101 Meal Ideas for Busy Families: Simplifying Dinnertime Series Part 2

Do you struggle to come up with weeknight dinner ideas? Here is an epic list of 101 meal ideas for busy families, plus 18 bonus side dish ideas!


In Part 1 of this series I talked about the importance of carefully composing a shopping list based on the sales.  I’ll say it again, when grocery shopping NEVER PAY FULL PRICE FOR ANYTHING! That post had a beautiful meal planning cheatsheet too, where you can create your plan based on which proteins are on sale.  This is the most frugal way to meal plan so to that end I’ve got an epic list of 101 protein based meal ideas! These meal ideas for busy families should help you easily fill in your meal plan cheatsheet in no time, getting you one step closer to simplifying dinnertime!

Do you struggle to come up with weeknight dinner ideas? Here is an epic list of 101 meal ideas for busy families, plus 18 bonus side dish ideas!

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Meal Ideas for Busy Families

Dinnertime is hard.  The last thing you need at the end of a long day is to be staring into your fridge desperately trying to come up with a decent meal while the kiddos climb up your legs and whine.  No thanks.

I’ve got an awesome list + printable cheatsheet of 101 protein based meal ideas so you can easily pick out the week’s meals while you make your shopping list.  Easy peasy.  Step 1: Find which protein is on sale. Step 2: Locate an idea from this list using that protein. Step 3: Fill in your shopping list.  Bam Done.

Some meals are linked to a recipe, but mostly these are just ideas to get you started! And there’s a handy dandy list that you can print off and refer to every week to plan your meals!

If you want to earn extra cash back on your grocery shopping (and who wouldn’t?) use my Checkout 51 link and get a $5 bonus when you upload your first receipt!

Ok, let’s do this!

Ground Meat

This could be beef, pork or chicken.  Get creative and work with what’s available! Recipes don’t always have to be followed to a tee.

  • Meatloaf – with chive mashed potatoes
  • Meatballs & Spaghetti
  • Burgers – there’s little a bajillion variations on a classic burger.  Go nuts.
  • Turkey Chili
  • Hamburger Soup – so hearty and filling!
  • Tourtiere – traditional Canadian meat pie
  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Sheppard’s Pie
  • Lasagna Rolls
  • Cabbage Rolls
  • Taco Salad
  • Stuffed Shells
  • Pizza Soup


Steak, strips, stewing beef or roast.

  • Stew
  • Open Faced Steak Sandwich – with thick cut tomatoes & mozzarella
  • Fajitas
  • Hungarian Goulash
  • Stroganoff
  • Grilled Steak – with roasted red pepper salsa
  • Pot Roast – slow cooked with hearty root veggies
  • Ginger Beef & Brocolli Stir Fry
  • Beef Stifado
  • Tamale Pie
  • Beef & Potato Turnovers
  • French Dip Roast Beef Sandwich


Typically the least expensive of the meats. I seem to struggle making pork taste delicious (unless it’s bacon, lol) but sometimes it’s the only choice. Maybe I just need new recipes!



  • Tortellini Soup
  • Jambalaya
  • Sausage with Gnocchi
  • Sausage & Brocoli Casserole
  • Sausage with Cream Sauce & Noodles
  • Paella
  • Sausage & Sauerkraut

Chicken or Turkey

You can save money by buying cuts of poultry that still have the skin & bones. I find with a little muscle that you can peel off the skins from chicken thighs. And turkey legs are sometimes a good buy. The key is to not be too fussy about the cut of meat and to work within your budget!

