You probably already know that the biggest component of budgeting is being able to stick to a meal plan. One of the best ways to do that is to keep a few back up meals on hand. That’s why we teach those steps in order (starting with foundation) in Hot Mess to Home Success.
And while there’s a lot of different steps involved in being able to stick to a grocery budget in any situation, one of the biggest pieces of that puzzle is back up meals (also called pantry meals).
A back up meal is something you can make at home with less effort than it would take to call for take-out or to go through a drive-thru.
It shouldn’t need a recipe (because on a bad day, that’s overwhelming) and the ingredients must be able to be stored for a few weeks in either your pantry or your freezer until you need them.
In the beginning, you’ll end up needing your back up meal ALL THE TIME.
Update: 9/21 Hate meal planning? And wish you had a giant list of easy suggestions (like tacos, spaghetti, quesadilla’s, chicken salad sandwiches etc.) and not complicated recipes? So did I. So I spent several weeks creating a master list of cheap and easy dinner ideas. And you know what? It completely revolutionized meal planning for us.
These ideas are field-tested by hundreds of thousands of our readers and are guaranteed to help even the most overwhelmed mom stick to a meal plan.
And we’re giving it to you 100% free right now…
Like several times a week as you get overwhelmed or underestimate how busy your days will be. After a few months, you’ll likely begin to use your back up meal once every other week or so as life happens unexpectedly.
What most people don’t understand though, is that there are levels of back up meals. If you suck at cooking and eat fast food 5x a week, your back up meals will be drastically different than someone who roasts chicken and makes Creme Brulee for dessert on the weekends.
This matters because if you’re looking for back up meal ideas and all you see are things like “bake an extra lasagna to keep in the fridge!” (Um thanks, they realize that takes an hour and a half to cook from frozen right?).
Or, “I keep kale smoothie packs in the freezer, a quick blend and we have a healthy, delicious dinner” (No. Just no. I’m ordering pizza.) With ideas like that, you can feel like this will never work for you.
Hint: In order for this to work with your unique personality you MUST want to eat your back up meal as much as you want to eat the fast food or pizza that’s your other option. Otherwise, the overwhelmed exhausted you will always choose what you want the most in that moment.
Which I promise you won’t be kale smoothies. 🤮
Here are examples from our own students who tackled back up meals within the level they were at…
Beginner Back Up Meals
Back up meals save you from the drive-through or pizza delivery when life doesn’t go as planned. It’s a shelf or freezer stable meal that can hang out for a long period of time until you need it.
It should be something that you LOVE the idea of, that sounds appealing to you and that you can throw together super quickly.
Great back up meals will depend on your personal taste and what you’re used to eating. We have one reader who loves her easy back up meal of canned Chef Boyardee ravioli, while we prefer to grill burgers in bulk and freeze them already cooked with the buns frozen separately. When we need a back up meal, I microwave them, throw onion rings in the air fryer and we have cowboy burgers with bbq sauce.
*Since literally all of these are pre-packaged cooked convenience foods, I felt like I needed to make this into a post so you can see the photos of the products and not get confused and think I’m suggesting that you make a chicken taquitos recipe.
- Canned ravioli with canned veggies.
- Chicken nuggets or tenders with a bag of steamed veggies.
- Chicken taquitos with salsa, a can of pinto beans, and corn.
- Refrigerated cooked pulled pork or pulled chicken (in the deli meat aisle) with a container of pre-cooked mashed potatoes. These last quite a long time but look at the expiration dates on the package, you want this to last a few weeks).
- Grilled cheese or cheese quesadilla’s (you can also add ham to the grilled cheese or frozen pre-cooked grilled chicken to the quesadilla’s).
- Frozen pre-cooked pizza (I adore Aldi’s for this, $5 Momma Cozzi’s Pizza’s are the bomb!)
- Eggs and milk and cereal.
- Pre-cooked frozen pancakes or waffles with eggs and precooked sausage.
- Frozen burritos with beans and corn.
- TV dinners.
- Frozen Asian stir fry (just heat and eat).
- Chicken patty sandwiches with steamed veggies.
- Precooked refrigerated macaroni and cheese. (These last quite a long time if you look at the expiration date on the package)
I could go on with this list for pages because there are so many pre-cooked convenience foods now. Let me know if you want me to expand this in the post.
These are usually pre-cooked convenience foods that you put a little more effort in and doctor up to be fancier. These also include convenience foods that require a little more effort than heat and eat.
Level up as you have more cooking experience and better time margins (which means more time that you control).
- Spaghetti and frozen meatballs with pasta sauce and parmesan cheese.
- Chicken parm with pasta, garlic, oil, and steamed broccoli. (Precooked frozen breaded chicken cutlets with added pasta sauce and mozzarella).
- Precooked frozen chicken with penne pasta, pesto, broccoli, and peas (all mixed up in one pot).
- Kraft macaroni and cheese
- Meatball subs (freeze the sub rolls for up to a month) then bake them to warm them up for crispy outsides and soft insides.
- Pre-cooked burgers or turkey burgers (freeze the buns for a month with the burgers and warm them in the oven for crispy on the outside soft on the inside rolls). Consider adding cheddar cheese, bbq sauce, and air-fried onion rings for cowboy burgers.
- Pre-cooked frozen lasagna (I cut these into squares and freeze them as servings so you can easily microwave them to eat).
- 15 minute chili omit the onions or used minced onions (the spice) if you don’t have fresh.
- Pulled pork nachos using frozen pulled pork (aka the pork in the crockpot and freezer sections).
- Pulled pork sandwiches using your frozen pulled pork.
- Making and freezing your own breaded chicken cutlets to eat later.
- Make ahead then frozen sloppy joes (freeze with buns and warm in the oven).
For an even fancier selection when you graduate to the advanced stages, there are some really great healthy options here…
P.S. Don’t forget: If you want easy meal ideas (not just back up meals) I created the Ultimate Cheap and Easy Meal Ideas that you can get for free here.