30 Easy Dinner Ideas You Can Make in 30 Minutes or Less

posted by Andrea | 01/9/2020

30 easy dinner ideas

You all know I’m a huge advocate for planning simple meals… right?

I don’t particularly love the process of meal planning. However, I know from personal experience that my day, my life, and my kitchen run a lot smoother (and my family and I are a lot happier) when I take 10-15 minutes to plan our meals for the week.

NOTE: I currently come up with 7 easy dinner ideas each week. One night is often “leftovers” and another night is often “eating at friends, eating with family, homemade pizza, or Culvers”.

Also, my goal is to create my meal plan the weekend BEFORE, choosing meals I already have the ingredients for on Monday and Tuesday, and assuming I’ll get to the store by Wednesday if we need anything else. 

If you still haven’t jumped on the meal planning bandwagon (or if you just fell off and want to get back on) I hope this post will motivate you to give it a try again (or for the first time).

I’m sharing 30 of our family’s favorite easy dinner ideas that can all be made in 30 minutes or less. They are perfect for busy weeknights as many of them can be prepped ahead of time and just shoved in the oven when you walk in the door. 

However, before I share these easy meals with you, I want to give a little extra plug for the benefits of meal planning!

cooking an easy dinner of ground beef and fried potatoes

How I benefit from planning easy meals each week:

  • I eliminate the need for multiple trips to the grocery store (saving me time, money, and stress)
  • I drastically reduce wasted food as I have a plan for everything I buy (seriously, we rarely ever throw any food out)
  • I save TONS of money and calories on less-nutritious fast foods (we usually get Arbys or Culvers once a month)
  • My days run so much smoother because I don’t need to scramble at the last minute to come up with dinner plans
  • I can answer my children’s daily questions regarding “what’s for dinner” without saying “I don’t know” over and over again
  • I don’t spend any time or mental energy thinking, planning, or wondering what I could make for breakfast and dinner
  • I am able to easily get dinner on the table at 4:30 (our family eats very early right now) while still being present when the kids and Dave get home from school around 3:30. 
  • I am able to plan meals that work for each day (a quick grab-and-go meal if we need to head out again after dinner, or a bigger meal if we’ll have company over)

NOTE: Here’s a link to ALL my posts about meal planning — read up if you need more inspiration! 

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Creating a plan for easy weeknight meals is a huge time and sanity saver for me (2 of my most valuable resources right now!) 

So while it’s not my favorite weekly to-do, it’s most definitely one I will continue faithfully doing for the foreseeable future. 

I’d love it if you join me… I KNOW you’ll benefit from your efforts! 

easy slow cooker chili with cornbread and salad

 

As I mentioned several times above, I plan EASY MEALS — nothing fancy, nothing super time-consuming, nothing with hard-to-find ingredients, and not even always totally “from scratch”. 

Just simple, (mostly) nutritious foods our family eats well.

family enjoying a simple meal at the table

grilling is an easy dinner idea

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To help simplify my meal planning process even more, I created a list of more than 30 EASY meals I can make in 30 minutes or less (all using ingredients I commonly have in the house.)

I’m sharing that list today in hopes that it will help you simplify your meal planning efforts too!

easy dinner ideas for busy families

Easy Italian Dinner Ideas:

I almost always have pre-cooked sausage, ground beef, and shredded chicken in the freezer, so Italian meals are super quick and easy for me — just heat up some sauce with frozen meat while I boil the noodles, add a salad and fruit and dinner is served! 

Here are a few more of my favorite easy Italian meals!

1. Any type of pasta or zoodles with jarred sauce, this semi-homemade sauce, or this vegetable marinara sauce

2. 10 Minutes Homemade Lasagna

3. Pizza Pasta with Noodles or with Spaghetti Squash

4. Frozen Pizza 

5. Stromboli (you’d have to make or defrost the dough ahead of time to make this in 30 minutes)

6. Muffin Tin Pizzas

7. Mac & Cheese – this 5-minute slow cooker method or from a box

SIMPLE SIDE DISH OPTION

delicious stromboli dinner

easy homemade lasagna with lots of veggies

Easy Mexican Dinner Ideas:

I try to keep a few containers of our favorite slow cooker refried beans and various types of taco meat in the freezer. And I always have a container of this mild taco seasoning ready for quick Mexican meals (something our whole family enjoys). 

