Do you ever feel like you have no energy at the end of the day to think about cooking dinner? 

You’re not alone – and a capsule grocery list can be a huge lifesaver! 

We’re breaking down what it is, how to create your own, and sharing our free, downloadable capsule grocery list to give you a head start.  

Tune in to learn how to prepare simple, delicious, and healthy meals with ingredients you have on hand.  

here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [2:36] Download your copy of the free Capsule Grocery List to help you stock up your fridge, pantry, and freezer with staples that will create quick, easy, and healthy last minute dinners. 
  • [4:38] Create your own capsule grocery list or modify ours to make it work for you!
  • [11:05] Discover our favorite go-to skillet recipes for when you don’t have energy at the end of the day.
  • [12:52] Listen in for our fallback sheet pan dinner recipes.
  • [14:32] Hear some of our weekly bowl dinner recipes.
  • [15:21] Review our frequent taco dinner recipes.

links mentioned in this episode

Download the Free Capsule Grocery List

25+ Last Minute Dinner Ideas

Dressings & Sauces Recipes

read the transcript

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:01)

You’re listening to The Feel Good Effect. Let’s bring a little ease to weeknight dinners. Shall we? We are talking last minute dinner ideas. Let’s make it happen.

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:14)

Radically simple and ridiculously doable, The Feel Good Effect will help you redefine wellness on your terms. Hi, I’m your host Robyn Conley Downs. And I believe that wellness isn’t about achieving another set of impossible standards, but instead finding what works for you, drawing from cutting-edge science on mindfulness habit, and behavior change. This podcast offers a collection of small mindset shifts that allow for more calm, clarity, and joy in everyday life and allows you to embrace the idea that gentle is the new perfect. I invite you to listen in as we cut through the clutter and find the small shifts that create huge changes in your life. Less striving, more ease. It’s time to feel good.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:03)

Well, Hey, Feel Good fam. I am so glad you’re here. If we haven’t met I’m Robyn and not only am I the host of The Feel Good Effect podcast, author of The Feel Good Effect book, I am also the founder and editor of And at Real Food Whole Life, we believe in helping you create happy habits and giving you healthy recipes so this whole life can feel good, with ease, without over complicating things, without all the stress and overwhelm that can come with trying to add health on top of your very busy responsibility filled life.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:41)

And while I talk a lot about how to capsule meal plan here and how to just take the complication out of meal planning and the benefit of meal planning, I know that there are some nights where you just don’t stick with the plan, or you never had a plan in the first place. And honestly, there’s also some people that meal planning is just not gonna happen. And so instead of feeling bad about that or thinking that you should do something that you’re not really ever going to get to do, there should always be alternatives for you. And if you’re not gonna meal plan, or if you do, and it just, you find yourself on a day that the plan didn’t work out, I always recommend having some last minute dinner ideas at your fingertips, but those back pocket recipes that you can just pull out of your recipe index. You have a bookmark on your phone and you can whip them up with what you have on hand.

Robyn Conley Downs: (02:36)

Now, if you haven’t grabbed our capsule grocery list, it’s definitely the time to do that. It’s free. It’s on the website, And the capsule grocery list is really designed to help you make the most out of last minute dinner, that if you have this list, I’m going actually give you a list of like 25 last minute dinner ideas, plus, you know, ideas to make this your own. But let’s say you go to the website. You, you find one of these last minute recipes. The only way it works is if you have the ingredients on hand and with the capsule grocery list, you will have already done that because you have your fridge and your pantry all set up with ingredients that you’re actually gonna use. So definitely download it. It’s a PDF, it’s organized by, by section of the store and category of foods so you can really streamline that process of shopping. And most importantly, you can get these last minute dinner ideas on the table without running out to the grocery store because that not make for a good last minute dinner. So I have a list for you. And we actually put together a really comprehensive blog post with all the recipes linked for my kind of go-to last minute dinners.

Robyn Conley Downs: (03:51)

But first I wanna talk about how you can create your own back pocket fallback list of recipes, because maybe you don’t jive with like what I, what I make and you don’t wanna use my recipes. This is really about what works for you, with your family, with your own personal preferences, how you like to eat, maybe your cultural background, all of those things are gonna go into creating your own personalized list, right? And including like, how are you following any particular diet right now? Are you eating certain things or not eating certain things? Are there foods that just like really bring you comfort in a sense of, of home that you wanna create put on this list that you create? So that is like the simplest action step that I would tell you to do from this episode. You really don’t need like a step-by-step plan.

