Trying to think of things to cook for dinner? Planning your dinners ahead of time is an excellent way to save both time and money. Creating a meal plan involves deciding your meals for the week prior to going to the grocery store and then buying only the ingredients you need for your meal plan. Many meal prep articles focus on making a big batch of the same thing. You don’t need to cook all of your dinners on Sunday and eat the same thing every night to spend less time cooking and less money on the ingredients. You can have variety! Meal planning your dinners ahead of time will also help you eat healthier.
It’s hardest to start meal planning when you don’t know what you’re going to cook. Many recipes call for a lot of ingredients and prep time. If you’re busy, that’s a recipe for failure. That is why all of the recipes below have limited ingredients and are perfect for the beginner chef. If you’ve never planned your meals before, check out 8 tips for meal planning.
Here are a things to cook for dinner to help you start your meal plan that I’ve found have minimum ingredients, don’t take much prep time, don’t require any “fancy” kitchen tools and are generally pretty healthy. If these recipes take too long to make, check out Trader Joe’s Quick and Easy Dinner Ideas. And, if you don’t want to buy a lot of ingredients check out Fast Easy Recipes with Few Ingredients.
Trader Joe’s Carne Asada Tacos
Trader Joe’s Carne Asada Tacos with a twist. This Trader Joe’s meal will be ready in minutes! It involves only 3 ingredients: Trader Joe’s Carne Asada, Trader Joe’s Naan for the “taco shells” (freezer isle), and Trader Joe’s Tzatziki sauce. It comes out to about $23 but it can feed 3-4 people and is delicious. I once skipped the Tzatziki sauce to save the $5 and it was good but wasn’t the same. If you have it 2x close together though you only need to buy the sauce once.
Simple Turkey Chili
Simple Turkey Chili is a great autumn and winter dinner to make. This dish is pretty easy to make, requiring only about 10 minutes of prep. I modified this recipe using beef, and homemade tomato sauce (store bought is fine too) instead of the crushed tomatoes. I also buy frozen chopped onions and peppers and add shredded cheese on top. Buying frozen veggies is one of my top meal planning tips to save money. This turkey chili ends up being $10-15 for 4 servings, assuming you already have the spices.
Crockpot Chicken and Salsa
Crockpot Chicken and Salsa is two ingredients, that’s it. It takes less than a minute to prep. Place a little salsa to line the bottom of the crockpot, add the chicken and pour the rest of the salsa on top. Set the crockpot for 4 hours on high. I also buy the Trader Joe’s white rice from the freezer which takes about 5 minutes to cook in the microwave. The cost for this dinner is about ~$20 total but you can use only 2 chicken breasts and use the rest for other meals and the rice has 3 packets so this can cover multiple meals. Does need a crock pot but I’m sure this could be made in the oven as well.
Havarti Quiche is one of the recipes my mom taught me. I like to buy the ingredients for Havarti Quiche at Trader Joe’s because they have the best cheese prices! You’ll need havarti cheese, premade pie crust (usually in the freezer isle at Trader Joe’s and comes in packs of 2), 3-4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of half and half, bag of frozen spinach and spices. Line most of the bottom / takes about 1/2 of the harvarti cheese of the premade pie crust. Combine 3 or 4 eggs, 1.5 cups half and half and dash of pepper, nutmeg, teaspoon of both basil and minced parsley and half a teaspoon of dry mustard. Thaw a bag of frozen spinach and mix that with the egg and half and half mixture, pour on top of the cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 -50 minutes. The prep takes about the same amount of time as it does for the oven to preheat.
Meatballs and Sauce
Meatballs and Sauce is one of my go to meal prepping recipes. It requires a lot of effort compared to the other recipes, so when I make it I make multiple batches. I now make 2-4 batches at a time because it’s so good and so easy to freeze and reheat! For the meatballs, I’ve modified to make 2 batches at once- and have 1 lb of pork with the 3 lbs of beef, the last time I did this that made 67 meatballs. I also use panko breadcrumbs and frozen chopped onions.
For the sauce (per batch) it’s 1 can crushed tomatoes, 1 small can of tomato paste. Once emptied fill both of these cans with water and add water, 2-3 scoops minced garlic, a bit of olive oil and spices to taste. Cook the garlic first in olive oil, add spices. Add in the water and tomatoes and once reaching a boil simmer for 2-4 hours.
Because you’re making in bulk overall this should save money, but I primarily started this because after doing Whole30 I realized how many tomato sauces had soy and sugar added to it, and frozen meatballs had so many fillers. The homemade version is so much tastier. I’ve found I max out some of the ingredients at 4 batches of meatballs – 1 package of beef broth, 1 package of parsley, 1 fresh grated parmesan, 1 bag chopped onions all covers 4 batches but after that you’ll have to buy more beef broth and parsley.
Homemade Acai Bowls
This recipe for Homemade Raspberry Acai Bowls is my favorite acai bowl recipe. I like to have acai bowls in the spring / summer for dinner. It’s a nice refreshing dinner that feels light yet filling. When you get an acai bowl eating out, it sometimes can be up to $15! When you make acai bowls at home you can freeze everything you need besides the almond milk: frozen raspberries, the acai Frozen Packets and freeze a few bananas.
The acai frozen packets (5 per package) can be anywhere from $5-10 but it’s much cheaper than buying 5 bowls eating out. I usually just use 1 frozen packet per bowl, raspberries, almond milk, bananas and then put some almond butter and granola on top. This takes less than 10 minutes to prep and make.
Sausage Leek and Spinach Quiche
Sausage, Leek and Spinach Quiche is a Whole30 Approved recipe. This recipe is also the most prep time intensive of the list as it involves slicing sweet potatoes for the “crust.” If one of the reasons you meal plan is to save time, this recipe might not be for you. That said, this is the healthiest quiche I’ve ever had and it was delicious.
Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Hash
Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Hash was my favorite Whole30 recipe! I would meal prep on Sundays and make one batch of this. Throughout the week I would then add two fried eggs if I had it for dinner or warm up the hash for lunch. I also have made this with the crockpot salsa chicken mentioned above which was really good and added protein.
After you’re done planning your dinners for the week, start planning your breakfasts! If you don’t have time to cook dinner this week Trader Joe’s has a ton of quick and easy dinners that take minutes to make. And if you’re looking for things to cook for dinner but don’t have many ingredients check out simple recipes with few ingredients. What other recipes are part of your weekly meal plan for dinner?