I also have lots of cheese, sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt), onions, tomatoes, lettuce, tortilla chips, and our favorite tortillas in the house nearly all the time, so Mexican foods are an easy win when it comes to simple meals on busy weeknights! 

These are some of our favorites:

8. Refried Bean and Cheese Quesadillas

9. Beef or Chicken Quesadillas 

10. Chipotle Pulled Pork Enchiladas (I often have these in the freezer, so I literally just pull them out, add sauce and cheese, and shove them in the oven)

11. Triple Layer Taco Pie

12. Taco Casserole

13. One Skillet Mexican Rice Casserole

14. 3-Ingredient Mexican Chicken

15. Fiesta Chicken Salad

SIMPLE SIDE DISH OPTIONS

easy dinner quesadillas

simple dinner of Mexican casseroles

Easy Breakfast Dinner Ideas:

Breakfast for dinner is one of our family’s favorite meals — we have it at least once a week (even though we also eat hot breakfasts every morning too!)

It’s such a frugal easy dinner option that’s easy to prepare — win, win!

16. Pancakes, puff pancakes, or hearty oat pancakes

17. Waffles — we use this Belgian waffle maker

18. Omelets — with any meat, cheese, and veggies we have on hand

19. French Toast Sticks 

20. Baked French Toast Casserole (I assemble it in the morning and put it in the oven before dinner

21. Ham, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches

22. Toast, eggs, and any type of breakfast meat we have on hand

SIMPLE SIDE DISH OPTIONS

easy french toast casserole

whole grain oat pancakes are an easy dinner idea

 

Easy Soup Dinner Ideas:

It has taken a while for my kids to truly start to enjoy soup, but I’m happy to report that soups are now on regular rotation in our weekly meal plans. 

23. Tomato Soup + Grilled Cheese

24. Chicken Noodle Soup 

25. Ham and Potato Soup

26. Taco Soup

27. Refried Bean Soup (an older recipe — I now make it with my homemade refried beans)

28. BBQ Chicken Chili

SIMPLE SOUP SIDE DISHES: 

tomato soup and grilled cheese

easy chili recipe

Easy Sandwich Dinner Ideas:

I’m not always a huge sandwich fan, but the recipes below are ones I REALLY like (along with the rest of my crew!)

29. Grilled Cheese for a Crowd

30. Easy Pizza Sliders

31. Pizza Sandwiches 

32. Chicken Salad Sandwiches (or wraps or on lettuce)

33. BLT sandwiches 

34. Ham and Cheese Baked Sandwiches 

35. Chili Cheese Dogs

36. Burgers or brats on the grill (we almost always have frozen hamburger patties and brats in the freezer)

SIMPLE SANDWICH SIDE DISHES: 

easy sandwich meal

easy chili cheese dogs

There you have it, nothing fancy, nothing glamorous… but I can make everything listed above in 30 minutes or less, often without a recipe and without the need to run to the store for fancy ingredients.

Thanks to a bunch of pantry staples and my list of easy dinner ideas, I don’t have to wonder “what’s for dinner?”, scramble to the store at the last minute, or opt for fast food!

I’d say that’s a win in my book!

What are your favorite easy weeknight meals?

Join my FREE 20-Day Challenge to Simplify Your Life for more motivation and inspiration to simplify your meal planning (along with free customizable weekly and monthly menu planners)! 

30 easy dinner ideas

Filed under: FoodMeal Planning

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21 comments

  1. Jenny

    01/18/2020

    These are some great ideas! It could see a family through a YEAR, I bet, adding in a few special holiday meals! I’ve never had a problem planning meals or menus, as long as I do it in advance, but waiting to decide and then shopping at the last minute is not a good idea, because everything seems hard, nothing sounds good, and the cost will be so much higher than if planned ahead. Some blogs seem to feature people who eat the same 5-10 or so main courses, over and over, with exactly the same side dishes or they get so fancy that it’s unrealistic. Yours work really great- simple, varied, delicious!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes definitely — not too many repeats, but not crazy difficult or weird recipes either! Glad you like them!

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  2. Debbie

    01/09/2020

    Love this list! I’ve saved on my Pinterest board.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Debbie!