Robyn Conley Downs: (04:38)

It’s really very simply to either on pen and paper or on your phone, in a note or on the computer, write down five to 10 to 20 of your, of your fallback dinner ideas. And these might even be ideas that you don’t need a recipe for. I definitely think it, there’s a reason to have like a few on there that don’t require recipe and don’t require any thinking and are for those nights where you just cannot deal and you have no bandwidth. And you’re like, I cannot even with dinner. And then maybe you have some additional meal ideas on there that you might need a recipe for, but there’s something you make all the time that you know, that it’s not gonna be too much effort to make it. Also, if you feed a family that you know, that people will eat, because we don’t wanna ever go through the effort to make something when you’re exhausted and just need something on the table and then no one eat it, no one eats it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (05:35)

So without even using my ideas, that would be my coaching for you is make a list. Um, you can actually ask if you live with other people, roommates, partners, kids that they contribute to that, like, are there favorite dinners that you make or that they make it doesn’t always have to be you doing it either, but someone in your family that cooks what are like the go-tos and make those, write them down on a list and then like put them in your pantry or put them on the back of a cabinet door. So that those nights where you just cannot think another thought that’s already done for you. And then what would be excellent is in you have a grocery list that matches up those fallback dinners, another plug for our capsule grocery list. I’ve already done this for you. So you could just grab that and have it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (06:25)

But if that doesn’t work for you, you can definitely make your own by making your list first and then breaking it down. Like, what are the ingredients for each of your fallback dinners? And then put those on a list that you always make sure you have those ingredients on hand. Preferably these are fridge and pantry staples that have a little bit of a shelf life, you know, whether that’s using frozen vegetables so that, you know, you always have those.

Robyn Conley Downs: (06:50)

When I was putting together this episode, I was actually thinking back to when I first met my partner, my husband, Andrew many years ago, like 20, uh. So I was very young bride. And when we met, I did not know how to cook. It’s really funny now that I’m like the cook and I have an actual food online food magazine and he is the dishwasher. Um, but when we met, I did not know how to cook and it was a mystery to me. And he had like, in his sort of bachelor days at the time when we met, he was in a Ph.D. program. So he’s a full-time student, but he was like a grown adult. At that point, he had a list of like his fallback dinner ideas. There weren’t many, it wasn’t 20, it was probably five. They were dinners he liked to eat. So that’s another think important consideration. When you’re thinking about last minute dinner ideas for your list, do you like to eat it or is it like an aspirational dinner? Because if it’s an aspirational dinner, you’re not gonna wanna do it at the last minute. It has to be something you enjoy. So his last minute dinner ideas, he enjoyed eating. They were pretty fast to prepare.

Robyn Conley Downs: (07:57)

They were honestly pretty nourishing made with real food ingredients and he always knew what to get at the store. So I was amazed and I’m not being like over overdoing it. When I say that I was so impressed that he knew how to make pasta sauce, like Mar marinara, I didn’t know that you could make sauce. I thought it only came in a jar and he showed me how to make that. And I was like, this is the best thing ever. And so we definitely had a lot of, um, homemade marinara with pasta. Like that was once a week, we would have that. And then he would do fajitas with either chicken or fish or, um, we didn’t really have enough money for like steak. So it was mostly like chicken fajitas. That was the second one. The third one was, uh, some kind of stir fry with a protein of veggies, very similar ingredients as well to the fajitas. So he wasn’t like overthinking his grocery list. And then there’s probably one more in there. I know he actually also knew how to make homemade pizza, which is a little more complicated. That’s not a last minute dinner idea by any means, but if you’re using like a store-bought dough, certainly you could whip that together pretty quickly. Um, and it always felt special when we made homemade pizza, but really it was like four or five recipes that he knew how to make. And he had the ingredients on hand. And because of that, we ate really well. We ate really healthy and, um, we didn’t have to be like doing drive-through getting takeout unless we wanted to do that.

Robyn Conley Downs: (09:25)

So it doesn’t have to be complicated. And I think sometimes we just think, oh, well it has to be all these different meals and all these different days and all these different ingredients. It very much doesn’t. So that’s the big takeaway in the big action item for today’s episode, the habit is to create a fallback last minute dinner idea, list of your own, and either just have know the, the recipes memorized or have like a bookmark on your computer or on your phone that’s like your go to and then make sure you keep those ingredients on hand. And that alone is life-changing. It really is. And it will help you feel better. It will help you eat well, eat healthy, do less, you know, processed and drive-through and take out if that’s what you’re trying to do within your life. And, um, just help when you don’t have the energy at the end of the day. Now we did put to together a list of like 25 of my favorite last minute dinner ideas. And we will link that in the show notes, it’s on


Robyn Conley Downs: (10:25)

And I pulled together some of my favorites that are quick, easy, don’t require a lot of ingredients or that don’t require a lot of dishes. Cause I actually think sometimes the thing that’s keeping us from dinner, isn’t the prep, it’s the cleanup. Um, so I’m gonna share those with you now. They are obviously linked so you can actually get the full instructions and the, uh, and the necessary ingredients, but I’ll tell you what I have on my list. I always start with like a skillet or one pan. That is definitely my favorite category of last minute dinner ideas because not only is the prep quick, the cooking time is quick, but the cleanup is easy and hello, like that’s actually really important to me most days.

