12 Quick and Budget-Friendly Real Food Meal Solutions

{Bonus: Free Printable Quick Meal Solutions Checklist}

Somehow the week began without you. It’s Monday evening, you just got home from work, everyone is hungry, and you realize that you have absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. 

What to do? You’re trying to stick to a budget *and* you don’t want to feed your family a regular diet of fast food. With a few items from your pantry and fridge or freezer, you can have a decent-for-a-night dinner on the table in a flash.


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Here at the Filling the Jars house, saving money without driving myself crazy is a huge priority. I do my best on the weekends to prep meal ideas and food for the week. But let’s be honest, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Life gets busy, or we’re out of town, or maybe I’m just not in the mood to even think about cooking or anything associated with it. Even though I create a monthly menu plan, I always leave a few nights open because I know there will be times I don’t make a “planned” meal.

I had to create a list of meals that could be made almost on auto-pilot. Also, the meals had to be made with the usual food items I keep around the house. Otherwise it’s all too easy to end up ordering $35 worth of pizza, stromboli, and breadsticks. Plus it costs about a gallon of gas and 20-30 minutes of driving and standing in line to pick up the order. Not ideal at all.

I have this list printed and stored in a clear sheet protector in the front of my main dish recipes binder. It’s my “in case of laziness or complete exhaustion” list. No thinking, “What can I make?!” or searching for amazing recipes (and getting distracted by the beauty of Pinterest along the way). I just pull out a very few items and throw them together to feed the starving masses. 

12 Quick and Budget-Friendly Real Food Meal Solutions | www.fillingthejars.com | {Bonus: Printable List} You’re trying to stick to a budget *and* you don’t want to feed your family a regular diet of fast food. With a few items from your pantry and fridge or freezer, you can have a decent-for-a-night dinner on the table in a flash.

Click to access the printable PDF checklist.

Some people might have fancier items on hand, but I am more of a basic food type of person. I don’t keep frozen fully-cooked meats or ravioli or really any convenience foods like that. Okay — garlic bread — I try to keep that in the freezer because it’s sooooo delicious. 😉 I also know that to some people, jarred pasta sauce and canned soup and refried beans are convenience foods. I keep them anyway, because I know myself well enough to know there will be nights I need them.


Here are the pantry, fridge, and freezer items I like to keep on hand to ensure the possibility of making quick meals:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Bread (frozen is okay)
  • Potatoes
  • Tuna
  • Pasta sauce
  • Oatmeal (rolled oats, not instant)
  • Canned soup
  • Refried beans
  • Tortillas or taco shells
  • Tortilla chips
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Smoked sausage
  • B/S chicken breasts or thighs
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Fruit


Now, fair warning, these meals are very simple. Most of them would benefit from the addition of chopped onions or other prepared fresh vegetables, but we’re talking EASY and FAST. They are probably not the sort of thing you would feed your family every night. Or maybe they are. This is a no-judgement zone. 😉

My favorites are the meals where I throw some vegetables into the oven to roast and start some meat cooking. While the food is doing its thing, I have time to change out of my work clothes and take a few quiet moments in my room to transition from “rush” mode to “comfortable at home” mode. You might not have this opportunity if your children are in sports, but at least with the faster meals, you won’t be zipping through the local fast-food joint and throwing away your money on indigestion.


Approximately 15 Minutes to Prepare:

  • Grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, raw vegetables
  • Bean & cheese nachos or tacos/burritos
  • Taco salad: lettuce, refried beans, cheese, broken tortilla chips
  • Open-face tuna melts, raw vegetables
  • Fried egg sandwiches, fruit or raw vegetables


Approximately 45 Minutes to Prepare:
(But With More Hands-Off Time)

  • Simmered b/s chicken (cook from frozen), roasted potatoes/carrots
  • Tuna macaroni salad, raw vegetables
  • Pasta salad
  • Breakfast for dinner: oatmeal or toast, eggs, bacon (cook in oven), fruit
  • Meatless spaghetti, garlic toast, raw vegetables
  • Roasted smoked sausage & potatoes/carrots
  • Simmered b/s chicken, rice, make gravy from the broth, raw vegetables


A couple of notes:

If you’ve never roasted vegetables before, it’s the easiest thing ever! Preheat your oven to 450°F, scrub & cut potatoes (and/or carrots, broccoli, whatever you like) into chunks and toss with some oil and salt/pepper. Spread out on a large oiled cookie sheet and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes. Red or yukon potatoes and baby carrots are the absolute fastest and easiest combination, although onions make a very nice flavor addition.

You could roast frozen boneless skinless chicken in the oven at the same time as the vegetables. But I’ve found that in my oven, the moisture from the thawing chicken tends to steam the vegetables instead of allowing them to roast. I prefer to cook the chicken on the stove and get some bonus chicken broth at the same time.

I know the 45-minute dinners may not seem “fast,” but the point is that your hands-on time is very short. You can be doing OTHER things (or nothing at all!) while most of the meal is cooking. Sure, you could probably cook some fancier meals in 45 minutes if you want to spend the entire time in the kitchen, but sometimes you just don’t want to do that. 🙂


What are your favorite go-to meals when time is short and eating out is not an option?


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14 thoughts on “12 Quick and Budget-Friendly Real Food Meal Solutions”

  1. YUM! Everything sounds good to me, certainly no judgement here. I love that you still incorporate fresh veggies. My kids love fresh orange bell peppers. 🙂 On occasion I sub ground meat or rice with cauliflower, have you ever tried that?
    I seriously need to get back to meal planning.

    1. Hi Dean! Red peppers are a favorite here! And celery! As one who really hates raw celery, imagine my surprise when I discovered that both of my boys and my husband adore it! “Raw veggies” on my menu usually means a bag of baby carrots and celery. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  2. Hi Julie! Thank you so much for linking up at Funtastic Friday! These are great ideas for quick and easy. I’m all about the easy! My go to quick meals are taco salad and spaghetti…dare I say from the jar! I always have a jar of spaghetti sauce in the pantry! I even use leftover hamburger or hot dog buns to make garlic bread!

    1. Hi Lacie! I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my family MUCH prefers jar spaghetti sauce to homemade. *shrugs* I finally stopped fighting it. We also use leftover buns for garlic bread if I don’t have anything prepackaged! I freeze leftover buns, makes it really easy to spread the butter on before baking or broiling.

  3. Thanks for sharing on Let’s Get Real Link Party.One of my favorite go to easy recipes is a tuna with apples and celery with olive oil, lemon and sea kelp. Mix and eat on a bed of lettuce. Simple and easy.

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