While 2020 was the year in which everything slowed down for our family, 2021 was one of the busiest of our lives. Beyond our usual routine, we took multiple family trips, participated in local softball (including one season that I coached), and joined a co-op. In addition, my husband's work has been crazier than ever, we're learning the ropes of high school (my oldest's first year), and my youngest has reached the age of maximum household destruction. Whew! 

This being the case, my usual method of loose meal planning became “throw something together at the last minute.” With multiple food sensitivities in the family, we don't have many options for eating out or convenience foods. I am also not very good at thinking ahead to set out meat to defrost or stick a meal in the crockpot. Thus, my primary survival tactic for the year has been to keep ingredients on hand for my fastest, easiest meals and make them as needed. I know many of you are very busy as well, so I thought I'd share a few ideas! 

Note: We make these all gluten-free, dairy-free, and (I think) soy-free, but you can obviously add these ingredients back in if you wish. 

1. Hamburger Soup 

Hamburger Soup


My husband's stomach doesn't do well with too many grains, so I've started making this in place of spaghetti when I have a few pounds of ground beef handy. Slightly altered from this recipe, I usually double the amount below, because my family of seven eats slightly more than one recipe. (Leftovers FTW!) 


  • 1 lb. ground beef 
  • 1 medium onion, diced 
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 2-3 medium potatoes, diced 
  • 3½ cups broth (preferably beef) 
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, with juice 
  • ¾ c. ketchup 
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning 
  • 1 tsp. dried basil 
  • 1-2 bay leaves 
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste 
  • pepper to taste 
  • 3 cups mixed frozen veggies 


Brown beef together with onion and garlic in a large pot. Drain the fat. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until potatoes are tender. 

2. Homemade Fried Rice 

Homemade Fried Rice


This recipe works best with leftover (or earlier-cooked) rice, but most often I start my rice along with the rest. It is also easiest with leftover meat; I like to cook an extra chicken roaster or a turkey on occasion and save the leftover meat in small bags in the freezer. Otherwise, I use chicken thighs chopped into bite-size pieces. Again, I typically double this (usually allowing leftovers). 


  • 3-4 cups cooked white rice (I like Jasmine rice.) 
  • 1 lb. cooked meat (We prefer chicken or turkey.) 
  • 1 small onion, diced 
  • 2 Tbs. sesame oil (You can substitute another oil, but this adds a lovely Asian flavor!) 
  • 1 20-oz. bag frozen stir fry vegetables (~5 c.; use whatever veggies you like) 
  • 4-5 eggs + salt to taste 
  • several Tbs. soy sauce or coconut aminos, to taste 


In a large sauté pan, heat (or cook) the meat in the oil along with the onion. Add frozen veggies and sauté until heated through. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, scramble the eggs in a little oil or butter. Add rice to the veggie / meat mix; stir a bit. Add eggs (breaking into bite-size pieces) and soy sauce / aminos; stir thoroughly. (FYI, soy sauce has a much stronger and saltier flavor than coconut aminos, so where I might use several ounces of aminos, you might only need a few tablespoons of soy sauce to achieve the same flavor. If this results in rice that seems too dry, you can add a little water or broth.) Keep sautéing over medium heat until heated through (not long!). 

3. Sausages & Rice 

This is more of an idea than a recipe. Cook several Italian sausages or bratwursts in the oven (following package directions); serve with rice. My kids eat broccoli on the side, and my husband and I like to add sautéed onion and sweet peppers. 

4. Egg Muffins 

Egg Muffins


Also a great breakfast, but we usually eat these mini egg casseroles for dinner. The meat and veggie ingredients can easily be swapped out based on your tastes and available ingredients, but these are the ones we use most often.

If you end up making these as often as we do, it will absolutely be worth your while to invest in a silicone muffin mold or two. I never grease the cups, but the muffins come out smoothly every time! Tip: Place on a cookie sheet to keep the mold steady during filling and baking. 


  • 1 lb. ground sausage 
  • 1 small onion 
  • 1½ to 2 c. cheese (we use a bag of this dairy-free cheese substitute
  • 4 c. frozen shredded potato 
  • 12 eggs 
  • optional: a few spices to taste (sage, paprika, Italian seasoning, etc.) 


Brown the sausage along with the onion and any additional spices. When this is finished, combine with cheese and potato in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Scoop about 1/3 c. of this mixture into each cup. (You can fill the cups about to the top in my experience, but the muffins do expand a little, so don't overfill.) Cook at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until firm. 

Makes 2 dozen muffins. 

5. Shakes & Popcorn 


This is my ultimate lazy meal, especially since my husband usually makes it! This is just fruit smoothies and popcorn, a lighter meal perfect for times when you had a late lunch or dinner got pushed too close to bedtime. For the smoothies, we frequently buy extra bananas, allow them to ripen (not quite to banana-bread-making state, but close), and store them in the freezer for later. We often pick strawberries in the spring and freeze these as well, and we buy frozen blueberries. Whatever you use, add a combo of fruits to the blender, majoring on bananas and placing smaller fruits closer to the bottom of the blender. Add milk (we use rice or almond milk) to cover, plus a little extra. Blend, adding more milk or fruit as needed until your desired consistency. Make the popcorn as you usually would! 

Since we eat this meal so often, we've invested in a good-quality blender (similar to this one) and a popcorn maker (similar to this one), though we occasionally use microwave popcorn. 

Well, I've run out of room for more of my favorites (maybe I’ll create a Part 2?), but this covers the five ideas I use most frequently. Hope you enjoy! 


Photo credit: iStock, following images courtesy of author.