One of the keys to my menu planning is making sure that I’m not stuck sitting there thinking, hmmmm. What shall we have this week? Hmmmm. I can’t think of anything. Nope. Mind’s a blank. Okay, forget it, I’m giving up on meal planning. Sigh. Have you ever been there? It can be really frustrating. AND expensive because then we end up relying on takeout. So, in an effort to combat that, I sat down one weekend and came up with a bunch of ideas for quick, easy, and inexpensive weeknight meals. This meant I didn’t have to “reinvent the wheel” every time I wanted to figure out a meal plan – whether that was for a week or just “what’s for dinner” tonight. Now I’m sharing 30 of our favorites with you.
30 Quick, Easy, and Inexpensive Weeknight Meals
1. Sloppy Joes. For a treat, sometimes we have potato chips with this but most often serve with something like carrot sticks and Ranch dip.
2. Shepherd’s Pie. This is a great one to bring into the rotation when we are having mashed potatoes for another meal. I cook double for that meal and use the rest in my Shepherd’s Pie (although my Shepherd’s Pie is really Cottage Pie because it has ground beef in it instead of lamb).
4. Tacos. A simple side for this is fruit cocktail.
5. Tuna Noodle Casserole. I’ll be honest. I don’t eat this myself because I’m allergic to tuna. I loved it when I was little though and my family likes it.
6. DIY Baked Potato Bar. *A good way to use up some leftovers
7. Build Your Own Nachos Bar. *A good way to use up some leftovers
9. Applesauce Meatloaf. Serve with potatoes or egg noodles and some veggies. Whatever you have on hand works here.
10. Yogurt Chicken. So easy and so good.
11. Neapolitan Pasta Casserole. This is a family favorite. We have it often. It works as a meatless meal (which is how we serve it) but you can also add some ground meat, pepperoni, or sausage to it if you want.
12. Lemon Parmesan Spaghetti – this was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was a kid. We would toss cooked spaghetti with a bit of butter or olive oil, lemon juice, and grated Parmesan cheese. It’s good as is served with some veggies or a salad on the side but if you’ve got some leftover ham on hand, cube that and throw it in too. This dish is delicious with peas, asparagus, or broccoli added to it as well.
13. Crispy Ritz Cheddar Chicken. Cube some potatoes and toss with a bit of olive oil and herbs/spices of your choice. Roast in the oven. No potatoes on hand? How about some noodles instead?
14. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. Use canned or jarred sauce. If we have some leftover ground beef on hand, we’ll cook that up and add it to the sauce. Or make some meatballs. A side salad and some garlic bread are easy sides. Find a great deal on ground chicken? Try this spaghetti with chicken parm meatballs.
15. Chicken Fried Rice. Use some leftover chicken and rice to whip up this easy meal. Add in some veggies like carrots and peas. No chicken? Use what meat you do have on hand or go meatless. Veggie fried rice is delicious too!
16. Quesadillas. *A good way to use up some leftovers. I make these on the stovetop because I find it easier to keep an eye on them but I know some people who oven bake them. Throw a tortilla into a skillet – use non-stick or spray with cooking spray or brush really lightly with some oil. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the tortilla. Now add whatever else you want or have on hand. We often put in the same things we would use as pizza toppings. Chicken and pineapple is a favorite as is chicken, potato, and spinach. Be sure that you use already cooked and cut up toppings.
I like to warm the chicken up a bit before putting into the quesadilla. I find they cook so quickly that it just doesn’t get hot enough otherwise. Top with another tortilla. Cook until tortillas are lightly browned and cheese is melted. To flip them, I find it easiest to put a plate over the skillet and flip onto the plate. Then slide back into the pan. It takes much less cooking time on the second time than the first. We cut these into wedges (using a pizza cutter) and serve with things like sour cream, guacamole, and salsa.
17. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup. The classic. Switch things up a bit by cutting up the grilled cheese into cubes. Use them like croutons on top of the soup, Or add some filling ingredients besides just cheese to the sandwiches. Leftover bacon, sauteed onions, blackberry jam, chopped ham, or even pepperoni are some of our favorites. By the way, I don’t butter the bread for the sandwiches. Now I use mayonnaise instead. I can spread it much thinner and use much less. I find the sandwiches brown perfectly – nice and golden. And, when I’ve served it to others, they had no idea I hadn’t used butter until I told them.
