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Dinner on the Go - Quick Meals for Supper When You Don't Have Time to Cook

Updated on March 4, 2013

Eating healthy sounds so easy in theory. A few hours, a list of strange ingredients, and a table full of children waiting to try something new.

Does that even exist in real life? Not in my world. More often than not, I'm trying to figure out how to cram dinner in between sports, acting, and taxi rides to and from various activities. McDonald's seems like such an easy alternative.

Until you watch Food Inc. Maybe you aren't a health nut, but you want to have a few ideas in your pocket for meals on the go. How do you give your kids a healthy dinner when you are busy doing a thousand other things?

Here are some ideas.

A little preparation goes a long way

If you have a bit of time for planning, you can easily get dinners ready for on-the-go consumption. First things first - you need some good containers.

Start with an insulated thermos. You'll need one for drinks and one for keeping food hot (or cold). I love the thermos ones for kids' drinks. They are stainless steel and keep water cold for 8 hours in the baking hot sun! Plus, they don't spill when they are knocked over.

To get a thermos heated up, just pour some hot water in it for a few minutes. Then add the warmed food. It should remain hot for several hours.

Get some snapware

In order to have easy on-the-go meals, you'll have to do some cooking ahead of time. The difference between good reheated food and great reheated food? The container. Get the glass or plastic snapware that seals in freshness and keeps air out.

Now you're ready to cook!

Carbs like pastas and rice can be made on a Sunday and stay fresh for several days in the fridge.
Carbs like pastas and rice can be made on a Sunday and stay fresh for several days in the fridge. | Source

A carbohydrate base

Preparing carbohydrates ahead of time saves you a lot of work. Here are some ideas.

Rice is a great carbohydrate to prepare on Sunday and have for at least three or four days. Make a big pot of white rice and store it in a sealed container in the fridge. Rice goes well with any sort of veggies, fish, or meats. It keeps well and doesn't usually get soggy or gross in the microwave.

The same goes for couscous. Plain couscous can be dressed up with sauces, herbs, etc. It takes minutes to prepare and keeps the same way as rice.

Boil some pasta on Sunday and store it as well. To reheat pasta and avoid it drying out, quickly boil a kettle of water and pour it over the cold noodles. Then store in an insulated container. Another way to reheat pasta is to pour hot sauce over it and keep it in the insulated thermos.

Hard boiled eggs will keep for a week in the fridge.
Hard boiled eggs will keep for a week in the fridge. | Source

Add a protein!

When I don't have time to cook a protein, I keep a stash of hard boiled eggs on hand. The kids love hard boiled eggs right out of the shell!

Or you can pick up a rotisserie chicken or some deli meat to roll up and serve with veggies and a carb. If you do have some time, these meats are a snap to prepare and can go with your pre-made carbohydrates.

Chicken tenderloins
I usually buy two packages of these and soak them in Italian dressing. Then I saute them quickly on the stove top. If you don't have much time, keep the marinated chicken in the fridge and only cook the few that you need.

Ground hamburger meat
Believe it or not, if you saute it up in a pan, you can add a couple cans of diced tomatoes and beans. Pour it over the rice and you have a makeshift chili!

Turkey keilbasa
Slice it up and saute it in a pan. Throw it over the rice, couscous, or pasta. Add a can of corn and you have a kid-friendly stir fry.

Shrimp cocktail
Don't have time to cook at all? Run some shrimp underneath a colander with warm water and you have shrimp ready to go. When you throw it into the thermos with the warmed rice, it'll heat it up a bit more.

Canned beans
These are a great source of protein and beef up a stir fry or meal in seconds. Just run under hot hot water when you drain. No cooking needed!

Shrimp cocktail is the easiest most gourmet meat you can come up with in five minutes!
Shrimp cocktail is the easiest most gourmet meat you can come up with in five minutes! | Source
Frozen veggies are as good as fresh!
Frozen veggies are as good as fresh! | Source

Use your veggies

Frozen and canned veggies are your friend. They are just as nutritious (if not more so) than fresh produce! Here is a list of no-fuss veggies you can add to pasta or rice when making your on-the-go dinner.

  1. Canned corn
  2. Frozen peas (just run through hot water)
  3. Diced tomatoes (pour into a pan and heat up for a few minutes - great over pasta with shrimp)
  4. Canned greenbeans
  5. Frozen broccoli

If your kids don't like cooked veggies (which a few of mine don't), I simply buy and chop up fresh produce and store it in the snapware. Whatever I put together to go, I just add a bag of fresh cut veggies to the meal to round it off!