  • Chicken Parmesan
  • One Pan Roasted Chicken Dinner
  • Smothered Chicken
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Chicken & Dumplings
  • Chicken Ceasar Salad
  • Chicken Almondine – with green beans
  • Pulled Chicken Pizza
  • Turkey Cutlets with warm cranberry salsa
  • Chicken Fingers – with honey mustard dip
  • Cornflake Chicken
  • Enchiladas
  • Kebabs – with pineapple, red pepper & teriyaki sauce
  • Chinese Chicken Salad
  • Coconut Curry Chicken
  • Thai Turkey Meatballs
  • Chili-Lime Chicken
  • Butter Chicken
  • Ginger Chicken Stir Fry
  • Lemon Chicken Spaghetti
  • Monte Cristo Sandwich
  • Chicken Chow Mein
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu
  • Chicken Alfredo
  • Chicken Cacciatore
  • Gumbo

101 Meal Ideas for Busy Families


Finding good quality fish at a reasonable price can be tricky. I will stock up whenever I find a good sale, like buy 1 get 1 on shrimp. Hearty fish chowder is a good way to use lesser quality/discounted fish, and canned tuna is always a fairly inexpensive option. Who doesn’t love a classic tuna noodle casserole, especially when it’s made with cans of cream of something soup! 🙂

  • Fish Tacos – with white fish or shrimp
  • Salmon Cakes or Burgers
  • Grilled Shrimp Salad
  • Shrimp & Avocado Lettuce Wraps
  • Fish Chowder
  • Crab Cakes – with real or fake crab meat
  • Greek Panzanella Salad with Grilled Shrimp
  • Tuna Nicoise Salad
  • Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • Grilled Maple Salmon


I usually eat 2 scrambled eggs for breakfast, but when we’ve forgotten to take meat out of the freezer then eggs are our go-to to add some protein to our dinners.

    • Omelet
    • Frittata
    • Croque Monsieur
    • Huevos Rancheros
    • Quiche
    • Shakshuka



Meat can get expensive if there aren’t any good sales.  Vegetarian options can also be good for your health, environment and wallet!

  • Veggie Sloppy Joes with Black Beans
  • Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese
  • Spanakopita
  • Caponata Toast
  • Chili
  • Tofu Pad Thai
  • Avocado, Lettuce & Tomato Sandwich
  • Quesadillas – with beans
  • Veggie Calzones
  • Lentil Salad – with asparagus & tomato
  • Corn Chowder
  • White Bean Soup
  • Eggplant Parmesan
  • Veggie Lasagna
  • Pasta Primavera
  • French Onion Soup
  • Mushroom Burgers
  • Curried Cauliflower
  • Spaghetti Squash Bake
  • Veggie Curry


As a bonus I’ve also included 18 ideas for side dishes. It can be hard to find recipes for a complete meal and when put on the spot my only options seem to be plain rice or boiled potatoes. These options are sooo much better!

  • Mango Avocado Salsa
  • Hummus & Pitas
  • Potato Salad
  • Tabbouleh
  • Tomato Soup – with grilled cheese. Classic.
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Soup – ( I love it with coconut milk!)
  • Pasta Salad
  • Jeweled Rice
  • Sweet Potato Fries
  • Guacamole
  • Three Bean Greek Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Tomato Salad – super simple with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Latkes
  • Cheesy Biscuits
  • Cornbread
  • Spinach & Quinoa Salad – with apples & pecans. Yum.
  • Simple Pesto Pasta

I hope this list is a great jumping off point for you to start your weekly meal planning habit!

What are some of your family’s staple meals that you would see added to this list?

ps. Don’t forget to grab your printable list of these 101 meal ideas for busy families plus a price keeper cheatsheet, meal planner and grocery list, all in one free bundle!



  1. By accident came across this. Brilliant! I’ve never thought of meal planning by protein. Thank you so much for this post. Now I’m curious to check out the rest of your site.

    Have a wonderful life!

  2. Hi we want to really start making our own meals. And start saving money ln the long run.as I’ve had it with spending loads of money on food when we can do it our selves.& just buy all the meal prepping containers and foil containers.for us to do it in.and get some nice fresh vegetables and fresh meat.and some nice meal planning meals recipes and we’ll be away with it.just great in my view.and can’t wait to start doing it and also need some recipes though.

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