18. Pizza Night. Use store bought pizza shells or dough to make it really easy. *A good way to use up some leftovers
19. Chicken Pot Pie. No crust making required in this delicious version.
20. Chicken and Rice. Add a simple veggie side dish. *A good way to use up some leftovers
21. Roast Beef Hash. My mom used to make corned beef hash for my dad – it was one of his favorites! She often also made a Hamburger Hash similar to this recipe using ground beef. But this version with roast beef is a great way to use up some leftover roast beef and potatoes.
22. Simple Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs. This recipe is really easy and sounds so tasty. I’ve made one before where I basically just poured the last of a bottle of BBQ sauce over some chicken pieces. Cook it in the oven, slow cooker, or on the stovetop.
23. Frittata. If you’ve got some eggs in the house (or if you’re like me and you keep liquid eggs in the freezer), this is a simple but filling dinner idea. Use whatever leftovers you have on hand.
24. Homemade Mac and Cheese.
25. Homemade chicken fingers. Confession time – I can’t stand prepackaged chicken fingers or nuggets. But the ones I make at home are really tasty. Coat strips of chicken in egg (at Supperworks they use a mixture of buttermilk and egg that’s quite tasty but I don’t always have buttermilk on hand) and then a breading. Breading ideas – Panko or other bread or cracker crumbs, crushed potato chips, crushed pretzels, crushed cereal. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes depending on how thick your chicken strips are.
26. My mom’s chili. Seriously, this is so easy to make and goes a LONG way. You can easily use it as a foundation recipe to and adapt it to your preferences. We generally use 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. ground meat, 1 large can of tomato sauce and then half of that can filled with water (it will look watery at first but it cooks down), 2 cans of kidney beans, 1 can of black beans, and 1 can of corn. For this amount, we normally like 2 T. of chili powder and 1 tsp. of cumin. I tend to start slowly with the seasoning and add more as needed. The spices will intensify as it cooks.
We like to add some chopped onion – I cook it with the ground beef and then add the other ingredients. But, in a pinch, if there is no onion around, I’ll add some onion powder instead. My mom used to put in about half a packet of onion soup mix. Some people like to add other varieties of beans or green peppers. When my daughter was little, I’d puree some leftover sweet potatoes or carrots or other veggies and stir them into the chili. I never found it changed the taste of it (just add a little more spice if needed) but we got some extra nutrients in there!
Now, here’s how we stretch it even further. We serve it Cincinnati-style with spaghetti noodles. My mom would, shortly before dinner time, turn the chili up from a simmer so that it’s bubbling. She broke the spaghetti in half and put it right into the chili to cook. With my family, we like to keep our options open. LOL Sometimes we prefer eating it as is and other times we like to pour it over spaghetti (much like you would with marinara sauce). Either way, that spaghetti really helps to make the chili go further and we get several meals out of one batch.
27. Cheese and Egg Strata. This was one of the first table foods my daughter ever had. (Why is it every time I want to say “table foods”, I keep first calling them “people food”? LOL). It’s one of those simple French toast casserole types of things. You can make them overnight if you want. It’s a great way to use up some stale bread and I almost always have some cheese, eggs, and milk on hand. That (along with some seasoning including a bit of mustard to perk up the flavour) was our basic recipe and she loved it.
But you can obviously get more creative with it. Leave out the mustard and add some jam into it for an almost bread pudding type of dish. Or chop up some leftover cooked chicken, turkey, ham or other meat and throw that in there. I’ve had it with broccoli added to it so you can make use of some of your leftover or “won’t last much longer” veggies too.
28. Stir fry. *This is a great way to use up some leftovers.
30. Burgers. A classic is a classic for good reason. Think this is too boring? There have to be at least a million different burger combinations that can be created. A local diner here serves one with peanut butter on it. I know, it sounds wacky but it made an episode of You Gotta Eat Here so I had to try it. YUM! Throw a poached or fried egg on top. One of our favorites is pizza burgers – mix a little pizza sauce, grated mozzarella, and Italian seasoning into the meat and then top with a little more mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce.
These basil butter burgers are moist and delicious – the only thing that slows down the making of them is that you need the basil butter to be prepared ahead of time. I just make up some compound butters and keep them in small packages in the freezer. Then I’m good to go at a moment’s notice! Or go for something even more unique. When I was a kid, I’d go to my friend Carol’s house about once a week for dinner. Her mom always served what she called “hamburger steaks”. Really they were just hamburgers served without a bun or toppings. They had some brown gravy poured over them and that’s it. Simple but tasty.