The holidays can be crazy. Here are 10 simple, real food dishes you can make in a few minutes or ahead of time so you can enjoy family and keep it simple.


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Right now, we are 2 weeks past Thanksgiving, and I can’t remember the last time I made dinner.

I know we’ve had dinner. There was like, a big meal with a turkey and sweet potatoes or something at some point.

But the last two weeks have involved a lot of traveling, full days, and late nights. It’s all glorious, rich family time and fun things. But it’s busy, and we have to simplify.

I’m the queen of saying no to extra activities. We like to keep life simple even in the busiest seasons. When outside commitments speed up, our family nucleus slows down.

We stay home more evenings. We put a hold on sports and make a couple play dates with friends. We keep meal prep to a minimum.

But we still want to eat healthy. When life gets stressful, and the cold and flu season rolls in, health is important.

One way we guard it is with real food. Very simple real food.

Real Food for Busy Seasons

Here are the recipes we rely on during these seasons. When the holidays keep our focus elsewhere – as they should – we use them. When traveling prevents us from planning ahead of time, this is what we eat.

All of these recipes either take 10 minutes to throw together or can be made ahead of time and reheated. This keeps our schedule flexible and dinner time prep minimal. Leftovers keep well, and you can use them for multiple meals over a couple days.

BONUS: Most of them are gluten-free or even dairy-free (most recipes that call for dairy include dairy-free options in the notes!)

Cumin beans & cornbread topped with sautéed cabbage

Cumin Beans & Rice

Learn to cook dry beans with this 5-minute recipe that is gluten-free and taught my family to love a bowl of beans. Cumin beans are to make on the stove top, in the slow cooker, or with your Instant Pot, you can feed 6 people real food for around $3 and 5 minutes of work.

We make a pot of these at the beginning of the week then use leftovers for burrito bowls, dip, chili, etc.

chicken, yellow rice, and veggies

Chicken or Beef + Veggie + Starch

This is a meal I go into more detail about in my cookbook, Dinner for a Dollar. It’s one of our favorite simple meals. Make parts of it ahead of time, then heat them up in different variations so it’s a different meal but the same basic elements.

We use either The Only Chicken You Need to Make or The Only Beef You Need to Make. Pair it with either steamed frozen veggies or a salad (Casaer or Autumn Spring Mix are some favorites). Then choose your starch. I usually make either a pot of Mediterranean Yellow Rice, a loaf of Easiest Bread, or a batch of Deeply Flavorful Baked Sweet Potatoes (so good you don’t need any added flavor boosters – like butter or brown sugar!)

broccoli with noodles

Parmesan Broccoli & Noodles

This quick, frugal dinner is loaded with the good stuff – vegetables, pasta, chicken (or steak!) – and you can use 1 chicken breast to feed up to 6 people. A simple one-pot meal with gluten-free and dairy-free options. Only takes a few minutes to toss together.


Snacky Meal

Honestly, we eat this so often it’s embarrassing. Our kids are still young, and this meal still flies. It basically entails some kind of protein (make-ahead chicken, make-ahead beef, or even Greek yogurt or sliced cheese!), raw veggies (mostly carrots and celery in the winter), and some kind of starch I made ahead of time (Mediterranean Rice, Deeply Flavorful Sweet Potatoes, Easiest Bread Ever, Perfect Crispy Baked Home Fries, tortilla chips crackers, popcorn – seriously, whatever!).

This is a great way to use random leftovers. If you followed our Real Food Cheap meals on Instagram and Facebook Stories, you saw a lot of variations of this meal.

spring mix salad pin

Autumn Spring Mix Salad

Keep the ingredients on hand for a salad that’s easy to throw together. Add make ahead chicken (and maybe a sweet potato) to make it a meal!

hamburger veggie soup pin

Hamburger Soup

If you’re a frugal cook, you need a Hamburger Vegetable Soup recipe. Easy to adapt to any eating-style: vegetarian, paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, dairy-free. And it’s loaded with inexpensive but flavorful ingredients. Instant Pot, Slow Cooker, Stovetop, and Freezer instructions included!

We make a big pot of this and use it for lunches all week. Serve with salad, bread, biscuits, or muffins.

Simple, inexpensive tomato soup ready in 10 minutes and full of real food ingredients you can find at any store. Dairy-free version too! From

10-Minute Tomato Soup

Simple, inexpensive tomato soup ready in 10 minutes and full of real food ingredients you can find at any store. Dairy-free version too!

5-Minute Egg & Cheese Muffins - These easy, frugal "muffins" are protein-packed, gluten-free, Make-Ahead and Freezer-Friendly. Also - very DELICIOUS.

5-Minute Egg & Cheese Muffins

For a frugal protein source, look at the egg. These muffins are the essence of an easy, homemade, on-the-go breakfast (or lunch or dinner for us). They take about 5 minutes to get in the oven and bake for 20 – just enough time to assemble a veggie and starch on the side.

Simple Baked Oatmeal - from

Simple Baked Oatmeal

For an easy, nutritious, make-ahead breakfast that is allergy-friendly and quick to make, look no more. Enter Simple Baked Oatmeal.

Squash baked oatmeal

Simple Baked Oatmeal with Sneaky Veggies

An easy, one-bowl Baked Oatmeal laced with sneaky veggies (summer squash) for picky eaters and extra breakfast goodness. Naturally-sweetened, gluten-free, dairy-free, oil-free, NO weird ingredients, with an egg-free/vegan variation! Make a big batch, freeze some, and eat it all week.


What You Can Do Now:

What do you cook in the busy seasons?

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