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  3. Brandie Curtis

    01/09/2020

    THANKS SO MUCH for this!
    I bookmarked it so I can reference it easily.
    My family and I always LOVE your recipe’s and used them quite often over the years I have followed you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay — you’re welcome!

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  4. Jill

    05/06/2015

    I LOVE seeing these kinds of posts! We Momma’s have to share these ideas! Love the “themed” nights idea. I’m thinking a breakfast for dinner will be in my menu plan next week- gonna try the french toast sticks!
    Here are my go to meals:
    http://jillonthehill.com/2015/02/23/my-go-to-meals/

    [Reply]

  5. Meghan

    05/01/2015

    I pretty much always have to have 3-5 meals I can make at any time. It’s a weird security thing 🙂
    Breakfast burritos
    Quesadillas with whatever leftovers we have
    Hash browns, eggs, and turkey sausage skillet
    Spaghetti and meat sauce
    Sloppy joes
    Turkey kilbasa and Hashbrowns
    Frozen ravioli layered with Prego and mozzerella cheese and baked
    Hamburgers and baked beans
    Pancakes, bacon, and fruit

    None of these meals are a first choice, but they are a better alternative to pizza or eating out.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YUM, sounds like some good go-to meals for me!

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  6. Aa.

    04/29/2015

    I myself am in the proccess of making this same list.

    My personal favourites are pasta (tuna and tomatoes, clams pasta, pasta with chicken and brocooli, ravioli and carbonara are the fastest and we love them), ranch eggs, breakfast dinner, finger fish with steamed broccoli, sandwiches and a version of chilli that we like.

    We always have ingredients for at least 3-5 of these foods and it is a life saver to have them noted on a list so I can look over it when I am short on time.

    [Reply]

  7. Carrie

    04/29/2015

    Your baked ham & cheese sandwiches are DEFINATELY on my “go-to-meals” list. Also, we are getting a Meijer store this year & I’m soooo excited since you have spoken so highly of it. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we love those too! yay for a Meijer coming to your town. I hope you love it as much as we do!

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  8. Erika

    04/29/2015

    My go to meals are spaghetti and meat sauce, tuna salad sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches, black bean quesadillas, english muffin pizzas, bean tostadas, waffles or pancakes and eggs. Soft tacos or burritos with whatever we have on hand, grilled cheese and tomato soup. Another favorite that we like every week or two is what we call “Squee” brown ground turkey or beef, then add chopped onions and shredded green cabbage and if we have any other veggies we need to use, I’ll add those too-usually peppers or mushrroms. Usually we will eat this over buttered noodles and everyone will season it to there liking. Just make sure you cook cabbage very well or else your tummy will get a little bloaty feeling. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Your list sounds very similar to ours! And for the record, my all-time FAVORITE go-to meal (since I was a little kid) has always been spaghetti and meat sauce. I could literally eat it for breakfast (and honestly, sometimes I do!)

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  9. Roxanne

    04/29/2015

    I try to keep some thawed chicken breasts in the fridge at all times. They’re so versatile and there’s a lot of different directions I can take them as long as I have at least a half hour to prep them- I can bake them with whatever sauces, seasonings or toppings I have on hand; I can cube them or slice them and use them in pasta dishes, soups and stir-fry; or I can shred them and use them in more ethnic-type dishes. We also always have frozen veggies in the freezer (yay for microwaves!) and if we can slice up some fruit to go with it, then I call it “good enough” and dinner is served 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Tracey

    04/29/2015

    This is JUST what I needed today…I think you are a mind-reader!!! So often I’m struggling with ash everyday challenge, I check in here, and it turns out you’ve addressed that very thing.

    Thank You!!!

    [Reply]

    Tracey Reply:

    “an” everyday challenge!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Happy to help — and extra happy that my tips seem to align with your challenges 🙂

    [Reply]

  11. Meg

    04/29/2015

    Thanks for the ideas! We try to eat as much “real food” as possible, but many of your ideas can be adjusted accordingly. Great, simple way to keep that daily “what’s for dinner???” feeling at bay. 😉

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  12. Debbie W.

    04/29/2015

    Great list Andrea! Some of these are my go-to meals too, but you have several that I never thought of. I think this list will really help me in my efforts to improve my own meal planning/meal prep. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    glad to add a few more ideas to your list 🙂

    [Reply]