Are you a fan of no-recipe meals? We sure are! So today, we're sharing 25 dinner ideas that are cheap, easy, and don't even need a recipe!
We almost always cook without a recipe. When we're planning meals, we think it's easier to look in the fridge, pull out everything we need to use up, and make something out of it. If that's your style, too, you need to check out our sister site, Shelf Cooking!
*Note: When you click the links in this post, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Not only do we love using up what we have, but we especially love a good dump-and-go slow cooker meal. But now and then, we need some inspiration, and we bet you do, too! So, we sat down and brainstormed 25 dinner ideas that are super delicious, cheap, and easy to make. When we say easy, we mean no recipe needed! Ready to do this?!
WHY WE LOVE THESE 25 DINNER IDEAS
Many people assume that because we have a whole blog devoted to cooking, we make home-cooked meals from scratch every day. If you have time to do that, then more power to you! But for us, no-recipe, quick and easy dinners are a lifesaver. Here are the top three reasons why we love these no-recipe dinner ideas:
- Easy to Adapt by Dietary Preference – These meal ideas include some processed foods, but you can easily adapt them to fit whatever diet you follow!
- Plenty of Variety – We get bored eating chicken every single night, so we've included a good variety of seafood/chicken/pork/meat, and a veggie, carb, and protein in each meal idea. For meals where no veggie is incorporated, we usually serve some cut-up raw vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, a simple side salad, steamed veggies, or some rice or potatoes.
- We've Got Slow Cooker Options – Our favorite thing to do on a super busy day is toss dinner in the crockpot in the morning and then forget about it. There's nothing better than coming home to a hot and ready meal after a chaotic day!
In general, we rely on shortcuts a lot when it comes to weeknight meals, but we also make food at home whenever possible because it's SO much cheaper than grabbing takeout all the time. Now, are you ready to get to those recipes?! Here we go!
25 DINNER IDEAS THAT ARE SO EASY YOU WON'T EVEN NEED A RECIPE
First things first, we'll start with 20 of our favorite quick and easy dinners in no particular order! Psst…make sure you read until the end because we saved the crockpot dinner ideas for last.
DELICIOUS AND EASY SANDWICH DINNER IDEAS
- Sloppy Joes – Just brown some ground beef or turkey, add the sauce, and dinner's ready! Serve on yummy rolls with cut-up veggies or a salad.
- Seafood Burgers – We love the mahi-mahi burgers from Trader Joe's. But even if you don't have a Trader Joe's in your area, you should find similar seafood burgers in your grocery store's frozen fish aisle. Serve on leftover hamburger buns piled high with lettuce and tomato.
- Caprese Paninis – You don't need a panini maker for these. Toast some sliced ciabatta bread or rolls in the oven. Spread with pesto, sliced tomato, a slice of fresh mozzarella, and some fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper.
- Grilled Ham & Cheese – This is a perfect easy dinner, especially on chilly nights. Just heat your favorite tomato soup and make a grilled ham and cheese using any cheese and bread combination you like.
- Greek Pitas – Start with some good, soft pita bread. Warm it up, spread with your favorite hummus, and fill it with cooked chicken, sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, lettuce, and red onion. Top with some tzatziki (which can usually be found in the hummus aisle of the store) or a little Greek yogurt.
Yum! We're hungry already. Moving right along, let's talk about salads next.
NO-RECIPE SALAD DINNER IDEAS
If you think salads are for rabbits, you haven't tasted one of these! Don't worry; these are super filling and filled with bold flavors! We actually crave these, and you'll have dinner on the table in no time if you serve up one of these simple entree salads:
- Buffalo Chicken Tender Salad – Bake your favorite brand of frozen chicken tenders, and when they're almost done cooking, spread with your favorite hot sauce or BBQ sauce. Return to the oven for a few minutes until the sauce has soaked in, and the chicken tenders are crisp. Cut up the chicken and toss with your favorite salad mix and ranch dressing.
- Steak & French Fry Salad – This is a great way to stretch a good piece of steak and make it into a lighter meal! Cook or grill a lean steak and slice it into thin strips. Bake some frozen fries. Serve the sliced steak & fries over a big salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, drizzled with your favorite dressing and a little cheese.
- Italian Chopped Salad – Chop up some romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and salami. Toss with shredded mozzarella, a drained can of garbanzo beans, and your favorite Italian dressing.
See? Salads can be delicious with the right mix of toppings! Give these a try and see what you think.
NO-RECIPE PASTA DINNER IDEAS
Pasta, anyone? We love how cheap, easy, and filling pasta night can be, and these recipes are anything but boring:
- Pesto Pasta with Chicken & Green Beans – Just grill or saute some boneless/skinless chicken breast that's been pounded thin and seasoned with salt and pepper. Slice the cooked chicken into strips and toss with cooked pasta that's been combined with your favorite pesto. We like to toss in some lightly steamed green beans because they go well with pesto, but you could add any veggie of your choice.
- Ravioli with Lemon-Garlic Spinach – Cook your favorite ravioli according to package instructions. In a skillet, saute a package of fresh baby spinach until wilted with a little olive oil, chopped garlic, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice. Top the spinach with the cooked ravioli and drizzle a little olive oil and salt over the top.
- Doctored Up Pasta Salad – This one is EASY. Take a box of pasta salad that comes with seasonings and prepare according to the package instructions. Toss in some shredded chicken or tuna and some extra veggies if you'd like, and dinner is served.
