Random Acts of Dinner: “Out of Thin Air” Meal Ideas for Crazy-Busy Days


woman, mother, girl, daughter, cooking, kitchenWe know that it can be easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to feeding our families. When you are contending with picky eaters, time constraints, and sleep deprivation, meal planning and food prep can often feel overwhelming. The BVTMB team along with our sponsor, Healthy Living, is here to provide some fresh perspective and inspiration in the kitchen! From meal ideas to how to feed those picky eaters, we are excited to talk about all things food these next few weeks in our “Growing Up Gourmet, Beyond the PB&J” series.



Random Acts of Dinner: “Out of Thin Air” Meal Ideas for Crazy Busy Days

We’ve all been there. It’s dinner time and you’ve got nothin’.

As the Mama of 20 month-old twins who works full-time outside the home, I find myself here regularly. There is only so much planning ahead I can squeeze in and frankly, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to cook something elaborate even if I had a plan. I find myself needing quick, reasonably palatable meals I can whip up out of thin air that won’t land me in the clink for child neglect.

Random pantry staples = Random Acts of Dinner

All parents get busy, and we can all use a few new ideas for simple, nutritious meals that can be thrown together easily from stuff we already have in our pantries.

Here are my top “Out of Thin Air” meals:

1. “Commuter” Mac-and-Cheese

I added the tomatoes because VEGETABLES.

This is a huge hit on the toddler circuit, and I can make it with my eyes closed. Boil some water, cook up whatever pasta you have kicking around. Strain, stir in a little olive oil, and then a bunch of shredded mozzarella, parmesan, or whatever you got. I’ve made this with cheddar several times when I was out of mozzerella. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper to taste. The cheese will melt from the heat of the pasta, making it a yummy cheater’s Mac N Cheese. I serve with veggies, and sometimes stir in some cherry tomatoes or broccoli, depending on what’s around.

Bam, mom dinner victory in 20 minutes.

2. Kitchen Sink Chili

Another family favorite, this is literally the easiest thing you can possibly cook: pour every can of beans you can find in a pot with a can or two of diced tomatoes. Kidney, black, garbanzo, navy? Perfect. Add a can of corn if you have it, but hey, no sweat if you don’t. Got a wilting bell pepper, some carrots, 1⁄2 and onion in the fridge? Sweet, toss ‘em in. Heat on medium for 20 minutes. Add a dash or so of cayenne or chili powder. Whatever. Who cares. Serve with that half bag of tortilla chips in the pantry.

3. English Muffin Pizzas

Happy kid nom-nom-noming on his EMP

I had forgotten about the EMPs of my childhood until we moved back to Vermont last year and my dad busted them out one night. YUM! This is one of those quick, universally-loved meals that can be dressed up for adult palates really easily. Dust a bunch of English muffin halves with olive oil and lay out on a pizza pan. Splash some pre-made spaghetti sauce on them and then top with shredded mozzarella. I sprinkle some basil, oregano and rosemary on top, and then throw some cut broccoli, peppers, or tomatoes on if we have it. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. You will then become famous and revered in the family.

4. Westerns/ Easterns

These were in regular rotation in my childhood, and I realize now it’s because there was nothing in the house but eggs and bread that day. Kids love an egg sandwich, and I love the fact that they are getting a massive dose of protein. Throw some bread in the toaster, scramble up a few eggs, and add some diced onion and peppers if your kids will eat them. Cook in a frying pan on medium heat like you are making an omelet—heck, you can even add cheese if you want. Throw the “omelet” on the toast, season with fresh tomato if you have it and/or ketchup if you’re old school. Serve to delighted crowd.

Those are my top empty-fridge meals. Your turn—I need ideas! What “Out of Thin Air” recipes do you have up your sleeve?

woman, mother, girl, daughter, cooking, kitchen

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Shauna is a native of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and Middlebury College grad who relocated back to VT in 2013 after more than a decade in Seattle, WA, where she came to appreciate good Pho, Orca Whales and the magic of a long ferry ride. Shauna and her wife, Ang, are a proud 2-mom family with their toddler boy/girl twins. Shauna is a clinical social worker who worked as Child & Family Therapist, parent educator, trainer and consultant for over a decade before being dramatically humbled by her own pregnancy and parenting adventures. She currently works full-time outside the home as a mental health program administrator and full-time in the home chasing diaper escapees and reading "Goodnight Moon." She and Ang are thrilled to be raising their family back home in the Green Mountains where they expect the twins to get really, really good at hockey.


  1. […] So I sat down and got to work. First I had to decide on the nightly themes!! This part seemed fun! I tried not to get too bogged down in specifics but allowed some flexibility each night. For example, even though it’s called “Taco Tuesday” we might eat any Mexican inspired dish that night! Also be flexible if the night doesn’t go as planned and have some recipes for those super busy nights! […]

  2. Love this post! I’m always out of ideas on what to feed my picky 2 year old. Mac n cheese are her favs so I love your quick and easy recipe!

  3. These are great!! English muffin pizzas are a hit at our house too (also, tortilla shell, bagel, and pita-bread pizzas — ha!) Can’t wait to try the kitchen sink chili! 🙂


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