Quick meal maker

Ground Hamburger
Canned Corn and Kidney Beans
Diced Canned Tomatoes
Rotisserie or Sauteed Chicken
Frozen Peas (run under hot water)
Add a dash of chicken stock to mix it all up
Shrimp Cocktail thawed
Frozen broccoli (run under hot water)
Diced Canned Tomatoes
Turkey Keilbasa
Frozen Red Pepper (run under hot water)
Pineapple Chunks in Their Juice
Fruit is an easy kid-friendly substitute if you can't squeeze in a veggie.
Fruit is an easy kid-friendly substitute if you can't squeeze in a veggie. | Source


When you're really in a pinch, fruit can substitute for veggies. Here are some ideas for fruit-themed dinners on the go.

  1. Roll up ham and American cheese. Serve with a side of canned pineapple chunks, a hard boiled egg, and some whole wheat crackers.
  2. Serve some store-bought fried chicken...cold. Then add a cup of cooked pasta with some Italian dressing (like a simple pasta salad) along with a bowl full of blueberries.
  3. Roll up salami and cut up some cheddar cheese. Serve with grapes and whole wheat crackers.

Trail mix possibilities are endless. This is one with dried fruit.
Trail mix possibilities are endless. This is one with dried fruit. | Source

When dinner is impossible...

Homemade snacks are better than fast food...always. You may feel guilty giving your child popcorn or trail mix for dinner, but there is more nutritional value in what you can make up at home then in a box of french fries.

Here are my last-minute "snacky" dinner survival ideas.

  • Trail mix - pretzels, peanuts, M&M's, raisins
  • Popcorn sprinkled with cheddar cheese
  • Peanut butter on Ritz crackers
  • Yogurt and granola
  • A bowl of cereal (pour the milk in the thermos and keep the bag of dry cereal with a spoon)
  • Berry fruit salad with cool whip and some wafers
  • Deli roll ups

Don't get stuck in a rut

Dinner doesn't mean nice dishware and filet mignon. It's just another meal - like breakfast and lunch. Don't be afraid to switch it up if your schedule is busy. Make breakfast your big meal and dinner a small one.

Think outside the box and you'll be one less french fry healthier at the end of the year!


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    • bizna profile image


      6 years ago from NAIROBI - KENYA

      Very good tips, these make life quite easy in these times where we have so much to do. Voted up.

    • torrilynn profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Julie,

      thanks for this hub and very interesting ideas that are quick

      and can really help when you are in a rush. thanks again.

      Voted up

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 

      6 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Very useful, and interesting hub! A lot of interesting ideas. Like the menu planner.

      Amazing what you can do by organising your week!

    • catgypsy profile image


      6 years ago from the South

      Really simple, terrific list Julie. I really like that you mentioned that dinner is just another meal and doesn't have to be a traditional dinner. We get stuck on the idea of what we should eat at which meal...I sometimes have breakfast for dinner. Nice hub!

    • truthfornow profile image

      Marie Hurt 

      6 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      Easy and quick ideas. I had to stop watching Food Inc. myself, it was too much. Best to eat hormone free meat and food that is organic. Great ideas for making your own fast foods. Voted up and useful.

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 

      6 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      Nice to find the fast methods. Great ideas!

      I always enjoy your hubs.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very informative hub and I learn much from you related with quick meals. I'll show this hub to my mom. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!


    • Natashalh profile image


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      I work full time and am taking a double load of grad classes so little time for cooking is a fact of my life! I love cooking, though, and never eat fast food, so sometimes it's challenging for me. Thanks for the tips!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow, Julie. These are impressive. But if I can't get food into my mouth in 4 minutes, I usually don't bother trying to cook it.

      So, in Hawaii there's always rice in a pot on the stove or in the electric rice cooker on the counter. So meals I make myself usually only call for a can opener, a microwave-safe bowl, and a spoon.

      And a microwave.

      Canned chili and rice.

      Leftover beef stew and rice.

      Campbell's chicken noodle soup and rice.

      Leftover hamburger curry and rice.

      Peanut butter and rice.

      Canned pork and beans and rice.

      Something-something-else and rice.

      Yeah, I'm a real gourmet =)

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I love the wide range of practical solutions here! Thanks for putting together this great resource.

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Well said, indeed.

      Gotta switch meals around sometimes. Makes life easy.

      I try to have protein in lunch/dinner cause being a vegetarian that helps us get satiety.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      6 years ago from Iowa

      Great tips. I will share this on my Healthy Food Examiner Facebook page.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Wow! Awesome ideas here for quick healthy meals for dinner. So good to know more on such kind of meals, often standing for long hours by the stove can make you even more tired.

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 

      6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Julie, this couldn't have come at a better time! Thank you so much! Loved everything here, and I too am a huge fan of frozen veggies. I love the idea of cooking in batches on Sundays. I used to do this when I had an office job, but now that I have time at home I don't need to. But who knows, maybe things will pick up so much that I'll need to. Here's hoping! Great hub full of awesome info. Am sharing across.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Totally pinned this one and seriously Julie great resource for those nights when you just have to do your best!!


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