Robyn Conley Downs: (11:05)

So some of my favorites, easy Italian chicken zucchini skillet, which is like zucchini and chicken together, one pot meal, you could definitely do something on the side if you wanted like a rice or a pasta or a bread. And you could definitely swap out chicken for like a chickpea. On those same lines, a Southwest beef and sweet potato skillet. All of the proteins in these could be swapped out if you are not a meat-eater, um, that one you could even use regular potatoes. Got a 20-minute turkey and green bean skillet, just your good old turkey and green beans with a flavorful sauce. You cannot go wrong. We’ve got a ginger honey cashew chicken and green beans. And I said, love using frozen green beans in both of those recipes so that I can keep, you know, I keep turkey in the freezer and green beans in the freezer and chicken in the freezer. And I can make either one of those with just freezer and pantry staples. We’ve got a chicken and asparagus skillet, a one pan chicken pot pie that’s dairy-free. That’s one of our go-to’s, it’s so comforting and just kind of feels like comfort food, even though it’s not really like over the top and definitely a family-friendly one. Then a sweet and sour one pot cabbage and sausage, which I think people are wary about SA about cabbage. try it. You might be surprised and it just cooks down and you get tons of veggie and protein, but all in one place. And then, uh, chicken and broccoli skillet, lots of variations on that. Like just putting veggie all in one pot, cook it up. You can always serve it with rice or bread or pasta or cauli rice or whatever side kind of starchy side you like.

Robyn Conley Downs: (12:52)

The next category for me is sheet pan, same idea, very minimal prep, all in one pan or sometimes two sheet pans and then not much cleanup. So we have a chicken, kale and sweet potato. I love that because you’re getting everything all in one place. And because it kind of cooks up separately, I can serve that deconstructed to my family. So if someone doesn’t like the roasted kale, although if you don’t like kale, try it roasted it’s worth trying. They can ha it’s all separate. So it’s not all mixed together. So that way they can maybe skip the kale in, in favor of some other kind of veggie. And if you don’t like sweet potatoes, I understand that sweet potatoes seem to be like a very polarizing ingredient. I know many people who don’t enjoy them, you could definitely use a regular potato there as well. I love to do a sheet pan salmon and green beans, very similar to the skillet, only this time in the oven. We’ve got one that’s sweet potatoes, apples and mushrooms, which is a really yummy plant-based last minute kind of throw- chop everything up, throw it in the oven. And then you could actually add a fried egg on there if you like, um, if you eat eggs, but that one’s one of my favorite for fall. Then there is a sheet pan fajita fish taco. Obviously, you could do any kind of protein in there, but I do – it’s like a fish taco, but with veggies so all in one pan and then sweet potato, apple and chicken sausage, and then a glazed chicken and veggie sheep pan. So many options, all great for fallback last minute, and with ingredients that you probably have on hand.

Robyn Conley Downs: (14:32)

I have two more that I like. So bowl, we have at least once a week, it’s part of our capsule meal plan, but also just very easy last minute. Some ideas for you. We have a peach chicken basil bowl, egg roll veggie noodle bowls. Those are super popular with people. You can use a bagged cabbage mix for that so there’s like no topping. Quinoa bowl with veggies and a five-ingredient peanut sauce. Can do a black bean bowl with confetti slaw, which is also, you could use a bag slaw mix. And black bean chemo bowls, tons of options in the bowl category. Uh, if you do a grain, a protein and then a sauce, and we can also link to, I think I have like 20 sauce and dressing recipes, easy to throw together, and everyone can kind of make their own and DIY it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (15:21)

And my last last minute idea is tacos. You cannot go wrong. And I often do those in the slow cooker and I know that’s not really last minute, cause you do have to plan ahead. So I didn’t include any of those in this roundup, but I did include like a salmon fish taco with a quick cabbage slaw, turkey tacos with peach basil salsa. And you really just kind of mix it up with the salsas, but you could just do out-of-the-jar fish tacos with a honey-lime cabbage slaw and then turkey tacos with apple salsa. So I like, you know, have some homemade salsas in there in those recipes, but even if you just use jarred, tacos are always a good idea and you can do those with beans. You could do them with tofu, like any kind of way you eat.

Robyn Conley Downs: (16:05)

So that is it for this snackable episode on last minute dinner ideas. You can definitely make your own list and then make your own grocery list. Highly recommend you download our capsule grocery list for, uh, as a starting place, jumping-off point or to just use as is And then you can also check out our last minute idea recipe roundup, if you want any of those recipes, I mentioned they’re all free, super fast, super easy, all healthy, um, real food ingredients. They are all naturally gluten and dairy-free as well if that’s something that you care about, but you probably wouldn’t have even noticed unless I mentioned it, which I just did.

Robyn Conley Downs: (16:45)

If you found this helpful or useful, I would definitely say share it with a friend, text it, share it on social. I think there’s a lot of people out there that could use their last minute dinner ideas from you. And then I will be sharing this on social @realfoodwholelife. I’d love to hear your last minute ideas so you can connect with me there. As always, I wanna thank you so much for listening and for being part of this Feel Good movement. Until next time, here’s to feeling good. 

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