- Traditional Pasta with Meat Sauce – Sometimes we use chicken sausage, sometimes we use meatballs, and sometimes we brown some ground beef or turkey and add it to a jarred marinara. If you have frozen spinach on hand, toss some into the sauce for a boost of green.
That's Amore! We love to do pasta night once a week. If you do, too, you just got a whole month's worth of ideas. Score!
EASY MEATY DINNER IDEAS
If you're a meat and potatoes kind of fam or looking for quick high-protein dinner options, try one of these:
- Stuffed Baked Potatoes – This can be a great meatless option or a way to use up leftovers. Cook a russet potato in the oven or microwave until tender. Scoop out some of the center, spread with a little butter, and fill with your favorite cooked veggies and/or leftover cooked meat if you have some to use up. Top with your favorite cheese and bake or broil until cheese is melted.
- Ham Steaks with Roasted Cauliflower – Ham steaks are great because kids usually love them, and they come pre-cooked, so all you need to do is heat them on a stove until the meat begins to brown a bit on the outside. Serve them with some cauliflower that's been roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and salt.
- Smoked Salmon, Egg, & Hash Brown Scramble – There are tons of different ways to serve breakfast for dinner, including this one! Cook some frozen hash browns or tater tots, scramble some eggs and combine them in a bowl with some sliced smoked salmon.
- Kale, White Beans, & Sausage – Saute your favorite sliced sausage in a pan until browned. Add some drained white beans, chopped kale, and some chicken broth. Cook until kale is wilted. If you want to add a little chopped garlic or lemon juice, that won't hurt. Serve with bread to soak up the juice.
- Mesquite Chicken or Salmon with Corn – Toss chicken or salmon in a little olive oil combined with mesquite seasoning and cook using the method of your choice. Serve with some steamed frozen corn or boiled corn on the cob.
Anyone else craving corn on the cob now?! Time for a few more recipes. Let's taco about it!
TACOS OR PIZZA, ANYONE? YOU'LL LOVE THESE EASY DINNER IDEAS!
Okay, before we get to the slow cooker ideas, we have three more crowd-pleasing options to share:
- Tacos – If you haven't already adopted Taco Tuesday (or another day of the week) at your house, we highly recommend it! You can mix things up using different meats, beans, shells, and toppings, but regular old ground beef + taco seasoning + diced tomatoes + lettuce + shredded cheese + hard shells is always a favorite. Try fish tacos sometime, too. Just cook your fish with a little taco seasoning and open a bag of slaw or shred some cabbage to go on top. Squeeze a little fresh lime juice on top for an extra touch!
- Naan Pizza – Consider this the grown-up version of the English muffin pizzas you ate as a kid! Keep some naan stored in your freezer and some pizza sauce in your pantry. When it comes to toppings, there are no rules. It's a great way to use up leftover meats, cheese, and veggies in your freezer.
- Quesadillas – Make them with leftover rotisserie chicken or any meat you need to use up—top one half of a tortilla with chicken, diced tomatoes or salsa, and cheddar cheese. Fold and saute in some oil until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is starting to brown. If you want to boost the veggie factor, consider adding some cooked broccoli, onion, or bell peppers.
You can't go wrong with any of these. But now, to round out our list of 25 dinner ideas, let's get to those slow cooker recipes we promised. Spoiler alert: they're all good!
THE GRAND FINALE OF OUR 25 DINNER IDEAS: 5 NO-RECIPE SLOW COOKER OPTIONS
Alright, it's time for the grand finale! These dinner ideas aren't just recipe-free, but they practically cook themselves. Here are five of our go-to crockpot meals for busy nights:
- Slow Cooker Burrito Bowls – There are some great pre-made simmer sauces out there to use when cooking pork or chicken in a slow cooker. After the meat is done cooking, serve it over rice, heated canned beans (pinto or black), shredded cheese, and the toppings of your choice.
- Slow Cooker Ham, Green Beans, and Potatoes – Buy ham hocks, green beans, and potatoes and put them into a crockpot with water. The salty deliciousness of the ham flavors all of the other ingredients and turns the water into a yummy broth.
- Crockpot Salsa Chicken – This just might be the easiest of all 25 dinner ideas! Drop a few chicken breasts in the crockpot, cover with salsa and a packet of taco seasoning and cook over low heat for 6-8 hours or on high heat for 4 hours. Serve shredded over rice or whole with beans and corn on the side.
- Italian Cream Cheese Chicken – Drop a few chicken breasts in the slow cooker with a packet of Italian dressing mix and a block of cream cheese. Shred and serve over rice with a side of corn. So tasty!
- Slow Cooker Sausage & Peppers – You can always use fresh sliced peppers, but if you want to save even more time, most grocery stores sell a bag of mixed frozen bell peppers. Just toss the peppers in the crockpot and place the sausage on top. Serve “as is” in a roll or over pasta or rice.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE NO-RECIPE DINNERS?
Hopefully you've found at least a few things on this list that your family will enjoy, and that will help make your weeknight dinners a little easier.
What are your “no-recipe” favorites? Share with us in the comments below!
By the way, don't forget to check out ShelfCooking.com! Our site is dedicated to helping you cook delicious, homemade, down-home-cooked meals for your family without spending too much time in the kitchen! Basically every parent's dream, right? Join our Shelf Cooking Community today!
Looking for more easy meal ideas?
- Try these homemade dinner rolls!
- These make-ahead freezer breakfasts will make your life so much easier.
- This foolproof 10-minute mini quiche recipe is a must-try!