as an element in your dinner.
- Eggs. It doesn’t get much faster than scrambled eggs or an omelet. We always have some in our fridge!